Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Today is Halloween - but as it falls on a Sunday we decided it would be best to celebrate it on a night when we didnt have work the next day. I've never been a huge fan of Halloween, didn't go Trick or Treat-ing as a child and don't like the fact that teenagers feel they can put on a mask, come to my house and expect sweets!

Last year hubby & I decided we would host a little gathering (fancy dress a must) to celebrate Halloween as there were a few friends we hadn't seen for a while and, well, it was just a good excuse. Everyone really enjoyed, and it saw the start of the 'Chilli-Off' between hubby and one of our friends, Mr M.

Anyway, here is a tiny selection of photos from this year's Halloween party.

Hubby's (rather happy) Pumpkin

My Vampire themed pumpkin

Yes - I event dressed up the bears! Bella (as Bella Swan), Edward (as a Mummy) & Sookie (as a Witch)

Matthew (my hubby) as Zombie Huw (long story)

Me - as The Evil Drinking Pixie (explanation below)
The Winning Charades Team

The Losing Charades Team

Ok - so - The Evil Drinking Pixie is a nickname I earned from friends of ours. I'm not going into details, but I thought it would be a good costume. I even made my own wings!

The charades was all horror movie related - and I'm sure we only lost because one of our team members kept giving points away....not that I'm bitter! We all took it well, but I was surprised at how the actions for ghoul, zombie, ghost, gremlin, demon all appeared to be the same. ;)

So Happy Halloween everyone! Hope you have a sppok-tacular time tonight, whatever you do!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mum's Cooking!

The first prompt for the Oui Chef challenge is: Mum's Cooking!

I am not a mum, but have borrowed and adpated many of my mum's recipes. I enjoy cooking, have no problem trying anything once but do have a tendency to just chuck stuff in a pan and hope for the best. I have always helped my mum out in the kitchen, whether measuring & mixing or washing up, but I never paid much attention to the actual recipes until I left for university and realised I had no idea what the 'secret ingredients' were for bolognaise, chilli, stew etc.

One of the big things I learned from both my parents was to just try it out, to experiment. Once you have the basis of a curry or chilli - try adding other stuff and see what happens. Carrots maybe, a different type of bean, even a touch of cocoa powder. My dad was a big fan of getting out a pan and adding whatever was in the cupboard (hence my tendency above!) - baked beans, crisps, tuna - most of the time it was quite awful, but sometimes it worked. So mum having a night out was a little hit and miss. ;)

The first recipe I remember my mum teaching me was spag bol. A great classic. Just before I left university. And then the most wonderful cheat in the world - how to turn bolognaise into chilli!! Genius! All it took was a bit of chilli powder and some kidney beans and all of a sudden 2 meals for the price of one.

The second meal was beef stew & dumplings. When I left for uni I was in halls with 5 other people and for the first few weeks we would all eat together. Each of us taking it in turns or pairing up with someone else. So I decided to make stew. I called my mum and wrote down the recipe then went shopping. What I hadn't realised is that stew does actually take a lot of peeling and chopping veg and a lot of time to cook, and I spent all day making this stew. Luckily for me, it turned out great and tasted nearly as good as my mum's! Nearly!

The 3rd recipe I have taken from my mum was always a Friday evening meal at home and one I didn't really bother with until I left university as for some reason, I would never think about it - Stroganoff! Beef fillet and mushrooms in a creamy mustard sauce, with saute potatoes and asparagus. It is such a simple dish, but so effect. It's quick, ideal for a dinner party and can be made with whatever you like. I'll post the method below, because I couldn't tell you quantities. I do it all by sight & feel, but every time it works out ok.

Basically, heat some oil in a pan, add onions and cook until soft and slightly golden. Add garlic and cook until also slightly golden in colour. Remove from the pan (add a little oil if needed) and put in whatever meat (or mushrooms) you want to 'stroganoff' and cook until you're happy with them. While the meat is cooking mix (about a small tub of) soured cream (althoug creme fraiche can work too) and 1 large teaspon of mustard, plus about 1/2 teaspon of cornflour in a separate bowl*. Put the onions and garlic back in then add a splash of maderia/masarla/sherry to deglaze the pan.When this has reduced to practically nothing, add your soured cream mixture, mix and heat through. Then serve!

* In theory, think about how much sauce you want at the end and make up this quantity. It will reduce slightly. The mixture at this point should not be thick - the flour is there just to stiffen the mixture a touch not thichen it as it can go very globby. << Technical speak! ;)

My final cookery tip is how to cook rice. This is the only way I have been able to cook rice without it going sticky (unless it's meant to be!). Boil plenty of water (the more, the merrier), add salt, put in the rice and LEAVE IT ALONE! Give it one QUICK stir to make sure its not sticking to the sides, but then just leave it. Time it according to whatever it says on the packet and don't touch it until it beeps. Then drain it and serve.

Enjoy - and if you do try the Stroganoff and have measurements please feel free to add them below. ;)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

No. 82: Vegetarian Week [Done]

So last week hubby & I decided that we would try to be vegetarian for a week. No particular reason really, just to see if we could do it & to save a bit of cash.

Hubby didn't manage the full week, but I'm not going to go on about it!

I did 'cheat' a little - at about 10pm on the Saturday night (we started on the previous Sunday). 10 of us had gone for a Chinese to celebrate a friends birthday. I was determined to stay veggie, but they had all of about 6 vegetable options, 4 of them containing fish. So, it was (very logically) pointed out to me that technically I had managed 7 days, from 10pm the previous Saturday to 10pm this I tucked into Spare Ribs, Aromatic Crispy Duck, Fillet Steak cantonese style, King Prawns, Chicken in Black bean & Special Fried Rice - not all to myself, obviously! :)

What did I learn from Vegetarian Week?

1. I 'could' be vegetarian, if I had to. I didn't miss meat - well, not until we went to The Brasserie in Swansea on the Friday night, where I know they do the best fillet steak. Again the menu consisted of about 3 veg starters and 6 main courses, but enough for me to choose from - they do, after all, specialise in meat and fish.

2. Not to make meat or fish the main ingredient of every dish. I love mushroom stroganoff, and made a great sweet potato curry.

3. I definitely could not be vegan. I ate a lot of cheese this week, and would have really struggled without cheese, milk, cream, eggs, etc.

4. That alcohol affects hubby a lot more on vegetarian week! Not sure if this is a fact of life, but he was definitely more tipsy this week than 'normal'.

5. It's a lot easier to get in your 5-a-day if that's all you eat. Obvious I know, but it hadn't really dawned on me before.

What I do it again? Definitely! I am not going to switch to a vegetarian diet but I am going to make an effort to eat less meat, more vegetables and fish. And we are going to try it again but adding meat to the diet. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Oui Chef: A(nother) challenge

So apparently life isn't challenging enough and I need to seek out challenges to keep me on my toes. So far I am in the middle of Lottie's Finishing School and have started a 101 Things in 1001 Days challenge, which fetaures a few mini challenges. I have just finished Vegetarian Week, am trying to read 52 books in 52 weeks, trying to not buy clothes for 3 months ..... um ..... I think that's it for now!

Today I discovered and their Oui Chef Challenge. I love my food - so how could I not get involved?

First challenge is due end of the month - watch this space.

I is for .... IMAGE

Lottie's next challenge it to look at our current image, write down what image we'd like to have and how to get there.

1. Write down 3 words that describe your image now.

  • Grey: because I tend to opt for dark, grey/black clothes. They are easy to match and I don't have to worry about standing out. 
  • Quirky: this one I actually borrowed from a friend who once used it to describe my dress sense. I quite like it and want to keep the 'edge'. My sister, on the other hand, laughs because I try to match everything - but I put this down as another quirk. :)
  • Casual: I love my jeans and denim skirts, and often get told I'm too casual for work. I suppose this could also be described as sloppy . Often I will dress up only to leave the 'glamour' behind but wearing my Ugg  boots or chucking a chunky cardigan on top, rather than some nice shoes and a blazer jacket.   
2. Write down 3 words you would like to use to describe your image.

  • Professional: for me this encompasses quite a range - smart, confident, assertive - but it doesn't necessarily mean suits and court shoes. If I am doing my web design/marketing it's a very different professional to baking. For example, red nail varnish would look great at a business lunch, but doesn't go down well in the kitchen!
  • Fun: I suppose another version of quirky! I like statement jewellery, scarves and bags and is one way of adding something a bit different to an outfit. 
  • Fabulous: well, isn't this the point of this course? :) Also to include feminine, obviously!

3. Write down 3 things you love about the way you present yourself (what you wear, how you act, what you do)
  • I love ... that I keep my make-up fairly natural and don't go overboard on foundation and that I don't use fake tan. I will wear more make up on a night out, and have recently dyed my hair red - so can't say I'm completely natural! 
  • I love ... my hair! It's definitely much better short (and red!) and have had loads of compliments. Plus it's SO easy to do.
  • I love ... my bags, jewellery & shoes and my apparently 'quirky' sense of style. :)

4. Write down 5 things you can do to change your image or further enhance the good bits of your present image.

  • Don't slack! I can be a little bit rubbish at taking my make up off at the end of the day, or always using eye cream, and need to spend more time keeping on top of my general maintenance. Legs, eyebrows, nails, that kind of thing.
  • Get back into a fitness routine & proper sleep pattern.
  • Spend more time planning outfits so I don't just throw on the first thing I find, and inject a bit of colour into my outfits.
  • Don't worry about what people think and add a little fabulous to my day! I know this has been covered before but it's something I need to take more notice of. A pair of heels, a lovely scarf, a fancy brooch or a handbag, some nail varnish (not just left over from the weekend), a different perfume...just something a bit different. 
  • Start an evening class. This is something I've been thinking about for a while. A way to meet people & expand my mind. So will keep an eye out for courses and see what takes my fancy - wine tasting, dress making, a language maybe....
Today is exactly the kind of day I am trying to avoid. I had to take my make up off this morning, and didn't have enough time for my full routine.I am wearing black trousers, black vest, black & grey stripey jumper & black boots. With a black bag, no jewellery and nail varnish I put on to go out on Saturday. I am feeling a bit rubbish - hence the complete lack of interest & staying in bed too late.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Cake Pops - my new favourite cakey snack

I first came across Cake Balls & Cake Pops via @cakeballsuk and @mollybakes on Twitter. This lead me to the cakey genius that is Bakerella!

A cake ball is cake that has been crumbed, mixed with buttercream (or alternative frosting) then covered in chocolate or candy. A cake pop is a cake ball on a stick! How can you not like them?

I decided to have a go back in May, with some chocolate cake & dark chocolate coating. They looked ok [pic below], but had a very strange texture. But I hadn't tried a cake pop/ball myself and didn't really know what to expect.

Then, in June, we went to London. I dragged my family to Selfriges where I knew I would be able to get hold of one of MollyBakes cake pops.  Here's my lovely hubby with his. He opened it before we left the shop so had to get a quick photo.

They were lovely!  But it wasn't until last weekend that I attempted them myself. Mainly it was down to a lucky coincidence that meant I had 'spare' cake and candy melts in the house at the same time! So, this is how I made my cake pops.

Crumb cake in a food processor and mix with buttercream, then form into golf-ball shapes. Put them on a sheet of greaseproof paper and leave in the fridge for a few hours until fairly solid. (Or in the freezer for about 15 minutes.)

When they're ready melt a few of the candy melts, dip the end of some lolly sticks in the melts and stick about 2/3 of the way into the balls.To ensure a firm foundation and keep your sticks steady, place a little bit of the melts around the stick to seal any gaps. Then place to side (or briefly in the fridge) to set.

When they are set, and the sticks feel pretty firm in the balls, melt some more of the melts and dip the balls in the melts until covered. Then use sprinkles to decorate as you wish!

And ta da - cake pops!

They need a bit of work to get the coating smooth - but they looked good and tasted great!

Here's how they look inside.

But, if this all seems like too much work - just give me a call and I'll make them for you!  :)

Ideal as wedding favours or party bag fillers, they could be wrapped up like a bouquet or presented in a pot. They can be any flavour and colour you want - the only limit is your imagination. Go on, you know you want to.....

Monday, October 18, 2010

Giant Cupcake

I have been wanting to try a Giant Cupcake since I first heard about them. But didn't want to fork out on a proper tin pan until I had at least given it a go. Then I found a silicon baking mould in The Works for £6 and couldn't resist!

So I made my standard Vanilla sponge mix (175g flour/sugar & 3 eggs) and filled the base and made a 100g/2 egg mix for the top. And this is what happened:

Apparently the mix is too light for the depth of the mould and I needed to add some plain flour (about half the quantity of self-raising) to the mixture, thanks to @icemaidencakes.

So, here's my second attempt:

I did lose a little bit of the top to the mould - because I forgot to grease the pan in my excitement - and the top was a little.....overdone in places. But it was nothing a knife and some buttercream wouldn't fix.

Here is the final cupcake.

And here it is in comparison to a standard cupcake:

According to the box, the giant cupcake is 25 times the size of a normal cupcake, and I think that I probably used the equivalent amount of mixture.

The sponge was a little more dense that the one I usually make, but still tasted good and has lasted well.

I'm looking forward to having another go!

No. 95: Make Cake Pops

I forgot this was on my list!

Thanks to some left over cake & buttercream I made my very own cake pops yesterday. Feedback was excellent and the people I gave them to had never seen or heard about them - let alone tried them.

I was very pleased and will be adding them to my minirhi bakes! baking list.

No. 9: Don't buy new clothes for 3 months

Now, this challenge started on 1st October 2010. Which means that I won't be buying any new clothes until NEXT YEAR!! That's right! So far it has been ok. It has taken some willpower I have had to walk out of shops, but I've done it - with the exception of new tights and a vest I needed for a fancy dress night. But that is all I have bought, and tights don't count anyway!

I have every intention of sticking to this in an attempt to save a bit of money and rediscover my wardrobe. Especially as I haven't seen many of my winter clothes for a few months anyway, so as long as I bring things out in bits and pieces, it'll feel like I have new clothes anyway.

So, just a couple of rules:
1. Tights, socks & underwear are needed and can be purchased.
2. Jewellery does not count either.
3. If I see a mac I like, I will buy it as I've been looking for one for ages!

No. 82: Be Vegetarian for a Week

I've been a bit rubbish at staying up to date on my '101 Things in 1001 Days' challenge. So will try to catch up a bit this week to let you know how I am getting on.

This week, hubby and I have decided to try number 82 on my list - being vegetarian. We have opted not to eat fish, so this is strictly veggie. The week started yesterday and we have so far survived 2 days. Joking aside, I am looking forward to the 'challenge', although I have had a few comments from people who have tried being veggie and never went back. I can't quite see that happening - but who knows?

We've planned some meals for the week such as spinach & ricotta canneloni, quesadillas and home made tomato soup, but haven't been shopping yet.

So far we've had:
  • Quorn shepherds pie
  • Pasta with wild rocket pesto, spinach & pine nuts
  • Jacket potato with beans & cheese
I can see a lot of cheese in the near future! :)

I think the biggest challenge will be the weekend, as my cousin is home on Friday and we'll be going out for food, and we're out for a chinese for my friend's birthday on Saturday. Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

My day at Build-a-Bear Workshop

I have started taking the time recently to read and comment on other people's blogs. 2 reasons. 1: because I know how much I like it when people stop by and say hello on mine, 2: because I'm actually pretty nosey.

So when  @inawelshgarden blogged about her recent visit to Build-a-Bear I felt this was something I could extend an opinion on. Little did I know that this would lead to me being asked if I would like to review the shop too.

Ummm. Yes, please!

I think I was asked partly because of my small (but growing collection) of Build-a-Bears and partly beacuse I am slightly outside the target market. So last Saturday, me & my mum (also a BABW fan) went to Cardiff. After a quick nose around the new John Lewis (fab!) and lunch at Las Iguanas (also great) we made our way to the Build-a-Bear Workshop in St David's Shopping Centre.

After the initial confusion (as the person we were meant to meet was off ill) we had a quick nose around the shop and then got straight to Step 1:

There was plenty of choice, but with Halloween round the corner, I opted for a Limited Edition Midnight Kitty and Mum (who also had to get in on the fun) chose a Portuguese Water Dog.

Here I am - looking more excited than some of the kids in the shop!

We queued up (Saturday is a very busy day at BABW!) ready for for Step 2:

We got to choose whether we wanted our bears 'soft & cuddly' or a bit more solid, and chose a little satin heart to go inside them. You could also choose from a selection of sounds too, should you feel the urge! At the Stuffing Station you get to step on a pedal, while the BABW associate ensures the bear gets stuffed in all the right places.

And here's my Mum. Yup, she's going to hate me putting this up :) (Hi Mum!)

Serious bit - Me & my mum were very impressed with the quality of the bears. Especially as they are 'sewn' up in front of you. It doesn't take long, the bear stuffing is very secure and you can 'bearly' see the join. We weren't asked to do the BABW promise, as we were when we visited Covent Garden, but it didn't detract from the experience.
So we moved on to the clothes & accessories section and there was so much choice. The clothes are again, very well made, and so cute! At the moment they have a fab collection of Star Wars costumes, so you could have your very own C3P0 or Hans Solo. Now, from this point we got a little excited & wrapped up in dressing our bears, so we took no more photos until we got home.

Now what else could I dress kitty in, but this fabulous Witch's outfit, complete with broom?

Totally spoilt for choice, I couldn't resist this gorgeous little knitted cardigan & beige skirt for Bella and hooded top for Edward. Perfect for the winter :)

I don't know if it's my marketing background (this is how I justify my collection) but I love the whole shopping experience. From the staff in the shop, to the box the bear comes home in, from the making of the bears to the quality of the clothes. They have done everything so well.

On the left is the box I recieved an outfit in when I ordered online. I still use it as a wardrobe now.
On the right is the box I brought Sookie* home in.

* Yes, I have named Kitty Sookie. After True Blood. Her & Bella seem to be getting on ok so far....

I love Build-a-Bear and would recommend it to anyone who loves teddies! They make fabulous gifts and great collectors items. I already have my eye on the website looking out for the next limited edition - apparently for Christmas they have limited reindeer and and an Abominable Snowman coming out.... Now, he'd look fit in with my Christmas collection of Snowmen, wouldn't he? ;)

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Bella Bunny, Edward, Marques the Monkey, Rose Mateus & Bailey Bear

On Saturday I am going to Build-a-Bear. I am so excited, but I thought I might share with you ny Build-a-Bear history to put the visit in some perspective.

When hubby & I got married in 2008 we bought our flower girl (hubby's neice) a Build-a-Bear to say thank you. She was 5. The bear was gorgeous in a very glittery cream & gold bridesmaid dress, and flower girl was really happy with it. But the whole buying experience was great, the staff in Cardiff were lovely, the shop is well laid out and there was SO MUCH CHOICE! It took ages to decide what to have. Anyway - I vowed that one day I would have my own bear.

One year later, for our first wedding anniversary, my wonderful hubby got me - yup - a Build-a-Bear, well, Bunny actually. She is named Bella (yes, after THAT vampire film) and has a fabulous 'New Moon' top.

Then my Dad turned 60 in the following August, and me, Mum & my sister happened to be in London. Covent Garden just before it and decided to pop into the Build-a-Bear shop for a nose. Here we brought Marques the Monkey (Marques after the wine). Another fab time. Although the shop was full (of very excited kids) they still spent the time with us going through the promise. (I haven't got a photo of Marques yet - but he looks a little bit like Terry Pratchett....)

Then came my best friend's hen weekend. Again, the three of us were in Covent Garden and decided on a Pink and Black bear to match the hen do theme - this time named Champagne.

In March this year, for Mother's Day, we opted to buy my mum a BABW, as she was a little jealous of  Dad having one and did like to dress him up to match the occasion - much to Dad's disgust. Here's Bailey Bear:

Then hubby had an operation on his knee, so as a Get Well gift he got a cat (that looks an awful lot like one of our kittens) that he very graciously named Edward as a companion for Bella. Yes, I know - but I love it! I do confess that Edward is not actually a fully-fledged B-a-B, but am American version of the same thing, bought online - because I wanted a cat. He was bought a crutch, had a bandage and BABW clothes. Here they are. (And no, I couldn't resist a little wolf Jacob.)

Then my sister had one for her birthday. Meet Rose Mateus:

I have noticed that the service is excellent, no matter which store I use or whether I order online. So, as I am sure you have probably gathered by now, I am very much looking forward to Saturday's day trip, with my mum. No doubt we'll spend a fortune & will have some very smartly dressed bears on our return!