Thursday 1 January 2015

New Year's Resolutions 2015

It's been a pretty good year for my blog - I've been to some events and met some great people, been sent a few nice things to review and I'm up to over 742,000 hits on my blog and ranked 228 in the Foodies 100. My most popular blog post to date is my pigs in mud cake, which has now had over 40,000 hits - nearly twice as many as my second most popular post, this strawberry and cream fraisier. I wonder what my most popular posts will be in 2015?

Last January I set out a list of new year’s resolutions – and promptly forgot about them. Before Christmas I thought it would be nice to write a new year resolution blog post to publish today, and idly wondered if I’d had the same idea last year. Turns out I did, and I wrote quite a long post, and haven’t looked at it since! So clearly one resolution this year is going to be to actually keep on top of my resolutions…. But before I set out my list of blog-related goals for 2015 I will look back at what I wanted to achieve in 2014 and whether I actually did.

- Redesign my blog. I spent a bit of time doing this and thanks to my boyfriend buying me my own domain name as a birthday present I migrated my blog across but still use the blogger template. It needs a lot more work.

- Improve my ranking in the Foodies 100. I was almost in the top 100, at 108, when they changed the way the metrics were calculated, and at the same time I changed my web address I fell several hundred positions.
I was back at 228 at the last count but that is still some way off my best position. But I’ve realised that I just don’t have the time to faff around on Kred and Klout and now that Instagram is part of the metrics, I’m not sure I can be bothered any more. Working full time in an office where I can’t access social media – or even use my mobile in the office – means that I can keep up with Facebook and Twitter but that’s about it.

- Figure out and start using the likes of Kred, Klout etc - I probably need to do this to achieve the above resolution, though so far it's been hard to find the time.
See above – I’m not going to worry about this any more.

- Reach 400,000 blog hits. I was at 290,000 at the end of last year after two years of blogging so decided 400,000 was a good target to aim for by the end of this year. But I've actually got to more than 735,000!

- Make better use of Facebook to promote my blog and start using Google Plus. I think I do OK with using Twitter to promote blog posts but I could definitely be better at replying to tweets.
I could still be better at using Facebook to promote my blog; to be honest I usually just forget. I’m not sure that many people are really using Google Plus or that it would make much difference to my blog.

- Work out how to get on more company/PR mailing lists for product reviews and so on.
I’m doing OK on this front but increasing my number of Twitter follows would help as I was recently turned down for a project and told it was purely down to my number of Twitter followers.

- On which note, make more of an effort to reply to comments on my blog.
I do the best that I can in the limited time available but I don’t think people necessarily expect replies to their comments – if I leave a comment on a blog I don’t go back to that post to see if there has been a reply unless I have specifically asked a question. Or would you all prefer that I replied?

- Take a cooking or cake decorating class - I'd already signed up to an 8-week evening class in royal icing and piping, starting in January, and before the end of the year I wanted to do something else as well.
Unfortunately the royal icing and piping class was cancelled and the college forgot to tell me – I only found out by ringing up the day before to find out what I needed to bring! I then signed up for a wedding cake course at the same college in January this year - and exactly the same thing happened again! I am getting a bit fed up with them really. I have found another college offering the same course but it's not as convenient to get to, which is a shame. I took some amazing classes in 2014, chief of which was my Christmas present last year. In April I spent a full day with Tom and Henry Herbert, aka the Fabulous Baker Brothers, which was wonderful.

- Sort out my cake decorating cupboard that has gotten into a complete mess again!
Well, in 2014 I actually moved house, so I have more space – but haven’t finished unpacking properly so my cake decorating and baking cupboards are still a mess!

In 2014, I wanted to eat at:

- Hawksmoor

You can read my glowing review here

- Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium - which is hopefully opening soon! I've got a voucher for afternoon tea for two already as I contributed to the crowdfunding scheme to help the place open - I am a little bit feline-obsessed!
Did this one as well - review here.

- Bubbledogs - I wanted to go here in 2013 but never managed it

I still didn't manage it in 2014! I did intend to but when I got there it was full with a queue outside. I don't really like restaurants where you can't book (Bubbledogs accepts reservations for groups of six or more) and decided it wasn't worth the wait.

- The Lazy Cow in Salisbury (my home town)

Still haven't been here - when my parents eat out they prefer pubs, and when I go to Salisbury it's to visit them so we don't eat out in restaurants otherwise.

- Bubba Gump's, if and when it finally opens in the UK (there was meant to be one opening in London in November but it has all gone quiet)

The restaurant finally opened in December, about a year later than expected, so I am hoping to go in early 2015!

- Anywhere in Cambridge - I've wanted to take my boyfriend there for a long weekend for a while and so far we haven't found the time. He's never visited Cambridge, and it's where I went to university and where a lot of my friends still live, so it means a lot to me.

We were so busy in 2014 and spent so many weekends looking at houses, packing, moving, unpacking and redecorating, we couldn't find time for a weekend away. I think this might go back on the list for 2015!

In 2014, I wanted to cook:

- Salmon in a dishwasher - apparently it's a good method of cooking fish, and other things!

Never got round to this, as my boyfriend doesn't eat salmon and it never seemed worth doing just for myself as I think you need a fairly large piece of salmon to do it. But I am planning to make it soon!

- Bread: I've never made bread (apart from the bread sticks I made at Christmas) other than using my breadmaker so want to try out some proper Paul Hollywood recipes

I learnt how to properly make bread on my Fabulous Baker Brothers course and have had a go a few times since then, including when I made this classic white loaf.

- Heath bar pie

These mini Heath bar pies were delicious!

- something to use up a lot of the ingredients that are nearing their use-by date, including candy I brought back from America

I made various things but my boyfriend's mum went to America again and bought me back another haul!

- something to try out some pieces of baking and cake decorating equipment I have bought but never used, like the Wilton heart-shaped tasty fill pan

I used it to make an engagement cake for a colleague which was a big success.

- Giant cupcake - I've tried a couple of times but it's never turned out that well so I really want to get to grips with it this year.

I think I've got the hang of it now, check out this giant raspberry cupcake.

- Something using the Lakeland R-evolution Cuisine kit I got for my birthday and haven't used yet

I used it last year and thought it was interesting but I had mixed views on the results!

- a proper cream pie like the one I had in Wyoming

I haven't tried to do this yet but have no idea what type of recipe I would need!

- a really good approximation of a Cheesecake Factory cheesecake; the recipes I've tried before haven't quite tasted right.

I've made quite a few cheesecakes over the past year which I was really pleased with but this epic five-layer chocolate cheesecake was just amazing.

- Something from my Artusi cookbook even though it is in German so will take me longer to figure out

I still haven't gotten around to using it.

- Homemade mozzarella sticks, as my boyfriend loves the ones you get in TGI Friday's

I forgot I wanted to make these!

- Try out a couple of the Great British Bake Off technical challenges that I haven't already made - perhaps angel food cake or doughnuts.

I have made a few things that were GBBO technical challenges but I've still never made either of these.

- More "food from fiction" - often when I read a novel I am transported by the description of food and there are some books in which food and meals play a large part. I am occasionally inspired to make something based on the book but haven't done so for several months so I want to get back into it, as I have several books in mind! I do regularly take part in Food n Flix, which has a similar idea of making food based on a movie, but the films are chosen by someone each month and I want to make some of my own ideas.

I've made a lot of these as you can see!

- I want to try out some meals with 'hidden veg' as my boyfriend and I are very fussy eaters, but there are plenty of recipes I could try - like a pasta sauce - where I can add things we wouldn't normally eat and hopefully not notice! I think I will also need to make some more freeze-ahead meals too.

I've made a few recipes with hidden veg which you can see here.

So overall I've done a lot of the things I've resolved to but there are also quite a few things I've not managed to do, in some cases because I forgot!
On to my new year’s resolutions for 2015:
-          Improve the overall look of my blog, including tabs to take you quickly to different types of recipes and improving the layout
-          Spend more time meal planning rather than just grabbing for ideas and old favourites on a Sunday night
-          Remember to take business cards when I go to events
-          Find a way of increasing my Twitter followers – I’ve been turned down for some PR opportunities purely for not having enough Twitter followers. One way of doing this might be to connect with large brands as I’ve found I’ve picked up followers that way – e.g. when I replied to a tweet from PETA about vegan food and then gained some followers.
-          Invite people round to dinner more often. The main problem is that all my family and friends live too far away, but I have a couple of friends who aren’t too far who I have never invited over for dinner, and most of my boyfriend’s friends and family are local. Now we have a lovely house, big kitchen and brand new dining table there is no excuse!
-          Lose some weight… food blogging and baking and weight loss were never going to go hand in hand, and I always point out that just because I post some calorific recipes doesn’t mean I consume them all, but I do need to try harder to fight the flab.
-          Cook at least one thing from every recipe book I’ve got and if I can’t do that, it’s probably a sign I should give that particular book to the charity shop
-          Organise my baking cupboards – when we moved I was in a hurry to unpack so everything got shoved into cupboards and now I can never find anything
-          Try harder to get some prizes for you lovely people who enter Alphabakes
-          Write at least one cookery book review a month (including books I’ve already got) – I started doing this and put it to one side
-          Spend more time visiting other blogs and commenting on them
- Donate a few of the recipe books I never use to the charity shop to make space for the four new ones (all big hardbacks) I got for Christmas. I find it quite hard to get rid of cookery books!
- Master the art of airbrushing on cakes, or at least give it a good go - I got a kit for Christmas from my boyfriend which I'm really looking forward to trying out
- Practice my macro photography - I also got a macro lens from my boyfriend for Christmas. The tutor on the food photography course I did in 2014 advised using a long lens and zooming in, but my boyfriend said he did a lot of research and everything he read said I should be using a macro lens for food photography! 
Restaurants I want to go to
 - Goodmans - meant to be a very good quality steak restaurant
- Bubba Gump's now it has opened in London
- Kensington Roof Gardens - not strictly a restaurant - it is a restaurant and bar and also a park of sorts that is on top of a building on Kensington High Street but has real flamingos! My boyfriend went once for a work event and ever since then I've been hinting that he should take me (though it has been a couple of years now so I guess he hasn't taken the hint!)
- A Mexican restaurant as I'm trying to persuade my boyfriend to go to Mexico (again I have been trying for a couple of years) but I'm not sure he's ever eaten Mexico food which is probably one reason for his reluctance
- Chilton Firehouse - a major celeb hangout. Someone I know said a few months ago that they could get me a table but so far they have yet to come through!
- Cereal Killer Café - a Shoreditch café that has just opened which only serves breakfast cereals, but has loads of variations including cereals you can only get in America. It's very hipster and has been the subject of many articles wondering why we need a restaurant that only serves cereal, but it's near my office and I think it would be fun to go there!

Things I want to cook
-          A showstopper cake for at least one of my parents’ 60th birthdays this year (I say one because my sister may want to make the cake for the other)
- The wedding cake for a dear friend - she wants to do a cupcake tower and make the cupcakes herself and wants me to make a cake to go on top. At this point I have no idea what to make!
- A Marvel character-themed cake for my boyfriend's birthday
- Salmon in the dishwasher - I said this last year!
- Some more hidden veg recipes - I also said this last year!
- Something from Bake It Like You Mean It, which my boyfriend got me for Christmas - most of the recipes look very complicated!
- I'd also like to make one thing from every cookery book I have but I have over 100 books now so I don't think that is going to happen! I might start working my way through them in alphabetical order though...

I think that's enough for now - what are your new year's resolutions?

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