Saturday 31 May 2014

Restaurant Review - The Rainbow on the Lake, Steeple Langford

My family - that is, my parents - always like to go to the same local pub-restaurant for birthday and celebratory meals, but when it was my birthday recently I decided to go somewhere different. I knew though that it had to be more of a pub than a restaurant and no more than about 15 minutes drive from my parents house - I did want to go to a very fancy restaurant called Howards' House but the rest of my family weren't keen. I made up for it by going to a posh restaurant in London with my boyfriend!

So for the lunch with my family I chose The Rainbow on the Lake in Steeple Langford, near Salisbury in Wiltshire. I was swayed mainly by the beautiful photo on their website!

When we arrived, the first impression was of a fairly nondescript building from the outside and traditional pub inside-  until you walk into a large raised conservatory area with outdoor decking and a wonderful view over the fields and the lake.

The pub's website only showed a Mothers' Day menu, even though that was about 6 weeks previously, so I rang and asked what sort of food they had. I was told "all the usual roasts and a full menu besides". We had a couple of very fussy people in our group who only like a limited number of what I call traditional pub meals and while I didn't want to make the person on the other end of the phone go through the entire menu, I said "Do you do burgers for instance?" and was told "yes of course". So imagine the disappointment when we sat down and saw the very limited menu with no burger or anything similar. My dad tends to have either steak or ham, eggs and chips and neither of those appeared on the menu either; he ended up having lasagne which he wasn't very thrilled about as he had eaten canneloni the night before, but there was really nothing else on the menu he wanted. He brightened visibly when he was asked if he wanted chips with it and when the food came, he said the lasagne was excellent. It did look very good- clearly homemade and packed with meat.

My boyfriend who is even more fussy had been looking forward to a burger or otherwise would have ordered steak or chicken; there wasn't a single chicken dish on the menu, even among the roasts - which were pork, beef and lamb. He ordered the roast beef and again I was a bit uncomfortable as it was literally the only thing on the menu he would have eaten and I didn't know what we would have done if they had run out!

My boyfriend had ordered his roast beef well done, but it's difficult to do that well on thinly sliced meat. Even so it was dry and curling at the edges, and the meat itself was very fatty so he left about half of it. He said the roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings that came with it were very good at least.

My sister and I both had fish - I think sea bream but I should have written it down - on a crayfish risotto. It was beautifully presented and very well cooked; I felt like I was eating in a posh restaurant. My mum's skate wing - which she chose because she had never had skate before - lifted off the bone easily and was a big hit.

My sister and I had ordered the same thing but when the food came to the table, the waitress only had four meals and said "The chef only cooked one of the sea bream, I'm really sorry - yours will be out in a few minutes". I can only imagine there was some sort of miscommunication and he didn't realise two had been ordered, so I was left without a main courses. It wasn't too long before it came luckily - my family were maybe a third of the way through their main courses - and the waitress did ask if I would like anything else in the meantime, but I said no. It was quite disappointing though as we weren't a particularly large group - 5 people - to find that one of the main courses had been forgotten.

The desserts were very good and again beautifully presented. I had a creamy lemon posset, my sister had two large scoops of ice cream - lemon sorbet and ginger, which is quite unusual and nice to see on a menu rather than the standard flavours. My boyfriend had the chocolate brownie which was warm and gooey and came with a choice of cream or ice cream.

We had quite a mixed reaction to the restaurant overall. I loved it - I thought the food was excellent both in terms of presentation and taste and liked the fact that the menu was quite upmarket, more like a restaurant than a pub, and my sister agreed. My dad and my boyfriend however were disappointed that the menu didn't have more traditional pub classics - so I guess you can't please everyone! We all agreed though that the view was lovely and it was a very pleasant place to be.

Friday 30 May 2014

Heart-Shaped Cake Balls

I described in a previous post how I made my own Rolo chocolates from a mould provided by the Dot Com Gift Shop. They also sent me a heart-shaped mould and some heart-shaped petit four cases to review.

I decided not to make chocolates this time however and instead make cake pops. Usually these are on sticks but they taste so delicious I don't see why you couldn't just make them as bite-sized nibbles and enjoy them that way. I had made a chocolate cake that was part of the same project, which you will be able to read about shortly, and had to trim the cake a bit. So I had some leftover cake trimmings which I crumbled up into a bowl.

I mixed it with some chocolate buttercream to make a dough.

Simply press the mixture into the moulds and place in the fridge for a little while to firm up.

As the mould is silicon it is completely flexible, making it very easy to turn the shapes out. You could also dip them in melted chocolate to coat them.

The Dot Com Gift Shop also sent me these mini heart-shaped petit four cases, which are just the right size to use with the mould.

Simply place the cake shapes or your chocolates into the cases to serve.

Disclaimer: I was sent these products free of charge by the Dot Com Gift Shop. I was not asked to write a positive review and all opinions are my own.

Thursday 29 May 2014

Homemade Rolo Chocolates

The Dot Com Gift Shop sent me these two chocolate moulds to review. If you haven't been to their website before, I urge you to check it out. The Dot Com Gift shop has a range of items for the home and garden ranging from cake stands and chocolate moulds to lunch boxes to candles and cushions. I've bought several things from the site before both for myself and as gifts, and last summer was invited to preview their Christmas range.

It took me a little while to get around to using the moulds as I had a particular project in mind, which you will hear more about later. I found the moulds so easy to use and I love the way they are packaged (above) - I think these would make a really nice gift.

I decided to use the round moulds to make homemade Rolos. I melted some chocolate and poured a little into each mould so it just covered the bottom, and used the back of a spoon to spread it around the sides. Don't make the layer on the bottom too thin as you want it to hold, but you need to leave yourself plenty of space inside the mould for the filling. Place the mould in the fridge for the chocolate to set.

I used a tin of Carnation Caramel for the filling; it is thick and not too runny and perfect for making these. You need about half a teaspoon or even a little less in each mould.

Melt some more chocolate and allow it to cool so it is still runny but not too hot. Pour into the chocolate moulds until they are filled and place again in the fridge to set.

When set, turn out of the mould. The mould is silicon so you can easily bend it to push the chocolates out.

When you bite into one, the caramel inside is still runny. These are perfect and remind me a lot of Rolo chocolates. They would make a lovely gift; I used them on top of a cake!

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Restaurant Review: Burger And Shake

Restaurant name: Burger & Shake
Location: Marchmont Street, London - between Russell Square and Euston
Description: Diner style with casual tables in booths and tiles on the walls with and a varied but meat-heavy and not particularly diet-friendly menu ranging from jalapeno burgers to buffalo wings to chilli dogs and pulled pork sandwiches. Oh, and there's a salad. The restaurant is quite small, nestled among boutiques and cafes on London's trendy Marchmont Street.
Reason for visit: Dinner with a friend who lives near here; she recently moved so we wanted to try somewhere new and local.
I ate: pulled pork burger, £8.50. I love pulled pork but have never tried it in a burger before so couldn't resist.
My companions ate: Cheeseburger, £7.50, and vegetarian burger, £7.75, which consists of a large portobellow mushroom, halloumi cheese (though she is vegan so skipped this), plus lettuce, tomato, cucumber, coriander oil and mayo (again not for the vegans). The only other vegetarian dishes on the menu are side orders- mac and cheese, jalapeno peppers, fries and coleslaw, all of which together would make a meal, but other than the fries none of them are suitable for vegans.

The food was: My burger was excellent, from the brioche bun to the shredded pork in BBQ sauce - the taste complemented the juicy burger perfectly. My friends enjoyed their meals too. None of us ordered the milkshakes though, which given the name I imagine is a speciality here.
The atmosphere/service was: There was a nice level of bustle which comes from being a relatively small restaurant with people coming and going - it's not the sort of place you linger after a meal, and we were going on to the cinema afterwards - so it is the perfect place to grab dinner first. The waitress was friendly and we didn't have to wait long for our food.
Price range/value for money: Good; while the fries cost extra, there are two sizes - £1.95 for small and £2.95 for large, so for an extra two quid you can't really complain, and the burgers are large and very filling. A standard burger is £6.50 which is pretty good for a burger bar like this in central London.
Would I recommend it? Yes, it was a nice place- my first visit and it would be nice to see a couple more of these open in other parts of London. I definitely recommend the pulled pork burger which you don't see on menus very often.

Monday 26 May 2014

Meal Planning Monday 2014 - week 22

I've just started sessions with a personal trainer who has recommended a few changes to my diet as well. Obviously I didn't tell her about the cake... but as I've said before, just because I make and blog about cake doesn't mean I eat it all! Anyway, her main comment was that I should be eating protein - and only protein - for breakfast. So the low-fat yogurts I've been eating are no good as they are full of sugar, and I don't need carbs at that time of day (in her opinion). After a protein-filled breakfast I should be eating a salad for lunch - I said I often had a pasta salad or cous cous (or more often a sandwich) and she said no carbs! Salad with lots of protein like chicken or fish is her recommendation.

I honestly don't know how long I will be able to stick to that, but I do want to make a real effort. In the space of three days last week I had my first personal training session and did two classes at the gym which were far more punishing than my usual regime (and then on the third day, came home and ate a Kit Kat afterwards- nobody's perfect!). But on my personal trainer's advice I had a protein-only breakfast at work on Thursday and Friday - I poached two eggs in the microwave in the office kitchen and ate them with smoked salmon. They were absolutely delicious and it was a very good way to start the day! Best of all, I wasn't even hungry by midday when I am usually starving and often have a mid-morning snack as well. So I am going to get back in to planning breakfasts and lunches rather than just dinners as I have been doing recently.

Monday- bank holiday
Breakfast: yogurt or skip breakfast and have a lie in!
Lunch: homemade pizza
Dinner: saveloy and sausage and batter in chips I was going to make last week but didn't

Breakfast: poached eggs and smoked salmon
Lunch: chicken salad with mango and feta cheese
Dinner: I might do a gym class after work so will be home late and it's easiest to have a Weightwatchers ready meal

Breakfast:  poached eggs and smoked salmon
Lunch:  Baked potato with tuna
Dinner: turkey steak in a hot and spicy glaze with mashed potato for him, lamb chop for me

Breakfast: yogurt
Lunch: Baked sweet potato with fat -free plain yogurt flavoured with garlic and herbs
Dinner: Out seeing Star Trek accompanied by an orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall

Breakfast: yogurt
Lunch: chicken salad

Dinner: pork and chorizo burgers from Pampered Chef recipe card

Lunch beans on toast or similar
Dinner At my parents'

Lunch birthday meal out with my mum
Dinner either out with friends or back home late so will probably throw some pasta in a pot.

Sunday 25 May 2014

Sister Cute Rabbit Birthday Card

I made this birthday card for my sister as she likes rabbits. I used some printed backing paper which has the word sister (and sissy, I've just noticed!) in different colours and fonts and added a puffy rabbit sticker and a bow. I also added some coloured round gems in the bottom left and top right corners, though they don't show up too well in this photo. You can get all sorts of printed backing papers which are great for cards like this.

Saturday 24 May 2014

The Most Important Breakfasts In History – Free Recipe Book Download

My breakfast al desko

Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day but sometimes it can be the hardest to make interesting. I’m sure most people do the same thing as me – grab the same thing every day as they are in a hurry before work. In fact I bring my breakfast into work and eat it at my desk before other people get in, and usually take a low fat yogurt or some cereal. I’ve recently been making more of an effort though and put together my own breakfast pot, with a layer of Dorset Cereals muesli on the bottom, then some fat-free Greek yogurt with a little Splenda and some tinned or fresh fruit on top. By the time I get to work the yogurt has softened the muesli a little and it tastes delicious

I recently started seeing a persona trainer in the gym however, who told me that I should be eating protein for breakfast, and didn’t particularly need carbs first thing. She was especially keen that I cut out sugar, and pointed out that low fat yogurts are often full of sugar and there is sugar in the cereal as well (even if it isn’t a particularly ‘sugary’ one like Frosties- which was my favourite breakfast as a child).

At the weekends I often make brunch rather than breakfast and my boyfriend would be perfectly happy if I made him a bacon sandwich every Saturday and every Sunday. I don’t think fried streaky bacon (it has to be streaky, or it won’t crisp up enough) is particularly healthy though and I get bored of doing the same thing all the time so I try to come up with different ideas, which you will see from my Meal Planning Monday posts.

I was interested therefore when I was contacted by an organisation called Send a Cow with a free ebook of breakfast recipes. The book, called The Most Important Meals of Their Lives, features the breakfasts eaten by the likes of Einstein, Edison, Rosa Parks, Mother Theresa and the Apollo 11 crew. It was created to raise awareness of the importance of breakfast in helping children in the poorest parts of Africa achieve their true potential. The government will be doubling all the money that the charity raises until June 30th so you still have time to donate to help this good cause.

Jane Austen's breakfast

 Researchers at Send a Cow poured painstakingly over hundreds of historical records as well as speaking to experts, inspecting museum archives and analysing the personal correspondence and belongings of several famous individuals to find evidence of what they ate. The result is a collection of 18 recipes eaten or inspired by some of the world’s greatest pioneers. As Send a Cow puts it, What if Einstein hadn’t had his breakfast the day he cracked the theory of relativity? Or if Edison had skipped his brekkie the morning he, quite literally, had that light bulb moment? Would they have made those ground breaking discoveries on empty stomachs? Breakfast might be the most important meal of the day, but the dishes that fuelled the greats to change the world can arguably be considered as some of the most important meals of all time.

Some of the recipes included in The Most Important Meals Of Their Lives eBook:
1.     Albert EinsteinFried eggs and honey, with crisp rolls (purportedly eaten by Einstein during his time living in Caputh, Germany from 1929 – 1932)
2.     Rosa Parks: ‘Featherlite’ pancakes (when a cache of personal papers belonging to the great civil rights activist were auctioned, among them was an envelope with a recipe for “featherlite pancakes” written on the back)
3.     Mahatma GandhiPorridge and cocoa, goat’s milk (Gandhi spent a great deal of time experimenting with food to find the perfect diet. Famously a vegetarian, one-time fruitarian, and drinker of goat’s milk, records show that Gandhi was known to have often eaten a simple breakfast of porridge and cocoa)
4.     Florence NightingaleKedgeree (Nightingale took particular interest in the diets of both her patients and herself. She enjoyed food, one of her few pleasures once she had begun to suffer from ill health and spent a lot of time confined to her home. In particular, Florence Nightingale was known to be fond of curry)
5.     Winston ChurchillPoached egg, toast with jam and butter, cold meats, grapefruit, whisky, cigar (during a flight to the USA Churchill famously amended the in-flight breakfast menu to suit his tastes)
6.     Nelson MandelaUmphokoqo, a porridge made from maize and sour milk (according to his personal chef, Mandela always craved the flavours from his childhood, in particular this traditional African porridge recipe)
7.     Abraham LincolnKentucky corn cakes (Honest Abe was said to be able to “eat corn cakes twice as fast as anyone could make them”)
8.     Charles DarwinGame or fowl and eggs (in an 1865 letter to his doctor Darwin detailed how he was following this high-protein diet alongside a “daily dose of muriatic acid with cayenne and ginger” in a bid to alleviate his litany of illnesses)
9.     First men on the moon“Intermediate Moisture” bacon squares, sugar cookie cubes, dehydrated peaches, coffee and rehydratable pineapple-grapefruit drink (this recipe is taken directly from the flight menu of Apollo 11 and would have been the breakfast eaten by Armstrong on the day he took one “giant leap for mankind”)
10.  Thomas EdisonApple dumplings and milk (the man who brought the light bulb to the world was once quoted as saying that a breakfast of apple dumplings was the “finest repast of his life”)
Shakespeare's breakfast
The book also lifts the lid on the daily lives and routines of some of the world’s most influential people. Charles Darwin, for example, may forever be remembered for the theory of evolution, but he was also an early pioneer of a low-carb approach, and was experimenting with a cayenne pepper diet over a hundred years before Beyonce got there.

The free The Most Important Meals Of Their Lives eBook follows research highlighting how up to one in every three (34%) people in Uganda and almost a third (29%) in Rwanda are gravely undernourished[4] - an estimated 15 million people. Without full stomachs youngsters struggle focus on their school lessons and are prevented from realising their individual potential. Send a Cow’s Break… Fast appeal aims to raise £500,000 to give children in Africa a better start, and every £1 donated will be doubled by the UK government.

Winston Churchill's breakfast

Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, said: “We know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but too many children are not getting that vital head start. Across Uganda and Rwanda, 15 million are gravely undernourished. Given the right chance, any one of those children could be the next Florence Nightingale or Neil Armstrong.

"We will beef up Send a Cow’s appeal by matching pound for pound all public donations to the Break…Fast appeal so we can change thousands of young lives. Just a £2.50 donation, when doubled, is enough to ensure a child can get all the benefits of a nutritious breakfast for an entire month.”

Simon Barnes, CEO of Send a Cow, commented: “Research shows that a full stomach plays a key role in doing well in education. With the opportunity to eat a healthy breakfast every morning, children in some of the poorest parts of Africa will have the vital nutrients they need to go to school and concentrate on their lessons. And if they can prosper in their education they have an excellent chance of breaking free from poverty and achieving their true potential.”

The Most Important Meals Of Their Lives book can be downloaded for free by visiting There is a suggested a donation of £2.50 to the Break… Fast appeal – when doubled this is enough to support an African child for a month. The UK government is matching all donations to the Break… Fast appeal from now until the 30th June 2014.

Disclaimer: The quotations from Justine Greening and Simon Barnes and the photographs were provided by Send a Cow, along with information about the appeal. I was asked to help publicise this cause and recipe book but was not compensated for doing so. I have personally made a donation to the charity as well.

Friday 23 May 2014

Konditor and Cook Lemon Chiffon Cake

Konditor and Cook lemon chiffon cake

This is the cake I made for Mothers' Day this year. I wanted something light and suitable for spring, and I remembered an amazing lemon cake I made a few years ago, when I first started baking. The Times published a recipe from Konditor and Cook for a lemon chiffon cake, and I made it for a bake sale at work. It was a resounding success as the managing director of the London office had his assistant track down who had made the cake so he could personally say it was one of the best he had ever tasted!

That was long before I started this blog so I thought it would be nice to be able to blog that particular recipe and make it again. It didn't turn out quite so light this time for some reason - perhaps I left it in the oven a little too long. Still, it was very good. I iced it with a lemon cream cheese frosting which was a bit runny - I've since learned that it's really important to use full fat soft cheese, not the low fat kind! I decorated the cake with some sugar flowers I was given as a gift from America - they are from the Wilton cake decorating brand.

Here is the recipe for Konditor and Cook's lemon chiffon cake. The recipe was posted online on Nigella's website here but it does state that it is the Konditor and Cook recipe. It gives the full ingredient list and step-by-step instructions.

 Here's one half of the cake waiting to go in the oven

Both parts of the cake once they had cooled

 Layered with the lemon cream cheese filling and icing on top

Konditor and Cook lemon chiffon cake

The sugar flowers that I used to decorate the cake

 A very pretty spring-fresh lemon chiffon cake for Mother's Day

Mothers' Day cake

I'm sending this to Four Seasons Food as this month's theme is celebrating spring; I think the light lemon flavour and also the floral decorations are just right for spring. The challenge is hosted by Louisa at Eat Your Veg and Anneli at Delicieux.

I'm also sharing this with Love Cake, hosted by Ness at Jibber Jabber UK as the theme is flowers - either the flavour or the decoration.

Thursday 22 May 2014

Vegan Picnic Food

Here are a couple of quick ideas for picnic food. I needed something suitable for vegans which meant that my usual sausage rolls and the like were out - also I wanted a healthier option. So I made a pasta salad and potato salad.

For the pasta salad:
Cook some pasta according to pack instructions - I'm not specifying quantities here. Chop some red pepper and spring onion and halve some cherry tomatoes and add into the pasta. In a jar with a lid mix a little white wine vinegar with agave nectar and some dijon mustard and toss with the pasta.

For the potato salad:
Cook some potatoes until just tender and cut into cubes or large chunks. Chop some red onion, spring onion and fresh herbs such as basil or parsley and toss with the potatoes. In a jar with a screwtop lid, mix a little olive oil, lemon juice and wholegrain mustard and drizzle over the potato salad.

These are also nice as a side dish if you are eating at home; if you are taking them on a picnic use good tupperware with tight-fitting lids!

I'm sending this to the Extra Veg challenge, hosted by Allotment 2 Kitchen, who is looking for savoury vegetarian recipes. The challenge was launched by Helen at Fuss Free Flavours.

 Lisa's Kitchen is hosting No Croutons Required this month (co-founded by Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes) and is calling for vegetarian soups and salads.