Monday, 22 November 2010

Monday Musings

I thought I'd start a new regular feature on my blog - I've been reading Happy Zombies blog and I really like the 'daily cup of joy' posts - so I thought I could do something similar.  Now, I'm not sure I have enough joy for a daily cup, but a weekly one I can definitely manage.

So I thought I'd list a few things that made me smile last week.

  • The coat hanger hanging from a bush in a field on my way to work.  It's so out of place, it makes me smile everytime I see it.
  • Random gifts from friends - I've been given several packs of gel stickers to decorate my house for Christmas
  • New Christmas decorations (I always like to get a few extra each year - this year we'll need a new tree to house them all!)

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Kitchen Real Estate

So... I'm back to thinking about decluttering, and in the kitchen once more.  I'm going to throw this question out to all of you, see what your opinion is - what is important enough to take up space on your kitchen worktop? 

We have far too much on our worktops - although less now as I've just squirreled a whole load of appliances in a new cupboard, and I'm possibly in danger of having nothing on the surfaces at all.  I'd like to strike the happy medium of minimal clutter, but having things close to hand at the same time.  I guess I've answered my own question really - keep things I use (Ian uses) at hand, and ditch everything else.  What are your essential items in the kitchen?

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Cooking Wednesdays - Catch up

Although I've not been blogging about the food I've been cooking for Ian, I have been cooking it (well, most weeks!).  Back at the start of September I attempted Moroccan chicken, a recipe found in my good food magazine.  This was a successful meal, the chicken was nice and flavoursome, juicy, and sweet.  The only thing I think this meal was lacking was a bit of colour.

The week after that was the inedible curry mentioned in my seven days of food post.  That was far less successful, but I have learnt never to stir rice because of it (and it wasn't even me that did it, Ian was the naughty rice stirrer).  
The following week we were back to success.  I made pork steaks with pear and a creamy cider sauce.  It was to die for - not the most healthy but a yummy treat for sure! We'll definitely be repeating this recipe, but maybe only for special occasions.  I also managed to include some green on the plate this time, so I felt better about it.

For Ian's birthday week, I agreed that I wouldn't do a whole week of meals like I did last year, I'd just do one meal on his birthday, and then one at the weekend.  This was good for me because I didn't have to cook as much, and good for Ian because he wouldn't have to eat food I'd cooked! So, for his birthday meal, I went for a simple recipe, lamb with feta, tomatoes and rosemary.  Unfortunately, my feta didn't crumble, so I had to slice it, and the steaks weren't very flat, so the topping wouldn't stay put and kept falling off.  Despite this, it wasn't too bad, although it wasn't a very glamorous birthday meal. 

For Ian's weekend meal, I pulled out a tried and tested recipe that we stole from The Dog and Crook's menu, steak with sweet chilli prawn sauce.  I made some bacon and goats cheese rostis to start, which were nice, but the goats cheese flavour got a little lost (as did the corner of the flash on the camera it seems!).

Because the rostis were quite filling, we skipped the chips with the steak, and instead just had all the steaky accompaniments - it was delicious. 

And even though they were being cooked in hot butter, the mushrooms remained happy!

Monday, 1 November 2010

Halloween Birthday

My niece was born on 29th October, so her birthday always seems to clash with halloween celebrations.  This year she decided to embrace the closeness, and asked for a spider cake.  She was quite specific, a blue cake, with a black spider, so my mum and I set about making a sponge, and then covering it in blue butter icing.  Blue butter icing isn't an easy task, because the butter generally starts out yellowy, so the end result has a greenish tint to it.  We started with lurpak though, a pretty light, almost white butter, and this worked well.  

We found some glittery writing icing in Sainsburys which worked really well to make a glistening web on the top of the cake. We made a body out of black icing for the spider, and then used mikado (known as pocky in Japan) for the legs, adding some more icing to the joints of the leg for stability and to cover up the joins.  

My sister had requested two cakes, one for the family get together, and one for my nieces friends party, but we were a hand down (my mum just had a carpal tunnel op) and it seemed like too much work in too short a space of time for me.  So I suggested making small cupcakes to decorate the cake board, like the ones I did for halloween last year, and then we could eat those for the first party, leaving the main cake intact for the second party.  This worked pretty well, and considering we were going out for dinner for the main party anyway, noone really wanted a cupcake, so there were still some left to decorate the side of the cake on the second day too! 
I only differed in opinion from my mum once this time, she wanted to give the spider little boots, but I thought it looked better without (Ian agreed so I got my way!). 

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Best Before? Better After!

The next thing I tackled on my tidying spree was the kitchen cupboard.  In my last post I wondered where I'd house the crisps recently evicted from the board game cupboard (yes, I know, clearly not where crisps should live!).  My friends said they keep all of their food in the kitchen (they are very smart people) so I figured I'd try and find room in the cupboard for my crisps to live.  

Annoyingly I didn't take a picture of the cupboard before going tidying crazy, but it was about as full as this one here if not worse.  There were quite a few things in there that I'd kept for the occasions when I cook for myself if Ian's out - but those occasions NEVER happen, we eat together every night (or I eat out and he gets take away), so I figured it was time to throw them all out.  We found stuff in the cupboard with best before dates in the year 2007! Why on earth did we move all of this stuff from our flat into the house?! 

Here is the new cupboard, all ready to welcome the crisps (which are non-existent now because they were also past their best before dates!). 

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

If it's broke... throw it away!!

The book talks a lot about broken things, and how, if after a month or two, you've not fixed it, chuck it. It got me thinking about broken things round our house. There's the camera my sister murdered about a year ago, Ian's laptop where the fans are bust, the phones (yes, multiple) with the broken screens, all waiting to be fixed. 

Then there's the non-fixable things. We got new plates when we moved and put the old, chipped ones in a cupboard for emergencies. We have 8 good plates, so I brought up the topic with Ian about chucking the old ones. He mentioned Christmas and pancake day when we have lots of people over, how would we cope with just 8 plates?! I thought to myself though, which is worse, no plate or an old chipped plate? And why do I have to waste a whole shelf in my cupboard for something I may only need two times a year? 

So, at about 10pm, whilst in bed on my iPod, I reserved another plate set from Argos to match our good plates.  Now we have enough plates for emergencies, and they can live in the same cupboard as the good plates! Problem solved....although, where shall I put my crisps now?! 
Yay - new plates!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Clutter Control

Well, my friend is back from America, and, being the good friend I am, I've suggested staying at home to get over the jet lag instead of coming over to inspect my tidying! She probably knew I'd never get it done in time but I think she appreciates that I've made an effort at least and there is improvement.  To help increase the level improvement, she bought me back this book - 10 minute Clutter Control Room by Room.  

I'm still reading the introductory chapters about what my clutter says about me, and general tips to decluttering, but I'm then going to attempt using it on a room to see if it works.  Most of it makes sense to me, and there's some good ideas on how to make tidying a game (although as Ian is upstairs in bed ill, I think I'll let him off having to play).  But some things I just don't get (and maybe this is where my clutter problem comes from!)  How can I throw away all my letters? I love receiving mail and so I keep it all - sometimes to remind me to reply, but mainly just because - is that wrong?  If someone takes the time to write to me - who am I to throw that out? Obviously, I'm not talking about typed letters here - maybe that's what this tip in the book is referring to - I understand that I can throw those away, and I do.  What do you think?

I decided to walk through the house and find something to chuck - the book says find 10 things, but it's the first night so I figured baby steps were acceptable.  I found a whole bag of word fridge magnets that I acquired from my student days.  They've been on the top of my fridge for a while now - mainly because I think I prefer the uncluttered look of the fridge door this way, and I'm past writing silly things with them too.  And yet they've still lived for 17 months on top of the fridge! Why?! So... off to the charity shop they go.  

While I was removing them from the top of the fridge, I wondered about the rest of the stuff on the top of the fridge too - and I decided it annoyed me, but I'm at a loss as to what to do with it.  On top of the fridge is kitchen roll, tissues and toilet roll.  Where do you keep these things in your homes? (I should point out the fridge is next to the bathroom, so it's not all that weird having toilet roll there).  It just looks messy - I'm happy with the convenience of it, and the proximity to the desired end points of each item, but how can I make it look nicer?

I suppose just the fact that I'm wondering these things is a good sign! Right - back to reading my book I go - I promise I'll get back to food soon! 

Monday, 18 October 2010

Tidying Fun

Ha - fun?! And tidying? Never!

I don't like tidying, but I'm fed up of living in a cluttered home.  I don't want to get rid of anything (I love my stuff), but I'd like it to all have homes.

So, 3 new cupboards built, one bookcase, over 3500 photos sorted into albums, about 5 bags of stuff to take to the charity shop (OK, there is some stuff I don't need) and I'm slightly closer to utopia.  But not quite there yet.  I've still got piles of paperwork to home, a whole bunch of crafty things to box up nice and neatly, about 3500 more photos to sort, and a small backlog of washing to get through and put away.  There's also a massive pile of CD's in the study to go through, kitchen gadgets to find homes for, and all the hoovering and dusting still to do. 

We have actually had some fun along the way - yesterday we put some of the spare duvets into vacuum bags to store in the monks bench in the bedroom.  It was pretty fun to watch the bags slowly shrinking, and we decided that one of our cuddly toys might enjoy the experience so we put him in and suffocated him! 

Don't worry, we let him back out shortly after and he's perfectly fine, chilling upstairs with his friends.

See - tidying can be fun!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Too Busy To Blog

When we moved back in May 2009, we had a lot of stuff.  Seriously, tonnes.  Some of this stuff is still in boxes in the back room of our house.  The rest either has a home, or is cluttering up the surfaces and floors of all the other rooms in the house.  

This is some of the stuff all packed ready to go
My dining room after we moved in

My friend has gone on an American road trip for three weeks, and I challenged myself to sort out all this clutter and mess while she was gone.  She's been gone a week and a half and I'm starting to panic.  It started out well, I purchased some new flat pack storage to help give some of the clutter proper homes.  Ian made the bookcase, and I decided that I'd store my photo albums on it.  This opened a big can of worms, because I had a large box of photos waiting to go into said albums sat around, and so, instead of just putting the albums in their new home, I spent 4 days sorting photos.  I'm yet to complete this photo sorting task, but I have 11 full albums for my bookcase so that's progress at least!

I've still got so much to do so I'll not really be blogging until it's done.  To be honest, if she gets back and it's not done, I'm pretty sure she wont shout at me (actually, she might!)  But I'll definitely shout at myself.  If I had a tidy house, think of all the time I'd have to do things I want to do.  Like, just sit reading my magazine without noticing the clutter and feeling guilty.  And having people round at short notice without getting stressed out.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Christmas Cake Bake Off

Last Christmas they had another cake bake off at work (actually, I don't think I've written about the first, I made my lemon drizzle and won).  I wanted to make a carrot cake (for the reindeer as it was a christmassy theme) so I found a more suitable recipe than the last one with cinnamon in and everything.  My friend at work who loves carrot cake told me it was really good, so I'm pleased that I found a good recipe at last.  I know it was definitely a carrot cake, because I didn't like it!

I also made a golden syrup cake with icing sugar in star shapes on top.  This cake I did like, although I got annoyed by the number of stars I smudged when trying to take the paper off. 

Neither cake won, I think I placed 4th and 7th but I don't know which was which.  This cake bake off wasn't very well organised, so I'm not sure if I'll take part again, I do really enjoy it, but it took over a month to get the results back which just seemed excessive. 

Monday, 20 September 2010

Seven Days of Food

I signed up to a swapbot swap, where you have to take photos of your food for seven days and then send to your partners.  Now, I took some interesting photos so I thought it would be good to write about it here instead so I could share it with all of you.  I kept forgetting to take photos so I'm cutting it very close to the deadline (today!).

So, my week of food started last Tuesday.  I'd bought some goats cheese with garlic from the Romsey Show so we thought we'd make pitta bread pizzas with it, but got back Monday night from our weekly shop and realised we'd neglected to pick up any pittas.  So we improvised and used tortillas.  I think I actually liked it more because it was crispier.  

We had it with salad - served in my wonderful salad bowl that is very hard to tell if it's clean or not.

Here's a shot of both together on one plate.  (On the pizza is goats cheese, onion marmalade and mushrooms - Ian had the same but without the onion).

Wednesday should have been my night to cook, but we instead went to a local pub with some friends from work.  I had the twice cooked belly pork and it was good! Full review here.

On Thursday, Ian made chicken enchiladas while I went off shopping at hobbycraft for some wedding invite things (but they didn't have what we wanted).  They were really good, and we used the leftover tortillas from Tuesday which makes me happier as I don't like waste.  

I also had some cheesecake on Thursday (although I made it Tuesday night but totally neglected to take it into work on Wednesday morning).  It was a baked white chocolate one, and went down a treat with my colleagues.  

Friday night was chilli from the freezer.  I tend to try and make extra portions so we can just microwave something one night a week, and we even saved on the washing up by eating it straight out of the tub.

On Saturday, we went and got some pork shoulder from the local butchers and had a roast dinner.  Ian stewed some apples to go with it, but possibly added too much sugar so we ended up with more toffee apple pieces than apple sauce.  It was still good though.  I think this meal is lacking in green.  The potatoes were very tasty (but probably far from healthy).  

Sunday was my turn to cook (to replace Wednesday when we ate out).  I was down to make a lamb tikka masala.  Ian made the rice.  I think we both did something wrong because it wasn't very good.  Here it is in all it's glory. 

And here is what we ended up eating having decided that the curry wasn't edible.  Yay for take away.

Lastly, today's meal.  We shop every Monday, so we always try to buy something we can just eat quickly when we get home without cooking.  Sometimes we get a waitrose cooked chicken.  Today we had prawns with bread - not very exciting, but it's quick.  Apologies for the terrible photo, the prawns seemed to keep catching the light on my flash.   

I really enjoyed seeing what everyone else had to eat too, and it really made me think more about adding other colours to my food, and working out how to plate up to maximise prettiness. 

The Dog and Crook, Braishfield

Now, the plan was to go to Gourmet Burger Night at the Wheatsheaf - but this was recently taken over and no longer does gourmet burgers.  So, instead, twelve of us ended up at the Dog and Crook.  We waited quite some time for our food to arrive, but I think that may have been because we were such a large group on a week night.  

I ordered the twice cooked belly pork, Ian opted for the rump and rib combo.  My belly pork was tasty, the crackling was a little dry in places, but otherwise good.  The mash was creamy and there was a decent amount of veg with it.  Ian's rump seemed quite small and overcooked, and I think he's been a little spoilt with his weekly ribs at The Dolphin because there wasn't all that many in this meal, but it tasty, although apparently a little tough.  The chips were quite nice.  It came with home made coleslaw which neither of us tried.

We were tempted by the desserts, both opting for the chocolate pudding (described as a sponge, with a white chocolate middle and chocolate pouring sauce).  The white chocolate centre was tiny and not very central so was pretty disappointing.  

Halloween Muffins

I went to a halloween party, and I did not have time to bake anything.  So, I bought some mini muffins, and some chocolate, and decorated them instead.  It was fun, although I almost missed my train and I had to leave the mess for Ian to clear up (ah, what a shame!).  They went down well at the party, but I think next time I'll make the muffins myself too. 

Friday, 17 September 2010

Got cream? Make butter!

I read Amy's blog post about making your own butter, and I couldn't resist the urge to try it too.  I didn't take pictures of the process so if you want more than just a picture of the end results, scoot on over to Amy's post for more detail.  As she says, it was incredibly easy.  I added a little salt to the end result and I was so happy to eat toast for the next three days - terrible for my waistline but it made me smile non stop!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Not a Carrot Cake!

I here a lot of people talk about how they like carrot cake all the time, so I thought I'd try and add it to my repertoire.  Now, I don't like carrot cake, so this is clearly proof of how much I love my friends.  I got out my trusty Mary Berry book, found the carrot cake recipe, and set to work.  This has carrot, banana and walnut in it.  It's got a yummy cream cheese frosting too (with chopped walnuts in it). 

The only thing is.... my friend tells me it's not a carrot cake.  Which is a shame because I actually really liked this cake! Apparently carrot cakes should have cinnamon in them.  I just followed the recipe, so I blame Mary Berry (although, I also thank her for a lovely recipe at the same time).  The cake went, and all agreed it was good, but that it was not a carrot cake.  So my search for a carrot cake recipe continues. 

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Jolokia, Hockley Heath

Over the bank holiday weekend, Ian and I went to stay with his parents up in Solihull.  Ian lives in quite a small village but it has a nice indian restaurant less than a minutes walk away.  We've been before but I've neglected to write about it so I'm reviewing it now.  

My favourite part is all the starters, so Ian and I decided to order two starters each and just share a main.  So we ordered the four starters all to come out at once - I went for prawn puree and spice aubergine (aubergine stuffed with spicy minced lamb), Ian opted for the Malai Tikka (chicken spiced with ginger and garlic and sprinkled with cheese) and the Mango Tikka (chicken in a spicy mango sauce).  

The staff at the restaurant are very friendly and have a good sense of humour.  They bought out the plates of food and put them in the middle of our table (they weren't to know that we were having two complete starters each instead of half of all four).  They then returned with the following plates.  Certainly memorable!

My prawn puree looked so good, all stacked up (I've had this in other indian restaurants and it's never looked this pretty before), and tasted great too.  The aubergine was yummy and Ian's two types of tikka were good too, although one was scarily green which we weren't expecting!


For the main we went for the Shahi Bedami curry (chicken in a cream and tomato based curry with ground cashew nuts).  It was a bit too gloopy for me, but pleasant - I didn't have too much because the two starters were probably enough for me so Ian finished it off and I was very pleased that we didn't waste anything like we normally do.  

We rarely order dessert in indian restaurants as they're generally just frozen things as opposed to homemade things, so we stopped off at the shop next door and grabbed some ice creams.  

Ian's really lucky to have such a lovely restaurant so close to his parents house.  (If you're in the area, definitely go here and not to the chip shop - that was rubbish!)

Friday, 10 September 2010

Ian's Birthday Dinner 2009

I love my Ian.  Lots.  So for some reason, I think it's a good idea to try and poison him on his birthday.  I actually attempted to cook for a whole week as part of his birthday, but I only have photographic evidence of one day.  I attempted a goats cheese pannacotta, something I'd eaten when on holiday in Oxford with my mum.  I chose far too mild a goats cheese so it lost the real flavour which was a shame, but it set well (too well, it refused to come out of it's dish).  There's thankfully no photo of this, cos it looked pretty boring really. 
One of the successful dishes was halloumi and sweetcorn fritters.  They were yummy, but we ate far too many of them to count as a starter! 

One of the mains I tried was lamb wellingtons - I put small lamb steaks and some redcurrant jelly into puff pastry and cooked - they were good, although the pastry went a little soggy in places.  

I can't remember what else I cooked that week, I'm pretty sure he got steak (which always goes down well) and probably a baked camembert (my quick easy 'safe' starter).  He's still alive, so I couldn't a have done that badly!

Just as I was about to post this, I found another photo - now, if I'm honest, I'm not entirely sure what it is, but are those puff pastry stars cute (I think Ian cooked this, as it's slow cooked ox cheek and I don't know how to make that - but I definitely made the cute stars with the leftover pastry, probably from the lamb parcels).

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Tasty Lamb Shank

Not much of a story behind this one, it was just a delicious dinner.  Lamb shank, in the slow cooker, with a nice minty redcurranty gravy, mash and yummy cabbage and peas. 

Friday, 3 September 2010


Quite a few birthdays ago, I bought Ian a waffle maker.  We decided to invite my friend round for waffles (share the waffle love).  We'd also utilised the ice cream maker that my friend got us for a housewarming gift so we had strawberry and vanilla ice cream to go on our waffles.  The waffle maker makes funny flower shaped waffles that you can pull apart to get 6 heart shaped waffles.  Their quite thin waffles, but yummy. 

As with the pancakes (which actually happened after this, just in case you're wondering), we had plenty of toppings.  For future reference, black treacle does not make a good topping. 

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Swap - Scavenger Hunt

My first ever swap was a scavenger hunt (you get a list of words and have to find something that fits each one) and I really enjoyed it so I was really pleased to see another hunt swap.  I received my package about a week before I'd even started thinking about mine (I'm a post partner assignment swapper as I like to really make it personalised, whereas some people have everything ready to send before partners are allocated).  

The seven categories this time round were: Red, Key, Flower, Fairytale, Animal, Something Sweet, and Profile Surprise.  

Above is my swap package - my partner included a small red notebook, a key necklace, a lovely pincushion covered in flowers, a card embellishment "WISH" as all fairytales start with one, some owl stickers (my favourite animal at the moment), some orange sweets (my favourite flavour!) and some measuring cups, which I somehow missed out of the picture, to help me cook the recipes in the edible New Orleans magazine she also included.  Totally fab package to receive - I'm probably going to hoard the owl stickers instead of using them because I love them so much.  

Here's a close up of the superb pin cushion - really good handiwork.

It took me a while to get my swap together - I had lots of ideas for some of the categories, but totally drew a blank for others.  Here is what I sent my partner.

Red - Cupcake toppers (I got carried away with my previous swap!)

Key - A MonKEY KEYring (see what I did there?)

Flower - I didn't take a picture of this, but I found some flower fairy colouring in sheets (difficult ones, not childrens ones) and as my partner likes flower fairies (and painting), I thought this would fit nicely. 

Fairytale - This was my experimental item - I found some fabric pens in town and decided to buy some hankies and add little fairytale pictures onto them.  I'm not great at drawing so Ian helped out with this one a bit, it was good fun to do and I think they turned out pretty good.  

Animal - my swap partner had owls and penguins listed in her favourite animals on her profile, and these card embellishments just jumped out at me.  

Something sweet - I added in some skittles as I was worried any chocolate would melt.

Profile surprise - I think I really caused myself problems with this one, because I made everything else fit with her profile so I was out of ideas.  I settled on some postcards from Birmingham (where I was staying when I sent out the swap) and included my rail tickets that I used to get to Birmingham as she likes things from the UK, so I hoped they'd be something she'd never gotten before.  

I'm pretty pleased with how my swap turned out - hopefully she will be too!