Saturday, 8 June 2013

Citrus and Sugar Summer Days

Popping back home for a few days meant time to catch up with friends and family over lots of good food. In Nottingham there's plenty to choose from. One night consisted of amazing tapas at Las Iguanas, including fried plantain (new favourite!), a chorizo dish with plenty of ciabatta, and of course, nachos. The perfect meal to enjoy while chatting and trying out some delicious cocktails. An evening spent at a country pub is also always a must, especially in this beautiful weather. We finished our meal with a slice of red velvet cheesecake, with just the right amount of creaminess and sweetness to not be overwhelming.


Time was also spent on purely relaxing, enjoying the sunshine in the garden with a new foodie magazine. After what seems like a long time of being uninspired in the kitchen, turning to the same few old favourites each night that were quick to make and eat in between revision sessions, I can't wait to try out new recipes and ingredients.


A cake in the June issue of delicious magazine caught my eye, a simple bake enhanced with the summery flavours of lemons and blueberries, two of my favourite additions to a cake batter. The lemon is tangy and light, while the blueberries burst and make the cake moist and colourful.


My tin was too small for all the mix, so I ended up with cupcakes as well, never a bad thing! A sprinkling of lemon zest on top of the icing is an easy pretty way to decorate these cakes. Just the sort of thing to enjoy on a sunny afternoon with an ice-cold drink.


What are your favourite summer flavours for cooking and baking?

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

And... Breathe!

So after four long years, I am proud to say I have finished my degree! Now I am impatiently awaiting my results (or do I never want to know? I'm not sure) and trying to figure out what the hell to do next. Despite counting down the days 'til the end of my final year, swearing I'd never do any further education (especially NO MORE EXAMS) and just wanting to get a job, the most likely looking plan for the immediate future is... a Masters course. I don't know why I even considered this, but I came across a course that I actually got excited about doing, and if I want to have a career in that area I kinda need to get an extra qualification. So, unless a job magically ends up being mine before September I think that's gonna be the next step. Scary stuff.

Now I can finally do this...

But until then, I have a summer to make the most of! I don't have that many plans yet, but that in itself is something I'm going to relish - time to do with as I please in the moment. I'm off to France next month which will be a much needed holiday, as well as spending time catching up with family and friends. Hopefully I'll also get back to blogging properly again over the summer which is something I'm looking forward to... ahh freedom.


Music has been my main distractor while finishing my dissertation and revising. I'm currently checking out the stream of the new Queens of the Stone Age album, due out next week (already pre-ordered so I'm allowed!) and I have a feeling this is a pretty awesome album that will have been well worth the wait. Everything I've heard so far has been amazing, and I have loved the videos they've been releasing - such a great way to do promo, and it served as the perfect distraction while I was still revising! These guys are one of my favourite bands, so safe to say I have been very excited about finally getting new music from them. But I'll probably end up talking about it more when I actually get my mitts on the album itself, so I'll leave it there and I'll be back with new posts soon!

*Photos from Pinterest

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Carrot Cake and Procrastination

I must be getting old as time is just whizzing past at the minute; just a few more months and I'll be finished with uni! Such a scary thought, while I've been looking forward to finishing my degree and going off into the big wide world pretty much since I first got to uni, the realisation that I'm actually almost there is a little strange. Worrying too, as there is still a hell of lot of stuff to get done before then. I'll probably have to be pretty quiet on here until after my exams, but I'm hoping to properly get back in the swing of things over summer.

But today ended up being a much needed, unintentional day off. A lovely Saturday morning lie in (again, unintentional, thanks to my neighbours screaming at each other half the night...) followed by popping into town and the hairdressers. I always forget how pretty Plymouth is until we have a gorgeous sunny day like today, so I may have lingered a bit longer, before getting home and spending the afternoon baking. 


Tom and I aren't that into Valentine's Day, and I was working on Thursday anyway, so we decided to have a home made meal together tonight. Tom made chicken burgers with garlic mayo and cheesy curly fries - absolutely delicious, he really should cook for me more! 
I'd been wanting to bake (and eat) carrot cake for ages, so decided to put one together for pudding.


To make it a bit more Valentine's themed (and just because I love making things heart-shaped!) I tried to top the cake with walnuts in a heart shape... the icing turned out to be a tad too runny for that to work properly, but it still tasted pretty good, if I do say so myself. 


So now with my cake cravings satisfied, and feeling slightly recharged, there's nothing left but to just get on with the rest of my course I suppose. Maybe my procrastination is because I'm not actually sure I'm really ready for it all to end yet, it's a scary world out there!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Sparkle and Scandal

There's a few new products I've been using recently that are becoming beauty favourites of mine.

First up, this Body Shop Tea Tree Pore Minimiser is great as a primer for make up.


I was a bit doubtful when buying this, but as The Body Shop had loads of 50% off offers on their site I thought I'd give it a go as my skin has been pretty challenging to say the least recently. It's always been a combination of oily and dry, but is becoming increasingly sensitive as well. This actually does a good job of smoothing and mattifying my skin, and sinks in nicely so my foundation goes on easily afterwards. Plus I love the tea tree in it; the smell is really refreshing.


These hand creams are also from The Body Shop, but were presents from my fiancé. My hands get really dry from both the weather and work so hand cream is a necessity for me. These are non greasy and the special edition Christmas scents of Ginger and Vanilla are gorgeous, I just wish they did them all year!


Urban Decay 24/7 eyeliners have been my favourite make up product since college, when I first bought the set of 5 travel size eyeliners. They're expensive but in my opinion worth the money; the colours are exactly what I prefer for my eyes, the pencils are soft and they seriously last all day without smudging or wearing off.
The ones from my sets are almost running out, so I thought I'd start replacing my favourite shades with the full size versions. I picked these up off eBay, for about half the retail price. Rockstar is a gorgeous deep purple that I adore, while Mainline, a dark-ish blue, is a new one for me that was being sold by the same seller that caught my attention.


Ok, now on to mascara. The one on the left, L'Oreal's false lash mascara, is brilliant - my lashes look long and dark without clumps. There's not as much volume as other mascaras, but I like that about it; it gives a more natural, everyday look.

The L'Oreal mascara is almost on the way out, so I thought I'd try a new one. I used to use Rimmel mascaras and always thought they were pretty decent. I'm not getting on with this Scandal Eyes one that well however. Rimmel state that it's the biggest brush ever or something like that - that just makes it really fiddly to apply without getting it everywhere. It doesn't give as much as volume as I expected either, though it doesn't clump, which is the main thing I always look for. It's not the worst mascara ever, but I think going for the more basic Rimmel mascaras seems to be the best bet with this brand, based on my previous experience with them.

So there's just a quick overview of some of my faves (and not so faves) at the minute. Have you used any of these products, or have any similar ones you're enjoying?

Monday, 21 January 2013

Italian Treats

Being a total foodie and lover of all things Italian due to my Italian Grandma, her and my mum put together an amazing hamper full of delicious treats for my Christmas present. I've been steadily experimenting with them throughout the month and can't wait to get around to trying out the rest. I thought I'd share a selection of some of my favourites with you.


I have yet to try out the olives, but I think they would go perfectly in a big sauce or stew type dish, or cooked with beef and cherry tomatoes in a Nigella-inspired Beef Pizzaiola, after a nibble or two of course. 


The Wild Rocket pesto has been used in a lot of things recently - stirred into veg as a flavourful side dish, drizzled over home-made pizzas, and spread onto baguettes with cheese to serve with pasta. I adore pesto anyway, and the rocket gives it an extra, subtle tang. I have a feeling that the sun-dried tomato paste used in place of normal tomato purée will bring out even more rich flavour in sauces.


The 'Lievito Pane Degli Angeli' (literally translating to Yeast Bread of Angels) is a raising agent that can replace baking powder in recipes, but is made that extra bit better by also including vanilla flavouring, and therefore smelling absolutely amazing! I could quite happily just sit and smell the packet all day... but when I do bake with it, it adds a wonderful lightness to my usual cupcakes. 

The pasta is tiny star shapes that would be perfect in soups. I've been meaning to start making soups for the past couple of years now and still haven't got round to it, so hopefully having these in the cupboard will push me to finally get on with it before Winter is over.


This nougat is by far the best I have ever had. Tom and I couldn't believe just how delicious this is - soft, squidgy nougat with huge crunchy chunks of almond, with strips of rice paper on the top and bottom - amazing!

A friend of my Grandma's brought this to England from where she's from in Italy, making this an extra special treat. 


And for a place to get started, I received the Quick Cook Italian book, which includes 3 ways to cook different dishes using similar ingredients, such as tomato risotto, tomato and rice soup, or tomato and rice salad, offering even more flexibility depending on the exact ingredients and time you have available. Basically, even more recipes! So far I've tried out lemon and rosemary pork with a cannellini bean salad, and chilli and lemon cod; both were straight forward to cook and tasted incredible.

The latest Nigella Lawson cook book is also brilliant. It's actually the first one of hers I've got hold of and I'm already in love with it. Whereas I tend to avoid 'celebrity' cook books, due to the recipes seeming too complicated with fancy ingredients, this book is perfect for everyday meals. The Italian Tray bake with Tuscan fries is already a favourite with my fiancé. 

A huge thank you to my family for getting me these, I couldn't have asked for a more perfect gift! :)

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Afternoon Cuppa at Number 29

Tom and I decided to take a break from uni work this afternoon to check out the recently opened coffee shop in the Barbican, Number 29. I've always thought the only thing the Barbican was in need of was a place to spend an hour or so enjoying a coffee and some cake, and this place fills that gap perfectly.


We ordered mugs of tea and coffee to warm us up - despite the fact that Plymouth seems to be the only place in the UK that hasn't seen snow, I can assure you it's still freezing here!


The drinks came with yummy buttery biscuits on the side, a lovely little extra.

A range of cakes are also on offer, including a coffee cake of which we couldn't resist ordering a huge slice.


Number 29 also sell a variety of deli goodies, including jars of chutney, olives and chilli sauces, as well as bags of chilli hot chocolate which I'm very tempted to go back and try. The owners were happy to point out the different products on sale, and their friendliness combined with the cosiness of the café made the time away from our desks the relaxing break we needed.

Now it's back to work I suppose!

Friday, 28 December 2012

Cherry, Almond and Chocolate Trifle

You can never have too many indulgent treats this time of year. Last year I made a chocolate and orange trifle for Christmas Day dessert. For a family party this week I decided to give it a new twist, taking advantage of the Amaretto that is hanging round in my parent's kitchen. I adore this chocolate custard - some can be quite thin which means the trifle ends up a bit all over the place. This is rich and creamy and makes the dish something special.

This recipe is a mix of favourite dessert flavours all in one: the cherry, cream and chocolate combination of a Black Forest Gateau; the almond flavour topped off with cherry inspired by Bakewell tarts; all layered in the traditional trifle style. Perfect for an indulgent but reassuringly old fashioned dessert to be served at a family gathering.

I hope everyone has had a lovely Christmas!

Cherry, Almond and Chocolate Trifle

Layers of vanilla and almond sponge, topped with raspberries and cherries, a rich chocolate custard, and whipped cream, topped with cherries, almonds and grated chocolate.

smile
Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • 1 large raspberry and vanilla Swiss roll
  • 4 tbsp Amaretto 
  • 200g raspberries
  • 200g cherries
  • 3-4 tbsp raspberry or cherry jam
  • For the custard:
    • 2 egg yolks
    • 2 tbsp caster sugar
    • 2 tbsp cornflour
    • 200ml milk
    • 200g dark chocolate, melted
    • 250g tub ricotta
  • 225ml double cream (or other cream suitable for whipping)
  • Flaked almonds, to decorate
  • Grated chocolate, to decorate

Method

  1. Cut the Swiss roll into chunky slices. Lay these in a large serving dish, filling in any gaps with small pieces of sponge.
  2. Sprinkle the Amaretto over the sponge to soak in.
  3. Wash and pat dry the raspberries. Layer these on top of the sponge slices. Wash and chop the cherries, reserving 10 whole ones for decoration. Add these to the raspberries.
  4. Spoon enough jam over the fruit so there is a thin coating over the sponge to keep it moist. 
  5. Mix the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour in a large bowl to make a paste.
  6. Heat the milk in a pan until it reaches just below boiling point. Pour it over the egg mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. Return to the pan and heat through, stirring continuously, until the mixture is thickened and smooth.
  7. Return the custard to the large bowl. Add the melted chocolate and the ricotta and stir until combined. Pour over the fruit, smooth with the back of a spoon and leave in the fridge for an hour, or until set. 
  8. Whisk the cream until slightly thickened. Spread over the custard layer, or pipe if wished. 
  9. Arrange the remaining cherries over the cream. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds and grated chocolate. Store in the fridge until ready to serve. 
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