Tuesday, 30 September 2014

RECIPE: Natural Yoghurt with Pear and Fig

Yoghurt topped with fig, pear, honey and almonds

I'm afraid there's no GBBO post this week either, although I'm glad that my 'Baking Bloopers' replacement went down so well last week. Advanced dough sounded like a stretch too far for me in what has been a really busy week. Like last week, I did actually bake, and I have a yummy roast vegetable and goats' cheese filo pastry tarts recipe to come in a couple of weeks' time- don't forget you can always see what posts are appearing in the future on my Coming Soon page.

In today's post I'm sharing a dish I've been enjoying recently- natural yoghurt topped with fruit, almonds and honey. I've called this a 'recipe', but in all honesty it's really just a throw-it-all-together in a bowl kind of affair.

I bought a punnet of figs to use in salads with feta cheese, but then finished the cheese off before the figs. I needed a way of using them up and so this yummy, yoghurty concoction was created. Besides the figs, I added in pear, flaked almonds and a drizzle of honey.

Figs and pears make a great late summer/early autumn combination and all the flavours and textures of this dish come together beautifully. I think even the colours are rather autumnal- greens and purples with the golden shade of honey. I used natural Greek-style yoghurt which, along with the figs, has quite a sharp, tangy taste, balanced out by the sweetness of the pear and honey. With the figs being very soft fruits, the added crunch of the flaked almonds keeps things interesting. It makes a nice change from the more summer berry style toppings I would usually use with red fruits and blueberries.

I've been eating this after dinner, but it would also work as a healthy breakfast or mid-morning snack to keep you going.

To make one serving I use:
2 tablespoons natural Greek yoghurt
1 small fig chopped
1/2 pear (or 1 small one) chopped
Handful of flaked almonds
A drizzle of honey

Yoghurt topped with fig, pear, honey and almonds

Fig and pear


Sunday, 28 September 2014

A Look Back at September

This has been a particularly busy month for me and it feels like it's whizzed by! I enjoy reading these kind of round up posts about what everyone's been doing and loving the past month, so here is mine.

What I've loved this month

1. A new cake book. It's very rare that we don't have some sort of sweet, baked goodness in our flat, but on the odd occasion we need something to satisfy a cake craving, this will hopefully be an ideal source of inspiration! Now I know you can just look up recipes on the internet and save money on cookbooks, but there's something about having recipe books in the kitchen that makes it feel more homely in my opinion. I've already set it as a house challenge that we have to have tried every single one of these cakes by the end of this academic year!

2. Luxury coffee breaks. My term has started off with three weeks of all-day lectures. I can't say I've been finding pathology the most thrilling of subjects, so the promise of a delicious coffee or hot chocolate mid-morning has been keeping me going. Mocha Mocha's selection of hot drinks has been excellent for this- think white chocolate mochas, and English toffee or After Eight flavoured hot chocolates. 

3. Evenings in. It might have been Fresher's Week at various points this month, but I've definitely being enjoying our more chilled nights involving baked goods. a tea-and-cake night involving an amazing Princess Cake (as featured on the Great British Bake Off) has been a highlight.

4. Great blog posts. I've been trying to find the time to keep reading other blogs and there have been some excellent posts this month. My particular favourite was February Girl Joelle's hilarious 'How to Pose Like a Blogger'- she only wrote it on the 2nd of the month, but I jotted it down in my notebook so I didn't forget to give it a mention in this post. Others that stood out were 'Does Your Age Determine Your Maturity?' by Jessica on Gingerly Pale on the subject of the voting age, and Anna in Wonderland's 'England: Expectations v Reality.'

5. Getting inventive with cooking. I've been making the most of not having too much work right now to spend more time creating interesting dinners and desserts. Some of the girls I live with are really good at just throwing things together to create delicious dinners and I've been totally inspired. 

6. The return of Downton Abbey. I love this programme. Just the sound of the theme music makes me so happy, and it's so good to see it back on the television. I'm having to be very careful what I say about it though- my housemate is only just starting to watching it from the very first episode and the others have already leaked a few spoilers!

7. Receiving my Student Box Swap parcel from Lauren. I'll be posting about what exactly it included next Sunday, but it was so lovely to get some exciting post!

8. People watching. Long lunch breaks and living near to a few coffee shops means I've had a lot of time to sit and watch the world go by, and see what everyone else is up to. I've read a few posts recently about noticing the little thing in life, and this was really evident to me the other day, watching two men chuckling away at a baby- getting so much amusement just from feeding him!

Thursday, 25 September 2014

A Walk to Ashton Court

Red Deer Park, Ashton Court

Sometimes a Saturday afternoon stroll with friends is the perfect way to refresh after the working/studying week. After a 3pm 'brunch', we pulled on our trainers and set off for the grounds of Ashton Court.

We wandered through the red deer park, stopping to admire the deer sitting just a few metres away from us. Walking around Bristol, if you know where to look, there are a remarkable number of animals to be found- 'Goat Gully' at the Downs is another spot I've discovered since living here. 

Seeing as this was a leisurely activity and not a hiking trip, we sat down to gossip and admire the views across Bristol. Not everything was about being relaxed and grown up though- we finished up with a wheelbarrow race, as you do. (Which left me with aching stomach muscles the next day. If you want a good workout, wheelbarrow racing is the way to go!)

Living in a city has so many benefits, but I'm always grateful for the green spaces further out, a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of the shops and restaurants, and just enjoy the scenery.

Where are your favourite spots to just get away from it all once in a while?


Red Deer Park, Ashton Court

Red Deer Park, Ashton Court


Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Baking Bloopers - When it all goes wrong

So normally on a Tuesday I would be posting my weekly Great British Bake Off inspired recipe, but that's not the case today. It's not that I haven't baked anything, but actually I had real trouble getting any decent, appetising photos of what I made this week. I've moved into my student flat at uni, and unfortunately the lighting in the kitchen is terrible- I can't even see if the dishes are clean when I'm washing up, let alone get fancy food photography looking good! The other reason for not posting my bake this week is that it looked rubbish anyway- even all the lighting in the world couldn't have saved this one. In a moment of madness, I decided I'd attempt gluten-free choux pastry and make chocolate éclairs. They ended up as 'Choux Pastry Mess' - I'd like to thank the creator of the Eton Mess for making it acceptable to just chuck everything in a glass and claim it's a dessert. My Choux Pastry Messes were broken up pieces of pastry, whipped cream with a hint of vanilla extract and a drizzle of melted milk chocolate all served in a wine glass. My housemates said they were lovely, and they did actually taste pretty good!

Now I like to think my blog encourages the 'have-a-go' attitude and so it would have been dishonest to simply decide not to mention my bake this week. Instead I'm holding my hands up and admitting that I often have baking disasters and I'm totally ok with that! Therefore this week's post is dedicated to sharing my 'Baking Bloopers'...

Choux Pastry Mess

To be honest, this bake wasn't going too disastrously until it came to piping out the mixture. My kitchen is rather basically equipped (although we do own two milk frothers) and my 'piping bag' was actually a freezer bag with the corner cut off. Except I'd not even managed to do that very well, and had two holes rather than one. So rather than piping neat, even lines of dough mixture, this happened. And then they got a little bit stuck to the baking tray despite lots of greasing with butter. I can't even really say that shoving it all in a wine glass improved the appearance all that much...

This one photographed rather well- in reality it looked a bit of a state! I can't remember it tasting bad, but it was very crumbly in places and I think the decoration on the top might have been a bit of a cover-up affair. The chocolate icing was far too runny though and you can see it pooling underneath the cooling rack, hence the plate being positioned to catch it all. This was a joint effort with my sister, but I don't think either of us was feeling particularly artistic when it came to decorating and we just chucked anything we could reach on top of the cake.

First of all- I did not bake any of this! It was my first, and last, attempt at constructing anything from Ikea. I've always loved the idea of gingerbread houses and when mum bought me this one during a trip to Ikea I was so keen to try and make it. I used nearly an entire box of icing sugar trying to get the consistency right, but still could not get it all to stick together and stand up. I admire anyone who has the patience for these- I just let it all collapse, artfully drizzled the icing sugar all over and chucked coloured sprinkles everywhere. The upside to this was that there was none of the guilt associated with taking it to pieces to eat it.

This was an Earl Grey and Chocolate Torte baked at midnight during my second year of uni. Everyone else was out, so my friend and I attempted to tick this off the 'Baking Bucket List' pinned in the kitchen. Unfortunately it collapsed and broke the minute we tried to take it out of the tin- two plates and two spatulas surrounding a freshly baked cake is never a good sign! (I think it tasted lovely though!)

Sorry for the particularly bad quality of these photos, but I think I was laughing far too hard at this disaster to be able to get a good shot! After a lot of searching around the supermarkets for the right ingredients, this lemon polenta cake was a massive let down! I must have got a calculation wrong somewhere, because this was completely awful. The top was burnt. The edges cooked fine and had a great texture and flavour, but the inside was raw. Like, liquid raw. I salvaged a few slices before chucking the rest of the cake in the bin. My grandad was highly amused by this, but I've never dared attempt this cake again! The next day though, mum did buy me a giant bag of cornmeal so I could give it another go- so maybe when I've got over the shame of producing this I'll try it a second time round.

I may be being a bit cheeky in including this one, because I'm not entirely sure I was actually involved in making this. I should probably just say I wasn't! This was one of the very first things we baked in our first student house at the start of second year. If you can't tell, it's brownies. I can just remember us all crying with laughter as we scraped burnt brownie off the tin. What's worse though is that somehow it got all over the oven, but no one cleaned it off. It was only when it got to the end of the year that it had to be sorted out in order to get our deposit back...

And finally my Chocolate Swiss Roll. My first GBBO Inspired bake was a traditional swiss roll and I was so impressed with how it turned out, I gave it another go the next day with a chocolate sponge. Unfortunately I was a bit over-confident and this was my downfall- resulting in this sorry looking pile of sponge and cream. 

So as you can see, baking isn't all pretty cupcakes and perfectly plaited bread- and sometimes the messiest products are still tasty! What's been your biggest baking, or cooking, disaster?


Sunday, 21 September 2014

Thoughts I have while using Pinterest

I have spent many an hour scrolling through Pinterest marveling at people's creativity, and questioning other people's use of time (obviously browsing this site is totally productive for me). I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking these things though, so I'm sharing them with you in the hope that you'll be able to reassure me! This is genuinely a selection of thoughts from one session browsing Pinterest:

1. Who on earth creates a board of future hairstyles for their unborn, and possibly not even conceived, child?!

2. Whyyyyy did they pin a link to buzzfeed? Now I’m going to have double the procrastination.

3. What is the Paleo diet? Should I be on that? Oh wait… mmm, cookie recipe.

4. Is it too early to start pinning on my Christmas board? 

5.How long will I have to work before I can afford a waterfall in my bathroom?! How about a cave room with an artificial river running through it?

6. Do people actually believe their hair really doubles in length overnight if they rub an egg yolk into it? 

7. Does everyone just have enough random wooden pallets hanging around to make a photo frame, a bedside table, a shed, a home cinema and an entire theme park?

8. Would moving nearer to a beach mean I stopped just looking at my yoga pins, and actually tried them? Yoga looks easier on the beach. I think. Right?

9. Am I missing something, or is she actually taking a posed photo with a stick she’s basically just covered in her urine to show the world she’s pregnant? Why can’t she just phone her friends or something?

10. Can I change the colour scheme of my room yet? Purple was last week and it looks so outdated now.

11. Will my future kids love me more if I build a full size tree house for them? 

12. What happens if that family with the ‘first we had each other, then baby one and then you- now we have everything!’ sign accidentally have another child?!

13. What kind of puppy is that? And where do I get one?

14. If I arrange all the ingredients into the saucepan really neatly like this before I cook- will the meal taste better?

15. Oh this workout plan will be the one. I’ll definitely stick to this one. Promise… Ohhh, I already pinned it…

16. Green smoothie muffins? Er, no thanks. They look mouldy. Nothing wrong with chocolate!

17. What on earth?! Breast milk popsicles?! Ok. Now is time to get off pinterest.

18. Am I bad person for only ever giving my teachers a small box of shop-bought chocolates at Christmas (if they were lucky)?

Anyone relate to these?!


Thursday, 18 September 2014

#TBT A week in Malta

Fishing boats at Marsaxlokk, Malta
Traditional Maltese fishing boats

This weekend, the Duke of Cambridge will be visiting Malta for it's independence celebrations, taking Kate's place due to her illness. I was lucky enough to visit the beautiful island in June on a girly week away with my mum, and I thought today I would share some of the photos. Malta is one of the most beautiful places I've visited, as well as its islands Gozo and Comino. Prince William has a lot of duties to fit into his two days here, but we could take things a bit more leisurely with a whole week. If you're planning a trip to Malta, or just want to know what we did, read on!

Marsaxlokk Malta

We bought a seven-day bus ticket when we arrived which was really good value as we probably at least got three to four buses a day. It seemed the best way to travel the island- especially if you get an air conditioned bus on a gloriously sunny day. We also did one of the hop-on hop-off bus tours on the first day to pick out few places that we'd like to see.

One of the first places we went to was the fishing village of Marsaxlokk. It looks like something on a postcard with the traditional fishing boats and the blue water. There are also lots of places serving fresh fish right by the water. Unfortunately neither mum or I are big fans of eating fish, so we gave these places a miss, but they looked very popular.

We stayed in Sliema which was a nice central location for getting to everywhere. It's a short walk or bus journey to St Julian which is where we went for dinner most nights. Malta has a great choice of restaurants with a lot of Italian influence - although everywhere serves huge portions of food- excellent when it comes to dessert, not so great for pasta dishes in my opinion!

Blue Grotto Malta

Blue Grotto Malta

My favourite location was the Blue Grotto- well worth a trip and boat tour. It was amazing how clear and blue the water is! We didn't have any swimwear with us, but if I go back, I really want to go swimming round here. I was incredibly jealous of all the people with yachts sailing around here- it looks like a perfect destination.

Harbour, Malta

The owner of our apartment took us sailing for a few hours and gave us a tour of the harbours- there are also tour companies who will do the same. Malta has a lot of history- it has the oldest buildings in the world, as well as a lot of history relating to the second world war. It was really good to have someone who knew the island and its history take us round the harbours, pointing out the interesting sights.

Blue Lagoon at Comino, Malta

We very nearly left Malta without visiting Comino and the Blue Lagoon, but luckily we fitted it into our short stay. It was very busy, so I don't know what it would have been like in the height of summer, but it is beautiful! I can see now why everyone was commenting on my twitter/ instagram updates about going there. The ferry back also does a tour of the caves - yet more beautiful blue water. I don't have any photos, but we also visited Gozo. Unfortunately we had a few problems with buses on the island being unreliable so we weren't able to fit much into our day there, but we did have breakfast and lunch beside the sea. I really wanted to visit Calypso's Cave; if you're familiar with The Odyssey, Gozo is supposedly the home of the nymph Calypso who Odysseus stayed with before his journey home. Sadly the late buses meant there wasn't time to get across the island and get back to the port to get the ferry back to mainland Malta.

I knew very little about Malta before going, but since getting back it seems to be an extremely popular place- so many people have told me they've been multiple times and I can completely see why. I need to go again with a swimming costume and a fancy camera and about two weeks to fit everything in and leave time for a bit of relaxation! For a small island, Malta has tonnes of history, culture and scenic spots- definitely worth a visit.

Have you been to Malta? Where else would you recommend me visiting in the world?!



Tuesday, 16 September 2014

RECIPE: GBBO Inspired #6 - Gluten Free Toscatarta Swedish Almond Cake

Well things are getting serious now in the Bake Off tent- but not serious enough to stop Mel and Sue doing some excellent (?) Eurovision accents and impressions. The cakes were looking delicious, although I can't say I'm a fan of the green marzipan on the Princess Cake. As I am now back at university, I'm having to be more organised and I picked out the cake I would make in advance, rather than watching the show for inspiration, then taking a leisurely mid morning trip to the supermarket the next day. This explains why my cake doesn't really fit the brief for any of this week's tasks- and Kate will know better than anyone the risk of straying away from the brief!

I chose to make something called a Toscatårta, or Swedish almond cake, traditionally eaten at Christmas. This has been on my to-bake list for a while now so I'm glad I found an excuse to try it. I have adapted a recipe from Cake by Rachel Allen to produce a gluten free cake in order to share it with all of my housemates.

It was a pretty simple cake to make, and everyone said it tasted amazing (and we've lived together long enough now that we can be honest on these things). The sponge is very light, sweet but not too sweet, and even with a gluten free flour wasn't dry or crumbly. The almond topping is my favourite part though, and during pathology lectures I've been pondering whether this topping would be a good addition to the coconut and almond cake I've made before. (I think it would. No such thing as too many almonds in my opinion.) The topping is buttery, sweet and totally delicious.

I also have to apologise for the lack of a photo of the full, finished cake out of the tin. The lighting in my kitchen is not good at all, and by the time we had daylight again a significant amount of cake had been eaten. Which is a good sign, of course. My other reason is that it just wasn't looking all that impressive either- I took it out of the tin and put it onto a plate with a thick rim that meant that flat surface was too small and the middle of the cake looked a bit sunken because of this! But enough excuses- let me explain how you too can create this cake!

For the sponge
3 large eggs
150g golden caster sugar
150g gluten free plain flour (or normal)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp milk
75g melted butter

For the topping
50g butter
100g flaked almonds
50g golden caster sugar
2 tsp plain flour
3tbsp double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

Recipe adapted from Cake by Rachel Allen, 2012

(Due to poor lighting there are no step-by-step photos of the sponge process this week, but there's nothing very complicated or technical to illustrate!)

Preheat oven to 180°c (or 160°c if using fan oven). Grease a 24cm diameter spring form cake tin with butter and dust the base lightly with flour.

Melt the butter in a small pan, then set aside to cool.

Break the three eggs into a large bowl, add the sugar and use an electric beater to whisk them together for five to six minutes until thick.

Use a sieve to add the flour and baking powder, then add the vanilla extract, milk and melted butter. Fold everything together until smooth and well mixed, then pour into the cake tin.

Bake for 30 minutes. About five to ten minutes before it comes out, you can start making the topping. Melt butter in a saucepan, add the remaining ingredients and stir. Bring to the boil for about one minute.

Take the cake out the oven and pour on the topping mixture, spreading evenly across the top of the cake. Put back in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the top is golden.

Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for at least 10 minutes. Use a sharp knife to loosen the sides, then take it out of the tin and cool full on a wire rack (ideally. I forgot I don't have one here).

Once full cooled, use a palette knife (again, ideally. A large bread knife did the trick here) to transfer it to a plate to serve.

Have you tried any European cakes this week? And any ideas on who's going to win now that we've got half way?!

Swedish Cake Toscatarta Topping

Swedish Cake Toscatarta


Sunday, 14 September 2014

HOME: What's in my bedroom?

I love anything homeware, and from a few of the Twitter blog chats I've joined in with recently, it seems home and room tours are popular posts. I've already written a post about my new bedroom at my university flat, and now I am sharing some of the bits from my bedroom at home in London. Until only a couple of years ago, I had bright orange and yellow walls (that apparently I chose as a seven year old. What was I thinking?!), but I finally had the chance to redecorate go for a slightly calmer purple colour.

 My room (and entire flat) in Bristol has a lot of my homemade bunting hung on the walls, but this name bunting was bought for my by my mum. It took me a while to find a space in my room long enough for my name, but I managed to get it pinned up eventually. I love how the flags button together, and if they were just plain flags you could easily add or take them away to make the bunting fit wherever you wanted it.

I have a small shelf over my bed that I've tried to keep uncluttered with just a few little things on it. I have quite a collection of Joules bags because I think they're far too pretty to just through away, and I use them as decorative items for my rooms. I also have a few small glass and porcelain horse ornaments that have been brought back from around the world as gifts for me.

I also try to keep my bedside table as free from clutter as possible- having too much in reach when I should be trying to go sleep isn't very helpful! I have my iPod dock and radio, a small mirror from my sister and a personalised candle.  No matter how many times I have big clearouts of my room, storage is always a problem for me. These wicker baskets came from Dunelm Mill and currently contain some of my university work. The trouble with doing such a long course is that I accumulate folders and paper and I do occasionally look back at them, so throwing them out isn't an option right now.

I love cushions but am very restrained about buying loads and loads! I just have these two on my bed- the fluffy one came from my sister, and the bunting one is actually a plain one that I refreshed myself. You can see the post I did about making the bunting cover here.

I have a lovely big desk and I like to keep it clear so I can spread out when working or drawing at it. This desk organiser was originally plain wood, then got painted blue and yellow by my mum and then I took it and painted it a light purple and added on some roses. It currently holds a couple of notebooks, my travel wallet, some sunglasses and my little 'Boo' toy that was a 21st birthday present. 

This rather scary looking thing was supposed to be  cute little handmade Jack Russell. No matter how many times my sister and I attempted to follow the pattern and instructions for making this, we just couldn't quite get it right.

I did a post about the Sass & Belle items I bought, including these white boxes. They're still empty, but as storage is so precious to me I don't want to waste them by filling them with anything! There's also my handmade lavender bag and a mustard jar filled with ink cartridges.

 This glass dolphin paperweight I think was a birthday present when I was about ten or eleven years old, and it's always been on display somewhere in my room.

I change the layout on these shelves all the time because they're right at the end of my bed, so are what I'm looking at whenever I'm sitting in bed with my laptop or ipad. They were full of books at one point, but I've moved most of my paperbacks to elsewhere in the house to free up a bit of shelf space in my room. 

When I was five years old, I wrote a letter to the Queen about Cadbury's chocolate and took it to the gates of Buckingham Palace to hand over to a policeman for it to be delivering. It made it in, and I was so excited to get a letter back in the post from Buckingham Palace. The letter got framed and now has pride of place on my shelf. The handwritten parts are starting to fade so I should probably move it from the sunlight!

The jewellery tree features in my Sass & Belle post. I also have this little heart basket on the shelf- it was just lying around in the house so I took it for myself!

Joules bag and my chicken doorstop that was a present when I started university. You can't tell, but my dog managed to get hold of it and try to rip it's head off! It's been restitched and is now well out of her reach.

As I said, I've moved nearly all of my paperback books, but I kept these books on the shelf. There's a mixture of fiction, biographies, autobiographies and other things. If you follow eventing you might recognise some of the names of top riders here.

This jewellery case was a present many years ago and my collection has rather outgrown it, so I also have a couple of extra little boxes sat on top of it. There's also a small mirror with a bird on it that I think is too pretty to just hide away in a handbag. (By the way, that's Sunday Brunch on the TV!)

So that's a few bits and pieces from my bedroom. If you've spotted anything here that I've not talked about and you want to know more- leave me a comment. If you've done a room post like this, feel free to leave me a link- I love seeing how other people arrange their spaces!

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