Sunday, 19 February 2017

Forever Friends Envelope Birthday Card


I found this card recently when I did a big clear out of my craft stash; I'd put it aside finished but didn't use it as I couldn't find the right occasion, and then mislaid it. When I found it, I didn't think it was very good, then realised what I actually felt was that it wasn't finished.

At that point the card just had the cupcake paper on the bottom half of the card and the Forever Friends bear clutching an envelope on the top. I added a thin gold border strip along the top of the cupcake paper and the words 'happy birthday' from a set of vertical outline stickers which I normally find quite hard to use - but they were just right for this project.

I was in two minds as to whether to add the little gold balloon from the same pack but did, next to the word 'happy'.

I also had a sheet of gold letters which again are quite hard to use - you have to be really careful when writing a word to make sure none of the letters are wonky, and I've seen some people selling items on Facebook where they have spelled out a name in individual letters and they are not straight, which looks dreadful.

Luckily this card was for my friend Al so I only had to add two letters, which I put on the front of the envelope that the bear is holding, along with a little star from the same sticker pack as the 'happy birthday' words. I think it looks much better now!

I'm sending this to Jo's Scrap Shack 'anything goes' challenge.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Super-Moist Vegan Strawberry Cake

 

I’m not that good at taking a hint, I guess. I made this vegan strawberry cake for my friend Alice’s birthday in 2013,
 
www.carolinemakes.net
I made this birthday cake for my friend Alice, not that we needed more cake as we also went out for afternoon tea! But I wanted to try out a chocolate transfer sheet ...
 and since then she has mentioned a few times that it was one of the best cakes she has ever had. So when it came around to her birthday this year, I thought I had better make it again!
 
I didn’t want to decorate it in exactly the same way – I covered the cake with pink fondant last time – and I recalled from reading my blog post that it was an absolutely massive cake.
 
The recipe below converts the quantities from US to UK measurements, and halves the amount. This was plenty to make a two-layer cake, which I filled and topped with vegan buttercream and fresh strawberries.
 
I brought the cake with me when I went to see Alice for her birthday and we all enjoyed a slice. The cake was really light and moist and as I’ve said often before, if you have preconceptions about vegan cakes not being good, you really must try this!
 
Vegan Strawberry Cake
 
280g plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
140g caster sugar
60ml vegetable oil
600g strawberries
60ml soya milk
For the frosting:
200g vegan margarine eg Pure
400g icing sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 180C.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Add the oil and mix well. Puree 400g of the strawberries, keeping the rest for decoration, and mix the pureed strawberries into the cake batter along with the soya milk.

Grease an 8-inch cake tin with Cake Release or with vegan margarine. Pour the cake batter into the tin and bake in the pre-heated oven for 35-40 minutes.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin and when cool turn out onto a board. Slice the cake through the middle so you have two layers.

Beat the vegan margarine with the icing sugar to make frosting. Spread half the frosting onto the bottom layer of cake and slice half the reserved strawberries. Arrange the strawberries on top of the frosting.

Repeat with the second layer of cake with the remaining frosting and strawberries and gently place the top layer of cake on top of the bottom one. Sprinkle with icing sugar if desired.

 








I'm sharing this with Love Cake, hosted by Ness at JibberJabberUK, and CookBlogShare, hosted by Hijacked by Twins.
 
Hijacked By Twins

Friday, 17 February 2017

Restaurant review: The Founder burger at BRGR.co

Have you ever wondered how McDonald's became the behemoth that it is today? A new film called The Founder tells the story of Ray Kroc - played by Michael Keaton - who started out as a milkshake machine salesman, and realised that the two brothers who ran a burger restaurant - the McDonalds - were on to something. How he turned the fledgling business into a global company is the central story of the film: you can see the trailer here.

Soho burger restaurant BRGR.co has teamed up with the makers of the film to create the Founder burger (or Founder BRGR as it is called). It's the closest thing I've ever had to a Big Mac outside of McDonald's, and is really good!

The burger consists of two Blade steak patties with melted cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, pickled gherkins and the secret recipe BRGR.co sauce, in a triple-layer sesame bun - so the burger has an extra bun in between the two beef patties.

It's only available for a limited time, until February 26. I was invited to try it free of charge this week and was quite impressed. I'd never been to BRGR.co before; the Soho branch is just off Oxford Street and is a fairly small restaurant that looks more like a pub at first glance - dark wooden panels and furniture and a well-stocked bar. I quite liked that - some burger restaurants scream 'fast food' the minute you walk in, or look really casual and don't make me want to drink alcohol, but this looked like a nice place where you could enjoy a meal and glass of wine.

 

The Founder burger comes wrapped in paper closed with a sticker, a touch which I liked. It was really juicy and very tasty but the bun fell apart very quickly and I ended up having to eat it with a knife and fork! The fries were much better than you get in a certain fast food burger chain as well.

 The official photo, versus my photo.....



I'm definitely tempted to come back and try something else on BRGR.co's menu. I noticed that you can choose the cut of steak that is used in the burgers - blade, hanger or rump. BRGR.co claims to be the only burger restaurant in London that offers these three choices. The menu also states that all burgers are made from grass-fed Scottish cattle.

A blade steak burger is £6.95 with fries from £3 upwards (cheese fries are £4 etc) but prices go right up to £24.20 for a guacamole and bacon burger using minced rump steak with  a double patty! So on that basis the Founder burger, which has two patties and is made from the blade cut, is a relative bargain at £7.50, or £10 with fries.

My husband thought the Founder tasted so much like a Big Mac though that it should have cost the same - £2.99!
 

 

 

 
 
Thanks to the Founder and BRGR.co for a complimentary meal

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Cheesy Ham and Hash Brown Casserole

This is something a bit different for breakfast or brunch - a cheesy ham and hash brown casserole. I think it would work well as a side dish as part of a larger breakfast - if you were cooking for a crowd for instance. We had it on its own and my husband said it needed something like sausage or bacon with it, and as it is quite rich and calorific, I think perhaps a couple of spoonfuls with some fried eggs or similar would be better. Either way it did taste really good!

Today is Valentine's day and you could even make it if you are cooking your loved one a special breakfast. I had planned to post a Valentine's cake today but due to unforeseen circumstances have been unable to make it!

You can find the recipe here at AllRecipes.com. It's an American recipe and I have a feeling that when it lists frozen hash browns in the ingredients, it means shredded potato rather than the triangular wedges you get in the frozen food department of UK supermarkets. I've eaten that sort of hash brown before in America and it makes more sense when the recipe instructs you to mix them in a bowl, I don't imagine it means the solid triangular ones.

However that was all I had and it worked fine, if a little difficult to mix initially - but when it was baked it was perfect! I used tinned ham but you could use leftover from a roast, or add chunks of sausage or diced bacon. I couldn't get cream of potato soup so used leek and potato soup (and to be honest, I felt the recipe was crying out for some green veg! My husband doesn't like leek, otherwise I would have added sliced fresh leek). I also left the parmesan cheese off the top as I decided it was cheesy enough!

So this is what I did:
To serve 6-8 as a side dish or 3-4 as a main dish:

600-700g frozen hash browns
300g tinned ham, diced into large chunks
400g tin of leek and potato soup
150ml sour cream
250g cheddar, grated
splash of milk

 
Preheat oven to 190C. Put the frozen hash browns in a large oven proof dish. In a separate bowl or jug, mix together the soup, cream and ham. Add the grated cheddar and a splash of milk so you have a thick liquid that you can pour over the hash browns.


Pour the mixture into the ovenproof dish and carefully turn the hash browns until they are all coated and covered by the mixture. Bake in the oven for an hour.


Serve with sausages or bacon or fried eggs or as a side dish to a larger buffet brunch.


 
I'm sharing this with the Weekend brunch club linkup hosted by Gingey Bites
 

Monday, 13 February 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 7

This week's meal plan is a bit sparse, for reasons which I shall explain later! I haven't had a lot of time to plan meals or access to my cookery books lately.

Monday
Out at a burger restaurant doing a review

Tuesday - Valentine's day and my husband suggested we get some really good steaks. So I suggested he cooks dinner for a change!

Wednesday - Out with a friend for her birthday

Thursday- sweet potato and goat's cheese lattice pie for me (bought in the supermarket from the reduced section, thought it looked interesting!) and chicken pie for him. Was going to do this last week but didn't

Friday - something easy from the freezer with chips

Saturday lunch - bacon and cheese omelette for him, tuna nicoise with leftover pitta for me based on this recipe - on the meal plan last week but didn't make it
Afternoon - at a friend's for afternoon tea for a birthday celebration
dinner - may not want much to eat, possibly pizzas from the freezer (you can tell I've had no time to plan properly this week!)

Sunday
lunch- ham and leek hash with creamy onion sauce from Slimming World Little Book of Sauces for me, bacon sandwich for him - on the meal plan last week but didn't make it
dinner- roast chicken thighs or a whole chicken

This is a blog hop, join in!

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Restaurant review: Village Cafe and Bistro, Banstead

Christmas Eve, when it is also a Saturday, is going to be a very busy day on the high street - and restaurants and cafes most likely benefit from the increased footfall as well. So we were lucky to get a table at the Village Café and Bistro in Banstead, Surrey, given they made a mistake and messed up our booking!
We were spending Christmas Day with my family so wanted to see my husband's family on Christmas Eve. His sister-in-law had decided to take her family (husband, her mum, and two kids) to a café for brunch in the morning and extended the invitation to me and my husband and his parents. So in total there were nine people, and my sister-in-law had booked a table for 11am.

As we arrived I was surprised to see a long table in the centre of the café already in use, and every other seat was a table or booth for no more than 4. Wondering if they had an upstairs or where they were going to put us, we spoke to the waitress, who seemed confused and went back to the counter to check with a colleague - it turned out they had no record of the reservation! My sister-in-law had rung to change it when we added more people, and we think this is where the mistake occurred - that they either cancelled the booking or misunderstood and thought she was changing it to a different time or day.

Luckily at that exact moment the family around the larger table got up to leave and the staff were able to add another small table onto the end to make it big enough for us.

The menu is extensive with a wide range of breakfast choices; I was torn between several different things and noticed there was even a 'build you own' cooked breakfast - most people I know who like a full English would prefer to have it without the baked beans, or with an extra sausage, scrambled eggs instead of fried, or with mushrooms instead of the tomato and so on. This way you can pick exactly what you want, which is just what my husband did, and he was really pleased with it.


I had eggs benedict, one of my favourites. It was served on what I think was a thick piece of sourdough rather than an English muffin (though I could be wrong, I am a bit delayed in writing this review!) with smoked salmon, two pretty good poached eggs, and some sprigs of greenery, sliced cucumber and sliced tomato (a bit unnecessary but it looked pretty on the plate) and the hollandaise sauce in its own little jug.


The food was good, and the service wasn't bad considering how busy they were (if you forgive the mistake over our booking) and the prices are very reasonable - this is definitely somewhere I would consider coming back.
 

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Spiced Biscuit Bundt Cake

You know the little packets of biscuits you get in cafes with a cup of coffee? Often they are Lotus biscuits  - and they are so popular you can actually buy the lovely caramelised biscuit taste in a spread! I had some at home which all got eaten with a spoon used up before I could do any baking with it, and then I was in Lidl and saw they had an equivalent spread so bought some of that.

I had a look on the internet to see if I could find any suitable recipes - there are plenty on the Lotus website - but ended up making this one from Rachel McGrath aka Dollybakes.

Her cake looks amazing with a glossy icing made from the Lotus biscuit spread - but as you can see, mine doesn't look so good! I have the exact same Nordicware tin as Rachel but my cake stuck in the tin - I guess I didn't grease it enough, even though I thought I had used plenty of PME Cake Release.

It started out so well....


This is the tin I baked the mixture in - the Nordicware Heritage bundt pan


It smelt so good while it was baking in the oven, but I had too much mixture and it spilled over the top.


Here's the cake that I eventually managed to get out of the pan. The swirls on top should be sharply defined with neat crisp edges, and you can see the shape of it but a fair amount stuck in the pan!

Here's what I couldn't get out - next time I will use more grease. Has anyone else had this problem with a tin like this?


But all was not lost. Here's the spiced biscuit spread from Lidl:


I heated the jar in the microwave and poured it over the cake. It didn't look great initially...
 


But once the whole thing was covered it did look better.


When the cake is warm and the icing is runny it's lovely - a bit like eating a sticky toffee pudding with sauce. When the icing has cooled and set, the cake is still really moist and it tastes delicious.


This is a really good cake and recipe which is why I'm posting about it even though mine looks a bit of a disaster - hopefully you will have better luck making it than I did, and I advise trying a silicon bundt pan rather than a metal one!

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Lamb and Cypriot New Potato Pittas


Most of the time I don't miss vegetables that aren't in season but one thing I'd love to eat all year round is new potatoes. I'm sorry to say I get quite excited when I see new potatoes in Tesco and can enjoy them with melted butter and mint or as part of a potato salad.
 
Well, now you can get new potatoes in winter, courtesy of the sun-soaked island of Cyprus. Tesco have started stocking the 'spunta' variety which are really versatile - they can be boiled, steamed, roasted or baked and you don't need to peel them so preparation is minimal!

You can even grate them, as I have done in this recipe; even when par-boiled the potatoes are still nice and firm. For this recipe I thought about what I associated with Cyprus, thinking back to a holiday I had there about 12 or 13 years ago. The things that stood out to me were lamb, feta cheese and pitta breads, so I decided to make some lamb and Cypriot new potato patties and serve them with feta cheese inside homemade pitta breads.

You can buy read-made pitta breads for this recipe but don't be afraid to have a go at making your own pitta bread if you haven't before, it's super easy and they taste amazing straight from the oven!

Ingredients (serves 4):
 
250g Cypriot new potatoes
1 egg
1 onion, grated
1 clove garlic, crushed
300g minced lamb
salt, pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
100g breadcrumbs
Oil or low-fat cooking spray
75g feta cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp. plain natural yogurt

for the pitta bread:
560g strong white flour
10g salt
300ml tepid water
20ml oil
5g dried yeast or 10g fresh yeast

Method:

Begin by making the pitta bread. If you have a freestanding food mixer with a dough hook, put all the ingredients for the pitta breads in the bowl of the mixer and run it for ten minutes until you have a pliable ball of dough. Alternatively, mix the ingredients in a bowl and knead on a lightly floured surface for 15 minutes then return to the bowl.

Cover the bowl with clingfilm and put in a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

While the dough is proving, make the lamb and potato patties. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and simmer the potatoes for 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cover with cold water and leave to cool; change the water a couple of times as you feel it getting hot as this is the quickest way to cool the potatoes.

Grate the parboiled potatoes - you don't need to peel them - into a bowl. Beat the egg and mix in.

Grate the onion and crush the garlic and stir in, then stir in the minced lamb. Season with salt and pepper. Finally mix in the oregano, cumin and coriander until well combined.

Put the breadcrumbs into a shallow bowl. Form the mixture into small balls and roll in the breadcrumbs, then gently flatten the balls until you have patties about three quarters of an inch thick. Press each side in the breadcrumbs again to coat.

Repeat until all the lamb and potato mixture is used up.

When the dough for the pitta bread has had 40-45 minutes to prove, pre-heat your oven to its highest setting and place a pizza stone or flat baking sheet into the bottom of the oven.

When your dough is ready to use, separate into 6-8 pieces of the same size and roll out flat on a lightly floured surface into the shape of pitta breads. Place them (you will need to do this in two or three batches) onto the hot pizza stone or baking sheet and bake for 5-10 minutes until risen. You will literally see them puffing up in the oven and start to brown then they are done. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Heat the oil or low-fat cooking spray in a frying pan and fry the lamb and potato patties on each side until golden brown.

Slice open the pitta breads (careful of the steam that will escape!) and spread 1/2 tbsp. plain yogurt into each one. Fill each pitta with a couple of the lamb and potato patties and crumbled feta cheese. Enjoy hot with a green salad.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
This is my entry into the Tesco Cypriot new potatoes recipe challenge. I received a £10 voucher from Tesco to pay towards the ingredients. Cypriot new potatoes are available in Tesco now
 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Restaurant review: Sizzle 'n' Shake, Wallington

 
I really wanted to write a positive review of Sizzle ‘n’ Shake, I really did. But much as I love the concept, the décor, the little touches – the service was terrible and the food wasn’t a whole lot better.
 
Sizzle ‘n’ Shake is a 50s style diner in Wallington and something really different, in an area that seems to be predominantly Indian and Italian restaurants or pubs. I’ve been twice now as we had a mixed experience the first time and wanted to give it a second chance – it was better second time around, but still disappointing. It could have been such a great place!
 
 
Here’s what I loved about Sizzle ‘n’ Shake:
  •  The 50s diner styling. The booth tables, the red bar stool chairs at the front window, the pictures on the walls and records hanging from the ceiling, the jukebox playing 50s (and 60s) music with an invitation to bring your own records for them to put on and the menus themselves, which are printed on 12 inch LPs – each diner gets a different record sleeve at random which is a bit of a talking point if that’s your musical era.
 
  • The milkshakes, especially the alcoholic ones. Not cheap - £5.50 for 350ml or £9.50 for 700ml but delicious. I had the Monk's Butt (!) which was made with Frangelico, butterscotch, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream.
  • The chips- there is a choice of chunky, skinny or (for an extra £1.50) sweet potato fries which means everyone can have exactly what they want
  • They do kids portions at roughly half price which is good.
  • The huge choice on the menu (as long as you are not vegetarian) and even the names of the dishes
  • -       The personal touch from the man I think is the owner or manager – he was there on both our visits and came over to speak to us both times
 
Here’s what I didn’t love so much:
  • -       The location: part-way down Stafford Road opposite a furniture shop with no parking other than the odd space in a side street. Not their fault, and I’m sure they would have loved to have been on the high street, but it is a little awkward
  • -       The restaurant itself is also very small; again not their fault but this a great concept and clearly popular. Tables are squeezed in; the non-movable seats in the booths are so close to the table you can barely squeeze in, and it would be nice to have a bit more space.
  • -       The prices. The Rebel Rouser which is basically a double cheese and bacon burger cost £14.50; for that my husband was expecting a huge burger that he (almost) wouldn’t be able to finish but it was distinctly average in size. My macaroni cheese burger was £12.80 and was just a plain 6oz burger with a bit of penne pasta.
  • -       The burgers themselves: I appreciate that they are homemade and mass produced but they were not particularly flavoursome, not at all juicy and on our first visit, completely overcooked and chewy. On our second visit I made sure to ask for my burger cooked ‘medium’ – they don’t ask how you would like them, but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t overdone again. This time the burger was edible and not well done, but not medium either.
  • -       The mac and cheese burger I tried on my first visit: I was excited about this as it’s not something you often get on a menu but I’ve had a couple of amazing mac and cheese burgers in the past. In this case, the macaroni cheese was penne pasta that had been mixed with a cheese sauce; there were 5 or 6 tubes of penne just sitting on top of the burger inside the bun, and rolled out as soon as I picked up the burger. I managed to put a couple back in but they didn’t even really taste that great.
  • -       The BBQ burger I had on my second visit was better but still didn’t stand out and you can get a better burger pretty much anywhere. I’d put this one on a par with Wetherspoons I think, but it costs a lot more.
  • -       I didn’t have a dessert the first time and the second time was really looking forward to the chocolate orange truffle bar, but they had run out. My husband had the waffle with maple syrup which was a plain waffle with a tiny amount of syrup, so very dry – it would have been better served with ice cream or cream or at least more syrup.
 
  • -       The service: extremely slow. On our first visit there was only one other couple eating (it was quite late on a Tuesday night) and we felt service was a bit slow. On our second visit on a Saturday at 6pm, the place was packed – but as mentioned above, it’s not that big and there couldn’t have been more than 50 covers. So thats no excuse for the fact that we arrived at 6pm and didnt even get our drinks until 6.40 at which point we noticed two other tables who came in after us had already received their food. 
It’s a shame as the restaurant is a great idea and everything apart from the food and service is brilliant – but it’s the food and the service that will keep people coming back, and I’m not sure that I would.