Sunday, 15 October 2017

Curly Whirly Cream Cheese Brownies and my new Ozeri kitchen scales

One day at work I spotted a sign advertising a Macmillan charity bake sale. The thing was, the bake sale was in two days time, meaning I didn't have very much time to shop for ingredients and bake something, as I'd already decided I needed to bake my dad's birthday cake at the same time so it was ready for the weekend!

I didn't want to miss the Macmillan bake sale since a recipe I devised appeared in the Macmillan Little Book of Treats, which came out in 2013. You can see that recipe, for toffee popcorn cupcakes, here on my blog or on the Baking Mad website.

Since I didn't have much time I went to a failsafe recipe: chocolate brownies. They are so easy to throw together and everyone loves a chocolate brownie. I chose the Curly Whirly Brownies from the Konditor & Cook book Deservedly Legendary Baking as they looked a bit different but still quick and easy to make.

At the same time I decided to make a start on my dad's birthday cake - unfortunately it was a bit of a disaster! The cake tasted great and was really moist, but that was part of the problem -so moist that it broke apart across the top while in the oven, then broke more when I was putting it into a cake tin, then by the time I reached my parents' house the cake was pretty much in three separate pieces!

I used my new Ozeri Pro Digital Kitchen Food Scale, 1g to 12 lbs Capacity, in Stylish Black which I was sent by the company to review. At only £9.99 currently and with free delivery on Amazon they are a real bargain - compact enough to not take up much room in the cupboard but the weighing plate is big enough for almost any bowl or plate, or you can put food directly onto the scales. If you're using a bowl, the 'tare' button allows you to subtract the weight of the bowl. The chrome weighing platform looks good and is easy to keep clean as well.

You can weigh in pounds, ounces, grams or kilograms and can change from one to the other by pressing a button - I found the scales very precise and as good as much more expensive ones. What's more the two AAA batteries you need come included.

So disregarding the cake which didn't quite work out, I also used the scales to make the chocolate brownies. Here's the list of ingredients from Konditor and Cook's recipe and then in my own words a bit about what I did:

To make about 16 brownies, you need:
3 eggs
275g caster sugar
175g salted butter
200g 54-60% dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
100g 70% dark chocolate, chopped into chunks
175g plain flour

for the topping:
200g cream cheese
75g icing sugar, sifted
seeds from 1/4 vanilla pod
1 egg yolk

Preheat oven to 180C. Line a 20x34 cm tin with baking paper or greaseproof paper.

Beat the eggs and sugar together in a bowl.

In a saucepan, melt the butter over a medium heat until it is melted and just starting to bubble. Remove from the heat and stir in the 54-60% chocolate and a third of the 70% chocolate until melted.

Add the chocolate to the egg mixture and mix well then fold in the flour. Stir in the remaining chunks of chocolate.

Pour into the prepared tin and level the top with a knife.

In another bowl, bbat the cream cheese, icing sugar and vanilla until smooth then mix in the egg yolk.

Using a piping bag or a teaspoon drizzle or pipe the cream cheese mixture in swirls over the top of the brownie mixture, using a fork or the tip of the teaspoon to drag across the lines.

Bake for 22-25 minutes in the preheated oven then leave to cool in the tin. When cool cut into squares.

The brownies were lovely and fudgy and the cream cheese topping had a slightly sharp contrasting flavour, a bit like sour cream; it made the brownies look more interesting as well and they disappeared very quickly at the bake sale!

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Restaurant Review: Crate Brewery, Hackney Wick

The Olympic Park in Stratford, London, is home to the London Stadium, the Aquatics Centre, the Lee Valley VeloPark and other venues that were used for events at the London 2012 Olympics. I’d never been there before – I did manage to get tickets to one Olympic event, but it was elsewhere – the beach volleyball on Horseguards’ Parade near Westminster.
I was at a work event nearby recently and my colleague had booked a pub restaurant for us to have some dinner afterwards – the Crate Brewery in Hackney Wick.
It’s a surprisingly long walk across one side of the Olympic Park to the other so I was pretty thirsty by the time I got to the pub. It’s right next to the river (or canal? I wasn’t sure), with big wooden tables outside (with benches, sharing style); inside is fairly industrial-looking with big beer crates and seats made from wooden pallets and a bar made of railway sleepers. They are a brewery as well as a pub/restaurant, and you can book brewery tours, hire the space for an event and buy their beer online.
Their food menu seems to consist entirely of pizza (with a few salad and bar snack options) – all made from scratch and with some quite unusual toppings like sweet potato, stilton and walnut, Kashmiri dahl or Middle Eastern lamb, along with more traditional margherita and salami.
We went at the end of summer and sat outside enjoying the last of the nice weather, sharing several pizzas between our group. Unfortunately at this stage I hadn’t quite announced my pregnancy so none of my colleagues knew – which meant I was very limited in what pizza toppings I could eat, but couldn’t explain why!
The pizzas had a thin, flat base, and weren’t that gooey – good if you like the drier-style pizza though I’m quite partial to a deep-pan myself. I’d recommend a whole pizza or equivalent per person – they cost around £9-£11 each- but it’s definitely the sort of food you can share between friends while enjoying a beer (or something non-alcoholic otherwise!).
This place is quite out of my way so I’m unlikely to come back but it made for a nice end to the evening with a nice view of the river and being a stone’s throw away from the Olympic park.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

BlogCampOnBoard the MSC Preziosa - My First Impressions of Cruising

Cruising is just for old people, right? I've never been on a cruise ship before and imagined them as floating palaces full of old-age pensioners, playing bingo and dressing for dinner at the captain's table in their faded finery as they cruise around colonial-era Caribbean islands.

I had the opportunity to test and maybe challenge my assumption last week after being invited to spend the day on the MSC Preziosa, while it was in port in Southampton. An event for bloggers called Blog Camp on Board, run by Flea Enterprises, the company behind the Tots100 and Foodies100 indices and blogger communities.
The bloggers
I was expecting a fairly big ship but was amazed at my first glimpse of the MSC Preziosa - it was the size of several blocks of flats. There's a reception and drop-off area next to the ship, then boarding took a little while for security reasons, but as they called names alphabetically, I was in the first group to board and led the way up the steps onto the ship.

My first impression was of glitz and glamour - plush carpets, shining surfaces, wide corridors and big open spaces. In fact it was very easy to forget I was on board a ship as it reminded me more of a luxury hotel.

We were initially shown into the theatre, which can seat over 1,600 guests - though today there were only about 140 bloggers in the audience. We were given an overview of the kids' club offering by the Youth Activies Manager Mateo, with a little help from two of the ship's mascots. As I'm not a parent blogger - or a parent yet - I wasn't that interested in the children's facilities but it was impressive hearing that they have five different kids' clubs they have, divided by age, and some of the activities the children can get up to across the MSC cruise fleet - from cooking to mixing DJ sets and filming a web series called Kelly & Kloe - of which we saw a quick snippet. Children can also participate in activities where at the end of the cruise they take home a certificate stating they are junior ambassadors for Unicef.

Entertainment for the adults sounded fab - I know that cruises offer different shows and often have resident singers or cabaret acts, but did you know that MSC is the first cruise line to announce a partnership with Cirque du Soleil?

The spa area

The day was divided into different sessions for smaller groups of bloggers and my first stop was the spa where we watched a make-up demonstration. It would have been better if they had done more of a tutorial but the idea was to show one of the things that passengers can have done on board (though you pay extra). We only saw part of the spa but the whirlpools certainly looked nice.

The MSC Preziosa is huge, with 18 decks, 14 of which are accessible to passengers, carrying 4,345 passengers when at full capacity - which it was that day, so we weren't able to see inside any of the cabins. It also has 1,388 crew which makes for an awful lot of people on board, though today most of them seemed to have disembarked and gone into Southampton - shopping at Primark judging by most of the carrier bags I saw people carrying when they were coming back!

One of the cabins we didn't get to see - complete with MSC ad on the TV screen. Photo courtesy of MSC
So it was unsurprising that we couldn't take in the whole ship as part of our tour, but I got to see the outdoor pools on the top deck, the Doremi kids club, a crèche (or kids club for very young children), a casino, gym, the Safari lounge and one of the bars, and the focal point - a staircase where every step is inlaid with Swarovski crystals. It must be the most photographed point on the ship - the bloggers I was with all took time to stop and take pictures and I can just imagine guests using it as a backdrop when they are glammed up for the evening!

The pool deck

Swarovski crystal staircase

Kids club - photo courtesy of MSC

We didn't get to see the children's Doremi castle, the 4D cinema, library, bowling alley or the art gallery or any of the shopping boutiques (there's even a duty free mini mall on board) so I indulged in checking out some photos and an online 360 degree tour afterwards.

Doremi castle - photo courtesy of MSC


roast pork with some other bits and pieces!

the dessert bar

We were treated to lunch in the main restaurant (there are about eight restaurants on board I think) with a choice between a menu and a buffet. I went for the buffet as I think you can tell a lot about the quality of food when you are serving yourself from a buffet. The options today were roast pork (carved straight off the bone by a crew member), sweet and sour pork or fish, with roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts (a shame the only vegetables on offer were ones I hate!). There was also a selection of salads, breads, hams and cheeses and of course an awful lot of desserts to choose from!

The food was good - I chose the roast pork, and a trio of desserts (they were fairly small - though not that small!). Unfortunately I couldn't enjoy the wine on offer as I'm pregnant but a helpful waiter kept bringing me soft drinks, which I needed as I'd gotten a bit dehydrated from not drinking much during the morning and watching the make-up demo in the warm spa!

After lunch there were some events aimed at bloggers - I went to a session on food photography presented by Sandhya from Sandhya's Kitchen - and Sally, founder of Flea Enterprises, did a session on blogger metrics.

The day ended with a glass of bubbly or a non-alcoholic cocktail and a Q&A with MSC's UK Managing Director Antonio Paradiso, where he covered everything from the background of MSC to carbon emissions of its ships.

MSC Cruises is known as more of a European cruise company and has had a relatively small presence in the UK, but next year the MSC Magnifica will have Southampton as its home port. There are already plenty of departures from Southampton on both the Preziosa and the Magnifica but this should make it more appealing to UK passengers.

gym with sea view
They are even making the effort to target their cruises more at a British audience, down to details like putting a kettle in the cabins and partnering with Yorkshire Tea as their chosen brand of tea!

MSC has 13 ships at the moment and is getting ten more in the next nine years; they are particularly focused on families and children and interestingly, Antonio told us that cruise demographics are changing, but even across the industry the average age of a cruise passenger is 55 - on MSC Cruises it's 43.

Having spent the day on board and seen the sparkly modern facilities, the range of services for both adults and children - and by adults, I mean people like me, not just my grandparents' age - I'm impressed. I still don't know whether I'd actually book a holiday but there's no denying it's an efficient way to visit several cities and countries on one trip - but the day definitely dispelled some myths and misconceptions. And there wasn't a bingo hall in sight.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017- Week 41

Another busy weekend of sorting out the house before the baby comes (yes, we still have several months - but I want to get it done now!) meant I didn't do any meal planning, and I'm in the middle of cooking dinner - the result of a random rummage in the freezer - before I have even planned this week's meals!

Breakfast yogurt with fruit
Lunch ham sandwich
Dinner Quorn spaghetti Bolognese                                                                         

Tuesday - working from home
Breakfast yogurt with fruit
Lunch crumpets or croissants as we have both from the weekend to use up
Dinner beef stroganoff with leftover meat from Sunday's roast, with sweet potato - based on this recipe

Breakfast yogurt
Lunch sandwich
Dinner homemade cod in breadcrumbs with chips

Breakfast cereal
Lunch sandwich
Dinner out at a work event

Breakfast  cereal
Lunch sandwich
Dinner microwave risotto - v. quick as I have a pregnancy yoga class tonight

Lunch hot dogs assuming I remember to get the bread rolls!
Dinner chicken schnitzel with katsu spices from Waitrose with German pan-fried potatoes based on this recipe

Lunch Out - will have been at a Mothercare baby event this morning and then might grab lunch nearby and have a look around a couple of other shops as well.
Dinner filled giant Yorkshire puddings with chicken and sausage

Join in the blog hop!

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Grilled Cod with Jerk Spice

I love to eat fish but usually buy salmon, tuna or even something like mackerel – I get very bored with white fish as it can taste very plain. I found this recipe on Cooking Channel TV for grilled mahi mahi (a fish also known as dorado, which I’ve only ever had on holiday before) with jerk spice that I thought would work well with cod.
I thought I'd share what I made following this recipe with you - it may not photograph particularly well but it tastes good!
Scallions are spring onions in UK English- and the spices are all widely available in supermarkets, and mixing them is a bit more satisfying than just buying a jar of jerk seasoning. It’s very easy to make the marinade – just put everything together in a food processor!
The best way to cook the fish is to then grill it – serve with a green veg.


Saturday, 7 October 2017

Chicken Shawarma with Garlic Sauce

You may not have heard of shawarma before but you’ve probably eaten something very similar in the past – it’s a lovely (and easy) dish to make yourself at home. A shawarma is a Middle Eastern dish that can use various meats or poultry – usually lamb, chicken, beef or veal – cooked on a spit and shaved, rather like a kebab. It’s then served in a wrap or in a roll and is sometimes topped with houmous.
It's also nice served on, rather than inside, a pitta bread for a sit-down lunch. Of course, you don’t have to cook the meat on a spit (unless you want to barbecue) and most people don’t have a kebab rotisserie at home – so you can also cook the meat in the oven. I used this recipe for oven-baked chicken shawarma with garlic sauce from the Easy Peasy Foodie.


Like her, I used chicken mini fillets to make the recipe quick, though you do need to allow an hour or two to marinade the chicken in advance. There are a lot of spices to mix but they are pretty much all ones you would probably have in your store cupboard anyway if you like cooking, and once you’ve marinaded the chicken, simply bake in the oven then shred it.
The garlic sauce from this recipe is also easy to make and works really well with the spicy flavour of the chicken. I lightly toasted some pitta breads on the grill and served the chicken and garlic sauce on top – I think this would even work for a pizza topping if you want to make your own pizza! It was delicious and something I’d definitely make again.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 40

I barely managed to blog at all last week - I had quite a busy week, out three days during the week and away visiting family at the weekend. For anyone who read my meal plan last week and was wondering about the awards on Friday night.... we won!

Here I am having just collected the Institute of Internal Communications award for Best News/ BAU Writing on behalf of my team - pretty cool given it's a national award across all industries and we beat some stiff competition!
I also had a good weekend seeing my family for my dad's birthday and came away with quite a haul of baby gear, as my sister's 10-month old daughter doesn't need some of her things any more. At this stage we still don't know if we are having a girl or a boy but she still gave us loads of neutral clothes plus things like a moses basket (two, actually), a cot mobile and a sling that seems to be just a long piece of fabric you are supposed to knot around yourself to put your baby in - I don't think I will have the confidence to do that!

Anyway on to this week.... I'm away tomorrow and Wednesday going to a blogger conference called Blog Camp on Board - organised by Flea Ents, the company behind the Foodies 100 index, and hosted by MSC Cruises on board the MSC Preziosa, which should be interesting - more on this in another post!

I've left planning meals a bit late as I was so busy last week and pregnancy is still making me very tired... I fell asleep in front of the TV earlier this evening and it was only about 9pm! So here's what I've planned so far:

ready made lasagne (went shopping on way home)

at my sister's where I am staying before Blog Camp

home from Blog Camp around 8pm so think I will have a quick tuna risotto using microwave rice

working from home as I have an antenatal appointment in the middle of the day. Hunter's chicken for him, salmon and sweet potato for me

stir-fry chicken with veg and noodles though without my favourite beansprouts as you are not allowed to eat those when pregnant

Lunch crumpet pizzas
Dinner Chinese takeaway style meal from the supermarket - bit of a weekend treat and means I don't have to cook much while we are trying to sort out the spare room to become a nursery!
Lunch sweet apple lamb left over from last week in a baked potato for me, beans and cheese in a baked potato for him
Dinner roast beef with cauliflower cheese

Link up your meal plan below!

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Review: Bella Vista Farmhouses, Gozo, Malta

This summer my husband and I spent a week on Gozo, a small island off Malta. It was a nice relaxing holiday - there are a few things to do on Gozo but it's not as busy as Malta. We stayed on the outskirts of a small village and enjoyed pottering around and sitting by the pool.

We booked through a holiday rentals website as we were looking for a villa, and the Bella Vista Farmhouses looked nice and seemed good value. By the time we had decided where to book though, it turned out the smallest villa, which slept four, was not available, and we ended up with one that slept six just for the two of us.


Bella Vista can arrange transfers from Gozo ferry which is helpful; they have several farmhouses and a main reception area where you can go for help or information about booking excursions, and Monica on reception speaks good English.

The website didn't actually say these were villas - they are described as farmhouses - but I was expecting lots of separate stand-alone properties, perhaps dotted about the hillside (the amazing view you can see in their pictures is accurate as you are high up looking down). However this was a big disappointment - I would call these apartments rather than farmhouses.

To get to ours - Ta Natu - you walk through an underground car park and down a small corridor, where there are front doors to the different 'farmhouses' all along the same corridor. There were then steep steps going down into our apartment, and the living room leads out to a small terrace with a very small swimming pool. But there's a wall next to the pool and on the other side is the next apartment's pool, and because the apartments are slightly staggered, you are then overlooked - I was in the pool one day and looked up and saw someone standing at the wall of their terrace looking down on me. We had wanted a private villa that was detached and ideally far enough away from neighbours that you wouldn't hear them let alone see them so this was quite disappointing.

This is the barbecue

The apartments themselves are quite rustic in style but the furniture was decent quality, and the sunloungers outside next to the pool were comfortable, but the barbecue was another disappointment. We'd hoped to barbecue every night and did end up using it several times but had to buy foil trays in the village to put the food in. The barbecue itself was like nothing I've seen before -a sort of flat tray over a burner (not a grill) - and it was absolutely filthy and didn't look like it would be easy to clean so we didn't want to put food directly on it. It is also hard to control the heat as there was basically a flame that you could turn on and that was it.

view from our terrace

Our apartment had three bedrooms, one with a double bed and two twins. The double bed was the hardest, most uncomfortable bed I have ever slept on - my husband had such back ache after the first night we had to switch to one of the twin rooms where the beds weren't great, but they were better.

watching fireworks over the Citadel by night from our terrace

We decided not to hire a car and the village, Xaghra, was about a 15 minute walk - fairly easy to do but we avoided doing it in the heat of the middle of the day. It's well lit at night as well and we were quite happy walking to restaurants and back.


Overall I was fairly happy with our stay at Bella Vista; the apartment had everything we needed (apart from privacy or a comfortable bed); the pool is too small to swim properly but I like to just sit in the pool and read which you can do (sitting on the steps that lead in) and I'm glad we had the extra space without trying to squeeze in six people. Xaghra is a nice little village with some decent restaurants (see my separate reviews) and it's easy to get around the island to explore.

We discovered that the main historical site on Gozo was actually just outside the village where we were staying - Ggantija, meaning 'giant's tower' is a temple complex older than the Egyptian pyramids, built around 3600 BC. They are the world's second oldest existing man-made religious structures (after somewhere in Turkey) and we saw it referred to a few times as the Maltese Stonehenge which was ironic because I grew up just a few miles away from Stonehenge.

It was about a half hour walk and didn't take that long to go around as it's basically ruins with a few information signs but it was quite interesting and I would say worth a visit if you are on Gozo.

Blue Lagoon- first thing in the morning

Another day trip we did was to the Blue Lagoon - an area with beautifully clear water on Comino, which is a tiny island between Gozo and Malta. We booked through the Bella Vista reception and were taken by taxi to the harbour where we got a ferry to Comino. We had wanted to do a longer boat trip around the island where you could snorkel off the boat but it was fully booked - if you want to do something like this it's probably a good idea to book in advance.

We decided to get the first ferry at 10am and I'm glad we did (it only took 10-15 minutes to get to Comino). The beach area next to the Blue Lagoon is tiny - in fact you couldn't really call it a beach. There's a very small semi circle of sand and then mainly a paved area where deckchairs are laid out - you have to pay for them and there isn't an inch of space between loungers. If you don't want to pay you can climb higher up and sit on the rocks but it didn't look all that comfortable.

We paid 15 euros for two deckchairs and an umbrella; the chairs in the beach area are more expensive than the jetty area where we were but it's only a few metres apart and didn't make much difference. At 11am more boats arrived, and it was getting really crowded; by midday it was absolutely heaving and I heard the guy who was renting the deckchairs telling someone there were no more left.

There's a toilet block and several stands selling food but all food truck style so nowhere to escape the hot sun unless you have a beach umbrella - and apart from swimming and sunbathing there's nothing to do here (and no space to do anything!).

The water was lovely - you can see fish without even needing snorkelling equipment - and it was nice to swim in the morning but in the afternoon it was so crowded I decided not to go back in. Our return ferry in the afternoon was a different kind of boat I think; it took us on a tour of some caves around Camino and was driving really fast almost like a speedboat where the back of the boat is in the water and the front is higher up, which I really didn't like, but luckily it was only for about 10 minutes! I would say the Blue Lagoon is worth a trip but definitely go early to beat the crowds, at least if it is peak season like when we went.

A few other tips if you are staying at Bella Vista Farmhouses:
  • We paid our deposit in advance by bank transfer with the balance (several hundred euros) to be paid on arrival - but they only take cash. There is a cash point in the village (a 5 min drive or 15 min walk) but you might want to bring the cash with you.
  • There is a big fan in the living room which kept us surprisingly cool - we bought a few cards for the air conditioning (5 euros each for about 10 hours) but didn't use all of them
  • Buy or bring a clicker to turn on the gas hob and oven if you plan to use it (and given how bad the barbecue was, we did end up cooking inside). The ignition switch on our cooker didn't work which means you have to reach right inside the oven to light it with a match which Monica did for us the first time, but I was too nervous to do myself. The barbecue also needs to be lit with a match underneath the cooking plate so a clicker is much easier and safer. We bought one in the grocery shop in the village.
  • We were given a map to the Lighthouse Grocery store; they are open 7am-7pm and will deliver to the farmhouses though we got there around 6.30 as we hadn't wanted to walk in the afternoon the first time (as we didn't know how far it was) and the lady in the shop seemed quite put out we wanted delivery that late in the day (we hadn't realised that would be an issue). She said it could be arranged though and we would have our food in about 30 mins so she got us to pay and pack it into a box and leave it in the corner. We walked back to our farmhouse and in the end delivery took about an hour - so don't buy anything frozen!
  • Since we didn't hire a car Monica gave us the number of a local taxi driver and we used him to go to a restaurant one evening; it was very reasonably priced and we called him when we had finished our meal and he picked us up again about 15 minutes later. It's really easy to get around Gozo if you don't want the expense of hiring a car.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 Week 39

I've been absolutely exhausted again this past week, falling asleep in the evenings and getting very little done after work - you may have noticed I'm blogging a lot less these days, and it's not because I'm spending the time instead preparing for the baby - I'm generally asleep!

I haven't had - or wanted to have - a social life for several weeks now though I do really want to see my friends, so I'm glad that I'm finally getting together with one of my bridesmaids this week. Though our night out was postponed from last week which means I've actually got plans for three evenings out of five this week,  - I don't know how I'm going to manage and how tired I will be by the last one, which is a big one - a national awards ceremony at the Dorchester Hotel in London's Park Lane, where my team at work is shortlisted for two awards! And I'm the one representing us at the awards so had better stay awake.....

On top of that we are away at the weekend as well for my dad's birthday - at least it means I won't have to do a lot of cooking this week! So here's this week's meal plan:

NB I keep not having what I planned for breakfast as I tend to not make it the night before and just grab a pot of cereal to eat at my desk... if I have more time I need to remember I also have yogurt, fruit and porridge!
As I'm out a lot this week I'm not going to plan anything special for lunches either and will probably just make a sandwich quickly.

out with friends

Tuesday - working from home as I have an ante-natal appointment
 chicken schnitzel with katsu spices (from Waitrose) with creamy pasta

 frozen pizza - needs to be quick so we can get to the AGM of our residents' association

fishcake for me, chicken kiev or similar for him

 At the Institute of Internal Communications awards at the Dorchester - where my team is shortlisted for two awards

Breakfast probably having a lie-in!
Lunch bacon/sausage sandwich
Dinner with my family

Breakfast With my family
Lunch With my family
Dinner Something easy from the freezer

Share your meal plan - join in the blog hop!

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Christmas Cookie Recipe Christmas Cards

I went into my craft room (aka the spare bedroom) earlier today to quickly make a 'new home' card for my brother-in-law and his family, and got rather side-tracked and ended up making a dozen Christmas cards - and not actually making the new home card at all!
I came across some free printables I'd downloaded and printed out a long time (I think literally a couple of years) ago. Each sheet had three tall thin rectangles containing a recipe for Christmas cookies - I really like baking so I thought this would be a great thing to put on Christmas cards. They would work on the front, back or even inside cards!
I had some tall thin card blanks that were just the right size so I decided to put these on the front of the cards for a slightly more unusual - and hopefully useful - Christmas card.

The recipes were the right width but shorter than the height of the card so I had a gap at the top and bottom. As the recipes had red borders, I cut out strips from a small piece of Christmas wrapping paper I'd put in my card making stash and stuck that along the top and the bottom. Finally I used small die cut greetings on either the top or the bottom of each card.

I will have to think carefully about who to send these cards to and pick people who I think might actually bake the cookies!
I'm sharing this with DK Kard Kreations for a 'never been used before' theme as I've had a few of these sheets in my Christmas card box for ages and never used them.
I'm also sending it to Christmas Card Challenges and Crafty Hazelnut's Christmas Challenge where the theme is 'anything goes as long as it's Christmas'.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Caramel Cupcakes with a Hidden Centre

 I’m a bit of a mad cat lady (and proud) even though I only have one cat. So when I saw the local cat rescue was having an open day, I definitely wanted to go. It’s a private rescue run by one amazing lady out of her house – she finds fosterers and new homes for rescued kitties and also keeps several herself, including ones who are too traumatised to be rehomed elsewhere after they are rescued. The first time I went there, for a bric-a-brac sale she was doing to raise money, she told me she had 11 cats currently living there!
This time, as well as stalls selling everything from cat toys to CDs, a raffle and tombola and various cats wandering around, there were refreshments and I’d offered to bring some cakes. I really wanted to decorate cupcakes to look like cats, along the lines of the ones in Hello, Cupcake, but just knew I wouldn’t have time for fiddling around.
I decided instead to make something I thought would have mass appeal – and have the added benefit of using up an open tin of Carnation caramel in the fridge. Caramel cupcakes are easy and always popular, especially when they had a hidden centre.
I used a simple, fairly basic cupcake recipe for the cake itself, using brown sugar as well as caster sugar to give a more caramel flavour, but to let the caramel flavour really be driven by the hidden centre and the icing. Here’s what I did
Caramel cupcakes – an original recipe by Caroline Makes
For the cupcakes (makes about 12)
150g butter or margarine, softened
75g caster sugar
75g light brown sugar
2 eggs
150g self-raising flour
For the filling:
397g tin Carnation Caramel
For the buttercream:
The rest of the Carnation Caramel
150g butter or marg, softened
300g icing sugar
Preheat oven to 180C and line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.

Cream the butter and both the sugars then beat in the eggs. Fold in the flour, and spoon into the cupcake cases.
Bake the cupcakes in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and spongy to the touch, but test with a skewer to make sure they are not raw in the middle.


Allow the cupcakes to cool, first in the tin then on a baking rack.
When the cakes have cooled, use a teaspoon to remove a small piece from the centre of each cupcake, setting the piece you have removed to one side. Place half a teaspoon (or more depending on the size of the hole you have made) of Carnation Caramel into the hole in the cupcake and replace the piece you have removed on top. It won’t sit flat and will be slightly higher than the top of the cake.

To make the buttercream, sift the icing sugar over the butter or marg and gently cream together. Add a few spoonfuls of the Carnation Caramel to taste, making sure the buttercream doesn’t become runny as you will need to be able to pipe it.
Fit a piping bag with a star nozzle or your favourite nozzle, fill with buttercream and pipe swirls onto the top of each cupcake. I decorated mine with silver chocolate balls though in retrospect they would have looked better with gold!

Either way they seemed to go down well at the cat rescue open day, and I came home with a box of notelets I’d bought, a teddy bear I’d won in a teddy tombola (where every ticket won a cuddly toy) and a Wet Wet Wet CD from 1992 I won in another tombola!

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