Friday, 14 January 2022

Restaurant Review - The Fox, Coulsdon Common, Caterham

I’ve been looking through old photos on my phone and remembering the fun things I did with my daughter pre-pandemic, and all the places we went. Many of them are things I was intending to post on this blog and never got around to - like this one!

It was back in 2018 when my daughter was barely two months old and my school friends came up to meet her as it was also my birthday. I knew I wasn’t really going to be in a position to host so we went out for a pub lunch. I needed to find somewhere that was child friendly and also vegan friendly. Even in the few years since 2018 vegan food has become much more common on menus but at the time I had to do a bit of research to find somewhere suitable.

I decided upon the Fox in Coulsdon Common, Caterham, a spacious Vintage Inns pub with a nice country feel. It did a delicious Sunday roast, a decent choice of vegan food and some very nice desserts. I have actually been here before and even reviewed it before - I don't normally review the same place twice but to be honest I had forgotten about the first time until I had already written this one!

There was plenty of room for the buggy and for me to be able to feed my daughter while sitting at the table. We haven’t been back since but that’s more due to the pandemic and the fact that we just don’t eat out very often, which is something that I think needs to change!

Wednesday, 12 January 2022

Butlin's Bognor Regis - Ocean Hotel and Restaurant Reviews, DineAround Explained

Butlin’s today is a far cry from the self catering caravan holidays I remember as a child in the 1980s. Today there are smart hotels, apartments, and a range of on-site restaurants including an American diner and Papa John’s. You’re sure to find something to suit everyone - but if you are considering a stay at Butlin’s how do you decide? Which hotel is best or should you self-cater at Butlin’s, what are the dining options and how does DineAround work?

In September I went to Butlin’s Bognor Regis and have tried to answer all these questions and more in a post on my other blog, MiniMoo Life. If you want to find out more, hop on over there!

Friday, 7 January 2022

The Trading House, London: Restaurant Review

Anyone for a Christmas dinner on a skewer? In the run-up to Christmas I went for a festive lunch at the Trading House, a bar and restaurant near Bank in central London, and this is how my dinner was served!

I always choose turkey when I go out for a Christmas meal but it was described  as a ‘turkey kebab’; I was very curious to see what it would look like, and definitely wasn’t expecting this!

The metal skewer, dangling from a special stand, had pieces of turkey, pigs in blankets and stuffing balls threaded on it, and sat hanging over a small bowl of roast potatoes and vegetables. It came with a small bowl of cranberry glaze and the waiter explained I should pour the glaze into a little dish at the top of the skewer stand and it would drip down over the turkey. It was certainly a talking point - and the food was very good, particularly the roast potatoes which were aided by a small jug of gravy on the side. 

For my dessert I chose gingerbread cake and after the innovative way my main course was served I was wondering how the cake would come - so it was almost disappointing it was simply a square piece of cake with a piece of pear and ice cream on the side! But nonetheless it was delicious and I do recommend the Trading House for both the food and the service.

The building and decor is also a talking point; it's a listed building with ornate columns and detailed carvings on the walls inside as well as an array of mounted stag heads (which I assume are fake...) and a giant taxidermy bird on the corner of the bar. Everywhere you look there is something to raise the eyebrows or nudge your companion and point out - understated it is not. Inspired by the explorers and merchants of the past, the Trading House conjures up a bygone era and at the same time a modern, innovative cocktail bar and restaurant. Well worth a visit if you are in the area.

Wednesday, 22 December 2021

Christmas Tree Rice Krispie Treats

These little treats are easy and fun to make and are great for a children’s Christmas party or to make at home with your kids. They don’t involve any baking, and just one pan which children can do under supervision. The idea came from but I adapted it a little.

Melt 100g butter in a large pan over a low heat along with 200g marshmallows, stirring until smooth.

Add a few drops of green food colouring and stir. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Mix in a large bowlful of Rice Krispies and stir gently until all the cereal is coated. 

Line a large flat baking tray with greaseproof paper and spoon on the Rice Krispie mixture. Press down and spread so you have a thin layer about 2cm thick.

Sprinkle over some Christmas sprinkles then place in the fridge to set for an hour.

When set using a knife carefully divide into triangles to make Christmas tree shapes.

I found that while the top of the Rice Krispie treats had set, the bottom was still very sticky once I had peeled them off the greaseproof paper, so I sprinkled that side with icing sugar which made them much easier to handle.

The original recipe suggested inserting a pretzel as the tree trunk but I found the treats were still too soft and started to break up as I did so, so I decided to just leave them as they were. 

My daughter was a little dubious at first as they were green but soon decided they tasted good!

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Make your own motivational quote cards

I'm not sure what these cards are actually called - 'motivational quote cards' sounds a bit worthy and the sort of thing you might find at a company team-building day. What I mean is a postcard with a message that is in some way inspiring, uplifting or encouraging - something that we could all use every now and then!

During lockdown I was sending a birthday present to a friend, who I hadn't been able to see for a long time because of Covid. I didn't want to just wrap her present and put it in a jiffy bag so I found a box (from one of my many online purchases) and filled in the gaps around her present with a few other things - some mini bubbles (the kind you blow, not drink), a couple of camomile tea bags and a package of home-made chocolate brownies. I also popped in this card:

They are really easy to make - you just need a small piece of card, and some letters. You can buy alphabet letter stickers or rubber stamps very cheaply, or if you are good at calligraphy write your own - or type it on the computer and print something out. I used a piece of red card and multi-coloured letters so didn't add any other embellishments, but you can design the card however you want.

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

Pizza Express Leadenhall Market - A little bit of post-lockdown familiarity

Pizza Express hardly needs a review as I doubt there are many people who haven’t been to one before! And like most chains you would expect consistency from one location to the next.

But it’s been a very long time since I’ve been to a Pizza Express - (not even including lockdown) and the menu did seem to have changed a bit, so I thought it was worth giving a quick update!

The first thing I noticed was that they had calzone on the menu - I love calzone and don’t remember that being something Pizza Express offered in the past. The next thing I noticed was that the classics menu looked a lot smaller than I remembered - now there is more of an even split between different types of pizza, the classics, the romana with a thinner base, calzone (folded pizza) and calabrese (square pizza) and there’s also a much bigger selection of vegan pizzas than I remember. There are the usual al forno dishes and leggera pizza which I always feel like I ought to order as it’s lower carb and you get salad in the middle - but the middle of the pizza that is missing is the best part!

Then I did a bit of a double take at the prices. It’s been quite a while since I went to a Pizza Express and along with regular price inflation we’ve had a combination of factors that have caused restaurants to put prices up, from higher energy prices to perhaps the need to recoup losses from lockdown. Even so I was surprised that most of the pizzas seemed to be around the £15 mark. I remember when Pizza Express did two pizzas for £15 if you had a voucher - but that was about 10 years ago now!

There are some new flavours and toppings on the menu too and I chose the BBQ burnt ends on a romana base. It had slow cooked beef brisket, which was a little fatty in places, with chipotle, barbecue sauce and red onion. I don’t think I’ve ever had a pizza at Pizza Express that wasn’t actually delicious as they seem to get their flavour combinations just right.

I ate with a friend from work at the Leadenhall Market branch in London; it’s a nice location with a small area upstairs and a large area downstairs so even though it gets busy at lunchtime we had no problem getting a table. There is definitely something comforting about the familiarity of Pizza Express and no doubt I will be back.

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Easy Veggie Nuggets

These veggie nuggets are aimed at children but I think would be just as good for adults - and I wonder if instead of shaping into individual nuggets or patties, it would work made into a log and sliced - a bit like a nut roast for Sunday dinner.

The recipe came from an Instagram account called @zaynesplate - it’s really easy to make and you can adapt it with your own vegetables. You can see the recipe here.

I used broccoli, carrots, chickpeas, rolled oats and cheese as the recipe suggests. I think if you were making this for adults or older children I wouldn’t blend it and would leave the texture more varied, and perhaps add sweet corn as well. My daughter enjoyed these and there was plenty left to go into the freezer for next time.

Saturday, 9 October 2021

Davina’s cheesy apple savoury scones

A few years ago the television presenter Davina McCall - best known for Big Brother - decided to give up sugar. I was vaguely aware that she had written a cookery book and I am trying to cut down on sugar so had a look on Amazon - and discovered she has written loads of books!

I liked the sound of her book Sugar Free in a Hurry as I don’t have a lot of time to cook these days - between a full time job and parenting a toddler and trying to keep the house in order too (which my husband helps with, but I am the only one who cooks).

 I made these apple and cheese scones from the book, which were really easy to throw together - and fun for my daughter to help make too!

Follow this link to see the recipe.

Personally I couldn’t taste the apple and would add a lot more if I made this again, though would have to experiment with the consistency of the dough to make sure it wasn’t too wet. I also used extra nature cheddar and even then think it could have used a bit more. The scones turned out well though and I would definitely make some sort of savoury scones again using this recipe as a basis and maybe playing around a bit with the different flavours. If you have a really good recipe for savoury scones let me know in the comments!

Sunday, 19 September 2021

Eataly London review - Lunch and a tourist attraction

A cornucopia of Italian food, a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach, a good place to meet friends or have lunch with colleagues, somewhere to get a leisurely breakfast before you catch a train, a tourist attraction somewhere you can pick up ingredients for dinner to take home or even take an Italian cookery course - all this under one roof?
If you like Italian food then you simply must visit Eataly on Bishopsgate, next to Liverpool Street Station. It opened in May 2021 during the pandemic, and when I returned to my office nearby in September it was the first place I went to check out on my lunchbreak. I was amazed!
Walking in I thought I had either entered an Art Deco arcade in Milan or perhaps the Sefridges food hall. A huge effort has been put in to make this a beautiful place with a high end feel (and rest assured the prices match!) with decorative archways and even the way the produce is arranged which is truly Instagram worthy. Check out some of my photos below!

Whether it’s a wall of coffee, a pick and mix selection area with Italian chocolates rather than the usual gummy sweets, watching the bread ovens get fired up or watching mozzarella being made, there is so much to take in. The charcuterie counter had more types of ham and salami than I could imagine; there are also fridges selling pre packaged products. The wine floor has over 2,000 different bottles and the pasta aisles had me dying to take some home and try - I will definitely be back to pick some up once I have decided what to do with it. There were colours and shapes of pasta I’d never even imagined - I particularly loved these striped sombreroni which are little sombrero hats that apparently you stuff like cannelloni and bake in the oven. But at around £7 a bag they are definitely more of a one off treat!

While I was there I decided to get some lunch. There is a chiller cabinet with sandwiches but I wanted to try the freshly cooked food. There’s a counter where you can buy pizza by the (square) slice, a fresh pasta bar, a cafe where you can get pastries and a proper restaurant upstairs though I couldn’t see a menu without going in.

I went for the pasta which had three or four options (I don’t know if these change or always remain the same) and opted for tagliatelle with bolognese sauce. It was served in a cardboard tub with a lid, which I took over to the seating area; free water is provided which I thought was really nice. The pasta was very good - I love fresh pasta - but at £11.50 it was very steep for lunch and I don’t think this is something I would do again unless I was meeting a friend for lunch.

Overall though I loved Eataly; the products are pretty expensive though I do want to come back and buy a few things once I have thought of some things I will actually use - but it’s also a lovely place to have a wander round and simply enjoy seeing so many specialist and unusual (in the U.K. at least) Italian products under one roof!

Friday, 27 August 2021

Non-alcoholic spirits: Strykk Not G*n review

Sunny days are invariably linked in my mind with cocktails - probably as they remind me of beach holidays from two decades ago when my main requirement for a holiday was sun, a hotel pool and a drink with a little umbrella!

Back then, the cocktails were usually strong - in Greece I remember them being heavy on the spirit, light on the mixer - and I would usually go for something like sex on the beach or pina colada.

I still prefer my cocktails sweet over sour but these days as I’m either more discerning or just can’t cope with hangovers any more - I’d rather have one or two expertly crafted cocktails served in a martini glass where the spirit stands out and the predominant taste isn’t grenadine.

But as a busy mum and someone who doesn’t get to go out much at all, sometimes I want a delicious drink to enjoy in my garden in the evening that isn’t actually alcohol but still feels like the experience of sipping a cocktail from a martini glass.

I think this desire for a sophisticated cocktail experience at home - but without the alcohol - is what has led to the rise of alcohol free spirits. Seedlip say they created the first range of distilled non-alcoholic spirits, blending a range of botanicals to create three flavours - grove, garden and spice. Other companies have followed in their footsteps and I came across Strykk, which makes what it calls 'proper' non-alcoholic alternatives, like Not G*n which is a botanicals and juniper based alternative to gin, Not R*m (rum alternative) and Not V*dka - a vodka alternative which has recently been followed by a vanilla vodka alternative which I really rate.

We had a party for a family birthday recently and as there were almost entirely non-drinkers (either because they don't drink anyway or they were driving) I made a big pitcher of punch - a mixture of cloudy apple juice, elderflower cordial and sparkling water (you can also use soda water). It's nice with a few sprigs of mint added too. It tasted even better with a little Not G*n added!

Another drink I had considered making but didn't in the end was a rhubarb sour with Not G*n, rhubarb syrup and lemon juice, topped up with soda water.

I feel like there are so many new possibilities open with a grown up non-alcoholic alternative to spirits and I have already bought the vanilla vodka alternative to add to my gin - or not gin rather. Have you tried any non-alcoholic spirits and which ones do you recommend?


Saturday, 24 July 2021

The Ivy Brasserie Cobham - Review

I’m not going to admit how long it’s been since I last went out for a restaurant meal in the evening with my husband - because it was some time before lockdowns even started. Since having our daughter we’ve hardly ever had anyone babysit so romantic dinners a deux have been off the menu.

We weren’t able to celebrate our wedding anniversary with anything more than a takeaway at home in 2020 but even the year before, our plans fell through as our babysitter was ill so we rescheduled but then my husband was ill and somehow we never got around to finding another date.

So this year with lockdown rules easing and having had our vaccinations I was determined that we were going to do something. As my husband is a fussy eater my first step in choosing a restaurant is to scan the menu for something he would like.

I had recently someone posting images on Facebook of The Ivy Brasserie Cobham and I loved the floral backdrop, which prompted me to look up the restaurant. The Ivy Brasseries are outposts of the famous Ivy restaurant in London which is known for its classic British dishes combined with a contemporary global selection with a particular slant on Asian food. Even then I was actually surprised that somewhere that nice - and that wasn’t a chain restaurant or a pub - had things on the menu like a burger and steak that my husband would actually like!

My eye was also caught by the cocktail list so I booked right away - we had the option of choosing an indoor or an outside table and since my husband had only had one vaccination at that point to my two, he said he preferred to sit outside.

On the day of our booking the weather looked a bit changeable and it had rained in the morning so I called the restaurant to ask if the outdoor tables were under cover and they assured me that they were. However, while our table was at the end of a fixed rectangular canopy that stretched the length of several tables and would have kept the rain off if needed (luckily the weather was fine in the evening!) I did notice that a few tables had what was basically a garden parasol umbrella meaning that at least two if not three people at a table for four would have gotten wet if it rained!

Funnily enough though the restaurant was busy when we arrived but had emptied out well before 8pm.. possibly due to the fact that England was playing in the Euros that night!

The Ivy Brasserie is a beautiful restaurant - there are flowers everywhere and even a wall of flowers outside by the front door (selfie spot alert!). We were shown through the restaurant to a small courtyard garden which would have been prettier had I not been facing a row of patio heaters lined up right behind my husband’s chair. But nonetheless the decor and atmosphere was lovely. 

Service was friendly and on the whole good though I had to ask about my starter after they brought my husband’s and not mine and when I ordered a cocktail from their dessert menu as well as a dessert, I was expecting the drink first and the dessert second, but got it the other way around after having to actually ask a waiter - I think they forgot I’d ordered a drink.

The food was amazing - I don’t know if that’s partly because it as had been literally years since I last ate in a restaurant but I think this was the best meal I’ve had in a long time. We had some sourdough bread (£4.25) and honey glazed almonds (a shocking £3.25 for a tiny handful in a bowl) to start then my husband had the Ivy hamburger (£13.95, cheese is an extra £1.95 - this place isn’t cheap - which he said was very good).

I didn’t want simple traditional food like fish and chips, as while I’m sure the Ivy’s take on this classic dish would be excellent, I can get standard fish and chips anywhere. Instead I chose a Keralan monkfish and prawn curry (£17.95) that came with jasmine rice and sweet potato crisps- with a little trepidation as I wouldn’t normally order a curry in a restaurant unless we were having an Indian takeaway. But it was outstanding - not very spicy (good), with a thin sauce almost like a broth, large chunks of monkfish and juicy prawns and fluffy rice. I wanted to ask for another portion to take home!

The cocktail menu looked very tempting and I had a Passionate Spritz - a combination of aperol, passion fruit vodka and Prosecco. It wasn’t as sweet as I normally like my cocktails - and in fact I’d tried aperol once before and didn’t like it - but it felt like a nice summery drink and I did enjoy it.

I had a Hazelnut Alexander with my dessert - cognac, Frangelico hazelnut liqueur and cream, which was delicious. But probably a bit unnecessary as I’d decided to make the most of being in a restaurant (long overdue!) and also order a dessert.

They had a special dessert in honour of Wimbledon that looked just like a tennis ball which I almost wanted to order just for a photo, but it was filled with strawberries and cream and I’m not keen on strawberries. Instead my husband and I both had a chocolate bombe (£8.95 - since when did desserts start costing so much?). It consisted of vanilla ice cream with a honeycomb centre encased in a chocolate shell, with a little jug of hot caramel sauce that you pour over the chocolate dome to make it melt. I was actually a bit disappointed that the waiter poured the sauce himself as I would have liked to do it! I couldn’t fault the dessert though, it was delicious and the perfect end to a perfect meal - and we got home in time to a happy and contented daughter who had had great fun with her babysitter (and was still awake, but it wasn’t late as we’d had an early sitting at dinner) and in time to catch the end of the football.

A quick FAQ…

What is parking like at the Ivy Brasserie Cobham?

I’d read reviews saying the car park was tiny so expected it to only have a couple of spaces; in fact it was more like 10-12 which admittedly isn’t many - and two spaces were at such angles I wouldn’t have liked to have parked in them. Instead we parked in the public car park on Downside Bridge Road which is a short five minute walk (ten minutes in heels) down the high street to the Ivy restaurant.

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

In The Pink Birthday Card

This birthday card was made for a very dear friend I haven’t seen for over a year due to coronavirus. She actually sent me most of the things I used on this card for my birthday so I thought it fitting to make a card for her!

The starting point was a sheet of clear stamps with some popular cute animals - alpaca, flamingo, meerkat and giraffe - and matching sentiments. The animal stamps were all from  the neck up at an angle where it would work best with the animals coming out from the side of the card, so I used a tall thin card blank. I put the flamingo near the top and stamped him in black ink then coloured in with a pink Promarker pen. The matching sentiment said ‘hope this finds you in the pink!’

I then added an alpaca, since I like alpacas and that’s a good enough reason, popping his head out from the other side of the card. One of the other sentiments was perfect to add next to him: ‘miss you!’. I added a couple of highlights with the same pink pen.

I toyed with the idea of adding a happy birthday sticker but decided it wouldn’t look right and I needed to stamp the message. I added a few strokes of pink pen around it to add a bit of colour.

A final touch was two sections of washi tape from a pack the same friend gave me for my birthday; one says ‘happy birthday’ on it and the other ‘lots of love’. Hopefully I will get to see my friend soon!

Thursday, 24 June 2021

5th Anniversary Wooden Log Celebration Cake

The theme for a fifth wedding anniversary is wood so when my husband and I were celebrating that particular milestone recently I decided to make a cake based on the theme. There are a lot of ways you could interpret ‘wood’ - after all a lot of different things are made of wood - but to me the obvious choice was a woodland theme and a wooden tree stump!

This cake has vertical layers running through it which makes it a bit different - because it’s actually a Swiss roll cake on its side!

The recipe and general design came from a blog called Top with Cinnamon. It’s actually very easy to make this delicious cake - you make two Swiss rolls, cut them vertically so you have four strips, and roll them all up around each other with frosting in between. 

I didn’t make the coffee frosting in this recipe and instead added some cocoa powder as I wanted my daughter to have it and she’s too young for coffee (and probably wouldn’t like the taste anyway). I spread the ganache around the outside and on top and marked it with a fork to look like a tree trunk.

If I had more time to decorate I would have made woodland creatures out of icing but instead I used some mushroom shaped sweets (you can get these in most grocery shops) and made a ladybird, leaves and some tiny flowers out of icing (a flower plunger cutter made that last part very easy). Finally I added a ‘happy anniversary’ cake pick.

You can see the vertical layers when you slice into the cake - overall I’m really pleased with how the cake matches our anniversary theme!

Friday, 4 June 2021

Easy chicken and lemon all-in-one tray bake

When you want a nice easy recipe where you can chuck everything into one pan to save time (and save on the washing up), a tray bake is a great option.

This one is vaguely Mediterranean and very simple to make. All you need is:
Chicken thighs - I used skinless ones and allowed two per person 
Tinned tomatoes (one 400g tin)
1 lemon, sliced
1-2 medium to large potatoes per person, cut into wedges
Dice the onion and finely chop the garlic. Fry for a few minutes over a medium heat and add the tinned tomatoes and season. Spoon into the bottom of a baking tin and mix in the potato wedges. 

Sit the chicken portions on top and top each one with a slice of lemon. Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for 45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Saturday, 29 May 2021

Dirty Bones meal kit at home - Plateaway review

We’ve eaten quite a lot of takeaways during the pandemic, but not because we couldn’t get out to our favourite restaurants – since becoming parents over three years ago we have barely been out to eat more than a handful of times! Instead, ordering in food was either something we did at the end of a particularly tiring day of working and entertaining a toddler, or because we felt like we needed a treat of some kind. I was getting a bit fed up of our same old, same old choices, particularly when it came to actually celebrating a special occasion.

For Valentine’s Day we had a lovely delivery from a local restaurant, Spaghetti Tree, but for my birthday recently I wanted to do something else. I have seen a few websites that allow you to order meal kits from restaurants if you live too far away to get a takeaway- you do have to cook it yourself but they provide all the ingredients and instructions. That sounded quite fun so for my birthday I had a look at Plateaway to find something my husband and I would both like - which immediately ruled out quite a lot! I decided to go for burgers out of curiosity - cooking burgers at home is never as good as eating them in restaurants or indeed takeaway/ delivery from the likes of Five Guys. I’ve often wondered even if you get a good quality beef patty surely what makes these meals delicious is the way they are cooked or even the way the burgers are assembled - so this was my opportunity to find out!

I went for the ‘Mac Daddy kit’ from a restaurant called Dirty Bones - they have a site in London’ Shoreditch though I’ve never eaten there before. I selected the option I wanted from Plateaway - kit to serve two for £19 - and entered the delivery date I wanted. I went for the day before my birthday as the meal kits do have to be used within a day or two but as the delivery time is not guaranteed I thought it best to get it the day before- though it came around 11.30am.

Plateaway lists everything you get inside the box on its website so you know before you order exactly what you are getting. In this kit there were burger patties, American cheese slices, brioche buns, a pouch of macaroni cheese and a pouch of pulled pork in barbecue sauce. The latter were both already cooked and prepared and just needed reheating. The kit doesn’t come with fries so you will need to supply cook those yourself.

There was a card inside the pack with detailed instructions, though it was very straightforward and really only involved frying the burgers and heating the Mac and cheese and pulled pork in small pans. The instructions also include how to assemble the burger.

And is ordering a burger from Plateaway worth it? A resounding yes from me. The burger was juicy, the mac and cheese creamy and the pulled pork tangy, all working together to give the taste of something I would happily have ordered in a restaurant.

But is it worth cooking something from Plateaway or a restaurant meal kit yourself? First of all, let’s look at the cost. This was £19 for two people - so £9.50 per burger - plus a £4.95 delivery charge. At Dirty Bones restaurant the Mac Daddy burger is £12 - so you save £2.50 by cooking it yourself or if you count the delivery cost it’s basically the same as eating in the restaurant (though you would have to factor in the cost of getting to the restaurant unless you lived in walking distance, and a tip). It is cheaper than ordering a takeaway - we seem to spend about £40 when we order from Five Guys for instance though that includes fries and drinks. It’s worth knowing that you can also get the cook at home meal kits direct from the Dirty Bones website. They charge £28 instead of £19 for the Mac Daddy kit but that includes delivery and also two portions of fries with their special blend of onion and garlic salt.

Ultimately the draw of getting a restaurant meal kit to cook at home is if you want to eat food from a particular restaurant and live too far to either go there (or are avoiding travel/eating out still due to covid; we were in lockdown when we ordered this but even now haven’t started going into London again) or live too far away to get an actual takeaway delivered. For that reason- and because the food was delicious even though I cooked it myself - I would definitely order again!

Thursday, 13 May 2021

Handmade Eid Mubarak card

Eid Mubarak! Today is Eid-al-Fitr, a religious holiday celebrated by Muslims that marks the end of the Ramadan month of fasting. During Ramadan, most Muslims (aside from those who are exempt for reasons including illness and old age) fast from dawn until sunset, then break their fast each night with a meal known as 'iftar'. Sharing iftar with others is an important practice for many Muslim families, and it must have been particularly difficult this year and last when Ramadan and Eid took place in lockdown. This year the restrictions aren't quite so strict but still prevent families and large groups of friends from getting together.

One of our neighbours is a Muslim family who have kindly shared iftar meals with us and with others in our street, bringing a tray of food to our door. We've had a delicious chicken biryani and a sweet rice dish called zarda, which I'd never tasted before, and can recommend! I thought I had taken a photo of it but unfortunately can't find it now.

Today on Eid, I gave them a card I had made, wishing the family Eid Mubarak which means 'Blessed Eid' - the traditional greeting you would offer. I have to admit this was a last minute card so was made very quickly, but I'm quite pleased with it, and I hope they were too!

The crescent moon is an important symbol of Eid and often found on greetings cards - Eid begins at the first sight of the new crescent moon. I have a paper pad of galaxy-themed pages from Hobbycraft and cut out a crescent moon from a piece of paper with a starry night sky design. I added some mini blue and silver gems and sequins and the words 'Eid Mubarak' in silver letters; I thought the glitter effect worked really well with the theme of the card.

Next year I think I might bake something for my neighbours at Eid!

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

How to make an Amazon parcel cake

We fall squarely in the camp of ‘how on earth did people manage before Amazon Prime?’. A combination of not wanting to go to shops during lockdown, working full time and not really wanting to spend my free time trawling the high street and a toddler who often needs stuff at short notice means we probably get more Amazon parcels than most. Then there is the fact that my husband actually works for a branch of the company so it’s not far from the truth to say that his bank statement looks quite funny.... money comes in from Amazon... money goes out to Amazon!
So when it came to his birthday there was really only one cake I was ever going to make. I'd seen a few pictures on the internet of cakes that look exactly like Amazon parcels, complete with shipping labels - which are all edible. The cake itself looked fairly simple, but the question was, where do you get edible Amazon labels to go on cakes?

It turns out that these are actually made of icing sheets, printed using edible ink. You can buy your own icing printer and edible ink and they aren't quite as expensive as I imagined - they seem to start at around £200. Which is a lot, but not prohibitively expensive if you were going to use it a lot. However, I knew I wasn't going to get much use out of one so couldn't justify buying one, and instead found someone selling what I needed on Etsy.

When I bought this in March I could only find one UK seller on Etsy making these, but now there seem to be quite a few, and I've found the same thing on Ebay as well. I paid £9 which was quite a bit for a cake decoration but I was happy to pay it for something this unique!
Making the cake itself is relatively easy - you need a square or rectangular cake tin, some roll-out fondant icing, some food colouring and that's about it - as well as your cake and icing ingredients.

My husband loves chocolate cake so I browsed the internet for a recipe that looked nice - I didn't want to use any of the really fudgy chocolate cake recipes I've made before that use a lot of melted chocolate in the cake batter, as our three-year-old daughter would be eating it too. So I wanted it to be delicious but not too rich, and used this recipe from Charlotte's Lively Kitchen, which was really good.
If you don't have a rectangular cake tin you can bake two square cakes and join them together, but you might have a bit of a dip in the icing where there is a join.
To cover the cake I mixed some fondant icing with a little gel paste in teddy bear brown. You can buy ready made icing by Renshaw in this colour but it's cheaper to add your own colour to white icing, at least if you will be using gel colours regularly (they tend to last a long time). I think the shade looks very similar to Amazon packaging!
As well as filling the cake with chocolate buttercream I spread a thin layer over the top and around the sides, then rolled out the fondant to cover it. All I then had to do was add the labels.

They came on an A4 sheet with instructions that said if I had difficulty in peeling the icing off the backing (which I did - it was impossible) to put the sheet in the oven at a particular temperature, and it would harden and come off the backing sheet easily. It worked perfectly, and I only needed to moisten the fondant on the cake a little to get the labels to stick. I was able to get them personalised, with my husband's name and birthday date.
My icing isn't perfect - I live in envy of people who can make perfectly sharp corners - but from a distance this looked very realistic, and my husband thought it was brilliant as he hadn't seen these cakes before!