Cheap Flights – is it worth it?

I’m sat here after receiving yet another email from Ryanair saying my flight has changed. It has made me wonder, is it worth flying with these cheaper airlines? What do I actually get from it…

img_20160814_235219As it stands, I am flying back to the UK every other (ish) weekend so I have spent a lot of time on Ryanair and at the airport. Sometimes if I am lucky I fly Aer Lingus! Every time I arrive at the gate I look at the people queuing, and every time without fail I ask why? And then that well-known announcement comes on – “this flight is fully booked so you may be asked to put your bag in the hold”. And this is why people are wasting more time checking in early so they are guaranteed getting their hold on wheelie bag with them. Is it worth it?

I know I am not the only one that lives on Skyscanner looking for that cheap break to img_20160817_173901anywhere. It’s great going away for a city break, throwing your clothes into your handbag, making sure your liquids are in a plastic bag and making sure you can fit in your camera. But most of the time these flights are run by people like Ryanair. And this for me is starting to get a tad annoying! These cheap flights actually aren’t great, the planes are cramped, the landings bumpy and the service average, nice, but nothing to write home about. Compare this to Virgin or BA and it’s terrible. Not that they are rude or horrible people but they just can’t go the extra mile like these other premium companies can. So why do we accept it?

For someone like myself, I accept it because it means I can travel, see new things. But am I just fuelling the fire. If I stopped, started paying that extra €20 would they up their game, upgrade their planes so they can fit on everyone’s bags? Look at Aer Lingus, they are relatively cheap, but I have never had a problem with space. They have managed to make themselves the halfway airline. It’s great, there is so much less stress when you are getting to your gate. But that extra €20 could buy us lunch on the first day, coffee on arrival…do I really want to spend it on a better journey when I’m going for the destination.

img_20160822_061232Everyone does complain about the food and drink being stupidly expensive, and it is. They are running a business after all. So many companies will charge more if they are the only ones serving that one item but we don’t seem to keep up as much of a fuss then! It’s really down to you to plan a little better and pack yourself a lunch to take on the plane. Or pick something up in the airport? Or you know, survive 2 hours without eating? So this doesn’t bug me as much as it seems to upset most. Just plan better! It’s really not that hard! Tad more understanding if you’re going a bit further, but still you can pack food.

People always say – you can pay to take luggage so you don’t have to queue, you can pay for the food so you aren’t hungry and you can pay for extra leg room. So at this moment I would have added at least €30 onto my flight. So by the time I’ve done all of this I could afforded the better airline. But here I am, not paying for these things struggling away and taking the smallest bag possible. All so I have the extra money to spend at the place I actually want to see. And that’s why however much I (and everyone I fly with) complains about them we will always fly with airlines like Ryanair.

But let’s be honest here, if I could afford to fly all the time with companies like BA I would. Without hesitation. It might seem like a waste of money to some, “It’s only a few hours of your life!”, but that’s it a few hours add up and if I can make the journey as nice (well more relaxed!) as the destination I would. It’s just a great way to start any trip! You arrive relaxed and ready to start your break!

What are your thoughts? Do you always pay that bit more? Or stick with the cheaper airlines?

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Homemade Brownies – the ultimate treat!

Having a good baking week, marshmallows last week and now brownies!

So with winter seem to be wanting to stick around you can’t go wrong with lots of baking!! I’m sure you’ve just realised I am not good with the cold, and I’m very much a summer baby. I think in a previous life I could have been a bear, they seem to have the right idea of hiding from the winter cold and hibernating until spring. Everyone knows when I think it’s time to hide as the space boots (aka winter, furry, warm boots) come out and the brogues go into hibernation too!

My go to sweet treat is Brownies…the soft gooey, just holding their shape ones! That with a cup of tea is my perfect evening, oh and I guess the boy being there makes it nice too. This is my favourite recipe for brownies; they are versatile so you can add a topping or ingredients in them if you want to jazz them up. They make a great dessert for dinner parties too. Cut them into smaller squares and layer them with cream and berries in a nice glass!

I know a lot of people will see this and go “No real chocolate! These can’t be that good!” but trust me they are. Good quality cocoa powder can work wonders. Don’t use drinking powders as that has additional sugar in which won’t give the same depth as a rich good quality powder.

I did these ones in an 8”x12” Riess enamel tray! Depending how thick/big you want them you can do them in anything from an 8” square tin to 9”x13” just adjust the cooking time – thick ones will take a lot longer!

Ingredients

4 Eggs

450g Caster Sugar

Add to Sugar

150g Plain Flour

2 tsp Vanilla Extract

135g Cocoa Powder

150g Butter

 

Method

Pre heat the oven to 160°C (fan)/180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and line an 8”x12” tin.

Melt the butter and stir into the cocoa until it forms a paste and set aside. Whisk the eggs and sugar until it is pale and ribbons form. Add in the vanilla extract and whisk again. Add the flour and whisk until smooth followed by the cocoa paste.

Bake in the oven for around 30-35 minutes. They should be soft to touch and when a skewer is inserted it won’t come out completely clean as you want them to stay gooey.

Either serve straight away or cold later on. If you decide later on you want them warm, you can wrap individual pieces in cling film and place in the microwave for 30-1 minute, until warm and gooey again.

 

You can top with the following if you fancy it –

Marshmallows – nicely sprinkle over evenly about half way through your baking time

Salted Caramel– swirl and drizzle onto the brownie before baking

Nutella – melt approx. 150g so its thinner and drizzle over the top

Crunch Peanut Butter – 100-150g chopped roasted salted peanuts, mix some into the mixture and sprinkle some on top!

 

Almond and Vanilla Marshmallows

It’s cold and dreary outside which has meant a lot of hot beverages in the Young-Isard household. I’m currently addicted to almond milk hot chocolates! I was sat on the sofa and was getting annoyed that we never had marshmallows in the house to accompany my lovely hot chocolates. So instead of buying some (way too easy an option!) I ran to the shops and picked up some gelatine to make my own!! So here are my Almond and Vanilla Marshmallows…

If you don’t like almonds, don’t be put off, just replace the extract with another flavour of your choice or do all vanilla!

Enjoy!

 

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Ingredients

60g Icing Sugar

60g Cornstarch (or potato starch)


Pink Almond Layer

60ml water

½ tsp almond extract

2 sachets of gelatine (26g)

¼ tsp red food dye

170g caster sugar

175g golden syrup

Pinch of salt

60ml Water

 

White Vanilla Layer

15ml water

½ tsp vanilla paste

1 sachets of gelatine (13g)

85g caster sugar

90g golden syrup

Pinch of salt

30ml Water

 

Optional…

100g dark chocolate

50g flaked almonds, finely chopped

 

Method

In a small bowl sift the sugar and cornstarch together. Using a pastry brush coat a 28x18cm tin with vegetable oil (or an oil with no flavour) and sprinkle over the icing sugar. Tip the left overs back into the bowl and save for later.

Start with the almond layer. In a large mixing bowl (or stand mixer!) add the 60ml water, ½ tsp almond extract, 2 gelatine sachets and ¼ tsp food dye and leave to stand. While this is setting, in a saucepan add the 170g sugar, 175g golden syrup, pinch of salt and 60ml water. Place on a medium heat and give a quick stir. Place in a thermometer; I’ve got a digital one it makes life so much easier. Though it is not essential a normal sugar thermometer will do the job. Heat the mixture to 115°C (240°F), remove from the heat immediately. Turn on your mixer (carefully if you’re using a hand mixer) and slowly drizzle the sugar mixture into the gelatine gradually. Once it is all in turn the speed up and whisk for about 10 minutes until the mixture is fluffy and still slightly warm. Grease up your spatula with vegetable oil and spoon the marshmallow into your tin.  Spread it out evenly. Once it’s all flat, tap the tin on the surface. It will release the air bubbles.

Clean your equipment ready to make the white vanilla layer.

Repeat the process with the Vanilla ingredients.

In your bowl add the 30ml water, ¼ tsp vanilla paste, and 1 gelatine sachet and leave to stand. While this is setting, in a saucepan add the 85g sugar, 90g golden syrup, pinch of salt and 30ml water. Place on a medium heat and give a quick stir. Place in your thermometer. Heat the mixture to 115°C (240°F), remove from the heat immediately. This will happen a lot quicker than your almond layer as there is a lot less mixture. Turn on your mixer and slowly drizzle the sugar mixture into the gelatine gradually. Once it is all in turn the speed up and whisk for about 7 minutes until the mixture is fluffy and still slightly warm. Grease up your spatula with vegetable oil and spoon the marshmallow over the pink layer.  Spread it out evenly. Once it’s all flat, again tap the tin on the surface.

Dust will your icing sugar/cornstarch mixture. Leave to set for at least 1 hour!

You now have options! Either cut them into small or large squares, covering in the icing/starch mixture and leave them plain. Or if you cut them into larger squares you can dip them in dark chocolate and then into chopped almond flakes or just leave them as dark chocolate! To do this, melt the dark chocolate with in a glass bowl over simmering water in a pan or in the microwave on 15 second bursts. Chop the nuts and place in a small bowl. First dunk the marshmallows into the melted chocolate, about 1/3 up. Either place onto some baking parchment to harden or into the almonds. Leave to set.

Now snuggle down with a hot chocolate and your marshmallows and watch the world go by!

 

The Guinness Storehouse

You can’t live in Dublin and not write a blog on Europe’s leading tourist attraction. The Guinness Store House has over 1.4million tourists visiting last year! And I’ve been 4 times!

First and foremost, book your tickets online! Beat the queues!! You’ll thank me later!

It consists of 7 Floors – Ingredients, Brewing, Tasting, Marketing, Pour your own Guinness, Dining and the Gravity Bar. It’s a self-guided tour so no set times to arrive by which I find a lot nicer and more relaxing. It means you’re not tied down and can insure you get to do some other things before without any time pressure. They do however, do an introductory talk at the beginning if you miss the talk just make sure you see the 9000 year lease in the floor! And look up, the Atrium of the Storehouse is the world’s largest pint shaped glass. Also don’t forget to walk around the outside and fine the famous James Gate Gate! img_20160923_173633

Now let’s go floor by floor…

Ingredients – I have to say I think this is one of my favourite parts! They have the four ingredients all set out in pretty large consistencies. There is almost a sandpit of Barley, img_20170206_212249_390stick your hand in and feel it round through your fingers. See how tall the Hops can grow. Try to peak in and see the Yeast in the safe, protected from all competitors. Hear the waterfall of Water rushing down, brewers are very protective of their water! It’s very informative if you don’t know a lot about how beer is made. I however have been to many brewer tours, plus you tend to pick up a few things when The Boy is a brewer with a Masters degree in it! But I think that Guinness have done a great job in the way they have set it up, very original! Compared to others they have managed to make it a feature of the tour rather than just having it there for the sake of it.

From here you go up a floor to the technical part – how they make the brew! Though first you do go through moving portraits which I just find odd (read pointless)! It’s about Arthur Guinness…the founder if you didn’t know. They clearly don’t have some pictures of him 20161113_140050and his family so they get “normal” people to talk about him and his life. I personally think that this could have been done in a different way but hey-ho each to their own. Anyways, head through there and you get to how they brew The Black Stuff (which isn’t black at all, its Ruby Red in fact!) Remember that – you’ll get a cheeky extra taster later on! You’ll learn about how they roast the barley to 232°C, mashing it to create wort, fermenting it to get that lovely alcohol and everything in between! It’s really interesting! And again well done by Guinness. Follow on to where you can watch videos of Cooperage and how Guinness made it around the world (over 150 countries!!). Spot the sculptor of the “Guinness Pint – Made of More” depicting the past and future of Guinness. It was done by more than 20 artists and took more than 600 hours to do, take time to appreciate their work.

Head on up and don’t miss the Tasting Rooms like two of my friends did! Though this was entertaining to watch as they got on to the escalator with no way of coming back. You go through to a white room filled with aromas of beer. You get given a teeny tiny perfect “pint” of Guinness and get taught how to drink it – sounds odd but it is fun to do! Remember the colour of the beer – if you’re lucky this is where you’ll get an extra taster! They also have all the aromas in smoke form, gives the room a Willy Wonka vibe!

Keep on going up, this time to the marketing…I think this will appeal to the older generation a bit more – all those adverts they grew up with are there as well as some of the newer ones. Don’t miss the room of screens were you get submerged into their adverts. I really love their adverts, I actually don’t know anyone who doesn’t. Their marketing team has always done well, from the super simple posters to the completely out there TV adverts. And the fish on a bike, a classic!

Now if you’re a bar(wo)man this is a lot less fun, it will remind you of all those times someone came in, ordered 5 drinks and then saying they will have a Guinness at the end! Probably the most annoying thing someone can do as to get the perfect pint it takes at least 2 minutes, doesn’t sound like a lot until you have 5 other people waiting to be served! But if you’ve never poured a pint its good fun. You’ll learn how to pour the perfect pint and why it’s done that way. You can opt out of pouring your own if you think you’ve had enough experience or really want someone else to serve you. You also get a little certificate to show off to your friends. And well, you get your pint! Time to head on up for the final time and drink up…20161113_151038

 

To the Gravity Bar you go! 360° (almost, the stairs up block some of it off if you want to be pedantic about it) of Dublin! If you didn’t know Dublin is VERY flat so the bar is the highest point and you can see all the way across to the Aviva Stadium and further! Try and pick out the highlights of Dublin, they do give you some clues as to where to be looking! Try to get a seat, relax, and drink up!

Sláinte