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

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!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Paper 1st Wedding Anniversary Gift Ideas

Everyone has heard of golden wedding anniversaries and ruby wedding anniversaries, but if you’re not married yourself, you may not know that every year has a theme! The theme is supposed to represent the gifts that the husband and wife give each other, and there is a traditional list and a modern list - for some countries they differ slightly but this is what I’ve found online:
Anniversary   Traditional                    Modern            
1st                     paper                              clock                                                               
2nd                    cotton                             china
3rd                     leather                            crystal or glass
4th                     fruit or flowers               electrical appliances
5th                     wood                               silverware
6th                     sugar                              wood
7th                     copper or wool               desk sets/ pen and pencil sets
8th                     bronze or pottery            linens or lace
9th                     pottery or willow            leather
10th                   tin                                   diamond jewellery
11th                   steel                                fashion jewellery, accessories
12th                   silk or linen                    pearls, coloured gems
13th                   lace                                textiles, furs
14th                   ivory                              gold jewellery
15th                   crystal                            watches
16th                   -                                     silver holloware
17th                   -                                     furniture
18th                   -                                     porcelain
19th                   -                                     bronze
20th                   china                              platinum
21st                   -                                     brass, nickel
22nd                   -                                     copper 
23rd                   -                                     silver plate
24th                   -                                     musical instruments
25th                   silver                              silver
30th                   pearl                               diamond
35th                   coral                               jade
40th                   ruby                               ruby
45th                   sapphire                         sapphire
50th                   gold                               gold
55th                   emerald                         emerald
60th                   diamond                        diamond

I’m a bit surprised at some of the themes on the modern list – in this digital age, I doubt many people want desk sets, and electrical appliances doesn’t seem particularly romantic! (Then again I suppose neither does the more traditional tin). Furs are a throwback from a former era unless it means fake fur, and I do think it’s slightly mercenary that women can expect diamonds after only ten years of marriage rather than 60 – in fact according to the modern list, there are three opportunities for women to receive diamonds!
I do think these lists are rather unrealistic because how many people can afford real diamonds? But still, I know a lot of people enjoy coming up with quirky gifts that fit each theme.
The first anniversary, paper, is quite good for people who may have overspent on their wedding or are still setting up home together – it’s also a fairly easy one if you haven’t gotten around to printing out wedding photos or doing a wedding photo album!
Here are some of my favourite suggestions for 1st (paper) anniversary gifts – and read on to see what my husband and I got each other!
  •  A card – you don’t need to give each other anniversary gifts on top of birthday and Christmas presents so why not agree from the outset you will just do cards?
  • Photo album, photo book or printing out photos to frame – of your wedding or honeymoon, or moments from your first year together, or a photo story from when you met right up to when you got married
  • A bunch of paper flowers – which you can fold yourself following an origami book, or buy ready made
  • A book – something romantic, or a copy (even a first edition) of a book they really love
  • The lyrics to the song you chose for your first dance, or your wedding vows, printed out and framed
  • A calendar made up of photos of you both
  • A personalised print like this or like this
  • A framed map, where you’ve marked places you have been together and places you want to go
  • A framed picture of your wedding venue – there are places online where you can commission a painting or line drawing, or you can frame a photo
  • A framed paper-cut picture like this or this
  • A scrapbook of photos and memories if you are the sort of person like me who keeps ticket stubs and mementos from places you have been together. You could also turn this into a memory board and frame to go on the wall.
  • A personalised notebook
  • Tickets to a show or gig or similar – the tickets are made of paper, or if you print an e-ticket that works too!
  • Write them a poem if you are feeling creative – this is a nice cheap idea. Or if you’re a bit more flush, you could commission someone to write a poem about your beloved!
  • Write them a love letter, or a series of love notes that you can surprise them with
  • A flying lesson – this is not strictly a paper anniversary gift, but you can give your partner a paper plane folded from a print-out of the details of the lesson!
My husband got me a fantastic anniversary gift which I hadn't spotted despite it being from Not on the High, which I had combed myself looking for gift ideas! It's the perfect present for me and shows how well he knows me, because I like to scrapbook and do papercrafts, and to make lists and fill in notebooks.
It's a wedding anniversary album, with 50 pages. Each page has the same layout, with a space for a photo, and places to write down where you spent your anniversary, what you gave each other and a space to write either some notable things that have happened over the past year or your wishes for the year ahead. It's really lovely and I'm looking forward to filling it in!

I was debating between several ideas for my husband and decided to get him two things - and after having a look online decided to make rather than buy them. First I went with one of the ideas I'd seen on various websites, getting the lyrics to our first dance printed out. It would have looked better if I'd had it professionally done but I don't think this looks bad at all - I selected a font and made different lines different sizes depending on how many words per line.

 Then because I wanted to do something a bit more creative I did a papercut of our wedding venue. A paper cut is where you use a sharp craft knife to cut out around a picture - every section must be connected to the edge of the paper otherwise you'd find parts of the picture come away in the middle. So it can be a little challenging but it's good fun!

I drew a sketch of the roman temple at the Larmer Tree Gardens which is where we stood during the ceremony (our guests were seated on the grass in front) and added some words at the top with our names and wedding date. As each letter has to be attached to the edge of the paper somehow the easiest way to do this is make the letters look like flags flying on bunting, and attach each letter to the bunting and attach the bunting to the edge of the paper.

The Larmer Tree has several peacocks which wander around and one featured in several of our wedding photos so I wanted to include a peacock in this picture. I decided to add some different colour and texture by using a peacock sticker that had little gems on it, and added a couple of other gems to the temple outline. I bought frames for each pictures as well.

It's a bit different, very personal to us, and homemade with love.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Review: The Larmer Tree Gardens, Tollard Royal, Wiltshire

I celebrated my first wedding anniversary in June and as the day fell on a Sunday we decided to go back to our wedding venue, the Larmer Tree Gardens in Wiltshire. We attempted to recreate one of our wedding photos - albeit without the professional wedding photographer as you can tell!

We also enjoyed spending the day with my parents, sister and niece, who was still a bump inside her tummy on our wedding day. The weather was glorious on our anniversary - I was actually glad it hadn't been that hot on our wedding day!

It was great revisiting the different spots where we had had wedding photos taken, some of them with our guests but also a few secluded romantic ones by the dell.

 The Larmer Tree gardens have plenty of things to explore from pathways between hedges leading to statues, a pretty garden within a garden called the bride's quarter, an old stage dating from 1866, a dell (basically a pond with a beautiful view), a grotto an of course the roman temple where my husband I tied the knot. There's even a trail of fairy doors around the gardens for children to seek out.

The gardens were first open to the public as 'pleasure gardens' in the 1880s and 1890s then closed for most of the next century until 1991 - there's some fascinating information about the gardens' history on the website.

The main pavilion isn't normally open to the public; this is the new building behind the hedge from the main gardens where we had the wedding breakfast in one room and the band and dancing in the room next door, spilling out onto a terrace where people toasted marshmallows over a fire pit.

The peacocks rule the roost at the Larmer Tree and won't bother you mostly - they do sometimes try to steal food if you're not careful, but otherwise seem totally harmless. They are so used to people, they think nothing of strutting around and showing off their tail feathers and effectively posing for photos. Look up when you arrive and you will probably find one or two sitting on the roof of the visitor centre.


 There's a Café with seating both indoors and outdoors, that has a small selection of food, drinks and ice cream. My husband and I wanted to spend a bit of time at the Larmer Tree on our own before my family arrived and then were a little hungry as we hadn't had lunch, though we'd had a big breakfast and it was too hot to really want to eat. So we sat inside in the little Café (there were no tables left in the shade outside, and it really was too hot) and had a cheese scone (the hubby) and a piece of Victoria sponge (me). The cake was delicious - though you can bring your own picnics to eat on the grass in the gardens, the Café is lovely for a snack or, as we did later with my family, a drink and an ice cream.

 We bumped into our wedding planner (technically she is the head of events at the Larmer Tree, as they do all sorts of things there) who remembered it was our anniversary which was a nice touch, given how many couples they must see every year.

If you're in the Wiltshire/Dorset area I highly recommend the Larmer Tree gardens for an afternoon out - and if you are considering it as a wedding venue read my more detailed post about our wedding!

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 32

Best laid plans and all that... last week I didn't make a couple of the meals I had planned, one night because I was home too late and the other because it was the end of the week, I was unexpectedly working from home and decided I really fancied roast potatoes, so put some in the oven with a pork chop! It might be August but the barbecue days seem an awfully long time ago....

Breakfast museli with yogurt and tinned fruit
Lunch bagel with soft cheese
Dinner pork chop with sweet potato mash for me, chicken pie and mash for him

Breakfast porridge with cinnamon and apple
Lunch tuna melt bagel
Dinner curry with leftover chicken

Breakfast museli with yogurt and tinned fruit
Lunch bagel with soft cheese
Dinner pasta with meatballs

Breakfast yogurt
Lunch at an event all day
Dinner either out or will get something on way home from event

Breakfast porridge with cinnamon and apple
Lunch pasta salad
Dinner lamb with new potatoes; chicken in breadcrumbs and chips for my husband who doesn't eat either

Breakfast porridge with cinnamon and apple
Lunch bacon sandwich for him, tuna melt bagel for me
Dinner Chinese or Indian takeaway style kit from Tesco, as I will be having an online order today and lots of food to prep for the barbecue tomorrow.

Breakfast porridge with cinnamon and apple
Lunch: hosting a family barbecue for my father in law's birthday. The weather forecast is OK but not exactly hot!
Dinner probably won't want a lot of dinner, either leftover barbecue food or something simple like cheese on toast

Join in the blog hop!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Relax It's Your Birthday Pineapple Stamped Card

I was really pleased when I found this set of pineapple rubber stamps and dies in a local charity shop for £2 - it's a bit quirky and something I would have hesitated to buy, as it's fairly niche - I'm sure there are various designs you can do with pineapples, but most of my stamp sets are more versatile. However, I'm often envious when I see cards people have made with unusual stamps that are perfect for a specific sentiment which is why I decided to add these to my stash.  Pineapples also seem to be really in at the moment!

I used two of the three large pineapple stamps - one has the outline of a pineapple on a clear stamp, so you get the pattern in the middle, and the other has a solid bottom so you still see the pattern but the sections of the skin are dark, and on the top half it says 'it's your birthday'.

I stamped both of them with blank ink onto yellow card, repeating the full pineapple once, and then separately stamped the greenery on top with green ink onto white card. I cut it out and stuck that on top of the pineapple.

The 'relax' sentiment is another stamp from this set and the 'best wishes' is from a different set.

I'm sharing this with CASology where they want a 'clean and simple' card with the theme 'juicy'. Clean and simple cards normally have one main image and I have stamped three pineapples, but together they form one image, and there is lots of white space around them.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Waterloo Cafe, Wootton St, London and Photoion Photography School

Believe it or not, I'm really into photography. I say believe it or not because I know that some of the photos on this blog are not very good at all. When I cook a meal from a new recipe for dinner, and want to take a photo, it's often 8pm already and I just want to eat, not faff around with cameras and lights, so grab my mobile for a quick snap!

When I do have time I put in more effort - I've got lights, backdrops, an expensive camera and a variety of lenses. I tend to use my Canon 5D more for days out, holidays and - one of my favourites - portrait photography, whether that be people or animals.

I've done a few courses now with the Photoion Photography schoolfood photography, portrait and now macro photography.


The courses, taught by Ion, are really good – you don’t need the most expensive camera and you learn all sorts of techniques and tips, plus Ion will help set up some shots so you get great pictures on the day. With food and macro in particular it is hard to get the same shots on your own afterwards, unless you are very talented - but even then you may not have all the equipment or the understanding of the exact angle of light needed. Either way, I've had a lot of fun learning and trying out what I've learnt at home afterwards.
The classes are taught near Waterloo station which is fairly easy for me to get to, though as it does take a while I left extra time and arrived quite early before my class. I decided to go and get breakfast somewhere nearby and found myself in the Waterloo Café. It looked very cheap and cheerful - not a greasy spoon though but several of the other patrons were workers in high-vis jackets perhaps having breakfast or a break from work.

Downstairs there is a counter where you can buy food to take away, including some pastries and doughnuts that looked very good, and upstairs is a seating area with menus and waitress service. I didn't fancy breakfast 'proper' - I don't like full English and didn't want a sausage sandwich- so had a cheese toastie and a Ribena (which is basically juice, right?!). It was simple but good and set me up nicely for the rest of the day.

If you're into photography I highly recommend the Photoion Photography school - check out the different courses they offer on their website.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Lemon Meringue Celebration Cake

This cake was easier than it looks to make, and a dream to eat - it looks really impressive and trust me, it tastes even better!

The recipe comes from Fiona Cairns’ Birthday Cake book but is also available online here.
Making meringues is sometimes a bit hit and miss; I followed Fiona Cairns’ recipe mixing egg whites with icing sugar, which was a first – I normally use caster sugar. Try as I might, I couldn’t get my egg whites to form soft peaks – the mixture was still quite runny. It may have been that there was some grease in the bowl or on my whisk but I thought they were clean – eventually I gave up and decided to make the meringues with caster sugar, which worked fine!
I followed the recipe for making the cake batter and the cake turned out really well. I forget how good crème fraiche can be in a cake – it’s delicious, though you need to be careful about leaving the cake out too long on a hot day (I’d rather not refrigerate cake if I can help it).
I found it tricky to make the almonds around the sides look neat but I still like the effect. With the meringues placed on top this is a pretty cake, and one that looks a bit special without needing to go to a lot of effort with decorations or covering it in fondant. A lovely cake for a birthday or a summer's afternoon tea.






Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Pile of Presents Birthday Card

This is a nice and easy birthday card to make but one that is clean and simple but quite colourful at the same time. I often find it easier to make feminine cards so this one is good for a male or just someone who doesn't like butterflies and flowers!

The presents are from a simple sheet of stickers that had gifts of different sizes and shapes; I chose the rectangular ones and varying heights in blues and greens as I thought they went together nicely. The sentiment at the top was from a rubber stamp and I went over the word 'birthday' in green Promarker to match the rest of the card.