Tuesday 31 December 2013

2013 - the year that was

Happy new year!
How was your 2013? This is how it went for me....

  • I joined a choir, as I loved singing in the choir at school and thought it would be fun to do again. I sing soprano in Barts choir, London's largest amateur choir; we rehearse on Monday nights and one Saturday a month and performed three concerts over the year.
  • While January is often a time for healthy eating it didn't stop me making this awesome deep-dish pizza, though I have also made plenty of Slimming World recipes over the year.
  • I also posted this dog basket cake on my blog, which I had made the year before in a cake decorating class.


  • I arranged a surprise afternoon tea at the Langham hotel in London for a friend's birthday. She only knew that I had invited her and her daughter to lunch and was given the hotel address at the last minute; when she arrived she found two of our other friends who had travelled up from Cheltenham and Hampshire as well. I chose the Langham because the birthday girl is vegan and the hotel offered an entire vegan afternoon tea menu, which was amazing, though I had the regular afternoon tea menu.

  •  I spent Valentine's Day at home with my boyfriend and cooked us dinner, including this lovely dessert - chocolate mousse in a chocolate cup with an edible spoon!

  •  I also made these Elvis cupcakes with banana, peanut butter and bacon, which tasted a lot better than you might think!

  •  My boyfriend and I had a wonderful few days in Lapland, husky sledding, snow mobiling and staying in a glass igloo, though unfortunately we didn't get to see the northern lights (which had been the main aim of the trip!). The food in the half board lodge where we were staying left a lot to be desired but it was a fabulous holiday, albeit a short one.

  •  I also made this "pigs in mud" cake which went down very well at work and was featured on our company intranet, and has also proved my most popular blog post to date, with over 23,300 hits, which is amazing!

  •  Easter saw me cook and bake quite a few things but I was particularly pleased with these surprise Easter egg cakes, and everyone I gave one to loved them. 

    • April

      •  The month began with my boyfriend's birthday; we went to the top of the Shard which had only just opened, and I made him a giant hamburger birthday cake.

      •  My own birthday was later in the month and I turned 34; I had a Russian doll themed party and made a cake, cupcakes, cookies and savoury food around that theme.

      •  I spent my birthday mucking out the animals at London Zoo! My boyfriend got me the "be a zookeeper for a day" experience at London Zoo for Christmas and as I wanted to wait until the weather was nicer, I decided to do it on my birthday. I shovelled straw in the giraffe enclosure, scrubbed down the penguin pool and hand-fed several animals including giraffes, anteaters and lemurs!

      •  My choir performed its first concert of the year; we sang Faure's Requiem at the Royal Festival Hall on London's South Bank.

      • My boyfriend and I took a cookery class at the Atelier des Chefs in London and made burgers, potato wedges and onion rings and ate the meal we had prepared afterwards. By chance nobody else had booked the same class so we had a private lesson, which was brilliant!
      • For her birthday my sister wanted to see the Rocky Horror Show so as well as going along in fancy dress as Magenta, I made her this themed birthday cake.

      • My boyfriend's cousin got married and asked me to make some cupcakes for her wedding reception. I tried out a few techniques including making a cupcake bouquet and different types of sugar flowers, and was really pleased with the way they turned out.


      • I'd struggled with making cake pops for a while so in June I took a class at the Make Lounge and finally got the hang of how to make them. We decorated them in different styles - I particularly liked the animal ones.

      •  I met Ms Cupcake, author and proprietor of a successful vegan bakery in Brixton, at an event in June. It was a vegan potluck so we were all asked to make a sweet or savoury dish. I made the chocolate mint cupcakes from Ms Cupcake (Melissa Morgan)'s book, which had just been released. I was very nervous when she said it was the first time she had ever eaten a cake someone else (other than her staff) had made from her recipe - but luckily she thought it was very good!
      • I felt like I'd finally mastered macarons, albeit with a little help from a packet mix!

      •  I was also quite pleased with these cake pops that I decorated to look like characters from the Chronicles of Narnia:


      • I'm interested in photography and love animals so the zoo photography lesson that my boyfriend and I took together was brilliant. We had professional tuition and got up close to lots of the animals.
      • My choir gave its second concert of the year; we performed Bach's Magnificat and Vivaldi's Gloria in Cadogan Hall in London's Sloane Square.
      • I attended my first Clandestine Cake Club. The theme was vintage so I made a retro Battenburg cake as I remembered eating it as a child.

      • I was also invited to my first blogger event, and celebrated Christmas in July with the Dot Com Gift Shop.

      • To celebrate the 100th birthday of Aston Martin my boyfriend and I took part in the centenary rally, with 100 cars driving 100 miles. It was great to be a part of it and see vintage vehicles and modern Aston Martins all driving along in a line. We started at Stoke Park in Buckinghamshire, and ended by coincidence at Wilton House, the stately home in the village I grew up in. We had afternoon tea there, then stayed with my parents who came to the Wilton House car show the next day.
      • I also did a llama trek - a walk through the woods with a llama on a lead!
      • In the spirit of summer I made these sex on the beach cocktail cupcakes:

      • I guest hosted the Food 'n' Flix blog challenge for the first time and chose When Harry Met Sally as the movie.
      • The best thing that happened this month though was the fact that my boyfriend finally moved in with me :-)  We are living in my house at the moment and planning to buy a much bigger place together next year.

      • My boyfriend had just started a new job so couldn't take any time off work, but I had a lot of annual leave to use up. I decided to make the most of the fact that I was going on holiday without him by going somewhere he didn't want to visit, so I spent a week in Cambodia, seeing the Angkor Wat temples, and on the way home stopped off in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, where I went up the Petronas towers.

      • I also went back to Cambridge for my 15 year university reunion. It was great catching up with old friends and revisiting our old haunts, and we had a black tie dinner in the formal dining hall.
      • Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker asked me to make a cake for her pink princess themed birthday party and this is what I came up with - what's more, it's vegan:


      • I was thrilled to discover that a recipe for toffee popcorn cupcakes that I had submitted to a competition earlier in the year had been chosen for inclusion in a charity cookbook. My recipe was published in Macmillan's Little Book of Treats, alongside recipes from Mary Berry, Rachel Khoo, Gizzi Erskine, Antonio Carluccio and others.

      •  Caroline Makes was also chosen as best food blog for October in a monthly competition run by Capricorn. My prize was a year's supply of goat's cheese! It was almost Christmas before I received the vouchers - it turns out that a year's supply equates to 100g every two weeks, which is pretty good. I've yet to find somewhere that stocks Capricorn goat's cheese where I can use the vouchers, though as soon as I do, I'm looking forward to trying out some recipes!
      • I sent this gift box of get well cookies to a friend who had an operation on her foot

      • I finally had the chance to visit my company's head office in Baltimore, USA. I spent an enjoyable but busy week meeting colleagues, then took the following week as holiday. My boyfriend flew out to join me and we did some sightseeing in Baltimore, including a visit to Charm City Cakes from the TV show Ace of Cakes, and then hired a car and drove to Richmond in Virginia, followed by North Carolina. There we had a behind the scenes tour of a Nascar racetrack and visited one of the locations from the Hunger Games film as well as America's largest house, the Biltmore estate. Finally we spent a few days in Washington DC visiting lots of monuments and museums and of course a lot of restaurants!

      • My choir gave its final concert of the year, Brahms' German Requiem, in the Royal Albert Hall. It was a fantastic venue and an amazing experience to sing there in front of thousands of people, including my parents, my boyfriend and his mum.
      • I went to my second Clandestine Cake Club meeting, which had a bonfire night theme, so I made this toffee apple bonfire cake.

      •  This opera gateau is worth highlighting as it tasted absolutely gorgeous, though it was a bit fiddly to make!
      •  I threw a Doctor Who themed party when we gathered to watch the 50th anniversary episode. My menu included K9 hot dogs, fishfingers in "custard", adipose made of marshmallows, dalek cupcakes, cybermen cookies and sonic screwdriver cocktails.



      I also made some bath fizzers for my boyfriend's Secret Santa at work; they were surprisingly easy to make and worked really well!

      Finally I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker, who is my co-host of Alphabakes, and of course to thank everyone who has taken part this year. Hosting the challenge has been great fun and it's been fascinating seeing what you have all come up with. There are a few more letters of the alphabet to come, which include U, Y and Z, so that should be interesting!

      Monday 30 December 2013

      Meal Planning 2014 - Week 1

      It isn't technically 2014 yet but last week was week 52 of 2013 so I guess that makes this week 1 of 2014! I thought I had done some menu planning and realised last night that I hadn't at all so this is all a bit last minute- oops!

      First day back at work after having been away visiting family over Christmas, so there isn't a whole lot of food in the house for instance (no yogurt which is a breakfast staple for instance) - the online grocery shop is coming tomorrow as I get a half day for new year's eve.

      Breakfast porridge with fruit
      Lunch leftover turkey sandwich (of course)
      Dinner fishfingers and chips from the freezer

      Breakfast porridge with fruit
      Lunch  New Year's Eve so we get a half day at work, so I will want something I can eat quickly and go, so I will have a sandwich
      Dinner As my boyfriend and I had a busy Christmas with family, we will spend new year's eve at home together. I got the Lakeland molecular gastronomy kit for my birthday and haven't gotten around to using it yet so will use that to whip up something unusual for dinner!

      New year's day - bank holiday
      Breakfast yogurt
      Lunch baked potatoes
      Dinner having my boyfriend's mum over for dinner so I'm making a curry followed by creme brulee cheesecake to try out the cook's blowtorch I got for Christmas

      Breakfast  yogurt
      Lunch sandwich

      Dinner spaghetti and cheese-stuffed meatballs

      Breakfast yogurt.
      Lunch sandwich
      Dinner leftover mashed potato with whatever we have in the freezer eg fish in breadcrumbs

      Breakfast  yogurt
      Lunch homemade broccoli and stilton soup for me, tomato soup for him
      Dinner steak and chips. Dessert: Heath bar pie.

      Breakfast Eggy bread
      Lunch pasta bake
      Dinner sticky BBQ chicken with Slimming World chips, which I have had on the meal plan twice recently and didn't make either time!

      Sunday 29 December 2013

      Restaurant Reviews - Washington D.C.

      My USA holiday with my boyfriend in November ended with a few days in Washington D.C. We drove about 8 hours from Asheville, North Carolina, arriving at Washington Dulles airport to drop the car off. 

      After dropping the car we stayed the night here, as we were planning to visit the air and space museum out by the airport.We were exhausted so didn't want to go out for dinner, and the hotel doesn't have any dining facilities itself so they helpfully provide a folder of restaurant and takeaway menus. The hotel was fine- we chose it because of the location but had mixed experience with the reception service. They run a free shuttle to the nearby air and space museum and asked when we arrived and before breakfast the next day about the shuttle and were told we could go at any time and to just let them know when we were ready. When we wanted to go, the driver said the receptionist was wrong and he ran to a schedule and we had to wait for 20 minutes, which was really annoying as we had a very full itinerary to get through. Later though, when we wanted a taxi to get to our hotel in the centre of Washington D.C., the receptionist insisted on printing out directions from Google for us, which was really nice (and useful as we had several taxi drivers who didn't know the way to major hotels and tourist landmarks!).

      Breakfast was fairly bland but fine - there was bread and croissants, a few hot items like sausage and potatoes and a waffle iron which you pour ready made mixture into and cook your own waffles. In fact we liked it so much after our previous trip to America I got a waffle maker to use at home! Mine is much smaller and not as good though.

      You eat on paper plates with plastic cutlery which wasn't that nice but I guess it means they can keep the prices down as they don't need to employ staff to clear the tables or wash up, as you just throw your own plate away when you are done. Still, breakfast was included in the price of the room and it wasn't bad at all.

      Romano's Pizzeria and Deli

      We chose this place from the folder of menus provided in our room, as we had been driving all day and didn't want to go out. There was a good selection of pizzas and other items like pasta available, and it was delivered promptly directly to our hotel room. When I ordered, I was told the total price over the phone but when the delivery arrived, the bill was actually for a few dollars more, which was a bit confusing. My Hawaiian pizza was good, but by this point I probably would have eaten anything!

      This is part of the Smithsonian series of museums but located near Washington Dulles airport. It took us about two and a half hours to go around; there is plenty to see including the space shuttle Discovery, Apollo 11 command module, a Blackbird spy plane, the Enola Gay - the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima - and Concorde.

      The only place to eat here is McDonalds - a very large outlet that appears to be working in partnership with the museum, as the only eatery in the other air and space museum on the National Mall in Washington DC is also a McDonalds (though the other Smithsonian museums have different options). There's nothing around the museum either so if you don't bring a packed lunch this is the only choice - which I don't have a problem with at all. In fact I quite like seeing how McDonalds in different countries have slightly different menu items - ice tea is a popular choice in America, and there were lots of burgers I didn't recognise like a grilled onion cheddar burger and a southern style crispy chicken sandwich.

      As an aside, I saw this mobile cupcake van in Washington D.C. but it had driven away before we got close enough for me to see if it was actually selling cupcakes. I love the idea though!

      We visited all the famous monuments in Washington D.C. like the Lincoln Memorial, but could not go in the Washington Monument as it is closed for repairs, and could not go in the White House either (foreigners have to ask their embassy for tours and the British Embassy is not accepting any tour requests at the moment) so had to make do with looking at it from the outside.

      We still got some lovely pictures though - this is the Washington Monument reflected at dusk in the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

      Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant

       That evening - our first in Washington D.C.- we were already exhausted from sightseeing so wanted to eat somewhere close to our hotel, the Marriott Courtyard Convention Center- and you can't get much closer than this. The Gordon Biersche bar and restaurant is adjacent to/underneath the hotel, and there is a door leading directly from the lobby so you don't even need to go outside (though it also has a normal entrance on the street if you are not staying in the hotel). I'd also had a look at the menu as one was provided in our hotel room, and checked reviews on TripAdvisor, so thought this would be good - and it didn't disappoint. I had a mango mojito which cost $8.50 and wasn't that great - I wished I'd had a coke with unlimited refills! The food more than made up for it though. I had the bistro steak medallions served with garlic mashed potato and blue cheese sauce on the side. It was excellent - not cheap at $20.95 but good quality steak and very tender, and the garlic mash was awesome.

      I'm sure you can probably guess by now what my boyfriend ordered- yes, the burger. But this wasn't just any burger - kobe beef, which he said was excellent ($13.95). There was a choice of plain or garlic fries, and I had read some TripAdvisor reviews where diners raved about the garlic fries so he decided to try those. Unfortunately he had to leave half as he said they were drenched in garlic and it was far too overpowering. This is from someone who loves garlic bread and orders it at every opportunity; I tried one of the fries and agreed it was just a bit too much.

       For dessert he had the chocolate brownie - another failsafe favourite. It came with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream and was drizzled with chocolate and caramel sauce - we couldn't fault the presentation. It also tasted very good and at $6.50 wasn't badly priced.

      They also offer mini taster portions of desserts and I was tempted to order two or three, but I was really full and knew I couldn't manage that. I had the mini version of the ultimate double chocolate cake, which came in a large shot glass- it was actually the perfect size for such a rich dessert. It only cost $2.25 so I wasn't expecting much, but this was amazing: chocolate cake layered with chocolate mousse and a fudge topping. Yum!

      National Museum of American History - Stars and Stripes Cafe

      We had lunch while visiting this museum (part of the Smithsonian). Unfortunately a lot of it was closed for renovation and I was a little underwhelmed by a lot of the remaining exhibits that we did see, though some were very good, such as the collection of First Ladies' inauguration ballgowns - this is Michelle Obama's, below.

      We ate lunch in the museum's cafe and did expect it to be expensive, but as we were staying in a hotel we couldn't bring a packed lunch, and as we had a packed itinerary we didn't want to go somewhere outside of the museum. I had a slice of prawn pizza and a coke - I wanted a cherry coke but the fountain was empty- and my boyfriend had a slice of margherita and lemonade- which came to $23. It was nice, but not that nice!

      Shake Shack

      We had dinner at Shake Shack that evening as it was near our hotel and again we were pretty exhausted! We had been to the one in London so knew that we liked it. It's fast food but a good standard; you get a buzzer when you order and are supposed to go to the counter and collect your food when it goes off, but the server brought our food to us. I had a cheeseburger and the cheesy fries which I thought were particularly good, followed by a frozen custard 'concrete', which was nice but not as good as I was hoping. We had the s'mores flavour but it tasted mainly of chocolate with a few biscuit pieces in the bottom and a little bit of marshmallow on top - I preferred the chocolate brownie one I had in London.

      Finally on our last day in Washington D.C. we had a tour of the Capitol building and visited Arlington Cemetery.

      Ella's Wood Fired Pizza

      We hurried back to our hotel after visiting Arlington and had about an hour before we needed to go to the airport, so once again chose a restaurant that was around the corner from our hotel. Ella's is a nice Italian/ pizza restaurant that has options including gluten free and vegan. I had a calzone which was delicious, and the lemon tart for dessert which was also extremely good.while my boyfriend had a margherita pizza. It was a great final meal before we left America to return home.