Friday, 30 October 2015

baking basics: banana bread


Everyone needs a list of go-to, no-fuss bakes. For those occasions when cake is necessary (when is it not?) but you don't have the time or inclination to slave over the next GBBO showstopper. 

Banana bread. 

Moist, simple, a crowd-pleaser. I've tried heaps of different recipes, but always find myself going back to my original. I've no idea where I got this recipe from so can't credit, I've been using it for years!

225g plain flour
1 tsp bicarb of soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
100g butter
175g caster sugar
300g peeled bananas
3 tbsp milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix together the flour and bicarb of soda, before adding the butter and mixing until you have breadcrumbs. Add the sugar. Mash the bananas in a separate bowl then whisk in the eggs, milk and vanilla extract. Fold into the flour mixture and pour into a lined loaf tin. Bake for approx 45 minutes on 180c (or 160c fan), or until golden. 

Tips for the perfect banana loaf

The riper your bananas, the better. If they're still a bit green, pop them in the oven on a medium heat for 20 minutes - they'll go a shiny black colour, don't panic! Leave to cool before mashing. 

Use a tin liner. No-one has time to cut parchment to size. I buy these which are a complete lifesaver.

Add chunks of chocolate for banana bread with a twist! Add them at the last stage before baking for a slightly indulgent loaf. Chopped walnuts are also a great addition. 

Check out how my banana bread fared on Instagram...

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Monday, 26 October 2015

bookclub #6


Welcome to part six of the Bloggers Bookclub! This instalment sees me doing something completely new to me; reading a book on my Hudl tablet. Yes, nothing ground breaking but something different for me. I installed the Kindle app (it's free!) and rather apprehensively started my first ever e-book. The verdict? I liked it! I was contemplating buying a Kindle, so when I discovered the app could just be used on my existing tablet I was chuffed.

#6: The Letter by Kathryn Hughes 

The Letter tells the story of Tina, who finds a mysterious letter in the jacket pocket of a charity shop suit. Said letter was written by Billy in the 1940s but never posted, and Tina is desperate to trace Billy and the intended recipient. 

This is another book which hops back and forwards in time; the story being divided between the 1940s and 1970s. In the 1940s we hear of Billy and Chrissie who fall madly in love but whose relationship is scorned by Chrissie's father. In the 'present' day (1970s) we hear of Tina and her turbulent marriage to abusive Rick, alongside her quest to find Billy and Chrissie. 

Did I enjoy it? Yes. It was an easy read which I whizzed through pretty quickly. It had real similarities with Philomena by Martin Sixsmith which was interesting, but if I'm honest I felt I'd read it before. The ending was a disappointment; pretty unimpressive - it felt like it fizzled out once the mystery had been solved. It wasn't necessarily a gripping, unique read but I enjoyed it none-the-less.

Don't forget to check out Lorna, Leanne and Charli's thoughts.
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Friday, 23 October 2015

spiced carrot and red lentil soup


It's October, it's autumn... it's time for soup. 

Twenty-fifteen has been the year I learnt to love lentils. Check out the alliteration on that! My first lentil love came in the form of tarka dahl; an Indian takeaway just isn't complete without a good scoop of this on the side. Who am I kidding, I can just eat a whole bowl of dahl on it's own! I also love this Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall chicken thigh and lentil recipe - a great mid-week one pot dinner which amps up the comfort factor.

Spiced carrot and red lentil soup.

So as the mercury drops and those summer salads fail to hit the spot, I'm turning to homemade soups for lunch. Do as I do and make a big batch on a Sunday which will set you up for the week. This recipe made 4 good portions. 

I used this BBC Good Food recipe which ticks all the boxes - easy to make, simple ingredients, a slight kick to it, low fat but filling. Perfection. Top with a drizzle of natural yogurt and serve with a naan bread. 

Slimming World - syn values
Olive oil, 2 tbsp - 12 syns. Skip it, it's not necessary to use olive oil in this recipe. 
Skimmed milk, 125ml - 2 (ish) syns, but divided over 4-5 portions this is minimal and of course can be included as part of your HEXA. 
Natural yogurt, free.
Naan bread, mini - approx 7 syns.

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Tuesday, 20 October 2015

smoky paprika crockpot


Sausages. Mmm. Sausages. 

When I heard there was a new sausage brand in town that boasts a range including gluten free, dairy free and low fat I knew they were for me. The lovely folk at Heck Food sent me a big box of them to try, and needless to say I got stuck in straight away. 

Smoky paprika chicken sausage crockpot.

You will need
Heck smoky paprika chicken sausages*
Tin chopped tomatoes
Red onion
Garlic 
Basil
Dijon mustard
Chicken stock cube
Red peppers
Tin baked beans
Spring onions

Start by slicing your onion and frying in a large saucepan with a few sprays of Fry Light. Add garlic (I use a teaspoon of garlic paste) and fry until the onions are softened. 

The messy bit: de-skin the sausages, halve and roll into balls. Fry in a non-stick pan until browned and sealed. Add to the onion and garlic saucepan and carefully toss around to combine. In the non-stick pan fry the spring onions for a couple of minutes and put to one side. 

Add the chopped tomatoes, a handful of chopped fresh basil, a heaped teaspoon of dijon mustard and crumble over a stock cube. Slice the red peppers thinly and throw in. Simmer for 5 minutes before adding the beans and cook on a low heat for a further 5 minutes, before putting into an oven-proof dish and baking for 20 minutes on around 180c. 

Serve with the spring onions on oven-baked jacket potatoes and a side salad for the perfect autumnal dinner!

Slimming World - syn values
Heck smoky paprika chicken sausages, 0.5 syns (2 sausages)

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Monday, 19 October 2015

spring forward, fall back


Public service announcement! The clocks go back this coming Sunday (25th October) meaning sunrise and sunset will be an hour earlier. 

Spring forward, fall back. 

You know the drill, brighter mornings again... at least for a little while, and darker evenings. I remember as a kid knowing it was winter when Neighbours was on and it was dark outside. The end of daylight saving means a few things to me; finishing teaching at 4.30pm and it's almost dark outside, being fooled by the initial lighter mornings only soon to realise you leave the house in the dark and come home in the dark, and finally... the festive season is coming!

Every year I say it; I love summer, but as soon as Autumn comes round I'm ready for Santa. 

The lighter... then darker... mornings can throw up a whole load of sleep problems for me. I need a good 8-9 hours each night and in the past have really suffered when I've not had this. Back when I first started teaching I would be lesson planning til 11pm and getting up at 6am; my 45 minute drive to work would be a real struggle and I would often have to try and stop myself from drifting off behind the wheel. 

So what do I do to ensure I get a good night's sleep?

1. Routine. I now go to bed around 9.30pm on school nights. Sad, but necessary. It means I can read my book and wind down and am usually fast asleep by 10pm. It's no party, but it works for me!

2. Exercise. 3-4 days a week I either run or work out at the gym. This ensures I keep fit, healthy and well, but also means I am ready for bed each night. There's nothing worse than restless, fitful sleep - exercise means I am able to sleep well and deeply. 

3. Bed. I love my bed! The mattress is perfect (firm) and when I stay in other beds I can really struggle to get a good night's sleep. The soft mattress at my parent's house gives me such a bad back and keeps me awake. Figure out what works for you and it's worth paying the extra ££ for something that you find comfortable. VictoriaPlum.com is offering up to 35% off mattresses at the moment. Likewise, bedding makes a huge difference. Our cosy winter duvet is back on and I'm sleeping better than ever! I love brushed cotton sheets for that sleeping-on-clouds feel. 

4. Alarms. Using a dawn-simulating alarm clock can really help counter that dark morning struggle. The gradual light increase helps stimulate hormones that help us feel awake and energised - they really do work, I promise!

What are your top sleep tips?

*this post is in collaboration with Victoria Plum
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Friday, 16 October 2015

bookworm #40


I first heard about this book when browsing Richard and Judy bookclub titles - always a good starting point if you're stuck on what to read next! Before We Met was a part of their Summer 2014 list, and when I saw it for a pound in my local charity shop I snapped it up.

Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse

Before We Met is a story about Hannah Reilly - she marries Mark after a whirlwind romance and all is great. Until he doesn't come home one day. Hannah's world starts to unwind and she no longer knows what's true and what's been a lie. 

Despite this taking a while to get going (after the initial 'what's happened?' moment, the pace slows), I enjoyed this read. I love a mystery; I'm a nosy person and my desire to know what happened to Mark was pretty fierce! There were so many twists and turns it kept me on my toes, and aside from a slow few chapters in the middle, I found it to be a pacey read... if a little unbelievable! Yes, I know suspending belief and logic is sometimes both necessary and enjoyable, but there were parts of this story I struggled to get to grips with. Reviews had sold it as the new Gone Girl, and while I don't think it was quite that, it was a decent length (not overly long), had largely believable characters and enough mystery to keep me and my short attention span hooked. 

Have you read Before We Met?

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Tuesday, 13 October 2015

exploring Windsor and Eton


Saturdays are made for exploring. 

This one just gone we hopped in the car and headed to Windsor - lunch, exploring. And we did just that. We parked in Alexandra Gardens (on recommendation, it's a pound an hour) and walked through the park and along the Thames up to the castle. The castle itself is huge - you can't miss it - and is located right in amongst the pubs, restaurants and shops. Unfortunately it costs the best part of twenty quid to get in! We're on a budget, so we had to admire it from the outside and watched wedding guests (imagine getting married in Windsor castle), tourists and locals weave in and out of the hubbub. That said, your ticket to Winsdor castle lasts for a full 12 months - we didn't see ourselves going back in the next year but if you do, it is good value for money. 

Aside from the castle, we mooched round streets and side streets, admiring the history and architecture. We stopped for a drink at The Duchess of Cambridge - a traditional pub with gorgeous interiors and a cosy charm. We wanted to eat there but it was so busy we weren't able to get a table, so instead ate at The Real Greek which was delicious! We ate all the mezze whilst hiding behind stacks of plates... in fact we ate a total of eight dishes, all for under thirty pounds. If you like Greek food, I would 100% recommend. 

After exploring Windsor we headed over the bridge to Eton for more beautiful scenes. We saw the college, found some cute gift shops and generally enjoyed wandering through the typically British streets. Well worth going over the bridge for!

Can you recommend any other must-see British towns or cities?

Striped jumper Laura Ashley
Denim dress Primark
Trainers Nike 
Bag Mango
Scarf Zara


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Wednesday, 7 October 2015

saving money in the supermarket


When it comes to food shopping I think I've got it covered. I've figured out where's best to buy what, what items give the best value for money and importantly how to cook tasty, healthy meals without breaking the bank. That said, it's taken me a while. When I first started uni I took the typical student response to the fear of food shopping alone - buying a combination of (overly) expensive branded products and inexpensive smart-price which lacked quality and substance. I lived off spaghetti bolognese for the first term which whilst this isn't the worst thing that could have happened, I lacked imagination and quickly became bored. Whether you're a student or not, saving money doesn't have to be about buying smart price, freezing the same meal in batches and having beans on toast on every other occasion!

Here are my five best money saving tips for food shopping.

1. Shop around. This does require a little patience and time, but can be done very easily... and quickly once you get into a routine. There are certain shops I go to for certain things - usually Lidl/Aldi, Sainsburys and Asda.

I go to Lidl or Aldi for my main weekly shop; meat, veg (Aldi is much better than Lidl for veg I find), fruit, dairy, lunchbox snacks, bread, etc. We don't spend a fortune on this and if I know what I need to get this takes under 30 minutes.

There are some items I can't pick up in Lidl/Aldi however, so either on another day or on my way home I go via Sainsburys to pick up the rest - branded products, the granola I like, frozen shortcuts (see 4) and some of the things I need to buy that are specifically low fat etc; these can be hard to find in Lidl/Aldi. This might be an extra 20 minutes hassle, but over the last year since I've been doing this I have saved at least £10-£15 on my weekly shop - that adds up!

If you want to really save the pennies, doing a monthly Asda online shop is a great idea. I find Asda to be the cheapest for branded items, and their own brand products are also (often) cheaper than Sainsburys etc. We do this for things such as loo roll, tins of beans/chopped tomatoes etc, cereal/cereal bars, yogurt (you get 10 Muller Lights for £3 at Asda rather than 6 for £3 in Sainsburys!)... the things that have a longer shelf life. If we do this, it usually cuts out the need to do the 'top up' shop at Sainsburys after Lidl/Aldi.

2. Think about the meat you buy. I very rarely buy chicken breast these days - we much prefer filleted chicken thighs. They're cheaper, you get more for your money and they are so much tastier. One of our favourite mid-week meals is coriander chicken which is perfect with thigh meat. Similarly, turkey mince makes a great change to beef mince; cheaper, leaner. These turkey meatballs are quick and easy - and a bit of a spin on shop bought! If you're making a slow-cooked casserole or goulash then buy cheaper cuts of beef - if it's cooking for hours it'll have plenty of time to tenderise. You wont taste the difference and it'll save you £££.

3. Make a big batch, but switch it up. I'll make a big batch of bolognese mince (mince with onions, chopped tomatoes, garlic, basil, dijon mustard, a glug of wine) and then freeze in portions. When it comes to eating, you can create some variety. For chilli, thaw and heat through with a tin of kidney or cannellini beans and a couple of teaspoons of chilli powder. For burritos, pour over a packet of burrito spice mix. For stuffed peppers, pour the bolognese into semi-cooked peppers and top with cheese.

4. Use shortcuts. A while back I started a Kitchen Shortcuts series, which included ideas like freezing herbs to reduce waste, using flavour pastes like coriander, garlic and ginger paste which save buying fresh each time, and finally looking at preserved items like lemons and peppers. I use all of these shortcuts to this day, but have one more excellent shortcut to help save money - frozen vegetables. I routinely buy frozen chopped onions, frozen spinach, frozen chopped peppers, frozen Mediterranean veg, frozen chopped chillis - all of which you can buy (usually as a multibuy offer) from Sainsburys and other supermarkets. This not only saves a whole heap of time, but also saves buying things fresh which you think you won't use all of or wont keep stocked in your cupboards. Remember, even Delia said it was ok to cheat!

5. Plan your meals. I know, snooze. But by spending 10 minutes at the start of each week planning what meals you'll have each night (remember, account for any nights you're out etc) you'll be able to save time food shopping and save money by ensuring you're buying what you need rather than what you think you need! If I go food shopping without a list, even with the best of intentions I can often come back with a whole load of lovely bits and pieces... but maybe nothing to make 5 decent meals with. Plan before hand, check ingredients, check your cupboards and make a note of what you'll need. This means you wont keep buying things you already have in the cupboard - saving money and space.

We have a few go-to dishes we eat almost every week/fortnight which makes planning a lot easier. Check out this post I put together a while back which has a list of easy mid-week meals I know you'll love. We also love these noodles, this chicken curry and this low fat carbonara.

So - nothing too radical here, but some of the ways I save money each week on food shopping. No beans on toast 5x a week and shopping in the reduced section, but meals you can enjoy without worrying about breaking the bank!

*this post is written in collaboration with TSB - all words my own
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Monday, 5 October 2015

salted caramel chocolate pots


There are some occasions when nothing short of pure, unadulterated indulgence will do. 

Salted caramel chocolate pots.

These little pots of gorgeousness are heaven sent; a rich dark chocolate top hiding a salted caramel secret underneath. I've kept them small - trust me, they are incredibly rich so don't overwhelm with a large pot. I'm using recycled Gu Puds ramakins which make the perfect receptacle. This recipe will make 4-5 perfect little pots. 

For the salted caramel sauce...
70g salted butter
110g dark muscovado sugar
60ml double cream
1/8 teaspoon salt

For the chocolate...
200g dark chocolate (approx 75%)
300ml double cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon caster sugar

Start by making the caramel sauce. Melt the butter, sugar and double cream in a pan on a medium heat. When the mixture starts to bubble, ensure the mixture is fully combined and allow to bubbly carefully for three minutes. Keep stirring with a wooden spoon to ensure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan! Remove from the heat and stir in the salt. Leave to cool for 5 minutes before pouring into the ramekins evenly. 

For the chocolate, melt the dark chocolate in a pan on a very low heat (or in a bain marie if you'd prefer). In a different pan bring the double cream slowly to the boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and combine using a wooden spoon. Add the vanilla extract and caster sugar - the sugar is optional; the chocolate will be quite bitter as it's dark but if you like this then you won't need to add the sugar. Give it a taste and see! Using an electric whisk, whisk the mixture for no more than 30 seconds. Leave to cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the salted caramel mixture. Pop into the fridge to set for 1 hour. 

Note: you may notice the pots have formed some fat over the chocolate after setting in the fridge. Remove this using a teaspoon and some kitchen roll. 

After an hour, remove from the fridge and leave at room temperature until serving. Sprinkle over some flaked sea salt and serve with a dollop of the remaining double cream, whipped. 

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Friday, 2 October 2015

curry club


Ok, I'll put my hands up and admit it. Up until a couple of months ago I'd never eaten Pad Thai. I know, for someone who loves Asian cuisine, this is unheard of! But after trying at both Waga's and then Dim T some months ago I new it was love, and was desperate to recreate at home. 

I wanted to include this as part of my curry club series; what makes a dish a 'curry'? I don't know, but to me this fits into my curry/Asian affair quite neatly. 

After a bit of online searching for an appropriate recipe, it soon became clear that there isn't really such thing as a 'common' Pad Thai recipe. Each site I went to I found different variations - some using tamarind paste, others sweet chilli sauce, others soy sauce... some even tomato ketchup! I found this article showing just how much is up for debate. Blimey. The recipe I ended up using was on the back of the straight to wok Pad Thai noodles packet from Sainsburys.

The bad news? It just wasn't right. The tamarind paste and fish sauce dominated and I was left with an overly strong salty-fishy taste which just wasn't pleasant.

So this is my plea to you: please can you tell me your fail safe Pad Thai recipe? Help a sister out!


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