Sunday, 25 September 2016

Sailing Family Scrabble Name Picture

There’s something special about handmade gifts as you know that extra attention has gone into them – all the more so if it was handmade by the person giving the gift.
Several years ago I made a scrabble name picture for my now-husband’s brother and his family. I think it’s a lovely thing to have, and when it was my friend’s birthday this summer and I was struggling to think of a gift, I remembered this and thought she would like it. (Luckily, she did!)
I found it much easier to purchase a frame this time, that was both a better size and price; Hobbycraft had these white box frames for £8 – which are currently only £4 in the sale, in fact I think I might buy a few more.
I bought the scrabble letters from Amazon; they are not real scrabble pieces with the little legs on the back to fit into the holes on a scrabble board, but instead are flat, which makes them much easier to glue.
My friend and her husband are really into sailing so I bought some sailing patterned paper from Ebay to use as the backing paper and used my Silhouette die cutter to cut out a sailing boat.
I used the letters to spell out their names and that of their son, and the words ‘family’ and ‘love’ and placed the sailing boat at the bottom. I was really pleased with this and my friend said she loved it.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Restaurant review: South Place Chop House, London

The name of the South Place Chop House alone suggests that they know their meat - but also that it might be something of an old-fashioned, stuffy establishment. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Chop houses in Britain have been around for hundred of years and were places businessmen met to strike deals over hearty meals. The South Place Chop House is in a hotel in the heart of the City, and is probably frequented by bankers - at least, I work in a bank and I ate there! It was a smart crowd when I met a friend there one weeknight evening, and the wood and leather banquette seats did strike me as something aimed at an older, slightly stuffier clientele,

The food is also what I'd call fairly traditional; starters include smoked salmon, steak tartare, prawn cocktail and onion and cider soup. We opted for a platter of cold cuts between us; it wasn't listed as a sharing starter and we asked the waiter how big it was. He said it would be a large starter for one person or a small starter for two - and when it came we were glad we had decided to share. I probably could have had this as a main course! It consisted of pork pies, ham, Scotch egg, pickles and cheese and wasn't cheap at around £15.

The main courses again were quite traditional, from steak and lamb chop and old spot pork chop with apple sauce to a Dover sole. They were doing a special offer of a lobster, fries and glass of prosecco for £20 which we both ordered. Lobster is never very filling so the large starter turned out to have been a good idea!

The food was good and well presented and the service very good and I think the restaurant would be great for a business dinner, not so much for an intimate date or a cosy evening with friends.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Bang On The Door Birthday Card

Children and teenagers often like brand-name characters on birthday cards - not just Disney (though I think Frozen and Avengers birthday cards are very popular!) but other things like Forever Friends and the Me to You teddies. When I was younger, Purple Ronnie cards were all the rage, along with a family of hedgehogs that I can't remember the name of.

I bought a pack of die-cut stickers showing Bang on the Door characters ages ago and wasn't particularly inspired with what to do with them, as they are pretty vibrant on their own. So I used them simply on a white card, with some silver heart and star die cuts from the same pack around them. The 'special birthday' is from a pack of outline stickers I've also had for a long time. Not my favourite card but it might go down well with a pre-teen girl!

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Tuscan Chianti Chicken Cacciatora

My Tuscan Chianti Chicken Cacciatora
There's something about the idea of spending a week in a villa in Tuscany that really appeals to me. The landscape looks beautiful, from rolling Italian countryside to the sandy beaches, the small medieval towns to the cities of Pisa and Florence, where I'd love to go sightseeing some day.

Having a villa would mean getting away from it all - I imagine a rustic farmhouse overlooking vineyards, sitting at a big wooden table with my husband as we tear into fresh bread and let a bottle of Chianti breathe.

I love the flavours from this region, from zingy lemons (and limoncello) to the earthy taste of truffles when they are grated over dishes. The red wines from this region are smooth yet spicy and Italian olive oil is renowned world wide.

I also like the simplicity of food from Tuscany. Pasta might just be served with a little oil and butter - when freshly made pasta is that good, why disguise it with a sauce? The best Tuscan food is locally produced and enjoyed according to the season; chicken is free range (probably wandering around the rustic farmhouse of my imagination) and mushrooms are foraged for.

There re two other things that stand out to be about Tuscan cooking. Food is about family, and typical dishes are prepared in large quantities to serve a big family around the kitchen table. It is also traditionally peasant cooking - in other words, cheap and not wasteful. Some of the best known Italian dishes are things that use cheaper cuts of meat, are bulked out with cannellini beans, use up stale bread (panzanella), and using local herbs and vegetables to bring out the natural flavours of the dish. These days rather than being something that is done through necessity, due to lack of money, this is something that many cooks aspire to - natural flavours coming through, cooking more economically and feeding a whole family with a robust, filling meal.

I was genuinely thinking of looking into booking a Tuscan villa for our holiday next year when I was invited to enter a competition run by To Tuscany, a website that specialises in villa rentals in that very region. It must be fate!

They asked me to create my own Tuscan-inspired recipe using typical flavours and influences from Italy, so I started to brainstorm a list of ingredients. I also thought about all the things I described above - cheaper cuts of meat, bringing out natural flavours, and a meal that could be cooked in large quantities if needed, and came up with this recipe for chicken cacciatora.

Cacciatora means 'hunter' in Italian and this is a kind of hunter's stew - perhaps something that would be waiting when they returned home from a day's hunt. It traditionally uses chicken, game or rabbit, and is cooked in a tomato-based sauce, sometimes with wine added, featuring onion and garlic, sometimes carrot or red peppers - there are various versions.

I decided to make mine even more Tuscan, if such a thing is possible, by making Chianti wine an important feature of the dish (Chianti is in Tuscany, if you didn't know). Italian olives stood out to me as a good addition, both for the colour that they give the dish and the different flavour and texture. I love balsamic vinegar and how it can bring out the flavour in dishes so decided to add a splash; my sauce was going to based on tinned tomatoes and the wine, with bay leaves and rosemary for flavour (and again they look great in the dish, though remove the bay leaf before serving).

Finally for a more modern, more indulgent twist, I sprinkled a little grated mozzarella on top of each chicken thigh just before serving, allowing it to melt - the cheese has a subtle taste but adds a little creaminess that is otherwise missing from the dish and to me just seemed to be the finishing touch. Serve the cacciatora with a hunk of fresh bread and a green salad - and the rest of the Chianti of course!

Tuscan Chianti Chicken Cacciatora - an original recipe by Caroline Makes

To serve four, you need:
4 large chicken thighs
pinch of salt salt
pinch of ground black pepper
1/2 bottle of Chianti
1 tbsp. olive oil
100g diced pancetta
2 bay leaves
sprig of rosemary
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
a large handful of green Italian olives
400g tinned tomatoes
generous dash of balsamic vinegar
pinch of smoked paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
50g grated mozzarella

Season the chicken and marinade in the wine for at least one hour or overnight if possible.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the chicken, in batches if necessary, until browned. Add the pancetta to the pan and fry until starting to brown.

Preheat oven to 180C. Transfer the chicken and pancetta to an ovenproof dish with the wine marinade. Mix in the tomatoes, garlic, olives, bay leaf and rosemary. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar, a pinch of smoked paprika and the oregano and cover the pot with a lid.


Bake in the oven for 1.5 hours; for the last 10 minutes of cooking time add the grated mozzarella on top of the chicken.
Serve with green salad, fresh crusty bread and the chianti and enjoy.

I want to win a week in one of your Tuscany villas!

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Sugar-Free Brownie Bites - Sugar Free September

If you're doing Sugar-Free September or even just cutting out/back on sugar generally you might be missing sweet treats. To follow Sugar-Free September really strictly, you wouldn't even be eating fruit because of the natural sugars. I haven't had a lot of fruit this month but I have had some as I think it's important to get your five-a-day - mainly through veg but the occasional piece of fruit is good as well.

But sometimes instead of fruit what you really want is chocolate. I've done really well so far but when we had a day out earlier this month and were taking a packed lunch, I knew my husband would want something sweet - I would normally bake something to take with us - and that I would want something as well. I ended up buying him something as a treat and made myself these sugar-free brownie bites from Nutritious

I already had all the ingredients at home - walnuts from Lidl I had bought to add to salads, dates that I bought for another recipe that I never got around to making, coconut oil which I bought a little while ago after having read about its health benefits, and I had some raw cacao powder, which is less processed than cocoa powder and unsweetened.

In fact, I found the whole thing quite bitter and had to add a couple of spoonfuls of xylitol sweetener to make them palatable, and then they were really nice, especially after they had firmed up for a while in the fridge. I'd advise following the recipe and seeing if you can manage without sweetener, and if not adding a little to taste.

These are really easy to make - blitz the walnuts in a food processor, then add the dates, cacao and melted coconut oil and whizz again to form a dough. I'd advise tasting the mixture at this point to see if you want to add sweetener.

Turn the machine off and scrape out the dough onto a piece of greaseproof paper. The recipe advises using another piece of greaseproof paper to press down on the top and rolling them out to cut into squares, but my mixture was a bit too sticky and too thin when I rolled it out, so I gave up and hand-rolled them into balls.

This is when I tried them and decided they were bitter, so formed the balls back into a dough, added the sweetener and rolled them into balls again. I then rolled them in some more cacao to coat the outside.

Put them in the fridge for a while to firm up, and you can - almost - convince yourself you are eating chocolate truffles!

I'm sharing these with We Should Cocoa, hosted by Choclette at Tin and Thyme.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

You're Sew Lovely Greetings Card

I recently took out subscriptions to three card making magazines – Papercraft Inspirations, Cardmaking and Papercrafts and Quick Cards Made Easy – there was a great offer to get three issues for £3, which I was going to take out with one magazine but got persuaded to take all three! Each magazine comes with some great free gifts – usually rubber stamps and backing papers or similar, which are probably worth £5-£8 alone – pretty good given the magazines are £5.99. So I’m getting 9 magazines for £9, over the course of three months – I just need to remember to cancel the subscriptions after that or it will get expensive!

I liked one design in Papercraft Inspirations that I knew would be super-quick to make, largely because almost everything you needed came with the magazine. I covered a card blank with the patterned backing paper – which was very thin as it was actually a page in the magazine – and cut out the layered flower and star shape. The “You’re sew lovely” sentiment was also in the magazine, and I just added a blue button from my craft stash. One of the quickest cards I’ve ever made!

Does anyone else subscribe to any of these magazines - what do you think?

Monday, 19 September 2016

Meal Planning Monday 2016 - week 38 - Sugar Free September

Sugar-Free September is going pretty well; by the 15th (time of writing) I had lost 4 pounds. A friend who is a health professional has convinced me that I do need to eat breakfast and have a couple of small, healthy snacks each day to keep my metabolism working well - for the last few months I have been skipping breakfast and not snacking, so eating nothing most days apart from lunch and dinner, which she doesn't think is a good idea. She did say my meals were really good though!
The Tex Mex chicken tacos I didn't do last week
 Out for drinks after work
 coconut fish curry from this recipe for me, chicken curry for him
chicken chargrills and mashed potato for him, with veg for me
out at an awards ceremony where the magazine I produce is shortlisted
Saturday lunch: bacon rolls for him, sausage and poached egg for me
dinner: at a friend's
lunch: cauliflower pizza for me, normal pizza for him, that I didn't make last week
dinner: roast pork for me, chicken for him; Yorkshire puddings for him with stuffing and roast potatoes (I'm going to have potatoes even though I'm doing Sugar Free September).

This is a blog hop, join in!

Sunday, 18 September 2016

DIY Wedding: Photo Booth Props and Guest Book


Having a photo booth at your wedding has become quite popular, and I can vouch for the fact that they are great fun!

I got the idea from a friend's wedding as I thought a photo booth would be a fun thing for guest to do in the evening other than drink and dance. I'm not talking about when you get your passport photos done - these photo booths are creative, fun and personalised. You can choose your background and a style for the photos to be printed in, and they usually provide a whole host of props, hats and wigs and so on. Our guests had great fun piling into the booth in pairs and small groups throughout the evening!

Some photo booth hire companies give you two copies of each photo - one for the guest and one to go in your wedding guest book. But I knew that sometimes groups of friends would go in who all wanted a photo so I searched until I found a company that would give you unlimited copies of photos so everyone could have one.

I was also advised to make sure the photo booth had a good quality camera and printer - some apparently are only webcam quality and not very good! I decided to use a company called Funky Photo Booth who were local to my wedding in Wiltshire and was very pleased with their service - they even did a cowprint border for the photo prints!

Funky Photo Booth provided a selection of props ranging from giant sunglasses to silly hats, but I wanted something a bit more classy and also a few cow theme props, so I bought a couple of cow masks to add into the mix!

I also bought a set of cardboard chalk board style signs for a couple of pounds on Ebay. I stuck each one onto the lolly stick provided and wrote different slogans on them in chalk, which made for some amusing pictures.

As for the guest book itself, I bought a 12x12 black scrapbook from Hobbycraft which was perfect. There was plenty of space to stick the photos in the book and for people to write messages next to them, using the silver pens I also bought from Hobbycraft.

I used my Silhouette die cutting machine to cut out our names to stick on the front of the scrapbook, for an attractive personalised touch.

Looking through the guest book after the wedding was hilarious and reading the messages was lovely. It's so much more fun and memorable than a book where guests just write a message, and even though it wasn't cheap to hire the booth, it provided great entertainment in the evening for the guests as well.



Saturday, 17 September 2016

Liver Stew - for cats!

I am a mad cat lady- I only have one cat, but she's the love of my life (along with my husband of course). I feel bad sometimes that I don't have more time to spoil her but she does seem to be quite happy.

Not long ago I decided I would treat her to a home-cooked meal - and I don't mean giving her some leftover chicken off our plates (which does happen). I've actually got a little cookery book called Cat Treats - and it's all about cooking for your cat!
Of course, anything a cat can eat, a human ought to be able to eat too - it just might not be the most palatable to our tastes. I posted a picture of this liver stew on Facebook and a friend commented that it just needed some bacon and onions and would be really good!

(By the way if you didn't already know, onions and garlic can be toxic for cats.)

I bought some liver in the supermarket when it was reduced to mere pence - I hate liver so put it in the freezer knowing it was always destined for the cat!

To make 2-3 portions of this liver stew, you need:
100g liver
1 tsp sunflower oil
3 tbsp. water
15g peeled, cooked potato
1 tbsp. crème fraiche
1 tsp freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley

Cut the liver into small cubes and fry in the oil. Let it brown, then add the water and cook for two minutes over a medium heat.

Mash the potato and mix into the pan along with the crème fraiche and parsley. Allow to cool - it's not good to give this to your cat hot, but I did let her have it when it was slightly warm, and she absolutely loved it!



Friday, 16 September 2016

Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies

One weekend in the summer we were going out for the day and I made us a picnic lunch. I wanted something sweet that would travel well and not be messy and decided to make cookies. My cookies are usually good but not brilliant - I have a tendency to over bake them, forgetting that cookies harden as they cool.

I had a look in a big recipe book I've got called the Good Housekeeping Baking Book and found a recipe for "the ultimate chocolate chip cookie". I was pretty dubious as I've heard that claim often, but these were absolutely amazing! Soft and just the right amount of chewy and they tasted delicious.

You need:
225g unsalted butter, softened
125g caster sugar
150g light brown sugar
1 and 1/2 tbsp. golden syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, beaten
375g plain flour
1 tsp bicarb of soda
1/4 tsp salt
350g milk chocolate, cut into chunks

Preheat oven to 200C. Mix the butter, sugars, golden syrup and vanilla, then beat in the eggs

Fold in the flour and bicarb of soda then the chocolate - I used mini Hershey's Kisses from America, which worked really well.

Drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto a lined baking sheet, spaced well apart, and press down slightly

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes until golden brown and still soft

Allow to cool on a wire rack. Delicious!


I'm sharing these with Treat Petite, hosted by Kat at the Baking Explorer and Stuart at Cakeyboi.




Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Healthy Spaghetti Carbonara with Spiralized Vegetables

Spaghetti carbonara is an easy go-to dish if I want to make something midweek that's fast and doesn't involve a lot of meat, as I don't think it's good to have a big portion of red meat every day. Since I'm doing Sugar Free September I was trying to think of ideas. Simple (as opposed to complex) carbs are off the menu at the moment, as when your body breaks down pasta or potatoes it converts the starch to glucose. So doing Sugar Free September means no potatoes or pasta, though I have recently discovered gluten-free pasta which your body doesn't convert to glucose in the same way.

My fall-back when I haven't been eating pasta is spiralized vegetables, and I realised I'd never actually made a simple spaghetti carbonara using spiralized vegetables.

I decided to use spiralized butternut squash and courgette though you can experiment with any different veg that you like. Chop some bacon and fry in a large pan then add the spiralized veg with a little water and cook for a few minutes until the veg has softened and the water has largely evaporated.

Add either single cream, plain yogurt or even crème fraiche combined with a beaten egg and stir into the pan.

Sprinkle with parmesan cheese to serve.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese

I love macaroni cheese and after eating a fairly disappointing one at the Caballo Lounge in Epsom, I decided to make my own. I had a magazine cutting from You magazine (the only thing I like about the Mail on Sunday!) which is from a Nigella Lawson recipe. It can also be found in the book Simply Nigella and you can read the recipe here.

Nigella says this is the best macaroni cheese she's ever eaten and while I might not quite go that far (the way they do it in America is brilliant if calorific), it really is very good- and a bit more healthy than it might be with the addition of some veg.

It uses a combination of feta cheese and Cheddar and the sweet potato gives the dish a lovely colour as well.

This is really easy to make, delicious and the leftovers are good on the second day. Something I will definitely be making again!

I'm sharing this with Meat Free Mondays, hosted by Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes.