Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Scrabble Letter Cookie Cutters and Biscuits

These scrabble cookie cutters are a fun way to send a message to a loved one or decorate a cake. I got a set for my birthday this year – they come in a sturdy metal tin and are the same size as actual scrabble letters. Made of plastic, they let you cut out a square of dough with one side, then turn the cutter over and use the letter to imprint in the dough.

Since you use these to stamp the letters and don’t actually use the letters in the oven to shape the cookies, it means you can make as many of the same letter as you like, and bake them all at once.
You could also use these to stamp letters into fondant but personally I’d prefer to do that with standard letters rather than ones with scrabble numbers on them, unless the cake was specifically for someone who liked scrabble.
As cookies though, these are really fun – I baked some for a friend’s birthday (actually the same friend who had given me the kit) and jumbled up the letters into a box and got her to work out what the message spelled. It didn’t take her long to figure out it said Happy Birthday and her name!
A standard sugar cookie recipe is probably best for this, which you could also flavour with something like lemon, but to mimic scrabble letters you want the cookies to be quite pale. I actually used a vegan recipe I found online as I knew a vegan friend would be there as well and I wanted her to be able to eat them too but as we’d actually been out for afternoon tea, these cookies didn’t get eaten until another time!
These are available for sale on loads of websites including Amazon.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 Week 34

Breakfast yogurt or porridge if time
Lunch vegetable soup and wholemeal roll
Dinner chicken pie and mashed potato for him, harissa-spiced mackerel with cumin potato hash for me

Breakfast yogurt or porridge if time
Lunch tuna sandwich
Dinner peppered beef grillsteak, chips and beans for him; rest of mackerel for me (I have to defrost two pieces at once)

Breakfast yogurt or porridge if time
Lunch chicken soup and a wholemeal roll
Dinner out - going to a sci-fi exhibition at the Barbican

Breakfast porridge
Lunch tuna sandwich
Dinner chicken chargrills and mashed potato for him, lamb grillsteak and roast potatoes for me - or butternut squash enchiladas

Breakfast yogurt or porridge if time
Lunch  sandwich
Dinner my parents will be here - my husband has requested burgers and chips

Breakfast toast or yogurt
Lunch out
Dinner roast chicken portions as I've got several to use up in the freezer, with roast potatoes or chips if there's not enough time for roast potatoes, depending on when we get home. Dessert is something I've had in the freezer for a while.

Breakfast toast or yogurt
Lunch with the in-laws so cooking for six people, one of whom is vegetarian: chicken/ butternut squash enchiladas and potato wedges. For dessert I will make chocolate cream pie.
Dinner as we will have had a big meal at lunch, I will do a light dinner of toasted cheese sandwiches and/or crumpets

Monday - including in this week's meal plan as it's a bank holiday and my parents are still here
Breakfast toast or yogurt
Lunch - relatively early as we are then going out: full English or equivalent (eg sausage, bacon, hash browns, eggs etc) or sausage/bacon sandwich if preferred
Dinner - something fairly quick as we won't be back home til late afternoon: I'm thinking I will buy a big tray of lasagne and if my husband wants he can have carbonara as he never wants the same thing as me!

Join in the blog hop!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

D'lish Donut Shopkins Birthday Cake

Do you know what Shopkins are? If you have children then you might… if like me you are yet to become a parent then you can be excused for having absolutely no idea!
I’ve written before about the fantastic charity Free Cakes for Kids – I made a Rapunzel cake for a girl staying with her mum at a women’s shelter who otherwise wouldn’t have had a birthday cake.
Another request came through from the same group that I decided to volunteer for, for a child who would like a Shopkins cake, even though I didn’t know what that was. Shopkins turned out to be a collection of characters based on items you find in the supermarket – everything from cakes to fruit to a loaf of bread, bottle of bubble bath and even clothes and shoes. They have names like Suzie Sundaw, Mandy Candy and Angie Ankle Boot.
I browsed the website for a while until I was able to find a character I thought I could easily incorporate into a cake and remembered I had a giant doughnut cake mould I bought in the sale ages ago and had never used. There is a Shopkins character called D’lish Donut that looks like a pink iced ring doughnut with sprinkles (and of course arms, legs and a face) which I thought would be perfect.

The mould comes in two pieces - simply grease them and fill with cake mix.

I used a standard Victoria sponge cake recipe for this cake – as it was for a child, I wanted to avoid strong flavours or making it too rich and thought that the icing would be sugary enough!
 I filled the cake with jam and buttercream – the cake mould worked perfectly, turning out the bake cake into a perfect ring doughnut shape.
It wasn’t too hard to decorate – I decided water icing with pink food colouring might be too runny and not look very neat so I coloured some white roll-out fondant, cut it into a  circle large enough to go over the cake and cut a space in the middle. The arms and legs are also made of fondant, and I used some tiny plunger cutters to cut out diamonds from pink, blue and yellow fondant, and stuck them with a dab of water on top to look like sprinkles.
The eyes took a couple of attempts and my husband actually ended up helping with these! We made four circles of diminishing size in white, blue, black and white, and layered them to make the eyes. I then used black fondant to make a nose and some eyelashes and pink fondant for the mouth.
I put the cake onto a silver board and at the last minute decided to spell out the little girl’s name with leftover icing. I had a lovely email afterwards from the charity co-ordinator saying she had been really pleased with her cake – it was fun for me to make a cake for a child and to copy a cartoon character as I don’t get a lot of opportunity to do that (my neice is 8 months old so too young for cake) – and of course I was able to do something good and help a charity that hopefully made a difference and helped that little girl have a happy birthday.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Review: Houghton Lodge and Gardens, Stockbridge, Hampshire

On a sunny day Houghton Lodge and Gardens in Stockbridge, Hampshire, is a beautiful place for afternoon tea, a wedding reception or simply a stroll around the gardens. It has an orangery, a manor house, various sections of gardens, a river running through the bottom and – this is the best part – a field with alpacas.


My husband and I considered Houghton Lodge as a wedding venue as it was in the right area and we were quite taken by the idea of the above – a former work colleague of mine got married in the church in the village and had his reception at Houghton Lodge in a marquee by the river and the photos looked lovely.
However, when we came to look around the venue and ask questions, we were rather underwhelmed about actually having it for our wedding. The orangery by the entrance and the attached conservatory looked to me like a garden centre cafĂ© – albeit a nice one. As we didn’t want to get married in church, the only option for enough guests at Houghton Lodge was to hold the ceremony itself in the orangery, a long rectangular room that forms an L-shape with the conservatory.
What put me off was that we were told if we did this and hired the orangery for the ceremony, the conservatory would remain open to the public as the owners didn’t want to close the entire place for a wedding. That meant there would be complete strangers sitting literally just behind our guests watching our wedding which I thought was very strange! Admittedly this was nearly two years ago and perhaps things have changed so if you are considering getting married here then you should get in touch with the wedding coordinator and find out what they can offer.
The reason I mention this, though, despite it being two years ago is that I went back a couple of months ago for a friend’s birthday. She had chosen Houghton Lodge for afternoon tea, having never been here before and not realising I’d considered it as a wedding venue- I was looking forward to visiting and seeing the alpacas again.
As my husband and I arrived, I joked to him that we might find that there was a wedding happening while we had our afternoon tea – and there was! As we paid for entry to the gardens, the lady on the till told us there was a wedding party arriving in an hour and that part of the gardens would be shut but we could still access the rest of the grounds. It was actually a wedding reception so they wouldn’t be having a ceremony here and we had a table in the orangery set up for us to have afternoon tea, so I didn’t think we would be in the way.
I had a quick look around the top part of the gardens, which I think is the walled kitchen gardens, then went to sit inside and waited for my friends. There was a door from the orangery directly into the garden so I figured when they arrived we would go outside and enjoy the grounds.
I also tried out my macro lens after doing a macro photography lesson recently.
However, when the wedding party arrived this door was locked, meaning we had to stay in the orangery (watching the bride through the windows which must have been a little odd for her) and then if we wanted to go out, walk around the outside and down into the other gardens, which in my opinion aren’t anywhere near as pretty. In fact we headed towards the river and saw a marquee being set up for the reception and thought perhaps we shouldn’t walk through that part either, so went the other way and down to the alpacas instead. 
By the time some of my friends arrived the wedding party was already here, meaning they paid full price for entrance to the gardens on arrival only to find they couldn’t actually go into all of the gardens. It was also surprising that the cost of afternoon tea didn’t include entry into the gardens and we’d had to pay for that separately.
The afternoon tea itself was nice though nothing that special, and my friend had pre-ordered a vegan afternoon tea for one of our party which the caterers had completely forgotten about, and the only vegan item on the menu they could offer her was a vegetable soup.
We had a selection of sandwiches that were nice but fairly basic – ham, cucumber, cheese and smoked salmon followed by scones with cream and jam, and two or three types of cake – what I think was a lemon and pistachio savarin (a small ring-shaped cake) with icing, mini Victoria sponges and I think something else I can’t remember. I was a little underwhelmed, I suppose having had some amazing afternoon teas before, but it was nice enough (aside from the lack of promised vegan option).
You can spend quite a lot of time here exploring the gardens and walking by the riverside, and there are things to look out for around the gardens that would be fun for children (such as a dragon and a topiary peacock) but in my opinion it was a shame both for visitors that they can be charged admission then told parts of the garden are closed for a wedding, and also for the wedding party who have to put up with random members of the public walking around and watching them. Some people wouldn’t mind that as you can’t always expect exclusive hire of your wedding venue especially if you are in a hotel but given the size of the gardens I am surprised that they don’t just close them to the public, or at the very least warn people when they book afternoon tea that there is also a wedding booked. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Nigella Lawson's Croque Monsieur Bake

If you like a toasted cheese sandwich then you will love this croque monsieur bake by Nigella Lawson. It takes a bit more time but not much more effort and makes a great brunch or lunch. One advantage over toasted sandwiches is you don’t have to make them one or two at a time (limited by space in your grill or toasted sandwich maker) – you can make a large portion in an oven-proof dish. Nigella’s recipe says it serves 4-6 but I did this for two people one lunchtime recently.
The method is simple – spread your sliced bread with mustard if you like, or for those with more sensitive palates or who dislike mustard you could use butter or marg. Put some sliced cheese and ham into each sandwich – you could also be a bit more adventurous with your fillings if you like, but I stuck with ham and cheese.
Put the sandwiches into an oven-proof dish – don’t be afraid to really squish them in.
Beat eggs, salt and milk and pour over the sandwiches in the oven-proof dish. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight for the bread to get really moist.
When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 200C, remove the clingfilm and sprinkle with grated cheese and Worcestershire sauce. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes and serve.
You don’t get the same crispy effect as you would with a toasted sandwich – these have a texture more like French toast or ‘eggy bread’ – but the oozy cheesiness is lovely.



Monday, August 14, 2017

Dance like no-one is watching Flowers card

I like rubber stamps with sentiments that are a bit out of the ordinary, something different to 'happy birthday' and 'best wishes'.  They can sometimes be hard to find and what's more, if they are that unusual you might find you are only able to use them a couple of times for projects. So I was pleased when I got a sheet of sentiment stamps with slightly more unusual but still usable phrases, like this one: 'dance like no-one is watching'.

You could make quite an amusing card with that, a bit tongue in cheek, but I decided to go down the more motivational, inspirational route with this card.

I had a pack of papers with different floral designs and I liked the swirl of branches in this one as to me it suggested the smooth movement of a dancer. I took another sheet of the same paper and cut out some of the flowers, and layered them with adhesive pads over the flowers on the first sheet. I simply stamped the sentiment at the top and let it speak for itself.

Finally I trimmed the bottom edge of the card into a scallop shape - this is a stand-up card that opens vertically rather than the normal way around, just to be a bit different!

I'm sending this to Ooh La La Creations as the theme for this week's challenge is flowers. The theme is also flowers at Simply Create Too.

Meal Planning 2017 Week 33

Finally we had some hot weather at the weekend so the barbecue we hosted for my father-in-law's birthday on Sunday was a resounding success. I'm sure it would have been anyway as it was lovely to have the extended family around (ranging in age from 7 to 70s) but sunshine really did help!

We were more sensible about catering than in the past, prompting my husband to wonder beforehand if we had enough food - and we still had leftovers! But we didn't have quite as much left over as usual which was good - though I did plan that we would have leftover barbecue food on Monday night for dinner.

Breakfast yogurt
Lunch chicken salad
Dinner leftover BBQ food

Tuesday - working from home
Breakfast porridge
Lunch either chicken salad or leftover BBQ food
Dinner pasta with meatballs

Wednesday  day off to run some errands
Breakfast toast
Lunch probably out
Dinner lamb with roast potatoes for me, chicken chargrills for him

Breakfast yogurt
Lunch tuna bagel or sandwich
Dinner out with a friend

Breakfast yogurt
Lunch sandwich
Dinner chicken fajitas/ enchiladas

Breakfast toast
Lunch tuna melt bagel
Dinner sausage and apple casserole, followed by crumble

Breakfast yogurt
Lunch out at a charity open day so want a quick lunch - beans & macaroni cheese on toast
Dinner salmon with new potatoes and sweet potato wedges/ bbq chicken and wedges

Join in the blog hop!