Tuesday 31 May 2016

Slow Cooker Thai Green Beef Curry

I've been trying to use up the contents of my freezer so I can fit my ice cream maker inside! It's been quite interesting as I've made a list of everything in there and intend to cross it off and add to it - no more rummaging wondering whether we have any more chicken breasts, or telling my fiancé there is no garlic bread left and then finding some the next day (sorry!). It's also meant I don't have to buy as much as there is more food in there than I thought!

One thing I came across was a packet of cubed beef. My fiancé loves steak but isn't as keen on beef when it's casseroled but this sort of cubed beef really is best in the slow cooker. Rather than do a traditional casserole though I wondered if I could make it into a curry, and found this recipe from BBC Good Food for Thai Beef curry.

I used red chilli rather than green as that's what I had in the fridge, and I already had some galangal from when I made a Thai curry from scratch after doing a cookery class last year. I bought it from Sainsbury's so there's no need to find a specialist shop - though if you live in an area with Thai food stores then definitely go and have a look! Star anise is also something I've had in the cupboard for a while and I know spices do lose their potency so it was good to be able to use them. I didn't have any kaffir lime leaves either so I know this wasn't quite as authentic, but it still tasted really good. And my fiancé enjoyed it which was great as I really wasn't sure he would like it!

See link above for recipe.

Monday 30 May 2016

Meal Planning Monday Week 24

Only three weeks until the wedding - eek!

Monday - bank holiday though the weather is not meant to be good so we can't barbecue
Lunch: bacon sandwich (his favourite and I will buy some nice fresh bread)
Dinner: I forgot to plan anything so will just find something from the freezer
I am still meaning to  make dessert: avocado and chocolate mousse from I Quit Sugar (he can have ice cream!)

Lunch: salad
Dinner: quick dinner of some homemade lasagne from the freezer as I'm off to a local pool for a snorkelling/scuba diving lesson. I don't expect to be doing the latter but the former will definitely be a feature of our honeymoon but I've never done it before and am terrified! I thought having a practice in a pool to get used to the mask and breathing tube would be a good idea before we head to the Galapagos Islands!

Lunch: salad
Dinner: I'll have salmon with cauliflower mash from the freezer and broccoli, he can have chicken and mashed potato.

Thursday - I'm working from home
Lunch: quinoa risotto
Dinner: spiralized veg with basil pesto from I Quit Sugar for me,

Lunch: salad
Dinner: chicken breast with sticky barbecue glaze from a packet - which we can do on the BBQ or in the house, with chips for him and veg for me

Lunch: won't have a lot of time to cook as I have a wedding dress fitting at 11am. At this point there will only be two weeks to go until the wedding! I'll have the rest of the spiralized veg with basil pesto and he can have a bacon sandwich.
Dinner: barbecue? could do chicory sardine boats from I Quit Sugar - rapidly becoming my favourite book in the run-up to my wedding!

Lunch: crumpets which are in the freezer and need using up
Dinner: may depend on the weather but I have got chicken thighs in the freezer I could do something with

Saturday 28 May 2016

Eton Mess cupcakes

Last week my friends D and J invited us to their house for a barbecue and to meet their new baby son. It was also J's birthday the following week and the first time we had been to their house since we moved there, so I decided to take some celebratory cupcakes as well as some food to go on the barbecue.

I wanted something a little bit unusual and also quite summery and as I've made some great recipes lately from my Hummingbird Bakery book Home Sweet Home, I had another look and decided their Eton Mess cupcakes sounded great. Eton Mess is a dessert involving strawberries, cream and pieces of meringue, broken up and mixed together.

I was a bit surprised to see the recipe involved making a custard, since that isn't normally part of the dessert. I wasn't going to have a lot of time to make the cakes and the custard part looked like it would take a while, so I decided to leave it out and just make a creamy buttercream instead.

As well as the strawberries that you can see on the top, covered with crushed meringue pieces (bought rather than homemade) there are chopped strawberries and a little bit of cream in the centre of the cake. The cream was my own idea but as I didn't end up actually trying one of these I can't describe what they tasted like - but a few people at the barbecue told me they were extremely good!

You need:
70g butter or margarine, softened
210g self-raising flour
250g caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
210ml whole milk
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
to decorate:
2 strawberries per cupcake - I got 12 cupcakes out of this recipe
about 50g meringue (which equated to two shop bought meringue nests), crushed
for the buttercream:
125g butter or margarine
250g icing sugar
12 tsp double cream

Preheat oven to 170C and line a muffin tin with paper cases - I used red ones with white polka dots to go with the Eton Mess theme.

Beat the butter, flour, sugar and salt together to form a crumb-like consistency. This is different to the way I normally make cakes but it seemed to work!

In a jug, mix the milk, eggs and vanilla and pour gradually into the crumb mixture, mixing well (an electric whisk is easiest). Mix until you have a smooth batter.

Spoon into the paper cake cases and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until the sponge is still bouncy when pressed gently. Leave to cool.

Use a teaspoon to remove a small core from the centre of each cupcake and set aside. Spoon 1 level tsp cream into the hole and fill with a chopped strawberry - you may need a little less than one whole strawberry as you then need to place the core of the cupcake you removed back on top and make it as level as you can.

Mix the butter and the icing to make the buttercream. Using a piping bag and star nozzle pipe swirls onto each cupcake. Top with pieces of meringue and a strawberry sliced in half.

I'm sharing this with Charlotte's Lively Kitchen for the Food Year Linkup, as next week is National Barbecue Week and these cupcakes are great for dessert at a barbecue.

Friday 27 May 2016

Restaurant Review: Redfearns, Wincanton, Somerset

The third element of my recent hen night that I wanted to write about was the meal we had at Redfearns restaurant in Wincanton. It's a fairly small Thai restaurant that was very kind to us in terms of giving us a big table and not minding that we were the last people there!
Wincanton is an old market town in Somerset; I'd never been there before and to be honest all we really saw was between where we parked the car and walked up to the restaurant, but it did look quite pretty!
Redfearns' menu wasn't that big with only six main courses – when I go to Thai restaurants normally I’m used to having a lot of choice! They did have a Phad Thai which is my go-to Thai meal and I was going to order it, but the rest of the group wanted the tasting set menu, and everyone in the party has to order that. I was too busy chatting and enjoying myself to really mind either way so went along with the set menu, and realised afterwards there wasn't actually that much in it that I liked!
It also turned out to be sharing plates with not actually a huge amount of food; everyone got one piece of each starter but then just a few spoonfuls of each main course and a big pile of rice.
  The food was nicely cooked but I wasn't actually that keen on any of the three main courses - the Thai chicken was my preference but it was a bit too spicy. I think I should have looked at the menu properly and ordered a Pad Thai, though it would have meant nobody else could have the set menu!
We had a vegan in our group and the restaurant was able to cater to her with no problem.
Here's what the set menu included:
Honey and soy chicken skewers
Baby spring rolls
Pork and coriander meatball
King prawn steamed dumpling
tomato and coconut soup
Main courses
-Thai chicken and courgette green curry
Vietnamese pork and aubergine stir fry
Seafood phad pak – stir fried seafood with veg in oyster sauce
Thai crispy cucumber, tomato, coriander and peanut salad
Jasmine rice


All this was £18.95 which did seem a lot give we didn't actually eat a huge quantity of food, but maybe that was partly because I didn't like the soup so skipped it, and don't remember the Thai salad making it round the table as far as me  - and I don't lik courgette, aubergine, or squid which was unfortunately a big part of the seafood dish!
So I actually felt a bit hungry afterwards still and several of us decided to have dessert; I had a mango cheesecake that was really creamy which I enjoyed.
It seemed a nice enough restaurant though and was a good place to spend the evening with my hens - I'm far too old now to want to go on a noisy bar crawl!

Thursday 26 May 2016

Birthday Presents and Stamped Sentiments Card

I had a few card toppers left over from a cheap craft pack that I didn't know what to do with. They were in the shape of presents, and quite large - they would almost certainly dominate a card - and they just didn't look right on their own, on a patterned paper background. I hit upon the idea of using one of my sentiments rubber stamps - it has the words 'happy birthday' on a rectangular stamp, repeated four or five times in different fonts. I decided to stamp this several times over a square blue card blank to create a background that wouldn't clash with the present die cuts but that was more interesting than leaving it plain. It's certainly not a spectacular card but quite fun and is a quick and easy make if you haven't got much time.

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Deconstructed No-Bake Chocolate Cheesecake

Sometimes you want a proper dessert but really quickly - something that you can literally put together in five minutes after dinner. Mug cakes are really good for this, or here's another idea I came up with (quite a while ago, pre-wedding diet!) from just looking at what I had in the house.

I broke up some chocolate digestive biscuits and put the pieces into the bottom of two serving glasses.

I melted some milk chocolate in the microwave and mixed it with double cream to create a ganache

I spooned this on top of the broken biscuits, and drizzled over some Choc Shot liquid chocolate

And here you go - a deconstructed chocolate cheesecake (of sorts ) that only took five minutes to make, involved no cooking other than the microwave, and tastes delicious!

I'm sending this to Credit Crunch Munch. This month the challenge is hosted by Michelle at Utterly Scrummy and was devised by Helen and Camilla.

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Review: Holbrook House Hotel, Wincanton, Somerset

After my alpaca walking experience, my 'hens' and I went on to the Holbrook House Hotel in Wincanton, Somerset. The rest of the hen weekend consisted of drinking wine, dinner with some games and more wine, then back in the hotel and more wine, and then a well deserved spa day and massage the next day.

I'd had no idea where we were going so was surprised when we crossed into Somerset, but it wasn't actually far from the alpaca place in Dorset. Holbrook House is a Georgian-style country house hotel set in 20 acres of woodlands and was very pretty, as you can see from the picture above.

The rooms were spacious - I shared a double with my sister - and apparently not a bad price either though as the bride I wasn't allowed to pay. The bathroom in our room was also really nice with White Company toiletries.

This was the view from my window:

The spa was excellent, with two treatment rooms - I had an aromatherapy massage - a pool, Jacuzzi and steam room. The only thing I thought was lacking was a seating area near the pool - it would have been nice to have a swim then lounge around with my friends, but this is also a health club where locals come to use the facilities, so it's more of a pool for swimming lengths than lounging around beside. Still, that would have been an added bonus!
As well as the main lobby, which houses a small bar, there is a large sitting room with a couple of sofas and books and board games, which is a nice touch. The only thing that really let this hotel down was the breakfast. For £15.50 (I'm not sure if ours was included in the room price or not) you get:
fruit juice
tea, coffee
fruit salad and stewed fruits
Greek yogurt
croissants - which ran out repeatedly and were really small and a bit disappointing
Plus any hot item from the menu, which included a full English breakfast, porridge, eggs benedict, egg Florentine, or boiled egg and toasted soldiers - or, for an additional £3.95 supplement, you can have smoked salmon and scrambled egg, smoked haddock and poached egg, or egg royal with smoked salmon.
It was disappointing that so many of the cooked options carried a surcharge, and while I know you can eat as much as you like from the continental buffet, if I had paid $£15.50 and just had fruit juice, coffee, a bowl of cereal and boiled egg and soldiers I wouldn't really feel like I'd gotten my money's worth.
Two of my friends ordered the Holbrook Grill, which is basically a full English, but they weren't that keen on it - one said her sausage was undercooked and the other just said she didn't think it was very good. I had the eggs benedict - two English muffins with poached eggs, bacon and hollandaise sauce. I think my expectations of this were a bit unrealistic after the most amazing poached eggs I had at the Dana Hotel in Chicago, while these poached eggs from Armadillo at Gatwick airport of all places were also very good. So it would have been hard for the Holbrook's poached eggs to match up anyway, but as the yolk was partially set, to me these were more like soft boiled eggs.
Unfortunately, they had completely burnt my English muffins to the extent that they were inedible (at least the one I tried was), so when the waitress came over I explained (or thought I had) and asked if they could do me another muffin; the waitress started to leave, saying "you'd like an extra muffin, sure" and luckily my friend realised she'd misunderstood - and as my friend is more assertive than me, she told the waitress my breakfast was burnt and they needed to replace it. So it meant that almost everyone else had finished eating by the time my breakfast came back! It was a shame as otherwise this hotel was really good and I had a lovely hen weekend here.

Monday 23 May 2016

Meal Planning Monday Week 23

On Friday and Saturday temperature is expected to be around 21 but showers are forecast. I have some barbecue food in the freezer that needs to be defrosted before it can be eaten which is why it's annoying that we haven't had a good enough weather forecast for a couple of weeks for me to know we are definitely going to eat out! So I will defrost something and then either switch around the menu or cook it in the oven if we have to!

My weight loss has been really helped by eating spiralized vegetable stir-fries I think. I don't normally like repetitive meals but with only a few weeks to go until I get married, if it's working I'm going to stick to it! I think there's something about the fact that it takes longer to eat that you feel more full.

Dinner - working late, will probably have to grab something from Tesco on the way home

Tuesday - my fiancé's mum's birthday - we are having a takeaway at her house

Wednesday - spiralized veg stir fry with some chicken or salmon

Thursday - spiralized veg stir fry with some chicken or salmon

Friday - We will either barbecue today or tomorrow. I didn't make this mackerel with ginger, chilli and lime. on the plan from last week as we didn't barbecue so I'd like to have this, plus some chorizo chicken kebabs and he will want burgers no doubt

Lunch - bacon sandwich for him, quinoa risotto for me
Dinner - turkey breast steak for me and chicken breast for him following this piri piri recipe which I planned to make last week but didn't; I can do it with potato wedges.
I also bought all the ingredients for the 'choc berry mud' from I Quit Sugar and didn't make it last week so will aim to do it this weekend.

Lunch - with my parents for my mum's birthday
Dinner - probably home late so something from the freezer, depending on what we had for lunch

Sunday 22 May 2016

Alpaca Cookies and Alpaca Adventure, Dorset

I wouldn't say I'm alpaca-mad... I just have an alpaca cuddly toy, an alpaca hat, a scarf made from alpaca wool, alpaca writing paper, stickers and post-it notes, and a bag that says "alpaca bag" (geddit?). Oh and some alpaca cookie cutters.
So it perhaps wasn't surprising that when my friends and my sister came to organise my hen night that they decided alpacas should be involved! There's a place very close to my wedding venue called Alpaca Adventure, run by the very hard-working Wendy (and I think her husband) who has a full time day job as well as running a farm with over 30 alpaca plus sheep, hens and a pig. She takes the alpacas to competitions and has won several rosettes for effectively 'best in class' and sells the wool to a mill which uses it to make clothing.
She also does alpaca walking, which means you can basically go and walk an alpaca round a field on a lead. It sounds a bit random, and perhaps it is, but it's great fun!
First we fed some lambs, then we petted the pig, then got introduced to our alpacas - mine was a gorgeous guy called Teddy Edward. They each wore a bridal and we basically went for a walk for about 45 minutes around a field, leading our alpacas who were very sweet and docile, if occasionally trying to stop and munch some grass or sniff each other's bums.
Look at this dude!

This is what alpaca walking looks like

It's also pretty inexpensive and only cost £10 each - not bad given I imagine it costs a lot to keep the animals! The only thing I would say is that if you are booking this as a surprise for someone's birthday or hen night, make sure you tell Wendy that it's a secret - I'd actually met her at an event and she let the cat (alpaca?) out of the bag that I was coming here for my hen night even though I wasn't supposed to know!

After my hen night I wrote my friends some little thank you notes as it seemed a good excuse to use my alpaca writing paper! My fiancé got me this for Christmas - he knows me so well :-)

I also thought it was a good opportunity to use the alpaca cookie cutters he got me at the same time!

Here are my cutters:

I used a basic sugar cookies recipe and rolled out the dough and cut out the shapes

Ready to go in the oven

And here they are. These could easily be llamas and I think they could pass for giraffes too, but if you look at the necks, I think you can see the fatness that suggests the big fluffy wool of an alpaca.

I made up some royal icing as I wanted to recreate the thick wool of the alpacas, but I got the quantities slightly wrong and the icing wouldn't set enough and even though I piped it in dots, they all ran together. Still, you get the idea! I gave these to two of my bridesmaids when they came up the weekend after the hen night for their dress fittings as a nice reminder of the hen night!

Friday 20 May 2016

Low Carb Fish Pie with Cauliflower Mash

My low sugar diet also means low carb, as the starch and glucose in potatoes raises your blood sugar, so I've been looking for some good alternatives. I like cauliflower and wondered if I could make a fish pie and put mashed cauli on top, and found a few recipes online doing just that.

I followed this recipe for the cauliflower puree but I couldn't get mine smooth enough; I think if I had cooked the cauli for longer so it was softer that might have been better. I wouldn't have thought to add cheese and cream into it as well; it was quite nice, though to be honest I would have preferred mashed potato!

For the fish pie, I cooked a mixture of fish - I think I had white fish, salmon and smoked mackerel, and added some chopped leaks and made a white sauce.

I put it in a pie dish, spread the cauliflower mash over the top and popped it in the oven to brown.

Here you can see the fish and the topping. This felt like a very virtuous recipe and is good if you're cutting down on potatoes and miss having fish pie - but I have to say I would only eat it as "diet food", whereas a lot of the low cal/fat/sugar recipes I make are nice enough to eat whether you are on a diet or not.

Thursday 19 May 2016

M&M chocolate birthday cake

When I made my fiancé this chocolate birthday cake from the Outsider Tart cookery book the quantities given were so large that it made three big layers. I didn't need the cake to be that big so I put one of the layers in the freezer, and used it a few weeks later when I wanted a cake to take into work.
The cake broke a little while it was defrosting but otherwise was absolutely fine - this is a really good cake that includes Coca-Cola in the mixture!

I made some chocolate buttercream which I spread on the top and around the side of the cake. It does look a bit messy at the moment, but that won't matter!

To decorate this cake I decided to use up some things I had in the cupboard. I wanted to use things up and I also didn't have much time - we'd gotten back from a weekend away in Wiltshire and I only had the evening to do it before work the next day, and as we'd been away all weekend I had a lot of other things I needed to do!
I had some white chocolate fingers left over from this anti-gravity Easter cake but not quite enough to go around the whole cake, and I couldn't find any more white ones in the supermarket. So I decided to alternate with some milk chocolate fingers which I thought actually made a nice pattern and looked really good.

I also had some M&Ms and larger peanut M&Ms I wanted to use up as they had been hanging around for a while. As they were different types I decided to use some chocolate fingers to mark out sections on top of the cake, but actually the colours all blend together and I probably didn't need to do this.

Finally I tied a ribbon around the cake, which helped to keep the chocolate fingers upright. I was really pleased with this given it was a last minute job using up cake and chocolate I already had in the house!

F is for fingers - chocolate fingers - so I'm sharing this cake with Alphabakes, the blog challenge I co-host with Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker.

As I used up things I already had in the house this was a very cost-efficient cake so I'm sharing it with Credit Crunch Munch, hosted by Michelle at Utterly Scrummy on behalf of Helen and Camilla.