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Recipe – Dark Chocolate and Cranberry Flapjacks

It has been a lovely weekend with what feels like our first bit of sun in ages.

We ploughed on with some DIY yesterday and rewarded ourselves with an Indian takeaway and a good film…my perfect Saturday night in!

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Today, we had various appointments but I am now sat down with my first hot-cross buns of the year and a cup of tea, half watching the football and half meal-planning the week ahead starting with my first ever potato dauphinoise I am going to attempt to accompany our roast lamb dinner tonight…bring on the cream!

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Today’s recipe is one I made earlier this week for a school cake sale, although I ended up buying back a couple of slices for myself because it was so tasty! By stirring the chocolate pieces into the warm mixture right at the end it just starts to melt meaning the whole things tastes chocolatey but there are also lovely chocolate chunks to enjoy with each bite – perfect!

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Ingredients

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150g of unsalted butter or margarine

150g of brown sugar

150g of honey

300g of porridge oats

50g of dried cranberries

100g of good quality dark chocolate, roughly chopped

How to make it

  • Begin by greasing your flapjack tray and preheating the oven to 180°C, Gas Mark 4
  • Next, add your butter, sugar and honey to a saucepan and cook on a low heat until the ingredients have melted and come togetherflap1
  • Now add your oats and cranberries and mix well
  • Finally, add the chocolate pieces and give the mixture a final stirflap4
  • Pour the flapjack mixture into the tin and roughly pat downflap5
  • Bake for around 20 minutes until golden brownflap7
  • Leave to cool then cut into slicesflap9 flap10
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Cider, Piñatas and Owls

It’s a very quiet and relaxed affair in our house tonight as Ian and I are both feeling rather ‘delicate’ after our weekends! He spent his on a stag do, mine was at a cider festival, so no doubt we will both be having an early night to recharge our batteries ready for work tomorrow.

Ian left on Friday so I had the evening to myself which I love every now and then. I spent the night catching up on my favourite blogs, painting my nails, drinking red wine and watching Cruel Intentions, which I haven’t seen for years but which was every bit as good as I remember!

I had a very surreal start to the day on Saturday as my first job was to stuff this donkey (or maybe it’s a llama?!) piñata which I had bought for my best friend Lu’s birthday celebrations this weekend. I found the whole stuffing process rather disturbing, especially when you see where I had to make the hole!!!

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Piñata stuffed and other presents wrapped, I headed over to Bristol to see the birthday girl and we went over to Ashton Gate for their annual cider festival. Weirdly, the first thing we did when we walked through the door was a spot of owl handling…quite random for a cider festival but the little man that I held was incredibly cute!

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We spent the next few hours, drinking our way through various West Country ciders (my favourite was Lilley’s who are based in East Somerset) and treated ourselves to a hog roast and a cheese board for good measure too.

As we were going out to a BYOB restaurant that night, we decided it would be a great idea to get a keg of cider to take with us, although the huge box we bought did end up defeating us!

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Lu’s housemates decided to surprise her with a personalised cake and I love the look on her face when she sees it!

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Finally, the blindfold was put on and it was piñata time! I have several brilliant videos of this but luckily for Lu I haven’t yet figured out how to edit and upload these onto my blog!

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So, after a rather full on Saturday, my Sunday has been very chilled out with endless cups of tea and a little nap thrown in there too. I can see it being somewhat of a struggle to get up when my alarm goes off tomorrow morning but a few yawns is worth it for an awesome weekend with your bestie! x

A Day in the Life #1

Today I thought I would try out something I have seen several other bloggers do which is to share their day using photographs taken on the hour, for every hour they are awake. I quite like gaining a little insight into other people’s lives in this way so yesterday I snapped away on my iphone throughout the day. I tried to be very honest with my pictures, rather than picking styled scenes or doing something unnatural when my hourly alarm beeped!

I picked a fairly typical Saturday which included a lie-in, some pottering, some shopping and a meal with friends which descended into tequila-fuelled fun! Unfortunately my phone ran out of battery half-way through the evening so several red faces have been saved…

10am: I woke up a little before 10 and read a couple of chapters of Atonement in bed with a cup of tea brought to me by Ian!

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11am: Time to get up and get clean! These are my current favourite bathroom products. The TIGI range is brilliant for anyone with curly hair and I love almost anything in the Soap and Glory Range. I am also loving Superdrug’s Pink Grapefruit and Tea Tree Facial Wash. It isn’t a high-end brand but the smell is amazing and its fabulous first thing in the morning to wake you up.

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Midday: The excitement of opening and testing out my monthly Birchbox delivery and a bit of blogging.

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1pm: Lunch followed by the difficult decision of tea or coffee whilst I measured up our kitchen walls ready for new tiles. Cue balancing dangerously on kitchen surfaces and praying the measurements are correct!

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2pm: Popping out in sandals with the sun on our faces.

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3pm: New tiles and grout…watch this space for our Kitchen Makeover!

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4pm: Soundtrack to our drive and one of my favourite bands

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5pm: A spot of baking – Blueberry and Coconut Muffins to take over to my friend’s house later.

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6pm: The field at the end of our road – I love where we live! We headed over to Bristol for a curry with friends.

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7pm: Poppadum Mountain

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8pm: I love BYOB restaurants!

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9pm: Feeling immensely stuffed, we wandered to the pub for a few drinks

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10pm: The beginning of the end…Tequila shots!

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Luckily for some, that is where my photo diary ends until we got home at 2am!

I hope you enjoyed today’s post. I thought it would be interesting to document my day in this way and I liked the way it forced me to be creative on the spot and find a shot to sum up what I was doing at the time.

I have a couple of baking posts coming up this week where I am testing out some different ready-made cake mixes. Not great for the diet but I enjoyed tasting the results and trying to put my twist on the recipes!

Right, its Sunday which means our Sunday Roast is in the oven (a joint of gammon this week) so I am off to help Ian in the kitchen! x

Curry, Cake and a Good Catch-Up

Hello. I hope you have all had a good weekend. I have just got home after a few days with our best friends and am tired but happy!

Saturday started with me not being able to sleep (which is very rare for me – I LOVE my lie-ins!) so I got up and baked! I think I was just excited about our trip up to Birmingham to spend the weekend with my girlfriends and I knew a lovely lemon drizzle cake would go down very well with our endless cups of tea! (recipe coming soon)

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I have been to stay with several friends recently who have really put some thought into what we could do together that weekend and where we could go to eat. This is much appreciated on my part but it also puts the pressure on to return the favour and be an excellent hostess when they come and stay with me and Ian next!

Knowing the boys (and me!) are partial to a good beer, my friend Lucie took us to BrewDog Birmingham, a Scottish brewery who make the rather lovely Punk IPA. This company have opened a few bars in England and Scotland and the Birmingham one is very industrial and trendy with a great selection of beers and some simple but tasty-sounding food. We sampled a few beers (avoiding the super strong ones they are famous for!) and had a good natter.

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Then, we wandered along to The Mailbox to see the finished Cube building.

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My verdict: striking shape, I like the roof but am not too keen on the colours…I’m sure Architectural Digest will come knocking soon! Haha

We carried on wandering along the canal to see the almost-finished library. I love the wire design and colours but it divided my friends.

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Having spent 4 years studying here, Birmingham will always be dear to my heart but it is strange and nostalgic to come back and see all the places we frequented as students, discover new places we missed when we were here and just see how this city is constantly changing.

After a quick outfit change, it was time for what I had been looking forward to all week…a curry at the Balti Triangle! We dined at Al Faisal’s and I am afraid to say it puts most local take-aways to shame with how fresh, varied and vibrant the menu is.

Now, I’m not saying I don’t enjoy our local Indian takeaway (I love it!) but this felt how good Indian food should be and we all loved the food there.

I started with a vegetable samosa in a yogurt and tamarind sauce with chickpeas. This was a beautiful mix of flavours and textures and was the right level of spice for me (I am a bit of a wuss with chillies!)

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Ian didn’t realise how big his Masala Fish starter would be and was pretty much full after he had finished off this huge piece but it was perfectly cooked and delicately spiced.

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For my main course, I opted for a Chicken Tak Tak. This was quite a dry dish as it did not come with a sauce but was instead served in a sizzling pan. It contained shredded pieces of chicken, fresh coriander, fresh tomatoes and a blend of spices. It was amazing and it makes me a bit sad that I have never seen this on another menu before as it has become my new favourite curry!

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If you do come to Birmingham and are wondering where to eat, I recommend you take a taxi to this area and sample some of the delicious cuisine on offer…it made my weekend!

When we move into a new month, I always have a look at my blog archives and see what I was up to this time last year. In March 2012, Ian and I had just bought this house and were unpacking (and we still are one year later!) and exploring our new village. I was very happy to notice that lots of pictures were taken outside in the sunshine and I was even wearing flip flops in some of them, so I am hopeful that spring is on its way and we may be able to enjoy a few days in the garden soon!

Restaurant Review – Juniper, Bristol

Last night, Ian and I headed over to Bristol to take advantage of a Groupon deal we bought a little while ago. It is also our 9 year anniversary on Monday and my last weekend off before going back to work so it felt like a good idea to go out for dinner.

I was also happy for an excuse to wear my new polka-dot shirt!

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Our voucher entitled us to two 5-course dinners with a glass of wine for just £47 – a real bargain I think you’ll agree! Judging by the prices on their website, it would have cost us £55 a head if we had paid full-price so there was no denying it was good value for money.

The restaurant itself is very cosy and welcoming and it was full last night so had a good atmosphere.

We both had a glass of the house red, which was very pleasant, and ordered. I was very impressed with the selection available to us. We had about 5 different starters, mains and puddings to choose from with the 2nd and 4th course offering just the one option.

For my starter, I ordered flaked smoked haddock served with pancetta, salad, a soft boiled egg and a mild curry dressing. This may sound quite an odd combination but it reminded me of the tastes you get with a good kedgeree; slightly spicy, smoky fish and soft creamy eggs. It was a really interesting and well put together starter. The only thing I would say is that I was expecting this to be served as a warm salad and it was cold which didn’t take away from the enjoyment but was slightly unexpected nonetheless.

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Ian ordered a duck starter which consisted of a duck liver terrine, slices of duck breast, some toasted brioche and a red wine and shallot jam. He let me try all parts of this dish and it was another well put together starter and I felt both plates were very generous with their portions. It was lovely to have the duck served two ways and the breast was very moist and tender.

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After our starters, we were brought a lovely fresh salad of heritage tomatoes, beetroot, goats cheese, horseradish crème fraîche and a balsamic dressing. Again, the flavour combinations were exquisite and there was a nice variety of textures on the plate too.

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Next were the main courses which were enormous! I have to say that while I like to feel like I have got my money’s worth when I eat out, I also think too much food on a plate can be a bad thing. The type of people who would be going to Juniper to enjoy their 5 or 8-course menus, I would assume, are into their food and not simply going out to feel stuffed when they leave. When the quality of food is good, which it definitely was at this restaurant, I don’t think you need to cram the plate full of food to please the customer and neither Ian nor I managed to finish our mains – and I have a very good appetite!

Anyway, onto the food itself! I ordered the pork which came with a very large pork loin, a pulled-pork and pearl barley casserole, dauphinoise potatoes, an apple salsa and a stilton, Parma ham and sage cream sauce. The loin was well-cooked but as I mentioned before just too large for me to manage it all. The crowning glory of the dish was the pulled-pork casserole which was absolutely stunning. The meat was falling apart, the seasoning was spot on and the pearl barley added another texture to the plate. The dauphinoise potatoes were good but tasted strongly of garlic. The sauce was perfect for the pork, although I couldn’t taste the stilton in it. The only disappointment was the apple salsa. The lovely balance between sweet and sharpness that I was expecting was completely overpowered with the addition of green peppers in it, and I struggled to taste any apple at all.

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Ian opted for the lamb which was delicious. His meal came with two generous pieces of lamb rump, served pink (how it should be!), dauphinoise potatoes, ratatouille and a rosemary jus. All elements on the plate really complemented each other well and the sauce was divine. Again, one thing neither of us were keen on was the ratatouille. I thought it sounded like a great pairing to the lamb but it was extremely salty (and I do like heavily seasoned food) and sharp.

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The main courses also came with a bowl of vegetables but we barely touched them and to be honest the al dente celery which was mixed through the vegetables didn’t really go.

After our monstrous mains, we asked the waitress for a little break in the food so we could make some room for the last two courses!

Next up was the cheese course, which was very simple but tasty: three crackers, a lovely tomato chutney and three mature English cheeses; a cheddar, a brie and a stilton. I did have to ask for some butter because, as I am sure my Mum would agree, you can’t have a cheeseboard without some good salty butter! All three cheeses were lovely and the chutney cut through the richness of them.

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Finally, we had our puddings. I don’t know how I found the room but I couldn’t resist the sticky toffee pudding, which was served with a rich toffee sauce and honeycomb ice-cream, and a chunk of very hard and sharp kiwi which added absolutely nothing to the dish! The cake was gorgeous; warm, rich, moist and complemented perfectly by the sauce and ice-cream.

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Ian had a lovely chocolate and orange truffle pot, topped with a sour cherry compote which worked really well together.

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Now, I have to mention the next thing that happened because it really annoyed me and I am interested to know what you think of it…

We asked for the bill, knowing the food would come to £47 because we had already prepaid this through Groupon, expecting to pay for the wine and then a tip. I usually tip around the 10% mark, obviously adding or taking away a bit for exceptional or poor service, which I assume is fairly standard, right? On our bill, the waitress had costed our dinner at £55 a head (what it would have cost us had we paid full-price) and then worked out her 10% from that £110 amount. Does anyone else find that a bit cheeky?!

Part of me felt we had got a fantastic deal anyway so it wasn’t that big a deal but then I thought to myself ‘what am I paying over £10 for?’ The service was fine but by no means exceptional. For example, when we were served our cheese course, the waitress simply put the plates down on the table in front of us without telling us what each cheese was. For a higher quality establishment, this quick explanation of the dish is what I think is generally expected and all our waitress really did was deliver the food then clear the tables. So I ended up leaving a tip of about £7-8 (the change that was in my wallet basically). I know the difference of a couple of pounds may seem petty but, for me, it was the principle of expecting a hefty tip for not much work – I would love to know what you think or what you would have done!

While I am on the negatives, I also have to say that I found the stairways and toilets damp-smelling and quite grubby. I know it has nothing to do with the food but, as part of the whole dining experience, the restaurant itself wasn’t completely up to scratch.

Overall, apart from the sneaky tip calculation and toilets, we had a fantastic evening and I would definitely return to Juniper. It was laid-back and friendly and the food was excellent. My only niggle, and I imagine it is something many people wouldn’t mind, was the huge portion sizes. If you were going in for a main course alone, then fair enough it is a hearty meal, but as part of a larger tasting menu I think the chef needs to slightly refine the quantities on the plate because when the food is that good you really want quality over quantity.

Recipe – Saag Paneer

The nights are getting colder and darker which means the food I am cooking is getting heartier and a little bit spicier!

I order this spinach and cheese as a side dish a lot when we go out for an Indian but this is the first time I have tried making it myself as a main dish and I think it is one I will make again and again because it was very tasty.

Paneer is a hard cheese which is pretty tasteless straight from the packet but when it is cooked, it takes on the flavour of the spices it is cooked in and adds a lovely cheesey-creaminess to the dish.

Ingredients

About 500g of spinach (I used frozen spinach this time (defrosted), but fresh would work just as well)

A glug of vegetable oil

One onion, chopped

1 teaspoon of cumin

1 teaspoon of fenugreek seeds

1 teaspoon of Lazy Ginger

1 teaspoon of chilli flakes

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

A pinch of salt

A 250g pack of paneer, cubed

1 teaspoon of garam masala

Half a tub of natural yogurt

A small bunch of fresh coriander

How to make it

  • Heat the oil in a large pan and gently fry the onion for about 5 minutes until it has started to soften
  • Add the cumin, fenugreek, ginger, chilli, garlic and salt and cook for another few minutes
  • Add the spinach and stir well
  • Now add the paneer cubes, garam masala and yogurt
  • Stir and cook for 5 minutes until the paneer is lovely and creamy
  • Sprinkle with some fresh coriander
  • I served mine with rice and naan…delicious!

August Favourites

Not only does this post signal the end of August, it also marks the end of my summer holiday and all those lovely lie-ins! It was my first day back at school today, although the kids aren’t back until Wednesday so we are being very gradually eased back into it!

I have to admit I have LOVED these last six weeks. At first I thought what I expect most non-teachers think; that this long break is a bit jammy and slightly excessive but then I realised how well-deserved and necessary it is. I absolutely love my job and get so much fulfilment and happiness from it, but there is no denying that it is very hard to switch off from throughout the year, so I enjoyed the novelty of not having to do very much for a little while and I feel well and truly relaxed, rested and ready for the new school year. I cannot wait to see my new class and start settling in to new routines…we’re even making cheesecake later this week – I told you it’s an awesome job!

Whilst August has definitely been a relaxing month for me, it hasn’t been the August I imagined in our new home. I pictured spending days in the garden, getting our chicken coop ready and planting a vegetable patch but due to all the rain it has meant a lot more inside fun! On the plus side, we have very nearly finished unpacking, we have decorated another room and are starting on the bathroom this week too!

I have spent lots of time catching up with friends on hen nights, at barbecues and in the sunshine:

Here are some of my favourite meals:

And favourite photos:

Finally, I cannot end this post without mentioning the most fantastic weekend we have just spent watching our best friends get hitched!

The bridesmaid dress zip went up without a problem (my rice cracker diet clearly paid off!) and the whole weekend was just fabulous…no bridezilla strops (hehe!) but just lots of good food, nonstop laughter, dancing and catching up with old friends.

I decided not to spend the day with a camera in my hand for once and just enjoy the moment so I don’t really have many photos to share but here are a select few stolen from others!

Huge congratulations to Hannah and Ben, who are currently jetting off to Italy…I’m only slightly jealous about all the food they will be enjoying!