Friday, 26 June 2015

I keep going back and forth between opening a made-to-order cake business or not, so I recently purchased a load of shiny new tins and I've been testing different recipes. These mini lemon cakes just use my easy lemon drizzle recipe, with a blackberry popped into the batter before going in the oven, but using a friand pan to create mini, individual cakes makes them that little bit more special, don't you think? I realise that these pictures are basically all the same...but choosing your favourite cake picture is like choosing between a little of puppies, am I right (not really...but sort of).


Weigh 3 (cracked) free-range eggs – the weight in grams dictates the quantities of the other ingredients, so a set of electric scales is useful for this. Whatever the eggs weigh, you will use the same number in grams of self-raising flour, butter and caster sugar - capiche?

If your eggs weigh 150g (the approximate weight of 3 medium-sized eggs), your recipe will be:

3 free-range eggs
150g self-raising flour
150g softened butter
150g caster sugar
Juice and zest of 2 un-waxed lemons
A few tablespoons of caster sugar

Heat the oven to 180C/356F/gas mark 4. Mix together the butter and sugar – you can use a hand-mixer, but a good old wooden spoon is my tool of choice. Add the flour and eggs and mix until you get a smooth, thick batter. Add the lemon zest and the juice of half a lemon.

Grease a round cake tin with butter or line a muffin tray with paper cases. I used a friand pan to make these cute mini cakes and put about a tablespoon into each case – this recipe makes about 12 to 15 small cakes. Press a blackberry – or blueberry, raspberry, etc. – into the top of each cake.
For a cake tin, bake for about 30 – 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. My mini cakes took between 15 – 20 minutes.

While the cakes are still in their tin, mix together the remaining lemon juice and caster sugar, prick the cakes all over with a toothpick and pour the syrup over the top. Leave for at least 10 minutes to cool slightly in the tin.

These are amazing warm with a dollop of cream, but also deliciously moist once cooled and will keep for a few days in an airtight container.


Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Last Tuesday I went to a flower workshop with The Flower Appreciation Society and it was THE BEST EVENING EVER. The sun was shining at Ellie and Anna's Hackney studio which is the cutest workshop filled to the brim with pickle jars, swan vases, crazy props from their studio-mate and flowers, of course. The tables were filled with huge jars of flowers, ready to be arranged into the haphazard style of my favourite floral duo and after a quick introduction and a whistle stop tour of the basics, we got stuck in.

Ellie and Anna make it look SO easy but it definitely takes a lot of practice! Within the first few minutes I had cramp in my hand and had to start again a few times, but it was so much fun and the other girls in the group of 24 were all lovely and chatty. I made a beeline for my jar after spotting that incredible peach rose in the pictures above. The workshop was themed around British Flowers Week so all the flowers came from UK growers and smelled incredible. I've never smelt anything like it! My bouquet is still going strong and I'm so smitten with it I've been bringing it around the house with me so I can look at it when I'm eating breakfast, watching telly or drifting off to sleep.

The workshop perfectly coincided with the launch of The Flower Appreciation Society: An A to Z of All Things Floral. From how to tie a bridal bouquet and favourite filler flowers to quick interviews with Ellie and Anna's regular market stallholders, I would really recommend it if you have any interest in flowers or cool illustrations (everything is illustrated by Anna!).

Workshops pop up on their site from time to time and you can book them for a hen do flower crown workshop too. The cost of my workshop was £35, which covered all materials, a jar to take them home with and a glass of wine too! You'd pay the same for a bouquet from a florist and I think this is prettier than anything I've ever seen before.


Monday, 22 June 2015

Leftovers are probably my favourite thing about cooking; I usually cook extra on purpose so that I can have leftovers the next day, and it's probably the best way of keeping our weekly food budget down. My favourite thing about leftovers is the way you can transform last night's dinner into something different to eat the next day, so you don't feel like you're munching on the same thing over and over again. Here are my favourite tips for loving your leftovers:

In my opinion, everything tastes better with an egg on it. Whether boiled or fried, a lovely free range egg can turn a plate of leftover vegetables into a hearty hot supper. Likewise, putting your leftovers in an egg works well too - I love folding leftover chopped salsa into a spicy Bombay omelette.

If you've made a curry or stew, add stock the next day to turn it into a soup. This works really well for Asian dishes and even last night's takeaway! Just add a little boiling water or stock and throw in a handful of rice noodles if you don't have any rice left. I like taking tupperware pots of curry to work and adding water before microwaving.

Always, always make extras. I find slow cooked sauces often taste better the next day when they've had a chance to infuse overnight. If you can't face eating the same packed lunch every day for a week, freeze into individual portions to be used in emergencies to stop you reaching for supermarket ready meals.

I think some people throw away extra food because they just don't want to eat the same thing two days in a row. If you don't fancy the idea of the same dinner two days running, think about how you can turn it on its head. Leftover roast chicken becomes fajitas, pie filling or stir fry fodder or you could try noodles or rice wrapped up in lettuce leaves with lots of lovely herbs and chilli sauce.

My go-to leftovers recipes: 
A frittata, of course, which tastes perfect hot or cold
Bon Appetit's chicken khao soi to take to work as a noodle pot the next day
My easy meatballs or Deliciously Ella's lentil bolognese to fill the freezer
Pulled pork, to be made into wraps, salads, sandwiches and more
The easiest pilau rice (definitely put an egg on it!)
Siobhan's butternut squash soup - super fresh with lots of lime
Jamie Oliver's veggie chilli with plenty of coriander and an avocado

WORDS TO LIVE BY: heck yes

Friday, 19 June 2015

Are you a 'yes' person? My friend Che lent me a book called The Luck Factor, a scientific study into why some people are 'luckier' than others. Well, my friends, I definitely think it's worth a read! I don't know if I'd go so far as to say it's a self-help book or that it's an instant cure for unlucky types, but I have to say it was certainly interesting.

The author's premise is that being lucky is a personality type and that people who are perceived to be lucky are people who lead more open lives - open to new experiences, open to taking risks and open to meeting people and broadening their horizons. I found myself nodding along as I read, mostly because I feel like I already lead my life in the way that Wiseman suggests enhances luck and, yes, I do think I've been lucky. What I think the book really aims to do is lead the reader to believe that they can change their luck and he really puts the onus on the readers to do it for themselves. Taking charge of the things you aren't happy and taking things into your own hands means you can change your perception of luck and instead of forever lamenting other people for being lucky or believe that things come easily to others, you can take ownership of your direction.

I know this is all starting to sound a bit preachy but I suppose what I'm trying to say is that saying 'yes' is the first step to making a change. Whether it's yes to trying something new for breakfast, yes to going out of your way to help someone or yes to applying for a job that scares's a word we could all be using a little bit more. What will you say yes to this weekend?


Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Darren and I just booked flights to go to Japan in September and I'm starting to get unbelievably excited! I was a little hesitant at first - we would have to save a lot of money to go and really do all of the things that we want to do, and I was being grumpy thinking of the beach holiday we could be enjoying for half the price. I have a slightly strange relationship with Japan, having lived in Tokyo for 4 years, and it wasn't somewhere I was jumping to visit again, but after getting a great deal on flights (shout out to Turkish Airlines!) and finding some really nice, reasonably-priced Airbnb apartments, I've definitely warmed to the idea and all it takes to get super excited is to think about all the amazing food we're going to eat because, let's face it, my holiday choices are always driven by my appetite.

The trip feels extra special because I have a couple of friends living over there - I don't get to see them very often (obviously) and they'll be great tour guides so we can properly experience things like locals. One of the weekends we are there is a public holiday so we might even rent a beach house for a few days - can you believe that picture above is only a few hours from Tokyo?

Have you been to Japan before? We are pretty sorted in terms of things we want to do in Tokyo, where we'll probably spend most of our time, but we will be away for 2 1/2 weeks in total which gives us plenty of time to explore a little bit further afield as well. We're hoping to spend a few days in Kyoto and also a night in a traditional ryokan, but I'd love to know if anyone has any more suggestions for towns and cities to visit. Please link if you have any blog posts to share!

{images via Pinterest}


Monday, 15 June 2015

This lunch idea combines the best of three worlds - protein, greens and delicious, delicious carbs. It's the perfect balance of healthy and satisfying on those days when you just really want some bread. Packed with avocado and a quick 30-second omelette for a protein boost, plus a smear of pesto, crunchy courgette and soft white bread, I would happily eat this every day of the week without feeling guilty.

To make 2 sandwiches:
4 slices thick, crusty white bread
1 avocado
2 tablespoons homemade pesto with a squeeze of lime
1 courgette, julienned with a julienne peeler or finely sliced into matchsticks
A small handful of lettuce leaves
2 - 3 eggs

First, lay out the slices of bread and spread one side with pesto and the other side with mashed or sliced avocado. Lay the courgette slivers over the avocado and the lettuce leaves on the pesto side.

For the omelettes, heat up a non-stick pan with a small knob of butter until the butter starts to gently foam. Crack the eggs into a jug and beat with a fork until the whites and yokes are combined. Pour into the hot pan and cook for 30 seconds a la Julia Childs, gently moving the pan back and forth flat over the heat until the eggs start to come together. Flip the omelette in the pan or use a spatula if you need to and then shake out onto a plate. Fold in two, turn out of the pan, cut in half and lay it on one side of the sandwich.

Then close the sandwich, cut in half and you're good to go! If anyone has a toastie machine, please make this into toasted sandwich and let me know how it turns out. I bet it would be uh-may-zing. Next time, I'm adding cheese!


Friday, 12 June 2015

May completely ran away with me so I wanted to make sure I got something up for Styling The Seasons before June disappeared too! This month started off a bit higgledy piggledy. Our kitchen is in a bit of a mess; Darren started some tiling and had to stop halfway through ...such is life when you live with a builder! With clutter on the work surfaces and everything everywhere it shouldn't be, I took a few minutes to arrange an indulgent red shelf that's the first thing I see when I walk in, which helps to avert my eyes for at least a few seconds!

The West Elm plate and Anthropologie deer vase are oldies but goodies, the Chinese tray was a souvenir from Malaysia and the tulips were a present to myself to celebrate the sunshine.

This weekend I hope the tiling will get done! We're heading to IKEA to get a few bits and bobs like a new sofa cover (essential) and a fiddle leaf fig (less so) and I think there'll be some baking on the cards too! How about you?


Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Get asked to bring food to a party or picnic but don't know what to make? These two easy-peasy recipes are just the thing; they keep well and are easy to transport, taste good and both can be made in under 30 minutes flat (if you're focused about it!). It's a little embarrassing that I'm posting my third frittata recipe, but seriously, if it ain't broke...

For the Greek salad
Cherry tomatoes
Red onions/shallots
Lemon juice

Finely chop the onions and layer in the bottom of a bowl with a large pinch of salt and a good squeeze of lemon juice to soften them slightly and take away some of the sharpness - onion breath is a party no-go! Finely chop the rest of the ingredients. If you are making the salad a few days ahead, layer the ingredients - onions at the bottom, cucumber next, tomatoes next and so on - and leave out the cheese. On the day, mix everything together and crumble in the feta.

For the frittata
Large head of broccoli
Olive oil
9 eggs

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Finely slice the garlic and fry on a low heat in the olive oil, being careful not to let it brown. Tip in the broccoli and sauté for a few minutes until tender - you can add a few tablespoons of water to the pan to help the process along and steam the broccoli if it's in danger of getting charred.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs with a dash of water or milk. Line a medium-sized baking tray with foil, tip in the broccoli and pour over the egg mixture.

Bake for 15 minutes and check by putting a skewer through (like a cake) to check if the eggs have set. If there is still any movement or the skewer doesn't come out clean, bake for a further 5 minutes and check.

Allow to cool, lift out of the tray and cut into squares.


Monday, 8 June 2015

My cousin, who had been living with us since September last year, moved out a few weeks ago and finally, after three years or house sharing, Darren and I have the whole place to ourselves! I've been in crazy nesting mode and it's been so nice to air out the flat. The weirdest thing that I've been happiest about isn't one less person vying for the bathroom, late night homecomings or piles of washing up (because my cousin turned out to be the dream housemate), it's the fact that we can leave the spare room door open all the time; it really makes the house feel more welcoming and much brighter. The spare room gets the best light and it streams through the flat, which makes a huge difference to the long hallway - ignore the machine in the pictures above, a reminder that even behind every blogger there is still a mess lurking in every corner of the house!

After being knocked out over the weekend with a bout of hay fever, I'm so grateful for home comforts and the place I get to call home. 

CELEBRATING SUMMER: two ways with stone fruit

Friday, 5 June 2015

Will I jinx it if I say it finally feels like summer? Well, it does! With warmer weather and longer evenings (which makes it SO much easier to take food pictures - have you noticed more food posts than usual?) comes al fresco dining. If I had a garden I would be out there every night of the week, but as it happens I just have a tiny balcony with space for two at a squeeze (one when the deck chair comes out!)

To celebrate the start of summer, I've turned two of my favourite recipes on their heads, giving a new lease of life to sangria and bruschetta using the gorgeous stone fruit that is currently in season. Peaches, nectarines and apricots are my jam, and these recipes perfectly showcase two of the best - peaches and nectarines.

For the white sangria
3 parts white wine
1 part lemonade/soda water
2 quartered peaches
Handful of mint
Half an orange, sliced

Anything goes with this recipe and you can adjust the quantities to suit your taste, but three parts wine to one part mixer is just right for me. Previously I wasn't much of a wine drinker, but now I've discovered that white wines described as having stone fruit or tropical flavours are just right for me - crisp without being too dry. I had the Wollemi chardonnay on the tables at my 21st birthday; I picked it up for super cheap, but even at full price it's still inexpensive, which is ideal for a recipe like this. 

In a jug, mix the wine with the fruit and mint, cover and chill in the fridge for at least an hour. I let mine sit overnight - it ended up being a little cloudy due to the fruit breaking down, but definitely added an extra layer of flavour. Before serving, fill with ice and top up with soda water or lemonade depending on how sweet you would like it.

For the bruschetta
Loaf of crusty white bread
Handful of basil leaves
Balsamic vinegar for drizzling
Prosciutto/parma ham

Heat up a griddle pan or turn on the grill, slice the bread, brush with olive oil and grill or griddle until crisp. 

Meanwhile, chop the fruit and tear the mozzarella. Assemble on the toasted bread and serve with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

This makes a great recipe for a party - you could use smaller rounds of baguette to create two-bite canapés or if you're pushed for time, put together a board for everyone to build their own. My boyfriend whipped up the one below while I was taking pictures on the balcony. 

Sainsbury's very kindly provided a voucher to buy all of the ingredients used in these recipes, but all ideas, recipes and thoughts are very much my own.


Wednesday, 3 June 2015

My tips for writing a good CV seemed to go down well so I thought I would follow up with my favourite questions to ask in a job interview (which you'll hopefully get with your newly improved CV!).

What is the team like?
A job might be perfect on paper, but it's important to get a gauge of the working environment. Do the team socialise together? Do senior and junior members interact much with each other? Do they organise things together outside of work? Likewise, it might be important to you that work is kept separate from your life outside work, so tailor your questions accordingly.

Why are you recruiting for this role?
The job you're going for might be a newly-created opening - good news, as it shows the team/company is grown - or you might want to find out why the previous employee is moving on. Is there opportunity for progression? How long was the person before you in the job for? If they weren't there for very long, ask why.

Is there anything about my CV/experience that concerns you?
Giving the interviewer a chance to critique you or raise any concerns they have about your capabilities gives you the chance to put their mind at ease and to explain that either you have the skills or that you are a quick learner and it's something you want to add to your skill set. This is my favourite question and I think interviewers are often surprised by it; it shows you can take criticism and that you are willing to work on anything that they might be worried about.

What benefits do you offer?
Asking about benefits doesn't have to be a 'greedy' question. Particularly when it comes to pensions and travel schemes, showing an interest in long-term benefits shows a commitment to the role and an interest in your future within the company. It's also a good bargaining tool; the perks aren't great but you like the job, it might be a good way to ask for more money when it comes to talking salary.

Can you describe a typical day?
I've left so many job interviews excited about a job, only to realise that I don't actually know what the day-to-day role involves and I'm unsure about exactly what I might be doing. This is a good way to find out if the position is very structured or if it's a bit more fluid - different things work for different people - and to really find out if you actually want the job.

I hope these questions are helpful and something you might refer back to in the future, should the opportunity arise. Of course, there are plenty of other things you can ask, but these are the questions that really stand out for me from both sides of the recruitment process.

And most importantly…good luck, have fun and show them the real you; don’t just say the things you think they want you to say, make them want you for the things you think are worth saying.

READING LIST: 2015 so far

Monday, 1 June 2015

It's been a while since I did a reading list round-up - I wanted to do a quarterly one, but where has 2015 gone!? Here are the books I've loved reading in the first six months of the year:

Capital by John Lancaster - I read this book for Blook Club and loved it. It follows a series of mysterious occurrences on a typical street in London, with the stories of all the different residents unfolding through the book. I've always had a soft spot for books and films where all the threads come together and the book is set in my area, so it's quite fun seeing roads you know come up in print.

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey - The author somehow gets completely into the mindset of an elderly woman in such a distinctive way, despite only being 30 herself. I was expecting this book to be quite humorous, but I was touched by her writing, captivated by the two different stories of past and present and found myself getting quite upset thinking about my own elderly grandparents and the confusion of getting older, with or without dementia. 

I'll Have What She's Having by Rebecca Harrington - More a series of (witty) essays than a book, Rebecca tries every faddy celebrity diet out there, with mostly dire results. This is a really easy read and would be great to dip in and out of on a daily commute.

New cookbooks - I have a slight addiction to buying cookbooks and earlier this year invested in a few healthy-eating options via Deliciously Ella, Hemsley + Hemsley and Sarah Wilson. You can read all about them here.

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper by Fuchsia Dunlop - I probably read this once a year (sometimes twice!). It's one of my favourite food memoirs of all time - you can read about it, and my other favourites in the first reading list I ever did - and made its first outing of the year a few weeks ago.