Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Too Good To Go: How to reduce food waste and get cheap meals

How can you get cheap restaurant food and bargain bakery deals?

Many of us like a bargain and in these strange times a lot of people are struggling financially. It’s a well known supermarket shopping tactic to go at the end of the day when they are reducing their items that are close to use by dates - known as ‘yellow stickering’. But did you know that there is - in the UK at least - another way to get reduced food not just from shops but also from cafes and restaurants?

A while back a colleague told me about an app called Too Good To Go. The idea is to help shops and dining establishments to reduce food waste - and help customers save money at the same time. You can buy a ‘magic bag’ for a couple of quid - usually between £3 and £4 - with the items inside worth at least £10, often a fair bit more. The only thing is - you don’t know what you will get, as these are mystery bags! They all contain food that needs using quickly and might be at its best before date already but still safe to eat.

How does the Too Good to Go app work?

You can set the app to your local area - eg near home or work - and each day see where there are bargains to be had. But you have to be quick! Each offer goes live at a certain time - which varies according to the shop and I’m not sure it’s the same every time even then. I haven’t been able to figure out a way of discovering when is the best time to secure one of the magic bags - though if you are interested in a particular shop or restaurant, keep an eye on the app as it will tell you what time the bags sold out each time, and you can use that to get an idea of when they might have been released.

 The bags must be collected at a certain time and this can be a little tricky - for instance a cafe might want to sell what is left over from their lunch rush but you need to collect it between 2 and 2.45pm. Or a restaurant will ask you to collect between 9 and 9.30pm. But what’s ok to eat at 9.30pm should still be ok to eat the next day and don’t forget some things can be frozen - so in my opinion it’s definitely worth doing.

As the contents are a surprise you can’t factor in allergies but Too Good To Go says that if you pay for and collect a bag and find it has something inside you are allergic to, to get in touch with them. If you have certain dietary requirements like you are vegetarian, you can filter your search.

I’ve never been able to take advantage of the app before due to the timings and my commute but now that I’m working from home, suddenly it is accessible. There aren’t any restaurants in my local area taking part - the nearest being a ‘chicken hut’ 3km away where I would have to go at 10.30pm. There is a nice sounding Italian deli a similar distance with collection at lunchtime so one day if I don’t have meetings I might see if I can fit it into my lunch break!

But happily the local garden centre five minutes away takes part in the scheme so one day last week I managed to go into the app at the right time while there were still some bags available, and snagged myself one.

What I hadn’t realised was that the delivery time stated was for the next day, but that was fine and I could still manage to go. You pay via the app or by card and it tells you where to go in store - in this case it was the deli counter where they had the bags ready and waiting, I held my phone out for the app to be scanned and was handed the bag and that was it - in and out in five minutes.

What do you get in the Too Good to Go bag?

I couldn’t wait to look in the bag when I was home and see what I’d got! My haul consisted of: a large bloomer loaf (which stayed fresh for a few days), a packet of mixed heritage tomatoes which still had several days to go, a packet of two jam doughnuts (which for eaten the same night), a packet of four vegetable spring rolls and a fresh ready meal of monkfish kebabs (to serve two), both of which had use by dates that same day and I had already defrosted something for dinner so they went straight in the freezer. They looked very tasty and a premium item - I think the whole bag was probably worth around £12-£15 and I paid £3.99 for it.

Last month Too Good To Go saved more than 100,000 meals from going to waste. I have also seen internet articles about people getting £30 worth of food from their local supermarket for just over £3 on this app, which is especially good for those finding money a bit tighter than usual at the moment. For me personally, the magic bag was more of a treat (I must say I had been expecting more bakery items, ie cake!) at a bargain price and not something I would have the time to do regularly - but I really like the surprise element as I wouldn’t have thought to buy monkfish kebabs.

If you live (or work) in a big city you are more likely to find places taking part in Too Good To Go, and it seems like the range is growing all the time - so it’s definitely worth taking a look. Let me know if you’ve used it before and what was the best thing you got in your magic bag!

 

Sunday, 6 September 2020

Floral letter decoration for girl's bedroom


My daughter is now two and a half and during lockdown we decided to redecorate her bedroom. She has a lovely mural on one wall (a giant decal sticker) and a bookcase full of books but other than that we hadn’t much much effort in, as she doesn’t really play in her bedroom yet apart from a few minutes after going up to bed. We decided it was about time we made the room nicer and somewhere she might want to play, plus she needed more toy storage as she has so many toys!

 I had been browsing photos of girls’ bedroom styles on Pinterest etc for inspiration and decided to put up a couple of shelves with pretty decorative items on them. I’d seen a few things I liked, in particular the child’s initial either in a picture frame or three dimensional and covered with flowers. It looked easy to make so I thought I’d have a go, and got everything I needed from Hobbycraft.

They sell wooden fillable letters (£4.40 each) many of which seemed to be out of stock online so I signed up to be emailed when they were back in stock. The first time I had such an email the letter I wanted was already sold out again by the time I went online so second time I was ready and made my purchase while I was getting up in the morning!

The flowers are fabric wired rose heads, I used three packs at £3 each - each pack is one colour. I used most of the packs to fill the letter and only had a couple of flowers left over. I cut and shaped pieces of florist oasis to put into the wooden letter and stick the flowers into, alternating colours and making sure there was no gap.


The oasis seemed firmly in place so I didn’t glue it in as I had intended but this would make it more secure. Hobbycraft also sells a small wooden stand (50p) which will help if you want the letter to stand up on a shelf.

I’m really pleased with how this turned out and how simple it was to make - once everything turned up from Hobbycraft it took about ten minutes!

Friday, 28 August 2020

Socially distanced lunch with toddlers at the Greyhound, Carshalton


The last time I took my daughter out to a restaurant for a meal was at a Harvester last November for her cousin’s birthday. S wouldn’t sit still for more than five minutes, so members of my family took it in turns to occupy and accompany her as she explored the pub, which already had its Christmas decorations up.

 So with lockdown and the continued need for social distancing it’s perhaps not surprising that I wasn’t in a hurry to take my daughter to a restaurant again. But my local mum friends - who have become a fantastic support network and good buddies since we met at baby massage two years ago - suggested meeting up in the park and then having lunch at the Young’s pub across the road and I didn’t want to say no and miss out.

I’ve reviewed the Greyhound in Carshalton before (see here) but hadn’t eaten there in a few years. This time I didn’t even set foot inside the pub - it was a lovely day and we sat in the courtyard area.

The pub is near a busy road so not ideal for small children to run around as the courtyard isn’t fully enclosed, and it doesn’t have a play area of any kind - but the outdoor booths are particularly good if you can get one of those.

At the moment due to COVID-19 the pub is asking you to pre-book, which worked really well as we were able to book one of the booths. They have comfortable padded bench seating enclosed on three sides by walls, with a roof over the top, and a nice big table that we could easily get six of us - three adults and three toddlers - around while maintaining social distancing (for the adults at least).

Tips for entertaining children during a meal out

My best tip for keeping children to sit still while you have a meal is pretty obvious - take things to occupy them! We had a selection of books, sticker books, a puzzle and two kids’ Kindle Fire tablets. They kept the other two children absorbed for the duration of the meal - and my daughter for about half the time after which point I was having to accompany her around the courtyard as she explored. But that was better than the last time we had a meal out!

How is the food and the service at the Greyhound, Carshalton?


Service is very quick at The Greyhound the moment which helps when you are eating out with children. You can download the Young’s app and use that to order and pay, so no waiting around for a server to come and take your order. I wonder if social distancing also means they have fewer customers to serve, but the courtyard outside was almost full and I didn’t see inside.

There isn’t much of a children’s menu unfortunately and the portion sizes are much more the sort of thing an older child would eat - I could have ordered just a side order of fries for my 2.5 year old but I wanted her to have more of a proper meal. The choices on the children’s menu were a burger, sausage and mash or fish and chips - I went for the latter thinking it would be easiest for her to eat.

The fish was a fairly sizeable portion in batter, served with chunky chips, a pot of mushy peas and tartare sauce. The food was extremely hot - the chips were much hotter than the French fries that came with my smoked salmon and cream cheese baguette, I expect because they had been in a deep fat fryer. So S ended up having my French fries - and unfortunately didn’t want any of the fish at all so most of that was wasted, though I did eat a bit of it myself. My sandwich was very good and having something cold that I could eat with one hand was also a bonus!

The food wasn’t cheap especially as the child’s portion was quite big, but the food was good, I liked the booth we were seated in and it was really good to be able to catch up with my friends for the first time since before lockdown.

 

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Easy chicken enchiladas - cooking for a crowd

What can you make when you are cooking for a crowd, and don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen all night?

 My go-to dish for when we have had friends over (pre-lockdown of course) has become chicken enchiladas. They are easy to prepare, can be made in large quantities and a lot of the prep done in advance. You can also dial up or down the spice depending on preference.

 My recipe is more a guideline than a list of exact quantities, but that’s another beauty of this dish – you can add all sorts of things.

 

Easy chicken enchiladas

You need:

Soft tortilla wraps – allow one per person

Chicken – either breasts or boneless thighs, again allow 1 per person if breast, 2 per person if thigh

Packet of fajita seasoning

1 onion, diced

1 red pepper

1 green pepper

1 de-seeded and finely chopped red chili or ½ tsp of dried chilli flakes

500g box of passata (sieved tomatoes)

About 150g grated cheese

 

Fry the chopped onion, peppers and chilli and then add the chicken – this can be done in advance to save time. I sometimes use a packet of fajita seasoning or you can use your preferred spice from a jar, such as Cajun chicken seasoning. I usually fry the chicken but you could also cook in the oven. Allow to cool and shred the chicken and set the chicken and vegetables to one side or refrigerate if using later.

 Preheat oven to 180C.

 Take a large baking tray with deep sides – I usually use a roasting tin. Grease lightly (I spray with Fry Light) to make sure the tortillas don’t stick. On a plate or chopping board, spread a few spoonfuls of the chicken, onion and pepper mixture down the centre of the tortilla and roll up. Place at one end of the roasting tin.

 Repeat with the other tortillas until the tin is filled. Pour the passata over the top, making sure all parts of the tortillas are covered. Sprinkle cheese over the top, and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

 Cut into squares to serve. This goes well with potato wedges and a green salad.

 


Monday, 27 July 2020

A socially-distanced pub lunch in London: The Paternoster review

Which pubs are open in London during lockdown? How do you have a socially-distanced pub lunch? Can I meet up with my work colleagues?

These were all questions running through my head when it was agreed we would go back in to the office last week to pick some belongings up.

I work in London - though I'm not sure if I should now say I used to work in London, as it seems a lifetime ago! At some point we will return to the office and I will have to get used to commuting again but at the moment I'm enjoying the time at home. Lockdown for me currently feels very different now my daughter is back at nursery, compared to the first three months while my husband and I were trying to work and look after a two-year-old - but I've definitely been luckier and had it easier than many.

So fast forward to July and I was looking forward to seeing my colleagues again, but with some trepidation. Thankfully I could get to the office by overground trains and didn't have to take the tube, and was able to avoid rush hour when I travelled. So there was only a handful of people on each train - though I was dismayed to see a few people not wearing masks. Of course, you can't tell if they are exempt or just refusniks - but my gut feeling said the latter.

My boss and I had arranged to meet for lunch, so the first challenge was finding somewhere that was actually open. There are a few articles online about which London pubs are currently open, but they tended to pick out certain venues with large gardens or in touristy areas - and what I needed was one close to the office. Luckily the pub companies have all updated their websites showing which of their locations are open, and what coronavirus measures they are taking.

The Paternoster, a Young's pub on Paternoster Square, was open and seemed ideal. It was very quiet on a weekday lunchtime so there was no difficulty finding somewhere to sit more than a metre apart from other tables - and we had a big enough table that we could sit a metre apart from each other. The pub asked for contact details for one of us on arrival, and encourages the use of their app to order and pay for meals. The server wasn't wearing a mask but put our food and drink down at one end of the table for us to reach across to get our own, which seemed very sensible.

Other than that, the whole experience didn't seem very different to usual - though I can imagine going for a drink in the evening is not like it used to be.

For lunch I had a fishfinger sandwich - for some reason I never think to make that at home but I often choose it when having a pub lunch! The fish was cod pieces in a beer batter (i.e. not the kind of fishfingers you have in the freezer at home) in lovely doorstep slices of bread, though the bread fell apart a little before I'd even got part way through the sandwich. Tartar sauce and lettuce were the perfect accompaniments and the proffered side order of chips made this a very satisfying lunch. Not as satisfying though as actually being able to eat out with someone for the first time in four months!


Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Flamingo birthday showstopper cake


I celebrated my birthday during lockdown this year and it wasn’t too bad at all - I’m at home with my husband and two year old daughter who makes every day special. I had some nice presents, including an Instant Pot which I will blog about once I’ve used it a bit more, enjoyed a takeaway lunch from a nearby cafe and a takeaway dinner from a local Italian. My husband and I both took the day off work as well and it was nice not juggling working from home and looking after a toddler for the first time in a while!

This year my birthday cake was a chocolate cake from the supermarket - the first time in many years I haven’t made my own. But I had no free time before the big day and didn’t really want to spend hours in the kitchen on my birthday so was happy enough with a shop-bought cake.

But I’ve realised that I never actually shared the cake I made for my birthday last year, so here it is! It was a milestone birthday so I had an extended celebration, including a visit to my family, a weekend in a hotel with my husband and daughter followed by a weekend back in my home town with my school friends where we had a professional photoshoot, did an escape room and went out for dinner.

I made a cake to take with me as we were staying at a friend’s parents house while her parents were out of town (it’s like we were 16 again!). I settled quite quickly on a flamingo theme - I prefer llamas but I thought flamingos might make for a more glamorous cake!

One of my friends I was getting together with is vegan so I looked online for a suitable cake recipe and used this one from One Green Planet:

https://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-recipe/pink-strawberry-cake-vegan/

It was really moist and delicious and the perfect cake. 

Here’s how to decorate a flamingo cake:

To start with I covered the cake with buttercream but realised the sides were quite messy (I never understand how people get perfectly neat sides!). So partly to hide it, and partly for a fun nostalgic throw-back, I added a cake banner, if that is the correct term. We had one made of foil as a child that was put on every birthday cake for me and my sister year after year, and carefully cleaned and put away again – I can remember exactly what it looks like. I had some flamingo print wrapping paper which I used to the same effect, but of course as it’s paper it can’t really be cleaned and reused!

For the top of the cake I knew I wanted the centrepiece to be a flamingo. You can make one from flower paste or even a fat 3D one from fondant, but as I was in a bit of a hurry I decided to cut a flamingo shape out of cardboard. I did however make the wings, by melting white chocolate and adding a little pink food colouring. I placed a piece of greaseproof paper on a board and using a silicon brush, created the wings by sweeping the melted chocolate in the shape I wanted and leaving them to set. I did a few layers so the wings would be thick enough to pick up when they had dried, and I was able to stand them on the top of the cake to represent the flamingo’s wings just as I wanted.

For the final decorative touches I added mini meringues – again you can make your own and if you want this whole cake to be vegan (which makes sense given the recipe is vegan!) you can actually make vegan meringue. Did you know that? It’s actually quite surprising given meringue is usually made with eggs – you can make a very good substitute meringue from aquafaba, which is the liquid you get in a tin of chickpeas!

I also used some white chocolate buttons (which were vegan) to fill in a few spaces on the top. I was quite pleased with this cake as it delivered a lot of bang for its buck – it looked fairly impressive but didn’t take a huge amount of time to make or decorate and tasted delicious, so I’m glad I’ve been able to share it with you at last!


Sunday, 26 January 2020

Elderflower and white chocolate cake: Free Cakes for Kids

Think back to when you were a child and celebrated your birthday. I’ll bet there was cake, and you can probably remember some of your favourite cakes as a child, right? I was obsessed with Sarah Lee Double Chocolate Gateaux and often had one of those for my birthday but I also remember very clearly when my mum baked several loaf cakes to make the shape of the number 14, decorated with chocolate icing. I have a feeling I remember a hedgehog cake with chocolate buttons when I was younger as well!
Some children aren’t lucky enough to get a birthday cake, for all sorts of reasons - money is tight, they are living in temporary accommodation without the facilities to easily bake a cake, their families have got a lot on their plate due to illness or disability or maybe the child is a young carer themselves and deserves a treat. Free Cakes for Kids is an organisation that links up local amateur cake makers to provide birthday cakes for underprivileged children and makes sure they get a homemade treat on their birthday, which makes them feel special.

I’ve written about Free Cakes for Kids before as I’ve been involved with the group for a little while. To find out if there is a local group in your town check out the website.
For a little while now my local group has been baking a cake once a week for an Age UK tea party at a residential care home. I was just about to go back to work after maternity leave (yes, there’s been a bit of a delay in posting this!) and knew I wouldn’t have much time to bake any more so signed up to do one of these as it fell nicely into my last week off when my daughter was doing half days at nursery, so I could bake the cake and deliver it while she was there.

I wasn’t doing any grocery shopping for the next few days and rather than make a special trip out (which is not as quick as it used to be before I had a one year old in tow) so decided if at all possible to use ingredients I already had at home. I knew I had an unopened bottle of elderflower cordial in the cupboard and that I had seen recipes for elderflower cake somewhere.

I made Lynn Hill’s elderflower cordial cake with white chocolate ganache from the original Clandestine Cake Club book - you can find part of the recipe online here though to see the whole thing you will have to buy the book!
I found it interesting that the cake itself doesn’t use butter; it seemed to give a light texture to the finished cake but of course I didn’t get to eat any as it was for Age UK!
The white chocolate ganache was a little tricky as first it was too thick to spread (I left it too long in the fridge) then it was too runny. I wasn’t happy with the finish and decided I needed to decorate it but not in a way that would be too time consuming.
 
I loved the idea of piping ‘hello’ on the cake, since this was for a tea party and wasn’t a birthday cake, so I used some melted milk chocolate and a tiny piping bag. I then got out my special flower piping nozzles that make beautiful shaped petals of different kinds - you don’t have to have any special piping skills as the nozzles do all the work! The purple flowers were a bit darker than I would have liked as I used a bit too much food colouring but overall I was happy with the effects and hope the residents of the care home enjoyed their cake!

 

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Personalised Christmas Cards with Paperless Post

This is a sponsored post
  
Every year we seem to get fewer and fewer Christmas cards - actual Christmas cards, that is. With an increasing focus on climate change and the environment, it just doesn’t seem right any more to be sending out dozens and dozens of cards - not to mention the cost of the stamps.
That’s not to say I am against the idea of sending cards at all, for one thing I love to make greetings cards so of course I like to send them! But with a very active toddler I hardly have any time any more and the idea of sitting down to write a pile of Christmas cards seemed a bit overwhelming.
Instead, I sent cards to family and a few others but for the most part, decided to send e-cards this year. I’ve used Paperless Post before so went straight back there this time to make our Christmas card.
We had a Christmas themed photo shoot for my daughter in November - we’d done the same the year before when I was on maternity leave via a ‘bumps and babies’ group and as it was really good value, we did the same again this year.

The photos aren’t particularly Christmassy - my daughter is wearing a pretty red velvet dress but there were no props or Christmas images in the photo. Even so, I thought it would be nice for a Christmas card.
Paperless Post has sections for all sorts of greeting cards ranging from birthday cards to event invitations and also business flyers. I went to the Christmas section and looked at cards where you could add your own photos - there were well over 200 designs.
I chose one that I liked and uploaded the photo just by a couple of clicks, then added wording, selected whether I wanted a coloured background and the envelope. It’s really easy to add multiple recipients’ email addresses, and if you have used Paperless Post before, it remembers addresses, so you just have to start typing in the person’s name. That made it so quick to set up a list and to send the card out.
As I ended up doing it quite late at night - as is often the case when you have a toddler - I was also able to schedule the card to be sent at a suitable time, which was a function I liked.
The site uses ‘coins’ to pay for the cards, which you buy in blocks, with the price per unit decreasing the more coins you buy at once. You can get a card for just a couple of coins which as far as I can tell works out at less than sending a card in the post given the price of stamps these days.
My family and friends seemed to like receiving a personalised card and I think the pictures of my daughter were particularly appreciated by family even though I was giving people a print out of some of the photos anyway - and using Paperless Post made doing my Christmas cards a lot easier this year!
Thanks to Paperless Post who gave me coins to use on their site in return for this post. All opinions are my own.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Restaurant review: Franco Manca, St Paul's, London

 
 
My husband and I didn’t manage to do anything for our anniversary this year until more than two months later. He had a job interview for a fantastic new role (which he got) the day after, and had to prepare for a full day of interviews at the company’s offices, so didn’t want to go out the night before.

We rescheduled for a few weeks later and arranged for family to babysit but then one of us was ill (actually we took it in turns over a couple of weeks to all be unwell). So that got cancelled, and we never got around to rescheduling with one thing and another.

Once my husband started his new job he was working five minutes walk up the street from me - considering we work in London this is quite a coincidence! So we decided to meet for lunch one day and as we were eating, I realised this should count as a celebratory meal for our anniversary. I think it was actually our first meal out together without our daughter since our anniversary the year before!

We were walking near our offices wondering where to go as we didn’t have a lot of time and I

spotted Franco Manca- a pizza chain I’ve heard good things about but hadn’t been to before.



The pizzas use a sourdough base and were delicious - even the crust was good. They are surprisingly cheap as well, at least for a plain pizza - which really does only consist of a few not particularly expensive ingredients – but at £6.75 I was surprised at how cheap it was. They even have an option with no cheese – with just tomato, garlic, basil and oregano, for only £5. I had a pizza with chorizo and mozzarella – not that much more expensive at £8.25, and we shared a garlic bread with mozzarella (£4.95) which was actually totally unnecessary and not that dissimilar to the margherita my husband had to follow, but he loves garlic bread and always orders it.


The pizza and garlic bread were excellent and the only disappointment was the choice of soft drinks – it’s quite unusual for a chain restaurant not to have either the Coca-Cola or Pepsi range of drinks and I appreciate it’s nice to support smaller businesses but aside from water, the only cold drinks on offer were organic lemonade, Green cola, or orange, apple or cranberry juice – my husband ordered an orange juice but it was the ‘with bits’ variety which he doesn’t like. I hadn’t tried Green cola before and thought it tasted OK - it contains no sugar or aspartame and uses sweetener from stevia instead, and the caffeine comes from green coffee beans. It’s more natural therefore than some colas – I had a look on Google and found that the caffeine used in most soft drinks is synthetically produced in China. But I think my husband would have preferred a Coke Zero!

Service was quick and we were in and out within 40 minutes, leaving us time to get back to the office – I really enjoyed the pizza and the chance to have a meal with my husband in peace so I expect we will be going back!

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Let's go on an Adventure - Alpaca my bags! Handmade card


I'm a big fan of alpacas - and even had them at my wedding - so when I saw a card making magazine on sale where the cover gift was a set of animal stamps including alpacas, I had to have them! It also came with some fun sentiments to go with the different animals including this one: Let's go on an
adventure - alpaca my bags! Probably my favourite alpaca pun :-)

To make this card I started with a background paper of pink and blue hearts. I then stamped the alpaca onto a piece of pink card and mounted it onto a piece of blue card with scalloped edging (a die-cut) and stuck it at a jaunty angle on the card. I followed the pink and blue theme with two die-cut balloons and stamped the sentiment onto a piece of pink card. I used some little pink gems in the four corners of the sentiment box to make it look like it had been fixed onto the card.

I'm sharing this with the Library Challenge where the theme is 'Five weeks in a balloon' and
Penny Black - 'summer colours'.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

1st Birthday Cakes - giraffe cake with giraffe pattern inside

My daughter got to have two birthday cakes for her first birthday, as had a party with her dad’s family one weekend and a celebration with my family (who live a few hours away and weren’t able to come to the first party) a week later. So of course I had to make her two cakes!
 

The first cake was decorated as a tribute to her favourite You Tube channel, Cocomelon. The channel consists of short animations of nursery rhymes, all a couple of minutes long, with the same characters – a family of five and various animals – cropping up regularly. Until she was about a year old this was pretty much all my daughter watched on TV – I wasn’t sure she would follow programmes that had episodes or dialogue, and she seemed to really like the songs. The channel’s logo looks a bit like a watermelon with a television screen face so I did my own version as a tribute, covering a cake in pale green fondant and adding dark green stripes and using flesh coloured fondant for the face. I bought a ‘1st birthday’ cake topper on two long sticks to go in the top, and of course a number 1 candle.
 

Baby S is allergic to egg and I wanted her to be able to try a little bit of the cake, so I used a vegan recipe for lemon cake that I’ve used before. I was careful not to let her try the icing as I thought it contained too much sugar, but I didn’t worry about reducing the sugar content of the cake itself as I thought she wouldn’t have more than a couple of mouthfuls. As it was, she wasn’t really interested in eating the cake at all! (Since then five months later she had some of her granny’s birthday cake and really liked it).

 

I can’t seem to find the recipe anywhere now but it’s quite easy to search for vegan lemon cake recipes online.

 

For her second cake, I didn’t make it egg-free since I correctly assumed baby S wouldn’t want to eat any. In the end when we had the cake at her grandparents’ house I think she was getting ready for a nap.

 

I wanted the cake to represent something else that my daughter liked and remembered she was really attached to her Sophie the giraffe – she has two in fact. She seems to have lost interest in the giraffe over the past few months and prefers to play with other toys but there was a time when she was happiest clutching the giraffe in her little fist and waving it aloft.

 

 
It’s fun to make cakes with a surprise inside – particularly in this case because my two-year-old niece would be there and I thought she might enjoy it. It’s a lot easier than you might think to make a polka dot effect inside a cake – or in this case, giraffe print.

 

 
So how do you make a cake with a giraffe pattern inside? I used a standard vanilla cake recipe, and split the batter into two bowls, adding cocoa powder to one to turn it chocolatey. For this cake, you want to have about two thirds of your batter yellow vanilla and a third chocolate – I also added a bit of yellow food colouring to the vanilla batter.

 

 
If you want a perfectly even pattern – almost a chequerboard effect – inside, then you pipe concentric rings of alternative colours around your prepared (greased) cake tin. As I wanted the giraffe print to be a more natural random pattern, I put a layer of vanilla cake in the bottom, piped some very uneven circles of chocolate cake batter and then a layer of vanilla over the top. You can see what this looks like when it has baked, and here it is after I sliced the top off the cake to make it flat – and then the inside when it was sliced.

 
 
 


I covered the cake in white fondant and decided to turn the giraffe itself into the number 1, so I cut a 1 out of yellow fondant and added brown spots as well as ears, a face and hair. I don’t think giraffes have hair quite like that down their backs but never mind! I decided the rest of the cake looked a bit plain but I hadn’t left enough room for my daughter’s name (if you have a one year old, you will understand the rush things have to be done in while they nap!). So I used some of the leftover green fondant from her other birthday cake to make some trees and used a butterfly plunger cutter to do some little pink butterflies at the top. I was quite pleased with how it looks overall and have printed out some photos for my daughter’s baby book so when she is older she can look back and see what cake and presents she had for her first birthday!

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Restaurant review: Harvester Old Castle, Salisbury

Eating out takes on a whole new dimension when there are young children in the equation. I know some parents firmly believe their child should eat what they eat, and there’s no need to go to ‘child friendly’ restaurants with kids menus. I agree that I want my daughter to be encouraged to eat more than fishfingers and chips when we go out, but it’s helpful when smaller portions are offered. At any rate, she’s only 15 months old at the moment, so a lot of food ends up on the floor, and she’s good at what I call finger foods, but can’t use cutlery yet – which does limit what we can order for her unless we want a total mess!



We’ve been to the Harvester twice in recent months, both times with my family to the one at Old Castle near Salisbury. It’s easy, good value, has enough parking (we came in three cars) and has plenty on the menu for everyone.

My daughter has an egg allergy and when I mentioned it to our friendly server, he made a note on his handheld device and told me they have buttons to press for each of the 14 most common allergens (I can’t even think of 14!) and can enter others manually – it’s good to know they have a system like that in place. Meals at the Harvester start with a free trip to the salad bar, which always sounds more exciting than it is – there are about a dozen salad elements to choose from, including small bread rolls, with the standard lettuce, cucumber, tomato, potato salad options – but weirdly also pineapple.
 
There’s no protein though – no meat or cheese – so the first time we went when my daughter had just turned one, we got her a selection of food from the salad bar and gave her some extra bits and pieces we had bought with us. This time around she got her own little meal from the children’s section (and some bits from the salad bar to eat while we were waiting) which she devoured with gusto!

 
The kids’ menu is divided into sections of smaller meals for under 5s, and larger meals for under 7s, where you build your own from a choice of mains, veg and sides. She had some grilled chicken strips with sweet potato fries and a little pot of fresh vegetable sticks, which was supposed to contain batons of peppers, cucumber and carrots, but only had one tiny sliver of cucumber among the peppers and carrots – luckily S had already had plenty of cucumber from the salad bar as it’s one of her favourites. She’s eaten sweet potato before but never sweet potato fries, and seemed to really like them, though it was the chicken she went for straight away. I love watching her eat, it’s so cute!

My husband had his usual burger – he orders a burger about 90% of the time when we go out, and the other 10% of the time it’s steak – and I really fancied a roast dinner, even though it was a very sunny day, as it was a Sunday and I hadn’t had one in ages. I decided to pay an extra £1 to get a larger portion of roast potatoes as they are my favourite part of a roast, but they were quite disappointing – small and crispy and very different to how I make roast potatoes. My chicken was beautifully moist and the Yorkshire pudding not bad at all – the cauliflower cheese was a bit of a let down though and was more like boiled cauliflower with a thin cheese sauce poured over the top, than a dish I would consider a proper cauliflower cheese. Overall though it wasn’t a bad meal at all and good value at just over £10 for the amount of food and the quality of the chicken.

 
Soft drinks are on a serve yourself free refills basis and they have one of those machines where you can select your base drink e.g Pepsi or lemonade (they also have non carbonated juice drink options) and then if you want you can add a flavour like strawberry or vanilla. It’s fun to experiment but I imagine this wastes a fair amount of drink - the person in front of me poured herself a glass of something, tried it and decided she wanted something else so poured it down the drain. On the other hand it’s possible to pour a small amount of a drink to try it then get something else - though I think free refills do encourage people to drink more carbonated drinks than they might otherwise!

We never have room for a dessert after a meal at the Harvester which is a shame as we saw a sundae go past that was absolutely massive and looked very tempting!

It’s worth downloading the Harvester app as they have special offers - when we went there was a deal to get a child’s meal for £1 per adult paying full price so with two children we saved £6.

I do quite like the Harvester - the salad bar could do with a bit more oomph but there’s a big menu with something for everyone, it’s good value and has a nice family friendly atmosphere. While it’s nothing fancy, that suits my family and I expect we will be back.


Monday, 22 April 2019

Design Your Own Invitations with Paperless Post - Review


You may have noticed that I love to make birthday cards, and have even made other greeting cards and invitations by hand. You may also have noticed that I haven't had a lot of time lately! My daughter is 13 months old now and takes up most of my time and attention, and when she's with my husband or having a nap, I'm doing housework or preparing her meals or one of a myriad of other chores.

So the opportunity to review Paperless Post couldn't have come at a better time. This is a site that allows you to create online cards and invitations, either by using one of the thousands of designs they offer, or uploading your own.

I had a go at making a few cards - I started with an invitation to my birthday celebrations and a photo upload Easter card.

The site is very easy to use and the end result looks really professional. The cards are received as an email where you can watch an envelope opening and the card coming out, and there are options to reply or leave a comment on the site. My friends and family thought the cards were lovely and I was impressed with the site.



The card are fully customisable. To make my birthday invitation, I searched for 40th birthday invitations and chose one of the designs. I was then not only able to enter the text I wanted but change the font, colour and size of the text, choose a background pattern to go behind the card, and pick the design of the envelope. You can also add a particular stamp and postmark to the card if you like.



For my birthday invitation I included a RSVP card; if you are making wedding invitations and want extra options like a card for guests to fill in their menu choices you can add that as well. You can also use the site to send messages to guests if there is information or a change of plans (or just send them an event reminder) that they need to know.

I was pleasantly surprised at how many different cards are on the site with themes like invitations to a barbecue or picnic, a hen party, a moving house announcement and so on. There are even designer collections like Oscar de la Renta and Kate Spade cards. I can definitely see myself using this on a regular basis!

There are also lots of cards were you can upload a photo so I also created Easter cards for friends and family featuring a photo of me, my husband and our daughter and a giant Easter bunny from a farm we visited recently. This is what the card looked like:
 


The site uses its own currency called 'coins' which you buy in packages, starting at 25 coins for £8 but the price per unit decreases eg 100 coins for £18 and 200 coins for £28. You get 25 coins free when you sign up for an account and can get extra coins for doing things like liking Paperless Post on Facebook.

 
My fairly simple birthday invite plus envelope and reply card cost 6 coins per invite. There are e-flyers which are free of charge to make and obviously the more you add to a card (eg extra sections for a wedding invite) the more they cost, but these are still pretty reasonably priced and much cheaper than buying and posting a physical greetings card - plus they are better for the environment. But if you do want a physical printed invitation or card there is an option on the site for that as well. I was very happy with the online cards and another benefit is that they are very quick - I didn't do the Easter cards until Good Friday and they only took a few minutes to create and send, whereas if I had bought cards and put them in the post, they wouldn't have arrived until after Easter!
 
 Thanks to Paperless Post for some coins to use on their site. All opinions are my own.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Meal Planning Monday 2019 Week 7

I've got laryngitis at the moment so we had to cancel the visit to my parents last week and plans for this week are a bit up in the air until I get my voice back! So I am going to plan meals as if we were going to be at home every day but hopefully we will get to visit my parents at some point.

Monday
Breakfast for baby S porridge
Lunch for baby S peanut butter sandwich and apple slices with cinnamon
Lunch for us hotdogs
Dinner for baby S butterbean and veg stew followed by quark and fruit
Dinner for us fish pie for me, chicken wrapped in bacon for him

Tuesday
Breakfast for baby S porridge with fruit
Lunch for baby S crumpet and soft cheese
Lunch for us soup and bread
Dinner for baby S lentil, coconut milk, butternut squash and chicken curry based on this recipe
Dinner for us rest of fish pie for me, sausages for him

Wednesday
Breakfast for baby S cereal with milk
Lunch for baby S cheddar and butterbean bites with bits of finger food
Lunch for us just me as my husband is out - I'll probably have a sandwich
Dinner for baby S homemade risotto from the freezer
Dinner for us chicken goujons and prawns in breadcrumbs and chips

Thursday Valentine's day
Breakfast for baby S cereal with milk
Lunch for baby S  baked beans and toast
Lunch for us full English with heart shaped toast if I can be bothered
Dinner for baby S something from the freezer (I've got lots of batch cooked meals for her)
Dinner for us TBA

Friday
Breakfast for baby S porridge
Lunch for baby S  puff pastry with tomato puree and cheese
Lunch for us puff pastry with tomato puree and cheese
Dinner for baby S something from the freezer
Dinner for us pasta and meatballs I didn't do last week

Saturday
Breakfast for baby S porridge
Lunch for baby S at a birthday party
Lunch for us at a birthday party
Dinner for baby S something from the freezer
Dinner for us  sole with new potatoes for me, chicken mini fillets for him

Sunday
Breakfast for baby S cereal
Lunch for baby S pitta bread, cucumber, her favourite finger foods
Lunch for us bacon sandwich
Dinner for baby S sole with potato and sweetcorn
Dinner for us chicken mini roast

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Why Iberian ham deserves a place on the British dining table

How much do you know about Iberian ham? I have to admit I was a little hazy - I knew it from restaurants and deli counters as a wafer thin type of cured ham from Spain but that was about it.

In fact it's the pigs that are Iberian. They have dark skin and look black rather than pink, with long slender hind legs. They live in freedom and graze on acorns in certain parts of Spain, which apparently gives the meat a unique taste.

It's quite interesting reading about the process to produce the ham from salting to washing, then the pieces are left for up to three month for the salt to permeate. The really unique bit is the way the hams are cured - hung up and exposed to the natural climate conditions for 18-24 months and after that aged in a cellar for at least another 12 months (usually 18). The secret of curing is passed down in families from generation to generation.

It's also part of the famed Mediterranean diet - Iberian ham is high in monounsaturated fatty acids, protein, zinc and vitamins B1, B3 and B12, according to the information leaflet I received.

I was sent some Iberian ham by Ibeham, a project promoted by the Denomination of Origin Guijuelo (Spain). There are plenty of recipes on their site suggesting how to enjoy the ham but I wanted something fairly pure and simple, so tried it on a piece of fresh bread with some mozzarella and a little olive oil.

The slices are so wafer thin they are almost transparent, separated in the packet by pieces of plastic so you can peel the ham off. Each slice has a ribbon of fat which dissolved on the tongue and the taste and texture were both top notch. There are a lot of recipes you can use this in but I just want to savour the flavour by itself!

If you can get hold of some proper Iberian ham - and you don't have to go to specialist shops, Waitrose has some - then I highly recommend it as a little bit of luxury if you're just having a sandwich, or a platter for guests if you are entertaining.


Thanks to Ibeham for the ham to review

 

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Review: Thomas Fudge's flatbreads

This time of year I love a bowl of warming soup for lunch with something on the side. Ordinary bread is good but it’s nice to have something a little bit different especially if you are going for a plainer soup like my husband who only ever wants tomato. I used to make my own bread sometimes but the bread maker machine has made way for the steriliser and the Tommee Tippee Perfect Prep machine!

So I was pleased to come across these flatbreads from Thomas Fudge's's - they come in two delicious flavours, chickpea & sesame and cheddar & shallot. 

They are thin and crispy like crackers, so they are better dunked into a thick soup like tomato rather than a thin watery soup. You can also spread soft cheese, houmous or whatever you like on them, or use them in a dip - I’m planning to put these out with some dips at my daughter’s birthday party (for the adults). They also make biscuits for cheese and some flapjacks and Florentines which look very tempting!

 
They also look like quite a premium product both with the packaging and the flatbreads themselves - the chickpea & sesame flavour has linseed, pumpkin and sesame seeds which you can see a lot of on top. The 140g boxes  are only £1.89 and go a long way so I think these are particularly good if you are entertaining.

 
 
Thanks to Thomas Fudge's for sending the flatbreads to review - all opinions are my own.


Monday, 4 February 2019

Meal Planning Monday 2019 Week 6

I didn't manage to do a meal plan last week as I had very little time and had to just wing it when it came to meals... which isn't that easy when you are trying to prepare healthy nutritious food for a baby, finish feeding her and realise you need to get your own dinner on and have no idea what you are going to cook! My mum is out of hospital and has been for over a week now, and is doing really well; we are going to see her and my dad this week.

Monday
Breakfast for baby S Porridge with red berries
Lunch for baby S Chicken, potato waffles, veg
Lunch for us sausage sandwich
Dinner for baby S  pork with butternut squash and broccoli
Dinner for us steak and chips

Tuesday
Breakfast for baby S toast
Lunch for baby S banana pancakes
Lunch for us  pancakes
Dinner for baby S jar of baby food I opened yesterday that she didn't want followed by sugar free jelly
Dinner for us sole with lemon and parsley sauce for me, chicken chargrills for him 

Wednesday
Breakfast for baby S quark with fruit or possibly just milk depending on when we leave
Lunch for baby S finger food of cheese, pitta, cucumber etc followed by malt loaf
Lunch for us with my parents
Dinner for baby S sole with veg followed by a fruit pot
Dinner for us McDonalds which I know my husband has been wanting for a while, as we will have had a long drive

Thursday
Breakfast for baby S quark with fruit
Lunch for baby S cheese toastie followed by malt loaf
Lunch for us cheese and ham toasties
Dinner for baby S homemade risotto
Dinner for us  sausage casserole 

Friday
Breakfast for baby S crumpet with Marmite
Lunch for baby S sausage casserole
Lunch for us soup and bread
Dinner for baby S something homemade from the freezer
Dinner for us burger and chips

Saturday
Breakfast for baby S porridge
Lunch for baby S crumpets with soft cheese
Lunch for us crumpets and hot cross buns
Dinner for baby S pasta and meatballs with garlic bread
Dinner for us pasta and meatballs with garlic bread

Sunday
Breakfast for baby S porridge
Lunch for baby S pitta, cheese etc
Lunch for us sausage and egg muffins
Dinner for baby S something homemade from the freezer
Dinner for us TBA

Sunday, 27 January 2019

A Unique Valentine's Day Gift - Engraved Silver Marmite Lid



What do you get for the man who has everything? OK not everything, but if there's something my husband decides he wants, one click of a button and it turns up the next day from Amazon Prime. It takes a lot of thought at birthday and Christmas to come up with something he will like but hasn't already bought himself, and I try hard to find slightly quirky or unusual gifts from independent retailers or online gift companies (one stocking filler I got him this year was a doorstop for his 'man cave' (study) carved with the word 'hodor').

Game of Thrones is all very well but not the most romantic inspiration when it comes to Valentine's day (I don't even watch the show but can tell most relationships on it have met a nasty end). Marmite may also not seem the most romantic of gifts - until you think of the famous advertising strapline: 'Marmite - you either love it or hate it'. Believe it or not, that advert was devised in the mid 90s, and has lasted so long that it's become a metaphor for anything people have strong feelings towards.

People who love Marmite, love Marmite. It is a sign of true love for them to say they love you more than they love Marmite!

So what better way to say I love you this Valentine's day than with a jar of Marmite? Well how about this: a personalised engraved silver Marmite lid that is a beautiful keepsake, and actually fits on top of your jar of Marmite so you can either keep it in the larder or on your bedside table (the engraved lid that is, not the Marmite - unless you really love it).

There are a few different places that sell engraved Marmite lids but this one from The Engravers Guild has a beautiful design of a cupid and hearts and the words 'I love you even more than Marmite' along with the recipient's name. You could even get your own name as a keepsake for yourself!

Made of solid 925 sterling sliver in a UK silversmiths, the lid fits a standard 250g jar of Marmite. The engraving is done with a diamond-tipped machine cutter so it will last a lifetime making this a really lovely keepsake for your valentine. This one, the sterling 925 silver, retails at £79 including the cost of the engraving and a gift box.

The Engravers Guild has some other options as well including a Brexit/Remainer version, a plain silver lid (£59.95) which you could have engraved with a message for a birthday or Christening or anything else, or one finished with 9 carat gold for £140 if you want to treat your love to something even more lavish.


I love the way it has turned out - you can see more of the details on the lid in this close up photo above.
Standard delivery is 3-5 working days but they also offer a next day service if you've left it a bit late - and the lid is of course delivered with a jar of Marmite!

Thanks to The Engravers Guild of London which offers a range of personalised gifts for the complimentary engraved Marmite lid. All opinions are my own and this is not a paid-for post though I was sent an engraved lid free of charge.