Thursday 31 July 2014

Making Birthday Cards From Everyday Materials

You don't need a whole host of specialist supplies to make cards. Pre-cut card blanks are very useful as they come with envelopes that are exactly the right size- but otherwise you can use anything you like to make cards. It's particularly fun for children to get creative!

I made this first card for a friend called Jane. The name piece actually comes from the packaging for a travel toiletry set from Soap & Glory called Plane Jane. I cut out the name and used that as the centre piece of the card! The pink circle is from the same packaging so I mounted that on a similar-coloured piece of pink backing paper, to keep all the elements within the same colour palette. The flower stickers were a free gift with a magazine and I used them to cover the Soap & Glory logo and to add a few more decorative touches.

 You can also recycle cards that you receive. I always used to do this with Christmas cards to make gift tags for next year's Christmas presents, but you can do it with any cards. Here the centre piece of the card - the white square with happy birthday and the picture of the present - is from a card I received. I chose a pre-printed card blank in a complementary colour and mounted the piece of card on it. Finally I used a silver border sticker to go around each side to frame the picture.

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Ladybird Cake

My sister Clare made this cake for our mum's birthday and I thought it was so good I asked her permission to share it on my blog.

Clare made this with the Lakeland hemisphere tin I gave her for her birthday the month before. She used the small size pan and said the cake - a simple chocolate cake recipe - took a very long time to cook, in fact she had a couple of attempts as the first time the cake wasn't cooked through.

She used ready-coloured roll out icing and cut out circles, and used pink shimmer balls for the mouth. It is a simple design and very easy to do but looks fantastic! It also tasted extremely good.

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Cake Decorating Store Vintage Goodies Giveaway

I buy most of my cake decorating supplies online and am always interested in checking out different websites. I recently came across - they have a great selection of products at very reasonable prices. One thing I particularly like about the site is that it lists cake decorating classes and courses all over the country which is a really useful resource. The website has other features like a cake portion calculator, so you can work out how many your cake will serve and there are loads of ideas and 'how to' guides, like how to make a sugarpaste giraffe. Overall I think the website is a great one-stop-shop to both buy your baking and cake decorating supplies and get ideas and learn new techniques. has given me a few of their products to give away to one lucky UK entrant, together worth over £20. All you need to do is fill in your details on the Rafflecopter widget below and there are various ways you can earn multiple entries into the competition.

The winner will receive:

  • The Wilton baroque cake decorating mould, RRP £11.99.  This silicon mould features roses, leaves, hearts and border patterns and can be used with fondant, flower paste or marzipan or even chocolate. Perfect for vintage-themed cakes and cupcakes.
  • A set of 13 vintage themed cardboard cake toppers including flowers, tea cups, a bow and a happy birthday banner, which you can use to create a tea party scene on a cake or decorate cupcakes. Each piece has a pointed pick at the bottom to easily insert into the cake. RRP £2.39.

  •  The PME wavy line crimper (£3) - simply pinch together around the edge of a cake that has been covered in fondant to give a lovely wavy effect. You can adjust the size and pattern by moving the o-ring on the crimper. I used one of these on a cake decorating course to make this cake and thought it was great.

  • Vintage style 'handmade with love' ribbon - 1 metre, 15mm width. This pretty ribbon can be used around a cake or to tie together little bags of edible gifts. RRP £1.19.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday 28 July 2014

Meal Planning Monday 2014 - Week 31

We are finally moving house! We have exchanged on my house and are moving out on August 8. Unfortunately, we hit a bit of a snag with our purchase and still haven't been able to exchange - and even if we can this week, our vendors have said they can't complete before August 29.

We are stuck in the middle and there's nothing we can do  - we are going to have to put all my belongings in storage and stay with my boyfriend's mum for a couple of weeks. Which will be a bit of a challenge in terms of space (and trying to get a cat and a house rabbit to cohabit in peace!) but worth it if we get the house we are trying to buy - but until the snag is sorted out, that is completely up in the air and at this rate we might need to start looking for places to rent!

We have now packed most of my cooking equipment and I am planning ten days' worth of meals to use up as much as I can from the freezer. I probably have at least a month's worth of food in there though!

 spaghetti bolognese for me, meatballs for him with garlic bread

chicken kiev and chips for him, cod and vegetables for me

 something with chicken breast

sausage and mash; vege sausages for me

burger and chips

 lunch: bacon sandwich for him, vege sausage sandwich for me or crumpet pizzas
dinner: out?

lunch beans on toast/macaroni cheese on toast

dinner toad in the hole for him, pork tenderloin fillet and roast potatoes for me

Sunday 27 July 2014

Restaurant Review: Patty and Bun, Liverpool Street

I'd heard that Patty& Bun made excellent burgers so when one opened a stone's throw from my office it wasn't long before I went; I treated myself to a takeaway burger on my birthday. It is a very small restaurant seating around 20 so the takeaway is ideal for a busy lunchtime; you order at the counter inside then wait at a window outside to collect your food. That was a little confusing so I was glad someone in the queue explained it to be when I arrived.
There isn't a huge menu but it has everything you need - burger, cheeseburger, chilli burger, vege mushroom burger, chicken wings and a few sides. I had the "Ari Gold" cheeseburger (£7.50, plus £2.50 for the fries), and asked why it was called that - knowing that Ari Gold is a character in the TV show Entourage. The server told me that it was because Ari Gold was "awesome and really cool, and Jeremy Piven who plays him has come into the restaurant".

By the time I got back to my office - about five minutes - the burger juices had soaked through the paper and I understood why there was a cardboard tray in my paper takeaway bag, otherwise my desk would have been a bit of a mess!
This was an incredibly juicy burger, cooked medium rare (I was asked my preference); the "pickled onions" on the menu which intrigued me were sliced red onions (rather than the pickled kind you get in jars), the cheese had melted to perfection and the slight sweetness of the brioche bun offset the burger. I devoured this and really enjoyed it. The rosemary salted fries were good though I had a few more small and crispy bits at the bottom than I would have liked.
Service was very fast - there was a queue of maybe half a dozen people waiting to order and about ten waiting to collect food but I only waited about five minutes to order and hardly more than five minutes to collect the food. And it was definitely worthwhile - an excellent burger.

Saturday 26 July 2014

Watermelon Fake Cake

 This is a wonderful alternative to cake - and quite fun to serve to people who think it is a cake, until you cut inside, and reveal it is actually watermelon!

I got the idea from something I saw on a Slimming World Facebook page; if you left off the nuts around the outside the whole thing would be completely syn free.

All you need is a watermelon, a tub of Quark, sweetener (optional), flaked almonds or chopped mixed nuts (optional) and any fruit you like to decorate the top.

I've had a bit of an obsession with watermelon recently, as regular readers will notice!

Slice the top and bottom off the watermelon so it will sit flat and then use a sharp knife to remove the rind by cutting down from the top, turning it over and doing the same from the other side.

Mix the tub of Quark with a little sweetener (such as Splenda) if desired. Pat dry the watermelon with some kitchen towel and spread the Quark around the outside and on the top. I've already put it on a cake board at this point.

Take handfuls of flaked almonds or chopped mixed nuts and stick around the outside.

Top with fruit to decorate.

And here is the finished 'cake'!

I took this into work and my colleagues were surprised when they realised what was inside - and I think happy that I made something healthy! This is great for a summer party when it is too hot to eat cake but you want to make something.

Stuck In The Tree is a bingo review site that is about having fun online and off; they are running a 'bakespiration' competition so I am sending them my cake in the hope they will include it in their gallery.

I'm also sending this to Ren Behan's Simple and In Season, hosted this month by Sally at My Custard Pie.

Shaheen at Allotment 2 Kitchen is hosting a blog challenge called the Vegetable Palette, and this month is asking for entries using red fruits or vegetables. Watermelons are a kind of reddish pink so that will do!

Friday 25 July 2014

French Glace Cherries Baking Set Giveaway

French Glacé Cherries

Earlier this year I took part in a cookery workshop with French glace cherries and made some lovely jaffa cakes and financiers. The nice people at French glace cherries have now offered me a great baking set to give away.

One lucky winner - UK entrants only, due to postal constraints - will receive:
- two packs of French glace cherries
- a set of kitchen scales
- an apron
- a kitchen timer
The products feature the French glace cherries logo.

To enter, all you need to do is enter your details on the Rafflecopter widget below, and there are various ways you can gain entries to the giveaway. The competition closes on August 3.

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday 24 July 2014

Top 10 Ice-Cream Toppings and some Low-Fat Ice Cream

When I was younger, Pizza Hut was a rare treat- and the Ice Cream Factory rarer still. The soft whip ice cream that came out as you pulled a handle, and the seemingly endless bowls of sprinkles and toppings were the stuff that dreams were made of. Well, almost. Anyway it got me thinking about ice cream and toppings, when I saw that the theme for this month's We Should Cocoa was chocolate ice cream and ice cream toppings.
I would love an ice cream maker but don't have the space - you need to put the base of the gadget in the freezer, and I have a fairly small freezer that is always packed with food. I can't even fit in a small tub of store-bought ice cream (and it was only after my boyfriend moved in that I started buying frozen chips), let alone a massive bowl from an ice cream maker. We are moving to a new house soon - well, I hope it will be soon, as the process is into it's fifth month and we are rapidly losing patience with the other people in the chain. When we move, I think we are going to buy an American-style fridge - it will dominate the kitchen which I'm not thrilled about, but I can't wait to have that much space for food. So who knows, maybe I can put an ice cream maker on my Christmas list this year.
I did make a very good low-fat 'ice cream' (in that it's not technically ice cream) which was very quick to make. I simply took a tub of Quark (virtually fat free curd cheese) and a bottle of Choc Shot. This is a liquid chocolate that you get in the hot chocolate aisle of the supermarket, but you can use it for so many other things as well as making hot chocolate. It's low in calories, dairy-free, low GI and if you are on Slimming World, I believe it's 1 syn for 1 tbsp.

All you do is mix 1-2 tbsp of Choc Shot with the Quark and put in the freezer for a couple of hours. Take out, give it a stir to break up the crystals and return to the freezer. You'll need to allow it to defrost a tiny bit when you want to eat it to get the spoon in the pot - it's a delicious chocolate ice cream alternative.

What are your favourite toppings for ice cream? I have to admit I usually eat my ice cream plain, but I wondered if I was perhaps missing out on something. So here are a few suggestions for ice cream toppings; please add any more in the comments box!
1. Sweets
For the full Pizza Hut ice cream factory experience, you can sprinkle Smarties, mini M&M, jelly tots and all sorts of other sweets over your ice cream. I once managed to find a packet of mini Reece's Pieces cups which would be fantastic on ice cream, and if you can't find them, you could chop up the regular sized cups. Sophisticated? No. Delicious? Yes.
2. Sauce
Chocolate or butterscotch sauce is the most traditional ice cream topping and as a child the one I remember most is Askeys Butterscotch Treat sauce.

3. Wafers
I never particularly liked wafers stuck into my ice cream as a child as they were quite plain, but visually they work really well - they add a bit of height to the dish and the different texture creates interest for the eye (even if they are not so interesting for the taste buds!). 
4. Fruit
I had to include at least one healthy option! Chopped strawberries, mixed berries, pomegranate seeds - anything that takes your fancy. Fruit works really well on frozen yogurt too. 
5. Sprinkles

Dr. Oetker sent me some of their newest products which are intended as cake decorations but I think they would work really well on ice cream too. New flavours available in their sprinkles collection include lemon meringue, eton mess and banoffee. You can match the flavour of your sprinkles to the ice cream or add them to something plain like vanilla.

6. Cookies
Crushed Oreos or mini Oreos are delicious as an ice cream topping and add a different texture to the smooth ice cream.
7. Chocolate chips or chocolate curls
This wouldn't work with most fruit-flavoured ice cream but on vanilla, chocolate or mint (or possibly strawberry - think white chocolate perhaps) a little sprinkling of chocolate is lovely, both decadent and quite classy at the same time. 
8. Whipped cream
I think the first time I came across whipped cream on ice cream when I lived in Germany. I was au pair to a little boy and I took him to the ice cream parlour in the village. It was 1 Deutschmark (now I'm showing my age!) per ice cream scoop so I told him he could have two; when I was charged 3DM they explained that the extra cost was for the scoop of whipped cream he had added on top - as I had said two scoops of ice cream and didn't realise there was an option for extra cream! To be honest the idea of whipped cream on top of ice cream is quite strange to me, and I never thought they really worked together. Has anyone tried this?
9. Coffee
Affogato is a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso poured over the top, served as a dessert in Italy - I think I recall seeing it on the Pizza Hut menu as well. I've never tried it as I'm not really a fan of cofffee but it would be a sophisticated way to end a meal. 
10. Coca -Cola

This is not something to put on your ice cream, but something to put your ice cream in. I loved Coke floats as a child, and still do. There's nothing like adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream to a tall glass of coke, watching the cola fizz up and then enjoying the creamy taste as you drink the concoction through a straw and scoop out the last of the ice cream with a spoon. I gather you can make all kinds of 'floats' but this is the classic. You could try adding a scoop of raspberry ice cream to lemonade or a scoop of cookie dough ice cream to a cream soda. I don't recommend doing what a friend of mine once did however. He told me that when he was younger he was told he could make any kind of float he wanted, so requested - if I remember correctly - a scoop of mint ice cream in a glass of Lilt. Which just sounds plain wrong.

I'm sending this to We Should Cocoa, created by Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog and hosted this month by Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary, as the theme this month is chocolate ice cream and ice cream toppings.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Maple Syrup Cupcakes with Candied Bacon


 My previous forays into cakes with bacon have met with mixed success; these Elvis cupcakes were fantastic but these bacon brownies were pretty dreadful.

I used this recipe from the Canadian Food Network though changed it a bit as I was making these at the last minute for a Canada Day party and didn't have time to reduce down the maple syrup and I don't think you can get maple extract in the UK (at least I've never come across it). The recipe also included bacon in the cake but I decided to save the bacon for the garnish, so vegetarian friends could eat these as well (without the garnish). So for the cakes that I made, which made a batch of about a dozen, you need:

2 and 3/4 cups self-raising flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup maple syrup
3 eggs
1 cup milk
4 rashers streaky bacon
2 tbsp brown sugar
4 cups icing sugar
6 tbsp butter, softened
2 tbsp maple syrup

Here's the maple syrup that I bought for this recipe, it was quite expensive!

 Preheat oven to 175C. Mix the flour, oil and maple syrup in a large bowl then beat in the eggs and the milk. Spoon the batter into cupcake cases and bake for 15-18 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack and meanwhile make the buttercream. Cream the butter and the icing sugar and add the maple syrup; spoon into a piping bag and pipe swirls on top of the cupcakes.

To make the candied bacon, place the brown sugar in a bowl and dip in the bacon, coating both sides. Grill until crispy and then leave to cool. When cool, crumble or chop into small pieces.

Sprinkle the candied bacon pieces on top of the cupcakes.

I really wasn't sure how these were going to taste but they went down very well at the Canada Day party and the first person to try one - someone I didn't know - said they were great!

 Stuck In The Tree is a bingo review site that is about having fun online and off; they are running a 'bakespiration' competition so I am sending them my cake in the hope they will include it in their gallery.

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Fantastic Fish course at Jenius Social

A little while ago I ordered a whole fish from the supermarket online, thinking how much I enjoy eating fish in restaurants, when it is served lightly poached or grilled, with the head still on and the backbone still in place. I'd forgotten of course that the fish is still prepared - scaled, gutted and the innards removed. So when my fish turned up from the supermarket fully intact I had no idea what to do. I gingerly stuck a knife in its stomach, realised I had no idea what I was doing or if any blood and guts were about to start spilling out, and with a shudder threw the fish in the bin!

So when I came across a new cookery school in London called Jenius Social and saw that they were offering a class on how to prepare, fillet and cook fish, I knew I had to do it. 
I booked fairly last minute, only a couple of days before the class, and was surprised but very pleased when I arrived at their Islington base after work to find that I was the only person booked in for that evening - so I was getting a private lesson!

The chef, Michael, stood opposite me showing me what to do step by step. The room is arranged as a classroom with several work benches and the cooker and hob at the front, so if you were in a group lesson it would be easy to see what the chef is doing and then copy. But I had the benefit of one-on-one attention and was working right opposite Michael so if I was ever unsure he could show me exactly what to do, and help if necessary.

We began with a sea bass and I learnt how to fillet this or any other kind of 'round' fish. It's hard to explain without pictures and I couldn't take many photos as my hands were too fishy! It turns out that when I stuck my knife into my supermarket sea bass's belly, I was completely wrong from the start. You actually begin with the backbone, and always have the fish facing away from you. You need to really grasp the fish with a strong grip so there is no time to be squeamish! Using a small sharp knife, make a slit all the way along the backbone, then make a diagonal cut as if you were going to remove the head, but without cutting right through, and the same just above the tail. Remove the fins along the side.

Turn the fish over and repeat the same on the other side. Next insert the knife in the slit you have made along the backbone and wiggle it along so you very gently ease the flesh off the bone. Stop before the fillet is completely removed and turn the fish over to do the other side - if you remove the fillet from one side completely, your fish will be unstable when you turn it over.
Continue on the other side; the cuts you have made along the head and the tail will allow you to remove the fillet in one piece.

Trim the edges if you have any bits that don't look nice and then use the knife to gently mark down either side of the bone that remains in the fillet. Use a pair of fish tweezers to remove any small bones which remain - there will be three or four near the top of the fillet, running down the middle. And that's pretty much it!

rolled up and stuffed with crab
Next we went onto plaice and learnt how to fillet a flat fish and remove the skin. The difference this time is that when you lay the fish on its side, there is a bone running down the middle of each side. You remove the fillets using a similar technique, starting by running your knife along each side of the bone and easing it under the flesh to remove each fillet, but unlike the sea bass where you end up with two fillets, this time you end up with four.
To remove the skin, make a small cut in the end of one fillet so you don't go all the way through, but have a flap to get your knife under. Hold the fillet firmly at the end, and slide the knife under the skin and all the way up.


Michael gave me a lot of tips about buying, storing and cooking fish; for instance to tell if a fish is fresh, look at the eyes (they should still gleam), smell it (it should smell like the sea rather than fishy) and prod it (the flesh should spring back easily and not leave an indent from your finger). Store on the bottom shelf of the fridge and cook fresh fish within a day of buying it.

 The sea bass was going to be seasoned and pan fried whereas the plaice was stuffed with crab meat, rolled up and oven cooked. Michael had also par-boiled some potatoes which were thickly sliced and seasoned and fried in a pan of hot oil. The accompaniment to the sea bass was a sort of bean casserole using black-eyes beans, tomato and chorizo among other things; this cooked down quite quickly in a saucepan.

leek side dish

Finally came the part I had been dreading - squid. I hate squid, and have eaten calamari when I was younger - as I didn't know what it was - and didn't like it much. But I can barely look at squid. It was very funny when Michael plonked one on my chopping board and told me to cut it in half; I squealed and recoiled which he found very amusing! I decided to be brave and chop it in half then tried not to look as Michael threw it straight into the pan.

fried potatoes
It doesn't take long at all to cook the fish so a few minutes later it was all ready and Michael showed me how to plate up in a sophisticated manner. We used a crumpet ring to keep the bean casserole in a circle in the centre of the plate and placed the fish on top and drizzled some oil over the top. Each final dish looked very attractive and tasted great - though I have to admit I didn't eat the squid! I tried a tiny bit and it was just as rubbery and unpleasant as I remembered, which no amount of good cooking techniques could change!

beans, tomato and mussels side dish
The course cost £60 for only two hours, but given the amount of fresh fish that I was using, that actually seems quite reasonable. The fact that the class went ahead even though nobody else had booked for that evening and I got a one-on-one lesson was even better! 

Jenius Social is a new enterprise and has only been going for two months or so; I heartily recommend their courses and am keen to do another! 

Here are the finished dishes I made:

squid with fried potatoes

Steamed Flat Fish Stuffed with Fresh Crab & Basil, Sautéed Scallops, Wilted Spinach, Fennel & Tarragon Sauce

caramelized sea bass, bean fricassee and mussels