Portable Breakfasts

This month, Mr W and I spent a few days in Cambridge to celebrate our two year wedding anniversary (the time has flew by). Usually, we would book into a B&B but this time we were room only which meant finding somewhere to eat. Mr W did a little research and found some good reviews for a little cafe tucked away in the centre. Although the breakfast menu was a little limited (only about four options and the closest to a cooked breakfast was toast) Mr W was happy to try it. Boy we were glad. We enjoyed it that much that we went for breakfast again the next day. As Mr W put it, you don’t want to finish a holiday going somewhere new for breakfast and potentially be disappointed when we can go back to somewhere we really enjoyed.

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Mr W decided on the fruit compote, natural yogurt and granola whilst I tried the apple bircher muesli. Although I have made my own takes on bircher at home, I’ve never bought one and was intrigued as to what the consistency was going to be like. I’ve followed recipes where these has been way too much liquid (think an island of oats surrounded by a sea of milk) or quite dry. For me, this one had the moist texture I like when I make it. It was a combination of oats, grated apple, raisins, cinnamon and topped with some fresh fruit. Mr W’s was strawberry compote layered with banana, natural yogurt and topped with a soft, flapjack like granola. I think it was the flapjack granola that sealed the deal for Mr W. For those ever in Cambridge, head to Stickybeaks Cafe (for this breakfast), the Pint Shop (try the homemade scotch egg), the Free Press (quirky little pub), Jack’s Gelato (always room for ice cream) and Meat and Bread (amazing sandwiches and tasty sounding brownies).

When we got home, I made my version of the yogurt and fruit jam jar breakfast. First up I mashed some fresh strawberries with some honey, chia seeds and cinnamon. This was to get a soft compote like texture which still had some structure to it to prevent it seeping into the yogurt. So, I put a layer of the strawberry compote in the bottom of two jam jars , topped this with a layer of sliced banana and then a layer of natural yogurt. I then repeated the layering so that there were two layers of each. I then topped with some Graze strawberry yogurt protein topper. This has a mix of small toasted oats, freeze dried strawberries and crispy yogurt balls. I did the layering the night before and stored in the fridge overnight. In the morning I then added the protein topper so that it still retained it’s crunch. You could always top it with shop bought or homemade granola or use a different fruit for the compote. I can imagine stewed apples would be nice for autumn. My version got the thumbs up from Mr W.

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The serving of the bircher and yogurt pots in jam jars got me thinking that I could make similar things for breakfast to take to work. Recently I seem to be rushing in the morning and don’t get t enjoy my breakfast. My thoughts were that I could prepare the breakfast the night before and divide into two jam jars and that would be two day’s of breakfasts sorted. So, over the last two weeks I have had a portable jam jar breakfast for eight mornings and have tried three different recipes. My favourite (the one I repeated) was one that I found in a Madeline Shaw cookbook that I adapted slightly. When I initially saw it, it reminded me of the one I had in Cambridge. In the recipe, the amount of oats stated is a little too much for me. I also made some slight changes the second time by not adding any honey or maple syrup as I found it sweet enough and adding some raisins to the bottom of each jar. So, the night before I mixed 100g oats with a grated apple, 250ml almond milk, 1/2 tsp cinnamon and some vanilla (I use a vanilla grinder as it gives the flecks of vanilla that I love). Get two jam jars or containers and add a spoonful of raisins to the bottom of each and divide the oat mixture between the two jars and keep in the fridge. The following morning I topped the bircher with some natural yogurt, blueberries and some Graze vanilla sunflower seeds (beware, these are addictive). Although it didn’t look as pretty by the time I transported in to work, it still tasted yummy. I kept the other jar in the fridge for 2 days before eating and it was still fine.

I also made a carrot bircher (another Madeline Shaw recipe) and a layered chia pudding. For me, these recipes still need a bit of tweaking, Although the carrot bircher was okay, the texture seemed a bit sloppy and it needs the addition of some raisins or nuts to give it a carrot cake vibe. The chia pudding wasn’t firm enough and by the time I got to work, the yogurt had mixed together with it. By slicing the strawberries, I seemed to make it more difficult to eat. A compote idea might work better. I have managed to find some other chia pudding recipes which I’m going to try this week. Chocolate and peanut butter…. As we are approaching summer, these jam jar breakfasts are a great replacements for hot porridge. Here’s to more flavour combinations!

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French Toast

Last week  was a lovely long weekend for me. Mr W had booked us a weekend away in the Lake District. I took advantage and booked the Friday off work (too many days and not enough time to use them). As Mr W was only off in the afternoon, I decided to treat myself to breakfast out. It did take some persuading from Mr W and my sister to actually get me to go. Plenty of food in the house, the weekend away was going to be full of food treats and the idea of sitting in a cafe on my own eating breakfast scared me. But, there was a new cafe that had recently opened I Prestwich that I did really want to try and when would I get the chance anytime soon? (Forgetting that I have a week off in a few weeks lol). That was me all geared up to go, hoping that I could go again with Mr W if I liked it.

On the way to the tram stop I called in to the shop to get a magazine so that I had something to do over breakfast. I then realised that the trams were cheaper after 9.30 (time check and it was 9.20) so cue long way round to tram stop and waiting with other people at the station for the time to change on the machines. I don’t even know if my fare was any cheaper but it made for a fun wait of commuters against the machine.

This cafe I wanted to try (All The Shapes) had come through on my Instagram feed a few weeks ago and the food looked yummy. A mooch at the menu had me drooling over breakfasts like homemade granola, toasted banana bread and sweetcorn fritters. On the walk over, I started to panic that I would be the only person in there (as it was hidden away off the main street) eating breakfast on my own. Talk about looking like a loner. But I didn’t need to worry, there were a few groups in there. It was only a small cafe and I managed to grab the last available table (okay, it was meant for four people…).20170203_100730

I am very indecisive when it comes to ordering food (Mr W and my family hate it. I sit there having an internal dilemma about it and over analyse all my options. It’s something I need to work on but it’s difficult. As much as I love food, I have an awkward relationship with it 😦 ) So, I asked the waiter what he would recommend which were the green eggs (sourdough, healthy greens, griddled avocado  and fried egg) or the cooked breakfast (filling but not greasy). I really wanted him to recommend the french toast so decided that must be what I wanted. French toast with griddled pineapple, mango and mascarpone. Now, I’ve never been been a big fan of french toast (bad experience of eggy bread growing up) but OMG, this was delicious. Whilst I was waiting for it, I was eyeing up the neighbouring tables green eggs with envy. But then when mine came out, they were envying mine. I was so glad that I went for that option, although now I need to go back with Mr W to try something else. I would never think of making french toast at home, but having tried this, it made me want to give it a go. 

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So, yesterday morning I decided to try a french toast recipe that doesn’t use egg. It’s a recipe from Madeline Shaw that I adapted slightly. Although Mr W likes eggs, he isn’t a fan of dishes like omelette or quiche because of the texture. I was worried that if I gave him eggy bread for breakfast he wouldn’t like it. Madeline’s recipe was a vegan friendly so used a mix of almond milk and chickpea flour instead of egg. It was easy to make and was hit with both me and Mr W. This is how I made it.

Serves 2

180ml skimmed milk

1tsp vanilla essence

2tbsp chickpea flour

1tsp cinnamon

4 thick slices sourdough

1/2 tbsp coconut oil

blueberries and strawberries

Pour the milk and vanilla essence into a baking dish and whisk together. Sieve in the chickpea flour and cinnamon and whisk together. Place the bread in the mixture and soak on each side for 2 minutes.

Whilst the bread was soaking I warmed the blueberries in a pan with a little bit of sugar, water and a teaspoon of cornflour to make a gloopy warm compote.

Heat the coconut oil in a large frying pan. Add the soaked bread and cook on each side for two minutes (turning over every one minute). This will give the coating a nice golden colour. Serve two slices of toast per person and top with the blueberry compote and sliced strawberries. Enjoy!

Live A Little

As much as I enjoy my meat free days, healthier recipes and exercise, I also love afternoon tea and meals out with friends and family. It’s not something I do all the time (although meals out are becoming a regular feature, I do try and make healthier choices as much as possible) but I do have those times where I want to indulge. This week has been one of those weeks.

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First up was a visit to a garden centre in the middle of nowhere with Mr W. A Facebook friend put up a picture of an afternoon tea here (near Clitheroe). It looked so cute, all presented on a mini picnic bench with flowerpot cakes and wellington boot milkshakes. Who couldn’t resist it? The menu changes on a regular basis (an excuse to go more than once) and has a theme. Mr W and I visited when they were doing there ‘Winter Wonderland Picnic’ menu. Although there were a couple of things that Mr W wanted to trade (cheese scone and chocolate milk) I said he needed to try them all as I wasn’t willing to part with any of mine. The funny thing being he enjoyed the cheese scone and I didn’t (FYI Mr W dislikes cheese and scones). Although when you looked at the menu, it sounded like a lot of food, they were miniature and wasn’t as over-facing as some afternoon teas can be. On offer was butternut squash and sage soup, cheese scone with red onion chutney, mini sausages and mash, chicken and stuffing sandwich, chocolate and marshmallow milkshake, mini blueberry muffin, Victoria sandwich cake, Bakewell slice and apple crumble with custard. Yum yum. Although we were a bit disappointed by the ‘garden centre’ the winter picnic and little food shop more than made up for it. Mr W has suggested we go back again in the summer when hopefully they will have more plants and a different afternoon tea menu. For anyone interested, Holden Clough Nursey.

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Next up was a catch up with the girls. It has become a bit of a tradition that we go out for food after work and take advantage of the January food offers in Manchester. We normally go to a restaurant that has 50% off but we decided this year we tried somewhere different. We decided on Bakerie, a small restaurant near Stevenson Square that prides itself on its selection of homemade breads. We shared food boards, numerous bread baskets and some bottles of wine. The bread baskets were difficult to resist and we all nearly ended up in carb induced comas, but it was worth it. We would love to go back and try some of the main meals (majority of these come with your choice of bread. BONUS!). We took advantage of their January offer of two food boards and a bottle wine for £25 and tried the fish, vegan and cheese boards. Not only do they do goof food and wine, they also offer bread making courses which we thought sounded interesting.

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Finally, a January Manchester event that Mr W has started to take a liking to is the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival. This is our third year of going and this year has probably been my favourite so far. 2015 was held at the Manchester Velodrome. Although it was a unique location, you were able to watch the cyclists training whilst enjoying the festival, it was poorly laid out and was a bit of a trek to get to. This year and last year have been at Manchester Central which, as the name suggests, is central located and all the areas are easy to access. Mr W and I normally take the afternoon off work and head over at lunchtime, staying until 5-6pm. This gives us time to get some food and try a number of the beers (or ciders in my case). We like the Friday afternoon as it is a little quieter and more of the beers/ciders are still available. It is a case of when its gone, its gone (which happened with three of Mr Ws beer choices). An improvement on this year was the food options. They had different street food vendors as opposed to the standard venue catering last year.This was one of the reasons that I decided to go again, the prospect of a fancy cheese toastie (mmm…Viva La Toastie was there and the recommendation of the chicken and pesto toastie gets a thumbs up from me). I sampled four different ciders and two stood out as favourites for me; Red Bank Autumn Orchard and Kent Spiced cider. I did try a gin spiced Perry but it got a bit sickly after a while, although it wasn’t as bad as a chilli cider I tried last year (serves me right for trying to be adventurous).

 

Melt in the Middle Pudding

This time last week I was coming back from my friend’s hen party in Valencia. It was a weekend of sun, food, drink and fun. On the first day we enjoyed a three course Italian late lunch. On the second night it was a tapas and wine night where we dressed the hen up in her ‘housewife’ outfit. On the third day, we used our very little Spanish to order takeaway sandwiches for the journey home (our greatest achievement lol).

 This weekend it was turn of the stag with a weekend away in Barcelona. Now, the only details I know of this are a craft ale tour and a football stadium tour. I think we got the better deal hehe. So I’m currently waiting for Mr W to fly home. Being the nice wife that I am, I have offered to pick him and my sister’s boyfriend up from the airport. Now, I agreed before I knew the details. Flight doesn’t land until 11:45pm!!! I’m normally in bed by 9:30pm. Boy, am I regretting my kind offer. To pass the time, I’m currently baking some ‘skinny’ chocolate muffins. They have been on my Pinterest board for so long that I figured I should probably give them ago.

Enough about now. With the boys away, my sister and I took advantage and had some sister time. This involved me cooking her meals (she requested healthy), watching films and making cocktails. To be fair, she did complete a charity 5km yesterday in the rain (well done sis and Beaky!!). So yesterday, I decided to try her on a cauliflower pizza (yes, you’ve read that correctly). Now, Mr W and I have had these in the past but I found the recipe we used to heavy. It used ground almonds which gave it a denser texture but was also a bit stodgy. The recipe I followed last night was from ‘The Body Bible – Clean Eating Alice’ which didn’t use any flour or substitutes. It’s basically cooked cauliflower that’s blitzed down and mixed with egg and Parmesan. Although this made for a softer base, I thought it was a lot tastier than the previous recipe I followed. Don’t get me wrong, cauliflower pizza are never going to be the same as an actual pizza. You will never be able to trick someone into thinking it was. But it is a tasty alternative that doesn’t leave you feeling ‘heavy full’. It was definitely a hit with us.

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As the blog name suggests, we did indulge in a sweet treat. It’s all about balance and moderation. This pudding has been on the card for months, and has been booked in for this weekend since finding out when the stag do was. My sister sent me the link on Instagram. It’s a Peanut Butter Melt In the Middle Chocolate Pudding!!!

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This was my first attempt at a melt in the middle pudding (never mind a peanut butter one) and it was a lot easier to make than I thought. The recipe I found served 4 so I had to adapt it to make a serves 2. Mr W doesn’t like peanut butter and my sister’s boyfriend isn’t a big dessert lover. Seemed the perfect time to try them. After seeing this pudding be made numerous times on MasterChef, I knew the greasing of the mould and the cooking time was important. If I was to make again, I would use smooth peanut butter. All I had in was crunchy and it didn’t melt as well. Do you want to give it a go?

100g dark chocolate (I wouldn’t use a high percentage as it would make it too bitter and you won’t be able to eat it all!)
50g butter
1 egg
1 egg yolk
55g caster sugar
17g plain flour
Peanut butter

Pre-heat oven to 180C.
Grease two moulds or ramekins.
Melt the butter and chocolate, slowly, in a saucepan.
Whisk the egg, egg yolk and sugar.
Add the chocolate mixture and plain flour. Mix until combined.
Half fill the moulds/ramekins with the batter.
Add 1 teaspoon of peanut butter to each mould/ramekin.
Fill with the remaining batter (leave some room at top as the pudding will rise.
Bake in the oven for 15-18 minutes. The top should be firm to the touch. Try not to over bake or there will be no melting middle!

 

Has it really been a year?

A few weeks, Mr W and I celebrated our one year wedding anniversary. We can’t believe that it has been a year since we said ‘I do’. It’s crazy. Although it has only been a year, I am starting to feel like ‘an old married woman’. Only because I was the first of my group of friends to get married and now I have one friend who has passed the 100 day countdown for her wedding (the hen party is in five weeks!!!!) and I have another friend who has recently gotten engaged (congratulations!!). It seems like ages ago when I was doing this and now I’m offering the advice (the bride is always right).

Mr W and I spent our ‘actual’ anniversary in the Lake District. Mr W proposed to me in Keswick and we decided to spend a couple of days back there enjoying the ‘country life’ (enough to feel like we were having a relaxing break away from the city without feeling stuck in the middle of nowhere). We’ve always loved going to Keswick and this time we made a point of eating at and drinking in places we’ve never been to. The highlight for us was a first night meal at The Square Orange. A very small bar that serves tapas and pizza. We didn’t realise until the next morning (after talking to our B&B owner) that we had stumbled across a local hidden gem. Well worth a visit if you are ever in Keswick. They don’t take bookings so you have to hang around and grab a table as soon as it is vacated.

But the highlight of our anniversary celebrations was a meal at Manchester House. This is somewhere I’ve been wanting to go for ages and couldn’t think of a better excuse to go. We went for lunch on a Saturday and was given the option of two menus, a 14 course taster menu or a 10 course taster menu (which can then be broken down into a two course menu). We both decided to go for the 10 course taster menu. Although it is still a lot of courses, we figured that if this was our only visit, we wanted to experience as much as possible (without being sick). You also get the option of having a wine flight with it but I felt I wouldn’t be able to finish the meal so stuck to the one glass of wine. Below is the menu we had.

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The first three courses were served to us on one board which made the fact it was 10 courses a little less daunting. The Razor clam was served with a mushroom consommé which was presented in a champagne flute. Of these three, the nori rice cracker was our favourite. The poached scallop was one of the ‘starters’ and was lovely. The crispy texture of the chicken wing skin complimented the soft, velvety scallops. The rose veal tartare was the last of the ‘starters and was probably our least favourite of the two. Mr W and I have never had tartare before and we found the texture too chewy but we loved the fermented turnips. The next two courses were the ‘mains’ and were both delicious. As we were eating the poached turbot, we both agreed that it was our favourite course so far. Then we got the lamb, which was cooked three ways and was a close contender. The next course was the first of the desserts and was a winner for me. It was a small piece of sweet potato cake and sweet potato crumb with different flavours of orange, in the form of a parfait, a jelly and a gel with some sugar decorations. The next dessert was flavours of vanilla, chocolate, lychee and caramel with milk crisps. The final course of macaroons and madeleines nearly finished us off but we were determined to eat everything (which, I’m not afraid to admit, we did).

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If you are a bit of a foodie, I would definitely recommend a visit to Manchester House. I was worried that we were going to one of the few tables in there but by 2pm, the restaurant was nearly full. The kitchens are open plan and Aiden Byrne was helping plate up the starters. Although the service was very good, I liked that it wasn’t in your face. You could see that the different members of staff were there to help different areas when needed.

Beetroot and Chocolate Traybake

There seems to be a lot of sweet baking recipes that have a vegetable thrown into the ingredients list. The most obvious is the classic carrot cake. I refused to eat this when I was younger because of the carrot component. Who wants to eat a cake that tastes of carrot? But once I tried a slice I realised how wrong I was and this has now become one of my favourite cakes. Now I’ve seen (and tried) cakes made using courgettes and sweet potatoes. I’ve recently seen avocado being used but have not yet tried one of these. One cake that I have been wanting to try is beetroot chocolate cake. I have seen this colourful vegetable used in brownie recipes, cupcakes recipes and more recently as a traybake. After watching an episode of ‘The Great Sport Relief Bake Off’ I knew I needed to make Mary Berry’s technical challenge so we could try it at work.

What’s the purpose of adding the vegetable? Does it cut down on the use of fat or sugar? After looking at the recipe, I don’t think it does. Sure, it makes the cake lovely and moist but I would have thought it would be a ‘healthier’ bake. But this didn’t stop me from making it, I was too curious as to what it would be like.

Mary Berry’s Beetroot and Chocolate Traybake

Making the recipe. Now, I like a recipe that uses the minimum amount of bowls and utensils. This recipe didn’t meet the criteria. It required the use of FOUR different bowls (and I didn’t even follow the full recipe). I managed to drop my tub of cocoa powder on the floor which meant that, having needing to clean the mess up, it took me almost an hour to get the cake in the oven. Now, I normally wouldn’t mind if it was a slightly complicated bake. But this wasn’t. It was just a traybake. I made the cream cheese frosting (this was very tasty) but didn’t bother with the beetroot heart decoration. I dusted with cocoa powder instead. 

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The eat. Don’t get me wrong, the traybake was nice. The beetroot had kept the texture moist and the frosting complimented the flavour well. But it didn’t have the promised richness or the wow factor you would want for a special occasion. I mean, if you wanted to have some cake without too much guilt, this would be the right choice. But if you want a rich, chocolate cake, go elsewhere. This Gimme S’more cake from Home Sweet Home in Manchester is what you need.

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Prague (and maybe some baking)

The other week, Mr W and I were lucky enough to have a week off work and spent a few days in Prague. It was nice to have a break from work (we hadn’t had more than a few days off since our wedding in May) and it had been on my list for cities to visit for a while. We spent our days walking round the city and taking in the sights. On our first full day we spent the morning walking along the river and taking a stroll through some of the parks before heading to Prague Castle and tackling Petrin hill. We were lucky we chose a clear day to do this as the views were amazing (the weather turned after this).

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The view from Petrin Hill

The next day, as it was raining, we decided to tackle some of the museums. We had three in mind, a couple were mentioned in our guide and the other Mr W had found on the internet. Our first museum was Muzeum Karla Zemana, a film special effects museum. I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure what to make of this when Mr W told me he wanted to go but I actually quite enjoyed it when I started wandering round the building. It was interesting seeing how he was able to achieve what he did before computers. Next on our list was a Gastronomy museum that Mr W had seen mentioned on Trip Advisor. Turned out, this no longer exists and is currently a building full of rubble. I was slightly disappointed by this as a museum about food sounded like my idea of heaven (well, to an extent). The final museum on our list was a beer museum. Considering beer is so cheap and plentiful in Prague, we felt like it was a tourist thing we needed to do. We went to the address and stepped into the pub (we had read there was a pub as well). We decided to sample some beers before we ventured into the museum. I chose two fruit beers and Mr W chose some more ‘traditional’ beers. It transpired that Mr W preferred my fruit beers, which is a first.

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After drinking up, we ventured next door to what we thought was the museum. Turned out there was no museum, just the pub. Let’s just say, we weren’t feeling inspired to try and find any other museums with our current success rate. But that didn’t put a dampener on our city break. We visited a number of cafes/restaurants and pubs where we tried food , beer and home-made lemonade. I have come back with dishes that I want to try and re-create (potato soup and carlsbad dumplings). We got the chance to visit one of our friends from University who took us to his favourite cafe and suggested a brewery near his work that made the ‘best beer in Prague’. Now, I’m not a big beer drinker but even I managed to have two glasses. One thing we didn’t manage was learning any of the language (no matter how hard we tried).

Over the last couple of days, I have managed to fit in a little baking. On Wednesday I made some Peanut Butter Oreo Brownies to take into work. I’ve been wanting to make these for a while after buying some oreos that had a peanut butter filling but wanted a reason to make them. One of our managers was leaving on Thursday so that seemed a good reason to get them made. If I was to make them again, I would consider making actual peanut butter brownies and adding the oreos to that. In this instance, I followed a Cookies and Cream Brownie recipe from one of my Lorraine Pascale cookbooks. Here’s a link to the recipe online.

I also made another batch of the stem ginger flapjacks as I still had some stem ginger in the fridge (I also gave the pearl barley recipe another go. I love the heat and flavours. It’s becoming a go to recipe when Mr W is out and it’s tea for one). I omitted the dark chocolate topping as I wanted to give some to my mum and dad to try. I cut the flapjack into 12 pieces this time which meant the size was a lot more manageable. I was also able to get a picture of them before Mr W got his hands on them (considering he doesn’t really like them….)

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