Wednesday 30 September 2015

Yellow Butterfly Birthday Card

Butterflies appear in my card making time and again. I’m not sure why – they are pretty and colourful and seem quite feminine, but younger somehow that flowers. I think a lot of people these days only send floral cards to their grandmothers!
This card was a bit of a cheat as it uses elements from a shop-bought birthday card (one I received)- but I do like to recycle! I used a tall thin card blank and covered it with a pretty yellow paper patterned with little flowers. I cut the butterflies and the flower off the other card – they are made of foam backed onto cardboard so were easy to cut out and look really nice as they are raised off the card. The ‘happy birthday’ banner is also recycled from another card!
I think to papercrafting purists this would be unacceptable but using pieces from shop-bought cards doesn’t mean you haven’t made an effort; the design is still your own idea, you can still be creative and you can still say you spent the time and effort making something yourself.

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Restaurant Review: Vittoria on the Bridge, Edinburgh

Vittoria on the Bridge is in Edinburgh’s Old Town, on the George IV bridge not far from the university and many of the tourist attractions. I was in Edinburgh on business however, part of the team that was organising a conference. The night before the conference I went out to dinner with the team; it was a cold and rainy evening and we hopped straight out of a taxi into the restaurant, which had been booked by someone who had been there before.
The restaurant has an extensive menu of Italian dishes with a huge number of starters, various cuts of steak, some not particularly Italian main courses like liver and bacon and brie wellington but plenty of Italian specialities like vitello alla parmigiana and vitello alla Milanese (veral medallions in a parmesan sauce, or with spaghetti). There are separate sections for pasta, risotto and pizza – the pizza section is helpfully divided into meat, seafood, vegetarian, deluxe and calzone. There are 22 pizzas on the menu which is probably enough to rival the likes of Pizza Express – but so many other dishes besides.
I found it hard to choose so decided to try the lasagne; it’s such a traditional dish that I think you can almost judge the quality of an Italian restaurant by their lasagne. And it was delicious! Packed full of meat with the right amount of sauce (I hate lasagnes that are too dry) and really tasty.
We only had one course so weren’t in the restaurant long, but service was friendly and relatively fast given we were a large group; if you’re sightseeing in Edinburgh or indeed on business there, this would be a great place to stop and eat.

Monday 28 September 2015

Meal Planning Monday 2015 Week 40

My post-holiday diet started well but then was slightly derailed by two days away for work, a client conference the next day and a hen night at the weekend! Still, Rome wasn't built in a day...

I'm feeling rather uninspired for breakfasts I can eat at my desk at work (we have a microwave, but no toaster) so if you have any ideas please let me know!
Breakfast: yogurt and pear
Lunch: salmon with salad
Dinner: ready meal as we have our residents association at 8am when we are usually still eating dinner
Breakfast: muesli with fat free yogurt
Lunch: chicken, salad and homemade houmous and carrot sticks
Dinner: curry to use up rest of sauce we had last week
 Breakfast: muesli with fat free yogurt
Lunch: chicken, salad and homemade houmous and carrot sticks
Dinner: mackerel with soy and ginger from Wagamama cookery book p.115 for me, chicken goujons for him
 Breakfast:  yogurt
Lunch: out with a friend
Dinner: out at a blog event
  Breakfast: yogurt
Lunch: possibly tuna sandwich depending on what is left at the end of the week
Dinner: Slimming World nacho-style feast from this recipe
Breakfast:  yogurt
Lunch: baked potato with tuna and plain yogurt for me, cheese and beans for him
Evening: at my parents for my dad’s birthday

reminder to self: bake cupcakes for work tonight
Breakfast: at my parents for my dad’s birthday
Lunch: at my parents for my dad’s birthday
Dinner: something easy from the freezer depending on what I had for lunch

Sunday 27 September 2015

Wagamama Roasted Honey Pork Ramen

This weekend was the Japanese Grand Prix but I have to admit I didn't watch it - as I've said before, it's my fiancé who is the F1 fan anyway, though I've definitely gotten into it since living with him! I was busy today making the flowers to go on top of Ros's wedding cake (which has made me realise I won't have time to make my own wedding cake, a shame but it could be a lot of last minute stress!). I did make a Japanese meal for dinner though in the spirit of my blog challenge Formula 1 Foods.

I've had the Wagamama recipe book for several years but hardly ever used it; when I was thinking about making a Japanese meal I immediately took it from my bookshelf and was pleasantly surprised at the number of recipes in it I liked - I don't know why I never really used this book before!


I chose a dish called roasted honey pork ramen - ramen are a type of Japanese noodle. It was really easy to make though I adapted the recipe slightly to use up some vegetable stock I had in the fridge (rather than the chicken stock the recipe called for) and I left out the bamboo shoots as I don't like them. The recipe also suggested that you cook a pork fillet and then slice it but I used two small pork chops (I was going to buy fillet but they were reduced in the supermarket and I thought I may as well get a bargain) which I sliced up first and then cooked. It worked really well and the pork had a similar taste and texture as when I've had char siu pork in Chinese restaurants.

So this is my version of the recipe:
To serve one, you need

1-2 pork chops, with the bone and any fat removed and the meat sliced
1 tbsp. bbq sauce
1 tsp runny honey
100ml vegetable stock
ramen noodles
2 spring onions, trimmed and sliced
broccoli to serve

Preheat oven to 200C. Place the pork slices in a roasting tin lined with foil, and toss with the BBQ sauce. Bake for 20 minutes; meanwhile start cooking the broccoli or any other veg you want with it. After the pork has been in the oven for 20 minutes, add the honey and return to the oven for five minutes. Heat the vegetable stock and cook the noodles - I used a packet of straight-to-wok noodles so they only needed a few minutes heating through. Add the spring onions to the vegetable stock and heat through.

To serve, spoon the noodles and spring onion into a bowl and add as much of the stock as you like if you want this to be more of a broth-based dish. Top with the pork and serve with broccoli or other green veg.

I'm sending this to Formula 1 Foods as the challenge this time is Japan.

Saturday 26 September 2015

How to use a Bead-Maker for Cake Decorating

For the finishing touch on a celebration cake, a row of beads or pearls is a great idea.
I recently posted detailed instructions for how to make a wired sugar flower. I will soon be posting the full wedding cake that I used the flower on, but first want to show you another element of that cake.
You can roll individual balls of fondant and stick them in a row around the edge of your cake; if you do this the way to make sure they are all the same size is to weigh your icing. This whole process takes a long time though so I thought I would introduce those of you who haven’t come across it before to a bead maker.
I’ve tried a rigid plastic one from Lakeland and a soft silicon one that belonged to a tutor in a cake decorating class and I found the latter much easier to use.

It’s best to use a mixture of fondant and flower paste as I found fondant alone too soft, but it can work.
Open the bead maker and rub the inside with a little Trex (shortening).
Roll a fat sausage of your fondant/flower paste mix and place inside the bead maker. Squeeze it shut – there will be excess fondant that fills over the side but that’s fine – you need to make sure you’ve filled the cavity inside so this is the best way. Simply trim off the excess while still squeezing the bead maker shut.

Open it up and you should see a row of beads. Before you remove them, brush the side facing you with a little lustre powder – pearl is nice if you are making white beads but you could do them in any colour. Gently nudge the beads out of the mould so they sit in the other part of the mould and then brush the side that is now exposed with the lustre power. Carefully lift out and you have a string of pearls ready to go around the base of your cake.


Friday 25 September 2015

New Baby Boy Card

This is a bright, fun card that has touches of blue for a boy, but to me the feeling it creates is one of joy of celebrating a birth. There is quite a lot going on in this card but I think the new parents will find there is quite a lot going on in their lives now!
I cut off the corners of a square card blank to give a curved effect and covered the card with a jazzy star-print backing paper. I did want some element of blue though and had a cloud-shaped blue card die cut which I stuck in the middle.
I had a pack of wooden card toppers for a new baby that I had used most of, but I still had the word ‘baby’, a safety pin and a baby bottle left, which were all the right colour for this card. From another pack of baby card toppers I had some pram die cuts, which were pink. I covered the body of the pram with blue paper, but thought there was nothing wrong with leaving the other parts pink!
I also wanted a couple of other elements that jumped out to create the feeling of joy and fun, so used two multi-layered flower stickers – again I was using up the odds and ends of another pack.
Finally – because there is a bit of a traditionalist in me – I took a piece of blue ‘baby boy’ ribbon and stuck it along the bottom of the card. I then took another length of ribbon and tied it in a bow, and glued that to the middle of the straight piece.

Thursday 24 September 2015

F1 Foods: Singapore Round-up and the next challenge: Japan

Either because the linky was only open for a very short time, because I didn't really publicise it as I was away on holiday then travelling for work or simply because nobody was inspired by Singapore to cook any dish, the only entry for this round of Formula 1 Foods was my own. Still, it gives me a chance to direct you again to my Singapore Sling bundt cake if you didn't already see it.

This weekend it's the Japanese Grand Prix which may be another difficult one for some of you - though it doesn't have to be baking; you can make rice and noodle dishes too, or anything inspired by a Japanese cartoon character (Hello Kitty cake, anyone?).

This time you've got until Sunday October 4 to send in any Japanese-inspired recipes using the linky below!

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Marbled Chocolate Banana Bread

I’ve already described how I used up some soft bananas from a fruit box we were sent at work in this banoffee pie with a chocolate cornflake base. There were actually more bananas left over and I’ve always wanted to make banana bread but never got round to it (the fact that I don’t like banana also puts me off!). As I have mentioned before, once a month I spend a day in the office of a design agency that we work with to produce a particular internal project and it’s usually a very long day.
As I spend so much time with them, and a couple of them end up having to work late due to this project, I’ve gotten into the habit of taking cake. It seemed a good idea because I have a small team at work and people don’t want to eat cake all the time, so this way I had a new audience – one who wasn’t bored of cake. They were very appreciative so I’ve now made cake every time I’ve been to their office. This time was great fun – not long after I had arrived, I overheard a conversation between two of the team that they were hungry and didn’t have any food in the office. I turned around and innocently remarked “well I did bring cake” – the look on their faces was priceless!
I knew there would be enough hungry people in the office to eat the cake that I could make banana bread and it didn’t matter if I didn’t like it. As it was, it tasted really good – I didn’t want a whole slice as the banana flavour was quite strong but it was lovely and moist and the addition of chocolate was lovely. I took inspiration from this recipe but did make it differently.
Marbled Chocolate Banana Bread – an original recipe by Caroline Makes
Makes one 1-litre loaf cake
You need:
¾ cup caster sugar
2 ripe bananas
½ cup crème fraiche
2 eggs
2 cups self-raising flour
4 tbsp cocoa powder
Preheat oven to 180C.
Mash the bananas and cream with the sugar, then add the crème fraiche and eggs. Fold in the flour.
Separate the mixture into two bowls and add the cocoa powder to one bowl.
Grease a loaf tin and spoon in the chocolate banana cake mixture, then spoon the plain mixture on top. Use the spoon to swirl the two around – take a spoonful of the bottom layer and bring it up to the top, twisting as you do so. Repeat this along the length of the tin.
Bake in the pre-heated oven for 50-60 minutes, testing with a skewer to see if it is cooked through. Allow to cool in the tin and then turn out.
This cake slices really well and because there is no frosting, it’s something you can wrap up and take on a picnic or in your lunchbox for work. It was really moist and the chocolate flavour went perfectly with the banana and considering that I don’t even like banana, I would say this was a success!

As I used up old bananas I'm sending this to the No Waste Food Challenge, hosted this month by Foodie Quine on behalf of Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary.


Tuesday 22 September 2015

Jareth's Temptation - Peaches, Cream, Meringue and Pomegranate Dessert

Image result for labyrinth movie

Not to be confused with Jansson's Temptation, which is something different entirely - this dessert is inspired by my favourite 80s movie.

Labyrinth came out when I was seven years old and a friend of mine had it on VHS - my family didn't even have a video recorder at that time. I absolutely loved the film, mainly for the songs - the animated characters were on the whole a bit irritating for my liking (anyone else find Hoggle really annoying?) but the idea of the quest to find the baby brother was the sort of thing I couldn't get enough of.

Best of all though were the two leads, Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie. I don't think I even knew who David Bowie was at that point but he was mesmerising (and looking back now, very overtly sexual though I was blissfully ignorant of that sort of thing at the time!).

Connelly was only 16 when she played the role and she was breathtakingly beautiful in her ball gown in the scene where Hoggle has given Sarah (Connelly) a peach, enchanted by Jareth (Bowie) so she will lose her memories and will forget she is looking for her brother. That's probably my favourite scene in the movie.
Image result for labyrinth movie

I decided to make a dessert inspired by that scene, so peaches had to be the main ingredient. I also wanted something that would conjure up the white ballgown that Sarah wore, hence whipped cream and meringue. Finally, I decided the sharpness of pomegranate would cut through in the way that Jareth's intentions behind giving Sarah the peach are malicious - and pomegranate seeds are a symbol of fertility which adds the sexual overtones. All that in a dessert!

The recipe is very simple as I bought a shop-bought meringue due to lack of time. Slice up a fresh peach and drizzle over some honey; grill or roast them until softened and slightly browned. Pile on top of the meringue, top with whipped cream and drizzle with pomegranate molasses and pomegranate seeds as well if desired.

I'm sharing this with Alphabakes, the blog challenge I co-host with Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker, as the letter she has chosen this month is J. I hope she doesn't mind this entry - I've given it the name of Jareth's Temptation though none of the ingredients actually begin with J! I've been away on holiday and for work for most of this month so this is the best I could do....


Monday 21 September 2015

Meal Planning Monday - Week 38/39

I've just got back from over 2 weeks on holiday in America - and am lauching into full-on wedding planning mode. My fiancé proposed just before we went away so now as well as shifting the weight I inevitably put on during our holiday I also want to lose weight before I start wedding dress shopping! And did you know that wedding dress boutiques advise you choose your dress 6-9 months in advance to allow enough time for alterations? If we are able to have a summer wedding next year that means I need to start dress shopping right away, but I'm not doing that until I've shifted at least the weight I put on on holiday!

It does mean that my meal planning is more important than ever and I will go back to planning breakfasts as well as lunches and dinners, as I used to do. I won't be specifically following Slimming World as I found various parts of the diet (e.g the 'syn free' foods) don't always work that well for me, but I will be using a lot of SW recipes and meal plans as well as the various other diet recipe books I've got. Which is not to say I won't have the occasional indulgent meal, or fall off the wagon sometimes, but I will do my best. I will still be baking but only to take cakes into work or if it's someone's birthday or other special occasion - and even if I do make a cake, that doesn't mean I'm going to eat all of it! I also have a bunch of things to post on the blog that I made over the summer so don't assume that I've already gone back on my word!

Saturday (I know I'm posting this on Monday but I needed to plan at the weekend as well and it wasn't worth doing a separate post!)
Breakfast: for me, boiled egg and 1 piece of dry toast; the Other Half slept late due to jet lag
Lunch: bacon sandwich for him, sardines on toast for me
Dinner: Harissa lamb stew from SW recipe with couscous for me; toad in the hole for him
Dessert: Angel delight for him as we have lots of milk (the cat sitter bought far more than we needed!); fresh fruit for me

Breakfast: boiled egg and toast
Lunch: Out looking at wedding venues
Dinner: gammon with chips for him and pineapple ring and veg for me

Breakfast: cereal and fat free yogurt
Lunch: salmon with butternut squash salad
Dinner: chicken with Schwartz Grill Mates marinade with potato wedges for him and veg for me

Breakfast: cereal and fat free yogurt
Lunch: tuna pasta salad
Dinner: flying to Edinburgh in the evening for a work thing. Will have to eat at the airport.

Breakfast - in hotel
Lunch - at conference
Dinner - at airport; flying back late

Breakfast - at a conference and need to get there early so will take a cereal bar with me
Lunch: probably food provided at conference but I will take something - tuna pasta salad
Dinner: have tickets for a Deliciously Ella event tonight but might not get there in time from the conference. If I do get there in time, I won't have had time to have dinner so will have to take something with me.

Normal day back at work, thank goodness!
Breakfast: cereal with fat free plain yogurt
Lunch: sandwich or salad
Dinner: coconut prawn curry for me, chicken curry for him

Breakfast: boiled egg and toast
Lunch: out on a hen day/night
Dinner: out on a hen day/night

Sunday looking at wedding venues?

Sunday 20 September 2015

Royal Icing Run-Outs

Royal icing run-outs are a lovely way to decorate a cake, and also are a great help to the busy or novice cake decorator, as you make them in advance. This helps save time when you bake and decorate the cake; also (and perhaps more importantly for some people) you create these on a cake board, and place them on the cake when they are set – so if they go wrong you can start again without messing up the cake!
I’d never really done this before (though I had flooded biscuits with royal icing which is a similar technique) so it was an interesting thing to cover in my cake decorating class at South Thames College last term.
To start you need a template; this can be something you’ve drawn yourself or printed out from the internet but it’s much easier with a pattern to follow. Ideally one with strong black lines and spaces in between; some of the class used a Hello Kitty picture while I did this butterfly.

The first question is how to make royal icing for piping and flooding? There are a few ways, usually using egg white though you can find vegan recipes online (try here for instance).
If you can get albumen from a cake decorating shop (this is another name for egg white but can be bought in pasteurised powder form) you can make smaller quantities, but if you are using actual eggs, here’s a recipe that will make a bowl of royal icing:
175g icing sugar
1 large egg white
1 tsp lemon juice
Carefully beat the egg white with the icing sugar until you can then use a hand mixer without the powder going everywhere! Then add the lemon juice and mix until incorporates; the mixture should be slightly stiff. It will set if left out so cover with clingfilm whenever it’s not in use.

Using a small piping bag, which you can buy or make by folding greaseproof paper (you probably need to watch a YouTube video rather than read my attempt to explain).
Decide which colours you want to use and separate the icing into as many bowls as you need, and colour with a little gel food colouring (preferable to liquid colours).

Place a piece of cellophane over your template. The easiest way to do this is cut open an A4 file pocket. It’s a good idea to lightly rub down the cellophane with oil or trex so the icing doesn’t stick.

You don’t need a nozzle on your piping bag – the bag will probably be too small anyway. Just snip off the end and carefully squeeze so you have a line of icing to follow the outline of your template.

Allow to set for a few minutes then add some water to thin down whichever colour icing you want to use to fill in the sections in the middle of the design. Use a piping bag again for precision; you can use a cocktail stick to help nudge the icing into any corners. The filler icing needs to be in a quite thick layer so you can pick the design up when it’s set. For this reason, you need to make sure that you don’t leave any gaps.

All lines need to be connected to the outside outline as well – so with the butterfly I had to change some of the patterns on the wings so they were connected to the outer line. Otherwise you will find that when you pick up your run-out when it’s dry, some of the design will remain on the board!

Leave to set overnight or longer – we had to leave ours a week between cake decorating classes but it shouldn’t take that long! You can then carefully lift the run-out off of the cellophane, and use it on top of a cake. These also look really good standing up around the side of a cake depending on what design you have chosen.

Saturday 19 September 2015

Singapore Sling Bundt Cake

This weekend is the Singapore Grand Prix and when I started thinking about  what I could make for Formula 1 Foods, the blog challenge I've been running this year, my mind went straight to one thing: Singapore Slings. I discovered the cocktail when I was on holiday in Singapore and had one at the Raffles hotel where the drink was invented; you can read my review here.

Here's the recipe for the cocktail itself, on the back of a notebook I bought in the hotel. Until now when I've made it at home I've left out the Dom Benedictine as it's expensive and you only use a tiny amount (and I don't know any other cocktails it's used in) but this time decided to push the boat out and buy a bottle.

I decided to recreate the flavours of the cocktail in a cake and that the form of a bundt would work best.

I turned to bundt queen Rachel McGrath's website Dolly Bakes and used her 'build a bundt' recipe for the basic mixture to which I could add my own flavours. Click on the link to see her recipe and have a look around her fab site. I did leave out the yogurt from Rachel's recipe as I was going to add something else for the moisture but otherwise I followed her recipe.

I decided to put pineapple in the cake as this is the predominant flavour of the cocktail (as it's the main mixer as you can see from the quantities above). I used fresh pineapple that I had previously chopped and frozen; I reckon it's the equivalent of one small 227g tin once drained or around 200g of fresh pineapple. Make sure it's finely chopped and add to the bundt mixture.

I mixed up a cocktail with all the ingredients apart from the bitters which I didn't have and the pineapple juice, so this was basically neat alcohol. I poured it all into the cake mixture and stirred it in. (This replaces the yogurt in Rachel's recipe).

I greased my bundt tin with Cake Release and baked the bundt for about an hour, by which point it seemed to be cooked when I tested it with a skewer. I left it to cool in the tin and when I went to turn it out... disaster! The top (or bottom, when it's in the tin) of the cake stuck to the tin and a fair bit of it broke off on the way out. I was left with a pretty unappealing top to the cake.

It should have been this shape...

.. and instead it looked like this.

I had already decided I would cover it with a Singapore Sling glaze so once again mixed up the neat cocktail and added a generous dash of pineapple juice for the flavour, but didn't water it down too much. I mixed a spoonful of the cocktail with some icing sugar, adding a little more liquid until I got the right consistency - an icing that I could pour over the cake that would run down the sides but that wasn't too thin.

You can still see how misshapen the top of the cake is, which was a shame, but when I served this at a barbecue to celebrate my engagement in August, I started to apologise for the way the cake looked but was told that it was the taste that mattered and that it tasted great! I had no idea what to expect, having invented this recipe and never tried it before, but it seemed very successful. The cake itself was light and moist and the flavours of the cocktail really came through in the icing with the cake itself tasting predominantly of pineapple but with a little extra something. Now if I make it again I just need to figure out how to get it out of the tin in one piece!

You may also like to check out this Bellini Bundt I made previously.

I'm sending this Singapore Sling bundt cake to Formula 1 Foods as the Grand Prix this weekend is taking place in Singapore.

I'm also sending this to Simply Eggcellent, hosted by Dom at Belleau Kitchen, as his challenge this month is an easy one - cakes (which use eggs).