Tuesday 30 May 2017

Restaurant Review: Pizza Express, London Waterloo and Art of the Brick

The Art of the Brick: DC Superheros is an exhibition on London's South Bank of Lego figures - but not just any Lego figures. These are the DC superhero characters, like Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman, many of them life-size, made of thousands or hundreds of thousands of bricks - there is even a scale model of the Batmobile which is made of nearly half a million Lego bricks!

My husband and his brother, and his brother's children, really enjoyed going around the exhibition, which took about an hour. The rest of our group enjoyed it too, but I think it's particularly good if you are a fan of Lego or DC, or both!

I needed to find somewhere for lunch beforehand that wasn't too far away (we had timed entry ticket for the exhibit), that was suitable for children and that my husband would like. I decided Giraffe would be the perfect option, until I found that they didn't take bookings - and with a big group needing to be finished and at the exhibit by a specific time, that wasn't really going to work.

Pizza Express was then the next obvious choice as they would take a booking, and everyone likes pizza! The restaurant was good about the fact that half of our party were 45 minutes late; we were able to enjoy a drink and peruse the menu, then ended up speaking to the latecomers on the phone so we could place their order as we were worried we wouldn't have made the exhibition in time!

We needn't have worried as service was fast. I fancied something other than pizza so had seafood rigatoni - a mixture of salmon, white fish (Pollock) and prawns with pasta in a white wine and garlic sauce, which was really nice. Everyone was happy with their meal, which when you have a big group including fussy eaters, children (who are also fussy eaters but not the only ones), meat eaters and vegetarians, is no mean feat!

Monday 29 May 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 Week 22

The weather was glorious last week which meant we barbecued outside (or rather, my husband did – the only time he ever cooks dinner!) three times. I hope it’s going to be as nice this week, unfortunately it doesn’t look like it is going to be quite as hot!
Monday – bank holiday.
Lunch - scrambled eggs on toast for him, poached eggs for me
Dinner -meal with the in-laws
Tuesday – working from home
Lunch - soup and a roll
Dinner- chicken breast marinated in garlic, lemon juice and olive oil, with a baked sweet potato and salad
Lunch- need something very quick as I have to head to the school where I volunteer at 12.15 - and I have a meeting until 12. So think it will have to be a sandwich
Dinner- my husband is at his mum's so I will have spaghetti and homemade lamb meatballs
Lunch- chicken salad
Dinner- salmon and veg/ chicken chargrill
Lunch - chicken salad
Dinner - BBQ
Lunch- Nigella's croquet monsieur bake I was going to make last week but didn't
Dinner- roast chicken legs
Lunch- Doing the London to Brighton rally so will hopefully get to Brighton in time for lunch
Dinner – something quick from the freezer as not sure what time we will be back

This is a blog hop, join in!

Sunday 28 May 2017

Orange and White Chocolate Cake with Flower Nozzles Piped Buttercream Flowers

This is the cake I made for Mother's Day this year and finally tried out my set of flower piping nozzles which I got I think for my birthday last year - I hadn't gotten around to using them as I hadn't really made anything that I wanted to decorate with buttercream, but now I've seen how good they are I will definitely use them again!

The nozzles have different patterns of dots and swirls and allow you to pipe different types of flowers that look amazingly realistic and detailed. You just squeeze the buttercream out and pull up, which cuts off the flower -you pipe one at a time. These would work really well on cupcakes, or as I've done with different types and colours of flower covering a large cake, or you could do all the same type of flower on the top of the cake.

You use regular buttercream for this - it needs to be stiff enough to hold its shape but not too stiff that you can't pipe comfortably.

The cake itself is a recipe from the Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook, edited by Lynn Hill. This is one of Lynn's own recipes which I adapted a little; I didn't make the orange syrup and I used more milk as I prefer a looser batter.

You need:
225g butter
225g caster sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
225g self-raising flour
zest of 1 large orange
1/2 tsp baking powder
4 tbsp. milk

For the filling:
150g white chocolate
grated zest of 2 large oranges plus 4 tbsp. juice
200g butter, softened
75g icing sugar

Preheat oven to 190C / 170C fan. Cream the butter and the sugar and beat in the eggs. Fold in the flour, orange zest and baking powder and beat in the milk.

Spoon into two greased round cake tins and bake for 20-25 mins

When cooked, allow to cool in the tins then turn out onto a wire rack.

To make the filling, melt the white chocolate in a microwave or bain marie and allow to cool until it is still a consistency that you can stir. Cream together the butter and icing sugar and stir in the melted chocolate and the orange zest and juice.

Mix the buttercream (about 500g icing sugar to 250g butter) and separate into different bowls and add a couple of drops of food colouring to each one. Use the different flower piping nozzles in piping bags with each colour buttercream and pipe groups of a few flowers all around the cake. I filled in the gaps afterwards with green buttercream and a leaf nozzle, at least I think it was a leaf nozzle as it doesn't look quite right, but I still think the overall effect of the cake was good - and it tasted really nice too!

Below are some close-ups of the different flowers I piped:

I'm sharing this with Cook Blog Share
Hijacked By Twins

Tuesday 23 May 2017

CAS Pink Heart Die-Cut Card

CAS means 'clean and simple'. In cardmaking terms, that means lots of white space; one main image or focal point and minimal embellishments.
I saw a blog challenge on Addicted to CAS calling for CAS cards with the theme 'pink'. I remembered this one I had made a little while ago and decided to enter it.

My husband and I were trying out my new Silhouette Cameo cutter (about a year ago) and used one of the free patterns as a test. Perhaps we didn't have the blade on the right setting as there was a small section that didn't cut through properly, on the left of the heart. I could have used a craft knife to remove the extra bit but in a way I quite liked the way it anchored the heart to the circle.

There was also a defect - a small tear, I think - on the heart in the middle so I decided to cover it with a small sentiment card topper saying 'to my wonderful husband'. With the die cut taking up most of the card, and the need to show the white space behind the design, I decided this would look best as a CAS card on a plain white background.

It's our first wedding anniversary in a few weeks so I could give this to my husband then, but I would rather make something special if I have time!

Monday 22 May 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 21

Lunch: chicken salad with mango and feta
Dinner: salmon, new potatoes and veg in a cheesy sauce for me, beef grillsteak and mashed potato for him

Tuesday  - working from home
Lunch: chicken salad with mango and feta and hot new potatoes since I am at home - OR if the weather is cold and we have leftover bread from the weekend I will have soup
Dinner: ready meal and veg after circuits class - OR the salad I would have had at lunch

Lunch: quick sandwich - need an early quick lunch as I have meetings from 12 until 2.30
Dinner: out with my mother-in-law for her birthday

Lunch: salad - either as before or Tabbouleh from Leon recipe book
Dinner: most likely home late after a work event, so something easy from the freezer or a salad I can throw together depending on the weather

Lunch: salad
Dinner: fish and chips from the freezer for me, chicken and chips for my husband, or if it's barbecue weather which I think from the forecast it might be, we have plenty in the freezer.

Saturday - bank holiday weekend
Lunch: early lunch with my parents then a cream tea in the afternoon with my friends for a birthday celebration
Dinner: eating at my friend's house

Lunch: Nigella's croquet monsieur bake
Dinner: grilled cod with jerk spice based on this recipe - or with chicken for my husband, with potato wedges

This is a blog hop, join in!

Sunday 21 May 2017

KitchenAid Cooking Demo with Michael Moore

KitchenAid are known for their luxury free-standing food mixers (I have one in pink) - what I didn't realise is that the brand actually offers everything from kettles and toasters to fridges, ovens and dishwashers! I was able to see some of their products in action recently when I was invited to a cooking demonstration with chef Michael Moore.

The event was held at the KitchenAid showroom in London's Wigmore Street - a mecca of stand mixers with a beautiful display of them in different colours across one wall, as well as a showcase of other products and a full kitchen layout downstairs.

Upstairs there is a long counter where chefs can cook and demonstrate on one side while guests sip their drinks and watch on the other. I was late to the event (thanks to someone on the tube ahead of mine having a medical emergency meaning the train I was on was stuck in a tunnel) so I missed seeing Michael marinade some prawns but I watched him cook them on a skillet and they tasted delicious. The black rice was something I've never come across before and it tasted delicious.

Sipping Tattinger champagne out of the most beautiful 'open up' flutes from Chef  & Sommelier adding to a fun evening.

After the demo finished I got to meet Michael and have a chat with him - he's an effervescent, larger-than-life character who is well regarded in the industry and gives the impression of loving life and getting great enjoyment from what he does.

Michael Moore started out at the Savoy then moved to the prestigious Georges V hotel in Paris and has worked all over the world, in countries including Germany (at the Four Seasons in Hamburg, at the time the top-rated hotel in Europe), Italy, the Maldives, USA and Barbados, where his mother is from. He also spent three years at the Dorchester in the UK and later opened his own restaurant in Marylebone, London, which is now closed.

Michael's newest project is going to be The London Cookhouse - at the moment the details are shrouded in secrecy but Michael has announced this will be "a centre for gastronomic experience under one roof that will combine and complement each other providing interest and hands-on experience to all, despite their culinary knowledge and experience." I can't wait to go there!

The KitchenAid showroom

Saturday 20 May 2017

Blue Baby Bottle Congratulations Card

I spotted a blogger challenge on Ooh La La Creations Challenges for a card on the theme 'something beginning with B', which has given me the perfect opportunity to share this new baby card.

It's actually using a card topper I bought years ago from Ebay - I bought a small packet of them and thought I had used them all long ago and came across one left! You could make it quite easily by matting a piece of pattered paper onto a white card rectangle and then another smaller rectangle on top. The baby bottle is probably a die cut but wouldn't be hard to cut out yourself following a template or a picture - or even the real thing!

I used a rubber stamp saying 'congratulations' from a new collection that I think I got free with a card making magazine, on a blue card.

Wednesday 17 May 2017

Restaurant Review: The Faraday, Epsom

Often when we go to the cinema we have dinner beforehand at a restaurant nearby; over the past few years we've eaten at most restaurants on Epsom High Street! One place we'd never been to is the Faraday (actually on Church St, on the corner of the High St) - a pub that we'd always walked past thinking it was too busy and probably more the sort of place you go to drink than eat.

Perhaps later in the night that is the case (judging by TripAdvisor reviews of bouncers on the doors and deals that appeal to the student crowd) but when we went it was actually fairly quiet - by the time we left it was nicely busy.

I like a pub that goes that one step further and I noticed xbox controllers and screens as well as board games which I thought was a really cool idea; they let you choose your own music to play (presumably for the whole pub to hear); the menu even mentioned that you could ask at the bar if you needed a phone charger - and a printing service, which says they can't print your whole thesis but are good for a few pages if you can't get to your printer. That seems one for the students!

The range and originality of the menu is impressive; as well as all the usual burgers they offer a chicken katsu burger which I've never come across before (though I love chicken katsu curry), a crawfish roll (not seen on menus often enough in my opinion) and some quite unusual vegetarian and vegan dishes like a Lebanese style aubergine crumble. I was really tempted by the desserts as well - specifically the cookie cup, which is a biscuit base filled with chocolate brownie, marshmallow pieces and chocolate honeycomb, served with vanilla ice cream - but in the end we didn't get as far as dessert (though our drinks pretty much counted as dessert!).

At that point I hadn't had a burger in ages so I decided to have the chicken melt burger - good value at £8.25 with a chicken breast topped with bacon, melted cheese and the BBQ sauce (the sauce really made it) and it came of course with fries.

I'd spotted something while perusing the drinks menu that I really wanted to try but knew the calorie count would be off the chart, so tried to persuade my husband to share one for dessert - but he wanted one all to himself! So we ended up ordering two 'freakshakes' - thick chocolate milkshakes with streaks of chocolate sauce down the inside of the glass, topped with a giant cookie balanced on top of the glass, with a swirl of whipped cream on top. There was a straw going through the cream and the centre of the cookie down into the glass, and threaded onto the straw were two mini chocolate profiteroles!

It was amazing though I could have done without the extra cream on top - and I only drank half of it as it was just too much. I was about to comment to my husband that we should have shared one after all, only to find he had already polished his off!


Monday 15 May 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 20

I think sometimes we expect too much from smaller supermarkets, even the chains - I went into a Sainsburys Local on Saturday to buy ingredients for a Pad Thai and found they had no beansprouts. I had all the other more unusual ingredients already at home but didn't think it would be the same without the beansprouts - so for two meals this week I've had to make last minute alterations!

Lunch: chorizo and halloumi salad
Dinner: salmon for me, garlic and herb chicken breast for him

Tuesday - working from home
Lunch: baked potato with bacon and sour cream
Dinner: at a circuits class and not home til 8.30: Slimming World cauliflower rosti pie I keep intending to make but not having time to

Lunch: chorizo and halloumi salad
Dinner: salmon and vegetables for me, sausage and bean pasty with mashed potato for him

Thursday -
Lunch: Tabbouleh from Leon Salads book with chicken
Dinner: spaghetti and meatballs

Lunch: salad depending on what I have left in the fridge!
Dinner: something from the freezer with chips

Lunch: at a friend's BBQ that doesn't start til 1pm so it won't really be lunch I expect so might do brunch. I was going to do cloud eggs with bacon and hash browns last week but didn't have time, so will do them today.
Dinner: will depend on what/ when/ how much we ate at the BBQ. We could either have crumpets and hot cross buns (leftover from Easter which I froze) or something like chicken fajitas

Lunch: bacon sandwich for him, potato and salmon salad for me from this recipe
Dinner: Memphis style pork chops from this recipe with hassleback potatoes that I didn't do last week

This is a blog hop, join in!

Saturday 13 May 2017

40th Birthday Showstopper Chocolate Drip Cake With All the Chocolate

This was my husband's second birthday cake - well, it was his 40th!

We spent his birthday with some of his family then saw other family the following weekend, so I wanted to make a cake for both occasions. For his birthday itself I made this chocolate R2D2 cake (a throwback to his childhood) and the following weekend I wanted to make more of a serious classic cake - but at the same time I wanted it to be a showstopper.

My husband loves chocolate so I decided to celebrate his love of chocolate by making something I'd seen a few (or more than a few) times on the internet. It's a 'drip cake' which means a chocolate cake with a chocolate glaze or ganache that is dripping down the sides of the cake; it's also something of an 'explosion' cake with various chocolate bars and types of chocolate sticking out of the top. They are intended to look as if they have been placed in a fairly haphazard fashion but are actually carefully arranged with pieces of different heights to create interest and balance and the appearance of a lot of chocolate bursting out of the cake!

For the cake itself, I actually had enough mixture leftover from the R2D2 cake (as the cake mould just said it took an 8-egg batter, but the recipe I used gave me far too much) to make a normal round sponge cake which I froze, and defrosted in time to make this.

For the other layer, I made the chocolate cake from this Konditor and Cook Curly Whirly cake as I remembered it being really good before (and it was).

To make the chocolate ganache on top, I used:
200ml double cream
200g plain chocolate, chopped

Heat the cream in a small pan and when it is just simmering, remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate until it has melted. Allow to cool until it is still a thick pouring consistency.

Here's a nice pic of some cake batter... I do like the before and after photos!

The cake, sliced through the middle - with the one I had in the freezer I ended up with four layers. For a drip cake you do want it to be quite tall.

 Like this - four layers of chocolate cake

I coated the top and sides of the cake in chocolate buttercream then poured the chocolate ganache over the top, encouraging it to drip down the sides. I stuck various chocolate bars and pieces of chocolate in the top, sprinkled over some giant chocolate buttons, and added some red stars (made of icing, which I bought from a cake decorating website) and a diamante '40' pick I bought from the same website.

 My husband's family seemed quite impressed and my husband loved it - though he had better not get used to having two birthday cakes!


Thursday 11 May 2017

Chocolate Orange Croissant French Toast

I don't usually eat croissants unless I'm out for breakfast or staying in a hotel - I do like them but they seem a bit much for a regular breakfast at home. Also, they have to be bought or made fresh, and are really fiddly to make.

A few months ago we were given a packet of croissants - I think that were leftover from a family brunch - and I put them in the freezer. As we hadn't gotten around to using them and I wasn't sure how nice they would be once defrosted, I decided to use them in a dessert.

The Co-Op had a recipe in their free magazine (which I love - pick it up if you get a chance) for baked croissant French toast. These were served with frozen mixed berries but I decided to stick with the chocolate orange flavours. I also increased the amount of chocolate!

To serve 2, you need:
2 large or 4 small croissants, cut in half or quarters
275ml semi-skimmed milk
2 eggs
25g caster sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
zest of 1/2 orange
20g dark chocolate, grated

Preheat oven to 170C/ fan 140C. Place the croissants in a single layer in an oven-proof dish. Beat the milk, eggs, sugar, cinnamon and half the orange zest in a jug. Pour over the croissants then sprinkle over the grated chocolate for 45 minutes until the croissants are golden brown.

It does have a taste and texture similar to French toast - nice!

Wednesday 10 May 2017

Eggs Benedict Waffles

I was inspired to make these eggs benedict waffles by this recipe on BBC Good Food but leaving out the Marmite - my husband likes Marmite but I don't and as I didn't have it in the house anyway it seemed easier to leave it out!

I love eggs benedict and am often to be found trying to get the perfectly poached egg - my current favourite technique is to use a Poachie bag.

The idea of a savoury waffle instead of an English muffin was a new one to me but I have a waffle maker so I decided to give it a go. It tasted really good!

The eggs look a bit lost on top of the waffles - next time I would do two eggs on one waffle or add some strips of crispy bacon as well.

Tuesday 9 May 2017

Ice Skating Decoupage Christmas Card

Here's another Christmas card I made at the end of last year but put away in my stash for next Christmas. The pieces all came free with a card making magazine so it was a pretty quick make. First a festive scene for the backing paper, then a strip of patterned paper vertically down the middle of the card. An ice skating scene in decoupage - I think it had three layers - stands out from the top third of the card, and a sentiment ' -Merry Christmas and a happy new year' - sits in the bottom third.

I hope I remember where I put these when it comes to Christmas!

Monday 8 May 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 19

Lunch: prawn cocktail salad
Dinner: home late (late meeting at work) so my husband will get his own dinner and I will have a low fat butternut squash risotto ready meal

Tuesday - working from home
Lunch: baked potato with bacon and sour cream
Dinner: at a circuits class and not home til 8.30: Slimming World cauliflower rosti pie I keep intending to make but not having time to

Lunch: chorizo and halloumi salad
Dinner: cod in a honey lime sauce based on this recipe I didn't do last week

Thursday - day off to do a macro photography lesson
Lunch:on the course
Dinner: spaghetti carbonara using the rest of the bacon and sour cream

Lunch: Tabbouleh from Leon Salads book with chicken
Dinner: something from the freezer with chips

Lunch: I was going to do  eggs baked into bread rolls with diced bacon, grated potato and cheddar cheese hash based on Denny's  but having seen cloud eggs all over the place I think I will do those instead!
Dinner: Memphis style pork chops from this recipe with hassleback potatoes - change of plan as we need to eat early to go to the cinema - the spaghetti carbonara I was going to do on Thursday but didn't

Lunch: out with my family
Dinner: home late -frozen pizza or similar

This is a blog hop, join in!

Sunday 7 May 2017

Slow Cooker Baked Stuffed Butternut Squash with Walnut and Goat's Cheese

There's an easy way to cook a roast dinner for meat-eaters and vegetarians at the same time without needing a double oven, which not many people have in their kitchens. But there's one thing that many people do have: a slow cooker.

At Easter I really wanted to eat roast lamb, and had the idea of doing a roasted butternut squash for my mother-in-law who is vegetarian. I was worried that the smell of the lamb roasting would mean I couldn't cook the squash at the same time; I thought about roasting the squash while the lamb was resting but wasn't sure I had enough time. Instead, I decided to do the butternut squash in the slow cooker which meant I could put it on at the same time and not have to worry about it.

The recipe I used was a mish-mash of ideas I found online. I've made a stuffed roast butternut squash before; this time I decided to scoop out the butternut squash itself and use that as the filling.

To serve one, you need:
half a butternut squash
1 garlic clove, crushed
25g butter
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
30g walnut halves, chopped
30g goat's cheese, crumbled
1 tsp dried mixed herbs

Peel the butternut squash and cut it in half lengthways and remove the seeds. Place the butternut squash cut-side up. Cook on high for about two hours until the squash has softened. Meanwhile mix together the other ingredients.

Scoop out the centre of the butternut squash, leaving around 1cm around the edge so it retains its structure. Mash the butternut squash that you have removed in a bowl with the other ingredients.

Spoon the mixture back into the butternut squash; you can keep this warm in the slow cooker on low if you need to.

I'm sharing this with Meat Free Mondays, hosted by Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes.

Friday 5 May 2017

Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Birthday Cake

I just had to share this with you even though it's not my own recipe. It's not only the best vegan cake I've ever made, but it's up there with the best cakes I've made, full stop.

Unlike other vegan cakes it doesn't contain a cupful of oil (I read the number of calories recently in a bottle of vegetable oil, and am still reeling). But it's still incredibly moist, so much so that you need to eat it with a fork rather than fingers, and really chocolatey. The peanut butter filling and topping are delish - even my husband loved this and he doesn't really like peanut butter. All together, it's a gooey cake that feels very indulgent - a real treat both for vegans and non-vegans alike.

I made this the day after my birthday as I had a couple of friends coming over to do a room escape game (which was brilliant by the way, I can't recommend them enough). One friend is vegan and I wanted to make a cake she could eat, so had a look online and found this recipe on Dora's Daily Dish - pop over and have a look.
The recipe was quite interesting - as I said a lot of the vegan cakes I've made use oil. This one uses melted vegan margarine, flax seed, almond milk and coffee.

It's really easy to make, you just mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

Here the cakes have just come out of the oven

The frosting unusually doesn't use icing sugar and is just peanut butter, vegan margarine and agave nectar. I spread half in the middle of the cake and the other half on the top.

A fairly simple, classic cake - the two layers were pretty deep, this is a good recipe in that sense - and in fact in every sense!
I'm sharing this bake with We Should Cocoa at Tin and Thyme.

Thursday 4 May 2017

Restaurant Review: Haskins Garden Centre, West End, Southampton

I’ve been to Haskins Garden Centre at West End, Southampton, twice recently. The simple reason being: when you find somewhere that’s easy to go with a small baby, you’re going to go there again!
I have a beautiful niece who is now five months old; when she was just a couple of months old and I was visiting my sister and her partner we went out for lunch at Haskins. The garden centre has a large café, with an outdoor area (which was too cold to use due to the weather) and a lot of seating inside not too close together so it was easy to find space for a buggy.

As it is in a garden centre I was expecting a few options along the lines of jacket potatoes and paninis (though as Woodcote Green garden centre in Wallington proves, you can get really good meals sometimes). I was really surprised when I walked in and saw multiple food counters, each offering something different - jacket potatoes and paninis of course, but also pizzas, fish and chips, a carvery, a Costa coffee bar and a very long cake and desserts counter. There was also a sign advertising Sunday lunch and another offering afternoon tea for Mother's Day - definitely something for everyone!
I had a tuna melt panini which came with a small side salad and was really nice.

Luckily we also saved room for dessert - I had a slice of apple cake which was really moist and tasty.

My sister had chocolate cake which she said wasn't quite as good and a little on the dry side - but otherwise we had a nice lunch while my little niece gurgled away next to us!