Sunday, 22 November 2020

Lotus Biscoff Doughnuts for Food 'n' Flix - Knives Out

I used to take part in a blog challenge called Food ‘n’ Flix where the person hosting each month chooses a movie and everyone taking part bakes something inspired by that film. It got me to watch quite a few films I otherwise would never have seen and to try a few recipes I almost certainly wouldn’t have made otherwise!

As I’ve been baking and blogging less it fell off my radar a bit for the past couple of years but I came across it again last month. Wendy from A Day In the Life on theFarm chose the film Knives Out, which had been on my 'to watch' list for a little while, so it was a good reason to bump it to the top!

I wasn't sure what to expect from the film, which stars Daniel Craig as a detective trying to solve the mystery of a family patriarch's death. His family members all seem to have secrets and possible motives for their involvement in what may or may not be a murder, though the police have ruled it a suicide. There is an all-star cast including Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Chris Evans and Christopher Plummer, and the film reminds me of an Agatha Christie-style 'whodunnit' - but at the same time it's also very funny. I really enjoyed watching the film as it made a nice change from the sort of things we usually watch.

In terms of food references and inspiration, there's a lot of indirect inspiration that could be taken from the family setting, but I prefer with this challenge to use a direct reference. There's one scene set in a restaurant where one of the main characters eats sausage and beans - a dish my husband would enjoy but I hate beans so this wasn't one for me. What actually stuck in my mind more was doughnuts!

There's a scene where Daniel Craig's detective Benoit Blanc summarises how confusing the case appears to be, saying: "A doughnut hole in the doughnut's hole. But we must look a little closer. And when we do, we see that the doughnut hole has a hole in its center - it is not a doughnut hole at all but a smaller doughnut with its own hole, and our doughnut is not whole at all!"

After that, all I wanted was a doughnut, so that's what I decided to make! I've never tried to make proper doughnuts as they need to be fried - I don't have a deep-fat fryer and don't really fancy filling a pan with that much oil. Instead, I've made baked doughnuts a few times and have the Wilton doughnut pan which makes these really easy.

I used this recipe for the doughnuts from the Wilton website.

When it came to decorating them, I was missing Doughnut Time (yes I know they deliver but I don't think it's a good idea for my husband and I to have a box of six of their doughnuts between us!) but I still wanted to do some sort of indulgent filling and topping. Lotus Biscoff immediately sprang to mind, since as well as the biscuits, they make a spread which I could eat just from the jar! I used some of the spread to fill the doughnuts (which I sliced through the middle - I wasn't quite up to injecting the filling like shop-bought ones!) and then covered the top in a chocolate glaze which I made from a mixture of chocolate and butter. 

I poured the chocolate glaze over the top and topped with a Lotus Biscoff chocolate biscuit. These weren't as gooey or indeed a patch on the ones I've had from Doughnut Time but they were very good and didn't last long!

I'm sharing this with A Day in the Life on the Farm for November's Food 'n' Flix challenge.

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Black Forest Gateau - GBBO 80s Week

It was the time of Kylie and Jason and Bros, drop-waist dresses with puff ball sleeves, Butlins holidays, Queen and Vanilla Ice, My Little Pony and Care Bears, candy necklaces and fizzy cola bottles, and what felt like endless summers running around outside with friends from your estate, running home just in time to watch 80 Days Around the World with Willy Fog or to beg mum for a coin p as you heard the ice cream van music playing.

In other words, I was a child of the 80s and so was really looking forward to Great British Bake Off’s 80s themed week. I wondered beforehand what they could be asked to make - these are the foods I most remember!

  • Viennetta
  • Vol au vents
  • Chicken kiev
  • Battenburg
  • Frozen pizza (deep pan, served with chips)
  • Black Forest Gateau
  • Melon slices with cherries on cocktail sticks
  • Speaking of which, cheese and pineapple cubes on cocktail sticks
  • Angel delight
  • Space invaders crisps
  • Panda pops
The list goes on.... if you remember the 80s, what were your favourites?

The actual challenges in GBBO were quiche, custard doughnuts and ice cream cake. I didn’t realise quiche was an 80s trend, though I do remember seeing one for the first time in the local bakery when I was a child and reading the label, getting the pronunciation wrong as I’d never seen the word before and asking my mum what a ‘quickie’ was, to her mortification! Though as someone with a modern languages degree I’m quite impressed that eight or nine-year old me read ‘quiche’ as ‘quickie’!

I didn’t think those kind of doughnuts were particularly associated with the 80s either, and other than Viennetta I don’t think I ever saw an ice cream cake in the 80s - and Viennetta isn’t really cake, it’s ice cream and thin layers of chocolate.

So when it came to my own bakealong I decided to make something different. I have strong memories of going to a couple of aunts’ weddings in the 80s and Black Forest gateau featuring prominently on the buffet table. I absolutely loved Black Forest gateau apart from one thing - I didn’t like cherries. But the cake was so moist, so chocolatey, I couldn’t resist - so I would always have a slice if it was on offer and carefully prise apart the layers and scrape the cherry filling out, then scrape the cherry off the top, then deposit both on my mum’s plate and wipe my fork with her napkin!

I still don’t like cherries and haven’t eaten Black Forest gateau for years - and have never made one, so it seemed a good idea to make for my GBBO bake along!

I used this Eric Lanlard recipe but didn’t use kirsch as I wanted my daughter to be able to eat the cake; instead I brushed the cake layers with cherry juice. I also didn’t want to use black cherries so bought a tin of black cherry pie filling, which did contain whole cherries but also a thick syrup that I used to sandwich between the layers of the cake. I saved the actual cherries to decorate the top of the cake - and of course picked them off when I came to eat it!

I think I might have forgotten to add the sugar to the cream and I didn’t think I could actually taste any cherry in the cake either from the juice or the filling! Which essentially made it quite a lot of faff for a chocolate cake with a fresh cream filling. But the grated chocolate around the outside and the cherries on top made it feel very 1980s! So I was fairly happy with this cake but if I made it again I might just use the cake recipe and skip the cherries entirely and fill it with chocolate instead!



Sunday, 8 November 2020

GBBO Japanese Week - Wagamama's Tori Kara Age and Chicken Katsu Curry

I was a bit surprised when I saw Great British Bake Off was doing Japanese week, as I didn’t think Japan was a particularly easy theme for cakes and bakes. Of course, I’ve never been to Japan so could be completely wrong – and a few years ago I did go to the opening of a Japanese cafe in central London which was really nice. But when I googled Japanese desserts, the main things that came up used flavours that are quite hard to get hold of unless you can go to a specialist shop, like yuzu, matcha and red bean paste. One recipe I kept coming across was a really light wobbly cheesecake that looked quite difficult to make – which is what Lottie actually made on GBBO that made her star baker.

I have made mochi before which was interesting – quite nice but not something I’d eat regularly – but since I couldn’t get hold of any matcha or yuzu in time I couldn’t think of anything I could bake that wouldn’t be really complicated. So I decided to do dinner from my Wagamama cookery book instead! I picked out Tori Kara Age which is essentially a marinated fried chicken recipe. I didn’t realise it was actually a side dish as I have never ordered this in Wagamama’s, but I think it also goes well with rice as a main course.

It is a little time consuming to make since you have to make the marinade (which is a separate recipe) first, and then a dipping sauce (another separate recipe). Luckily I already had most of the ingredients, including sake, from a previous recipe; this uses quite a lot of soy sauce as well so make sure you have plenty! Once I had marinated the chicken pieces they were coated and fried; the dipping sauce added an umami sort of taste that was really quite more-ish!

My favourite Wagamama recipe though is the dish I order almost every time I eat there (which is only once every couple of years, if that, as my husband doesn’t like that cuisine) – chicken katsu curry. So I was quite pleased when the restaurant chain decided to publish their recipe during the first lockdown, for people to make at home. It is surprisingly easy – you need quite a few ingredients but all ones I already had in the cupboard. I tend to take a shortcut and buy breaded chicken goujons rather than make my own, but the sauce tastes exactly like the real thing and has quickly become a firm favourite in my household!

I was also interested to learn about kawaii from Great British Bake Off - a style of Japanese cake decorating that translates as cute or adorable. If you see a kawaii cake you will know straight away what I mean! I have made a few things in the past that might fall roughly under this category - not strictly speaking kawaii, but I think they are quite cute! Check these out:

Reindeer cake pops

Puppy dog cupcakes


Russian doll birthday cake

Shopkins doughnut birthday cake

Strawberry and white chocolate unicorn cake

Thursday, 5 November 2020

Mary's Chocolate Orange Tart - GBBO Bakealong

Chocolate week on Great British Bake Off would once have seen me coming up with some elaborate creation, no doubt a lavishly decorated cake. But I don’t have the luxury of a lot of time any more and wasn’t really in the mood for cake - I fancied making a dessert that would keep for a couple of days. It seemed appropriate to use a GBBO recipe book and having a flick through, I settled on Mary Berry's chocolate orange tart from the Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking.

The chocolate filling is a mixture of chocolate, sugar, butter, flour and eggs - so it's no wonder that it seemed quite cake-y to me. But the trick is not to overbake it and leave it slightly wobbly in the centre - I always have my mum's voice in the back of my mind at times like that, warning me that it isn’t cooked (or half raw, as she would probably put it) which explains why my brownies are usually overbaked! 

There is also an orange filling that you make in a similar way but using egg yolks not whole eggs, white chocolate, and the grated zest of one orange. But for some reason oranges were completely out of stock on my online shop that week (perhaps as we go into lockdown in winter, people are worried they will get scurvy?!) so I made do with a few drops of orange essence instead.

The idea is to swirl the two fillings together inside your pastry case to create a marbled effect. I think this looks quite pretty, don't you?

It is delicious served warm and also very good served cold a day or two later - if it lasts that long!

Chocolate Eclairs - GBBO Bakealong

I’ve been trying to bake along with Great British Bake Off this year and wasn’t particularly looking forward to pastry week as I don’t make particularly good pastry - I’m rubbish at kneading I think! Until I saw that the bakers were making choux pastry and specifically eclairs. Given I have an eclair pan and a book called Secrets of Eclairs - both from the pre-parenting days when I had a lot more time to bake - I had no excuse not to join in!

Eclair pans are not exactly a necessary piece of baking equipment but they do help keep your piping straight and a uniform size and the tin I used is quite heavy with curved edges which keep it stable.

As for the recipe book, it’s a small volume but has some detailed explanations of the equipment and techniques you need to make eclairs, plus recipes for different flavoured pastries and fillings.

I was quite limited by what I had in the house - if I want to bake in the same week as the GBBO episode then I need to either decide before I’ve seen the show what I am going to make (so not really a bake along) or make do with what I have got in the house - I’m trying to avoid extra trips to the shops due to Covid!

That left me with plain eclairs with a chocolate filling and white icing on top - nice and traditional.

Making choux pastry is actually quite straightforward and quick but the tricky bit comes with deciding how much egg to add. The recipe I used said you needed up to two eggs, and to beat them together and add gradually until you get the right consistency. I felt I needed to use all the egg, so wasn’t sure if that was right and I should have used less, but it turned out well!

I did end up having to make two batches and in true GBBO style, bin the first lot and start again. Bizarrely for such a detailed recipe book with extensive explanations of each step, the basic recipe for choux pastry at the front of the book omits any cooking time! So I went by the time in one of the flavoured recipes later in the book and the eclairs came out very overbaked so I started again and reduced the cooking time significantly.

I made simple icing from icing sugar and water which looked ok at first but once it had set it was almost transparent and I think I should have made it much thicker or done a few layers. I would have preferred to make the traditional chocolate icing but didn’t have the ingredients as this was a last minute bake! The texture of the choux was quite good and they did taste nice, though they were a lot smaller than shop-bought eclairs. This was the size guided by my eclair pan so I can only assume that shop-bought eclairs use some sort of industrial equipment and bake in a size that can't really be replicated at home. If that's not the case and you are a whizz with eclairs, let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Rainbow Bagels - Great British Bake Off

How bright and cheerful these rainbow bagels are! But what are rainbow bagels and how do you make them?

The Great British Bake Off put rainbow bagels in the spotlight in bread week and there was some controversy after Paul Hollywood suggested they represent the NHS. In fact these brightly coloured bagels - which are just regular bagels with food colouring - originated in New York and there were queues down the street outside creator Scott Rossillo’s Bagel Store when they hit the big time (i.e. Instagram) in 2016. Later they moved to London’s Brick Lane, which if you have been there you will know is bagel-central. But do they have anything to do with the NHS? Well no - they are more commonly seen as a symbol of Gay Pride and the LGBT+ community.

Either way, my two year old daughter loves all things rainbow and thought these were brilliant!

 Since they featured as the technical challenge in GBBO there is a recipe on the website. This is the one I followed and I found them quite easy to make - or so I thought because they didn’t exactly turn out perfectly but they tasted pretty good!

They are more time consuming than difficult as you have to add food colouring to five separate pieces of the dough and knead it in. Layering and twisting each piece was good fun and I thought they looked great even if mine weren’t as neon bright as the ones on the TV.

Did you know that you briefly plunge bagels into a pan of boiling water before baking them in the oven? This is what gives the bread it’s shiny outer crust but makes sure they stay chewy in the middle. I actually made these before watching the relevant GBBO episode and it was onto when I watched it the next day that I heard the judges explain that if the bagels spend too long in the water they get a wrinkled effect instead of a hard shiny crust, which is what mine had - the wrinkles that is!

Apparently the water needs to be simmering not boiling. I also don’t think I kneaded the dough enough (for some reason I decided to do it by hand rather than using my Kitchenaid) and I also left the bagels too long to prove as I was making these in stages around doing other things! So in a way it was actually surprising that they turned out so well! Here is a picture of the inside:

If you are baking along with GBBO and have made these or fancy having a go, let me know!

Saturday, 3 October 2020

London's best doughnut? Doughnut Time review

Something about lockdown has made me start thinking about doughnuts a lot. You just can’t get them with your online grocery order – which is making me want them even more. For some reason, the fresh bakery items like a fresh unsliced loaf of bread or a simple doughnut doesn’t seem to be an option. I’ve even been browsing websites like Krispy Kreme and Doughnut Time to see what they can deliver, then deciding I shouldn’t be bulk buying that sort of thing at the moment anyway!

But it reminded me of when I started my new job and found a doughnut shop called Doughnut Time.

It’s right up there with the super-indulgent once in a blue moon treat – they look so calorific and are also pretty expensive, as far as doughnuts go - £4.50 each when you can get a pack of five for under a quid from supermarkets. But these are not your average supermarket doughnut, and indeed they are (in my opinion) a cut above Krispy Kreme, which until now I thought was the gold standard of doughnuts (mass produced ones, anyway).

Doughnut Time’s doughnuts are big – and I mean massive. They even sell a sharing size one for £17 that would be a good alternative for a birthday cake – but I think their regular sized ones would easily do two people.

The doughnuts themselves are light and springy with just the right amount of chewiness – really good. But it’s the toppings where they come into their own, complete with quirky puns for names.

For instance:

Bellatwix Lestrange – topped with chocolate glaze, biscuit crumb, chocolate flakes, caramel drizzle and a Twix

Apple Crumble & Fitch -a vegan offering with an apple pie filling covered in caramel glaze and Lotus Biscoff crumble

Bueno Mars – Hazelnut cream filling, milk and dark chocolate glaze with Nutella, wafer and Kinder Bueno pieces

Stranger Rings 2.0 – chocolate glazed doughnut with Oreo crumbs, Nutella and glitter              

Ruby Rose – strawberry glaze, filled with strawberry cheesecake, topped with marshmallows, wafers, raspberries and a ruby KitKat.

The shop window literally stops passers-by in their tracks and inside the shop is basically just a tiny counter with space for about two people to pay and take the doughnuts away (they provide boxes). (NB – I haven’t been here since before COVID; they have about a dozen stores that are open around London at the moment and they advise you follow them on Instagram to find out which stores are currently open).

I’ve actually been here three times now, and have tried the Ruby Rose and the Bueno Mars – both amazing but the former seems lighter due to the cheesecake and the flavour, which is a good thing, and my husband has had the Stranger Rings 2.0 and Ice Ice Bae Bae – vanilla buttercream, vegan cookie pieces, chocolate chip cookie dough and chocolate chips. I didn’t even bother telling him this one was vegan as I knew he’d love the cookie dough! We also had their Valentine's special - I can't remember what it was called but it wasn't as good as the Bruno Mars!

Did I mention that they do a DIY kit to decorate your doughnut at home – the doughnuts are of course provided. I may have to treat myself soon….

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Congratulations - It's a Girl! New baby handmade card

Sometimes I feel like a Womble (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write) – making good use of the things that I find, things that the everyday folk leave behind. (Is it strange that I remember those lyrics despite not having seen the television show for over 30 years?). When it comes to card making, I like to use every last scrap, as some things seem too good to waste.

Take the It’s a Girl paper pad by First Edition – I received this as a gift along with some other card making goodies from my husband not long after our daughter was born. The front cover had come detached from the pad but it was too nice to throw away – so even though I had plenty of paper left in the pack itself, I decided to use the cover to make this card.

 I liked how the cover had overlapping designs – intended to show the range of papers inside the pack. I used it to cover a small blank card but it didn’t quite cover the whole card, as I’d had to cut around the wording saying ‘12x12 paper pad’ or something along those lines. To cover the gap I stuck a line of paper flowers down the edge of the card, and added a couple of gem and leaf embellishments to give it a bit of a three-dimensional lift. Finally I added a nice pastel pink ‘congratulations’ banner from another sticker pack, as this is intended for a couple who are expecting their third child – a girl.

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:

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!