Friday, September 30, 2016

Salted Caramel Whoopie Pies

Who remembers whoopie pies? They were all the rage five or six years ago; a friend gave me a whoopie pie baking tin and recipe book and I made  walnut whip and chocolate ones decorated to look like Christmas puddings.

I loved the taste and texture, somewhere between cake and a soft cookie, so when I went down to see my family one weekend in August I decided to make some to take with me. I wanted to cater for a dad who doesn't eat chocolate and a husband who doesn't eat much cake unless it is chocolate - there are a few other things he likes so I quickly settled on toffee.

There is a recipe in The Whoopie Pie Book by Claire Ptak for salty caramel whoopies; she suggests you serve it with her caramel Swiss buttercream, but that uses raw egg whites and my sister is pregnant. I actually had some salted caramel icing sugar from Sugar and Crumbs so decided to use that.

I got about 9 large whoopie pies out of the mixture - even when I try to make them smaller, they seem to turn out huge!

You need:
300g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
125g butter
120ml whole milk
200g light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Melt the butter in a saucepan with the milk, then remove from the heat.

Beat the sugar, eggs and vanilla in a bowl then mix in the flour, baking powder and salt. Pour in the milk mixture and stir until combined. Chill in the fridge for 30 mins. Meanwhile preheat oven to 180C.

Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper and drop equal-sized spoonfuls of the batter onto the paper, spaced well apart.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until risen but still slightly soft. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

For the filling, I beat the pre-flavoured salted caramel icing sugar with some margarine and used it to sandwich the whoopie pies together.

They may not be the prettiest to look at, but tasted great!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Pink Shoes Birthday Card

While I was sorting out my craft cupboard I came across some sheets of A4 paper that I'd printed from a website with free printables, to be used as backing paper. I had several sheets left of different designs, and decided to use one with pink shoes and the words 'happy birthday' as the basis for a card. The shoes in the middle are small die cuts from a packet I bought containing shoes and handbags. I mounted these on a square of pink paper and used a silver 'happy birthday' outline sticker on another piece of pink paper. I think it looks quite nice, aside from the fact that the words aren't straight!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Slimming World Cauliflower Rosti Pie

This recipe makes a nice side dish but is also something you could have as a main course. It's a Slimming World recipe that is syn free; it is quite starchy from the potatoes but not as bland as you might think, thanks to the addition of tomatoes, cheese, herbs and spices. You can find the recipe here.

To serve 4, you need:
for the base:
700g potatoes, peeled and grated
pinch of salt
2 egg whites
1 onion, grated
low-calorie cooking spray
for the filling:
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves chopped
800g cauliflower florets
150ml vegetable stock
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
handful of parsley
120g Red Leicester, grated
200g cherry tomatoes, halved
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika

Preheat the oven to 200C. First, grate the potato using a cheese grater and squeeze out any excess moisture. Mix in the salt, egg white and grated onion. Use to line the bottom of a pie or casserole dish
and spray with oil.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 15-20 mins, uncovered, then cover with foil and bake for another 20 minutes.

Meanwhile spray a frying pan with oil, and fry the cauliflower, onion and garlic and add the stock. Cook for 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool, then in herbs, half the cheese, and the beaten egg.

Spoon into the pie crust, top with the rest of the cheese and the paprika, and bake for 30 minutes. Best served with green veg; if you wanted this as a side dish instead of a main course (which is how I had it) I think it would go well with sausages or vegetarian sausages if you want to keep the meal veggie.


I'm sharing this with Meat Free Monday, hosted by Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Restaurant review: Barraka, Artillery Lane, London

I usually – by which I mean always, unless I’m meeting a friend or out really late the night before – bring my own lunch to work. I’ve taken to eating salads and like making my own as I can put in exactly what I want. But I’d heard colleagues at work raving about a new place they bought lunch that did the most amazing and filling salads, so one day I decided to go along with them.
Barraka describes itself as serving Mediterranean street food. ‘Barraka’ means ‘blessing’ in Moroccan and the owner wanted to carry on a family tradition of blessing people with ‘good energies and food’. It’s located down a little side street opposite Liverpool Street Station and doesn’t have much room inside – there are a few stand-up tables where you can stop and eat, but it gets quite busy at lunchtime and people are sometimes queuing out the door.
When I went, staff were offering tastes of different items on a platter so I tried a piece of chicken schnitzel and a piece of Mediterranean chicken. One of my colleagues had tried the halloumi salad and thought it was wonderful but I decided to have chicken schnitzel. The staff take a large plastic bowl and spread some houmous on the bottom – something I’ve never had before in a salad but it combines really well with the salad leaves on top.
There was a choice of four or five types of salad, from mixed leaves to chopped tomato and cucumber; then it’s topped with a generous portion of hot chicken schnitzel, which was freshly cooked while we were there, and drizzled with a choice of dressing. They also do the same filling in a baguette or wrap. It was delicious, really filling, and nice to have a salad with hot breadcrumbed chicken on top – if you can find this place down the alley (Artillery Lane) I highly recommend it!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Meal Planning Monday Week 39 - Sugar Free September

Sugar Free September was going pretty well - I'd lost almost 6 pounds - but then a friend who is a healthcare professional took a look at a food diary I'd done for her, and told me I wasn't eating enough. She said my body would only break down rather than store fat if it knew it was getting fuelled regularly - by skipping breakfast and going a long time between meals, my body would hang on to its fat reserves as it didn't know when the next meal was coming. I think she probably has a point so I trusted her when she told me to eat a healthy snack in the mornings and the afternoons, but she did warn that I would probably put on a little bit of weight first. So my 6 pound weight loss has diminished but hopefully will get back on track once my metabolism has been kick-started!

Having said that I did fall off the sugar-free wagon a couple of times - but on the whole I have eaten much healthier than I would normally!

Here's my meal plan for this week - the last week of September.

For lunches I'm going to have chicken salad as I often do, and also try making the pink quinoa from the new Leon salad book.
stir fry for me, chicken and bacon pancakes for him 
My husband is working from home and we have to rush out to our residents' association AGM not long after I'm due to get home, so the easiest thing by far is to ask him to put something in the oven for dinner. Since I don't often have that sort of food any more I'm going to treat myself to some scampi.
something quick as I need to make cakes for a bake sale at work: rest of stir fry for me, chicken goujons for him
I'll do the coconut fish curry from this recipe I was going to make last week but didn't, plus chicken curry for him. OR, potentially out at a friend's
I'm working from home today. I'll have cheesy broccoli bake with Quorn sausages and he can have toad in the hole.
Brunch: sausage sandwich or similar as I have to get a train around midday to get to my sister's baby shower
Dinner: at my parents
Lunch: at my parents' for my dad's birthday
Dinner: something quick back home

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sailing Family Scrabble Name Picture

There’s something special about handmade gifts as you know that extra attention has gone into them – all the more so if it was handmade by the person giving the gift.
Several years ago I made a scrabble name picture for my now-husband’s brother and his family. I think it’s a lovely thing to have, and when it was my friend’s birthday this summer and I was struggling to think of a gift, I remembered this and thought she would like it. (Luckily, she did!)
I found it much easier to purchase a frame this time, that was both a better size and price; Hobbycraft had these white box frames for £8 – which are currently only £4 in the sale, in fact I think I might buy a few more.
I bought the scrabble letters from Amazon; they are not real scrabble pieces with the little legs on the back to fit into the holes on a scrabble board, but instead are flat, which makes them much easier to glue.
My friend and her husband are really into sailing so I bought some sailing patterned paper from Ebay to use as the backing paper and used my Silhouette die cutter to cut out a sailing boat.
I used the letters to spell out their names and that of their son, and the words ‘family’ and ‘love’ and placed the sailing boat at the bottom. I was really pleased with this and my friend said she loved it.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Restaurant review: South Place Chop House, London

The name of the South Place Chop House alone suggests that they know their meat - but also that it might be something of an old-fashioned, stuffy establishment. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Chop houses in Britain have been around for hundred of years and were places businessmen met to strike deals over hearty meals. The South Place Chop House is in a hotel in the heart of the City, and is probably frequented by bankers - at least, I work in a bank and I ate there! It was a smart crowd when I met a friend there one weeknight evening, and the wood and leather banquette seats did strike me as something aimed at an older, slightly stuffier clientele,

The food is also what I'd call fairly traditional; starters include smoked salmon, steak tartare, prawn cocktail and onion and cider soup. We opted for a platter of cold cuts between us; it wasn't listed as a sharing starter and we asked the waiter how big it was. He said it would be a large starter for one person or a small starter for two - and when it came we were glad we had decided to share. I probably could have had this as a main course! It consisted of pork pies, ham, Scotch egg, pickles and cheese and wasn't cheap at around £15.

The main courses again were quite traditional, from steak and lamb chop and old spot pork chop with apple sauce to a Dover sole. They were doing a special offer of a lobster, fries and glass of prosecco for £20 which we both ordered. Lobster is never very filling so the large starter turned out to have been a good idea!

The food was good and well presented and the service very good and I think the restaurant would be great for a business dinner, not so much for an intimate date or a cosy evening with friends.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Bang On The Door Birthday Card

Children and teenagers often like brand-name characters on birthday cards - not just Disney (though I think Frozen and Avengers birthday cards are very popular!) but other things like Forever Friends and the Me to You teddies. When I was younger, Purple Ronnie cards were all the rage, along with a family of hedgehogs that I can't remember the name of.

I bought a pack of die-cut stickers showing Bang on the Door characters ages ago and wasn't particularly inspired with what to do with them, as they are pretty vibrant on their own. So I used them simply on a white card, with some silver heart and star die cuts from the same pack around them. The 'special birthday' is from a pack of outline stickers I've also had for a long time. Not my favourite card but it might go down well with a pre-teen girl!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Tuscan Chianti Chicken Cacciatora

My Tuscan Chianti Chicken Cacciatora
There's something about the idea of spending a week in a villa in Tuscany that really appeals to me. The landscape looks beautiful, from rolling Italian countryside to the sandy beaches, the small medieval towns to the cities of Pisa and Florence, where I'd love to go sightseeing some day.

Having a villa would mean getting away from it all - I imagine a rustic farmhouse overlooking vineyards, sitting at a big wooden table with my husband as we tear into fresh bread and let a bottle of Chianti breathe.

I love the flavours from this region, from zingy lemons (and limoncello) to the earthy taste of truffles when they are grated over dishes. The red wines from this region are smooth yet spicy and Italian olive oil is renowned world wide.

I also like the simplicity of food from Tuscany. Pasta might just be served with a little oil and butter - when freshly made pasta is that good, why disguise it with a sauce? The best Tuscan food is locally produced and enjoyed according to the season; chicken is free range (probably wandering around the rustic farmhouse of my imagination) and mushrooms are foraged for.

There re two other things that stand out to be about Tuscan cooking. Food is about family, and typical dishes are prepared in large quantities to serve a big family around the kitchen table. It is also traditionally peasant cooking - in other words, cheap and not wasteful. Some of the best known Italian dishes are things that use cheaper cuts of meat, are bulked out with cannellini beans, use up stale bread (panzanella), and using local herbs and vegetables to bring out the natural flavours of the dish. These days rather than being something that is done through necessity, due to lack of money, this is something that many cooks aspire to - natural flavours coming through, cooking more economically and feeding a whole family with a robust, filling meal.

I was genuinely thinking of looking into booking a Tuscan villa for our holiday next year when I was invited to enter a competition run by To Tuscany, a website that specialises in villa rentals in that very region. It must be fate!

They asked me to create my own Tuscan-inspired recipe using typical flavours and influences from Italy, so I started to brainstorm a list of ingredients. I also thought about all the things I described above - cheaper cuts of meat, bringing out natural flavours, and a meal that could be cooked in large quantities if needed, and came up with this recipe for chicken cacciatora.

Cacciatora means 'hunter' in Italian and this is a kind of hunter's stew - perhaps something that would be waiting when they returned home from a day's hunt. It traditionally uses chicken, game or rabbit, and is cooked in a tomato-based sauce, sometimes with wine added, featuring onion and garlic, sometimes carrot or red peppers - there are various versions.

I decided to make mine even more Tuscan, if such a thing is possible, by making Chianti wine an important feature of the dish (Chianti is in Tuscany, if you didn't know). Italian olives stood out to me as a good addition, both for the colour that they give the dish and the different flavour and texture. I love balsamic vinegar and how it can bring out the flavour in dishes so decided to add a splash; my sauce was going to based on tinned tomatoes and the wine, with bay leaves and rosemary for flavour (and again they look great in the dish, though remove the bay leaf before serving).

Finally for a more modern, more indulgent twist, I sprinkled a little grated mozzarella on top of each chicken thigh just before serving, allowing it to melt - the cheese has a subtle taste but adds a little creaminess that is otherwise missing from the dish and to me just seemed to be the finishing touch. Serve the cacciatora with a hunk of fresh bread and a green salad - and the rest of the Chianti of course!

Tuscan Chianti Chicken Cacciatora - an original recipe by Caroline Makes

To serve four, you need:
4 large chicken thighs
pinch of salt salt
pinch of ground black pepper
1/2 bottle of Chianti
1 tbsp. olive oil
100g diced pancetta
2 bay leaves
sprig of rosemary
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
a large handful of green Italian olives
400g tinned tomatoes
generous dash of balsamic vinegar
pinch of smoked paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
50g grated mozzarella

Season the chicken and marinade in the wine for at least one hour or overnight if possible.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the chicken, in batches if necessary, until browned. Add the pancetta to the pan and fry until starting to brown.

Preheat oven to 180C. Transfer the chicken and pancetta to an ovenproof dish with the wine marinade. Mix in the tomatoes, garlic, olives, bay leaf and rosemary. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar, a pinch of smoked paprika and the oregano and cover the pot with a lid.


Bake in the oven for 1.5 hours; for the last 10 minutes of cooking time add the grated mozzarella on top of the chicken.
Serve with green salad, fresh crusty bread and the chianti and enjoy.

I want to win a week in one of your Tuscany villas!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sugar-Free Brownie Bites - Sugar Free September

If you're doing Sugar-Free September or even just cutting out/back on sugar generally you might be missing sweet treats. To follow Sugar-Free September really strictly, you wouldn't even be eating fruit because of the natural sugars. I haven't had a lot of fruit this month but I have had some as I think it's important to get your five-a-day - mainly through veg but the occasional piece of fruit is good as well.

But sometimes instead of fruit what you really want is chocolate. I've done really well so far but when we had a day out earlier this month and were taking a packed lunch, I knew my husband would want something sweet - I would normally bake something to take with us - and that I would want something as well. I ended up buying him something as a treat and made myself these sugar-free brownie bites from Nutritious

I already had all the ingredients at home - walnuts from Lidl I had bought to add to salads, dates that I bought for another recipe that I never got around to making, coconut oil which I bought a little while ago after having read about its health benefits, and I had some raw cacao powder, which is less processed than cocoa powder and unsweetened.

In fact, I found the whole thing quite bitter and had to add a couple of spoonfuls of xylitol sweetener to make them palatable, and then they were really nice, especially after they had firmed up for a while in the fridge. I'd advise following the recipe and seeing if you can manage without sweetener, and if not adding a little to taste.

These are really easy to make - blitz the walnuts in a food processor, then add the dates, cacao and melted coconut oil and whizz again to form a dough. I'd advise tasting the mixture at this point to see if you want to add sweetener.

Turn the machine off and scrape out the dough onto a piece of greaseproof paper. The recipe advises using another piece of greaseproof paper to press down on the top and rolling them out to cut into squares, but my mixture was a bit too sticky and too thin when I rolled it out, so I gave up and hand-rolled them into balls.

This is when I tried them and decided they were bitter, so formed the balls back into a dough, added the sweetener and rolled them into balls again. I then rolled them in some more cacao to coat the outside.

Put them in the fridge for a while to firm up, and you can - almost - convince yourself you are eating chocolate truffles!

I'm sharing these with We Should Cocoa, hosted by Choclette at Tin and Thyme.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

You're Sew Lovely Greetings Card

I recently took out subscriptions to three card making magazines – Papercraft Inspirations, Cardmaking and Papercrafts and Quick Cards Made Easy – there was a great offer to get three issues for £3, which I was going to take out with one magazine but got persuaded to take all three! Each magazine comes with some great free gifts – usually rubber stamps and backing papers or similar, which are probably worth £5-£8 alone – pretty good given the magazines are £5.99. So I’m getting 9 magazines for £9, over the course of three months – I just need to remember to cancel the subscriptions after that or it will get expensive!

I liked one design in Papercraft Inspirations that I knew would be super-quick to make, largely because almost everything you needed came with the magazine. I covered a card blank with the patterned backing paper – which was very thin as it was actually a page in the magazine – and cut out the layered flower and star shape. The “You’re sew lovely” sentiment was also in the magazine, and I just added a blue button from my craft stash. One of the quickest cards I’ve ever made!

Does anyone else subscribe to any of these magazines - what do you think?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Meal Planning Monday 2016 - week 38 - Sugar Free September

Sugar-Free September is going pretty well; by the 15th (time of writing) I had lost 4 pounds. A friend who is a health professional has convinced me that I do need to eat breakfast and have a couple of small, healthy snacks each day to keep my metabolism working well - for the last few months I have been skipping breakfast and not snacking, so eating nothing most days apart from lunch and dinner, which she doesn't think is a good idea. She did say my meals were really good though!
The Tex Mex chicken tacos I didn't do last week
 Out for drinks after work
 coconut fish curry from this recipe for me, chicken curry for him
chicken chargrills and mashed potato for him, with veg for me
out at an awards ceremony where the magazine I produce is shortlisted
Saturday lunch: bacon rolls for him, sausage and poached egg for me
dinner: at a friend's
lunch: cauliflower pizza for me, normal pizza for him, that I didn't make last week
dinner: roast pork for me, chicken for him; Yorkshire puddings for him with stuffing and roast potatoes (I'm going to have potatoes even though I'm doing Sugar Free September).

This is a blog hop, join in!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

DIY Wedding: Photo Booth Props and Guest Book


Having a photo booth at your wedding has become quite popular, and I can vouch for the fact that they are great fun!

I got the idea from a friend's wedding as I thought a photo booth would be a fun thing for guest to do in the evening other than drink and dance. I'm not talking about when you get your passport photos done - these photo booths are creative, fun and personalised. You can choose your background and a style for the photos to be printed in, and they usually provide a whole host of props, hats and wigs and so on. Our guests had great fun piling into the booth in pairs and small groups throughout the evening!

Some photo booth hire companies give you two copies of each photo - one for the guest and one to go in your wedding guest book. But I knew that sometimes groups of friends would go in who all wanted a photo so I searched until I found a company that would give you unlimited copies of photos so everyone could have one.

I was also advised to make sure the photo booth had a good quality camera and printer - some apparently are only webcam quality and not very good! I decided to use a company called Funky Photo Booth who were local to my wedding in Wiltshire and was very pleased with their service - they even did a cowprint border for the photo prints!

Funky Photo Booth provided a selection of props ranging from giant sunglasses to silly hats, but I wanted something a bit more classy and also a few cow theme props, so I bought a couple of cow masks to add into the mix!

I also bought a set of cardboard chalk board style signs for a couple of pounds on Ebay. I stuck each one onto the lolly stick provided and wrote different slogans on them in chalk, which made for some amusing pictures.

As for the guest book itself, I bought a 12x12 black scrapbook from Hobbycraft which was perfect. There was plenty of space to stick the photos in the book and for people to write messages next to them, using the silver pens I also bought from Hobbycraft.

I used my Silhouette die cutting machine to cut out our names to stick on the front of the scrapbook, for an attractive personalised touch.

Looking through the guest book after the wedding was hilarious and reading the messages was lovely. It's so much more fun and memorable than a book where guests just write a message, and even though it wasn't cheap to hire the booth, it provided great entertainment in the evening for the guests as well.



Saturday, September 17, 2016

Liver Stew - for cats!

I am a mad cat lady- I only have one cat, but she's the love of my life (along with my husband of course). I feel bad sometimes that I don't have more time to spoil her but she does seem to be quite happy.

Not long ago I decided I would treat her to a home-cooked meal - and I don't mean giving her some leftover chicken off our plates (which does happen). I've actually got a little cookery book called Cat Treats - and it's all about cooking for your cat!
Of course, anything a cat can eat, a human ought to be able to eat too - it just might not be the most palatable to our tastes. I posted a picture of this liver stew on Facebook and a friend commented that it just needed some bacon and onions and would be really good!

(By the way if you didn't already know, onions and garlic can be toxic for cats.)

I bought some liver in the supermarket when it was reduced to mere pence - I hate liver so put it in the freezer knowing it was always destined for the cat!

To make 2-3 portions of this liver stew, you need:
100g liver
1 tsp sunflower oil
3 tbsp. water
15g peeled, cooked potato
1 tbsp. crème fraiche
1 tsp freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley

Cut the liver into small cubes and fry in the oil. Let it brown, then add the water and cook for two minutes over a medium heat.

Mash the potato and mix into the pan along with the crème fraiche and parsley. Allow to cool - it's not good to give this to your cat hot, but I did let her have it when it was slightly warm, and she absolutely loved it!