Thursday 26 October 2023

Halloween Chocolate Bark

If your children have been trick or treating, or you stocked up on goodies to hand out yourself, you might find you have an excess of chocolate and sweets left over come November. While it’s perfectly acceptable to still be eating it come January, with Christmas not that far off you might be looking for ways to use up this leftover chocolate and candy. 

Chocolate bark is a good option as it’s easy to make, and fun to do with kids, plus it makes fairly banal sweets or chocolates into something a bit more interesting.

Simply melt some chocolate, spread it over a piece of baking paper in a square cake tin or rectangular baking tray, sprinkle with sweets, chocolates (M&Ms and Smarties work well), popcorn, even broken biscuit pieces, and leave to set in the fridge. When set, break into slabs (you may need to carefully stab with a knife) and enjoy.

For mine I used a baking tray and 200g white chocolate and 100g milk chocolate. I melted both types of chocolate separately in the microwaved and coloured half the white chocolate purple and the other half orange. I swirled the three colours together in the tray and sprinkled over some M&S Hallow-Scream Munch Mix, £3.50 for 300g (I used about 100g). The mix contains mini pretzel pieces, chocolate covered pretzels, green and orange crispies (like little biscuit pieces in a candy coating), popcorn pieces covered in white chocolate and milk chocolate pretzel clusters - though I didn’t use the latter in my chocolate bark as the pieces were a lot larger than the others.

This could be enjoyed as part of a Halloween party or nibbled on while watching your favourite scary movie!

The recipe can be adapted easily for other times of the year such as Christmas, or Valentine’s Day as I did here (this is my other blog if you are interested in parenting posts)! 

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Halloween Spooky Sugar Cookies

I recently did a class with Biscuiteers which I shall write about separately - and since then I've been enjoying baking and decorating biscuits at home, now I know the 'proper' techniques for decorating! The trick is to use royal icing to pipe an outline, then when it has set, use thinner royal icing to 'flood' the inner part of the biscuit.

I have a large collection of cookie cutters and among them, a pumpkin, ghost and bat. I used a Biscuiteers recipe which you can find online here - the addition of golden syrup makes the dough less likely to spread during baking.

I tried a few different designs, including writing 'Boo' on a ghost, and a pumpkin with a face - but I prefer the look of the plain pumpkin cookies. I think the bats came out fairly well too. I made a few of each type and plan to serve these when my daughter has a couple of friends around for a mini Halloween party - if they aren't eaten already before then!

Friday 1 September 2023

Memsahib Gin and Tea Bar Cheltenham

I was trying to work out why I liked the Memsahib Gin andTea Bar in Cheltenham aside from the absolutely delicious cocktails and then I realised - it was the comfy chairs.

These days the last thing I want when I go out for a drink is a busy pub where I’m standing, trying to make myself heard, with nowhere to put my bag. I’d much rather have a seat in a quiet corner and be able to relax and hear my friends speak!

Last year I went to Bath with a few of my friends and took part in a murder mystery event that saw us walking - and at times running - around the town centre trying to solve a virtual crime with Clued Up. It was great fun but pretty tiring as we were on our feet all day. At the end of the day, we drove back to my friend's house in Cheltenham, and walked to the town centre for dinner and drinks. By that point my feet were starting to hurt which is another reason I was glad to sit down!

Memsahib is inspired by the British Raj period in India with tapas food blending British and Indian flavours; it also serves an afternoon Chai tea and crafts its own gin. If I lived closer, I would definitely do one of their masterclasses!

We had some masala chips served with parmesan and lemon salt (£5.50) to nibble alongside our cocktails which were not too spicy and really unusual. But mostly I liked the cocktails - carefully blended flavours, that were out of the ordinary, definitely worth their £10 price tag.

I love Singapore Slings so I had a Cheltenham Sling - vodka, Indian masala rum, orange liqueur, green apple, lime, ginger, angostura bitters, orange bitters and ginger ale. It came on a little tray with a couple of little bottles for me to mix myself. I followed that with a Memsahib Star, made from tropical mango gin, pineapple, lime, vanilla and prosecco - a little similar to a pornstar martini. Both were delicious and I'd definitely recommend making a stop here if you are in the area.

Thursday 1 June 2023

The Tea Terrace - Afternoon Tea in a Princess Carriage

A perfect treat for any little girl - or grown up - who loves princesses and all things pink. We enjoyed afternoon tea at the Tea Terrace in Cobham for our daughter's fourth birthday last year and she was thrilled. Unfortunately that restaurant has now closed but they have another venue in Guildford where you can have the same princess carriage experience - to find out more hop on over to my other blog, Mini Moo Life.

They have an extensive menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner options as well as afternoon tea. The white chocolate and cranberry scones were especially good, and the mini cakes were delicious. The restaurant was very quiet when we were there so we were able to hop over to another table in the corner and sit on throne-type chairs - though my daughter and I definitely preferred sitting in the princess carriage! 

You do have to pay extra to hire the carriage which you get for an hour and a half, and it can add up at £12.95 per person - I think it would be better to have a flat fee per carriage as you aren't exactly going to share it with anyone. There is also a minimum spend of £21 per person if you sit in the carriage so you can't just book it to feel a bit fancy while drinking a coffee! We had planned to go for afternoon tea (which my daughter and I ordered while my husband had a panini from the lunch menu followed by a cake and with a drink as well which came to more than the minimum spend.

While we haven't been to the Tea Terrace's remaining venue in Guildford it looks from the website to be quite similar to the now closed Cobham branch, and most importantly has the princess carriages, but doesn't have Theresa the robot!

Saturday 6 May 2023

Coronation Cookies

I couldn't miss the opportunity/excuse to do some baking for the coronation of King Charles III - it's certainly a momentous occasion no matter what you think of the royal family, and we are merrily joining in with the celebrations, with a street party and parties at school and Rainbows for my daughter.

My husband 3D printed me a crown-shaped cookie cutter, and I bought a cookie stamp from Etsy - not having realised this is something he could have 3D printed me as well so I will remember that for next time! I also had some red, white and blue sprinkles left over from last year's Jubilee which came in handy.

My icing technique is far from perfect but I'm quite pleased with these compared to my usual fairly messy icing. It is a bit fiddly to keep switching colour and icing bags but I think worth it!

I used a standard sugar cookie recipe, from BBC Good Food. My cookie cutter was quite large so I didn't get that many cookies out of it - about 9 crowns and 5 circles. My daughter had most of them to decorate as you can see below!

For the ones I did, I copied the shape and colours of the actual coronation crown and added what is supposed to be some gems along the bottom. I definitely need more practice with icing though but it's all just for fun - and my daughter had a great time making hers!

Wednesday 26 April 2023

Dutch King's Day Tompuce

In the Netherlands, April 27 is a national holiday celebrating the king's birthday - King's Day. To mark the occasion many people hold or visit flea markets (it's the one day of the year street sales are allowed without applying for a permit); there are parties and events, people wear orange - the national colour - and eat tompouce.

These are a pastry similar to a mille-feuille, but with one layer instead of two, consisting of a piece of crispy puff pastry, a layer of creme patissiere (pastry cream, often referred to as creme pat) and another piece of pastry, with royal icing spread on top. Normally the icing is pink but on King's Day, when these are popular, the icing is orange.

This King's Day I was invited to a party by a Dutch colleague and wanted to take something with me, and learned about tompouce via the internet (apparently they are named after a 19th century actor). I found out from my friend that he had been unable to find any tompouce in the UK, but that they are a lot like mille-feuille, which you can find in most bakeries - though probably without the orange layer on top. As he had only just moved to the UK a few months before I thought I would try to recreate a little taste of home!

I found a recipe for tompouce online - there are several but I used this one from My Red Kitchen and pretty much followed it step by step, but made the icing orange. It felt like I was doing a technical challenge from the Great British Bake Off - making something I'd never heard of before, that involved several steps (though I used ready-made puff pastry which would have been an automatic fail on GBBO!), and instructions like "cut each sheet [of pastry] into 16 equal squares". 

I may have made mine too big but having never seen a tompouce I'm not sure what size they are supposed to be, and they seemed on a par with mille-feuilles. I didn't know exactly how much gelatine to used just said 'one envelope gelatine' and referred to jell-o at the store which makes me think this is perhaps a standard size in the US. I had a packet with four leaves of gelatine remaining which it said was the right amount for one pint of liquid but the creme pat had already thickened quite a bit so I probably didn't need that much. Rather than using a piping bag I was able to actually slice it (as I'd let it set in a large shallow rectangular dish), which I thought was quite handy at the time but in retrospect it doesn't look great and I should have piped it. Still, they tasted pretty good!

Tuesday 4 October 2022

Afternoon Tea at Vicinity Tower Bridge

Few things say London more than Tower Bridge and Vicinity, a bar and restaurant in Tower Hotel, offers an afternoon tea that capitalises on that with a Tower Bridge-shaped cake stand. This is a good afternoon tea for tourists in London, as you have a view of Tower Bridge from the window, and can indulge in the quintessential English finger sandwiches and scones and a selection of patisserie and petit fours.

My husband I were given a voucher for afternoon tea here some time ago, then Covid prevented us from using it; the hotel luckily offered to extend the expiry date so we were able to finally make a booking just before Christmas last year. We took a day off work while our daughter was at nursery and made the most of it, following our afternoon tea with the Money Heist Experience!

If you are coming here, whether it’s to see the bridge (which is a tourist attraction you can visit) or to go to the hotel or restaurant, I recommend walking from London Bridge if you can. It’s a lovely walk alongside the river and in winter, there is usually a Christmas market which creates a magical atmosphere – and you get a good view of Tower Bridge as you approach.

The restaurant was fairly quiet when we arrived at lunchtime on a weekday but quickly filled up, with what looked like a few office Christmas lunches as well as tourists. We had excellent service from someone who appeared to be the maitre d’; we were given a table next to the window with a view of the bridge and a menu for the afternoon tea. I always think it’s a shame when the menus are taken away once the food comes and you are trying to remember what each of the petit fours and mini desserts are – though in this case I could be forgiven for not remembering as I realised they didn’t match up with what was on the menu. 

I asked the waiter and the maitre d’ then came over to apologise, blaming supply chain issues – I didn’t mind that the cakes were different at all, I just wanted to know what we had in front of us! He told us what each one was, and they were delicious – as was the cocktail that they gave us as a complementary treat and the extra portion of mille-feuilles as they said they were trying out a new recipe and asked for our opinion!

I would recommend afternoon tea at the Vicinity for the food, cocktails, service and view – and at £24.95 per person it’s not as expensive as some of the more lavish, luxurious London hotels, so it won’t blow the budget either.

Friday 30 September 2022

The best Christmas cake recipe for beginners

This Christmas cake recipe is so good, that I was asked which posh London shop I had bought it from – which was nice because it was only the second Christmas cake I’ve ever made! The recipe is from BBC Good Food:  it’s so easy, I would recommend it for beginners. And if you are new to making Christmas cakes there might be one thing you don’t realise – yes it’s still a couple of months until Christmas, but you should make it now!

Christmas cakes are traditionally soaked in booze and you ‘feed’ the cake regularly over an extended period – so making it in October, or even earlier, is ideal. Of course, you don’t have to use alcohol and a good alternative is tea – I am also tempted this year to experiment with a flavoured tea of some kind, so that my four year old can have some of the cake. Though I am also tempted to make this recipe the same way that I did last year and just keep it out of her way, because it was amazing!

Instead of sherry, brandy or rum, I used amaretto – because I already had a bottle bought on a whim, and it’s not something I really drink. It gave the cake a lovely flavour – even though I made it quite late in the year, on 1 December (though it didn’t get eaten until January, as most of our Christmas plans in 2021 were cancelled due to our first (and only, touch wood) bout of Covid!

When it came to decorating, time was once again an issue. I had made it in a square tin so covered the cake with fondant that I then coloured gold with a packet of gold dust that came with the icing, and then cut out white fondant snowflakes using a plunger cutter to decorate the top. Everyone who tried the cake thought it was very good – myself included, and I don’t really like Christmas cake – though the best comment was from my sister, who said it was so good she assumed I had bought it, from an expensive London shop. So I think from now on this might have to be my go-to Christmas cake recipe, even if I switch up what I feed it with and how I decorate it!

Friday 2 September 2022

Cherish Finden's Shiok - Expensive but worth it

Beautiful presentation, fantastic flavours but you will get a ‘shiok’ from the prices!

I had a £16 individual dessert in Bake Off Professionals star Cherish Finden’s new patisserie… and was it worth it? Find out what I thought of the Apple Tin below!

Cherish Finden is a celebrity chef known for her appearances as a judge on Great British Bake Off: The Professionals and as the pastry chef at London’s luxury Langham hotel. Her formidable demeanour combined with fabulous outfits and comments to the contestants that have launched countless memes have made her something of an icon, so when I read that she had opened a new patisserie just up the street from my office I decided to pay a visit.

Part of the Pan Pacific hotel but in a standalone building with its own entrance (so you don’t go into the hotel itself), Shiok! looks fairly unassuming from a distance, but as you get closer you can see rows and rows of perfectly formed sweet treats on the counter. There’s a seating area that gave off a peaceful, tranquil vibe - possibly because there was only one other couple in there on the weekday lunchtime when l visited. 

There are comfy chairs at the back and more formal hard chairs and little tables at the front, and the three staff hovering at the counter were friendly if a little intimidating - I watched one line up desserts in the display and check the distance between them with precision that the GBBO judges would have loved.

I spent some time admiring the display of treats, as much for their finesse and beauty as deciding which one I wanted to order. I have to admit having a bit of a ‘Shiok’ when I saw the price tags (this is not where the name comes from, and it apparently means ‘very tasty’, but perhaps it should be). Most of the patisserie was priced around the £15 mark and the one I chose was £16. Obviously aimed at the luxury market (I would say mainly tourists and business travellers) it is nonetheless an afternoon tea lover’s heaven. From traditional Singaporean biscuits to what looked like a chocolate tea pot, this is a feast for the eyes.

Cherish has revealed that the Apple Tin was inspired by her childhood where she would open a tin of lychees and eat them straight from the tin. Here, the tin itself is edible too- white chocolate printed with a design. Inside is caramel sponge, apple compote, apple slices and cinnamon crumble. Each mouthful was delicious, a perfect combination of flavours and textures, and at £16 it probably does scale up consistently from when you pay £50 for an afternoon tea for similar bite size patisserie (as the sandwiches and scones aren’t exactly the expensive part). Even do it was definitely a one off treat and not something I would spend that much on every week!

If you do get a chance to check out Shiok I recommend it - but don’t expect it to be cheap!

Sunday 28 August 2022

Woodcote Green Garden Centre Dobbies - New restaurant review

Many people don’t like change, especially when it’s something they are familiar and comfortable with.

So it’s not surprising that some people were a bit dismayed when the independent Woodcote Garden Centre in Wallington was taken over by the Dobbies chain. At first nothing changed, then I saw people on local Facebook groups complain various things were different and in their opinion not as good, and they had moved the gift section to make way for soft play.

That made me sit up and take notice straight away as a mum of a (then) three year old and living very close to the garden centre. So the first weekend that the soft play was open (last summer - July 2021) I arranged a play date with my daughter’s best friend and we went to check it out. Incidentally, I have reviewed the soft play over on my other blog Mini Moo Life - I thought it was great for younger children.

In terms of the garden centre overall and some of the comments I have seen online, I would have no idea whether the quality or choice of plants was any different as I am the least green fingered person you are ever likely to meet. It did look like something was missing though as there is a huge new area selling hot tubs; I can’t remember what was there before but am sure it wasn’t hot tubs. The outside play area is still there, with a climbing frame, slide and sand pit, and inside everything has moved around but it’s hard to tell what if anything is missing, apart from the Edinburgh Woollen Mill concession which I really liked (which went when EWM went into administration). 

There seems to be a much bigger toy area than previously which is both good and bad - great for gifts (in the past I remember it being mainly wooden toys, puzzles and Schleich animals and now they have everything from Peppa Pig toys to Lego as well) but I can’t see myself taking my daughter past that section without her wanting me to buy something!

The restaurant has also expanded significantly and has taken over a large section that used to house barbecues and garden furniture as well as it’s previous site. It’s also changed in that you no longer pay at the till when you order food and instead it’s table service. The menu didn’t look a million miles away from what the garden centre served previously but there were some additions. I decided to try a macaroni cheese toastie - I love macaroni cheese and have had it as a burger topping a few times but never in a sandwich! It was very rich and filling (definitely a bit of a carb overload) but quite enjoyable as a lunchtime treat.

Since I've been back, I've noticed there is a smaller menu than there used to be under the previous owners, but there are some interesting additions on offer like an afternoon tea (which I haven't tried yet).

We have been back to the garden centre many times since it changed hands, to buy plants, gifts, visit the soft play or go to the cafe, and to attend different events. For me, the fact that it has become part of the Dobbies chain is no bad thing; it has given us new opportunities and continues to offer everything we expect from a garden centre - but I appreciate that not everyone wants a garden centre to be as much a source of entertainment and general shopping as it is about plants!

Friday 5 August 2022

A Day Like No Otter Birthday Card

Until the last couple of years where my daughter has taken up pretty much all of my free time (in a good way!) I couldn't resist buying card making magazines when they have a set of rubber stamps on the cover that is something I haven’t got! This particular stamp was from a brilliant A4 sheet of clear stamps featuring different animals and puns relating to birthdays. This one is a picture of an otter that I stamped in black and a patch of grass that I also stamped in black and went over with a green Promarker pen.

The sentiment is two separate stamps, one saying ‘on your birthday’ and the other ‘have a day like no otter’, which I thought was cute!

Sunday 31 July 2022

Restaurant review - Lutyens Grill, The Ned, London

Since having our daughter the only time my husband and I seem to go out for a meal by ourselves is a birthday or anniversary, and we haven’t even managed that most of the time for the past few years, thanks to covid and limitations on free babysitting.

We managed to celebrate our first anniversary after the birth of our daughter (pre-pandemic) in style, going into London to dine at the Ned, a swanky private members club (with restaurants and bars that are open to the public) near Bank.

It’s also a hotel, but the rooms are a little out of our price range (!) at over £300 for the smallest ‘crash pad’ room going up to over £2,000 a night for their most luxurious suite. They also have a pool, spa, various restaurants, a jazz and cabaret club and more.

After opening in 2017 in the historic 1920/ building designed by Sir Edwin - ‘Ned’ - Lutyens that was the headquarters of Midland Bank, the Ned quickly became known as a celebrity haunt. It probably helped that the Ned was set up by one of the founders of Soho House - and it’s not often you get the chance to visit somewhere like that unless you are a member but the restaurants in the Ned are open to the public too. There is an Italian called Cecconi’s, the Nickel bar, which has American staples and cocktails, an American diner called Electric, Malibu Kitchen which has healthy Californian food and smoothies, Asia Pacific-inspired restaurant Kaia, Lutyens Grill which serves steaks and fish and the Parlour which is a jazz and cabaret bar.

I was tempted by most of them and knew my husband would prefer either steak or the American diner, but the latter didn’t seem posh enough for an anniversary meal so I booked Lutyens, and it didn’t disappoint.

The building itself is impressive and we walked through the bar to get to Lutyens - It looked really lively and vibrant. Lutyens itself was a lot quieter and much more traditional in feel with banquette sofas and wood-panelled walls. It used to be the bank manager’s office when this was the Midland Bank. The trolley service where meat is brought alongside your table to be carved adds to the old school - and dare I say it slightly stuffy - feel.

The food was top notch - I had a steak with a side of Mac and cheese and ‘happy anniversary’ was written on the plate with our dessert. It was definitely a restaurant to try but the prices were steep - more expensive than Hawksmoor, which is also a premium steak restaurant in central London, and one which overall we prefer. But I’d still be keen to go back and try some of the other restaurants in the Ned - and if I won the lottery stay in the hotel as well!

Friday 29 July 2022

Butlin's Bognor Regis restaurant reviews - part 2

Following on from this post about the restaurants at Butlin's Bognor Regis and the Dinearound plan, I've written a more up to date review, having returned to Butlin's some seven months later. We are in some of the same restaurants and tried some others, and I've answered some of the most common questions I see about the Butlin's meal plans.

Head over here to read the full reviews.

Sunday 10 July 2022

A beginner's guide to swishing

What is swishing? What to expect from a swishing event - and top tips to make the most of a swishing event!

When I first told someone I was going to a clothes swapping event they gave me a funny look and asked if it involved keys in a bowl. But swishing, to use its proper name, means keeping your clothes on - and doing your bit for sustainable fashion.

A clothes swapping event involves bringing along clothes that you don’t want any more, and swapping for ones that you do. No money changes hands, though you usually have to buy a ticket for the event - and it’s a great way to get a few (or a lot) of new items for your wardrobe.

Such events have become popular for the last few years and I suspect even more so now that we are facing the combination of heightened urgency to fight climate change and a cost of living crisis.

I’ve been to two swishing events and have booked for a third, with an organisation called A Stitch to Wear. They run events in and around Sutton in south London and they are brilliant! They are run in a particular way that might be different to other events so I’m going to share my top tips for getting the most out of a swishing event but my description of how it works may be different for other events.

What do you do at a swishing event?

You come to a swishing event with clothes you don’t want any more - at A Stitch to Wear, you are allowed to bring up to 10 items of clothing plus one item of homeware and one and unused makeup item or beauty product.

You are allocated points based on the brand of the clothing or item, which are written on a little card.

Then, you are free to rummage through the clothing rails - at this event they are arranged by size with separate clothing rails for different sizes. Pick out anything you want and take it to the desk to ‘pay’ with your points!

If you have points left over you can keep them until the next event and spend them there. 

A Stitch to Wear sells tickets (it’s £6.50 to go) for different time slots 45 minutes apart, so there aren’t too many people in the room at one time - and it means you don’t have to come right at the beginning in case all the good stuff is gone, because new clothes are added at each time slot. It means it comes down to pure luck as to what is there in each size at the time you go, but that’s part of the fun!

At the last event I went to my haul included clothes from Oliver Bonas, Mint Velvet, M&S, Primark, Gap, Crew Clothing Company and M&Co, plus two brands I hadn’t heard of which I looked up and seem to be mid-priced labels - Klass and W - and a more expensive brand I wasn’t familiar with called Hampton Republic. Not everything was for me as I picked up a few bits for my mum as well. You also get a hand made cloth tote bag at the events so I've got two of them now!

Top tips for getting the most out of a swishing event

  • If you’re just going for a browse and to try your luck then there’s no need for a game plan – but if you are on a mission to restock your wardrobe it may help to have a strategy – what I mean by that is, an idea of what you want to get. Are you in the market for clothes for this season (e.g. summer), or next (winter)? Do you want to aim for the best brands, perhaps labels you wouldn’t normally be able to afford to buy? Are you looking for a new outfit for a night out, or some work wear, or summer holiday gear?
  • The reason I mention this is because the event can involve a bit of fast-paced rummaging through rails with other people going through the same rack as you. The events I’ve been to have always been very good natured – no sharp elbows or grabbing something from under someone else’s nose – but it is very much a case of first come, first served. So if you have particular items or labels you are after, have that in mind, and do a quick sweep of each rail to see if you can spot anything quickly, before going back through and having a closer look.
  • It doesn’t matter what slot you book as clothes are restocked between events as well – but it makes sense to arrive at the start of your time slot and try to be near the front of the queue, then you get first dibs on whatever is there – and keep an eye out as the volunteers restock the rails as each person hands over their donations.
  • Take a rucksack or small shoulder bag that won’t get in the way as you will need your hands free to rummage
  • Take a large bag (I find the Sainsbury’s extra strong fold-up bags are the perfect size) to carry the clothes and items you want to buy. The first time I went, I draped clothes (still on their hangers) over one arm, and quickly found it difficult to keep browsing the rails with only one arm free (and the clothes were getting heavy). The second time I went, I took clothes off their hangers and left the hangers on the rails, and put each piece of clothing into the bag that I could easily carry in the crook of my elbow or put down on the floor while I rummaged.
  • Check the other size rails too. At the A Stitch to Wear events, clothes are arranged in pairs of sizes, so there are a couple of rails for 10-12, a couple for 14-16 and one for 18-plus, as well as separate areas for denim, bags, shoes and so on. It’s always worth checking the other rails in case items have ended up in the wrong place.
  • You can’t easily (or privately) try clothes on at the swap - but as they are free once you have paid the entry fee, I have no problem with using my points to buy something and seeing if it fits when I get home - and if not it can go to the charity shop or I can bring it back to the next swap!

Swishing events are really good fun and a nice way to change up your wardrobe at no more than the cost of your entry ticket. I’m currently loving my two floral maxi dresses from the last swap and have already bought a ticket to the next event in September!


Monday 27 June 2022

Purple Peacock Card

Here’s a card I made for a friend’s birthday using a set of toppers from Hunkydory. They have a membership club that is free to sign up for, and every so often you get an offer for a ‘free club gift’, a set that normally retails at £9.99 where you only have to pay postage of £2.99. You get several A4 pieces of printed card and four sheets of die cuts to press out, all on a particular theme. This theme was peacocks and I decided to buy the set.

I do find using these a little difficult however as I’m never quite sure what to do with them. The toppers are usually a picture with several frames and I never know whether to use just one frame or all of them, and the printed cards aren’t that practical for cutting out the picture from as it feels like you are then wasting the design on the card. So what I did this time was fold the A4 card in half to make the birthday card itself but again that feels a bit of a waste as I don’t need a design on the back of the card!

The Hunkydory website does have design ideas for using the set if you are stuck, but no instructions for how to make them. Most are quite straightforward though!

For this card I used one of the large peacock toppers and all three of the accompanying frames which I raised up at different levels with adhesive pads (though you can’t really see that from the photo). It’s for a friend who likes deep purple colours so I hope she liked it!

Wednesday 22 June 2022

Samsara Indian Restaurant, Cheam, Surrey

I don’t often do girls’ nights out ever since I became a mum - most of the time I am just too tired and don’t have the time to think about a social life.

So it’s great when someone else organises an evening out and invites me! It was a friend’s birthday so four of us went for a curry and cocktails at Samsara in Cheam, a restaurant I hadn’t been to before.

It's a fairly large restaurant but was very empty with only a few other people there, which is a shame as the food was good - though the cocktails weren't quite as good as I was hoping.

I normally play it very safe when it comes to curry (chicken korma every time!) but decided for once to try something new - though still a mild chicken dish with almonds and a sweeter taste! I had a chicken dakeswari, which the menu described as "tender pieces of grilled chicken, marinated with herbs, spices and ground almond. Very mildly spiced and garnished with mango pulp". It was very nice and creamy with a fruity flavour, and not too spicy at all, and accompanied by a very tasty peshwari naan.

As I wasn't driving I was looking forward to sampling the cocktail menu as Samsara also describes itself as a cocktail lounge. I didn't see anyone who had just gone there for drinks and I don't think I've ever had a cocktail in an Indian restaurant before as I would always go for wine. I started with a mango and peach fizz to complement the mango flavours of my meal, then thought that a White Russian would be a good substitute for dessert as it combined cream and coffee. One of my friends ordered the same drink, and they were both served in tumblers - not quite what I was expecting - but of different sizes, so one of us had a tall glass and the other a much shorter wider one. I'm no mixologist but my White Russian seemed a bit heavy on the cream, and not as nice as I had remembered them being.

We took admittedly quite a long time over dinner; we hadn't started particularly early and also had a lot of catching up to do, but it was a surprise when the waiters started hovering and making clear signs that they wanted us to pay the bill and leave. Eventually one came over and said it was 10pm and they were closing - which was surprising as the website said they were open until 11am. I can only assume that because they had been quiet that evening and were the last people there, they wanted to be able to close and head home.

Still, it was a fun night out with friends and good food, and nice to try somewhere local I hadn't been before - and to branch out from choosing a chicken korma for a change!

Sunday 22 May 2022

3D Dinosaur Cake - Children's Birthday Cakes

The lockdown in 2020 meant I didn’t post anything on my blog for several months, as I tried to juggle a full-time job with a toddler at home every day for nearly three months while nursery was shut. So I’ve only just realised that I never posted anything about her birthday cake in spring of 2020 – better late than never!

Sophie is a big fan of dinosaurs, and from a young age has been able to correctly identify dinosaurs to the extent that I think she already knows more types than I do! We have encouraged her love of dinosaurs through toys and books and also a green dinosaur-patterned beanbag for her room to counteract some of the pink! If I recall correctly, she actually asked for a dinosaur cake for her second birthday, and I was happy to oblige!

We held her birthday party at My Gym, where we go to a class every week – it’s a cross between gymnastics, exercise, games and play, and they do brilliant birthday parties where you get an hour of gym-based games and half an hour in the party room with food and drink, and of course cake. I had the option of providing my own cake so of course that’s what I did.

I wanted a cake that would actually look like a dinosaur – I saw some lovely ideas online of round cakes with dinosaurs on top (either made from icing or plastic toys), where the cake itself was decorated to look like the dinosaur habitat. But I wanted instant recognition and wow factor, and decided it had to be a three-dimensional dinosaur. Luckily, it was easier to make one than I thought, thanks to this brilliant tutorial on WikiHow!

I baked a round vanilla sponge cake and then cut it up according to the tutorial instructions, then covered it in green roll-out fondant. I used yellow fondant to add some spots, and a darker green modelling paste – a kind of icing that is stiffer, so better to use when you are making something that needs to stand up – to make the spines along the dinosaur back. It wasn’t difficult or even massively time-consuming at all and I was really pleased with the finished cake, and I think the kids at the party all enjoyed it!

Sunday 15 May 2022

Passion Fruit Curd Mother's Day Cupcakes

I made these cupcakes for Mother’s Day for my mum, my mother-in-law - and me!

I’ve developed quite a taste for passion fruit recently - Passoa passion fruit liqueur is delicious and could definitely be used in baking, but since my four year old daughter was going to have these cupcakes as well I wasn’t going to use alcohol. Instead, I got the passionfruit flavour from a combination of yogurt - papaya, passion fruit and mango flavour, from Morrisons - and passion fruit curd (The Cherry Tree brand, from Ocado).

I wanted a light cupcake using yogurt in the cake mix and these were so light and airy, they probably aren’t robust enough to put a spoonful of curd into the middle but I did anyway (it just makes them a bit messy when you eat them!).

Here is the recipe I used:

125g margarine or butter, softened

150g sugar

2 eggs

150ml yogurt - I used papaya, passion fruit and mango flavour from Morrison's 

225g self-raising flour

1 heaped tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

For the filling:

Passionfruit curd - I used the Cherry Tree brand from Ocado

For the icing:

500g icing sugar

250g butter, softened

Passionfruit flavouring to taste - for example you could add a spoonful of the passionfruit curd, or passionfruit liqueur if the cakes are for adults.

Preheat oven to 180C. Cream the butter and the sugar then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the yogurt, then fold in the flour, baking powder and salt.

Spoon into cupcake cases and bake for around 15-20 minutes depending on the size until the tops are golden brown.

Allow to cool, then using a teaspoon make a small well in each cupcake and add a spoonful of passionfruit curd.

To make the buttercream, cream together the butter and icing sugar and add a spoonful of passionfruit curd, or a few drops of passionfruit liqueur if for adults only - you may need to adjust the quantity of icing sugar if the mixture is too runny.

Using a piping bag and a nozzle, pipe swirls onto the top of the cupcakes. 

I decorated these cupcakes in different ways:

SuckUK customisable cookie stamp - this is a wooden stamp that comes with a plastic disc and little letters, that you insert into the disc to make the message of your choice. You can stamp this onto a cookie before it has baked, or stamp onto a circle of fondant icing, as I did here. I've had this piece of equipment for ages but this was the first time I had used it.

It was quite fiddly to get the letters into the right places, and took a bit of trial and error to work out if they were all the right way around; there isn't a huge amount of space for a message but I managed to get 'happy' across the top, 'mothers' day along the bottom and 'day' in the middle. However, there was only one of most letters and not enough to spell out 'happy' for instance as there was only one 'p', so I had to stamp the missing letter separately. It didn't quite look the same and I was surprised given that 'happy birthday' would be, to me, the most obvious message to use on the cookie stamp that there weren't enough letters to make it! Then I piped some small buttercream flowers around the edge.

Wilton Make Any Message Letterpress Set - this was also something I received as a gift several years ago. The letters are bigger than on the SukUK stamp so I just pressed 'mum' into a circle of fondant icing and placed it on top of each cupcake with a little buttercream. Then I piped some buttercream flowers along the top and bottom.

Piped flowers: I used two different colours of buttercream (pink and purple, though the latter looks a bit grey in this photo), and two different nozzles to pipe a swirl and some smaller flowers onto each cupcake and added some edible silver balls on top.