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 
Onion 
Garlic 
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!
 
 

Friday, 16 April 2021

How to make your own bunting

Last year we decided to redecorate our daughter’s bedroom and I immediately knew I wanted to add some homemade touches. Bunting looks really pretty when strung across a wall, between shelves or across the top of a reading nook - and best of all it’s really easy to make.

You need:

Fabric - you can use anything, a thin cotton material is easiest to sew and you can buy packs of ‘fat quarters’ which are squares of fabric in complementary colours or patterns fairly cheaply.

Binding tape - this is the special type of ribbon that you will sew the triangles on to.

Pinking shears - scissors that cut with a zig zag design. For some reason cutting out your triangles with these scissors means the edges won’t fray.

Needle and cotton - I also found a needle threader really useful

Paper or card to make a template

And that’s it!

To begin, decide how big your want the flags in your bunting to be - bearing in mind that you will lose a centimetre or so when you sew along the top. Draw a triangle shape on paper or card and cut out to use as a template.

Next cut out your triangles - you may find it easier to pin or tape your template onto the fabric.

Lay your binding tape across the top of the triangle and fold the fabric over. Sew along the strip to sew the binding tape into the triangle. Lay the next triangle on the binding tape - I found a gap of a few centimetres between each one was good - and repeat until you have done them all.

We used drawing pins to fix the bunting to the wall - our daughter really liked it!




Saturday, 27 February 2021

Strawberry and white chocolate crispy cakes with pink Coco Pops

Kellogg’s new strawberry and white chocolate flavour coco pops are pink and a fun option for breakfast - but there is a lot more you can do with them than just add a splash of milk!

So what can you make with pink coco pops?

Since I got them a couple of days before my daughter’s third birthday I had the perfect idea - unicorn poo! Or rather, the equivalent of chocolate Rice Krispie cakes, but using the pink coco pops and white chocolate (and a little golden syrup). They are so easy to make and something that children can make with you or even by themselves.

Melt 100g white chocolate and mix with 200g strawberry and white chocolate coco pops - you can always add a little more cereal if the mixture looks too ‘wet’. I added two tablespoons of golden syrup as well.

Spoon into paper cupcake cases and then decorate however you like - I used mini white chocolate stars as I figure unicorns must poop stars, right? Or maybe edible glitter would have been good!

Leave in the fridge to set for a couple of hours then enjoy!



Have a look at my other blog Mini Moo Life for more ideas of things to do with children!

Friday, 19 February 2021

Spaghetti Tree Sutton - Restaurant/ Takeaway review

In some ways, this Valentine's Day was much like any other - my husband and I have tended to avoid going out to restaurants on Valentine's Day (in fact, I'm not sure we ever have) - partly in expectation that venues will be turning tables as quickly as possible, partly because prices seem to go up that day, and partly- actually, mainly - because most restaurants offer set menus on February 14 and there's hardly ever anything my husband likes.

Dining out with a fussy eater is tricky and dining in during lockdown isn't much easier! I wasn't planning to bother looking for a nice takeaway option for Valentine's Day, but saw an advert for a local Italian restaurant that sounded nice and decided to have a look.

The Spaghetti Tree in Sutton is not to be confused with the Spaghetti House chain - it's a family-run Italian restaurant that has been going for more than 30 years. According to their website they were offering live entertainment before the pandemic, and have now turned to takeaway and delivery - including a Sunday roast which I'm going to have to try.

The Valentine's Day offer was indeed a set menu, but with quite a few options compared to the three or four you usually find - this one had six starters and six main courses to choose from, one of which was any pizza from their menu. That suited us perfectly!

It wasn't cheap at £40 each but that price included three courses, delivery, a cocktail and chocolate covered strawberries. As my husband is teetotal I got to have his cocktail and I can say that even though I'm not really sure of the ingredients (strawberry, peach and vodka came through) they really were delicious.

I chose the tiger prawns with chorizo bruschetta for my starter, which came with rocket and red onions as well as a balsamic glaze. The bread was a little soggy by the time our food arrived but that did no harm and it was very tasty. My husband had deep fried mozzarella parcels - the portion contained four, which is something we probably would have shared between us had we been eating in the restaurant, and he said that while they were very nice, two was plenty as they were actually quite heavy.

I was very tempted by several of the main courses in the set menu, including the prawn and crab linguine, the tagliatelle with meatballs and the seabass with tiger prawns but I plumped instead for 'pollo Casanova' - chicken breast wrapped in pancetta in a spinach and gorgonzola sauce served with saute potatoes and seasonable vegetables. It was excellent - the chicken (two sizeable pieces) perfectly cooked, the sauce not overpowering and complementing the dish well, and the potatoes and vegetables were exactly how I like them. Again, the portion was so large I couldn't eat it all!

My husband enjoyed his margerita pizza and said the brownie he had for dessert was very good. For my dessert I chose the nutella pizza, which the menu described as topped with strawberries and white chocolate swirls - instead, it came topped with sliced banana! (And I don't like banana, but then again I don't like strawberries either). It was far too large for one person and again if we were in the restaurant would have been a sharing dessert - as it was, I ate one small slice and the rest ended up being wasted!

I was very pleased overall with the menu, from the wide choice to the quality of the food (and the drinks!), and would definitely order from here again.

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Some simple Valentine's crafts for children and toddlers

My two year old and I have had fun making some Valentine's day decorations! Some of the ideas are based on things I saw online and some are my own design. All we used were some cardboard heart shapes, two heart-shape hole punches, some wool, a toilet roll tube, paint and some heart stickers, and some ribbon to hang what we made.

You can find out how to make all of these and more on my parenting blog Mini Moo Life!






Wednesday, 10 February 2021

How to create pancake art - fun ideas for Pancake Day


 Have you come across pancake art before? It's a great way to have fun on Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday) or indeed any time! Pancake art is simply creating a picture in pancake form, by using a squeezy bottle to draw with the batter in your pan. As the batter cooks, add more details, then finally fill in the gaps, to get different shades on your 'picture'. 

Hop on over to my other blog, Mini Moo Life, to see the unicorn pancake I made for my daughter and also my attempt at her favourite cartoon character Bluey!



Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Possibly the best ever Christmas chocolate brownies

I was very excited when The Holiday, starring Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz and Jude Law first came out in 2006 as Winslet’s character was a journalist on a real-life British daily newspaper - where I actually worked. There were even rumours that Jude Law had been seen on a tour of our real-life office though I unfortunately didn’t see him myself!

While the film was lovely what I found most far-fetched was the depiction of some of the details. Winslet works on the paper’s obituaries desk and manages to own a beautiful roomy cottage in Surrey (surely out of her price range) which is apparently a 40 minute commute - my memory is more like 40 minutes after leaving the office you would probably still be standing at the station waiting for a delayed Southern train). 

The village where many of the U.K. scenes are filmed isn’t that far away from me - Shere, near Guildford - and though I haven’t actually been there, but we did do a Weber barbecue cookery course in a village called Abinger Hammer a few years ago which is only a five minute drive from Shere, and I can vouch for the fact that there really are some English villages as picturesque as the ones in the Holiday! 

Debra at Eliot's Eats selected The Holiday as the theme for this month's Food 'n' Flix, The idea is that we all cook or bake something inspired by the film, and it's a great movie to rewatch at Christmas!

In terms of foodie inspiration from the film itself, one of the scenes that stands out is when Amanda (Cameron Diaz) arrives in her house swap and goes to the local shop where she stocks up on wine, chocolate, Christmas cake, mince pies and more. The shop keeper assumes she’s having a party but it’s all for her! The other food moment that sticks in my mind is when Iris (Kate Winslet) makes Christmas fettuccine, which I didn’t realise was a thing (and according to a few rather indignant posts I’ve read online, isn’t). 

I decided to go with something a bit more traditionally festive - chocolate brownies. They strike me as both the sort of thing that Amanda may have bought to indulge in at her holiday cottage but also the sort of thing that she might make herself - she doesn’t strike me as much of a cook but I can’t help feeling that she would have made brownies before even if from a packet mix!

I used a recipe I found on a website called Jane's Patisserie and I can say that these are some of the best chocolate brownies I’ve ever made. They are particularly good on day two if you keep them in the fridge!


I didn't add anything to them (Jane's recipes suggest adding chopped up chocolate bars like Mars or Crunchie, but I just wanted the standard brownie texture) but I decorated the top with some drizzled icing and some mini KitKat Santas, but you can put anything you want on top, or indeed nothing at all. These are truly more-ish and might have to become my go-to brownie recipe!




 

Sunday, 13 December 2020

Christmas bauble cakes

There was a time when I always wanted the latest novelty cake pan or innovative piece of baking equipment from Lakeland - to be fair I still do want those things but am realistic to know I don’t have space for much more and don’t have time for the sort of elaborate bakes I used to do! But it’s fun to dig out equipment I haven’t used in a long time - or in this case had never actually used.

This is a silicon mini cake pan in the shape of Christmas baubles - I think I bought it in the January sale one year and had never actually used it!


The only instructions on the back said to use a two egg cake mix so I used this recipe from the BBC Good Food website  but had far too much cake mixture so made these reindeercupcakes as well.

I had to guess how long to cook them for as though the cakes are small they are fairly deep so I did them at 180C for 20 minutes.

You can see the design on the cakes when they came out of the pan - some baubles have stars, others stripes and two had a snowflake pattern that looks really pretty if you go over it with white icing with a fine piping nozzle.

I went over the other designs with icing with varying degrees of success. My piping has never been neat! These look quite effective when all piled together on a plate though I don’t think I’d have the patience to ice more than six, it would be a fun activity to do with children.



Reindeer cupcakes with pretzel antlers


I really wanted to make some time to do some Christmas baking when I had a day off last week as in the past I would have made several festive treats by now and I hadn’t done anything yet! 

These reindeer cupcakes are really easy, the key ingredient is the pretzels - and you can make the cakes themselves any flavour you like!

I made chocolate cakes using this recipe on the BBC Good Food site and made a simple chocolate buttercream.

When the cakes were baked and cooled I topped with a spoonful of buttercream and used salted caramel flavour chocolate coated pretzels (made by Flipz, available in most supermarkets) for the reindeer’s antlers. You can use regular pretzels as well but I thought these went better with the cake!

For the face you can use a Smartie or M&M for the nose but I didn’t have any and these were a spur of the moment bake so I used some icing I had coloured red and used a little piping bag to pipe on the rest of the face. Some of the reindeer have slightly odd expressions but my daughter liked them and so did my husband!

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

The Cocktail Man - Cocktail kits at home subscription box review


Many of us are missing going out to bars during lockdown – the atmosphere, the company, but also the cocktails carefully crafted by bartenders. Though I have to admit that I have barely been out to a bar since becoming a parent and even before that it wasn’t a regular occurrence – but I do love a proper cocktail that’s more than just a spirit and a mixer. A few months back I decided to treat myself to something I came across online, which aims to fill this particular gap. The Cocktail Man is professional mixologist James Vyse who quit his job at a top bar in London to create this new subscription service bringing you cocktail making kits at home.

You can choose your favourite cocktail as a one-off treat or a gift for someone else, or you can choose a subscription package where a different cocktail kit each month makes its way through your door. I have had two now, as part of a six-month subscription, and can confirm that the cocktails are delicious. However, the package changed after the first month and I do think these are a little on the expensive side – even though they are still cheaper than paying for cocktails of this quality in a bar!

What do you get in the Cocktail Man box?

Each month, the pack brings you everything you need to make five cocktails. That includes three miniature bottles of spirits, and a bottle of the Cocktail Man’s own recipe ‘sliqueur’ (which I think might be a ‘secret liqueur’ but I couldn't see an explanation for the name) – this is a flavoured liqueur that is basically what makes the cocktail something unique, plus a garnish and a recipe card. The three cocktails I have had so far are:

Raspberry Rose Gin Fizz: miniature bottles of gin, plus raspberry and rose sliqueur, and dried rose buds to garnish

Blueberry and lavender sour: vodka, blueberry and lavender sliqueur, and lavender sprigs to garnish.

Rhubarb and ginger negroni: gin, campari, rhubarb and ginger sliqueur, and dehydrated orange slices to garnish.

The recipe cards also explain what fresh ingredients you need; the first two both needed an egg white which isn’t something I would normally put in a drink, but as long as you shake it up enough, works just fine. The blueberry and lavender sour is served neat, whereas the raspberry rose gin fizz is topped up with tonic water; which wasn’t on the initial list of ingredients on the recipe card so luckily I read the whole thing before I started making it, or I would have gotten to the end and realised I had no tonic water! 

A negroni is usually too bitter for me and the rhubarb sliqueur did sweeten it somewhat, and I liked the hint of orange, but again I would prefer a sweeter cocktail. The garnishes give a nice final touch but what I liked most was that these tasted like proper premium cocktails. I preferred the raspberry rose gin fizz as I like a sweeter cocktail – I’m hoping that next time I get either the champagne cosmopolitan or the mango and passion fruit mojito!

What are the cocktails like?

Delicious – like something you would get in a high end bar. I’m not talking jug of sex on the beach – but the sort of drink I’ve enjoyed at the Dorchester or the Skylon bar in the South Bank Centre. With the garnish as well they look the part (providing you have suitable glassware – by the way, you also need a cocktail shaker). The mixers are minimal so these are strong cocktails too – a little goes a long way.







How is it packaged?

In an attractive blue strong cardboard box, with the bottles neatly arranged so you can see what you’ve got at a glance. There was also a postcard with a message from the Cocktail Man about the inspiration for this particular cocktail and the recipe card. Initially, there were two options however, of a standard and premium subscription; my subscription was upgraded from the former to the latter after some delivery issues. The standard box was similar but packaged in a plain white box, with a removal blue sleeve, and without the postcard. These feel like a luxury treat when they arrive and would make a lovely gift.

What does it cost?

Currently at the time of writing on the Cocktail Man website, an individual kit is between £34.99 and £36.99, a three month subscription is £79.99 (reduced from £98.97), six months £149.99 (reduced from £197.94) and 12 months is £279.99, down from the usual price of £395.88. That sounds expensive, and in fact since I started drafting this blog post the prices have actually gone up - but given each kit makes five cocktails, a one-off at £32.99 (including postage) sets you back £7 per cocktail – you’d pay nearly twice that in some high end bars. On a six month subscription, it’s less than £5 per drink, and for 12 months, that falls to under £4.70. Of course, you also have to take into account the fact that you are making these cocktails yourself at home – and a fair amount of the bar price would go towards covering overheads. I got a special offer via Facebook so look out for voucher codes so I feel like I got a bargain based on the current prices - and am looking forward to my next few boxes of cocktails!

 


Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Winter Warmer recipe - Cheesy Sausage, Broccoli and Quinoa Bake

I wanted to share this dish I made recently from a recipe by the Chunky Chef as it’s a perfect winter warmer and easy to make.

The quantities can be easily scaled up or down - prepare some quinoa according to the pack instructions (rinsing then simmering on the hob). When cool, fluff with a fork.

Fry some sausages in a pan and at the same time, briefly steam some broccoli (I did this in the microwave). 

You also need a cheese sauce which you can either make from scratch or use a packet mix.



Mix the sausages, broccoli and quinoa into a large greased ovenproof dish and pour over the cheese sauce. Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and grated cheese and bake in the oven until brown on top.

The quinoa is a nice change as I don’t eat it very often but it works really well in this recipe. The cheese sauce is what brings it all together and while I made it with regular pork sausages, I am tempted to try this again with chicken sausage!