Sunday, 28 December 2014

festive showstopper


 This Christmas I was given the task of baking an alternative Christmas cake. Aside from my parents, very few of us actually like Christmas pudding or cake and I wanted to bring something equally as festive, but that I'd like to eat. After browsing some of my favourite food blogs, I settled on this gingerbread cake with cinnamon frosting by Lucy from Supergolden Bakes

I wont go into the how to, as you can see that all here, but I can confirm how simple this bake is! It feels like a GBBO 'showstopper', but doesn't require a huge amount of baking skill or specialist equipment. 

This would also make a gorgeous New Years Eve celebration cake, and uses up lots of those festive baking ingredients you may have lying around - treacle, ginger, cinnamon, oranges, cream etc. The recipe says to use a stand mixer but I don't have one (sob) and just used an electric handheld mixer which worked perfectly. The things I would do for a Kitchen Aid...

So, what do you think?

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Saturday, 20 December 2014

honeycomb holiday


With a mere five days to go 'til the big day (Christmas, that is...) I wanted to share with you the last instalment of foodie gifts. Like the other offerings I've shared with you - festive fridge cake and bronzed brownies - this is super simple to make and takes even less time than fridge cake. You can knock these up and decorate them in about an hour, good to go!

You will need
200g caster sugar
5 tablespoons golden syrup
3.5 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

Start by weighing out your sugar in a saucepan, and then stirring in the golden syrup until it's as mixed together as it can be. Then pop onto a low-medium heat. The sugar mixture will start to melt, then bubble, turning a gorgeous golden colour. The tip is not to stir once it's on the heat - just shake the pan around a little to move things around if you need to. Then, take it off the heat and stir in the bicarbonate of soda, nice and quickly. Pour onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, trying to pour out evenly so you don't have to smooth it down etc. The less you fiddle around with it, the more comb-like it will be! Leave to set (on the side or in the fridge depending on how long you have) for 15 minutes or so, until rock hard. 

Using your hands, break into pieces - I like uneven sizes for that homemade rustic feel! You can now leave them as they are, or dunk them into dark chocolate for that extra-indulgent treat. I like to further dunk mine into chopped roasted hazelnuts before popping into the fridge to set. 

And there you go - the perfect gift for Christmas! 

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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

lysting


The teacher in me finds great pleasure and satisfaction in writing lists. Be it the fairly boring 'to do' list, or the significantly more exciting 'to buy' list... to the incredibly dangerous 'I wish' list. Lyst covers it all - a site which allows you to create wishlists with brands from high end to highstreet, all in one place. I'm one of those people who in reality isn't particularly good at putting outfits together, and love tools like these for getting inspiration and styling tips. 


Lyst is super easy to navigate – once you find a lust-worthy item (it won’t take long, promise!) you are just the click of a button away from adding it to any one of your lists. Be it winter warmers, gift ideas, holiday garms or something for the fella. It really is so simple and user-friendly, no faffing around with complicated boards or images here! As I say, I love the idea of making mood boards - I could easily kill hours looking through and creating looks. 



My winter weather lyst is made up of soft knits, buttery soft leather and flashes of caramel tones. The Gucci bag just makes me swoon. And those boots! Insert smitten face here. The good news is your lysts can be as expansive or as selective as you like. This above is more of a specific outfit, but you can really go to town with huge great lysts. I can foresee this being entirely addictive... and damaging for the 'house buying' fund. 

On a slight aside - what are we thinking about long cardigans? Are they making a comeback? 

collaborative post


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Thursday, 11 December 2014

sleigh bells


Another super easy festive gift idea, folks. I've blogged about my famous-with-friends fridge cake before... today however, its been Christmas-ified. That's right, in a few easy steps this incredibly easy and tasty recipe can be tweaked to be the perfect Christmas gift. I promise you, you'll become everyone's new best friend once they've tried these!

I followed my regular fridge cake recipe, but substituted half the 4oz of raisins for dried cranberries, threw in some white chocolate chips, and finished with my favourite Christmas sprinkling of bronze crunch. I saw in Sainsburys orange flavoured dried cranberries (in the baking aisle) which would work really well! 

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Tuesday, 9 December 2014

nadolig llawen


Last weekend I jumped in my car and hopped it up the M4 to Cardiff. It'd been a while. I lived in Cardiff for four years in total - three when I was doing my undergrad (way back in 2006, where I met Rich... feeling old!) and then another year when I was doing my teacher training. When I lived there I held a lot of love for the city, but boy was I blown away on this visit! Cardiff has always had a great buzz, and in my time there a huge Topshop was built (every girl's dream), loads of new restaurants popped up and when I returned for my teacher training the new St David's 2 shopping centre had just opened. Having thought that alone was rather lovely, I was shocked to return this time to find a whole load of amazing shops, restaurants and bars had infiltrated the city. Think Burger and Lobster, Cosy Club, Wahaca... as well as some really amazing looking burger and BBQ joints. Cardiff, you've made it into the 21st century! 

I visited with a couple of my pals from my teacher training days, and we stayed in the Maldron hotel. Great location and affordable rooms, it was perfect. Obviously we were wooed by St Davids 2 and spent a few too many hours in and out of the shops, as well as stopping for food and drinks every couple of hours. We also visited Winter Wonderland which was pretty... crap. Yeh, it never was great, but this year it really did seem to be naff-tastic. The German Christmas market in town was much nicer, with bratwursts and mulled wine on every corner. Dreamy!

This little trip back to the Welsh capital has made me really miss my student days, and long for the ability to live somewhere so central but at an affordable price. I always forget how reasonable the cost of living is in Wales... it really does show how ridiculously overpriced Surrey (amongst others) is. You never know, maybe we'll make the move back one day...

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Sunday, 7 December 2014

bronzed brownies


On Friday afternoon I returned from work to commence an afternoon of festive baking. Bliss! I love baking at this time of year either for drinks party nibbles, indulgent sweet treats or for foodie Christmas gifts. 

Next weekend I'm going to a friend's house for a girlie evening of nibbles, prosecco and festive cheer - I can't wait! Each of us has been given something to provide food-wise, and naturally I signed up for pudding. I wanted to make something that could be made in advance and frozen, and that can be eaten warm or cold. I plumped for these best-ever brownies, and tweaked them to make them that little bit more festive adding chopped nuts, chunks of Terry's chocolate orange and a sprinkling of gold dust. Waitrose is always my first point of call for extra special baking ingredients, and at Christmas it never disappoints. I love these bronze crunch sprinkles for adding a bit of festive glitz - the good news is they keep their golden shine even after baking. I sprinkled them over the top of the uncooked brownie mixture before baking for about 40 minutes. 

Sundays are perfect for baking - good luck! 

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Thursday, 27 November 2014

bookworm #30 and #31


Its almost December, and I have a bumper addition of book reviews! If that doesn't get you in the mood for a relaxing weekend of cosy comforts, then I don't know what will. As always no spoilers, just my thoughts and views on each. 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler 

This is actually almost impossible to review without giving the plot away! Just a few chapters into the story you are met with a huge twist, which I don't want to ruin. Its definitely an interesting story line and one which prompts some thought and discussion. I have to say the hype and mystery surrounding this book really caught my attention, but I don't know how blown away I was by the end. It was nominated for a Man Booker Prize though, and have heard lots of interesting takes on the story - its definitely worth a read!

Daughter by Jane Shemilt

I loved this and was totally hooked from the off. You start the book by learning about Naomi's disappearance, and the story takes two paths. With each alternate chapter you learn more about the days leading up to Naomi's disappearance, and then the aftermath. I have to say I wasn't totally hooked with the chapters focusing on the family's life after her disappearance - they took a while to get going. There were so many twists in the plot though, and little by little you learn more and more about the family and the circumstances surrounding Naomi's disappearance. I really enjoyed how the plot unfolded and although finding the ending a little hard to believe, felt it tied up loose ends. Nothing worse than a disappointing ending, especially with this sort of detective, mystery-solving type theme! I would definitely recommend this for an easy but engaging read. 


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Monday, 24 November 2014

gilded golden gorgeousness


It's no secret that I love Anthropologie - their home wares make me swoon. At Christmas time it just goes into overdrive! Gilded golden heaven. Since a store opened locally to me in Guildford, my love have just developed. And my bank balance diminished...

Twisted twig measuring spoons £24, Gilden thistle nut bowl £12, Langholm cheese knives £32, Limited Edition Monogram Mug £8

Yes, their prices aren't always purse-friendly but if you have a good old rummage there are some really great buys. Last year I didn't get my hands on a golden monogram mug, so this year I was in there straight away! At only eight quid, they are a relatively guilt-free buy and would make a great gift this Christmas. In fact, I think Anthropologie is perfect for gift-buying. A lot of the gorgeous items they sell are just that - gorgeous - but not something many of us can justify spending money on. I mean, who doesn't want bronzed, golden and silver cheese knives?! I certainly do, but wouldn't be able to justify buying them myself. 

Macedonia coaster £8, Arbor floret cocktail napkins £24 for four, Monogram pouch £24, Arca jewellery box £20 

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Thursday, 20 November 2014

cheesemas


For me, festive food means cheese. Lots of cheese. Last year our Christmas cheeseboard was eaten weeks before Christmas came around, we just couldn't wait! The King of all cheeses has to be a baked Camembert - gooey deliciousness.

When I was contacted by Laura Ashley and asked to write a recipe for their blog, I knew exactly what I wanted to try out. What's better than cheese, than cheese wrapped in pastry? This is the perfect appetiser for those times you have guests but don't know what to feed them, and despite it being a tad messy, would work at a Christmas drinks party. 

You will need:
Camembert
Puff Pastry
Cranberry sauce
Egg

The how to is really simple. I'm a firm believer in cutting the odd corner here and there - there's absolutely no shame in reaching for pre-rolled pastry! Lay the pastry out on the greaseproof paper in comes wrapped in and plonk your Camembert in the middle. Do a quick check that the pastry will fold over the cheese - if not, use a rolling pin to just roll the pastry out a little larger. Next up, spoon on a good amount of Cranberry sauce over the top of the Camembert. You'll want to use two to three tablespoons of sauce to ensure it really comes through with the cheese once cooked. Fold the pastry over the cheese fairly tightly, being sure to cut off any extra pastry - it wont cook fully if there are big overlapping pieces of pastry. Liberally brush on a beaten egg to help the pastry form a gorgeous glaze. Pop in the oven on about 180C for 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown. 

Serve straight from the oven with warm crusty bread. We ate it alongside some cured meats and caramelised onion jam for an extra treat. Delicious. 

If this is a little too much for you, then you can take one step back and go for a simple baked Camembert. Take it out of the packaging, pop it in a cheese baker like this one (you could poke in a few garlic cloves and sprigs of rosemary, or simply a small brush of olive oil and rock salt) and bake in the oven for about fifteen minutes, or until it is soft in the middle. 

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Wednesday, 12 November 2014

tiramisu


I arrived back from Rome with an addiction to tiramisu. I promptly got on the internet in the search for the perfect tiramisu recipe, desperate to satisfy my need for that coffee, creamy loveliness. I wan't prepared for the minefield that awaited me - to egg or not to egg? Marscapone? Sponge fingers or homemade sponge layers? Who knew. After much deliberation, I settled on this recipe.

Things to be mindful of:

Opt for superior sponge fingers. I bought Sainsbury's Taste The Difference savoiardi sponge fingers - apparently savoiardi is the one as they aren't as absorbent as their cheaper counterparts, so keep their firm sponginess better. 

Don't soak the fingers for long. Literally a couple of seconds on each side, tops. You can probably see that the bottom layer of my sponge fingers were over-soaked, and turned mushy. It also means the flavour can be a tad bitter. The second layer were much better! 

Using an egg-free recipe means it is more of a firm tiramisu. If you want a more runny, trifley affair then go for a recipe with egg. 

It is super rich, so be cautious with portion size. I'm not one for 'less is more' when it comes to food, but overdo this and you'll be left feeling pretty overwhelmed!

Next up? I'm keen to try Mary Berry's recipe after seeing it on the Bake Off Masterclass - more of a cake, made with sliced sponge cake layers. Yum!

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Monday, 10 November 2014

winter camel


Top Zara
Boots MissGuided

On Friday I went for a mooch round town after work... and ended up dropping the best part of eighty quid on this coat. Sigh. Its not all bad though as it was originally £135, but was showing as £110 in store, then with a sneaky 30% promotional discount...happy days. I'm not sure how long the thirty percent off is running for, but get in there soon - it looks like it's off everything in store and online!


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Friday, 7 November 2014

homeware heaven


H&M have got it so right. Stylish, affordable homeware.

Clockwise from top left: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.


There's 20% off H&M in Glamour magazine this month - not sure I can resist much longer!
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Wednesday, 5 November 2014

pavarotti has the right idea


Amen to that!

Here's one from the archives for you - my well trusted spaghetti carbonara recipe. The Italians have got it so right, where pasta comes as a first course. How are they all so slim? In Rome I ordered carbonara a couple of times and neither disappointed - it is without fail my go-to dish. What really angers me when restaurants serve a crappy carbonara, I mean, it's so easy. So easy! No excuses.

I'll admit my recipe is most definitely a British version of the Italian classic; traditionally the sauce is made from eggs and parmesan... us greedy Brits have added the cream for extra naughtiness. 

Here's all you need to make the perfect carbonara for two:
Pancetta or bacon / parmesan / 2 eggs / 150ml single cream / garlic / spaghetti

To start, fry your diced pancetta in a pan with a crushed garlic clove until crispy. Use as much pancetta as you like, I also through in mushrooms if I have any. Pop your spaghetti on to cook as per the instructions. In a jug mix together the cream, eggs - one full egg and just the yolk of another, and a good handful of grated parmesan and a pinch of salt and pepper. Drain your spaghetti and put it back in the saucepan, but off the heat. Now throw in your pancetta and stir through the egg/cream/parmesan mixture. There is no need to cook this, as the heat of the spaghetti will be enough to warm it though. Cook it and you'll have scrambled eggs! Serve in warm bowls (not piping hot or it will continue to cook) with another sprinkling of parmesan. 

No, its not diet-friendly but a little of what you love every now and then wont hurt!

You can see my original post with step-by-step cooking image instructions here. Want to try some variations? Try these below - butternut squash carbonara, lemon zucchini carbonaragarlic and herb roasted cherry tomato carbonara. Images from Pinterest, sources linked.

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Monday, 3 November 2014

Laura Ashley Elstree


A couple of weeks back I was invited along by Laura Ashley to check out their boutique hotel in Elstree, Hertfordshire. Set nine miles outside of London, we hopped on a gorgeous vintage bus which took us there in style, to be greeted with afternoon tea and prosecco. It doesn't get much better than that! Mini sandwiches a plenty, clotted cream and jam, pistachio macarons and little chocolate mousses to die for - dreamy. 

We were then treated to a tour of The Manor, where we were talked through the design of each room by a head designer and shown which products and finishing touches were used in each. Bespoke, boutique, luxury - just what you'd expect!

Keep your eyes out for a recipe up soon featuring some rather lovely little touches from Laura Ashley. Think cheese... lots of cheese. 


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