Friday, 18 December 2015

The Next Chapter...

I started this blog almost three years ago when I was at a very special moment in my life.

I had met Sion and we clicked, he got me, I got him and it just quickly and so well. I still remember the moment on Sion's burgundy leather sofa in his flat where he asked me if I wanted to move in with him. I'd jumped into relationships before, sure that they were The One only to be proved oh so wrong further down the line, but something told me that this would be different, this was a real partnership and we excitedly started making plans.

I knew that this time of my life would be something that I wanted to look back on and so my blog was started after a night spent choosing wardrobes over cocktails. Since then we've proved my gut feeling right. We've loved and supported each other through happiness, sadness, successes and challenges, quietly getting stronger and even more in love than I ever thought possible.

Yet the one thing we both wanted seemed to be just out of reach to us. A miscarriage last year led to me finding out I had an abnormality that could affect future pregnancies. That fear became a reality earlier this year with a second loss. Through it all Sion held me, supported me and told be everything would work out ok.

We decided to try for a third time, hopeful that we would be lucky, comforted by the sad fact that if it didn't work out we would at least be referred for further tests & assistance.

And it worked!!

I am now 13 weeks pregnant. Our wriggly little baby is in a perfect position, everything is working as it should and we have heard the magical sound of our Little One's heartbeat. This pregnancy hasn't been without drama and scary moments, but we understand what is causing this and I am slowly starting to relax.

This blog has never really had a direction before now and I'm still not too sure what way it will go. I do know that I want to go back to the style of my early posts, the thoughts that randomly pop into my head, the memories of this special time. I hope you join me for this crazy ride!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

#TasteofNorway Farikal Recipe & Giveaway with Inntravel

You may have seen recently on my Instagram feed that I was wondering what cooking challenge to take on now that Bake Off is over for another year. I've decided to choose a recipe at random every week or so from my big cookery book collection, the only rules being it has to be a different book from the previous recipe and it has to be something that I haven't cooked before.

It was perfect timing then when Inntravel got in touch with me and asked if I would like to try out a traditional Norwegian recipe. My knowledge of Norway is pretty much limited to knowing that Norway is cold and they eat a lot of fish, so I was curious to learn about the national dish of Farikal.

Farikal (pronounce 'forrycoal') is traditionally served in autumn and is primarily lamb or mutton cooked with cabbage and peppercorns. The traditional recipe suggests shoulder, neck or shank to be used and it is served with boiled potatoes.

I thought I would keep the core of my Farikal recipe the same, but change it slightly to suit our dietary requirements (and my love of mash!)

Farikal - Serves 2 with leftovers

600g lamb leg steaks (with bone in situ)
50g plain flour seasoned with salt & pepper
50g butter
400ml water
1 beef stock cube
1 bay leaf
10 peppercorns (I used pink for a subtle flavour)
250g kale with large stalks removed
salt to taste
fresh parsley

Coat the lamb with the seasoned flour and set to one side.
Using a large pan that has a lid, melt the butter and seal the lamb, a few steaks at a time.

Return all the steaks to the pan, add the water, stock, bay leaf, peppercorn and kale and boil for 25 minutes.

Just before serving drain some of the cooking juice into a smaller pan and boil vigorously to thicken.

Serve with mashed potatoes, carrots, fresh parsley & redcurrant jelly.

I was really surprised at how flavoursome this dish was, by using thinner cuts of lamb and pre-cut kale it was on the table in under 30 minutes, so a perfect mid-week supper dish.

Inntravel would like to offer you the chance to learn more about the Norwegian cuisine and are offering my readers the chance to win a £40 voucher with Scandikitchen by entering this simple Rafflecopter giveaway.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

This is a collaborative post with Inntravel, specialists in worldwide slow holidays.

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Monday, 19 October 2015

The Perfect Dinner Party (almost!)

We've been renting our home now for over 18 months and we're well and truly settled in now, Aside from the cupboard under the stairs storing lots of books, everything had found a place and every room has a use. We chose this house because of one room - the conservatory. Our downstairs rooms are all quite small so the conservatory actually has the biggest footprint, and of course it's beautifully light and airy. We brought lots of new furniture when we moved too, but the conservatory has the dining table from Sion's childhood home as well as a Welsh dresser his father owned so it holds a lot of memories.

The only problem is that most of the time it's just Sion & myself eating and we commit the cardinal sin of eating on our laps in front of the TV most nights. During the summer we had lots of people round, but we tended to push the table to one side and use it more as a corridor to the garden, than long, lazy lunches around the table.

So when Ocean Finance got in touch with me and told me about their campaign to get the nation's unloved dining rooms the centre of people's attention again I was more than happy to get involved.

Their idea was for each blogger to host a Come Dine With Me style dinner with family and friends and then blog about it...sounds simple huh?!

Of course living with a rugby mad man and hosting this dinner during October meant there could only be one theme - The Rugby World Cup. I like using themes to help decide on menu choices, but I didn't want to make people feel uncomfortable by asking that they dress up, so I kept it subtle! re-purposed (brought home from a pub) rugby ball coasters & a rugby themed printed menu were about the extent of my theme, but I think it was enough!

So onto my menu - we started with Welsh Rarebit (posh cheese on toast), followed by Coq au Vin pie and finished with New Zealand's national dessert Chocolate Pavlova. The joy about all of these dishes was that they could be prepared in advance and just finished off once people arrived, although I still managed to burn my toast a little and my gravy didn't really thicken!

Every good party needs entertainment and ours was no different. We made sure there was background music throughout the dinner and we took a break between the main course and dessert to play a few rounds of Cards Against Humanity. For anyone who hasn't come across this game it's a simple card game where you use your cards to make the funniest sentence or awnser to a question. The fun comes in that some (most) of the cards are adult themed, or can be very un-PC in the right context!

We had so much fun sat around the table, giggling over our answers that we carried on playing and eating dessert at the same time.

Of course, this being in the Come Dine With Me style, meant my guests had to score me! So how did I do?....

Go me! More importantly though it re-ignited our love of eating properly up at the table. Eating becomes a pleasure, a time to enjoy, sit back and relax in the company around you. Our table has now been moved firmly into the middle of the room, pride of place, ready for the next dinner to enjoy!

What would be your perfect dinner party? You can read more on how to plan the perfect dinner party here

This is a collaborative post with Ocean Finance, who kindly covered the cost of my dinner party ingredients.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

GBBO Final - Victoria Sandwich Showstopper

How is it that the final of GBBO came so quickly?! Thankfully The Apprentice will take it's place on Wednesday nights and rather than dreaming of being an amazing baker, I'll instead dream of swanning around London in a sharp business suit!

I couldn't let the final go though without a real showstopper of a final bake so I could only really go for the "British Classic" round and what could be more classic than a Victoria Sandwich? Very kindly Tesco offered to send me a voucher to cover the cost of some of my ingredients, so there was no excuse - I had to go large!

The victoria sponge is simple in it's method and decoration, which meant it would be a challenge to turn it into a cake worthy of a Showstopper title! I wanted to push myself to try a new technique so I made macarons too and decorated them to look like mini victoria sponges. I also made some strawberry crisps and chocolate leaves as well as my own strawberry jam. I decided to go all out and make it a three tier cake, because if you can't do it for the final of GBBO, when can you?!!

For the basic cake recipe I used equal weights of butter, sugar, beaten eggs and self raising flour, with a dash of vanilla extract for added flavour. Cream the butter & sugar together until light & fluffy then add the eggs little by little, whisking until incorporated each time. Finally add the vanilla extract & flour and fold in until fully combined. Bake in a 160C oven for 20-25 minutes. I think all in I used about 800g of the four ingredients to make my three tiers, but it all blurred into confusion by the 3rd bake!

My strawberry jam used 300g of chopped strawberries to 150g of caster sugar. Brought to the boil and then boiled vigorously for 10 minutes, although despite leaving it to cool it didn't really set! My cream filling was 300ml of whipped double cream with a tsp of vanilla essence & 25g icing sugar folded through.

To make my macarons I used this simple recipe from Delicious Magazine. I filled them with a layer of raspberry jam and white chocolate ganache.

Strawberry crisps were made by slicing strawberries, laying on a non stick baking sheet and sprinkling with icing sugar. They were then baked in a low oven (100C) for 1 hour until dried through.

Finally bramble leaves were coated with melted white chocolate, coloured with green gel and left to harden, before the leaves were peeled away.

I'm so pleased with how this turned out. I love the simplicity of it, while being proud that so many different elements all came together.

It's been an absolute joy to take part in The Great Bloggers Bake Off again this year and I'll most definitely be back again next year! Massive thanks to Jenny for keeping us all on track and all the co-hosts that helped take the strain!

Special thanks also to Tesco for very kindly sending me a voucher to cover the costs of my ingredients. You can find lots of recipes on

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Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Dorsett Shepherds Bush - My thoughts

How has it been almost two months since we went to London for my birthday?! It's become something of a tradition that we always head to London for the night around my birthday. I love London, the buzz and constant activity makes it exciting and invigorating. My mum was a Londoner and moved back up when I was seven so I have memories of going up on the train to visit her and my relatives. Unfortunately I've lost touch with them all now, but there's always a sense of being that little bit closer to them whenever I visit.

As this trip was for my birthday Sion took responsibility for booking our hotel and wow the boy did good! We always look on a number of travel websites and are registered to Secret Escapes, which is where this gem showed up - The Dorsett Shepherds Bush

A short five minute stroll from Shepherds Bush tube station this 317 roomed hotel is in a converted Grade 2 listed 1920s cinema, overlooking a tree lined green.

Dorsett Shepherds Bush Lobby

The influence of it's Asian owners is obvious to see in the beautiful, calming interior of the public areas. We arrived early and asked if we could leave our bags and check in later. Elina, the receptionist who helped us, very kindly told us that our room was already available and that we had been upgraded to a deluxe room - and what a room it was! Being on the top floor and a corner room, the views from the two walls of windows were stunning. Once you enter a bedroom there are more chic touches, with gold furnishings and oriental prints and accessories. Our room in particular was light and airy, with the aircon set to just the right temperature for an August day in London!

Dorsett shepherds Bush Exec Room

Dorsett Shepherds Bush Room work area

Dorsett Shepherds Bush lamp

Our room had a beautiful bathroom attached with a separate bath & shower cubicle. Unfortunately the design of the shower door meant that it leaked quite badly, but the thick bath mat shopped the floor from getting slippery. The bathroom had plenty of marble top space for you to leave your toiletries out and there were more than enough towels for us both.

It was almost a shame that we didn't spend that much time in the hotel, we had so many planned activities for the two days that we were in the city. One thing we did make time for was happy hour (5-7pm) cocktails in the Jin lounge, Luis poured two stunning cocktails for us, I had the sweet Dorsett Duchess, while Sion went for a gin based Smoking Negroni. This wet our appetites and I'm not ashamed to admit to returning the following night to try more! Whether it was the later time slot or the relaxing effect of the evening, I spent most of my time unelegantly slouched in my seat, looking up into the stunning gold atrium. At night gentle up lights really show off the space (little tip - even room numbers overlook the atrium, while odd numbers have external views)

Breakfast was taken in the Pictures dining restaurant, that runs along the side of the hotel. We arrived quite late in the service but there was still an excellent selection of continental breakfast and hot buffet items. Sion was especially impressed to see that Chinese congee and noodles were available too! The Dorsett also has the Shikumen restaurant serving Asian cuisine for lunch and dinner, although we unfortunately had prior plans so didn't eat here ourselves.

We loved our stay at the Dorsett Shepherds Bush, we felt it was good value for money and while not a central London location, it was perfectly placed for Holland Park, Notting Hill and Westfield Shopping Centre. We'll definitely be back!

We paid for our stay and all food and drink ourselves and were not asked to write a review, all thoughts and opinions remain our own.

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Monday, 5 October 2015

GBBO Week 9 - Chocolate Pavlova

How quickly have these past nine weeks flown by? I feel very proud that I've baked along every week so far - sometimes by the skin of my teeth! As well as watching Bake Off for baking inspiration I've also found plenty of new blogs to read and enjoy. I know we get a little longer for our final bake week so I thought I'd say thanks ladies for all the fab recipes you post week after week...and of course huge thanks for Jenny, not only organising and keeping us all up to date, but for all of her incredible work behind the scenes with brands - you deserve a golden mixing spoon all of your own!

I don't know how I feel about this week's Bake Off. I think Flora was always in danger of going, but Paul seemed particularly scathing in her bakes - even breaking apart her showstopper to prove a point. It almost seemed like he was bullying her a little and made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I'm not sure what he would have thought of my entry this week!!

I used chocolate pastry in week 6 for my chocolate, orange & pear frangipane and I had a particularly busy week so time was in very short supply. I had already arranged to have friends over for a "Come Dine With Me" style dinner so I tweaked my dessert to fit (loosely) into this week's category. Luckily Jenny has let me use this as an entry!

I used this BBC Food recipe as a basis for my meringue but tweaked it to the recipe found below.

Chocolate & raspberry pavlova

For the Meringue
3 medium egg whites or 6 tablespoons of prepared egg whites (I use Two Chicks)
175g caster sugar
25g dark chocolate
2tsp cocoa powder
1 tsp white wine vinegar

For the topping
350ml double cream
75g icing sugar
1 vanilla pod, deseeded
300g fresh raspberries
Chocolate Sauce (I used ChocShot)
Grated dark chocolate

Preheat your oven to 180C/Gas 4, line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Whisk in the sugar one tablespoon at a time until it is all incorporated and the meringue is glossy.

Using a metal spoon fold in the chocolate, cocoa & vinegar. Spoon the meringue onto your baking tray and flatten the middle slightly.

Put into your oven and turn the temperature down to 150C/Gas 2 straight away. Bake for 45 minutes then leave to cool in a cooling rack.

Whip the cream and icing sugar together until you have soft peaks, then fold in the vanilla seeds and a third of the raspberries.

Drizzle your chocolate sauce over the meringue base, then spoon over the cream. Top with the remaining raspberries and grate chocolate to serve.

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Monday, 28 September 2015

GBBO Week 8 - Mokatine Eclairs

How quickly does this series of Bake Off seem to be going? Eight weeks in already and yet there's still so many bake categories that could come up! I have missed the enriched dough week from last year, perhaps it will make a return next year?

This week was Patisserie, never one of my strong points, but I was determined to give it a go. I did like the idea of the cream horns, but after making puff pastry in an earlier week I needed a different challenge. Not being able to decide between Mokatines or an eclair tower I decided to blend them together to make Mokatine eclairs - coffee creme patisserie, encased in a choux pastry, topped with coffee fondant icing and crushed walnuts.

A side note before the recipe - The original choux recipe that I used suggested baking at 160C. This meant my choux didn't really puff up, instead making more delicate fingers. To get a bigger eclair bake at the temperature stated in my amended recipe below;

Mokatine Eclairs - Makes approximately 15 eclairs

For the Choux pastry
250ml water
100g Stork with Butter
Pinch of salt
200g Strong white flour
4 whole eggs

For the Coffee Creme Patisserie
500ml whole milk
1 vanilla pod, split in half
100g caster sugar
2 egg yolks
50g cornflour
50g Stork with Butter
2 tsp Coffee Extract

For the icing topping
100g Fondant Icing sugar
1tsp Coffee Extract
3 tbs water
Chopped walnuts


Preheat your oven to 200C Gas 6. On baking parchment draw lines 12cm long and 5cm apart. Turn over and place onto a baking sheet. You will need to spread the eclairs over two or more sheets depending on size. Set out all your ingredients as you will need to add things quickly.

Place the water, Stork (or alternative) and salt into a large saucepan and heat over a medium heat until it boils. As soon as it is boiling, quickly pour in the flour and immediately beat with either a wooden spoon or an electric whisk until you have a smooth ball of paste that leaves the saucepan sides clean.

Transfer to a stand mixer and slowly add the eggs, one at a time. Mix on a low speed until each egg is incorporated, before adding another. Continue to mix until you have a thick glossy paste. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a large holed nozzle.

Pipe onto your paper using the lines as a guide.

Bake for 10 minutes, then increase the heat to 220C Gas 7 for a further 15-20 minutes until the buns are crisp and golden and hold their shape. Leave to cool on a cooling rack.

Next, put the milk & vanilla into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. In a mixing boil whisk together the eggs and sugar until light & fluffy. Tip in the cornflour and combine well.

When the milk is boiling tip into the sugar mix in one go, through a sieve to catch the vanilla pod. Whisk together to blend and transfer back into the milk saucepan.

Cook over a medium heat for 3 minutes until thickened, stirring continuously. Transfer to your stand mixer and whisk on a high speed until cooled completely. Whisk in your Stork with Butter and coffee extract, taste to check coffee levels and whisk again for at least two minutes. Transfer to a piping bag with a narrow nozzle fitted.

With the tip of a nozzle or a sharp knife piece each eclair three times. Pip in your Creme Pat gently. If any escapes, wipe away with a butter knife. Once all have been filled set aside in the fridge to set for 20 minutes.

Make up your fondant icing by adding the coffee essence to the icing sugar and slowly adding water in small amounts until you have a thick icing that is liquid but still holds a peak for 3 seconds. Pipe over your eclairs or spread using a butter knife. Sprinkle chopped nuts over the top.

I was kindly sent a voucher to try out new Stork with Butter on a recipe of my choice. This produced a tasty, evenly baked product that was as good as bakes made previously with traditional butter and I would happy use this again.

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Friday, 25 September 2015

River Cottage - A piece of heaven in Devon

I was recently one of the lucky bloggers selected by Foodies100 to spend the day at River Cottage, made famous by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I knew the day would be interesting, but I didn't realise how inspiring and engaging it would be.

I'm lucky enough to live only a few hours from River Cottage HQ, a little different to Foodie Quine who have the mammoth journey from Aberdeen to make! On route I picked up my two newest blogging friends, Grace of Eats Amazing and Sara-Jane of Keep Up With the Jones Family. The car ride to and from River Cottage was like a blogging session in itself - these ladies know their stuff and I learnt so much from our chats!

Pulling into the car park we had a few minutes to say some more hellos, gather up our cameras and climb up into a big trailer for the bumpy ride down through the valley to the instantly recognisable farmhouse. I think the fact that there was still some lingering morning mist made our first glance of the farm even more special.

After breakfast of pastries and omelette bites we split into our groups to start our sessions. I was in the red group and was excited to see that Annie Spratt (Mammasaurus), a blogger I've long admired was also in my group. Our first session was learning brilliant styling and photo tips from Lucy Heath (Capture by Lucy). I immediately took my camera off full auto mode and vowed to learn how to take pictures on manual settings!

By this point the sun was out in beautiful early Autumn glory, perfect for our tour around the farm and gardens with Will Livingstone, Head Gardener. He told us so much about the farm and methods they employ that can easily be used in our own home gardens and the passion he and his team have was so evident.

All this walking and chatting was making me hungry so I took little persuading to head into the dining room for our lunch. A table plan stopped us eating in our usual groups of friends, so I put my shyness to the back of my mind and spoke to everyone around me.

Our lunch was made using ingredients reared, grown and foraged at the farm. Beautifully aged Dexter beef, slow cooked and served in a wholemeal ravioli on a bed of vegetable ragu with bread baked that hour and seasoned corn on the cob.

A fennel infused meringue, damson plums and a vanilla and coffee ice cream, served with salted apple caramel.

The doors to the kitchen had been open all morning and we were all encouraged to come and watch, take photos and ask questions.

Our final session of the day was a practical one. Gill Meller, Group Head Chef helped us make soda bread using spelt flour, flavoured with cheese, herbs, apples and blackberries that we had picked ourselves. As the last group of the day our foraging skills were really put to the test, but we all managed to find enough! The real magic of this session was making rolled butter using only double cream and flavouring it with peppery nasturtium and marigold petals.

All too soon it was time to climb back aboard the trailer to take us back to our cars. I like everyone else looked back down the valley, until River Cottage disappeared from view and we were back in our normal day to day life again.

I learnt so much at River Cottage HQ that one post could never cover it all. Over the next few weeks I will be doing further posts on the things I learnt - food styling tips, organic growing & making your own bread & butter.

Thank you Foodies100 & River Cottage HQ for putting on such a special day for us all - this is one day I'll never forget!

Monday, 21 September 2015

GBBO Week 7 - Hot Crust Pork, Chicken & Egg Pie

Oh Matt, Matt, Matt...from Star Baker to Sent Home in one short week. I'll miss him on the show, as I've said before he seemed the most realistic of home bakers...most week's there was at least one bake he had never heard off and he flew by the seat of his pants on more than one occasion, but he did it with good humour and a decent dose of reality!

Another new category this week saw Victorian Dishes in the spotlight. My plans for a lovely few relaxing evenings of baking while Sion was on a course were quickly squashed when our oven decided to blow it's element. After a number of frantic calls the oven was back up and running the afternoon before we went on holiday for a week! My Chocolate tart from last week was first in the oven on the Friday evening and a 6.30am alarm call was set for the Saturday morning to get my bake for this week cooked!

None of us were a fan of fruit cake and transporting a sponge finger and jelly creation to Dorset was a recipe for disaster, so a nice solid pie was called for! My Grandmother used to make a beautiful bacon & egg pie so this is my homage to her.

Hot crust Pork, Chicken & Egg Pie

For the filling

300g sausage meat
About 1 tsp of chopped fresh thyme leaves
Generous amount of salt & black pepper

250g cooked ham hock, cut into small cubes
250g cooked chicken breast
4 medium eggs, hard boiled

For the Pastry
450g plain flour
100g strong white flour
75g unsalted butter
1/2 tsp salt
100g lard
200ml water
1 egg yolk, beaten

Preheat your oven to 200C/Gas 6
Grease a 10cm x 20cm loaf tin with a little extra lard then line with baking parchment that overhangs the sides.

Prepare your fillings. Combine the sausage meat with thyme & seasoning and mix well. Cook a little in a frying pan to check seasoning levels and add more if necessary. 
Take a thin slice of egg off each end so that they will sit alongside each other with no gap.
Set the fillings to one side while you make the pastry.

Combine the two flour types and rub in the butter lightly with your finger tips. Add all other patry ingredients into a saucepan and gently heat until the lard has melted and the mixture is almost boiling.

Create a well in your flour, pour on the water/fat mix and stir with a spoon. Once it is cool enough to handle tip onto your work surface and knead into a dough.

Working quickly roll out two thirds and use to line the loaf tin. leaving any excess hanging over the edges. Roll out the final third to a large enough piece to cover the top and cover with a layer of clingfilm to hold warmth.

Put half the sausage meat mix into the tin, then layer thinly with chicken & ham. Place the eggs end to end and use more chicken & ham on the sides to hold the eggs in place. Finish with a final layer of sausage meat.

Brush the pastry edges with egg yolk and cover with the pastry top. Trim & crimp the edges.

Decorate the top with pastry shapes and use more egg as a wash over the top. Finally make three steam holes, before baking for 30 minutes.

Reduce the temperature to 180C/Gas 4 and bake for a further hour.
Leave to cool completely in the tin before turning on it's side and easing the pie out.

Despite the sides falling apart, it was a really tasty pie - I think Gran would have enjoyed it! 

Next week - Patisserie!

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Cook Style #GBBO