Monday, 30 May 2016

Meal Planning Monday Week 24

Only three weeks until the wedding - eek!

Monday - bank holiday though the weather is not meant to be good so we can't barbecue
Lunch: bacon sandwich (his favourite and I will buy some nice fresh bread)
Dinner: I forgot to plan anything so will just find something from the freezer
I am still meaning to  make dessert: avocado and chocolate mousse from I Quit Sugar (he can have ice cream!)

Lunch: salad
Dinner: quick dinner of some homemade lasagne from the freezer as I'm off to a local pool for a snorkelling/scuba diving lesson. I don't expect to be doing the latter but the former will definitely be a feature of our honeymoon but I've never done it before and am terrified! I thought having a practice in a pool to get used to the mask and breathing tube would be a good idea before we head to the Galapagos Islands!

Lunch: salad
Dinner: I'll have salmon with cauliflower mash from the freezer and broccoli, he can have chicken and mashed potato.

Thursday - I'm working from home
Lunch: quinoa risotto
Dinner: spiralized veg with basil pesto from I Quit Sugar for me,

Lunch: salad
Dinner: chicken breast with sticky barbecue glaze from a packet - which we can do on the BBQ or in the house, with chips for him and veg for me

Lunch: won't have a lot of time to cook as I have a wedding dress fitting at 11am. At this point there will only be two weeks to go until the wedding! I'll have the rest of the spiralized veg with basil pesto and he can have a bacon sandwich.
Dinner: barbecue? could do chicory sardine boats from I Quit Sugar - rapidly becoming my favourite book in the run-up to my wedding!

Lunch: crumpets which are in the freezer and need using up
Dinner: may depend on the weather but I have got chicken thighs in the freezer I could do something with

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Eton Mess cupcakes

Last week my friends D and J invited us to their house for a barbecue and to meet their new baby son. It was also J's birthday the following week and the first time we had been to their house since we moved there, so I decided to take some celebratory cupcakes as well as some food to go on the barbecue.

I wanted something a little bit unusual and also quite summery and as I've made some great recipes lately from my Hummingbird Bakery book Home Sweet Home, I had another look and decided their Eton Mess cupcakes sounded great. Eton Mess is a dessert involving strawberries, cream and pieces of meringue, broken up and mixed together.

I was a bit surprised to see the recipe involved making a custard, since that isn't normally part of the dessert. I wasn't going to have a lot of time to make the cakes and the custard part looked like it would take a while, so I decided to leave it out and just make a creamy buttercream instead.

As well as the strawberries that you can see on the top, covered with crushed meringue pieces (bought rather than homemade) there are chopped strawberries and a little bit of cream in the centre of the cake. The cream was my own idea but as I didn't end up actually trying one of these I can't describe what they tasted like - but a few people at the barbecue told me they were extremely good!

You need:
70g butter or margarine, softened
210g self-raising flour
250g caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
210ml whole milk
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
to decorate:
2 strawberries per cupcake - I got 12 cupcakes out of this recipe
about 50g meringue (which equated to two shop bought meringue nests), crushed
for the buttercream:
125g butter or margarine
250g icing sugar
12 tsp double cream

Preheat oven to 170C and line a muffin tin with paper cases - I used red ones with white polka dots to go with the Eton Mess theme.

Beat the butter, flour, sugar and salt together to form a crumb-like consistency. This is different to the way I normally make cakes but it seemed to work!

In a jug, mix the milk, eggs and vanilla and pour gradually into the crumb mixture, mixing well (an electric whisk is easiest). Mix until you have a smooth batter.

Spoon into the paper cake cases and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until the sponge is still bouncy when pressed gently. Leave to cool.

Use a teaspoon to remove a small core from the centre of each cupcake and set aside. Spoon 1 level tsp cream into the hole and fill with a chopped strawberry - you may need a little less than one whole strawberry as you then need to place the core of the cupcake you removed back on top and make it as level as you can.

Mix the butter and the icing to make the buttercream. Using a piping bag and star nozzle pipe swirls onto each cupcake. Top with pieces of meringue and a strawberry sliced in half.

I'm sharing this with Charlotte's Lively Kitchen for the Food Year Linkup, as next week is National Barbecue Week and these cupcakes are great for dessert at a barbecue.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Restaurant Review: Redfearns, Wincanton, Somerset

The third element of my recent hen night that I wanted to write about was the meal we had at Redfearns restaurant in Wincanton. It's a fairly small Thai restaurant that was very kind to us in terms of giving us a big table and not minding that we were the last people there!
Wincanton is an old market town in Somerset; I'd never been there before and to be honest all we really saw was between where we parked the car and walked up to the restaurant, but it did look quite pretty!
Redfearns' menu wasn't that big with only six main courses – when I go to Thai restaurants normally I’m used to having a lot of choice! They did have a Phad Thai which is my go-to Thai meal and I was going to order it, but the rest of the group wanted the tasting set menu, and everyone in the party has to order that. I was too busy chatting and enjoying myself to really mind either way so went along with the set menu, and realised afterwards there wasn't actually that much in it that I liked!
It also turned out to be sharing plates with not actually a huge amount of food; everyone got one piece of each starter but then just a few spoonfuls of each main course and a big pile of rice.
  The food was nicely cooked but I wasn't actually that keen on any of the three main courses - the Thai chicken was my preference but it was a bit too spicy. I think I should have looked at the menu properly and ordered a Pad Thai, though it would have meant nobody else could have the set menu!
We had a vegan in our group and the restaurant was able to cater to her with no problem.
Here's what the set menu included:
Honey and soy chicken skewers
Baby spring rolls
Pork and coriander meatball
King prawn steamed dumpling
tomato and coconut soup
Main courses
-Thai chicken and courgette green curry
Vietnamese pork and aubergine stir fry
Seafood phad pak – stir fried seafood with veg in oyster sauce
Thai crispy cucumber, tomato, coriander and peanut salad
Jasmine rice


All this was £18.95 which did seem a lot give we didn't actually eat a huge quantity of food, but maybe that was partly because I didn't like the soup so skipped it, and don't remember the Thai salad making it round the table as far as me  - and I don't lik courgette, aubergine, or squid which was unfortunately a big part of the seafood dish!
So I actually felt a bit hungry afterwards still and several of us decided to have dessert; I had a mango cheesecake that was really creamy which I enjoyed.
It seemed a nice enough restaurant though and was a good place to spend the evening with my hens - I'm far too old now to want to go on a noisy bar crawl!

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Birthday Presents and Stamped Sentiments Card

I had a few card toppers left over from a cheap craft pack that I didn't know what to do with. They were in the shape of presents, and quite large - they would almost certainly dominate a card - and they just didn't look right on their own, on a patterned paper background. I hit upon the idea of using one of my sentiments rubber stamps - it has the words 'happy birthday' on a rectangular stamp, repeated four or five times in different fonts. I decided to stamp this several times over a square blue card blank to create a background that wouldn't clash with the present die cuts but that was more interesting than leaving it plain. It's certainly not a spectacular card but quite fun and is a quick and easy make if you haven't got much time.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Deconstructed No-Bake Chocolate Cheesecake

Sometimes you want a proper dessert but really quickly - something that you can literally put together in five minutes after dinner. Mug cakes are really good for this, or here's another idea I came up with (quite a while ago, pre-wedding diet!) from just looking at what I had in the house.

I broke up some chocolate digestive biscuits and put the pieces into the bottom of two serving glasses.

I melted some milk chocolate in the microwave and mixed it with double cream to create a ganache

I spooned this on top of the broken biscuits, and drizzled over some Choc Shot liquid chocolate

And here you go - a deconstructed chocolate cheesecake (of sorts ) that only took five minutes to make, involved no cooking other than the microwave, and tastes delicious!

I'm sending this to Credit Crunch Munch. This month the challenge is hosted by Michelle at Utterly Scrummy and was devised by Helen and Camilla.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Review: Holbrook House Hotel, Wincanton, Somerset

After my alpaca walking experience, my 'hens' and I went on to the Holbrook House Hotel in Wincanton, Somerset. The rest of the hen weekend consisted of drinking wine, dinner with some games and more wine, then back in the hotel and more wine, and then a well deserved spa day and massage the next day.

I'd had no idea where we were going so was surprised when we crossed into Somerset, but it wasn't actually far from the alpaca place in Dorset. Holbrook House is a Georgian-style country house hotel set in 20 acres of woodlands and was very pretty, as you can see from the picture above.

The rooms were spacious - I shared a double with my sister - and apparently not a bad price either though as the bride I wasn't allowed to pay. The bathroom in our room was also really nice with White Company toiletries.

This was the view from my window:

The spa was excellent, with two treatment rooms - I had an aromatherapy massage - a pool, Jacuzzi and steam room. The only thing I thought was lacking was a seating area near the pool - it would have been nice to have a swim then lounge around with my friends, but this is also a health club where locals come to use the facilities, so it's more of a pool for swimming lengths than lounging around beside. Still, that would have been an added bonus!
As well as the main lobby, which houses a small bar, there is a large sitting room with a couple of sofas and books and board games, which is a nice touch. The only thing that really let this hotel down was the breakfast. For £15.50 (I'm not sure if ours was included in the room price or not) you get:
fruit juice
tea, coffee
fruit salad and stewed fruits
Greek yogurt
croissants - which ran out repeatedly and were really small and a bit disappointing
Plus any hot item from the menu, which included a full English breakfast, porridge, eggs benedict, egg Florentine, or boiled egg and toasted soldiers - or, for an additional £3.95 supplement, you can have smoked salmon and scrambled egg, smoked haddock and poached egg, or egg royal with smoked salmon.
It was disappointing that so many of the cooked options carried a surcharge, and while I know you can eat as much as you like from the continental buffet, if I had paid $£15.50 and just had fruit juice, coffee, a bowl of cereal and boiled egg and soldiers I wouldn't really feel like I'd gotten my money's worth.
Two of my friends ordered the Holbrook Grill, which is basically a full English, but they weren't that keen on it - one said her sausage was undercooked and the other just said she didn't think it was very good. I had the eggs benedict - two English muffins with poached eggs, bacon and hollandaise sauce. I think my expectations of this were a bit unrealistic after the most amazing poached eggs I had at the Dana Hotel in Chicago, while these poached eggs from Armadillo at Gatwick airport of all places were also very good. So it would have been hard for the Holbrook's poached eggs to match up anyway, but as the yolk was partially set, to me these were more like soft boiled eggs.
Unfortunately, they had completely burnt my English muffins to the extent that they were inedible (at least the one I tried was), so when the waitress came over I explained (or thought I had) and asked if they could do me another muffin; the waitress started to leave, saying "you'd like an extra muffin, sure" and luckily my friend realised she'd misunderstood - and as my friend is more assertive than me, she told the waitress my breakfast was burnt and they needed to replace it. So it meant that almost everyone else had finished eating by the time my breakfast came back! It was a shame as otherwise this hotel was really good and I had a lovely hen weekend here.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Meal Planning Monday Week 23

On Friday and Saturday temperature is expected to be around 21 but showers are forecast. I have some barbecue food in the freezer that needs to be defrosted before it can be eaten which is why it's annoying that we haven't had a good enough weather forecast for a couple of weeks for me to know we are definitely going to eat out! So I will defrost something and then either switch around the menu or cook it in the oven if we have to!

My weight loss has been really helped by eating spiralized vegetable stir-fries I think. I don't normally like repetitive meals but with only a few weeks to go until I get married, if it's working I'm going to stick to it! I think there's something about the fact that it takes longer to eat that you feel more full.

Dinner - working late, will probably have to grab something from Tesco on the way home

Tuesday - my fiancé's mum's birthday - we are having a takeaway at her house

Wednesday - spiralized veg stir fry with some chicken or salmon

Thursday - spiralized veg stir fry with some chicken or salmon

Friday - We will either barbecue today or tomorrow. I didn't make this mackerel with ginger, chilli and lime. on the plan from last week as we didn't barbecue so I'd like to have this, plus some chorizo chicken kebabs and he will want burgers no doubt

Lunch - bacon sandwich for him, quinoa risotto for me
Dinner - turkey breast steak for me and chicken breast for him following this piri piri recipe which I planned to make last week but didn't; I can do it with potato wedges.
I also bought all the ingredients for the 'choc berry mud' from I Quit Sugar and didn't make it last week so will aim to do it this weekend.

Lunch - with my parents for my mum's birthday
Dinner - probably home late so something from the freezer, depending on what we had for lunch

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Alpaca Cookies and Alpaca Adventure, Dorset

I wouldn't say I'm alpaca-mad... I just have an alpaca cuddly toy, an alpaca hat, a scarf made from alpaca wool, alpaca writing paper, stickers and post-it notes, and a bag that says "alpaca bag" (geddit?). Oh and some alpaca cookie cutters.
So it perhaps wasn't surprising that when my friends and my sister came to organise my hen night that they decided alpacas should be involved! There's a place very close to my wedding venue called Alpaca Adventure, run by the very hard-working Wendy (and I think her husband) who has a full time day job as well as running a farm with over 30 alpaca plus sheep, hens and a pig. She takes the alpacas to competitions and has won several rosettes for effectively 'best in class' and sells the wool to a mill which uses it to make clothing.
She also does alpaca walking, which means you can basically go and walk an alpaca round a field on a lead. It sounds a bit random, and perhaps it is, but it's great fun!
First we fed some lambs, then we petted the pig, then got introduced to our alpacas - mine was a gorgeous guy called Teddy Edward. They each wore a bridal and we basically went for a walk for about 45 minutes around a field, leading our alpacas who were very sweet and docile, if occasionally trying to stop and munch some grass or sniff each other's bums.
Look at this dude!

This is what alpaca walking looks like

It's also pretty inexpensive and only cost £10 each - not bad given I imagine it costs a lot to keep the animals! The only thing I would say is that if you are booking this as a surprise for someone's birthday or hen night, make sure you tell Wendy that it's a secret - I'd actually met her at an event and she let the cat (alpaca?) out of the bag that I was coming here for my hen night even though I wasn't supposed to know!

After my hen night I wrote my friends some little thank you notes as it seemed a good excuse to use my alpaca writing paper! My fiancé got me this for Christmas - he knows me so well :-)

I also thought it was a good opportunity to use the alpaca cookie cutters he got me at the same time!

Here are my cutters:

I used a basic sugar cookies recipe and rolled out the dough and cut out the shapes

Ready to go in the oven

And here they are. These could easily be llamas and I think they could pass for giraffes too, but if you look at the necks, I think you can see the fatness that suggests the big fluffy wool of an alpaca.

I made up some royal icing as I wanted to recreate the thick wool of the alpacas, but I got the quantities slightly wrong and the icing wouldn't set enough and even though I piped it in dots, they all ran together. Still, you get the idea! I gave these to two of my bridesmaids when they came up the weekend after the hen night for their dress fittings as a nice reminder of the hen night!

Friday, 20 May 2016

Low Carb Fish Pie with Cauliflower Mash

My low sugar diet also means low carb, as the starch and glucose in potatoes raises your blood sugar, so I've been looking for some good alternatives. I like cauliflower and wondered if I could make a fish pie and put mashed cauli on top, and found a few recipes online doing just that.

I followed this recipe for the cauliflower puree but I couldn't get mine smooth enough; I think if I had cooked the cauli for longer so it was softer that might have been better. I wouldn't have thought to add cheese and cream into it as well; it was quite nice, though to be honest I would have preferred mashed potato!

For the fish pie, I cooked a mixture of fish - I think I had white fish, salmon and smoked mackerel, and added some chopped leaks and made a white sauce.

I put it in a pie dish, spread the cauliflower mash over the top and popped it in the oven to brown.

Here you can see the fish and the topping. This felt like a very virtuous recipe and is good if you're cutting down on potatoes and miss having fish pie - but I have to say I would only eat it as "diet food", whereas a lot of the low cal/fat/sugar recipes I make are nice enough to eat whether you are on a diet or not.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

M&M chocolate birthday cake

When I made my fiancé this chocolate birthday cake from the Outsider Tart cookery book the quantities given were so large that it made three big layers. I didn't need the cake to be that big so I put one of the layers in the freezer, and used it a few weeks later when I wanted a cake to take into work.
The cake broke a little while it was defrosting but otherwise was absolutely fine - this is a really good cake that includes Coca-Cola in the mixture!

I made some chocolate buttercream which I spread on the top and around the side of the cake. It does look a bit messy at the moment, but that won't matter!

To decorate this cake I decided to use up some things I had in the cupboard. I wanted to use things up and I also didn't have much time - we'd gotten back from a weekend away in Wiltshire and I only had the evening to do it before work the next day, and as we'd been away all weekend I had a lot of other things I needed to do!
I had some white chocolate fingers left over from this anti-gravity Easter cake but not quite enough to go around the whole cake, and I couldn't find any more white ones in the supermarket. So I decided to alternate with some milk chocolate fingers which I thought actually made a nice pattern and looked really good.

I also had some M&Ms and larger peanut M&Ms I wanted to use up as they had been hanging around for a while. As they were different types I decided to use some chocolate fingers to mark out sections on top of the cake, but actually the colours all blend together and I probably didn't need to do this.

Finally I tied a ribbon around the cake, which helped to keep the chocolate fingers upright. I was really pleased with this given it was a last minute job using up cake and chocolate I already had in the house!

F is for fingers - chocolate fingers - so I'm sharing this cake with Alphabakes, the blog challenge I co-host with Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker.

As I used up things I already had in the house this was a very cost-efficient cake so I'm sharing it with Credit Crunch Munch, hosted by Michelle at Utterly Scrummy on behalf of Helen and Camilla.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Quick Make: 60th Birthday Card

I suddenly realised it was a male relative's 60th birthday and I hadn't done any card making for a while, but I wanted to send him a handmade card. I turned to my box of pre-printed patterned card blanks and chose one I thought would work as a base, and added a happy birthday banner. I can't read what the sentiment in the silver square at the top is and I can't remember - something along the lines of 'enjoy your day' I think! I also had some number stickers and stars which I stuck in the various circles on the printed card. Not my best card but I still think a handmade card is more meaningful than just grabbing one off the shelf in a shop - though sometimes you can find the perfect card for someone that suits them to a T in the shops!

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Restaurant review: Debenhams Oxford Street

I took my mum shopping for her outfit to wear to my wedding and decided to make personal shopper appointments in Debenhams and John Lewis on Oxford Street. They bring you different clothes to try on and know what style would suit your body shape. It was a pretty exhausting day as my mum must have tried on at least 15 outfits, but eventually found one she really liked.
As I knew it would be a busy day we didn’t want to take too long over lunch and I had a look to see whether Debenhams had a café. They have four!
We stopped for coffee before we started shopping and went to the W1 Bistro on the lower level; it is a very smart café that looks more like a wine bar, with a mixture of types of seating and a small food menu with things like toasted sandwiches, but we only wanted a drink.

Later, we found ourselves on the 5th floor near the “family restaurant serving British classics” so decided to have lunch here. Most of the dishes on offer are what I would call “main meals” – fish and chips, pizza etc. They had a range of sandwiches and also a small range of ‘snack sized’ hot food choices, so my mum and I both decided to have a jacket potato with prawns. The potato was nice and fluffy with a generous helping of prawns, though the side salad had no dressing which would have been nice. I always find when I have jacket potatoes in cafes or restaurants that they are much smaller than I would have at home – I always search out the largest potato I can find in the supermarket! So I was hungry again before the end of the day but I expect that was partly because dress shopping when you want something very specific is hard work!

Monday, 16 May 2016

Meal Planning Monday Week 21

Do any of you have ice cream makers? I've wanted one for a while but never had the space - you have to put the whole bowl from the machine into your freezer, and in the past I had quite a small freezer. Now I have a huge American-style fridge-freezer, but it's always full of food! But my fiancé gave me an ice cream maker for Christmas and I haven't used it at all yet - I usually only want ice cream in the summer and to be honest with wedding planning I haven't had the time to figure out how to use new kitchen gadgets. But I'm definitely planning to use the ice cream maker after the wedding next month so I need to start using up food in the freezer so I have space!

My fiancé has a day off
Lunch: I'll have a chicken salad, which I have been having most days! I'll buy him something nice to have for his lunch
Dinner: He can have chicken goujons and chips and I'll have sweet chilli breaded prawns, also in the freezer. I'd love to have them with chips but am trying not to eat potatoes particularly in the evenings so think I will make it into a stir-fry with spiralized veg.
Lunch: salad
Dinner: will be home late as I have a meeting that runs an hour past my usual finish time, so I want something quick to cook. The forecast is that today will be the hottest day all week (and there will be showers every day from tomorrow) so if my lovely fiancé would like to barbecue so it's ready for when I get home I will suggest he has sausages and I have fish. I quite like the look of this mackerel with ginger, chilli and lime. If the weather isn't so good or I'm really late and he wants to eat before I get home, there are pizzas in the freezer and I can have the rest of my stir fry with Quorn chicken-style pieces from the freezer.
Lunch: salad
Dinner: just me – my fiancé at his mum’s? I'll have butternut squash stew from the freezer or the rest of my stir-fry.

Lunch: with a work colleague before he goes on three months of shared parental leave
Dinner: turkey breast steak for me and chicken breast for him following this piri piri recipe
I have a day off
Lunch: as I treat, I might have... not salad! But I'm taking my cat to the vet in the morning and won't be home in time to spend a lot of time cooking lunch. I think I'll have a piece of salmon, with cauliflower cheese from the freezer.
Dinner: I've got some cubed beef in the freezer which my fiancé isn't a huge fan of but he does like curry (as long as he gets a big naan bread!) so I'll do a Thai green beef curry in the slow cooker, using this recipe. I might go easy on the rice, or not have any at all (and certainly won't have a naan).
I haven't made a dessert in a while so I think I will try the 'choc berry mud' from I Quit Sugar.
Lunch: I've got a wedding dress fitting in the morning so nothing that will take too long to cook. Maybe just beans on toast - and I can have macaroni cheese. Providing I remember to buy sliced bread as it isn't something we actually have in the house that often!
Dinner: at a friend’s BBQ. I will take some food with us. If time I'd also like to bake something as I haven't been making a lot of cakes lately! I quite fancy making the Eton Mess cupcakes from the Hummingbird book.
Lunch: something quick as I have a doctor's appointment and we won't be home until at least 1.30. Might actually do brunch before we go of sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs. And when we get back, crumpets that are in the freezer.
Dinner: I'll have the tequila marinated chicken wings I was going to do if my bridesmaids were staying overnight, which they didn't, as the wings are taking up a lot of freezer space; my fiancé doesn't like wings so he can have the same flavours on chicken breast, with potato wedges/salad.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Spiralized Vegetables with Broccoli Pesto

The lengths I go to for dieting… I wasn’t looking forward to my dinner recently as I’d decided to make pesto out of broccoli and serve it over spiralized veg, while my fiancé was tucking in to a pizza. Though as he correctly pointed out, it was a frozen pizza and he could have ordered Domino’s but didn’t as he knew it would make it harder for me - and I was the one who cooked him the pizza!
But when I actually started to eat my dinner I was surprised at how good it actually tasted, and I really enjoyed it. Which is not to say I wouldn’t rather have had a pizza but I have a wedding dress to get in to!
The recipe comes from I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson which has become a book I turn to a lot at the moment!
To serve one, you need:

Spiralized veg: I used half a tub of spiralized carrot from Tesco (it’s hard to put a carrot through a spiralizer unless it’s a really thick one), and I spiralized half a butternut squash to go with it.
For the pesto:
1 cup broccoli florets, steamed until tender
1 spring onion, peeled
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon
15g grated parmesan or 30g cashews, soaked in water for 1-4 hours and drained – but I didn’t have time to do this and used them without soaking and it worked pretty much fine I think. I also cheated and used both the parmesan and the cashews which made the pesto more substantial and gave it a lovely flavour.
Salt and pepper to taste

Basically I put all the ingredients in a food processor

Pulse until you have a thick green paste

Serve over spiralized veg, which I find best gently steamed or stir fried so it isn't raw but it doesn't take much cooking:

I'm sending this to Meat Free Mondays, hosted by Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes. Also this recipe would be vegan if you left out the parmesan.