Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Vegan Watermelon Sorbet and an Easy Watermelon Cocktail

I had a real ‘I carried a watermelon’ moment on holiday. My husband and I were staying in a small village in Gozo (an island off Malta) and had walked to the local grocery shop to buy food for the week, having been told the shop would deliver. Forget Tesco two-hour delivery slots: we purchased our groceries, told to pack it into an empty cardboard box and leave it in the corner, and they would bring it to us in about half an hour.
Almost an hour later there was no sign so I left my husband in our rooms and went over to the reception of our apartment complex - and found the delivery driver there asking directions. I hopped in his car and we drove over to our building, where he proceeded to unload the car. I asked if I could carry anything, which is how I ended up ringing the bell on our apartment door, and my husband opened it to find me standing there holding a giant round fruit and uttering the immortal line from Dirty Dancing: “I carried a watermelon!”.
Watermelon is delicious when the weather is hot; you can freeze it in cubes or munch on a whole slice. There are loads of recipes you can make with watermelon as well.

Watermelon cocktail
While I was in Gozo I made an impromptu watermelon cocktail given I had very few tools and ingredients; cut a few chunks of watermelon and discard the seeds and muddle in the bottom of a tumbler until the watermelon has broken down a bit (you could also put it in a blender if you wanted a smoother drink).
Add a splash of rose wine (or more than a splash, if you like) and top up with lemonade. If possible, enjoy beside the swimming pool as I did!
Watermelon Sorbet
We had a barbecue last weekend despite the weather, as it had been organised several weeks in advance and there wasn’t a suitable date we could postpone to. It was rainy and not particularly warm so most people were indoors – luckily we have a gas barbecue with a lid so we could still cook outside!
I made a couple of desserts in advance, including the chocolate ice cream from a KitchenAid recipe I made once before (but leaving out the chocolate chips this time), which is delicious. I needed a vegan dessert as well and decided to make a very simple watermelon sorbet. Simply dice some watermelon and remove the black seeds and put in a blender with some sugar syrup (which you can buy in a bottle or make yourself). Spoon into a plastic container and freeze overnight or longer. You will need to take the sorbet out of the freezer for an hour or so before you want to serve, as it will be rock solid; after an hour at room temperature you can scoop it into bowls and enjoy.
I was so busy at the barbecue I forgot to take a better photo!
This month’s Food ‘n’ Flix challenge is hosted by Chef Sarah Elizabeth who has chosen the film Dirty Dancing. I loved this film as a teenager and there’s something very timeless about it even though it’s 30 years old (I can’t believe that!). The idea of the challenge is to share a recipe inspired by the film and having had my own ‘I carried a watermelon’ moment, that was the inspiration I chose.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 30

We had a barbecue at the weekend which was fun despite the weather - the rain put some people off though and we had about half the number of guests we expected, so we have a lot of leftover food! I need to eat healthily though it's tempting to try to use up all the leftover food as well, so I'm going to allow myself one 'treat' meal then get back on the healthy eating bandwagon - especially as I'm away for a bit at the weekend visiting my sister and her partner and my baby niece.

Breakfast  porridge
Lunch chicken salad
Dinner hotdogs and leftover potato salad

Breakfast yogurt
Lunch jacket potato with tuna
Dinner chicken pasta carbonara in the slow cooker

Breakfast yogurt
Lunch chicken salad
Dinner not sure as I will be home a bit late - going shopping after work for some bits for my niece

Breakfast yogurt
Lunch chicken salad
Dinner pie and mash

Breakfast porridge
Lunch tuna sandwich
Dinner at my sister's

Breakfast at my sister's
Lunch at my sister's
Dinner back late so will decide what to eat based on when I get home

Breakfast TBA - might have a lie in for the first time in weeks!
Lunch bacon sandwich for him, mackerel in mustard sauce on toast for me
Dinner roast chicken

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Review: Charlotte Tilbury, Blow Ltd and the Delaney, Aldwych, London

For my birthday this year I had a day of pampering. I'd gotten a voucher for a makeup session at Charlotte Tilbury in Covent Garden for Christmas which I had booked to do on my birthday which was a Saturday at the end of April.

It didn't get off to the best start as I realised in the morning I'd had no email confirmation, as I'd booked over the phone, so I rang just to double check all was ok - only to find they had no record of my booking! Naturally I wasn't thrilled but luckily the manager said they could fit me in anyway at the time I had booked for (since I had booked a blow dry elsewhere afterwards).

I had a two hour session and was shown looks for daytime and evening, perched awkwardly on a high stool in front of a huge mirror with lights around the edge, feeling slightly crammed in next to the other women (most of whom had brought a friend or their mum) seated around me. I think I expected the session to be more of a makeup tutorial and there was a degree of finding colours and looks that suited me but I'm not sure I took a lot in about how it was being applied which was a bit of a shame.

I didn't realise as well that their two hour session is quite unusual and most people have an hour. It was described on the website as a 'makeup wardrobe' to find colours and a look that suits, but when I had the conversation with the manager about how they had lost my booking, she said they didn't offer the makeup wardrobe session any more and it shouldn't have been on the website (though it was) and that the person taking my booking shouldn't have done so in the first place! They did honour the booking and give me the session I had booked and paid for but I could tell that after about an hour and a half the girl doing my makeup was really struggling for something to do and it was a bit like 'shall we add an extra bit of highlighter'... still she did her best and did a good job and I was happy  with the rest (though I'd advise anyone else to just book the one hour session) - and ended up buying several products to take home. The manager even slipped an extra product into my bag to make up for the confusion over my booking.

Then it was on to Blow Ltd, a blow-dry bar in nearby St Martin's Courtyard. They don't do hair cuts but will style your hair in a selection of styles, and also do hair and makeup. There was only one other person in there having her hair done at the time who turned out to be one of the other stylists - they were quiet so were practising on each other! I was surprised they weren't busier for 5pm on a Saturday afternoon but I'd never heard of this place before until I was googling where to get a blow dry. They did a great blow dry and the girl was happy to adapt the style to my hair type and talked to me about what I wanted rather than just have me point to one of the eight options pictured on the wall. I'd definitely go back and get another blow dry if funds allowed - though I'm not normally the type of person to get glammed up to go out on a Saturday night!

I met my husband outside and his reaction to both the hair and makeup was 'wow'. He'd come in to London to meet me to take me for a birthday dinner. My criteria for choosing a restaurant was 1) somewhere I hadn't been before 2) somewhere near Covent Garden 3) somewhere worthy of a birthday dinner 4) somewhere with a menu that would suit both me and my fussy-eater husband.

I found the Delaunay online and couldn't believe I'd never heard of it before. It's run by the same people as the Wolseley, a high-end restaurant my husband and I went to for my birthday a couple of years ago. It stands on the corner of Aldwych and Drury Lane and is apparently popular for pre-and post-theatre dining, which explains why it was really busy when we arrived then emptied out dramatically just before 7.30!

The other reason I was surprised I hadn't heard of this place is because I love German food, having twice lived in Germany. The Delaunay describes itself as a European cafe - it has a cafe section and the main restaurant - but from looking at the menu the food seems to be German or Austrian-inspir ed. There's a fair bit of seafood including crab and oysters, sardines and scallops, and 'normal' things like a burger but the fact that the eggs section is called Eier and the daily specials Tagesteller is a bit of a giveaway. They have Wiener Schnitzel and chickens schnitzel , a whole section of German sausages and a dessert selection that is decidedly Germanic, from Black Forest Gateau to Sachertorte to apple strudel.

I was in heaven. My husband had their chicken schnitzel which he'd eaten in Austria and really enjoyed, and I picked a mixture of two types of sausage - a Frankfurter and a Berber Wurstel, which was a pork and garlic sausage, stuffed with Emmental cheese down the middle, and wrapped in bacon. It came with a small portion of potatoes and sauerkraut (I love sauerkraut and don't think I've ever had it in a restaurant in the UK before) - but as I didn't know it came with those, I'd ordered a side of spƤtzle, which is like a kind of pasta that you typically get in southern Germany and Austria.

The cheese was actually a bit much with the richness of the sausage and if I had this again I'd stick to a plain sausage, but otherwise it was really good. For dessert I had a piece of strudel which came with an edible biscuit plaque where the restaurant had written a happy birthday message - I must have mentioned my birthday when I booked, which I thought was a nice touch. So if you are yearning for a little bit of Germany and Austria in London, or just want to try something a bit different, I strongly recommend the Delaunay.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 29

Back at work after two weeks holiday (though I was only actually on holiday in Malta for a week). In some ways I'm looking forward to going back to a routine and healthy eating though there are actually several things happening this week that might alter that a bit!

Breakfast: porridge and fruit juice.
Lunch chicken salad
Dinner quick chicken cacciatore - make 1 extra portion and freeze. At least that was the plan, I discovered at 7.30pm I didn't have any tinned tomatoes or passata so used a jar of pasta sauce instead and basically we are having spaghetti with a chicken breast for dinner. Damn.

Breakfast out at a work event
Lunch out at a work event
Dinner out at a work event

Breakfast yogurt and Scotch pancakes
Lunch chicken and mango salad
Dinner out with friends

Breakfast yogurt and Scotch pancakes
Lunch chicken and mango salad
Dinner going shopping after work for our bbq so something quick and easy

Breakfast wholemeal toasted bagel with peanut butter
Lunch chicken and mango salad
Dinner pasta with tuna and tomato sauce was the original plan but after a bit of a disaster on Monday I think I'd better do something else. I think salmon with new potatoes would be nice.

Breakfast yogurt and muesli
Lunch baked potato and cottage cheese
Dinner hosting a BBQ

Breakfast with the friends who are staying over, one of whom is vegan: I found a recipe for vegan French toast which looks nice
Lunch the above may end up being brunch; otherwise something like salmon pate on ryvita. My husband can have a bacon sandwich
Dinner probably leftover barbecue food!

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Boozy Brownies

These chocolate brownies are definitely not suitable for children! They're great for an adults-only party or barbecue, though I made them as a gift for a friend who had been through a tough time lately. He seemed pretty pleased with them when I described what was in the brownies!

The recipe comes from Bake in Black - Music-Inspired Baking by Eve and David O'Sullivan which I reviewed when it came out. I hadn't made anything from this book in a while so when I decided to bake something for my friend, had a flick through until I came to a recipe I could make fairly quickly and easily and that I could package up to give to him. Chocolate brownies it was!

The recipe is actually called Whiskey in the Bar- all the recipes in the book are inspired by music and this one is apparently Thin Lizzy. They are raisin and whiskey brownies with an Irish cream liqueur glaze - they came out gooey even though I extended the cooking time, and they taste amazing!

Makes 12
150g raisins
4 tbsp. Irish whiskey - though I didn't have any and used Jack Daniels
250g milk chocolate
200g butter
250g caster sugar
3 eggs
60g plain flour
60g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder

for the glaze:
50ml Irish cream liqueur
75g milk chocolate

Soak the raisins in the whiskey for at least half an hour.

When you are ready to begin baking, preheat the oven to 180C and grease a 20x20cm square cake tin.

Melt the chocolate either in the microwave or a bain-marie. Meanwhile in a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar and beat in the eggs. Pour in the melted chocolate and mix gently so it is all combined.

Add the raisins and the whiskey and fold in the flour, cocoa and baking powder. Pour into the baking tin and level the top; bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes [mine took more like 45, after I checked it a couple of times] until still squidgy but not raw in the middle when you test with a skewer. The skewer should emerge a bit sticky but not with raw brownie mixture on it.

Allow the brownies to cool in the tin. Make the drizzle when the brownies have cooled; heat the cream liqueur in a pan or a bowl in the microwave until just bubbling. Add the broken up chocolate and stir until smooth. Spread over the top of the brownies; the glaze will harden and you can then cut the brownies into squares.

I love Baileys but didn't have any and drinks like this don't actually keep that long - so if you have a bottle on the go that's great but I would advise against opening a new bottle for this recipe if you then aren't going to drink the rest (not on your own obviously!). Instead I found something really handy in Lidl a few months ago - a box of cream liqueur pots, like the milk you get in hotel rooms; you can open one or two as you want them and the rest will keep. Great if you just want the occasional drink or want to use in a recipe (or pour over ice cream perhaps?).

I'm sharing these with We Should Cocoa over at Tin and Thyme  and Treat Petite hosted by Kat the Baking Explorer.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Restaurant review: Absurd Bird, Spitalfields, London

Well don't you know about the bird? Well everybody knows the bird is the word!

Unless you were a fan of a pop group called The Trashmen in 1963 if this phrase rings any bells it's more likely to be because of Family Guy (Seth Macfarlane is a genius,  fact). I had the song firmly in my head when I had lunch with a friend at Absurd Bird in Spitalfields recently. The food is inspired by the Deep South, London food vans and 'a huge dose of fun and irony'. As well as free-range chicken they boast secret-recipe sauces, irresistible sides and 'insanely good' desserts baked in-house.

There were so many things I wanted to try from the menu it was a tough decision, from the mac and cheese with smoked chicken and bacon to the grilled chicken itself; I went for the BBQ pulled smoked chicken sandwich which came with pulled chicken, BBQ sauce, crispy onions and a potato bun. To be honest the bun didn't taste much different from a normal bread roll by the time all the other flavours were competing for attention in my mouth! The onions were deep fried, a bit like sections of onion rings, which I didn't really like as I could taste the batter more than the onion, but otherwise the burger was really good - and really messy!

There's a lunchtime menu on weekdays featuring six dishes at £6 (plus an extra £2 for fries) which my friend chose from; his fried chicken burger was a lot cheaper than the £10.80 mine cost and he kept casting envious glances in my direction.

We were too stuffed to contemplate dessert and were just about coming to the end of our lunch break anyway. This is definitely one of the hidden gems of Spitalfields - not in the main covered market area but not far away, along a street filled with eclectic shops but with an unpreposessing entrance that I'd missed despite having walked past it several times. But it's well worth seeking out - as the bird is the word.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Shop For Shoes and Nobody Gets Hurt Birthday Card

My mum has such tiny feet she finds it very hard to buy shoes, having to resort to the children's section which is fine if you want black 'school shoes' but if you want a pair of summer sandals, it can be hard to find ones without flowers, butterflies or sparkles! On occasion I've trawled every shoe shop in town with my mum looking for a particular type of shoe, so when I saw this stamp in a set from Born to Shop by Do Crafts I knew it would make the perfect birthday card for her.

It's the top left stamp in this pack with a picture of a lady holding several bags and shoe boxes, and the words 'let me shop for shoes, and nobody gets hurt'. It made me laugh and hopefully my mum did too!
I had some backing paper I'd printed out from a craft site years ago with pink shoes and the words 'happy birthday' throughout; I covered half a square card blank and also one corner, and edged both off with a border. I coloured in the stamp with Promarkers pens.

And as for my mum? When I got married last year I found her the perfect pair of shoes to go with her outfit from John Lewis' Rainbow Club range - they were ivory which went with the colours in her dress but best of all, the shoes can be taken back to John Lewis and dyed in another colour which will give her the perfect new pair of heels for any occasion.

I'm entering this in the Naughty or Nice card making challenge where the theme is 'if the shoe fits'.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Review: Osteria Dell'Angolo, Westminster, and Sister Act with Live Gospel Choir

If you ever get the chance to see a movie with a live orchestra or choir, I highly recommend it. There's been a whole host of these events over the past few years, where you watch a film on a big screen (usually in a theatre, or church) and the soundtrack is played live over the top of the movie.

I saw the first new Star Trek film at the Royal Albert Hall a couple of years ago (a while after the film first came out), with a full orchestra - and a special guest appearance from JJ Abrams who was in London at the time filming Star Wars. I never realised quite how much orchestral music was in Star Trek until I experienced this- it was well worth the £50 or so ticket price.

When I saw something similar - but very different - advertised for just £20 a ticket I jumped at the chance and invited my friend Ros. This time the setting was a church in Westminster, central London, and the movie was Sister Act - with a live gospel choir.

I've always loved Sister Act and the soundtrack in particular. It started with a high-energy warm-up that wasn't quite what I was expecting  - I know gospel is about praising the Lord but I was in the probably fairly large non-religious segment of the audience - but it was great to see the young people's passion.  I read later they were a group called VM and New-Ye who were MOBO award nominated which probably explained the enthusiastic reception from some of the crowd.

The 35-strong gospel Choir who accompanied the film were very good,  with various soloists and small groups taking it in turns as well as the full choir. My only disappointment was that there wasn't more music in the actual film for them to sing along to!

As we were going straight from work Ros found a restaurant for us to have dinner beforehand called Osteria dell'Angolo nearby in Westminster which had an elegant but slightly stuffy feel to it. We started with a selection of breads and breadsticks with oil to dip them in.

For my main course I chose a filled ravioli pasta with crab which was lovely; a fairly light dish so I decided to indulge in dessert as well and had the semifreddo - described as an almond nougat parfait with chocolate sauce. It was very good and service was prompt so we finished just in time to see the show.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Alpaca First Anniversary Card for my Husband

I have a bit of a thing about alpacas - they're so cute with their thick curly coats and crazy fringes that either make them look like a visit to the hairdresser went wrong, or they went in asking for the same style as Mimi Labonq from Allo Allo.

Image result for alpacaImage result for mimi allo allo

I like them so much that part of my hen night involved alpaca trekking and we even had alpacas at our wedding - just milling around during the afternoon reception amid the guests!

I had a birthday present this year from my friend and her daughter, where her daughter chose a couple of things to give me including a sheet of alpaca stickers. A month or so later when I came to thinking about an anniversary card for my husband I decided it ought to include alpacas and remembered the stickers.

The theme of the first wedding anniversary is 'paper' so I was always going to make my husband a hand made card, but I wanted it to be very 'us' and not just something generic with hearts and teddy bears. Alpacas are just as cute and cuddly anyway!

There was one large alpaca sticker on the sheet I was given, along with a few tiny alpacas, bees and an apple (do alpacas eat apples? I'm not sure!). The main alpaca was so big it would have taken up most of a standard A5 card blank and not left much room for a sentiment, so I used a giant A4 card blank.

I covered it with pink and red spotted paper as this seemed appropriate for an anniversary and printed the sentiments on the computer, then added the stickers. Easy to make though the sentiments took a bit of thinking about - it's a bit daft but then so am I, at least when it comes to cute animals, and luckily my husband knows that and loves me for it!

I'm sharing this with Ooh La La Creations as their theme this week is anniversary.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 Week 28

I'm writing this in advance of our holiday - we are coming back from Malta on Tuesday so I'm going food shopping on Wednesday morning and need to have the shopping list already in place! For reasons I won't bore you with I have to take a 2-week block away from work once a year, so even though we only went away for a week (we've just had new double glazing done so two weeks away was a bit expensive) I've got the rest of this week off, and my husband decided to take the rest of the week off too.

Lunch: at airport/ on plane
Dinner: takeaway as we won't be back in time to go shopping and then cook (also as I have a circuits class tonight I want to get to!)

Lunch: chicken, pesto and sundried tomato ciabatta
Dinner: harissa prawns with cauliflower couscous for me, harissa chicken with mashed potato for him

Lunch: cauliflower soup/ tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwich based on this recipe
Dinner: pork chop with quinoa and roasted veg for me, gammon and chips for him

Lunch: jacket potato with tuna for me, bacon sandwich for him
Dinner: chicken shawarma with garlic sauce and flatbreads

Lunch: At a car show at Sherborne Castle so will take a picnic
Dinner: something like frozen pizza as we will be back late

Lunch: pancakes with bacon and maple syrup
Dinner: roasted sausage and potato bake

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Silver Toned Christmas Bauble Christmas Card

One of the card making magazines I got as part of a special offer last year had a Christmas card kit attached to the front cover, that had various die-cut circles. To me, the circles looked like Christmas baubles, so I took a rectangular card blank and covered it with a piece of paper from the same kit, that had rows of what looked like Christmas decorations, and then stuck on three of the circles using adhesive pads.

I then took a sheet of silver outline stickers that I often use as borders, and chose one that had a chain link effect (some are more like a wavy line) and used that to make it look like the baubles were hanging from something.

I like the design and the colours of this card - silver with purple hints. I've stashed this away for next Christmas!

I'm sharing this with Sparkles Christmas Challenge as the theme this time is ornaments.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Coffee Cupcakes with Chocolate-Covered Coffee Beans

Coffee is not one of my favourite flavours; I generally dislike coffee cake and I don't drink coffee apart from on rare occasions. But in the hot weather we had recently I started craving iced coffee and even went to Starbucks for a Frappucino one time, something I haven't done in years.

How do I get from that to cake? Well, I found out at short notice that the front-of-house team were holding a bake sale in the lobby of my work building for Battersea Cats and Dogs Home. I love baking and I love cats (dogs too, but cats more!) so I wanted to lend a hand.

I needed to bake something that wouldn't take too long, that had ingredients I already had in the house, but also a cake that would last well in the heat and be something to tempt people on a hot summer's day.

I had a packet of chocolate-covered coffee beans in the cupboard from a recent Degustabox which I thought would be great on the top of cupcakes - which then had to be coffee.

I used a recipe from 'Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery' though I switched out the espresso powder as I didn't have any, for some strong coffee made from instant granules; I also used the same brown sugar rather than splitting the quantities between demerara and light brown sugar as advised. This is what I did:

Makes about a dozen cupcakes:
110g butter, softened, or margarine
130g light brown sugar
2 eggs
120g self-raising flour
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
50ml strong coffee
75ml semi-skimmed milk, at room temperature

to decorate:
150g butter, softened, or margarine
350g icing sugar
1 tbsp. strong coffee made from instant granules
chocolate-covered coffee beans to decorate

Preheat the oven to 180C or 160C fan. Cream together the butter and the sugar and mix in the eggs. Fold in the flour, vanilla, coffee and milk and combine until thoroughly mixed.

Spoon the mixture into cupcake cases in a muffin or cupcake tin and bake in the oven for 25 minutes. Allow to cool on a cooling rack.

To make the buttercream beat the butter with the icing sugar and mix in the coffee. Spread on top of the cooled cupcakes and swirl with a flat palette knife; place a couple of chocolate-covered coffee beans on top of each cupcake.

I'm sending this to Treat Petite hosted by Kat at Baking Explorer

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 Week 26

So the weather has turned and it doesn't look like we will be having barbecues this week! Never mind - not long til we go on holiday to sunny Malta.

Lunch: chicken salad with watermelon
Dinner: taking my husband to the optician after work to help me choose a new pair of glasses so we might get some dinner while we are out

Lunch: working from home - maybe a toasted sandwich
Dinner: home late after a circuits class; will probably have a microwave risotto when I get home

Lunch: salad or sandwich as I don't have long to eat before going to a school where I volunteer
Dinner: salmon and vegetables for me, chicken grillsteak for him (meant to do last week but didn't)

Lunch: salad
Dinner: pizza from the freezer as I think we will be home late

Lunch: salad
Dinner: chicken goujons/ fishfingers and chips

Lunch: crumpet pizzas
Dinner: chicken and bacon pies with mashed potatoes

Lunch: lemon chicken pasta with rest of jar of sauce
Dinner: toad in the hole

Join in the blog hop!


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Baked (Jacket) Potato Soup - for Leftover Baked Potatoes

I love eating jacket potatoes, especially in winter, but even in summer they can be a particularly nice lunch with sour cream and chives (or something similar), cooling tuna mayo or homemade coronation chicken.

Baked potatoes are also a great barbecue staple, cooked either on the coals or in the oven, as everyone can have their own and top it with whatever they like; they are great even just with butter. But it's easy to cook too many and have some baked potatoes left - here is a great recipe to use up leftover baked potatoes.

You can make a delicious soup with the potatoes that you can top with anything you like and freeze the soup for another day (or take it in a flask to eat at work).

If you want to make this soup from scratch, there's a quicker way than baking a potato in the oven for an hour or more, which you won't want to do on a hot day. Simply simmer a whole potato in a pan of milk for about 20-25 minutes until the potato is tender.

Mash the potato into the soup, or put the potato into a food processor with some of the milk and pulse, then return to the pan and stir in with the rest of the milk. Season to taste.

If you are using leftover potatoes, chop the potatoes and put into a pan of milk so the potatoes are just covered and bring the milk to simmering point. Remove from the heat allow to cool; put the potatoes and some of the milk into a food processor as before then return to the pan and stir through, and reheat if you are eating this now.

Serve the soup in bowls and top with whatever jacket potato toppings you liked - eg cooked diced bacon, sour cream and chive or a sprinkling of grated cheese.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Restaurant review: Cote Brasserie, St Christophers Place, London

I had a late dinner at Cote one evening with my mother-in-law after I had been to a KitchenAid cooking demonstration with chef Michael Moore. The demo didn't finish until 9 and even though I'd had a couple of bites to eat, trying some of the food that Michael cooked, it didn't really count as dinner.

We were near St Christopher's Place and my mother-in-law knew of Cote and wanted to go there - we passed some much more interesting restaurants as we walked, like Bone Daddies, but we were also with one of her work colleagues at the time so I didn't want to suggest anything else - I knew Cote would be comfortable, with plenty on the menu for everyone and in any case eating ramen (which Bone Daddies serves) is a pretty messy experience and probably not something to do with a work contact!

Because it was late I didn't want a heavy meal and also nothing that would take too long to cook or eat; there was a plats rapides menu that offered a couple of dishes that could be served quickly - I had the cod goujons for £11.95 which were essentially fishfingers but very large, chunky ones - nothing like the floppy flat ones you sometimes get in packets! It came with French fries- I declined the option of peas - and tartare sauce, and was very good. I recommend it if you are in the area, but next time I might try Bone Daddies!


Friday, June 23, 2017

Monochrome Fashion Mannequin Greeting Card

On a recent visit to a Hobbycraft I treated myself to a card making magazine which came with a whole sheet of unmounted rubber stamps relating to both DIY and tools and sewing equipment - a sewing machine, bobbins, knitting needles and wool and a wire mannequin.

I have a lovely turquoise wire mannequin I bought when I moved to my last house as I had a huge bedroom and was living on my own for the first time in years so could have a more feminine bedroom. Now that my husband and I own a house together - that is bigger but doesn't have a near-20ft long bedroom like I used to - the mannequin has been relegated to the spare room that I've nicknamed my craft room.

So I was immediately attracted to the mannequin stamp and stamped it in black ink just to the left of centre on a square card blank. Then I wasn't quite sure what to do!

Having started off with black ink against a white background I decided to go for a monochrome effect for the whole card, and remembered I had some black and white patterned papers. I cut off a strip and stuck it down the right hand third of the card - it looks a bit like flock wallpaper.

I used a 'just for you' stamp from the same set on white paper which I mounted onto black card, and secured to the card with two gold brads in the shape of stars. I really liked the finished effect and sent this to one of my best friends on her birthday.

I'm sharing this with Cardz 4 Galz where the theme is 'sew and sew'

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Slimming World Linguine with Crab and Chilli

This dish reminds me of something I would order in an Italian restaurant or better still, eat while on holiday somewhere sunny, ideally with a view of the ocean. It's actually based on a Slimming World recipe for the rather more prosaically named 'crab noodles' and is really quick to throw together.

Cook some linguine or spaghetti according to pack instructions; when is cooked, drain, and add some tinned crab (a small tin will do 1-2 people depending on how generous you want to be with the crab), a few dried red chilli flakes or a pinch of fresh chopped red chilli, some finely chopped red onion, a squeeze of lime juice, and the grated zest of the lime, and some fresh parsley on top. Serve with broccoli or a salad on the side. Delicious!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Restaurant Review: Wasabi, Borough High Street, London

Commuting is never fun though in the past I’ve quite enjoyed sitting on a train with a good book or a newspaper – these days however it’s a deeply unpleasant experience. My trains are frequently cancelled or delayed, and I’ve lost count of the number of times Southern has been on strike in the past 12 months.
It was one of those days where I had finished late at work, got to London Bridge station to find the train was cancelled and I had a 45 minute wait until the next one. As I wouldn’t get home until about 9pm and it was a nice evening, I decided to make the most of it and get some dinner.
Walking back down from the station I passed a Jamie’s bar, and stuck my head inside, but it was packed and I wanted to sit down. I meandered a little way along the street, noticing that all the bars and pubs were crowded and the only other options seemed to be the likes of Pret, or a little place I thought might be an Italian from the name but when I stuck my head in turned out to be a kebab shop.

Wasabi seemed the best option as it had seating, a choice of hot or cold food and would be pretty quick. As well as sushi Wasabi sells bento boxes, salads and dishes like sweet chilli chicken and rice. I chose a hot chicken katsu which came in a pot, with rice on the bottom, a piece of breaded chicken in a separate section on top and a container of katsu sauce, for you to mix together as you wish. I like the fact that you can add the sauce however you want it – it had quite a kick but I did end up using all of it.
It was very filling and really nice – on a par with somewhere like Wagamama so if you are looking for a takeaway chicken katsu curry you can eat at your desk back at work, I recommend this. I just hope that I don’t end up having to eat dinner on the go because my train is cancelled again!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Dr. Oetker Popcorn Fudge Brownies

Monday, June 19, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 25

We've just had the most amazing weekend away for our first wedding anniversary; just got home on Monday lunchtime with the rest of the day off with gorgeous weather to enjoy - why can't life always be like this?!

Lunch  back home in time for a late lunch from our anniversary weekend away so we will want something quick; beans on toast or similar will do.
Dinner – barbecue: whole roast chicken from the Weber course we did plus grilled broccoli with garlic and chilli
Lunch – wfh – salad with rest of chicken from Monday
Dinner – ready meal after circuits class
Lunch- sandwich – only have 10 mins to eat before I go to the school where I volunteer
Dinner- barbecued steak with potato wedges / baked potato with sour cream and chives and salad
Lunch- chicken salad
Dinner- salmon and vegetables for me, chicken grillsteak and mashed potatoes for him
Lunch- chicken salad
Dinner- chicken goujons/ fish and chips
Lunch- fresh bread, ham, cheese etc (as I will probably have to go food shopping today so can pick up some fresh bread)
Dinner- assuming the weather is still good, homemade pizza on the barbecue, with some sides. Followed by chocolate molten puddings also on the barbecue - both Weber recipes
Lunch- fresh pasta (ravioli)
Dinner- Lemon chicken from a jar of sauce - as an experiment, if the hubby likes it I will make my own next time! With a naan bread for him, and rice (with veg for me).

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Father's Day Shirt and Tie card

This card would be really nice alongside this cake...  but if you don't have time for baking this is a quick and easy make. It's not my neatest - I made it rather on the hoof standing up in my craft room which I had tidied in anticipation of new double glazing being done that week, and didn't want to get out all my craft supplies again and mess everything up!

You can use any pattern for the background - plain, striped, checked - anything that would resemble a man's shirt. This piece of paper is actually an offcut from a piece of wrapping paper!

I cut out the tie not following a template (you can tell, oops) and added a 'happy Father's Day' silver outline sticker; it doesn't show up too well in this photo and it looked better in real life!

I'm sending this to:
Cardz for Guyz - something blue for Father's Day
Always Fun Challenges - for a male or dad
Crafty Cardmakers - Father's Day

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Get Well Soon Card for a True Hero

I finally found a use for that 'hero' sticker.....

Usually when I share the cards I've made, it's so that people might be able to take the ideas and create something similar for the same occasion, should they so wish. But this get well card is a bit unique and I doubt many people have the occasion to send a card wishing a friend a speedy recovery after getting injured while defending innocent people in a terrorist attack. (Though it would also make a good Father's Day card!).

The London terror attacks were scary enough without waiting for news all night of a friend I knew was in one of the pubs involved, knowing nobody could get through on his phone, then fearing the worst after hearing he was among the injured. Thanks to the efforts of some of his friends who called around hospitals to track him down, a few hours later we learned he was already out of surgery and doing well. Now I can't stop welling up not only when I think about what happened but when I see the continued news coverage calling him a hero. Not many people would have the courage to step in and defend someone being attacked - as we later learned, by two of the terrorists - engaging them and  preventing them from moving on to immediately harm others, and sustaining severe injuries himself in the process. Geoff Ho, the nation salutes you.

While waiting to be able to visit Geoff I decided to make him a get well card and found I had the perfect thing.

Years ago I bought a packet of stickers for father's day which had various dad-related words and sentiments. There were a few I thought I'd never use, but I hadn't thrown them out just in case - words like tough guy. I don't think my dad would mind me admitting those don't specifically apply to him - my dad is more mild-mannered.

I suddenly remembered these stickers and found a pre-printed card blank -it looks more pink in this photo but was mainly purple. I mounted a different sticker in each circle and a 'get well soon' die cut in another.

I was able to deliver the card in person when I went to visit Geoff in hospital and I am glad to say he is now back home and on the mend.

I'm sharing this card with the Unicorn Challenge where the theme is 'for the guys' and also the Cards in Envy challenge with the theme 'you're the man' and Lawn Fanatics where the theme is 'cheerful get well'.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Weber BBQ Cookery Class at the Abinger Cookery School

Our Weber gas barbecue is my husband's pride and joy. We bought it for our first summer in our new house - I can't remember how much it cost, but I know it was a lot compared to other barbecues, but it's so easy to use and cooks food perfectly - a far cry from the barbecues I remember as a child, where you had to wait hours (or so it seemed) for the coals to burn and then there was a risk that food would be burnt on the outside and raw on the inside... which when you're a child doesn't seem like that much of a big deal (other than making sure you get the sausage that is less burnt than your sister's) but obviously isn't very safe.

With a gas barbecue it's almost instant so we can get home from work at 7pm and cook dinner outside; you can regulate the temperature and also which flames burn so you can cook over direct or indirect heat and they are easier to clean. Some people think they aren't as authentic, and you don't get such a smoky flavour - though these days you can buy things to use on gas barbecues for smoky flavour  anyway.

My husband had a gas barbecue at his family's house for years so when we bought our own home it was a given that we would buy one, and more to the point that we would buy Weber.

For me, one of the best things about our barbecue is that my husband loves to use it. He doesn't cook at all, so I'm the one making dinner after we both get home from work every day, but in the summer he's always keen to grill and ends up being the one to cook dinner. Admittedly I still help but it does give me a bit of a break!

He's really good at cooking the basics - sausages and burgers, and over the last two years I got him to be a bit more adventurous - despite some initial scepticism on his part we were barbecuing fish to make spicy fish tacos, and even pizza, which is surprisingly easy. I wanted to take it up a notch and get my husband to take a barbecue cooking lesson, which I thought he would enjoy.

The Weber Grill Academy

Weber runs a barbecue school called the Grill Academy - it used to be in one location but now they have teamed up with cookery schools around the country so you can find somewhere local to you. I booked us both onto a course at the Abinger Cookery School in Surrey - they do all sorts of other cookery classes which look very appealing.

They do a few Weber cookery courses- charcoal grilling, seafood, winter warmers, essentials and classic. The classic course covers sausages, marinated chicken, burgers and beer can chicken - I know my husband is good at cooking most of that (I've even done beer can chicken at home before in the oven). I wanted us to learn something a bit different so we did the essentials course, which included:

  • Stonebaked pizza
  • Beer can chicken with herb and butter paprika rub
  • Sirloin or ribeye steaks
  • Smoked pork loin & crackling
  • Grilled broccoli with chilli and garlic
  • Coal roasted sweet potatoes with salsa verde
  • Chocolate molten puddings

  • The cookery school is in a converted pub in a pretty little village; it has a few rooms where different classes were taking place at the same time plus an outdoor area where we were. Unfortunately we got caught in terrible traffic and were 45 minutes late after the start of the class, so we missed all the food prep - people were marinating, chopping ingredients and so on. I think my husband didn't mind that we missed that part as he was more interested in the actual barbecuing aspect but it was a shame.

    One thing I noticed that amused me was that of the 15 or so people there, I was the only woman! Most people had come in pairs but all male, either friends, father and son and so on. It's the only time I've ever seen so many men in a cookery class!

We went outside and the tutor explained the different types of barbecues that you can get and different types of cooking. I learnt some useful tips like:
  • Clean the grill by heating it up a little and rubbing with the cut side of half a lemon or an onion. It's best to use lemon if you will be cooking chicken or fish, and onion if you are cooking red meat. Discard the lemon or onion afterwards.
  • Sausages are best cooked over an indirect heat so if you have a gas barbecue, have the flame going on one side of the barbecue and cook the sausages on the other side where there is no flame. This will stop them getting burnt!
You can buy all sorts of bits of equipment I didn't know about like a grilling tray to do small pieces of chicken, halloumi and vegetables; you can also buy these very amusing-looking chicken infusers, to do the beer can chicken I mentioned above.

It's not particularly easy or probably safe to balance a whole chicken with a beer can up it on a barbecue; Weber sells two types of gadget you can use for this.

The first, the Weber Poultry Roaster, is shown in the left of the picture below. It basically holds a can in place - you can use beer, ginger beer, Coke or Fanta, or anything that comes in a can. It holds the can in place inside the chicken and as it cooks, the liquid steams up inside the chicken, keeping it moist and giving it flavour.

The gadget on the right of the photo above is the Weber Style Poultry Infusion Roaster- this one is more expensive but I think would give a better result. Rather than using a can, you pour liquid into the central container meaning you can use anything - orange juice, red wine etc - and there is a cap in the top to stop the steam escaping. This means the juices run down into the tray underneath which you can use for basting.

We watched both types being cooked; the class ran for four hours, with the first hour being spent on prep; this sort of chicken will take about an hour and a half to cook; you can find a similar recipe on the Weber website.

The tutor had already made the pizza dough and demonstrated what to do; we then took it in turns rolling out a piece of dough, topping it with chopped tomatoes and mozzarella, and using a wooden paddle to place it on top of a pizza stone on the barbecue. You can find a recipe here. The pizzas only took a couple of minutes to cook and were really good.

Here's the tutor demonstrating:

And here I am stretching and tossing my pizza dough!

My finished pizza - I can never seem to roll out dough into a neat circle!

The steaks were marinated or rubbed with something, I wasn't sure, and simply placed on the barbecue. My husband got to help the tutor by turning the steaks... and that was as hands on as he was able to get in the whole class, which is a shame - it was more a case of watching demonstrations than actually cooking.

The pork loin had also been rubbed with something and was cooking in a roasting basket that I haven't seen before on a barbecue - it's a useful bit of kit as you can cook a large joint of meat to feed a lot of people.

I don't recall seeing the broccoli being grilled I don't think, and the sweet potatoes were simply wrapped in foil (probably rubbed with salt and oil) and put on the barbecue.

We also watched the tutor cook a paella that a couple of the other attendees had helped prepare and they helped cook. I didn't know you could do paella on the barbecue - some Weber barbecues have a grill with a removable circle in the middle and you can take this out and put a pizza stone in (though we managed fine by putting the pizza stone on top of the grill)  or you can put a big round dish like this into the gap. The pan is very large though so this isn't something you would cook for only a couple of people, but it seems a really nice alternative to a traditional meat-feast barbecue if you are having non-meat eaters or just want to do something different. Here's a recipe for a seafood paella from the Weber site.

Once everything was cooked it was sliced up and we got to try a bit of everything - it all tasted fantastic and we have definitely got lots of ideas for our next barbecue!


While we were eating the tutor made dessert; it was a shame we weren't involved in the prep or even the cooking as he did explain afterwards what he'd done but we were too busy eating at the time! Did you know you could make chocolate fondant on the barbecue? I didn't! Here's the Weber recipe - they are really good!

We both really enjoyed the barbecue course and learnt lots of useful little tips as well as some different things we can cook on the barbecue. My only criticism was that it wasn't very hands on - for the money (£99 per person) I would have expected a bit more actual cooking and less time just watching. When I've done barbecue cooking classes before, we had one barbecue to two or three people and everyone cooked their own food - I know this wouldn't be possible with the bigger joints of meat that we did but a group of a dozen or so people watching one man cook isn't what I imagined. Having said that this was a really good course and I do recommend it if you are either new to barbecuing or considering whether to buy a Weber (as a couple of people on the course were - as we used three or four types of their grills) or if like us you want to expand your barbecue cooking repertoire.