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Travel Diaries – Philadelphia

Philadelphia was our third stop on our East Coast road trip – you can read Part One and Two of our New York trip and all about Atlantic City by clicking on the links.

Day Nine – Tuesday 4th August

I started our final day in Atlantic City with an early morning run along the Boardwalk. It was so quiet with just a few people wandering around with their morning coffees and papers and the mist rising around the hotels.

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For my 30th birthday, I had decided to treat myself to a designer handbag. I had seen a few the day before but decided to sleep on it and before we left Atlantic City, I nipped back to the shops and ended up buying two!

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Bags packed, we were back in the car and heading to Philadelphia. It was only about an hour away and I got some Bruce Springsteen on when I saw the city in the distance.

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We found our hotel and received the best welcome…warm chocolate chip cookies. I think I ate mine in the lift as I was getting hungry! We stayed at the Hilton Doubletree and it was probably our favourite hotel in terms of location as we were so central. The room was gorgeous too – two double beds and a great view.

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We dropped our car off, grabbed a sandwich and started exploring. My first impressions of Philadelphia were good – very leafy, friendly and lots of sculptures, fountains and open spaces. As we were only here for two nights and Philadelphia is full of history, we decided to jump on a bus tour so we could see as much as possible of the city. We chose one with a real tour guide as opposed to a recording and it was a great way to find out a bit more about the place.

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After a quick change, we headed out for dinner. I had read about this really cool park down by the river so we walked over and it was amazing! Spruce Street Harbour Park is full of hammocks, benches, fairy lights and food trucks…what more could you need?! We got there and watched the sun set behind the Franklin Bridge with cocktails before indulging in fish tacos, ribs and chicken wings. We ended the night with ice cream in one of the hammocks – such a perfect evening!

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Day Ten – Wednesday 5th August

The next morning, we went on to Reading Terminal Market for breakfast. A great little foodie find, this market has everything to buy and some amazing little places to eat too. I had the best pretzel ever and an ‘Elvis’ doughnut which contained peanut butter icing, banana icing and bacon (and I wonder why my jeans now don’t fit!)

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After my healthy start to the day, we went to the Eastern State Penitentiary. You may not think an abandoned prison would be top of the to-do list for most people but this was such an interesting place to visit. After being left abandoned for years, it has been half-renovated so the public can visit yet see how it has decayed over time. It was quite creepy in places and the audio guide was so interesting covering the beginning of the prison, daily life for inmates, religion, death row, famous inmates (including Al Capone’s luxurious cell) attempted escapes, solitary confinement right up to present day issues such as gang violence and the death penalty.

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There were also cells dotted around the place that had been dedicated to various art installations which added to the experience – I would highly recommend this slightly alternative museum.

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It was lunchtime so we had to sample one of Philadelphia’s most famous exports…a Philly Cheesesteak. There are so many opinions on which is the best but we opted for Campo’s and oh my they were amazing!!!

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We spent our final afternoon having a final wander around the city, cooling off in fountains before indulging in some craft beers, more chicken wings and fish tacos for dinner. We went to The Foodery which has hundreds of different beers…Ian was in heaven! x

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Recipe – Sugar-Free Banana Pancakes

After a week or so on my sugar-free attempt, I was really craving something sweet and pudding-like. I was browsing through some recipes and found these two ingredient pancakes which are so simple and easy to make that they may just be my new favourite weekend breakfast. Just bananas and eggs…it really is that simple!

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I jazzed mine up with some blueberries for a little extra sweetness and colour but the basic ratio to remember is one banana to two eggs.

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Ingredients (for two people)

2 ripe bananas, mashed with a fork

4 eggs

A small bowl of blueberries

A drizzle of oil

Honey (optional – I know it isn’t sugar free but this block of proper honey was delicious!)

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How to make it

  • In a bowl, mix together your mashed up bananas and the four eggs to make a batter

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  • Heat a frying pan on a low to medium heat and add a drizzle of oil
  • Using a ladle, pour the batter into the pan and pop a few blueberries on top

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  • Fry until golden then flip them and do the same on the other side
  • Serve warm and add a helping of runny honey plus some more berries

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Recipe – Overnight Oats

So I have become one of those non-dairy, Kilner jar-using, superfood-eating people who prepares breakfast the night before and spends a small fortune on trendy seeds….£8 bag of chia seeds, I’m looking at you!

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In all seriousness, it isn’t as bad as it sounds. Weirdly, spending 5 minutes each evening sorting out my breakfast means my mornings are less stressful and I know I’m starting the day with something really healthy and filling. Overnight Oats are basically just porridge which soaks up the milk or liquid overnight and is served chilled with a shedload of fruit, nuts and seeds.

Ingredients

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My daily breakfast has an ever changing list of ingredients but the basics stay the same and I use a small cup to measure my oats out with double the amount of milk.

1 cup of oats (use chunky or steel-cut oats)

2 cups of milk (I love using almond milk for this)

A teaspoon of chia seeds

Frozen berries (blueberries and cherries are my favourites!)

Seeds (I’m currently using a mix of linseed, goji berries, sunflower and pumpkin seeds)

Nuts (I had a bag of mixed nuts in my baking drawer)

Flaked almonds

How to make it

  • In a bowl, jar or lunchbox, add the oats, milk and chia seeds

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  • Give them a stir and tip over a handful of frozen berries

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  • Pop this in the fridge overnight

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  • The next morning, give it another stir, add the seeds, nuts and top with flaked almonds

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Variations

The flavour combinations are endless here! I have been experimenting for the last few weeks and here are some winners:

  • A teaspoon of vanilla extract

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  • A drizzle of syrup, honey or dulce de leche on top

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  • Fresh mango

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  • Choc chips
  • Bananas

Any other recommendations for how to jazz up my oats? x

Recipe – Chorizo and Kale Hash

This is a dish I created recently that brings together some of my favourite foodie items. I am a huge chorizo fan and am a firm believer that a fried egg makes most meals better! Add a big helping of guacamole and I am in food heaven.

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This is quite a brunch-style dish but we have enjoyed it for dinner. In fact, I’m cooking it again tonight and am tweaking the recipe slightly to see what it is like with sweet instead of new potatoes – I’m guessing it will be just as delicious!

I haven’t been too strict with amounts in this recipe – partly through laziness and partly because it’s a throw-it-in-a-pan dish and cannot imagine anyone weighing out potatoes and kale! The below amounts served two greedy people.

Ingredients

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About half a bag of new potatoes, quartered

A glug of olive oil

One red onion, chopped

Half a ring of chorizo, halved and sliced

2-3 rashers of streaky bacon, chopped

Salt and pepper

Paprika

About 100g (or a good handful) of kale with the stems removed and roughly shredded

Two eggs, fried

One serving of my guacamole

A sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese

How to make it

  • Parboil your potatoes until they are just cooked then drain and set to one side
  • Heat the oil in your pan over a medium heat and add the onion, chorizo and bacon

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  • Light fry for about 10 minutes until the chorizo releases its lovely oils
  • Add the potatoes and cook for another few minutes
  • Season well and sprinkle over a generous helping of paprika – I think I also threw in a spring onion I had hanging around in the fridge

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  • Add the kale and cook for another 5 minutes until the kale has wilted and everything else is starting to crisp up

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  • Fry your eggs in a separate pan
  • Serve the chorizo hash with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and an egg  on top, with a generous helping of guacamole on the side

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My new favourite mid-week meal! x

Restaurant Review – The Diner, Dalston

Just as everyone is turning to a diet of kale and quinoa , I am going to tempt you back to the dark side with a very tempting restaurant review!

Ian and I visited The Diner in Dalston for a late breakfast when we were there for a weekend recently. As a lover of all things American, I found this place online and when I saw it was right next to Dalston tube station, I knew we had to go.

It was mid-week so pretty quiet but absolutely up my street in terms of the menu and décor. It has a typical American diner look and feel to it from the red leather booths to the neon signs and the menu was actually quite authentic with a good selection of Mexican influences too.

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We started with milkshakes (they also do alcoholic ‘hard shakes’ but it was only 11am when we went!) which were served in traditional milkshake glasses with the leftover shake brought out in the tall metal cups…a nice touch. Ian opted for pistachio and I had peanut butter – both were delicious and really filling!

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For our breakfast/ brunch option, we were really torn about what to order. I went for eggs and bacon on corn bread with smashed avocados whilst Ian had the Mexican Breakfast Pan with some hash browns on the side.

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Mine was delicious and what I would call ‘proper food porn’…just look at that yolk! Mmmmmmmm

For me, it was a perfect brunch dish with a lovely balance of flavours and textures. We don’t often get corn bread over here but I for one am a fan of this sweet bread.

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Ian’s dish had a little bit of everything: spicy chorizo, crispy potatoes, eggs, onions, black beans, guacamole, salsa, jalapenos, cheese and some tortillas on the side.

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We both kind of knew we didn’t really need the hash browns but they were so crispy and tasty that I’m glad we did order a portion!

I absolutely loved our meal here and would definitely recommend it if you are in the area. It does have a certain amount of kitsch-factor but the food was good enough to merit a return visit.

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An Easy-Peasy Breakfast Treat

After tomorrow, I have one more week of work left before we break up for the Christmas holidays. Given how chilly it is first thing in the morning and how hard it is to get out of a warm and cosy bed, I foresee lots of lazy mornings and breakfast in beds coming up.

I wanted to share a little breakfast secret of mine that makes you look like an amazing pastry chef for absolute minimal effort. These cheat-croissants will impress any houseguests, fill your kitchen with the smell of freshly baked pastry goodness and taste pretty wonderful too.

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Available from most supermarkets in the chilled aisle, this nifty little box contains everything you need for oven-fresh pain au chocolat. I made a batch of these last weekend when we had a friend to stay and I have another in the fridge ready to go for this weekend too!

All you need to do is pop open the tube and unroll the dough. You will see the perforated line to pull apart then simply add the chocolate strips and roll them up.

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After 20 minutes in the oven, you will have golden pain au chocs which are most definitely best enjoyed straight away whilst still warm. I think these would be a lovely treat to serve on Christmas morning…although any Sunday morning is always made better with the addition of French pastries.

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There is also a plain croissant variety too which is good if you don’t have such a sweet tooth; I have mine with butter and jam whilst Ian goes all continental and has his stuffed with cheese and ham.

Our London Break (Warning: lots of food photos!)

Ian and I have just got home after a wonderful few days away in the big smoke. He has gone off for a run whereas I have chosen a cuppa, a catch-up of this week’s Apprentice and sorting through my photos instead! I decided to take my ‘proper’ camera up to London with me in order to practise using it for a variety of shots rather than just reaching for my iPhone. I did look like a complete tourist with it around my neck but hopefully I managed to take some better photos and I definitely feel like I have gotten to ‘know’ this camera better after shooting a variety of inside, outside and (of course!) foodie pictures!

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As you have probably guessed by now, I am one of those weirdos who wants to drag out a mini-break for as long as possible and thinks a holiday starts at the airport (or even at the hotel the night before a flight!). This trip was no different and before we even got on the train we had treated ourselves to a Bertinet Bakery (the best in Bath!) brunch and I had a new book ready to get stuck into on my Kindle.

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Upon arrival, we headed straight to our hotel in trendy Dalston, Avo Hotel. We have a good variety of friends we usually stay with in London, but for this trip we decided to treat ourselves to a hotel and I found this little boutique hotel which turned out to be cheaper than your bog-standard Travelodge and it always feels good to help the independents. We stayed in the King Top-floor Suite which we loved. It had a huge and comfortable king bed, a double sofa with good tea and coffee facilities and a fabulous bathroom with sparkly black tiles, a rainfall shower and nice Elemis products. Oh, and a view of the Gherkin! It is a family-run business and really friendly. There was always someone behind the front desk and they offered a simple but tasty breakfast too.

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After we had settled in, we hopped back on the tube and went to see the poppies at the Tower of London. I thought this was stunning and a very moving installation although be prepared for the crowds!

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Seeing as it was such a gorgeous autumnal afternoon, we decided to have a wander along the river via Borough Market and a drink with a view as the sun set.

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We also noticed several decorated buses dotted about. I hadn’t heard of this project but I do love these city-wide art installations and it was great to see the different varieties.

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That evening we were meeting our friends, Cat and Lucie, to try out a new restaurant; DF Mexico in Shoreditch. I will be writing a separate restaurant review of this soon but it was a great night with good friends and margaritas…need I say more?!

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The next morning, after a quick bite to eat at our hotel, we paid a visit to the Saatchi Gallery. There were a couple of installations I wanted to see (the ants and the oil room) which we both loved and then we wandered around the remaining rooms. I really like this gallery – there are bold and daring installations which can invoke a love/ hate reaction and you don’t feel like you need to be an ‘art expert’ to enjoy yourself. I think this may be my new favourite art gallery in London.

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Next, it was time for lunch and I had heard amazing things about Comptoir Libanais which was just around the corner from the Saatchi. Again, I will do a restaurant review soon but I really enjoyed our lunch here, from the décor to the sharing platter to the wonderful rose-mint tea and baklava.

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Unfortunately, it was a bit of a grey and drizzly afternoon so we decided to head over to the Tate Modern to shelter and soak up a bit more culture. I’m not sure if it was due to the half-term crowds but I wasn’t really feeling this visit compared to how much I loved the Saatchi Gallery. We didn’t stay too long here and instead popped back to the hotel for a warming hot chocolate and to get glammed up for our evening out.

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For an early dinner, we had booked an afternoon tea with a twist…burgers! We ate at BRGR where we had a delicious selection of mini sliders, drinks and puddings – my review is coming soon!

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Then, we walked over to the Noel Coward theatre to watch Shakespeare in Love (via Leicester Square where we tried to grab a glimpse of Matthew McConaughey at his latest premiere!). For our first wedding anniversary, where it is traditional to give a ‘paper’ gift, Ian bought me these tickets and being fans of the film, both had high hopes for the play. It did not disappoint and was actually better than I thought it would be. It had some really funny moments followed by some very poignant ones and there was a dog which easily makes it deserve its five star reviews!

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I also discovered Crème Brûlée flavour Häagen-Dazs during the interval which was a highlight for me!

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On our way home, we both had the munchies and noticed a Jamie Oliver pop-up diner selling burgers and hotdogs – perfect midnight snacks!

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Today we were pretty knackered so just enjoyed a late-morning brunch at an amazing American-style diner near our hotel, aptly named The Diner, a quick photo opportunity in front of Big Ben and my first pumpkin-spiced latte of the season before catching the train back to Bath.

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Suffice to say, after such an indulgent foodie few days, my shopping basket was full of fruit and veg this afternoon to restore some much needed balance!

Too Much Eating Out!

It has been a funny old week with some celebrating and commiserating and lots of eating out!

I mentioned earlier in the week that I had some travel vaccinations done. Well, I was meant to be going to China for three weeks this summer on a teaching programme. Those who know me well know that I am slightly obsessed with China and Chinese history and culture so I was getting very excited about this trip but had a funny feeling all along that something was going to go wrong and that I wouldn’t end up going. I then had an email on Thursday informing me that the holiday had fallen through due to pretty poor organisation. Although there seems to be some vain attempts to keep the project going, it appears it is dead in the water and so Ian took me out for dinner that night to cheer me up!

We walked across the fields in the sunshine to The Fox and Hounds – how pretty is their beer garden? I can see us spending some time here this summer!

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Over a great steak (Ian), a rather average pie (me) and a delicious treacle tart we replaced my disappointment with new travel ideas. I think we managed to plan a trip to almost every continent this summer and have narrowed it down to two or three options to investigate…and now I am fully vaccinated, I can go anywhere!!!

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Last night, one of my best friends Cat arrived from London and after a bottle of prosecco, our chauffeur (Ian!) dropped us at The Longs Arms in the next village – one of my favourite pubs that serves the most wonderful local and seasonal food.

I had an amazing smoked salmon spelt risotto with samphire and Cat had a fresh asparagus and broad bean ravioli.

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For pudding, I had a buttermilk and mead panna cotta (which had the perfect wobble!) served with honeycomb, popping candy, fresh berries and mint and Cat had apple pie rice pudding with strawberries – both looked and tasted incredible. This is one of my favourite places to go for dinner and we always leave feeling very full and with smiles on our faces!

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This morning, we had a lazy morning with tea, OJ and croissants then headed into Bath for lunch at Bill’s. We both opted for salads (Chicken Caesar for Cat, Bacon, Avocado and Poached Egg for me) and then enjoyed a wander around Bath in the gorgeous sunshine before we went our separate ways.

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Ian and I spent the afternoon in the garden, reading, sunbathing and admittedly nodding off once or twice. It was such beautiful weather and the best part is that we are due more of the same tomorrow!

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After this indulgent week, I am determined to have a slightly healthier week ahead as the option of a potential beach holiday is on the cards and I am definitely not bikini-ready!

Have you been making the most of the sunshine today?

Recipe – Roasted Tomato, Feta and Thyme Tarte

My blogging plans were cast to one side this weekend as I arrived home on Friday and realised that I had left my laptop cable in work…rookie mistake!

We had a great weekend though, seeing our friends for a birthday BBQ on Saturday (and yes, there was some classic British barbecuing-in-the-rain action!), a visit from my parents and our village breakfast on Sunday followed by a long walk and a few beers at the pub. I also had a mountain of books to mark but that doesn’t sound quite so exciting!

Today, I wanted to share a great little recipe that was actually my way of using up some leftover puff pastry after making a pie. It is quick, easy, has very few ingredients and is delicious warm or chilled the next day for lunch.

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I decided not to bother with weights and amounts for his recipe as you can make one huge pie or lots of little individual ones depending on how much pastry you have.

Ingredients

Puff pastry (I always buy mine but high fives if yours is homemade!)

A block of feta cheese

Tomatoes, thinly sliced

Dried thyme

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

Balsamic vinegar (optional)

How to make it

o   Begin by preheating your oven to 180°C, Gas Mark 4

o   Lay out your puff pastry and score a line about an inch thick the whole way around the outsidefeta7

o   Crumble your feta inside this scored line evenlyfeta8

o   Place your slice tomatoes on top – you could do them in rows to look like a pro or just lay them on anywhere you fancy!feta9

o   Sprinkle over some dried thyme and a good amount of salt and pepper (although not too much salt as the feta is quite salty)

o   Drizzle over some olive oil and bake until golden brown and cooked throughout – 20 minutes should do itfeta2

o   Serve warm with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a salad or leave it to cool then have it for lunch the next dayfeta4

I’m off to Pilates now – my first session in four weeks so I expect to be aching tomorrow!

Recipe – Mini Carrot and Cranberry Loaves

I love a big chunk of carrot cake, topped with a cream cheese icing, and when I saw these mini loaf cases I thought it would be good to make a miniature version of the cake I love so much.

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I wanted to try making them with a slight twist though and replaced the usual sultanas with little dried cranberries. Not only do these give a lovely pop of colour and texture but they deliver a bit more of a bite than a sweet, soft sultana – I would definitely substitute these again.

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I also used these cute white chocolate carrots to top the cakes which I think look and tasted lovely!

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Ingredients

170g of self-raising flour

150g of light brown sugar

1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

A good grating of fresh nutmeg (about a teaspoon)

1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

150ml of sunflower or vegetable oil

2 eggs

The zest and juice of one orange

50g of dried cranberries

150g of grated carrots

50g of chopped walnuts

50g of butter, room temperature

85g of sifted icing sugar

200g of full fat cream cheese

Another pinch of cinammon

How to make it

o   Begin by preheating your oven to 180°C, Gas Mark 4

o   In a bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and bicarbonate of sodacc21

o   In a separate jug, mix together the wet ingredients of oil, eggs, orange juice and zest

o   Add the wet ingredients to the dry and combine

o   Add the cranberries, grated carrots and walnuts and mix wellcc24

o   Spoon this mixture into the loaf casescc18

o   Bake for  30-40 minutes or until the cakes are golden brown and cooked throughoutcc12

o   Allow to cool and make your icing by beating together the butter, icing sugar, cream cheese and cinnamon until smoothcc13

o   Once the loaves have cooled, top with the icing and a mini carrot then enjoy with a cup of teacc5

I seem to have my cooking and baking mojo back and have just rustled up a tart and two pies so expect some more recipes very soon! x