Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Love Cows Valentine's Card

This is the Valentine's card I made for my boyfriend last year; I didn't want to share it at the time as he hadn't seen the card and by the time Feb 14th had passed I decided it was too late to post this.

The cow motif is because his last name is Cowe - which will be my name too from June!

I started with a square white card blank which I covered with pink paper that had swirly patterns. I cut out a large heart from another patterned pink paper and stuck that on top. The 'love' stickers all come from one sticker pack and the little hearts from another; the 'to my Valentine' sentiment in the top left is from a sheet of outline stickers, which are red rather than the more common silver or gold.

Finally the layered paper cow is a decoupage sticker which I bought in a little pack from Ebay; I often wonder how people make these sorts of thing to sell!

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Fruity Yogurt Brulee Two Ways

The letter for this month's Alphabakes is Y, never an easy one - I've already managed to enter my Yule Log I made after Christmas that I hadn't blogged about until now. I also wanted to make something else, but with wedding planning (four months to go and counting!) I've been far too busy to bake.

So instead I decided to go for an easy dessert involving yogurt. I found a recipe in The Fairtrade Everyday Cookbook for a yogurt fruit brûlée - passion fruit on the bottom topped with Greek yogurt, which you mix with a little pomegranate juice, then top with brown sugar which you caramelise with a cook's blowtorch or under the grill.

I had some pomegranate to use up so didn't want to buy passion fruit as well - I'm terrible at buying fruit and not using it before it goes off. I did have the pomegranate juice as I had just been sent vouchers to buy some POM Wonderful pomegranate juice to review. It's made from 100% pomegranate (made from concentrate) - did you know that pomegranates are a good source of all of these?:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin K
  • Fiber
  • Potassium
  • Folate
  • Copper

  • I mixed a dash of pomegranate juice with fat free Greek style yogurt and spooned it into a ramekin on top of some pomegranate seeds.

    I sprinkled a generous coating of brown sugar on the top but using my blowtorch didn't make the sugar caramelise, just burn in places- as you can see it was literally on fire at one point!

    Once I'd stopped and scraped off the burnt bits, and added some more pomegranate seeds on top, it did taste quite good, but I decided I needed to make this again using caster sugar, which I know does caramelise properly with a blowtorch.

    This time I cut up a ripe pear and placed pieces of it in the bottom of a ramekin and topped it with some flavoured yogurt - Onken's mango, papaya and passion fruit flavour.

    I sprinkled caster sugar on top and caramelised it - properly this time - with my cook's blowtorch. It tasted delicious and would be great as a dessert or even breakfast!

    I'm sharing my yogurt brûlée with Alphabakes, the challenge I co-host with Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker, as the letter this month is Y.

    Monday, 8 February 2016

    Meal Planning Monday: Week 7


    I started following's 'feel fuller' diet plan which claims to increase the amount of protein versus carbs, and yet every day it seems to recommend I have porridge for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch, which is very odd! So now on my personal trainer's advice I'm going to eat more protein - eggs for breakfast if I have time, and chicken breast and prawns or smoked salmon for lunch with salad.
    Dinner- was going to make vegetable or Quorn curry but got home late so did pasta instead.
    Dinner- stuffed chicken with pesto and cream cheese. Followed by pancakes for dessert as it's Shrove Tuesday
    Lunch- leftover pasta from Monday
    Dinner – sandwich, at cake decorating class
    Dinner- balsamic pork steak
    Dinner- burger and chips for him, with salad for me
    Lunch- soup and fresh bread
    Dinner- will invite my fiancé's mum around and do Pad Thai for us, pizza for him. Followed by sticky mango rice for pudding perhaps.
    Valentine’s day
    Lunch- bacon sandwich as that is definitely the way to his heart!
    Dinner- not sure yet if we are going out (I suspect not at this late stage) or I will cook steak as that's his favourite.

    Sunday, 7 February 2016

    Snapfish Personalised Photo Placemats for Valentine's Day

    We weren’t going to do Valentine’s presents this year, as we have a wedding to pay for – which seems rather more important! But when I was asked by Snapfish, the photo prints and photo gifts website, to see if there was anything I liked on their site I jumped at the chance.
    I did some crafting with Snapfish products last year and was really pleased; I noticed then that they had a huge range of ready made gifts which could be personalised with photos, which would be ideal for Valentine’s day. You could do a photo book or a canvas print for your Valentine, or a mug and key ring. I love the photo cushions as well – my sister got my mum one of these with a picture of her dog on it for Christmas and my mum said it was her favourite present!
    As we are getting married in June I didn’t want to do a photo book or canvas print yet as we will hopefully have some amazing pictures from the professional photographer and there seemed no point using holiday snaps now. I didn’t think my fiancé would appreciate a picture of my cat on a cushion (even though I’d love it!) and we have far too many mugs in the cupboard already – so I wanted something we would actually be able to use and enjoy.
    Snapfish offers photo personalised coasters and placemats which isn’t something I’ve seen on many photo sites and I thought it was a brilliant idea – something you might use every day or keep for special occasions, that can be a real talking point around the dinner table. Also, they do a set of 6 placemats for £24.99 which I think is quite good value, but also handy – the placemats I’ve already got came in a set of 4 and I often find I need one or two more. You can also buy individual placemats for £8.99 or a pair for £14.99 – just right for a Valentine’s gift.
    I decided to get the full set of 6 and knew straight away I wanted to use photos of holidays my fiancé and I have taken together. It was hard to choose which pictures so I decided to narrow it down – he loves to visit the US, and we’ve been there three times in the five and a bit years we’ve been together. I thought he would really like the gift if I chose a set of 6 pictures from our favourite USA destinations – you can put the same picture on all the placemats if you like, or a different one on each, which is what I did.

    The top photo in this pile was taken when we went to dinner at a restaurant on the banks of the Mississippi in Natchez.

    The top two you can see here are Chicago by night, taken from the balcony of our hotel, and Monument Valley at sunrise.

     The placemats aren't huge but there is plenty of room for a dinner plate and they look really good quality - robust with a glossy finish. I'm looking forward to using them!
    If you order from Snapfish before February 9 your order should reach you in time for Valentine's Day :-)

    Thanks to Snapfish for the voucher towards the products I chose. All opinions are my own etc.

    Saturday, 6 February 2016

    Spiralized Sweet Potato 'Pizza'

    It's Spiralizer Saturday so for lunch today I made this recipe based on one in Ali Maffucci's book Inspiralized.

    I changed it a bit to use different toppings and also to make the recipe quicker. Ali suggests pressing the spiralized sweet potato down inside a ramekin and refrigerating it for 15 mins, but I skipped this stage and just flattened the noodles into the frying pan and it worked just fine. It tasted really good too!

    If you have any recipes that can be made using a Spiralizer, please add them to the linkup here.

    To serve one, you need:
    1 sweet potato, spiralized or grated
    Fry Light
    one egg
    1/2 tsp garlic granules
    salt, pepper
    2 tbsp. passata
    1/4 onion, diced
    1/6 red pepper, diced
    half a ball of mozzarella

    Preheat oven or grill. Peel the sweet potato and spiralize.

     Spray a frying pan with Fry Light and add the sweet potato noodles; cook for ten minutes until softened. Add the diced onion and red pepper and fry until softened then remove from the pan.

    Beat the egg in a large bowl and mix in the spiralized sweet potato.

    Press the mixture down in the frying pan and fry on each side until browned. Place on a baking tray and spread the top with the passata and top with the red pepper, onion and mozzarella. Place in the oven or under the grill until the cheese has melted and enjoy.

    Friday, 5 February 2016

    Sugar flowers: how to make sweet peas

    Following the calla lilies I made in my sugar flowers evening class I want to share with you the next type of flower we made - sweet peas. These are very pretty though fairly small, so would look good with one flower on top of a cupcake or with a spray on top of a larger cake.
    Once again you need a dedicated cutter - or can make your own template, but this only cost a few pounds from Amazon.

    To start, you need to roll out some flowerpaste so it is very thin and then cut a small teardrop-shaped piece either using a small rose petal cutter or your own template. Use a balling tool to curl the edges by placing the shape on a foam pad and rubbing the tool around the edge, half on the flowerpaste and half on the foam pad.

    Take a piece of florist wire - quite thin, so 26 or 28 gauge - and make a small sausage shape from your sugarpaste. Insert the florist wire and then wrap the teardrop shape around it, folding in half. This will form the centre of the flower.

    Cut out two pieces of flowerpaste using the sweet pea cutter.

    Take the piece with the notch cut out (the top one in the above picture) and spread a little edible glue in the centre. Then, holding the cut out notch at the top line up the notch with the centre of your flower and wrap both side pieces around it, leaving an opening, like you can see below.

    Take the other petal and rub the edges with a balling tool as before to curl them. Carefully insert a thin piece of florist wire - 30 gauge is good for this - into the petal. I found it quite hard to do this without the wire poking through - you can try making your flowerpaste petal a little thicker if you are having trouble.

    Stand the petal behind the ones you have already made, and bind the two pieces of wire together with florist tape.

     We then made the calyx with a calyx cutter. You either need to roll this out on a board with holes - known as Mexican hat holes - or you can manually pinch together some of the flowerpaste to make the part that sticks up, as you can see here.

    Slide the calyx up through the wires and bend the leaves outwards. I think a little bunch of these together could look quite realistic!

    Thursday, 4 February 2016

    Restaurant Review: Crepe Affaire, Islington

    Pancakes are great for breakfast - or lunch, or dessert. But particularly if you want something different for breakfast.

    I was on business in Islington a little while ago and visiting a supplier but I was a bit early so decided to get some breakfast somewhere nice. I was passing Crepe Affaire and the fast casual appearance appealed to me - it's more like a café than a restaurant but with plenty of tables and waiter service after you've ordered at the counter.

    They have sweet and savoury crepes and a separate breakfast section that has other items like porridge and eggs Florentine. But I was there for the pancakes - it had to be savoury rather than sweet at that time of the morning. There were some delicious and quite interesting flavours, on a whole spectrum from ham and cheese through to Mexican chicken with salsa, guacamole, cheddar and chilli sauce. I had one with goat's cheese, apple butter, red onion, spinach and walnuts, which was delicious. The prices are very reasonable with a lot of the pancakes under £5 - definitely somewhere good for breakfast or an inexpensive lunch!

    Wednesday, 3 February 2016

    Less Sinful Chocolate Yule Log or Swss Roll

    As a lot of people – myself included – are on a health kick this month, I thought I’d share a recipe for a slightly less sinful chocolate yule log I made to take to a friend’s house at Christmas. It comes from Lorraine Pascale’s book ‘A lighter way to bake’ and the recipe can be found here.
    I didn’t feel the need to use the milk in the chocolate ganache; it would have thinned it quite a lot and I was worried it wouldn’t set, though in fact I also forgot to put the icing sugar into the ganache. So mine was just made of chocolate and low far cream cheese, which did taste really nice – like Chocolate Philadelphia if you’ve had that!

    Mixing the dry ingredients for the cake

    Adding the wet ingredients

    Spread onto a Swiss roll tin

    Just out of the oven

    Spreading the ganache on top

    Rolled up and covered with more ganache

    I didn’t decorate the yule log as I made it the day before I needed to take it to my friend’s and was worried about any decorations going too soft or sinking in, as Lorraine’s recipe says to serve immediately. But I kept it in the fridge overnight and it was really good even if the presentation doesn't look all that great (it's rustic!).
    The coffee in the cake is detectable but not overpowering and it was nice to feel that this dessert wasn’t as calorific as a traditional yule log!

    I'm sharing this with Alphabakes, the blog challenge I run with Ros of the More Than Occasional Baker, as the letter I have chosen this month is Y. Strictly speaking this is a Yule log though you could serve it as a Swiss roll any time of year.

    I'm also sending this to Love Cake, hosted by JibberJabber UK as her theme, 'a month of cake' will accept any cake entries.


    Tuesday, 2 February 2016

    USA Travel Review: Chicago Part 2

    If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.

    The one sight in Chicago that I think is unmissable is the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower. The viewing platform at the top is called Skydeck Chicago and it really is amazing. Once the tallest building in the world, it has now dropped back to 8th place but is still the tallest building in the western hemisphere. The viewing level is 1,353 feet up in the air, and has been open to the public since the 1970s - but more recently, I guess the owners decided they needed to do something else to attract tourists, now there are so many other tall buildings you can go up. So they added a viewing platform on the 103rd floor that juts out from the tower itself, so you are standing over... nothing.

    It has a glass floor and glass walls so you are effectively standing in a glass box that extends about 4 feet from the side of the tower. We went there at 10.30am on a weekday - I'd read advice not to go first thing in case there was still early morning fog - and there weren't that many people there at all. What I liked though was that everyone queued for one of the two glass viewing platforms, so each person could have their photo taken standing over nothingness, without strangers being in the shot. So we got some amazing pictures!

    It cost $20 each to get in but was well worth it - there is lots of information to read, a full 360 degree of Chicago and maps showing what you are looking at - even for someone who doesn't know the city at all it was really interesting. Chicago is quite a flat city so you can see for miles.

    After this we went to Millennium Park - a huge park where various events take place (while we were there we saw a triathlon, and there is an ice rink in winter) and home to some amazing landmarks which also shouldn't be missed. The Field Museum, which I've already written about, is at the far end of the park along with the Shedd aquarium and Adler Planetarium. About half way down the park is the Buckingham Fountain, which we passed in a taxi on our way to the Field museum. You could walk the length of the park but I wouldn't recommend it on a very hot day - it's over a mile from the top of the park to the Field Museum.

    At the very top of the park, literally just on the main road (E Randolph St) is the Cloud Gate. This is also known as the 'Bean', a sculpture produced ten years ago by the British Indian artist Anish Kapoor. It's made up of 168 stainless steel plates welded together with no visible seam; it's a smooth, curved bean shape fixed at each end with a gap underneath. It has a distortion effect - a bit like a fairground mirror - and if you stand in front you get some fantastic photos. Try it on all sides - on one side you have a reflection of the park and on another, of skyscrapers. And don't forget to walk underneath and look up for a totally different experience!

    The Crown Fountain is also here - a reflecting pool between two towers that have video screens showing the faces of Chicago residents, and every so often water starts spouting out of their mouths. It's a popular meeting spot and great for kids to play in the water!

    We managed to completely miss Wrigley Square which is also close by and from the pictures I've seen is worth stopping at.

    After seeing so much in one morning we wanted a rest and some lunch, so ate at the nearest place - the Park Grill. It's quite expensive for what it is, but it's clearly a prime tourist spot and you can sit outside, which was lovely on a hot September day. The only slight drawback was the service - we entered, couldn't see an staff so sat down at a table, only to be told by a waiter that we had come in a side entrance (which wasn't clear), and had to go round to the front entrance and wait to be seated. So we did, only to be met by a different waiter who took us to the exact table we had just been sitting at!

    The menu was a bit odd, in that I had pulled pork which came on its own without a bun, but with some pieces of toast - which I used to make a sandwich - a giant slice of watermelon and a packet of crisps. The pulled pork was delicious though and the watermelon just the thing for a hot day. My fiancé had a chicken burger which also came with a packet of crisps rather than fries.

    I'd done some internet research in advance of our trip and discovered something very interesting - the chocolate brownie was actually invented in Chicago! Some ladies who lunched asked the chef at the Palmer House Hotel to make them something like a cake that could be taken in a packed lunch and eaten without mess. The hotel is quite rightly proud of that little piece of history and sells chocolate brownies that you can eat in or take away - we were directed to the lobby bar, where I purchased three beautifully packaged brownies to go. They even give you a little card with the original recipe - which is absolutely delicious!

    After returning to our hotel and a brief rest - when we ate the brownies - my mother-in-law and I decided we wanted to go shopping, while my fiancé decided to stay behind with his book. We took a taxi to the Water Tower Shopping Centre which had a big Macy's - every time she goes to the US, my MIL stocks up on good value children's clothes for her grandchildren. As Macy's had a sale on I bought a few things for friends' children myself, but didn't find any clothes I liked.

    I bought some Garretts Popcorn, which Chicago is known for, from a stand in the shopping centre - it was really good - and was glad I asked for a small bag as it was huge! I then browsed around the American Girl shop as I'd heard of it and we have nothing like this in the UK - you can take your doll to the hospital to have a broken arm fixed, to the salon to get its hair cut and even get your doll's ear pierced!

    Across the street there is a Hersheys store which is fun to browse and buy gifts though they are quite expensive and if you just want regular Hersheys bars I would get them from a supermarket. They do have the world's largest Hersheys bar, which costs $50 (and wasn't actually as big as I was expecting) and an awesome milk shake and cupcake bar. I bought a Reese's Pieces chocolate brownie (to die for), a Cookies and Cream cupcake and a chocolate cupcake, which the three of us shared between us later - very rich but very good!

     After all that shopping we were too exhausted to go far for dinner. When my mother-in-law stayed at this hotel before, she was on her own so didn’t venture far away for meals, and ate more than once at Bijan’s Bistro across the road. She liked it so suggested we went there together.
    The restaurant looked quite high end, with thick table cloths and napkins and a large menu the size of a book; I was expecting it to perhaps be a French restaurant but I would say the food is American with perhaps a French twist. There are dishes like meatloaf, bison burger and macaroni cheese with bacon, but also chicken provencale, herb-roasted trout, and duck a l’orange.

    I had trout with roasted potatoes, a sort of hollandaise-like sauce, and mixed peppers and onions which was really nice, and lovely to have something a bit different from the heavier food I'd had. My fiancé had a burger while his mum had a baked brie with a watermelon salad which looked very good. I wasn't going to have dessert after the chocolate brownie and cake I'd already had today but my fiancé and his mum wanted to share a plate of profiteroles so I had a pecan caramel cheesecake which thankfully was quite a small slice!