Monday 27 February 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 9

This week's meal plan...

Monday – I’m at a work event in evening so home late, but not out all evening, so we can have pizzas from the freezer (update - I was even later than I thought so had something from the train station for my dinner!)
Tuesday – pancake day. My vegetarian mother-in-law is coming to dinner, and as usual I’m working from home today. She loved the macaroni cheese I made once before so this time I am going to make macaroni cheese with garlic bread crust from this recipe -with a couple of sausages for my husband as he doesn’t think pasta by itself is really a meal!
Dessert: pancakes: I'm going to try this Nigella recipe as I already have Frangelico at home and it sounds delicious!
Wednesday- stir-fry with chicken and mooli for me, chicken chargrill for him
Thursday – tagliatelle with prawns for me, meatballs for him (using up the chopped tomatoes and white wine I have open)
Friday - something with chips from the freezer
Lunch- Greggs baked bean pasty with potato waffles for him, and for me tuna spaghetti
Dinner- chicken and potatoes in a creamy garlic sauce from this recipe
Lunch- going to see my sister and niece
Dinner- not sure what time we will be back - probably something from the freezer
This is a blog hop, join in!

Sunday 26 February 2017

Chicken and Chorizo Filo Parcels

Isn't it always the case that when you use ready-made pastry, you have some left over that find its way into the fridge or even the freezer? Not long ago I decided I needed to use up some filo pastry and had a look on the Jus-Rol (the pastry brand) website for inspiration. I thought these chicken, manchego and chorizo briouats.
I made them a little differently, as I always do; I left out the lentils as I don't like them, and rather than sun-dried tomato paste or even tomato puree (which would have been a good alternative) I used some chopped sun-dried tomatoes, and added some sweet potato puree I had previously made, and a little plain yogurt to create some moisture. I'm also not quite sure why the recipe on the link above mentions puff pastry and think this might be a mistake!

Making the parcels very small and tight isn't that easy and mine were rather bigger than expected; we ate them as a main course with potato wedges but I think they would be brilliant as part of a buffet. The chicken and chorizo are a great flavour combination and the sweet potato puree really adds something slightly sweet and creamy, though if you don't want to go to the effort of making this specifically, just use the cheese and the yogurt. Manchego is a Spanish's sheep's cheese which I couldn't get hold of for this recipe so I used cheddar which I thought worked fine. I also took the opportunity to use up some left over roast chicken, which I shredded.

Here's what I did:

Serves 6
6 Filo pastry sheets
2 tbsp. oil for brushing
50g chorizo, diced
1 onion, diced
dash of oil or low-fat cooking spray
25g sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
4 tbsp. plain yogurt
either 4 cooked chicken breast fillets or about 400g cooked shredded chicken
salt, pepper
75g grated cheese
4 tbsp. sweet potato puree (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Heat the oil or cooking spray in a frying pan and fry the onion and chorizo over a low to medium heat for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.

Transfer to a bowl and mix with the shredded chicken, cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. Season. Stir in the yogurt and sweet potato puree.

Lay out a sheet of filo pastry and cut into three long thin strips. Brush with oil then add a spoonful of chicken mixture at one end.

Fold over the pastry to form a triangle, then flip the triangle up and to the right and then to the left and repeat until you have folded the filling all the way along the strip of pastry. Brush with more oil and place on a baking sheet.

Repeat until you have used up all the filling and the pastry.

Bake the parcels in the oven for 10-12 minutes. You may need to do this in a couple of batches. Serve warm with salad, couscous or potato wedges or as part of a buffet offering.

I'm sharing this with the No Waste Food Challenge hosted by Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary - it's a good way of using up filo pastry and cooked chicken.

No Waste Food Challenge

I'm also sending it to Cook Once, Eat Twice, hosted by Corina at Searching for Spice, as you can cook some chicken one day (eg a roast) and use it in this recipe another day.

Cook Once Eat Twice

Friday 24 February 2017

Eight Great Pancake Recipes: Sweet, Savoury, Gluten-Free, Vegan

It's almost Shrove Tuesday, otherwise known as Pancake Day - so here are 8 easy and delicious pancake recipes, from sweet to savoury and even vegan, gluten-free and sugar-free!
First up, because it's not all about being indulgent, are these buckwheat pancakes. These are gluten-free and don't contain any refined sugar. Delicious with smoked salmon and goat's cheese.

These sugar-free coconut milk pancakes are also great for people cutting out sugar who still want to enjoy some pancakes. They are made from a combination of coconut milk, coconut oil, coconut flour, shredded coconut and buckwheat flour - great served with apple sauce.

Now for something a bit more indulgent. This crepe cake or thousand layer cake takes a bit of time to make, though there are not really a thousand layers of course. The layers are sweet pancakes sandwiched together with crème patissiere and you slice it like a cake.

Savoury pancakes are great as a main course. Don't be put off by these Spam and mushroom filled pancakes - you can use any kind of tinned or chopped ham, and they taste really good.

When it comes to breakfast, how about these buttermilk pancakes with sausage gravy? I first had sausage gravy in America - it's basically diced sausage in a white sauce which makes a great alternative to a fried breakfast.

Who remembers Findus crispy pancakes? I used to love them when I was a kid so figured out a way to make my own ham and cheese crispy pancakes! The pancakes are coated in breadcrumbs and fried until they turn golden brown; cut into them and the ham and cheese filling oozes out. I'd forgotten how good these were!


But there's no need to complicate things and sometimes you want something simple. These American-style banana pancakes work for breakfast or dessert. I don't even like bananas and thought these were really good! The buttermilk makes them extra fluffy.

 And finally, here's a recipe for vegan pancakes - just because you don't eat eggs or milk doesn't mean you can't enjoy pancake day! These are really good and there are all sorts of toppings you could try, from fruit to the traditional lemon and sugar.

 What's your favourite pancake topping and what are you planning to make for Pancake Day? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday 21 February 2017

Scrabble Name Picture for a Londoner

I like giving homemade gifts and ever since I discovered Hobbycraft's box frames I haven't run out of ideas. I first made a picture spelling out a family's names in scrabble letters several years ago; now they are much more common and it's easy to buy packs of the wooden letters with flat backs which are easy for gluing (for instance Hobbycraft, Amazon and the Works sell them quite cheaply).

I wasn't planning to make another one any time soon until I found this piece of wrapping paper with a fab London design. I thought it would look great in a frame, and it made me think of my friend Alice who had a birthday coming up, as she lives in central London.

 The wrapping paper, from Scribbler, features London landmarks and various city skyscrapers which I recognise from around where I work. I decided the picture needed something to stand out against the background and so I found a design in the Silhouette store and used by Silhouette Cameo to cut out a few shapes from black card:

The umbrella was part of the set but I decided not to use it! I mounted them on top of the backing paper and put it in the frame.

My husband thought that the scrabble letters would be the finishing touch and I wasn't sure, as they would stand out better against a plain background, but personalising a gift definitely makes it more special. I hope Alice liked it!

Monday 20 February 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 8

Last week was a bit of a strange week. Our boiler broke down, and me, my husband and our cat moved in with his mum for a whole week! I don’t know what we would have done without her – luckily she had a spare room, likes cats and was generous enough to share her home with us. It took a week for the boiler to be repaired following a catalogue of disasters – we told our home insurer we’d had to move out as the house was uninhabitable since it was so cold, and that the engineer needed to ring when he was on his way (we were only five minutes away at my mother-in-law’s). Of course, the engineer didn’t ring and since we weren’t home, went away again, and wasn’t able to come back until the next day. Then the engineer came with the wrong parts – twice! – making me wonder if the boiler was ever going to be fixed. It was finally working so after a week we were able to move back into our own house - for one night until the boiler failed again! This time they fixed it the next day, but I'm starting to think we need a new boiler..
Lunch: pitta bread with tuna
chicken chargrills for him, leftover homemade lasagne from the freezer for me
Tuesday- I’m working from home
Lunch: macaroni cheese on toast
Dinner: slow cooker parmesan chicken and potatoes from this recipe:
Out in the evening with friends
Lunch: salad
Delia’s creole prawns with rice for me, chicken curry for him (will freeze the other half)
I’m working from home due to work as I need to be working from 6am and I normally have an hour and a half commute (the company I work for is announcing its financial results)
Lunch- cheese on toast
Lunch: bacon sandwich with fresh bread rolls from the bakery
Dinner beef medallion steaks
Lunch: had thought I might visit my sister and niece today but we are now doing that next week - so an easy lunch of beans on toast
Dinner: gourmet hot dogs
 This is a blog hop, join in!

Sunday 19 February 2017

Forever Friends Envelope Birthday Card

I found this card recently when I did a big clear out of my craft stash; I'd put it aside finished but didn't use it as I couldn't find the right occasion, and then mislaid it. When I found it, I didn't think it was very good, then realised what I actually felt was that it wasn't finished.

At that point the card just had the cupcake paper on the bottom half of the card and the Forever Friends bear clutching an envelope on the top. I added a thin gold border strip along the top of the cupcake paper and the words 'happy birthday' from a set of vertical outline stickers which I normally find quite hard to use - but they were just right for this project.

I was in two minds as to whether to add the little gold balloon from the same pack but did, next to the word 'happy'.

I also had a sheet of gold letters which again are quite hard to use - you have to be really careful when writing a word to make sure none of the letters are wonky, and I've seen some people selling items on Facebook where they have spelled out a name in individual letters and they are not straight, which looks dreadful.

Luckily this card was for my friend Al so I only had to add two letters, which I put on the front of the envelope that the bear is holding, along with a little star from the same sticker pack as the 'happy birthday' words. I think it looks much better now!

I'm sending this to Jo's Scrap Shack 'anything goes' challenge.

Saturday 18 February 2017

Super-Moist Vegan Strawberry Cake


I’m not that good at taking a hint, I guess. I made this vegan strawberry cake for my friend Alice’s birthday in 2013,
I made this birthday cake for my friend Alice, not that we needed more cake as we also went out for afternoon tea! But I wanted to try out a chocolate transfer sheet ...
 and since then she has mentioned a few times that it was one of the best cakes she has ever had. So when it came around to her birthday this year, I thought I had better make it again!
I didn’t want to decorate it in exactly the same way – I covered the cake with pink fondant last time – and I recalled from reading my blog post that it was an absolutely massive cake.
The recipe below converts the quantities from US to UK measurements, and halves the amount. This was plenty to make a two-layer cake, which I filled and topped with vegan buttercream and fresh strawberries.
I brought the cake with me when I went to see Alice for her birthday and we all enjoyed a slice. The cake was really light and moist and as I’ve said often before, if you have preconceptions about vegan cakes not being good, you really must try this!
Vegan Strawberry Cake
280g plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
140g caster sugar
60ml vegetable oil
600g strawberries
60ml soya milk
For the frosting:
200g vegan margarine eg Pure
400g icing sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 180C.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Add the oil and mix well. Puree 400g of the strawberries, keeping the rest for decoration, and mix the pureed strawberries into the cake batter along with the soya milk.

Grease an 8-inch cake tin with Cake Release or with vegan margarine. Pour the cake batter into the tin and bake in the pre-heated oven for 35-40 minutes.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin and when cool turn out onto a board. Slice the cake through the middle so you have two layers.

Beat the vegan margarine with the icing sugar to make frosting. Spread half the frosting onto the bottom layer of cake and slice half the reserved strawberries. Arrange the strawberries on top of the frosting.

Repeat with the second layer of cake with the remaining frosting and strawberries and gently place the top layer of cake on top of the bottom one. Sprinkle with icing sugar if desired.


I'm sharing this with Love Cake, hosted by Ness at JibberJabberUK, and CookBlogShare, hosted by Hijacked by Twins.
Hijacked By Twins

Friday 17 February 2017

Restaurant review: The Founder burger at

Have you ever wondered how McDonald's became the behemoth that it is today? A new film called The Founder tells the story of Ray Kroc - played by Michael Keaton - who started out as a milkshake machine salesman, and realised that the two brothers who ran a burger restaurant - the McDonalds - were on to something. How he turned the fledgling business into a global company is the central story of the film: you can see the trailer here.

Soho burger restaurant has teamed up with the makers of the film to create the Founder burger (or Founder BRGR as it is called). It's the closest thing I've ever had to a Big Mac outside of McDonald's, and is really good!

The burger consists of two Blade steak patties with melted cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, pickled gherkins and the secret recipe sauce, in a triple-layer sesame bun - so the burger has an extra bun in between the two beef patties.

It's only available for a limited time, until February 26. I was invited to try it free of charge this week and was quite impressed. I'd never been to before; the Soho branch is just off Oxford Street and is a fairly small restaurant that looks more like a pub at first glance - dark wooden panels and furniture and a well-stocked bar. I quite liked that - some burger restaurants scream 'fast food' the minute you walk in, or look really casual and don't make me want to drink alcohol, but this looked like a nice place where you could enjoy a meal and glass of wine.


The Founder burger comes wrapped in paper closed with a sticker, a touch which I liked. It was really juicy and very tasty but the bun fell apart very quickly and I ended up having to eat it with a knife and fork! The fries were much better than you get in a certain fast food burger chain as well.

 The official photo, versus my photo.....

I'm definitely tempted to come back and try something else on's menu. I noticed that you can choose the cut of steak that is used in the burgers - blade, hanger or rump. claims to be the only burger restaurant in London that offers these three choices. The menu also states that all burgers are made from grass-fed Scottish cattle.

A blade steak burger is £6.95 with fries from £3 upwards (cheese fries are £4 etc) but prices go right up to £24.20 for a guacamole and bacon burger using minced rump steak with  a double patty! So on that basis the Founder burger, which has two patties and is made from the blade cut, is a relative bargain at £7.50, or £10 with fries.

My husband thought the Founder tasted so much like a Big Mac though that it should have cost the same - £2.99!



Thanks to the Founder and for a complimentary meal

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Cheesy Ham and Hash Brown Casserole

This is something a bit different for breakfast or brunch - a cheesy ham and hash brown casserole. I think it would work well as a side dish as part of a larger breakfast - if you were cooking for a crowd for instance. We had it on its own and my husband said it needed something like sausage or bacon with it, and as it is quite rich and calorific, I think perhaps a couple of spoonfuls with some fried eggs or similar would be better. Either way it did taste really good!

Today is Valentine's day and you could even make it if you are cooking your loved one a special breakfast. I had planned to post a Valentine's cake today but due to unforeseen circumstances have been unable to make it!

You can find the recipe here at It's an American recipe and I have a feeling that when it lists frozen hash browns in the ingredients, it means shredded potato rather than the triangular wedges you get in the frozen food department of UK supermarkets. I've eaten that sort of hash brown before in America and it makes more sense when the recipe instructs you to mix them in a bowl, I don't imagine it means the solid triangular ones.

However that was all I had and it worked fine, if a little difficult to mix initially - but when it was baked it was perfect! I used tinned ham but you could use leftover from a roast, or add chunks of sausage or diced bacon. I couldn't get cream of potato soup so used leek and potato soup (and to be honest, I felt the recipe was crying out for some green veg! My husband doesn't like leek, otherwise I would have added sliced fresh leek). I also left the parmesan cheese off the top as I decided it was cheesy enough!

So this is what I did:
To serve 6-8 as a side dish or 3-4 as a main dish:

600-700g frozen hash browns
300g tinned ham, diced into large chunks
400g tin of leek and potato soup
150ml sour cream
250g cheddar, grated
splash of milk

Preheat oven to 190C. Put the frozen hash browns in a large oven proof dish. In a separate bowl or jug, mix together the soup, cream and ham. Add the grated cheddar and a splash of milk so you have a thick liquid that you can pour over the hash browns.

Pour the mixture into the ovenproof dish and carefully turn the hash browns until they are all coated and covered by the mixture. Bake in the oven for an hour.

Serve with sausages or bacon or fried eggs or as a side dish to a larger buffet brunch.

I'm sharing this with the Weekend brunch club linkup hosted by Gingey Bites

Monday 13 February 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 7

This week's meal plan is a bit sparse, for reasons which I shall explain later! I haven't had a lot of time to plan meals or access to my cookery books lately.

Out at a burger restaurant doing a review

Tuesday - Valentine's day and my husband suggested we get some really good steaks. So I suggested he cooks dinner for a change!

Wednesday - Out with a friend for her birthday

Thursday- sweet potato and goat's cheese lattice pie for me (bought in the supermarket from the reduced section, thought it looked interesting!) and chicken pie for him. Was going to do this last week but didn't

Friday - something easy from the freezer with chips

Saturday lunch - bacon and cheese omelette for him, tuna nicoise with leftover pitta for me based on this recipe - on the meal plan last week but didn't make it
Afternoon - at a friend's for afternoon tea for a birthday celebration
dinner - may not want much to eat, possibly pizzas from the freezer (you can tell I've had no time to plan properly this week!)

lunch- ham and leek hash with creamy onion sauce from Slimming World Little Book of Sauces for me, bacon sandwich for him - on the meal plan last week but didn't make it
dinner- roast chicken thighs or a whole chicken

This is a blog hop, join in!

Sunday 12 February 2017

Restaurant review: Village Cafe and Bistro, Banstead

Christmas Eve, when it is also a Saturday, is going to be a very busy day on the high street - and restaurants and cafes most likely benefit from the increased footfall as well. So we were lucky to get a table at the Village Café and Bistro in Banstead, Surrey, given they made a mistake and messed up our booking!
We were spending Christmas Day with my family so wanted to see my husband's family on Christmas Eve. His sister-in-law had decided to take her family (husband, her mum, and two kids) to a café for brunch in the morning and extended the invitation to me and my husband and his parents. So in total there were nine people, and my sister-in-law had booked a table for 11am.

As we arrived I was surprised to see a long table in the centre of the café already in use, and every other seat was a table or booth for no more than 4. Wondering if they had an upstairs or where they were going to put us, we spoke to the waitress, who seemed confused and went back to the counter to check with a colleague - it turned out they had no record of the reservation! My sister-in-law had rung to change it when we added more people, and we think this is where the mistake occurred - that they either cancelled the booking or misunderstood and thought she was changing it to a different time or day.

Luckily at that exact moment the family around the larger table got up to leave and the staff were able to add another small table onto the end to make it big enough for us.

The menu is extensive with a wide range of breakfast choices; I was torn between several different things and noticed there was even a 'build you own' cooked breakfast - most people I know who like a full English would prefer to have it without the baked beans, or with an extra sausage, scrambled eggs instead of fried, or with mushrooms instead of the tomato and so on. This way you can pick exactly what you want, which is just what my husband did, and he was really pleased with it.

I had eggs benedict, one of my favourites. It was served on what I think was a thick piece of sourdough rather than an English muffin (though I could be wrong, I am a bit delayed in writing this review!) with smoked salmon, two pretty good poached eggs, and some sprigs of greenery, sliced cucumber and sliced tomato (a bit unnecessary but it looked pretty on the plate) and the hollandaise sauce in its own little jug.

The food was good, and the service wasn't bad considering how busy they were (if you forgive the mistake over our booking) and the prices are very reasonable - this is definitely somewhere I would consider coming back.

Saturday 11 February 2017

Spiced Biscuit Bundt Cake

You know the little packets of biscuits you get in cafes with a cup of coffee? Often they are Lotus biscuits  - and they are so popular you can actually buy the lovely caramelised biscuit taste in a spread! I had some at home which all got eaten with a spoon used up before I could do any baking with it, and then I was in Lidl and saw they had an equivalent spread so bought some of that.

I had a look on the internet to see if I could find any suitable recipes - there are plenty on the Lotus website - but ended up making this one from Rachel McGrath aka Dollybakes.

Her cake looks amazing with a glossy icing made from the Lotus biscuit spread - but as you can see, mine doesn't look so good! I have the exact same Nordicware tin as Rachel but my cake stuck in the tin - I guess I didn't grease it enough, even though I thought I had used plenty of PME Cake Release.

It started out so well....

This is the tin I baked the mixture in - the Nordicware Heritage bundt pan

It smelt so good while it was baking in the oven, but I had too much mixture and it spilled over the top.

Here's the cake that I eventually managed to get out of the pan. The swirls on top should be sharply defined with neat crisp edges, and you can see the shape of it but a fair amount stuck in the pan!

Here's what I couldn't get out - next time I will use more grease. Has anyone else had this problem with a tin like this?

But all was not lost. Here's the spiced biscuit spread from Lidl:

I heated the jar in the microwave and poured it over the cake. It didn't look great initially...

But once the whole thing was covered it did look better.

When the cake is warm and the icing is runny it's lovely - a bit like eating a sticky toffee pudding with sauce. When the icing has cooled and set, the cake is still really moist and it tastes delicious.

This is a really good cake and recipe which is why I'm posting about it even though mine looks a bit of a disaster - hopefully you will have better luck making it than I did, and I advise trying a silicon bundt pan rather than a metal one!