Wednesday 23 December 2020

Possibly the best ever Christmas chocolate brownies

I was very excited when The Holiday, starring Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz and Jude Law first came out in 2006 as Winslet’s character was a journalist on a real-life British daily newspaper - where I actually worked. There were even rumours that Jude Law had been seen on a tour of our real-life office though I unfortunately didn’t see him myself!

While the film was lovely what I found most far-fetched was the depiction of some of the details. Winslet works on the paper’s obituaries desk and manages to own a beautiful roomy cottage in Surrey (surely out of her price range) which is apparently a 40 minute commute - my memory is more like 40 minutes after leaving the office you would probably still be standing at the station waiting for a delayed Southern train). 

The village where many of the U.K. scenes are filmed isn’t that far away from me - Shere, near Guildford - and though I haven’t actually been there, but we did do a Weber barbecue cookery course in a village called Abinger Hammer a few years ago which is only a five minute drive from Shere, and I can vouch for the fact that there really are some English villages as picturesque as the ones in the Holiday! 

Debra at Eliot's Eats selected The Holiday as the theme for this month's Food 'n' Flix, The idea is that we all cook or bake something inspired by the film, and it's a great movie to rewatch at Christmas!

In terms of foodie inspiration from the film itself, one of the scenes that stands out is when Amanda (Cameron Diaz) arrives in her house swap and goes to the local shop where she stocks up on wine, chocolate, Christmas cake, mince pies and more. The shop keeper assumes she’s having a party but it’s all for her! The other food moment that sticks in my mind is when Iris (Kate Winslet) makes Christmas fettuccine, which I didn’t realise was a thing (and according to a few rather indignant posts I’ve read online, isn’t). 

I decided to go with something a bit more traditionally festive - chocolate brownies. They strike me as both the sort of thing that Amanda may have bought to indulge in at her holiday cottage but also the sort of thing that she might make herself - she doesn’t strike me as much of a cook but I can’t help feeling that she would have made brownies before even if from a packet mix!

I used a recipe I found on a website called Jane's Patisserie and I can say that these are some of the best chocolate brownies I’ve ever made. They are particularly good on day two if you keep them in the fridge!

I didn't add anything to them (Jane's recipes suggest adding chopped up chocolate bars like Mars or Crunchie, but I just wanted the standard brownie texture) but I decorated the top with some drizzled icing and some mini KitKat Santas, but you can put anything you want on top, or indeed nothing at all. These are truly more-ish and might have to become my go-to brownie recipe!


Sunday 13 December 2020

Christmas bauble cakes

There was a time when I always wanted the latest novelty cake pan or innovative piece of baking equipment from Lakeland - to be fair I still do want those things but am realistic to know I don’t have space for much more and don’t have time for the sort of elaborate bakes I used to do! But it’s fun to dig out equipment I haven’t used in a long time - or in this case had never actually used.

This is a silicon mini cake pan in the shape of Christmas baubles - I think I bought it in the January sale one year and had never actually used it!

The only instructions on the back said to use a two egg cake mix so I used this recipe from the BBC Good Food website  but had far too much cake mixture so made these reindeercupcakes as well.

I had to guess how long to cook them for as though the cakes are small they are fairly deep so I did them at 180C for 20 minutes.

You can see the design on the cakes when they came out of the pan - some baubles have stars, others stripes and two had a snowflake pattern that looks really pretty if you go over it with white icing with a fine piping nozzle.

I went over the other designs with icing with varying degrees of success. My piping has never been neat! These look quite effective when all piled together on a plate though I don’t think I’d have the patience to ice more than six, it would be a fun activity to do with children.

Reindeer cupcakes with pretzel antlers

I really wanted to make some time to do some Christmas baking when I had a day off last week as in the past I would have made several festive treats by now and I hadn’t done anything yet! 

These reindeer cupcakes are really easy, the key ingredient is the pretzels - and you can make the cakes themselves any flavour you like!

I made chocolate cakes using this recipe on the BBC Good Food site and made a simple chocolate buttercream.

When the cakes were baked and cooled I topped with a spoonful of buttercream and used salted caramel flavour chocolate coated pretzels (made by Flipz, available in most supermarkets) for the reindeer’s antlers. You can use regular pretzels as well but I thought these went better with the cake!

For the face you can use a Smartie or M&M for the nose but I didn’t have any and these were a spur of the moment bake so I used some icing I had coloured red and used a little piping bag to pipe on the rest of the face. Some of the reindeer have slightly odd expressions but my daughter liked them and so did my husband!

Wednesday 9 December 2020

The Cocktail Man - Cocktail kits at home subscription box review

Many of us are missing going out to bars during lockdown – the atmosphere, the company, but also the cocktails carefully crafted by bartenders. Though I have to admit that I have barely been out to a bar since becoming a parent and even before that it wasn’t a regular occurrence – but I do love a proper cocktail that’s more than just a spirit and a mixer. A few months back I decided to treat myself to something I came across online, which aims to fill this particular gap. The Cocktail Man is professional mixologist James Vyse who quit his job at a top bar in London to create this new subscription service bringing you cocktail making kits at home.

You can choose your favourite cocktail as a one-off treat or a gift for someone else, or you can choose a subscription package where a different cocktail kit each month makes its way through your door. I have had two now, as part of a six-month subscription, and can confirm that the cocktails are delicious. However, the package changed after the first month and I do think these are a little on the expensive side – even though they are still cheaper than paying for cocktails of this quality in a bar!

What do you get in the Cocktail Man box?

Each month, the pack brings you everything you need to make five cocktails. That includes three miniature bottles of spirits, and a bottle of the Cocktail Man’s own recipe ‘sliqueur’ (which I think might be a ‘secret liqueur’ but I couldn't see an explanation for the name) – this is a flavoured liqueur that is basically what makes the cocktail something unique, plus a garnish and a recipe card. The three cocktails I have had so far are:

Raspberry Rose Gin Fizz: miniature bottles of gin, plus raspberry and rose sliqueur, and dried rose buds to garnish

Blueberry and lavender sour: vodka, blueberry and lavender sliqueur, and lavender sprigs to garnish.

Rhubarb and ginger negroni: gin, campari, rhubarb and ginger sliqueur, and dehydrated orange slices to garnish.

The recipe cards also explain what fresh ingredients you need; the first two both needed an egg white which isn’t something I would normally put in a drink, but as long as you shake it up enough, works just fine. The blueberry and lavender sour is served neat, whereas the raspberry rose gin fizz is topped up with tonic water; which wasn’t on the initial list of ingredients on the recipe card so luckily I read the whole thing before I started making it, or I would have gotten to the end and realised I had no tonic water! 

A negroni is usually too bitter for me and the rhubarb sliqueur did sweeten it somewhat, and I liked the hint of orange, but again I would prefer a sweeter cocktail. The garnishes give a nice final touch but what I liked most was that these tasted like proper premium cocktails. I preferred the raspberry rose gin fizz as I like a sweeter cocktail – I’m hoping that next time I get either the champagne cosmopolitan or the mango and passion fruit mojito!

What are the cocktails like?

Delicious – like something you would get in a high end bar. I’m not talking jug of sex on the beach – but the sort of drink I’ve enjoyed at the Dorchester or the Skylon bar in the South Bank Centre. With the garnish as well they look the part (providing you have suitable glassware – by the way, you also need a cocktail shaker). The mixers are minimal so these are strong cocktails too – a little goes a long way.

How is it packaged?

In an attractive blue strong cardboard box, with the bottles neatly arranged so you can see what you’ve got at a glance. There was also a postcard with a message from the Cocktail Man about the inspiration for this particular cocktail and the recipe card. Initially, there were two options however, of a standard and premium subscription; my subscription was upgraded from the former to the latter after some delivery issues. The standard box was similar but packaged in a plain white box, with a removal blue sleeve, and without the postcard. These feel like a luxury treat when they arrive and would make a lovely gift.

What does it cost?

Currently at the time of writing on the Cocktail Man website, an individual kit is between £34.99 and £36.99, a three month subscription is £79.99 (reduced from £98.97), six months £149.99 (reduced from £197.94) and 12 months is £279.99, down from the usual price of £395.88. That sounds expensive, and in fact since I started drafting this blog post the prices have actually gone up - but given each kit makes five cocktails, a one-off at £32.99 (including postage) sets you back £7 per cocktail – you’d pay nearly twice that in some high end bars. On a six month subscription, it’s less than £5 per drink, and for 12 months, that falls to under £4.70. Of course, you also have to take into account the fact that you are making these cocktails yourself at home – and a fair amount of the bar price would go towards covering overheads. I got a special offer via Facebook so look out for voucher codes so I feel like I got a bargain based on the current prices - and am looking forward to my next few boxes of cocktails!


Wednesday 2 December 2020

Winter Warmer recipe - Cheesy Sausage, Broccoli and Quinoa Bake

I wanted to share this dish I made recently from a recipe by the Chunky Chef as it’s a perfect winter warmer and easy to make.

The quantities can be easily scaled up or down - prepare some quinoa according to the pack instructions (rinsing then simmering on the hob). When cool, fluff with a fork.

Fry some sausages in a pan and at the same time, briefly steam some broccoli (I did this in the microwave). 

You also need a cheese sauce which you can either make from scratch or use a packet mix.

Mix the sausages, broccoli and quinoa into a large greased ovenproof dish and pour over the cheese sauce. Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and grated cheese and bake in the oven until brown on top.

The quinoa is a nice change as I don’t eat it very often but it works really well in this recipe. The cheese sauce is what brings it all together and while I made it with regular pork sausages, I am tempted to try this again with chicken sausage!

Sunday 22 November 2020

Lotus Biscoff Doughnuts for Food 'n' Flix - Knives Out

I used to take part in a blog challenge called Food ‘n’ Flix where the person hosting each month chooses a movie and everyone taking part bakes something inspired by that film. It got me to watch quite a few films I otherwise would never have seen and to try a few recipes I almost certainly wouldn’t have made otherwise!

As I’ve been baking and blogging less it fell off my radar a bit for the past couple of years but I came across it again last month. Wendy from A Day In the Life on theFarm chose the film Knives Out, which had been on my 'to watch' list for a little while, so it was a good reason to bump it to the top!

I wasn't sure what to expect from the film, which stars Daniel Craig as a detective trying to solve the mystery of a family patriarch's death. His family members all seem to have secrets and possible motives for their involvement in what may or may not be a murder, though the police have ruled it a suicide. There is an all-star cast including Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Chris Evans and Christopher Plummer, and the film reminds me of an Agatha Christie-style 'whodunnit' - but at the same time it's also very funny. I really enjoyed watching the film as it made a nice change from the sort of things we usually watch.

In terms of food references and inspiration, there's a lot of indirect inspiration that could be taken from the family setting, but I prefer with this challenge to use a direct reference. There's one scene set in a restaurant where one of the main characters eats sausage and beans - a dish my husband would enjoy but I hate beans so this wasn't one for me. What actually stuck in my mind more was doughnuts!

There's a scene where Daniel Craig's detective Benoit Blanc summarises how confusing the case appears to be, saying: "A doughnut hole in the doughnut's hole. But we must look a little closer. And when we do, we see that the doughnut hole has a hole in its center - it is not a doughnut hole at all but a smaller doughnut with its own hole, and our doughnut is not whole at all!"

After that, all I wanted was a doughnut, so that's what I decided to make! I've never tried to make proper doughnuts as they need to be fried - I don't have a deep-fat fryer and don't really fancy filling a pan with that much oil. Instead, I've made baked doughnuts a few times and have the Wilton doughnut pan which makes these really easy.

I used this recipe for the doughnuts from the Wilton website.

When it came to decorating them, I was missing Doughnut Time (yes I know they deliver but I don't think it's a good idea for my husband and I to have a box of six of their doughnuts between us!) but I still wanted to do some sort of indulgent filling and topping. Lotus Biscoff immediately sprang to mind, since as well as the biscuits, they make a spread which I could eat just from the jar! I used some of the spread to fill the doughnuts (which I sliced through the middle - I wasn't quite up to injecting the filling like shop-bought ones!) and then covered the top in a chocolate glaze which I made from a mixture of chocolate and butter. 

I poured the chocolate glaze over the top and topped with a Lotus Biscoff chocolate biscuit. These weren't as gooey or indeed a patch on the ones I've had from Doughnut Time but they were very good and didn't last long!

I'm sharing this with A Day in the Life on the Farm for November's Food 'n' Flix challenge.

Thursday 19 November 2020

Black Forest Gateau - GBBO 80s Week

It was the time of Kylie and Jason and Bros, drop-waist dresses with puff ball sleeves, Butlins holidays, Queen and Vanilla Ice, My Little Pony and Care Bears, candy necklaces and fizzy cola bottles, and what felt like endless summers running around outside with friends from your estate, running home just in time to watch 80 Days Around the World with Willy Fog or to beg mum for a coin p as you heard the ice cream van music playing.

In other words, I was a child of the 80s and so was really looking forward to Great British Bake Off’s 80s themed week. I wondered beforehand what they could be asked to make - these are the foods I most remember!

  • Viennetta
  • Vol au vents
  • Chicken kiev
  • Battenburg
  • Frozen pizza (deep pan, served with chips)
  • Black Forest Gateau
  • Melon slices with cherries on cocktail sticks
  • Speaking of which, cheese and pineapple cubes on cocktail sticks
  • Angel delight
  • Space invaders crisps
  • Panda pops
The list goes on.... if you remember the 80s, what were your favourites?

The actual challenges in GBBO were quiche, custard doughnuts and ice cream cake. I didn’t realise quiche was an 80s trend, though I do remember seeing one for the first time in the local bakery when I was a child and reading the label, getting the pronunciation wrong as I’d never seen the word before and asking my mum what a ‘quickie’ was, to her mortification! Though as someone with a modern languages degree I’m quite impressed that eight or nine-year old me read ‘quiche’ as ‘quickie’!

I didn’t think those kind of doughnuts were particularly associated with the 80s either, and other than Viennetta I don’t think I ever saw an ice cream cake in the 80s - and Viennetta isn’t really cake, it’s ice cream and thin layers of chocolate.

So when it came to my own bakealong I decided to make something different. I have strong memories of going to a couple of aunts’ weddings in the 80s and Black Forest gateau featuring prominently on the buffet table. I absolutely loved Black Forest gateau apart from one thing - I didn’t like cherries. But the cake was so moist, so chocolatey, I couldn’t resist - so I would always have a slice if it was on offer and carefully prise apart the layers and scrape the cherry filling out, then scrape the cherry off the top, then deposit both on my mum’s plate and wipe my fork with her napkin!

I still don’t like cherries and haven’t eaten Black Forest gateau for years - and have never made one, so it seemed a good idea to make for my GBBO bake along!

I used this Eric Lanlard recipe but didn’t use kirsch as I wanted my daughter to be able to eat the cake; instead I brushed the cake layers with cherry juice. I also didn’t want to use black cherries so bought a tin of black cherry pie filling, which did contain whole cherries but also a thick syrup that I used to sandwich between the layers of the cake. I saved the actual cherries to decorate the top of the cake - and of course picked them off when I came to eat it!

I think I might have forgotten to add the sugar to the cream and I didn’t think I could actually taste any cherry in the cake either from the juice or the filling! Which essentially made it quite a lot of faff for a chocolate cake with a fresh cream filling. But the grated chocolate around the outside and the cherries on top made it feel very 1980s! So I was fairly happy with this cake but if I made it again I might just use the cake recipe and skip the cherries entirely and fill it with chocolate instead!



Sunday 8 November 2020

GBBO Japanese Week - Wagamama's Tori Kara Age and Chicken Katsu Curry

I was a bit surprised when I saw Great British Bake Off was doing Japanese week, as I didn’t think Japan was a particularly easy theme for cakes and bakes. Of course, I’ve never been to Japan so could be completely wrong – and a few years ago I did go to the opening of a Japanese cafe in central London which was really nice. But when I googled Japanese desserts, the main things that came up used flavours that are quite hard to get hold of unless you can go to a specialist shop, like yuzu, matcha and red bean paste. One recipe I kept coming across was a really light wobbly cheesecake that looked quite difficult to make – which is what Lottie actually made on GBBO that made her star baker.

I have made mochi before which was interesting – quite nice but not something I’d eat regularly – but since I couldn’t get hold of any matcha or yuzu in time I couldn’t think of anything I could bake that wouldn’t be really complicated. So I decided to do dinner from my Wagamama cookery book instead! I picked out Tori Kara Age which is essentially a marinated fried chicken recipe. I didn’t realise it was actually a side dish as I have never ordered this in Wagamama’s, but I think it also goes well with rice as a main course.

It is a little time consuming to make since you have to make the marinade (which is a separate recipe) first, and then a dipping sauce (another separate recipe). Luckily I already had most of the ingredients, including sake, from a previous recipe; this uses quite a lot of soy sauce as well so make sure you have plenty! Once I had marinated the chicken pieces they were coated and fried; the dipping sauce added an umami sort of taste that was really quite more-ish!

My favourite Wagamama recipe though is the dish I order almost every time I eat there (which is only once every couple of years, if that, as my husband doesn’t like that cuisine) – chicken katsu curry. So I was quite pleased when the restaurant chain decided to publish their recipe during the first lockdown, for people to make at home. It is surprisingly easy – you need quite a few ingredients but all ones I already had in the cupboard. I tend to take a shortcut and buy breaded chicken goujons rather than make my own, but the sauce tastes exactly like the real thing and has quickly become a firm favourite in my household!

I was also interested to learn about kawaii from Great British Bake Off - a style of Japanese cake decorating that translates as cute or adorable. If you see a kawaii cake you will know straight away what I mean! I have made a few things in the past that might fall roughly under this category - not strictly speaking kawaii, but I think they are quite cute! Check these out:

Reindeer cake pops

Puppy dog cupcakes


Russian doll birthday cake

Shopkins doughnut birthday cake

Strawberry and white chocolate unicorn cake

Thursday 5 November 2020

Mary's Chocolate Orange Tart - GBBO Bakealong

Chocolate week on Great British Bake Off would once have seen me coming up with some elaborate creation, no doubt a lavishly decorated cake. But I don’t have the luxury of a lot of time any more and wasn’t really in the mood for cake - I fancied making a dessert that would keep for a couple of days. It seemed appropriate to use a GBBO recipe book and having a flick through, I settled on Mary Berry's chocolate orange tart from the Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking.

The chocolate filling is a mixture of chocolate, sugar, butter, flour and eggs - so it's no wonder that it seemed quite cake-y to me. But the trick is not to overbake it and leave it slightly wobbly in the centre - I always have my mum's voice in the back of my mind at times like that, warning me that it isn’t cooked (or half raw, as she would probably put it) which explains why my brownies are usually overbaked! 

There is also an orange filling that you make in a similar way but using egg yolks not whole eggs, white chocolate, and the grated zest of one orange. But for some reason oranges were completely out of stock on my online shop that week (perhaps as we go into lockdown in winter, people are worried they will get scurvy?!) so I made do with a few drops of orange essence instead.

The idea is to swirl the two fillings together inside your pastry case to create a marbled effect. I think this looks quite pretty, don't you?

It is delicious served warm and also very good served cold a day or two later - if it lasts that long!

Chocolate Eclairs - GBBO Bakealong

I’ve been trying to bake along with Great British Bake Off this year and wasn’t particularly looking forward to pastry week as I don’t make particularly good pastry - I’m rubbish at kneading I think! Until I saw that the bakers were making choux pastry and specifically eclairs. Given I have an eclair pan and a book called Secrets of Eclairs - both from the pre-parenting days when I had a lot more time to bake - I had no excuse not to join in!

Eclair pans are not exactly a necessary piece of baking equipment but they do help keep your piping straight and a uniform size and the tin I used is quite heavy with curved edges which keep it stable.

As for the recipe book, it’s a small volume but has some detailed explanations of the equipment and techniques you need to make eclairs, plus recipes for different flavoured pastries and fillings.

I was quite limited by what I had in the house - if I want to bake in the same week as the GBBO episode then I need to either decide before I’ve seen the show what I am going to make (so not really a bake along) or make do with what I have got in the house - I’m trying to avoid extra trips to the shops due to Covid!

That left me with plain eclairs with a chocolate filling and white icing on top - nice and traditional.

Making choux pastry is actually quite straightforward and quick but the tricky bit comes with deciding how much egg to add. The recipe I used said you needed up to two eggs, and to beat them together and add gradually until you get the right consistency. I felt I needed to use all the egg, so wasn’t sure if that was right and I should have used less, but it turned out well!

I did end up having to make two batches and in true GBBO style, bin the first lot and start again. Bizarrely for such a detailed recipe book with extensive explanations of each step, the basic recipe for choux pastry at the front of the book omits any cooking time! So I went by the time in one of the flavoured recipes later in the book and the eclairs came out very overbaked so I started again and reduced the cooking time significantly.

I made simple icing from icing sugar and water which looked ok at first but once it had set it was almost transparent and I think I should have made it much thicker or done a few layers. I would have preferred to make the traditional chocolate icing but didn’t have the ingredients as this was a last minute bake! The texture of the choux was quite good and they did taste nice, though they were a lot smaller than shop-bought eclairs. This was the size guided by my eclair pan so I can only assume that shop-bought eclairs use some sort of industrial equipment and bake in a size that can't really be replicated at home. If that's not the case and you are a whizz with eclairs, let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday 14 October 2020

Rainbow Bagels - Great British Bake Off

How bright and cheerful these rainbow bagels are! But what are rainbow bagels and how do you make them?

The Great British Bake Off put rainbow bagels in the spotlight in bread week and there was some controversy after Paul Hollywood suggested they represent the NHS. In fact these brightly coloured bagels - which are just regular bagels with food colouring - originated in New York and there were queues down the street outside creator Scott Rossillo’s Bagel Store when they hit the big time (i.e. Instagram) in 2016. Later they moved to London’s Brick Lane, which if you have been there you will know is bagel-central. But do they have anything to do with the NHS? Well no - they are more commonly seen as a symbol of Gay Pride and the LGBT+ community.

Either way, my two year old daughter loves all things rainbow and thought these were brilliant!

 Since they featured as the technical challenge in GBBO there is a recipe on the website. This is the one I followed and I found them quite easy to make - or so I thought because they didn’t exactly turn out perfectly but they tasted pretty good!

They are more time consuming than difficult as you have to add food colouring to five separate pieces of the dough and knead it in. Layering and twisting each piece was good fun and I thought they looked great even if mine weren’t as neon bright as the ones on the TV.

Did you know that you briefly plunge bagels into a pan of boiling water before baking them in the oven? This is what gives the bread it’s shiny outer crust but makes sure they stay chewy in the middle. I actually made these before watching the relevant GBBO episode and it was onto when I watched it the next day that I heard the judges explain that if the bagels spend too long in the water they get a wrinkled effect instead of a hard shiny crust, which is what mine had - the wrinkles that is!

Apparently the water needs to be simmering not boiling. I also don’t think I kneaded the dough enough (for some reason I decided to do it by hand rather than using my Kitchenaid) and I also left the bagels too long to prove as I was making these in stages around doing other things! So in a way it was actually surprising that they turned out so well! Here is a picture of the inside:

If you are baking along with GBBO and have made these or fancy having a go, let me know!

Saturday 3 October 2020

London's best doughnut? Doughnut Time review

Something about lockdown has made me start thinking about doughnuts a lot. You just can’t get them with your online grocery order – which is making me want them even more. For some reason, the fresh bakery items like a fresh unsliced loaf of bread or a simple doughnut doesn’t seem to be an option. I’ve even been browsing websites like Krispy Kreme and Doughnut Time to see what they can deliver, then deciding I shouldn’t be bulk buying that sort of thing at the moment anyway!

But it reminded me of when I started my new job and found a doughnut shop called Doughnut Time.

It’s right up there with the super-indulgent once in a blue moon treat – they look so calorific and are also pretty expensive, as far as doughnuts go - £4.50 each when you can get a pack of five for under a quid from supermarkets. But these are not your average supermarket doughnut, and indeed they are (in my opinion) a cut above Krispy Kreme, which until now I thought was the gold standard of doughnuts (mass produced ones, anyway).

Doughnut Time’s doughnuts are big – and I mean massive. They even sell a sharing size one for £17 that would be a good alternative for a birthday cake – but I think their regular sized ones would easily do two people.

The doughnuts themselves are light and springy with just the right amount of chewiness – really good. But it’s the toppings where they come into their own, complete with quirky puns for names.

For instance:

Bellatwix Lestrange – topped with chocolate glaze, biscuit crumb, chocolate flakes, caramel drizzle and a Twix

Apple Crumble & Fitch -a vegan offering with an apple pie filling covered in caramel glaze and Lotus Biscoff crumble

Bueno Mars – Hazelnut cream filling, milk and dark chocolate glaze with Nutella, wafer and Kinder Bueno pieces

Stranger Rings 2.0 – chocolate glazed doughnut with Oreo crumbs, Nutella and glitter              

Ruby Rose – strawberry glaze, filled with strawberry cheesecake, topped with marshmallows, wafers, raspberries and a ruby KitKat.

The shop window literally stops passers-by in their tracks and inside the shop is basically just a tiny counter with space for about two people to pay and take the doughnuts away (they provide boxes). (NB – I haven’t been here since before COVID; they have about a dozen stores that are open around London at the moment and they advise you follow them on Instagram to find out which stores are currently open).

I’ve actually been here three times now, and have tried the Ruby Rose and the Bueno Mars – both amazing but the former seems lighter due to the cheesecake and the flavour, which is a good thing, and my husband has had the Stranger Rings 2.0 and Ice Ice Bae Bae – vanilla buttercream, vegan cookie pieces, chocolate chip cookie dough and chocolate chips. I didn’t even bother telling him this one was vegan as I knew he’d love the cookie dough! We also had their Valentine's special - I can't remember what it was called but it wasn't as good as the Bruno Mars!

Did I mention that they do a DIY kit to decorate your doughnut at home – the doughnuts are of course provided. I may have to treat myself soon….

Tuesday 29 September 2020

Congratulations - It's a Girl! New baby handmade card

Sometimes I feel like a Womble (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write) – making good use of the things that I find, things that the everyday folk leave behind. (Is it strange that I remember those lyrics despite not having seen the television show for over 30 years?). When it comes to card making, I like to use every last scrap, as some things seem too good to waste.

Take the It’s a Girl paper pad by First Edition – I received this as a gift along with some other card making goodies from my husband not long after our daughter was born. The front cover had come detached from the pad but it was too nice to throw away – so even though I had plenty of paper left in the pack itself, I decided to use the cover to make this card.

 I liked how the cover had overlapping designs – intended to show the range of papers inside the pack. I used it to cover a small blank card but it didn’t quite cover the whole card, as I’d had to cut around the wording saying ‘12x12 paper pad’ or something along those lines. To cover the gap I stuck a line of paper flowers down the edge of the card, and added a couple of gem and leaf embellishments to give it a bit of a three-dimensional lift. Finally I added a nice pastel pink ‘congratulations’ banner from another sticker pack, as this is intended for a couple who are expecting their third child – a girl.

Tuesday 15 September 2020

Too Good To Go: How to reduce food waste and get cheap meals

How can you get cheap restaurant food and bargain bakery deals?

Many of us like a bargain and in these strange times a lot of people are struggling financially. It’s a well known supermarket shopping tactic to go at the end of the day when they are reducing their items that are close to use by dates - known as ‘yellow stickering’. But did you know that there is - in the UK at least - another way to get reduced food not just from shops but also from cafes and restaurants?

A while back a colleague told me about an app called Too Good To Go. The idea is to help shops and dining establishments to reduce food waste - and help customers save money at the same time. You can buy a ‘magic bag’ for a couple of quid - usually between £3 and £4 - with the items inside worth at least £10, often a fair bit more. The only thing is - you don’t know what you will get, as these are mystery bags! They all contain food that needs using quickly and might be at its best before date already but still safe to eat.

How does the Too Good to Go app work?

You can set the app to your local area - eg near home or work - and each day see where there are bargains to be had. But you have to be quick! Each offer goes live at a certain time - which varies according to the shop and I’m not sure it’s the same every time even then. I haven’t been able to figure out a way of discovering when is the best time to secure one of the magic bags - though if you are interested in a particular shop or restaurant, keep an eye on the app as it will tell you what time the bags sold out each time, and you can use that to get an idea of when they might have been released.

 The bags must be collected at a certain time and this can be a little tricky - for instance a cafe might want to sell what is left over from their lunch rush but you need to collect it between 2 and 2.45pm. Or a restaurant will ask you to collect between 9 and 9.30pm. But what’s ok to eat at 9.30pm should still be ok to eat the next day and don’t forget some things can be frozen - so in my opinion it’s definitely worth doing.

As the contents are a surprise you can’t factor in allergies but Too Good To Go says that if you pay for and collect a bag and find it has something inside you are allergic to, to get in touch with them. If you have certain dietary requirements like you are vegetarian, you can filter your search.

I’ve never been able to take advantage of the app before due to the timings and my commute but now that I’m working from home, suddenly it is accessible. There aren’t any restaurants in my local area taking part - the nearest being a ‘chicken hut’ 3km away where I would have to go at 10.30pm. There is a nice sounding Italian deli a similar distance with collection at lunchtime so one day if I don’t have meetings I might see if I can fit it into my lunch break!

But happily the local garden centre five minutes away takes part in the scheme so one day last week I managed to go into the app at the right time while there were still some bags available, and snagged myself one.

What I hadn’t realised was that the delivery time stated was for the next day, but that was fine and I could still manage to go. You pay via the app or by card and it tells you where to go in store - in this case it was the deli counter where they had the bags ready and waiting, I held my phone out for the app to be scanned and was handed the bag and that was it - in and out in five minutes.

What do you get in the Too Good to Go bag?

I couldn’t wait to look in the bag when I was home and see what I’d got! My haul consisted of: a large bloomer loaf (which stayed fresh for a few days), a packet of mixed heritage tomatoes which still had several days to go, a packet of two jam doughnuts (which for eaten the same night), a packet of four vegetable spring rolls and a fresh ready meal of monkfish kebabs (to serve two), both of which had use by dates that same day and I had already defrosted something for dinner so they went straight in the freezer. They looked very tasty and a premium item - I think the whole bag was probably worth around £12-£15 and I paid £3.99 for it.

Last month Too Good To Go saved more than 100,000 meals from going to waste. I have also seen internet articles about people getting £30 worth of food from their local supermarket for just over £3 on this app, which is especially good for those finding money a bit tighter than usual at the moment. For me personally, the magic bag was more of a treat (I must say I had been expecting more bakery items, ie cake!) at a bargain price and not something I would have the time to do regularly - but I really like the surprise element as I wouldn’t have thought to buy monkfish kebabs.

If you live (or work) in a big city you are more likely to find places taking part in Too Good To Go, and it seems like the range is growing all the time - so it’s definitely worth taking a look. Let me know if you’ve used it before and what was the best thing you got in your magic bag!


Sunday 6 September 2020

Floral letter decoration for girl's bedroom

My daughter is now two and a half and during lockdown we decided to redecorate her bedroom. She has a lovely mural on one wall (a giant decal sticker) and a bookcase full of books but other than that we hadn’t much much effort in, as she doesn’t really play in her bedroom yet apart from a few minutes after going up to bed. We decided it was about time we made the room nicer and somewhere she might want to play, plus she needed more toy storage as she has so many toys!

 I had been browsing photos of girls’ bedroom styles on Pinterest etc for inspiration and decided to put up a couple of shelves with pretty decorative items on them. I’d seen a few things I liked, in particular the child’s initial either in a picture frame or three dimensional and covered with flowers. It looked easy to make so I thought I’d have a go, and got everything I needed from Hobbycraft.

They sell wooden fillable letters (£4.40 each) many of which seemed to be out of stock online so I signed up to be emailed when they were back in stock. The first time I had such an email the letter I wanted was already sold out again by the time I went online so second time I was ready and made my purchase while I was getting up in the morning!

The flowers are fabric wired rose heads, I used three packs at £3 each - each pack is one colour. I used most of the packs to fill the letter and only had a couple of flowers left over. I cut and shaped pieces of florist oasis to put into the wooden letter and stick the flowers into, alternating colours and making sure there was no gap.

The oasis seemed firmly in place so I didn’t glue it in as I had intended but this would make it more secure. Hobbycraft also sells a small wooden stand (50p) which will help if you want the letter to stand up on a shelf.

I’m really pleased with how this turned out and how simple it was to make - once everything turned up from Hobbycraft it took about ten minutes!