Friday, November 24, 2017

Kinder and Oreo Chocolate Pancakes

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Restaurant Review: Tasha's Tearoom, Epsom, Surrey

Monday, November 20, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 47

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Easy Chocolate French Toast

Monday, November 13, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 46

This week I'm not having my usual working from home day on a Tuesday as I'm at an internal comms seminar followed by an awards event at which I am shortlisted for two national awards (ahem - again - I've won them both over the past two years!). They are Best Editor and Best Writer from the Institute of Internal Communications but as I've been in this industry for more than three years now, I'm starting to get to know people and know that there is definitely some stiff competition!

Then at the weekend my parents are coming to visit which I am looking forward to - I think they will be surprised at how big my baby bump has got since they last saw me at the end of September!
So here's the meal plan I will use as a guide at least....

Monday
Breakfast yogurt or cereal
Lunch  leftover pasta from the weekend
Dinner chicken fricassee based on this recipe with leftover chicken from Sunday

Tuesday
Breakfast yogurt or cereal
Lunch sandwich as I won't have long before needing to head to the seminar and awards
Dinner home late after the awards - can't remember if it's actually a dinner event or not!

Wednesday
Breakfast yogurt or cereal
Lunch quick mess-free sandwich as I will be with a supplier all day
Dinner will have to work a bit late as I have a meeting so something quick from the freezer with chips

Thursday
Breakfast yogurt or cereal
Lunch soup
Dinner spaghetti bolognese

Friday
Breakfast yogurt or cereal
Lunch leftover spaghetti bolognese
Dinner my parents here - something easy from the freezer

Saturday
Lunch out for lunch
Dinner risotto followed by pancakes

Sunday
Lunch egg and cheese/ tuna bagels
Dinner roast gammon

join in the blog hop!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Review: Club Cala Romani, Majorca

 
At the very end of summer I went on holiday with two girl friends to Majorca. We wanted a cheap and cheerful week (or almost week) in the sun, and with three of us wanting to fly from different airports, returning home on different dates, with different budgets and different requirements in mind, it was never going to be easy!

We found Club Cala Romani on lastminute.com and agreed to book it; I'd been quite busy at work at the time and didn't want to hold the others up as there were only a few rooms remaining, so I said go for it - and only read the reviews afterwards.

There were some OK but not great reviews on Trip Advisor, a few from people who loved it who go there every year - and some really, really terrible reviews. I've never gone anywhere with such poor ratings before, and my heart sank. So what I want to say right away was: it wasn't anywhere near as bad as I was expecting!

OK, it wasn't a great hotel -and I don't even mean by comparison with some of the amazing places I've been lucky enough (and I mean really lucky) to stay, like the Fontainebleau on Miami Beach. Even based on much cheaper self-catering holidays I'd had in my 20s to places like Greece and Cyprus, it was somewhere that had its pros and cons, but overall I had a nice holiday, it surpassed my (low) expectations and it's the sort of place I think children would really enjoy.

We were three lone females travelling without children, but going in the school holidays as one of my friends is a teacher, which did put us in a very small minority. This is definitely a family resort and I don't think I remember seeing anyone else without kids!

I will go through some of the pros and cons in turn, also addressing some of the main criticisms I read on Trip Advisor which were really off-putting and not necessarily what I experienced.

area next to the hotel pool
The airport transfer
Booked as part of the package on lastminute.com though provided by a third party called MTS Globe Spain. It was advertised as 90 minutes but I had seen several people on Trip Advisor saying it took three hours. It actually took me 2 hours 35 minutes on the way there - I got a taxi on the way back but that's another story.

It's easy to find the desk at the airport then they tell you which number bus to get on outside. The coach has air con and the journey was fine though Club Cala Romani was the very last stop.

I was flying home a day earlier than my friends and was worried that my transfer pick up time was four hours before my flight - it's not a big airport but I had seen a lot in the news about long queues so wanted to get to the airport two hours beforehand, but as it took more than two and a half hours on the way - and I'd seen one review where someone said it took 4 hours on the way back - I was a bit worried.

I spoke to the hotel reception and they said they could book me a taxi, though I would forfeit the money I had already paid for the transfer. The receptionist told me it was a 75 euro flat fee to the airport and since I hadn't needed to spend much money on holiday I decided to do it for peace of mind. But when it came to leave and my taxi was 20 minutes late, I went back to reception and the receptionist - a different person to the one who booked the taxi the day before - called the company and found that there was no record of my booking. They said they could send another taxi right away but that took another 20 minutes, though I still arrived at the airport in plenty of time. When we arrived the taxi driver charged me 86 euros - when I argued and said I'd been told there was a 75 euro flat fare he said there was no such thing! So if you are going to get a taxi instead of a transfer then I would watch out as it isn't as straightforward as you might think!

The hotel - checking in
I arrived with one of my friends while the third was arriving later. At reception we asked if she was in an adjacent room and they went to look her up - and found they had no record of her booking! We were in a bit of a panic but luckily the hotel wasn't full and by the time she arrived and we met at reception, they had allocated her a room - and we saw her name hand-written onto the bottom of a printed list! I'm not sure how that happened as we all booked through lastminute.com, albeit separately.

The room
I had a double room to myself which was a good size, basic and simply furnished but nothing wrong with it. My room would have overlooked the pool but I was on the first floor so I actually looked onto a flat roof that was the top of the restaurant below, so couldn't see anything at all.

my room
The room was supposed to have air con and there was a temperature gauge on the wall but no sign of an air con unit; instead there was a big fan on the ceiling. The lowest the temperature gauge could be set to was 23C which was a bit worrying as it was the end of August, but strangely the room actually seemed OK with the ceiling fan on. I did speak to some people who were staying in the family apartments on the other side of the hotel and they said there was no air con in their rooms at all, they were having to pay to hire fans and it was still unbearably hot - apparently the hotel is installing air con in those rooms in 2018!

view from my terrace - with a child's rubber ring on the flat roof
Walls are thin though - I could hear people upstairs banging around and at one point hear the conversation the people next door were having.

The pool
There are actually two main pools next to each other - one is supposed to be for adults only and the other for children but nobody seemed to pay attention to that rule. There's also a baby pool a short walk away.

Neither main pool ever seemed that warm - even though it was August, it was cloudy most of the time and even sunbathing we were rarely in direct sunlight, I never felt particularly hot and I never really got a tan - and when there was a breeze I felt quite chilly!

I'd read several reviews on Trip Advisor saying the pool was sometimes closed because a child had pooped in it, which sounded disgusting - though my friend who has a toddler assured me it can happen even if the child is wearing swim pants (like nappies but waterproof). I still thought it was pretty unpleasant and I've never been anywhere on holiday where that has been a problem, so I was half expecting it, but my heart still sank one day when I heard this announcement at 3pm: "The pool is now closed until 5pm. We would like to remind parents that babies should wear Pampers swim nappies in the pool, which are available in the shop." The most annoying thing was it was the larger adult pool that was shut for two hours - where there weren't supposed to have been children in the first place!

I found the sun loungers by the pool really uncomfortable - rigid plastic with no cushioning and most of them couldn't have the head propped up so you had no choice but to lie completely flat. They gave me back ache after about five minutes so I spent most of the time sitting on one of the chairs from the bar by the pool.

The food
The hotel is all inclusive, so all food is included other than anything you want to buy from the on-site shop. It has a main buffet restaurant and a small snack bar that is open between meal times. The snack bar was very disappointing - it looked like a cross between a cheap café and a school canteen. When we arrived in the afternoon, not having had lunch, we went in with high hopes, only to find a coffee machine that had a 'not in use' sign on it, a self-serve machine for juice that tasted very watered down, and a self-serve tap for red wine and white wine (not sure how you stop the kids from helping themselves, even though they have different coloured wristbands!).

buffet station
The food choice in the snack bar was the same every day - bread rolls, butter, ham and cheese - I suppose it's filling but also cheap for the hotel to do, and I couldn't help wondering about the reviews I'd read where people speculated it was the meat and cheese left over from breakfast or even the day before put out again.

The main restaurant isn't bad, I thought it would be a bit school dinner hall but it actually looked ok. There are three long serving stations all with the same food - or so we thought, we realised after a little while that the one at the back of the room was slightly bigger and always had something extra the other counters didn't have, like pizza or a whole joint of roast pork.

roast pork
It's self-serve buffet and children under a certain age aren't supposed to go up unattended; you need to be careful though as people do push in, or pile too much on their plate and spill it - one day I slipped and nearly went flying with my plate after stepping in a pile of spilled spaghetti on the floor.

The dining hall was busy but we never had to queue for a table whatever time we went.

lamb and potatoes
There was a fairly large choice of food with most things changing each day; always a couple of types of pasta, lots of salad stuff, and three mains - e.g. one day was fish (I think mackerel), lamb and lasagne, but only one hot vegetable to go with them  which bizarrely was Brussels sprouts! Then there were two types of potatoes plus chips and pizza cut into squares, so something for everyone - and the lamb which I had was pretty good.

fish in white sauce, croquette potatoes, plain rice

Another day I had pork, fried potatoes and cauliflower, which like a lot of the food I found under-seasoned, though there is salt and pepper on every table and that was probably the worst thing I could say about the food.

One evening none of the choices looked appealing, and just as I was about to give up and have pasta with tomato sauce, I spotted the extra serving station down the far end, where someone was carving roast pork, which I had with roast potatoes, and gravy when I eventually found it. It might have been Majorca in August but a nice bit of roast dinner was lovely!

dessert station

dessert plate
There's a separate buffet station for dessert, where there were three choices every day, all cake-based eg swiss roll or a creamy vanilla cake. The fruit is good - I often had a huge slice of watermelon for dessert. There's also a freezer chest of mini tubs of ice cream but they are generic and only basic flavours -if you want a proper ice cream you have to buy one from the shop. You can help yourself to water, watered-down tasting juice or wine, or get a drink from the bar in the building next door.

breakfast buffet
At breakfast there was a fairly big choice of food, but on the first morning the sausages were mini hot dogs (not to everyone's taste and I couldn't eat them since I was pregnant) and the 'bacon' was the same type of sliced deli ham we'd seen in the snack bar yesterday but fried, and curling at the edges - I did wonder if it was exactly the same ham! There are also croissants, and different types of biscuit or cake things every day, bread, porridge and quite runny looking yogurt and fruit. Another day there were real sausages and bacon and even churros with chocolate sauce.

breakfast selection
There's a pizzeria only open at lunchtimes (the main buffet restaurant is also open at lunch). It serves pizza - always plain cheese and tomato when we were there, cut into small squares - plus hotdogs, burgers and chips, and each day a couple of random things that I assume are what they are serving in the main restaurant, e.g. spaghetti and mixed veg. The pizza was actually quite nice and gooey but the burgers nothing special.
pizzeria lunch
We ate there a couple of times, alternating with the main restaurant at lunchtimes. The food there at lunch was similar to dinner - though not the same thing on the same day. I often didn't fancy meat and potatoes at lunch so had pasta  a few times which was a bit plain but OK.

The drinks
The pool bar has self-service soft drinks and there were wasps circling the taps constantly which wasn't very nice - you have to take your chances to get a coke or lemonade.

There is a two drink limit per person on alcoholic drinks and they come in small plastic cups - I suppose it's one way to make sure guests don't over indulge. If you have wine then the plastic cup isn't a bad size but if you are drinking beer it's tiny. Some people on Trip Advisor were complaining about the two drink rule - I suppose it's a pain if you want to get drinks for yourself and your family at the same time - but you probably can't easily carry more than two of the plastic cups at once and it does reduce wastage - if you are by the pool and having soft drinks you need to drink them quickly because of the wasps which are flying around constantly. I found they left me alone if I ignored them (and put my cup in the bin when I had finished) but my friend did actually get stung by a wasp which wasn't nice.

There are two bars open in the evening, one in the theatre (where the entertainment takes place so it's lively, quite noisy and busy) then a quieter bar near reception. The queues in the theatre bar weren't bad anyway, and both have the same choice of drinks covered on the all inclusive: vodka, rum, gin and one other spirit I can't remember with mixers, plus wine, beer, slushies and a limited list of cocktails, so you can't ask for just anything, though the cocktails seemed to cover most of the well known popular ones. There was even a non-alcoholic cocktail on the list that was great because I'm pregnant, though it was bright pink and a bit sickly sweet! My friend who had the gin said it tasted awful but the other drinks were apparently OK.

The entertainment
The hotel offers activities throughout the day, some for children, others for teenagers and some for the whole family, ranging from Spanish lessons to rifle shooting to aqua-aerobics and face painting.

activities board
There's a theatre with a show every night but not until 10pm (lasting an hour) which is surprisingly late for a family resort, especially when dinner runs from 7-9 and most people with young kids seemed to eat early. There seemed to be some sort of kids club activity in the theatre from 9 (involving getting parents to do embarrassing things on stage, then a kids disco) then the main entertainment varies every night (for two weeks at least then I imagine they repeat).


One evening the entertainment crew (who also run the activities during the day, and seemed popular with the kids) were miming or possibly singing along to different songs while dressed in character, e.g. Barbie Girl, YMCA, the Baywatch theme etc. It was quite cringe-worthy at times but over the course of the week I decided they were fairly good entertainers, we just weren't their target audience at all. Kids loved it, and parents enjoyed it because their children were enjoying it (or because they'd had a few drinks). Childless and sober (due to pregnancy) I wasn't exactly getting into it in the same way - but there was literally nothing else to do in the evenings!


Outside the hotel - the beach
The beach path is well signposted from by the hotel swimming pool and it's about a ten minute walk to some steps down to the beach. If you walk along the parallel path higher up you get to a little town centre which has some other restaurants and bars, souvenir shops and places you can book excursions.
the beach
We went to the beach one day when the pool was shut due to poo-gate; you are supposed to pay 4 euros 20 for a sun lounger and another 4 euros for an umbrella but it was already mid-afternoon and there was nobody around to pay.

There's a snack bar (nothing to do with the hotel so you have to pay) and toilets up at the top of the steps, and you can hire pedaloes. The water was quite warm and really clear; you can see fish even without a snorkel and I could hear people by the rocks (the beach is in a sort of cove leading out to the sea) saying they could see jellyfish.

We also went out for a day trip which I will review separately, to the Cuevas del Drach (dragon caves) and Porto Cristo.

Overall I didn't have a bad holiday at all - the people at the hotel were actually quite friendly and quiet, not the sort of rowdy drunk crowd I had been expecting given this is a pretty cheap all inclusive - probably because most of them were there with children. There are plenty of activities, the food isn't bad at all and offers something for everyone, the accommodation was fine, and while there were some issues like the poo in the pool and the entertainment not being to my taste, it was a lot better than I was expecting. I wouldn't choose to go back, but for the price it wasn't bad at all.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Tree and Santa Pattern Christmas Cards


These two cards are mainly made from a mini set that contained a few pieces of patterned paper and one sheet of die cuts. I think they are quite fun but there is also something a bit masculine about them, I think because of the colours and also the geometrical shapes.

On the first card, I covered a square card blank with the patterned paper and mounted a die cut tree with adhesive pads. It's also a little hard to see but there are a few tiny die cuts in the shape of presents and snowflakes also on adhesive pads so they stand out. To finish off, I used a 'noel' shiny red sticker from a different pack.

For the second card I covered the bottom half of the card with patterned paper and used a piece of washi tape across the edge as a border. The two child (elf?) stickers at the top were actually left over from a pack of Christmas address labels that I think came from Ikea a couple of years ago. Finally a 'tis the season' sticker in the top right corner completes the card.

I am sharing this with Crafty Hazelnuts Christmas Challenge and Cardz 4 Guyz where the theme is Christmas trees.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Baby Cow Gender Reveal Cake - For My Own Baby!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 45

I have a day off this week to visit some nurseries - I was staggered when I found out recently that our local ones have a one-year waiting list. It's lucky I asked when I did! I'm then working from home the following day to have a repeat scan - everything was fine at the last one but there was one thing they needed to check but couldn't as baby was lying the wrong way around and wouldn't move!

Monday
Breakfast Didn't get time for breakfast today
Lunch Leftover curry from Sunday
Dinner Strangely didn't fancy eating tonight after I cooked dinner for us both, which has happened a couple of times since I've been pregnant

Tuesday
Breakfast yogurt with fruit
Lunch late lunch as I'm on a course til 1pm - will have a sandwich as it's quick
Dinner salmon and sweet potato mash that I was meant to have yesterday

Wednesday  my husband and I both have a day off
Breakfast porridge or yogurt
Lunch will see what my husband fancies!
Dinner sausage casserole I was going to make on Sunday but we got back from visiting his family too late

Thursday working from home as I have the scan
Breakfast  yogurt with fruit
Lunch  homemade broccoli soup assuming I get back from the hospital in time
Dinner pork chop with sweet potato fries

Friday
Breakfast yogurt with fruit
Lunch sandwich
Dinner probably microwave risotto if I go to yoga

Saturday
Lunch soup and bread roll
Dinner pan-fried hake in lemon butter sauce I was going to make last week but didn't

Sunday
Lunch out at Stylist Live
Dinner probably something quick from the freezer

Join in the blog hop!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Restaurant review: My Old Dutch, Chelsea, London

Friday, November 3, 2017

Fish in Lemon Cream Sauce with Hasselback Potatoes

My mother-in-law came to dinner recently and as she’s vegetarian and I don’t eat a lot of purely vegetarian food, that always involves a bit of thought around menu planning. Then I remembered that she is actually pescetarian, meaning she eats some – but not all – types of fish. She likes white fish and I had some in the freezer.

I don't eat fish as often as I should, as my husband doesn't like it and I find plain fish quite dull, so it needs a proper recipe - and during the week I don't tend to have time to cook complicated recipes from scratch. Of course, the recipes don't have to be complicated, but sometimes even getting out all the ingredients is more bother than I want when I get home from work!

It was a week night when we had my mother-in-law over but I was working from home. I always think that will give me plenty of time to make something a bit more elaborate for dinner but I usually end up logged on to work for far later than my official finish time (who doesn't?) so in the end it's still a bit of a rush. However on this occasion my husband was late home from work so we had quite a late dinner!

That gave me the opportunity to do some potatoes I've wanted to try for ages - have you come across hasselback potatoes before? They look a bit like mini hedgehogs - I think they would be a nice treat to serve on Bonfire Night (instead of jacket potatoes which a lot of people make then) as they are a bit different. They would also go down well at children's parties (so I imagine) - especially if you added little edible eyes to make them look like hedgehogs!

Back to dinner and sensible things.... to make these potatoes all you do is take a fairly large potato (not quite a baking potato size but a large standard potato) and make several slices into it, going two thirds of the way down, spacing the slices evenly apart by about a centimetre or a bit less depending on the size of your potato.

You can see the baked potato in this picture here:


Melt a little bit of butter in a pan or the microwave and brush the potato with the butter, getting into all the cuts you've made. Then put the potatoes on a baking sheet and bake at 180C for around an hour - it will depend on the size of the potatoes. The potatoes will be nice and soft in the middle when they are done and the slices you've cut will have fanned open a little and gone crispy. We really enjoyed these!

For the fish, I used this recipe by Nagi at Recipe Tin Eats - I didn't add the shallots/ spring onions at the end because I wasn't sure if my mother-in-law liked them (though in retrospect I'm sure she does - never mind!). It was a very easy dish to make and tasted delicious.
 




Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Smoked Haddock with Creme Fraiche Butter Sauce and Ozeri Electric Grinder Review

Another fish recipe from me now... I was going through the freezer seeing what needed using up and found some smoked haddock I'd bought to make a fish pie. I've gone off home-made fish pie a bit though -for some reason when I make it, it's always more bland than the shop-bought versions. I think I need to play around with the recipe a bit!

I had a look online to find something else I could do with the smoked haddock and found a recipe from Delia Smith online for smoked haddock with crème fraiche and a chive and butter sauce.

It's easy and quick to make - put the fish in a frying pan and add some freshly milled black pepper. Pour in some milk and simmer until the fish is cooked.


Remove the fish from a pan, increase the heat and add the crème fraiche to the pan. Simmer until reduced, then whisk in the butter and return the fish to the pan to heat through.

 
You are supposed to then scatter with chives but I used dill instead as I didn't have chives!
 

I used my brand new Ozeri Artesio electric pepper grinder for this recipe; it was part of a set (with the salt grinder as well) that I received from the company to review.


It took me a while to get started as I hadn't realised each grinder needed four batteries, and I didn't have eight of the right type in the house. I'm hoping because it needs so many batteries that they will go a long time without needing changing but I haven't had the grinders for long enough yet to know!

I had to read the instructions to figure out how to unscrew the grinders as I hadn't used ones like this before, then put some whole peppercorns into the chamber at the bottom. For such tall grinders there isn't actually much space for the salt and pepper as the chamber is mainly for the batteries! But you only use a little bit of salt or pepper at a time so shouldn't have to refill too often.


The simplest touch of the button sets the device grinding and you get a fine dusting of freshly milled pepper which is really nice - I almost got carried away and used too much as I liked pressing the button and seeing the pepper come out!

The grinders are sleek and stylish, and with black for pepper and white for salt, you won't confuse which is which. You can buy the grinders from Amazon.

I don't actually use pepper that much and have never had electric grinders before but I think I'm converted!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 44

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Lime and Coconut Halloween Slime Ghost Cake


Halloween baking is such fun - you can really push the boundaries of how you would normally decorate a cake, and make it as over the top as you like! Obviously subtle black and purple looks very stylish and striking but this Halloween I decided to go for..... green slime!

The theme for Food 'n' Flix this month is Ghostbusters - the 2016 remake which was chosen by host Coffee and Casseroles. I did enjoy the film and didn't think there was anything odd about an all-female cast - the film was funny, it carried on the ethos of the original Ghostbusters film and there were even several nods to the original - which I won't spoil if you haven't seen it, but you will have fun spotting the cameo roles to the extent that I'd worked out who Patty's uncle was (who she refers to a few times) long before he appears on screen!

My heart is loyal to the original Ghostbusters though (the first one anyway, not the sequel - which I don't remember being that bad but is largely panned). It came out when I was five years old so I don't imagine I would have seen it right away, but by the time it was shown on TV (in the days of only four channels, you had to wait a couple of years for new movies to appear on screen!) I would have been about seven or eight and was transfixed. I even used to run around the playground at primary school with a group of friends acting out Ghostbusters stories - though as one of the only girls I was always forced to be Janine. Though it could have been worse, the other girl played Slimer!

In terms of choosing a recipe for Food 'n' Flix, my mind turned straight away to the Stay Puffed Marshmallow man from the first movie... from the remake, one of the over-riding foodie references is to Chinese takeout - there's a standing joke about takeaway food that Abby (Melissa McCarthy) gets from a Chinese restaurant, and their HQ is above a Chinese restaurant.

But as it's Halloween I wanted to make something 'spooky' and not Chinese food. Slimer, the friendly green ghost, features in both the original movie and the remake, so I took him as my inspiration and decided to make a cake oozing with green 'slime' buttercream!


For the cake itself I used this recipe from RTE for Irish chef Rory O'Connell's toasted coconut and lime cake though I did change it a little. I didn't cover it with the toasted coconut and I didn't make the cream cheese filling and instead did a lime flavoured buttercream which I then added green food colouring to.
 
Despite being green the cake looks quite elegant like this... but I wasn't going to stop there!
 

On top of the cake there is more green buttercream, plus some green candy floss I bought in a tub from a shop called Tiger and some marshmallow ghosts and chocolate eyeballs, also from Tiger.

Does it look like Slimer has been at this cake?!


I'm sharing this with Food 'n' Flix and Cook Blog Share.
 


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Restaurant reviews: Gozo, Malta

Monday, October 23, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 Week 43

Monday
smoked haddock with crème fraiche from this recipe for me, chicken chargrills for him

Tuesday
macaroni cheese with bacon and sausage

Wednesday- chicken pie and mashed potato

Thursday something from the freezer with chips

Friday probably at yoga though haven't booked it yet

Saturday
Lunch bacon sandwich for him, sardines on toast for me
Dinner chicken schnitzel in katsu spices from Waitrose

Sunday
Lunch fresh filled pasta
Dinner pan-fried hake in lemon butter sauce

Join in the blog hop!



Sunday, October 22, 2017

Mini Trick or Treat No Bake Lemon Cheesecakes for Halloween Party

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Banoffee Tool Box Birthday Cake


We had a family barbecue for my father-in-law’s birthday in August and I wanted to make a cake that would stand out. I tried to think of things I associated with him – my father-in-law is really handy, at everything from fixing fences to building a child’s ride on car from scratch so I had the idea of a tool box cake.
 
Looking at Google Images I realised there were some incredibly detailed, realistic tool box cakes and figured I wouldn’t have the time or skill to do anything like that. Rather than make something else altogether, I decided to make a simple rectangular red toolbox, with a separate lid, and make some tools separately to pull the whole thing together.
 
 

My father-in-law really likes banoffee pie so I decided that would be a good flavour for the cake and found a recipe in Fiona Cairns’ Birthday Cake book. The recipe in her book is designed to make cakes in the shape of a pair of dice – for someone who likes a game of chance perhaps – but it was easily adapted to a loaf tin shape. You can find the recipe online at Cooked.

 
I decided to make the lid separately and as I didn’t want it to be too heavy, I thought rice krispie cakes would be perfect. I’ve seen cakes where all sorts of parts were sculpted from rice krispies – like an animal or person where the limbs were made from rice krispies. I wasn’t sure what consistency to make my rice krispie cake so took the easy way out and (kind of) cheated by using Kelloggs Rice Krispie squares. I sandwiched 6 – a mixture of chocolate flavour and plain – together with melted chocolate, in a block the length of my loaf tin, and put them in the fridge to set.

 
For the cake, I followed the recipe, mixing butter, sugar, mashed banana, eggs, vanilla, milk, flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon. The mixture baked nicely in my loaf tin – it did create a bit of a dome which had to be sliced off to level the cake. I also cut some corners – because I had a lot of other food to prepare for the barbecue as well – with the frosting. Fiona Cairns gives a recipe for toffee buttercream which sounds really nice, but as I had a tin of Carnation Caramel I decided to make some regular buttercream and add that.
 
 
 
After filling the cake I covered the whole thing plus the rice krispie cake block in red fondant, and made a handle out of fondant for the lid and some black panels for the front of the box. I wasn’t that confident at making tools even if I drew a template and followed it, so I bought some cookie cutters from Amazon and cut out a saw, pair of pliers, hammer and spanner, then did the same again in coloured fondant to make the handles. I think they worked really well, what do you think? These are the ones I used:

 
 
Finally I placed the tools on or around the tool box, secured the lid with a couple of cocktail sticks in an open position and the cake was ready to be presented. The cake itself was moist and delicious – I do recommend checking out Fiona Cairns’ recipe!


 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Restaurant review: Rocksby's, Portsmouth

My sister and I wanted to take her baby daughter to the Portsmouth Aquarium a few months ago. I’ve realised it’s difficult to make an early start when you have a baby to get ready – by the time we arrived in Portsmouth it was already late morning, and we had decided on a quick trip to the Pyramids Centre soft play centre first.
 
 
My niece seemed to have a great time with the foam shapes and ball pond, but was most interested in some noughts and crosses on the wall which spun around as she touched them. I was quite tempted to get into the ball pond as well but it wasn’t big enough!
Baby had her lunch at the soft play, then my sister and I wanted to find somewhere to get some lunch ourselves. The Pyramids had two small café areas – one is right next to the swimming pool (and open plan) so noisy and steamy and the other was outside the main entrance by the turnstiles, but only had a couple of tables – so we decided to find somewhere else.
 
Walking along the sea front on a fairly dull day we decided not to go too far, as we still wanted time to go to the Aquarium. We found ourselves outside Rocksby’s, a fish and chip restaurant with a fairly broad menu of other dishes as well. I liked the décor, with seaside and fishing paraphernalia strung up from the ceiling and on the walls; the cheap white plastic chairs were comfortable enough and we were offered a high chair as well. They were busy but there was still plenty of room for the buggy.
 
I had mac and cheese, a bargain at £7 for a huge dish (and I mean huge), with an extra £1 for crayfish tails. It was delicious – I couldn’t even finish it! Definitely a dish I would recommend here.
 
 
When we left it had just started raining so we pushed the buggy up to the Aquarium, about a ten minute walk away. We were a bit concerned that we hadn’t left ourselves enough time in the afternoon, with my sister wondering when her daughter would want a nap as she hadn’t had her usual one that morning – only to find that as we arrived at the aquarium, baby was sound asleep. Rather than wake her – or spend money to go around the aquarium ourselves with her oblivious to the fish – we decided to go back to the car and head home. So our day out in Portsmouth consisted of soft play, lunch, and a brief walk along the seafront – but nonetheless a good time was had by all!
 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 42

Posting this a day late because I forgot on Monday night!

Monday
pork chop with sweet potato for me, peppered beef steak with mashed potato for him

Tuesday - working from home - have invited my mother in law around for dinner.
Fish in lemon cream sauce from this recipe, with hasselback potatoes

Wednesday
something easy from the freezer as we have a heating engineer coming this evening

Thursday
My husband is out at a work event so I'll have spaghetti Bolognese with Quorn mince

Friday
Out with a friend

Saturday
lunch TBA maybe cheese toasties
dinner - steak and chips at my husband's request

Sunday
lunch bacon sandwich
dinner giant filled Yorkshire puddings we didn't have last week

Join in the blog hop!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Curly Whirly Cream Cheese Brownies and my new Ozeri kitchen scales


One day at work I spotted a sign advertising a Macmillan charity bake sale. The thing was, the bake sale was in two days time, meaning I didn't have very much time to shop for ingredients and bake something, as I'd already decided I needed to bake my dad's birthday cake at the same time so it was ready for the weekend!

I didn't want to miss the Macmillan bake sale since a recipe I devised appeared in the Macmillan Little Book of Treats, which came out in 2013. You can see that recipe, for toffee popcorn cupcakes, here on my blog or on the Baking Mad website.

Since I didn't have much time I went to a failsafe recipe: chocolate brownies. They are so easy to throw together and everyone loves a chocolate brownie. I chose the Curly Whirly Brownies from the Konditor & Cook book Deservedly Legendary Baking as they looked a bit different but still quick and easy to make.

At the same time I decided to make a start on my dad's birthday cake - unfortunately it was a bit of a disaster! The cake tasted great and was really moist, but that was part of the problem -so moist that it broke apart across the top while in the oven, then broke more when I was putting it into a cake tin, then by the time I reached my parents' house the cake was pretty much in three separate pieces!

I used my new Ozeri Pronto Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scalewhich I was sent by the company to review. At only £8.99 currently and with free delivery on Amazon they are a real bargain - compact enough to not take up much room in the cupboard but the weighing plate is big enough for almost any bowl or plate, or you can put food directly onto the scales. If you're using a bowl, the 'tare' button allows you to subtract the weight of the bowl. The chrome weighing platform looks good and is easy to keep clean as well.

 
You can weigh in pounds, ounces, grams or kilograms and can change from one to the other by pressing a button - I found the scales very precise and as good as much more expensive ones. What's more the two AAA batteries you need come included.


So disregarding the cake which didn't quite work out, I also used the scales to make the chocolate brownies. Here's the list of ingredients from Konditor and Cook's recipe and then in my own words a bit about what I did:

To make about 16 brownies, you need:
3 eggs
275g caster sugar
175g salted butter
200g 54-60% dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
100g 70% dark chocolate, chopped into chunks
175g plain flour

for the topping:
200g cream cheese
75g icing sugar, sifted
seeds from 1/4 vanilla pod
1 egg yolk

Preheat oven to 180C. Line a 20x34 cm tin with baking paper or greaseproof paper.

Beat the eggs and sugar together in a bowl.


In a saucepan, melt the butter over a medium heat until it is melted and just starting to bubble. Remove from the heat and stir in the 54-60% chocolate and a third of the 70% chocolate until melted.

Add the chocolate to the egg mixture and mix well then fold in the flour. Stir in the remaining chunks of chocolate.

Pour into the prepared tin and level the top with a knife.


In another bowl, bbat the cream cheese, icing sugar and vanilla until smooth then mix in the egg yolk.

Using a piping bag or a teaspoon drizzle or pipe the cream cheese mixture in swirls over the top of the brownie mixture, using a fork or the tip of the teaspoon to drag across the lines.


Bake for 22-25 minutes in the preheated oven then leave to cool in the tin. When cool cut into squares.

The brownies were lovely and fudgy and the cream cheese topping had a slightly sharp contrasting flavour, a bit like sour cream; it made the brownies look more interesting as well and they disappeared very quickly at the bake sale!