Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mojito Cupcakes

My mum and one of my best friends have their birthdays very close together so usually when I travel down to my home town I try to see them both at once - and I usually bake them both a birthday cake. This year it had to be more of a flying visit (one day rather than an overnight stay) and I felt I barely had time to make one cake the day before, let alone two, as we were up to our ears in wedding planning with only a few weeks to go.

I didn't want to go empty handed though so decided to bake a batch of cupcakes and give them half each in a pretty box. So they had to be quite special cupcakes! I spent a little while thinking about flavours and looking through recipes and chose this recipe for Mojito cupcakes from Baking Mad.

A mojito is a cocktail made from rum, lime juice and mint (a long drink topped up with sparkling water). I had a tiny bottle of Bacardi rum I'd kept from a plane journey, have plenty of mint in my garden and also had some key lime flavoured icing sugar from Sugar & Crumbs I wanted to use up which I thought would be the perfect twist on this recipe.

I didn't have any buttermilk so made my own by adding lemon juice to milk. Here I'm mixing with the Bacardi and vanilla

Ready to go in the oven. Somehow the cake cases were slightly too big for my muffin tin which is why some are a bit crinkled up to fit!

Making the syrup from sugar, water, mint and lime zest (which you then strain)

The cakes just out of the oven

Making a hole in each one with the end of a teaspoon, which I then wiggled around a bit to make a bigger hole! You pour the syrup inside and it soaks in to give a stronger lime and mint flavour at the centre - yum! You can't see the holes once you've piped buttercream on top.

Here's my flavoured icing sugar - it's flavoured with lime so you don't need to add any lime juice, meaning the buttercream stays the right consistency, and it uses all-natural flavours.

 I decided to pipe swirls on the cupcakes using a star nozzle, but while I would usually start on the edge and work inwards, that creates quite a lot of height and as I was going to place a mint leaf on top I wanted flatter frosting. So I started in the middle and piped outwards, which gives a rose effect. I did also add some green food colouring to the icing.

I also added a few drops of rum to the buttercream as well!

Finally I topped each one with a mint leaf.

I'm sharing these with the Eating al Fresco challenge hosted by Munchies and Munchkins, as these would be great for a barbecue or picnic.

I'm also sending these to the Food Year Linkup, hosted by Charlotte's Lively Kitchen, as there are various events taking place this month that these would work for: National BBQ Week, The Big Lunch, National Picnic Week, Cupcake Day and Macmillan Summer Nights!

Food Year Linkup June 2016

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Review: Haagen Daz Mango and Raspberry Ice Cream

I love fruit-flavoured ice cream, but not flavours like strawberry - I like more unusual, zingy flavours like apple. When I lived in Germany in the late 90s there was an amazing ice cream parlour in my town that did apple ice cream. Quite often flavours like that come in a sorbet but they are much nicer as a creamy ice cream, so I was looking forward to trying Haagen Dazs' mango and raspberry ice cream when they sent me some vouchers.

The delicious mango ice cream has a swirl of raspberry running through it which gives a sharp contrast. The flavour is only available in Tesco at the moment (£4 for 500ml) and is a lovely summery treat.

I decided to try serving it two ways, firstly Eton Mess style with broken up pieces of meringue; this would be really nice topped with some fresh mango chunks and raspberries.

Then I decided to be a bit more decadent and make an ice cream milk shake. Place a few scoops of ice cream in a blender and top up with milk - how much depends on how thick you like your milkshake. Add some chunks of mango and blend; serve in a tall glass with a straw.

A great accompaniment to a summer barbecue!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Meal Planning Monday - Week 26

It's finally here - I'm getting married this week! We got engaged last August  and I would say 10 months is a good amount of time to plan a wedding - enough time to get everything done and not so long that you are waiting ages for the big day! So everything is ready - well, almost. I could have done with losing some more weight and would have liked to practice our first dance more than once given we can't dance. I'm also crossing my fingers that it doesn't rain this Saturday as the weather hasn't been great lately and our wedding is mainly outside!

I thought I'd do a meal plan since I always do but this obviously isn't going to be a normal week:

Lunch - with work colleagues who are over from the US and Asia
Dinner - chicken curry which I didn't do last week

Lunch - provided as I'm at an all day conference
Dinner - social night out with the team after the conference

Lunch - salad!
Dinner - chicken pie, with mash for him and veg for me if there is veg to use up, otherwise spaghetti bolognese

We've both got the day off - I'm baking and decorating the middle layer of my wedding cake today and my sister is doing the top and bottom! After making Bakingaddict's wedding cake last year there was no question that I wanted to do my own, but was persuaded out of it by people who said I would have far too much to do before the wedding. Funnily enough there seems to be very little I have to do today and am going to get my nails done just to fill some time! But it's really nice that my sister can be involved in the cake as well and we can do it between us.
Also today I am picking up my wedding dress and the bridesmaid dresses (luckily I found my favourite dress in a shop only 15 mins away!) but won't have a lot of time to make lunch - since at 12:30 I'm going to be on BBC Radio Wiltshire talking about letter writing!
I'm not 100% sure what my fiancé will be doing today, as it will depend if we were able to collect all the mens' suits last weekend or if he has to go and get any of them today.

Lunch: something simple like beans on toast
Dinner: chicken chargrills for him, fish fingers for me

We are leaving home early and driving to my parents' in Wiltshire for the wedding rehearsal at 1, and dropping off all our stuff at the venue. Lunch will be a quick snack at my parents' house and dinner will be with my parents and bridesmaids at the hotel where I am staying tonight and tomorrow night.

Today is my wedding day!
I've asked the hotel to bring some sandwiches to the room as the bridemaids and I will be in hair and makeup pretty much all day (and I had to plan some lunch!).
In the afternoon we are having wedding cake and sandwiches, then our 'wedding breakfast' is a posh barbecue!

Breakfast with all the family (or most of them anyway) and then heading home. Will probably have something from the freezer for dinner or even takeaway now I no longer have a wedding dress to get into!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Restaurant Review: Sir Walter Scott Wetherspoons, Edinburgh Airport

On a recent trip to Edinburgh for training at my company’s head office, I stayed an extra day to spend time with a team I work with, so ended up travelling back a day later than everyone else. That meant I was on my own, so at the airport settled in for dinner with my Kindle at the Sir Walter Scott Wetherspoons.
The food is good value and the service is fast, which is generally what you want before a flight – though Edinburgh airport is so small you can practically see the departure gate from the pub. The fact that Wetherspoons has a huge amount of choice on its menu is really good – I often don’t want a heavy meal before a flight, but on the other hand it’s my only chance to eat as I will get home late so I want what I consider a ‘proper’ dinner.
This time I was in the mood for something simple so ordered macaroni cheese, which was baked in the oven and had a creamy sauce, though I thought the extra cheese on top was a bit unnecessary – and so to be honest were the chips that came with it (an awful lot of carbs on one plate!). It really filled a spot though.
The Sir Walter Scott is a good size as well, meaning you can put your suitcase next to your table without worrying too much about it being in the way. The only downside is that like all Wetherspoons, you have to find a table, check the number and order your food at the bar and give your table number. Which either means leaving your coat (or bag if you don’t have a coat) at the table unattended, or going to the bar to give a table number and going back to find someone else is now sitting at that table. Ordering at the bar does make for much faster service but perhaps they should offer ‘this table is taken’ signs for people who are dining alone!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Restaurant Review: Duck & Waffle, London

Do you know where the highest restaurant in the UK is? You’d be right to guess London, but it’s not actually the Shard, the 95-storey skyscraper near London Bridge that was completed in 2012 – that is the tallest building in the European Union. The highest restaurant in there is on the 35th floor, and there is a bar on the 52nd floor, but it's not a restaurant.

In fact, the highest restaurant is just up the road from London Bridge, on Bishopsgate - Duck & Waffle. It's on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower, a commercial office building; you step into a glass lift and get a great view over the City as you are whisked upwards.

The restaurant is definitely something special; it's also quite expensive as you might expect from somewhere that can boast such incredible views. The décor inside is worth noting as well - steel and glass meets weathered wood with impressive chandeliers - but of course it's the view everyone comes for. The main dining room (there is also a private room) has floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides, so wherever you sit you are almost certain of a great view.

The restaurant is amazingly open 24 hours a day - after dinner they go into a late-night service which runs until 6am which is when they open for breakfast! So if you want to be here to watch the sun rise or sun set that would be a pretty magical experience.

I went with some work colleagues for breakfast as someone was leaving and we met at the slightly more civilised hour of 8am. We were all in awe of the view and the food was almost secondary but it was extremely good.

duck and waffle, at Duck & Waffle

As befits the name, waffles are one of the specials on the breakfast menu, both sweet and savoury. If I liked bananas I'd have gone for the "full Elvis" - PBJ (peanut butter and jam?), banana brulee, Chantilly cream "and all the trimmings", £15. The waffles with cherry and yogurt ice cream and white chocolate crumble (£10) sounds more like a dessert than breakfast! On the savoury side there is Ox Cheek Benedict (on a waffle rather than English muffin), £11.

Then there's the full English breakfast, or you can also have something simple like fruit salad, porridge or beans on toast - though the beans on toast at £9 offer a Cheddar and buttermilk scone with house baked beans and parmesan, so probably a bit different to your standard Heinz on white bread.

But as we were in Duck & Waffle I knew what I had to have: the duck and waffle. I knew what to expect as I'd eaten chicken and waffles in Memphis - not a potato waffle like you can get in the frozen section of the supermarket here, but a sweet waffle, a jug of maple syrup, and crispy fried chicken or in this case duck. It sounds odd but it does go together really well! Here, for £15 you get a crispy leg confit of duck, a fried duck egg, mustard maple syrup on a waffle. It was a half (semicircle waffle and a small duck leg that had a lot of bone so it wasn't exactly a filling breakfast - though obviously more filling than what I often had for breakfast at that time which was a yogurt (lately I've stopped having breakfast at all). It was very good and felt like a really luxurious, even slightly decadent, way to start the day - it was a shame when it got to 9.30 and we all had to go into work!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Meal Planning Monday Week 25

The wedding is almost here! I'm not going to be the sort of bride who starves herself to lose the last couple of pounds before the big day, for three reasons: 1) I have a LOT more than a couple of pounds to lose, so one last week of minimal calories won't make much difference, though of course I'm not going to pig out 2) I don't want to be ratty and miserable because I'm hungry 3) My wedding dress is being made to fit me like a glove and my final fitting is Saturday 11th, so I can't lose or put on any weight after that! So I'm kind of stopping the diet - I will continue to fast between dinner and lunch the next day, and have salad for lunch, but I will reintroduce some carbs into my diet. If I'm a little bigger, my wedding dress doesn't need to be laced up quite so tightly, but if I'm a little thinner, it might not stay up properly!

So here's the meal plan for this week which with all the wedding planning I forgot about so it's kind of last minute. I also don't want to buy a lot of fresh food before the honeymoon.

Monday- I've got a day off
Lunch: quinoa risotto (meant to have this last week but didn't)
Dinner: weather is meant to be good so we will barbecue. I've found a recipe for pulled pork I can mainly do in the oven while I am at home and we can finish off on the barbecue. I always like a side dish so might have the rest of the quinoa risotto with it.

home a bit late but my fiancé will go to his mum's so I will have salmon with cauliflower mash from the freezer and broccoli

 - the hottest day this week so we will barbecue again. I will have fish, as I have mackerel and tuna in the freezer and my other half can have sausage, burger or chicken.

duck breast with spiralized veg similar to this recipe with gammon and fried egg for him

chicken korma to use up diced chicken in freezer

Quick lunch as I have a dress fitting at 11 and won't be home til gone 12. He can have beans on toast and I will have the rest of my spiralized veg.
Dinner - the best weather of the weekend so we will barbecue and invite my mother-in-law to be over. She is veggie but eats white fish (and burgers) so I will do some fish tacos from my Jamie Oliver BBQ book with mango salsa, and burgers; I was meaning to make this spring onion salad before but didn't so might do that as well.

Lunch  I really fancy a fishfinger sandwich with some nice doorstep bread and my fiancé can have a bacon sandwich.
Dinner chicken pies and mashed potato/veg

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Superhero birthday card

I've been too busy for card making for months now so have had to start sending people shop-bought cards.  But when it came to my fiancé's birthday I wanted to do something special; or at least, a quick and simple make that at least showed I had made an effort.

I gave him a selection of birthday presents related to Marvel superheros - as well as films like Avengers and Captain America, we've been watching all the Marvel and DC universe television series together, and I'm currently really hooked on Arrow.

A while ago I got a couple of rolls of Marvel wrapping paper from Primark of all places and used this to wrap his gifts. I also decided to use this as the background to his birthday card to create a comic book card, so cut out a piece of wrapping paper and stuck it onto a large A5 card blank.

I printed out the words 'have a super birthday' from the computer and mounted the strip of paper onto a yellow and red polka dot backing paper and placed the middle of the card. I cut out the words 'bang' and 'pow' freehand - the sort of thing that would appear on screen in the very old Batman TV show if anyone remembers that? I used red and yellow polka dot paper for that and mounted it on the reverse print backing paper.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Provena Gluten-Free Products and a Giveaway

I've been baking a fair bit with gluten-free flour over the past year or so as I have a work colleague who can't eat gluten. From reading other blogs I know there are a lot of people out there in the same situation, and it's amazing the number of things you can't eat or have to check the labels on in case they contain gluten (sausages, for instance). And I always assumed she wouldn't be able to eat breakfast cereal as that contains gluten, but it turns out I was wrong.

Provena is a specialist in gluten-free cereals, flours and baking products - its range is oat-based and the company says it uses some of the purest and highest grade of oats in the world, which gives a better flavour. The oats they use are grown in Finland, a country with the lowest air pollution in Europe, which is all good for their products!

They sent me some products to review and also some to give away to one lucky reader - see below for the entry form.

Even if you can eat gluten, these products are worth a look. Did you know that oats can help lower cholesterol, they contain fibre which is good for digestion, and also stabilise blood sugar levels and boost metabolism, and give a slow release of energy throughout the day.

The products that Provena sent me, and which you can win in this giveaway, are:

Gluten Free Jumbo Oats:  won two gold stars at 2016 Great Taste awards. Provenas flagship product; they say : "Large, wholesome oats, that brim with taste and goodness." You could use these to make a breakfast dish or to bake into cookies.

Gluten Free Flour Mix with Oats - won a gold star at the 2015 Great Taste awards. They say: "An honest, gluten free flour that creates better tasting bakes".

Gluten Free Oat Museli: gluten-free muesli containing apples, dates, raisins and sunflower seeds "for a superb start to the day".

Gluten Free Wholegrain Oat Flour: with even more fibre, suitable for sweet or savoury doughs "that create astonishingly tasty, well-textured baked goods".

Gluten Free Oat Bread Mix: a flour mix containing oats that "creates a bread with a fantastic texture and delicious taste"

Gluten Free Instant Oat Meal - a mixture of porridge oats and either raspberries or apricot (it comes in two flavours). I was quite curious to try this as I've had porridge before that you mix with milk and put in the microwave, but with this you only need to add boiling water (so it's much easier to make at work for instance). I tried the apricot flavour and it was really good!

Gluten Free Chocolate Muffin Mix - of course this is the product I turned to first and made up the packet mix to take in for my colleague at work. It was so quick and easy to make - you just add eggs and margarine. I was slightly confused by the instructions to add 150ml melted margarine as I had no idea how much that equated to before it was melted, so I guessed, and melted some in the microwave and then added a little bit more. The muffins turned out really well and tasted great - they have little chocolate chips inside them and my colleague was delighted!

I'm looking forward to trying out the other products but as the company wanted me to run the giveaway as soon as possible I haven't had the chance yet! There are also some great recipes on the Provena website.

You can find Provena on Facebook and Twitter and you can buy their products from Holland & Barrett and Amazon.

So here's what you can win, the full Provena range. The giveaway is open to UK addresses only; you just need to fill in the Rafflecopter entry form below.


a Rafflecopter giveaway