Monday, 30 March 2015

Now that I've got the hang of homemade flour tortillas, my trusty quesdillas have taken on a whole new level of awesome. I've blogged about them before, but since I've started making my own flour tortillas, they are even cheaper to make and still super tasty. They'd make great party snacks or packed lunches for little hands, plus the mini size means you can try out a bunch of different combinations without committing to one giant one.

What are your favourite quesadilla fillings? I recently tried putting avocado and small little gem lettuce leaves in them. Hot avocado and lettuce might seem slightly bizarre, but cooked lettuce is actually one of my favourite things - see three ways with little gem lettuce here - and it adds a surprising freshness and slight crunch. Try it for yourself!


Friday, 27 March 2015

I've professed my love for Zara Kids before, but it turns out their children's home department is pretty awesome too!

It might not be to everyone's taste, but there's a nice mixture of soft grey hues and colour pop accents, without too much emphasis on the usual pink and blue. Perfect for everyone from newborns to golden oldies! I've got my eye on a couple of pieces below - I just wish the coral quilt came in king size!

{clockwise: 1, 2, 3, 4}

COOKBOOK CHALLENGE: deliciously ella's lentil bolognese

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

I had this post saved for another day, but seeing as it's #meatfreeweek (missed the memo on that one when I posted those gyozas on Monday!), I thought I'd share this easy meat-free recipe.

I've been a big fan of the Deliciously Ella blog since its early days and I picked up the book recently on a bit of an Amazon spree. I've never been a fan of books which don't show a picture of every dish, but saying that, the lentil bolognese really stood out to me even though I had no idea what it would like.

At first I was sceptical because the recipe is SO simple and I was surprised at the short ingredient list and lack of herbs, but rest assured it is absolutely delicious; warming, hearty and somehow tastes like a real, meaty bolognese. My boyfriend went back for thirds and fourths, which is really saying something, as he loves his meat!

The ingredients measurements didn't quite match up for me, and I've heard from other people as well that her recipes make absolutely gigantic portions.

Ingredients for 4 (book)
3 large carrots
175g sun-dried tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
2 tubes of tomato puree (400g)
2 1/2 mugs green lentils (500g)
450ml boiling water
Salt and pepper

I intended to make half a batch, but I found that the water to lentil ratio didn't seem right as I was cooking, so the only thing I ended up halving was the lentils themselves. The idea of putting 2 whole tubes of tomato puree didn't seem right to me either, so below are the adjusted ingredients I used.

Ingredients for 4* (my adjustments)
2 large carrots
1/2 an onion
100g sun-dried tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato puree
250g dried green lentils (follow the packet instructions, but I didn't soak mine)
600ml boiling water
Salt and pepper

Start by peeling and grating the carrots using the coarse side of your grater. Chop the sun-dried tomatoes into small pieces and finely dice the onion.

Add the grated carrot, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, diced onion and crushed garlic to a large saucepan with the tins of chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, lentils and the boiling water.

Stir everything together and then allow the mixture to simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring it every now and again as it cooks. If it looks too dry, add some more boiling water; if it looks too wet, turn the heat up for a bit to let some of the water boil away.

Ella serves the bolognese with gluten-free pasta, but I really like it with quinoa and a handful of spinach.

*Despite halving the lentils, I still ended up with loads. About 7 small portions, actually, when the quantities I used should have yielded about two or three. Because I was eating this for a light lunch, though, it's probably equivalent to about 4 servings. Luckily, the whole thing was absolutely delicious, as simple to make as it sounds and tasted wonderful, so I really didn't mind having it for lunch three days running or popping an extra batch in the freezer for a later date (it freezes beautifully!). I'm looking forward to trying some more of the recipes in the book, but I think I'll be reducing the measurements quite significantly next time!

FRUGAL RECIPES: homemade gyoza

Monday, 23 March 2015

Homemade gyozas might seem like a daunting feat, but they are so easy, not to mention insanely cheap and tasty too. It's quite easy to find pre-made dumpling wrappers in the frozen section of any Asian supermarket, but if you can't get your hand on them you can use this recipe to make your own.

To make around 70 dumplings (!!):
2 packets of dumpling wrappers (numbers might vary depending on the brand)
290g minced pork
1 tbsp each of soy sauce, sake/rice wine and sesame oil
Handful of spring onions
1 garlic clove
Small piece of fresh ginger
A few cabbage leaves
2 or 3 mushrooms

What you put in the filing is really up to you. Very finely chopped prawns are delicious, or you could replace the pork mince for turkey if you are particularly health-conscious. The vegetables are the same - you can add as many or as few as you like to bulk out your dumplings.

70 might seem like a lot, but I think we ate around 20 each and then froze the rest for a lazy evening meal (I'll explain how to freeze and cook from frozen at the end of the post).

Get your sous chef ;) to finely slice the vegetable you are using and mix them in a large bowl with the mince, along with a pinch of salt.

Here is the part which might seem daunting, but I promise it is so easy! You'll want to line up a little production line - it's handy to make these with another person, but not essential. You will need your bowl of filling, a teaspoon, a small cup of cold water and a tray or plate to lay out your finished dumplings.

Place a small teaspoon of filling in the centre of the dumpling wrapper, then dip your finger in the  water and trace around half of the rim of the paper. Fold the paper in half and gently press together the edges, making sure there aren't any air bubbles around the meat. You can create fancy pleats and ruffles, but you can also just keep them flat like mine.

Make sure you don't overfill the gyoza as  you don't want them to tear. If you have any filling leftover at the end, you could make them into meatballs and serve with rice and teriyaki sauce the following night.

To fry:
Heat up a good non-stick frying pan with a teaspoon of sunflower or sesame oil. When the pan is hot, place a few gyoza in the pan - make sure they aren't touching each other - and fry for 2-3 minutes or until the underside is golden brown (you can lift one up to check). Then pour in 100-200ml of water so that they cover the gyoza about halfway up. Pop a lid on the pan and cook for a further few minutes, until the water has evaporated.

A handy tip, which I realised after we did the first batch in the pictures above, is to press the gyoza down with your fingers to create a flat base. It's much easier to cook them this way and you'll get more browned surface area.

To steam:
I would only recommend this if you have a tiered bamboo steamer, otherwise you will be waiting ages for all of the batches to be cooked. Put a sheet of baking paper in the bottom of each tier and pierce a few holes to let the steam come through. Put a wok on medium heat with about an inch of boiling water. Put the bamboo steamer on top and allow to steam for 12-15 minutes.

To boil:
Place gyoza in a pot of boiling water - be careful not to overcrowd them - and cook for 5-6 minutes. Drain or remove with a slotted spoon.

To serve:
My favourite thing about this meal is that we usually allow ourselves to have just gyoza - no vegetables, no side dishes. You can serve them with any dipping sauce you like, but I like to combine soy sauce with vinegar for a tangy dip. Heaven!

To freeze/cook from frozen:
Lay the gyoza, not touching, on a baking sheet and put in the freezer for a few hours. Once frozen, you can pop them all in a tupperware or bag in the freezer and they won't stick to each other. To cook from frozen, follow the frying instructions. Don't defrost them though or they will get soggy!

Once you get the hang of it (this was only our second attempt!), it's really easy and an hour's labour will impress your friends and family and stock your freezer for another instant meal too. The ingredients for this batch of dumplings cost around £5 (the dumpling wrappers should be between £1-2), which is the same price as one serving that you might get at a restaurant.

More frugal recipes.


Sunday, 22 March 2015
A dose of sinusitis knocked me out for the afternoon, but I always appreciate the golden glow we get in our flat around this time. Here's to lighter evenings and getting ready to face Monday!

READING LIST: children's books for adults

Friday, 20 March 2015

I had a story read to me by my parents every night when I was little (until I was too old to mention on the internet), so reading to my future children is something I'm really looking forward to. The little girls I babysit have such a huge collection of books and the smaller one, Rose, loves having a story read to her at bedtime.

I've found that there are actually quite a few books on her bookshelf that I've loved reading too, whether it's the clever illustrations or the surprisingly sophisticated jokes that have me amused. There's quite a trend right now for children's books that appeal to adults too and I think part of it is also down to parents wanting their children to be exposed to more than just the usual Disney-type offerings.

Home by Carson Ellis was featured on design*sponge and This Is London has quite a cult following - I think it only recently came back into print - and both of these books actually seem to be geared towards adults just as much as children. The Olivia books have great illustrations - though I admit I do find the pigs a little creepy - and Shackleton's Journey is more of an illustrated infographic-type book that my dad might just well get for his birthday next month!

What were your favourite story books as a child? I remember We're Going On A Bear Hunt being a favourite of both my parents, though I wasn't all that keen - the Beatrix Potter books, however, always captured my imagination.


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Last weekend I caught the train up to Liverpool (2 hours from London, people!) to visit my friend Sophie. It's the second time I've been up to see her and I have to say, Liverpool is fast becoming one of my favourite UK cities.

I caught the train on Saturday morning and arrived in time for lunch. Sophie and I met at uni when we were placed in the same apartment in halls and it's safe to say we did a lot of culinary exploration in our first year. Sophie made us scotch eggs for lunch and my mind was completely blown! We caught up over lunch, then watched a few addictive episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (the theme tune is so catchy) before dragging ourselves up off the sofa to do a little exploring.

One of the things I love about Liverpool is how much art and culture there is! Before I visited the first time, all I knew about it was the Beatles and the Scouse brow, but there are always exhibitions on and there's loads of street art. Those stone suitcases we passed on Hope Street (in the bottom row of pictures) were carved with names of all the famous Liverpudlians through history - and there's a lot!

Stroll down to the Albert Dock, the home of Tate Liverpool, plus a bunch of bars, restaurants and an amazing view where the Mersey meets the sea.
Stop in at The Bluecoat gallery. The current exhibition on Listening features film, installation and photographs.
Order cinnamon courgette cake at The Cow & Co Cafe and buy the cute fair-trade crockery that everything is served on.
Sample tequila cocktails downstairs at Lucha Libre before heading up to the restaurant for an awesome street food platter.
Wrap up warm and try the craft beers at The Kazimier Garden for a more low-key experience of Liverpool's famous nightlife.
Get up on Sunday morning for a belly-busting brunch at The Quarter.
Admire Liverpool Cathedral, the UK's largest cathedral. Built in the 1970s, yet honouring traditional architecture, there's even a Tracey Emin inside!

See you soon, Liverpool!


Monday, 16 March 2015

There are some weekends that seem to whizz by in the blink of an eye and some that have a lovely way of lingering so you can get around to doing those indulgent things you don't always get a chance to do.  I can't figure out if doing nothing or doing lots makes the weekend last longer...I don't think it really matters - time has its own agenda! The other weekend was generously long. I picked up flowers on my way home on Friday, enjoyed a takeaway with my boyfriend, met up with sweet friends on Saturday for lunch and a dog walk, played model for a practice photoshoot, enjoyed a couple of glasses of prosecco and more than a couple of huge slices of pizza...squeezed in photographing a blog post before breakfast and a Nike workout on Sunday morning and still had the whole of Sunday afternoon to line up a few weeks of blog posts, rearrange the flat and make this beautiful carrot cake (I substituted sultanas for pecans, fyi). More weekends like this, please!


Friday, 13 March 2015

I've been thinking about putting together a couple of money saving tips for a while, so here are a few of my favourite ways for putting ideas into action (rather than just spending less money). I don't want anyone to take these the wrong way - saving is hard! - but my motto has always been 'start small', so here we go...

1. What's important to you? Figuring out why you want to save money is the impetus to actually do it. I have two savings accounts - one is a tax-free ISA which I treat as a long term savings plan for...well who knows what, but I won't touch that one until I really need it. My other savings account is my 'extras fund': this one is for holidays and purchases that are out of the ordinary, like a winter coat or Christmas presents.

2. Save first. This is probably the number one tip that has helped me. I put money into my 'extras fund' and my ISA on payday. No excuses! Now it's a reflex to transfer money straight into my savings when I get paid: once the money is out of my current account, I treat it as if it doesn't exist anymore. If I want to meet a friend for lunch but I've run out of money, I won't go until I get paid again.

3. Be realistic. I try and put a certain amount into each account every month, but if I know that my friend is visiting and we'll be going out a few times or that I need some new clothes I'll put less into my savings. I'd rather be upfront with how much I can afford to save than be tempted to dip into it later in the month - sometimes I save £10. Sometimes it's nothing. Likewise, if I'm hoping to book a holiday soon, I'll up the amount and keep it safe in my 'extras fund' until I'm ready to spend it.

4. There's no such thing as 'too little'. Since I was old enough to take charge of my piggy bank and 20p pocket money, my dad has stressed the power of compound interest. Put simply, compound interest is the number one way that your money will grow if you put it into savings (without going into grownup things like stocks and shares). If you have £100 in a 1.5% interest account, next year you will have £101.5. Then, the 1.5% will be applied to the new total (as long as you keep it in the account) and year-on-year it will keep building. I know it doesn't sound like much, but over time it makes a big difference.

5. Start small. I read this clever tip in Glamour Magazine and thought it was a really good idea for the type of person who can live comfortably once their rent and bills have been paid for. If the thought of putting £50 into a savings pot at the start of the month is too much, but you're the type of person who buys a coffee every day or regularly takes taxis home instead of the bus, try this: set up a daily direct debit of £3 to go into your savings. The amount is small enough that you won't notice it, though you might need to cut out those coffees towards the end of the month, but you'll end up saving around £1080 by the end of a year and the direct debit means you don't have to think about it, it will just keep ticking over in the background.

I would love to know any of your tips, whether you're saving for a holiday or 'just because'.

{image is another one from Zoe's amazing Wise Words pinterest board}

BREAKFAST BURRITOS w/ homemade tortillas

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Breakfast burritos have become my unintentional signature dish. We eat them a lot and I didn't realise that I talk about them quite a lot too until a friend pointed out I'd mentioned them every time I'd seen her recently!

One of my early blog posts was a breakfast burrito bar for a cheap, end-of-the-month get together and my favoured ingredients are still pretty much the same, except now I make my own flour tortillas too!

This recipe is straight from BBC Good Food, a website I use A LOT, especially for the basics. Darren and I tried out a bunch of different recipes, but this is the one that works the best, so I wouldn't change a thing! To make these smaller tortillas, I halved the measurements on the website, which gave me 12 side plate-sized tortillas.

12 small tortillas:
200g self-raising flour
1/4 tsp salt
150ml warm water
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil

Mix the olive oil in with the water in a jug and then pour over the flour and salt. Gently mix with a spoon - it might seem like it's not going to come together in a dough, but it does. Once the dough is mostly combined, turn out onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes until the dough is soft and elastic.

To get equal sized tortillas, the best thing to do is roll your dough out into a sausage shape, cut it in half and then cut each half in half and continue until you have 12 equally-sized balls. Generously flour your worktop and then squash a ball with your palm before rolling it out - this seems to be the best way to keep them round. Turning often while you are rolling also helps to keep the circular shape, though no one will ever say 'no thank you' to a slightly square tortilla, if that's what happens to yours.

Once you get the hang of it, it's really quite quick and there is something very satisfying in making your own, not to mention the fact that it probably costs less than 10p to make a big stack and you will almost always have the ingredients on hand.

You will need a really good non-stick pan which is piping hot and splashed with a little bit of sunflower oil. The tortilla should start to puff up a little bit, but your first few might not do this if the pan isn't hot enough. Have a look at the underside and when it's starting to get brown spots (a minute or 2), then flip and brown the other side.

Prep your fillings - I like a couple of leaves of gem lettuce, some halved cherry tomatoes, avocado, grated cheddar cheese, a fried egg and some sweetcorn. Plus lots of tabasco and coriander to serve. A little trick I like for the sweetcorn is to fry it in butter along with the egg and a few splashes of tabasco. It will get a slightly crisp, buttery edge and I'm all in favour of cooking everything in one pan.

These are lovely at any time of day and we've had them wrapped around spicy chicken with yoghurt sauce, as well as with our trusty pulled pork.


Monday, 9 March 2015
I don't want to jinx anything, but it kind of feels like spring is on its way. Last week was sunny and crisp but still cold and then the weekend rolled around and it was just beautiful. Saturday involved an amazing lunch at the my gorgeous friend Siobhan's house followed by a couple of drinks with Darren at our local pub, which always signals the start of better weather for me (I'm not much of a winter drinker). 

I bought some pretty flowers on my way home from work to brighten up the flat a little, but these sweet little cherry blossoms were actually snipped off a tree from the park (sorry!). I made this post for my second instalment of Apartment Apothecary's #stylingtheseasons. It's fun to play around with things I already have in the house and I like switching things around every now and then.

We used to have beautiful bare plaster walls in our bedroom but after a debilitating bout of damp we decided a fresh coat of white was in order. I'm still getting used to it, but we did keep one of the walls the same...which I do quite like the look of!

Spring always feels so positive and these transitional periods when it's neither too hot nor too cold are definitely my favourite. Here's to spring!

WORDS TO LIVE BY: super duper

Friday, 6 March 2015
I have some exciting news…I got a new job! I'm staying at the same company, but I found out a few weeks ago that the girl in the role above me is leaving and my manager wanted to promote me, so of course I said yes. Day-to-day my job will be mostly the same, but I will also be managing four members of my team. I’ve been wanting this for a while so of course I’m excited, but I’m obviously a little nervous too.

So here’s where you guys come in! I’d love to hear about some of your work experiences – are you a manager? Do you have any tips for me? If you’re not a manager, what do you think makes a good one? What are some things your managers (past and present) have done that you found helpful…and maybe some things that haven’t been so helpful?

I’m really looking forward to taking this next step and hopefully I don’t have to go back on my word too much when it comes to this!

{image from Zoe's amazing Wise Words pinterest board}


Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Have you ever been stung with charges for ordering items from US sellers? Unfortunately customs charges are part and parcel (hoho) of online shopping, but I've done a little digging to clear up any confusion over what you get charged for and how to avoid some of these costs when you are living in the UK.

Import duty
Orders with a value of £135 or over will incur import duty, which is a percentage of the value of the product. You can work out what you charge will be using this calculator. Orders under £135 will not incur an import duty charge so if a website offers free shipping to the UK, it's worth splitting large orders into two (or more!) separate purchases if you can. Some items, such as books and computers are duty free - you can look up prospective purchases with the Duty Calculator's lookup tool. It's also worth keeping in mind that import duty is calculated on the total value of the package, so postage costs and insurance will also add to the order value. 

VAT charges
VAT is payable on gifts over the value of £35 and other goods (commercial transactions such as online orders) over the value of £15, plus tobacco, alcohol and perfumes of any value. VAT currently stands at 20%, and this is payable on the value of the order plus any import duties you have had to pay. 

Handling fee
Sneaky Royal Mail also charge £8 on any orders you receive that incur import duty or VAT and you will have to pay this before they will release your parcel. If the vendor is using another shipping company like DHL or FedEx, make sure to check what their policy is on this.

Just a note: it is illegal to undervalue a package and you could be liable for a fine if you are found out!

STYLE CRUSH: sienna miller

Monday, 2 March 2015

I don't know if this is a style crush or just all-out obsession, but I've pinned so many pictures of Sienna Miller to my private Pinterest board lately, I figured I should try and figure out what has me so googly-eyed over every picture of her! It's part of my job to know what celebrities are wearing and she's been doing the awards show rounds this year with some seriously killer style - her new choppy bob gives me hair envy every time I log into my computer and I'm taking notes to emulate her updated boho aesthetic.

Perfectly undone - whether she's on the red carpet or dressed down in a pair of jeans, she nails that pretty-'but not perfect'-look. Off-duty, she looks dishevelled, yet still cool, thanks to glossy hair and statement accessories. Yet in a red carpet gown, she keeps hair simple and make-up minimal to keep the overall feel relaxed and carefree. 

Cute crop - when I think of Sienna Miller I always picture long, messy locks or '60s-style bouffants from the Aflie era, but it turns out she's no stranger to the bob either. Her new style is sideswept and shorter and I wish I could pull it off, but I just don't have the cheek bones for it. I had a similar cut to the one on the left about 18 months go and my hair is finally back to mermaid lengths - I think I might try a glossy mid-length cut like the photo at the top of the post instead, though.

New boho - I'm pretty sure Sienna Miller kickstarted the boho trend when she was papped on the arm of Jude Law wearing peasant tops, denim cut-offs and cowboy boots back in the Noughties. I still love that relaxed vibe, with floppy brim hats and delicate gold jewellery. Her new look is more grown-up and fashion-forward, but pretty floral embroidery, textured fabric and that choppy 'do give her signature style a modern kick up the bum.

On my shopping list: shrunken denim biker jacket, little red handbag and a long, layered bob haircut.