Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Potato Skins


I've got another recipe to share with you today, this time a yummy savoury one. My mum asked me to create a buffet-style platter of food for her to take in to work for her team day, and my mind immediately snapped to these beauties. Nothing beats a big old plate full of filled potato skins, piled with melted cheddar, bacon bits and spring onions. 

This is the sort of food you can pick up with your fingers and won't make a big mess, so perfect for parties or any buffet. They also make you look like you've gone to a big effort, when really you haven't. But shh! Don't let on, stand back and soak up the compliments. 

The baking of the tatties takes a little time at first but the actual work you have to do on them is minimal. You can get on with prepping your other food while they're baking! Or pop your favourite tv show, whichever is fine. 

I would say this serves 8-10 people, with other buffet bits to eat aswell.

So to make some seriously good skins, you will need:

Ingredients

12 baking potatoes 
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
10 rashers of bacon
400g cheddar cheese
5 spring onions, snipped thinly 
Sour cream and chive dips 

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 190c. Wash your potatoes and pat dry. Rub with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Pop in the oven for 1.5-2 hours or until the potatoes are cooked through. 

2. In the meantime, while your spuds are in the oven, fry your bacon strips until crisp. Drain on paper towels, allow them to cool and crumble. Grate your cheese on to another plate. And use a pair of scissors to snip the spring onions on to another separate plate. 


3. Remove your potatoes from the oven and allow them to cool for 10 mins. Cut them in half horizontally and use a spoon to scoop out the insides, leaving a little in the skin so they retain their shape! This is very important. The spare potato your scooped out is great for making Fishcakes, topping shepherd's pies and loads of other things so don't throw this away! Brush the hollowed out skins with olive oil and pop them back in the oven for 10 mins.


4. Take your potatoes out of the oven. It's time to top them! Sprinkle them with cheese, then bacon bits, and finally spring onions. 

Place back in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. 


Allow the skins to cool and serve with sour cream and chive dips for dunking. If you're being clever and making them in advance, leave them to cool and them cover them with cling film. Unveil them when you're ready to kick off the buffet. 

Party planning has never been so easy!

What are your favourite party buffet foods?

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Teaser Brownies

Happy Saturday everyone! I've got a baking day recipe to share with you all today, so get ready to get the baking urge after you see this. Oozy, gooey, chocolatey squares of brownie goodness, perfect for a decadent pudding, a treat with a cup of tea or if you're feeling especially generous thy make a great gift for someone you're trying to impress. Feast your eyes on this.


Let me tell you the secret brownie recipe which has got me the best reviews to date! I made these a little while ago and never quite got round to share it, but there's no time like the present... Wooden spoons at the ready!

Ingredients

185g/6.5oz unsalted butter
185g/6.5oz dark chocolate
85g/3oz plain flour
40g/1.5oz cocoa powder
3 eggs
275g/9.5oz caster sugar
150g/5oz Maltesers
100g/3.5oz walnuts
(A few chunks of spare dark chocolate if you have any!)


Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180c and line a shallow baking tin with baking parchment. Melt your chocolate and butter gently in the microwave. Mix thoroughly and leave to cool


2. Break your eggs and sugar in to a separate mixing bowl mix thoroughly. Slowly add this to your cooled chocolatey mixture. Blend with your spoon


It should be smooth, runny and silky 


3. Slowly sieve in your flour and cocoa powder. Blend 


4. Get your special ingredients at the ready. Mix them in to your chocolatey mixture 



5. Spoon in to your lined tin and bake for 25 mins



6. Leave to cool for a few minutes before cutting in to manageable squares. Serve warm with single cream or vanilla ice cream!

I love this recipe because it is so consistently good and it makes your kitchen smell amazing. You can swap the Maltersers for chopped up Milkyway bars or Mars bars, or anything that takes your fancy. The possibilities are endless so enjoy getting creative

What are your favourite brownie fillings?

Monday, 21 April 2014

The Books That Changed My Life

As a Literature student I love books. I love reading them, I love talking about them, and I often get asked what my favourite book is. A good book is one of life's true joys. When you find a book that you just can't put down all you want to do is curl up with it and no matter how sleepy you are you just want to read one more chapter. I've read countless books for study and for pleasure and there are dozens which I have loved reading, but there's only a handful which have really moved me in ways I had never expected. This sort of book never leaves you. Here are 6 of the books which have had this effect on me. In no particular order (apart from Number 1!)...


6. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. This is the first novel I ever read. Recommended to me by my amazing Dad, it was the perfect introduction in to the world of literature and it booted the door wide open for me! Dad is a true book lover and he always has at least 2 books on the go. He regularly works 13 hour days but still has the time to read books himself and chat to me about what I'm reading too. He's a big inspiration in my life and he was right again with this novel. 

The story follows the coming of age experiences and emotions of young orphaned Jane through her hard, loveless childhood, and her growth in to womanhood. I vividly remember my feelings towards Jane; I loved her character for her passion, strong principles and determination in the face of adversity. 

Charlotte Bronte's style of writing is wonderfully easy to read, and I loved the whole idea of the pseudonyms of the Bronte sisters who pretended to be men in order to be published. Charlotte was 'Currer Bell'. I just thought this was so cool, and still do!

5. A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh. This was one of the books I wrote about for my BA dissertation, and amazingly I still have an amicable relationship with it. It's not uncommon to study a book and hate it afterwards, just like going through a stormy breakup. But Handful and I are still on very good terms. My Dad is the more keen reader of my parents, but this one was actually pointed out to me by my Mum, who said she'd done it for her O Levels. I read it, it captured me, and I wrote my dissertation on it. 

Without spoiling the story for you (because I really want you to read this book!) I would describe Handful as a poignant and often painful insight in to affairs and divorce, at a time when affairs and divorce just didn't happen. 

Evelyn Waugh is a very unpopular author today because he was such a tough old boot and wasn't afraid to let people know his political stance. However, he was famously left by his wife which explains why he chose to write about what he writes about in this book, so Handful exposes a more vulnerable side to him that I didn't know he had. He's probably more famous as the author of Brideshead Revisited, which I also covered in my diss, but I have a softer spot for this less well-known book written much earlier in his career by a less famous, younger Waugh.

4. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. I studied this for my A-Levels. I admit I've never been very kind about American Literature on the whole, because in my view most of it deals with one of two things: frontiering or the American Dream. (Think Moby Dick and the Great Gatsby. Both great novels but the idea is much the same throughout American Lit). 

Anyway, back to Cuckoo. It took me less than a week to finish this book, it's set in a mental institution and centres around the character of Randle Patrick "Mac" McMurphy and the terrifying Nurse Ratched who rules the roost. 

McMurphy rocks the boat in the institution, in a book that deals with really tricky issues like violence, drugs, metal illness, sex and rape. It's not a light read but it is an excellent read, and the film with Jack Nicholson is fantastic.

3. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Another recommendation from my Dad. "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again" is the novel's famous opening line, and the story is narrated by a woman, whose name we never learn (so intriguing!). She's named only as the second Mrs de Winter, living in the shadow of her husband's seemingly perfect deceased first wife, Rebecca... Read this book!

2. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle. This book proved to me just how special the stories of Sherlock Holmes are. Nobody needs telling how good these books are or what they're about (we've all seen Sherlock!). But reading Conan Doyle's novel gave me a new appreciation for just how special the relationship between Holmes and Watson is, and how amazing Holmes' methods of deduction are. And how socially screwed-up Holmes is! God he's crazy, but stupidly clever too. I've read other Sherlock Holmes stories too, but this one is the first and a good starter-offer for newbies to the novels - because you will want to read the rest after you've finished with this one!

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This is the answer I give to that little question 'what is your favourite novel?' Nobody else who I've asked has ever given this answer to this before, and I await the day when I meet someone else who does. 

I did Mockingbird for GCSE English and I fell in love with the book head over heels (and Gregory Peck from the movie too!). Harper Lee only wrote one novel but she made sure the one she did write was a stormer. After everything I've said about American Literature, this American novel is my favourite of all the ones I've read so far. The way I felt reading this book made me realise I wanted to do Literature at university. 

The story follows lawyer Atticus Finch in the Deep South of America and deals with courage, family, gender roles, compassion, rape and more importantly racial prejudice. 

In a recent poll this book was ranked ahead of the Bible in a list of books that "every adult should read before they die". I'll say no more!

I've loved writing this post and I might do a few more book recommendations in the future! Let me know what you favourite books are.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Homemade Fishcakes


I have a bit of an obsession with recipe books. I love reading them to get new ideas and my collection seems to be ever expanding. I just can't help myself you see, because I'm always on the lookout for new healthy and tasty recipes to try. And you can't get much healthier or tastier than these Homemade Cod Fishcakes. 

Light, fluffly, and packed with all sorts of things that are really good for you, these Fishcakes only take half an hour to make so they are the perfect thing to make for a healthy weeknight tea. They got top reviews from my family and I have a feeling that these might become one of my signature dishes. So here's how I make your own Homemade Fishcakes:

Ingredients (Serves 4)

450g skinned cod fillet
- 2 bay leaves
- 200ml milk
- 450g Maris Piper potatoes
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- Handful of fresh parsley, chopped
- A few fresh chives, snipped
- 1 egg, beaten
- 120g white breadcrumbs

Method

1. Place cod in to a large saucepan, pour over the milk and throw in bay leaves. Cover, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 5 mins. Take off the heat and leave the pan on the side, covered, for 10 mins to gently finish cooking the fish.

2. Meanwhile, peel and chop the potatoes into even-sized chunks. Put them in a saucepan and just cover with boiling water. Bring back to the boil and simmer for 10 mins or until tender. Then drain in a colander.


3. Tip the potatoes back in to the pan. Pick out and discard the bay leaves from your fish pan. Pour the milk you used to cook the fish in into the pan, add the parsley, chives, lemon zest and season with salt and pepper.

 
Mash well.


4. Gently tip the fish in to the mash mixture and use a fork to break it up very slightly, but be careful not to overdo it!

5. Beat the egg on a large plate and put the breadcrumbs on another plate.(A top tip for you is I you don't have any old white bread to blitz, grate a couple of slices of frozen bread!) Carefully shape your Fishcakes, about 2.5cm thick. One by one, dip each cake in the egg and then in the breadcrumbs. They should look something like this.


6. Fry your cakes in olive oil for 5 minutes each side, or if you are being healthy like me, bake on a baking tray for 15 minutes at 220c. Serve immediately with your
choice of steamed veggies - I like tenderstem broccoli!


The choice of condiments is never-ending for these Fishcakes as they're good with pretty much everything: tartare sauce, salad cream, mayo, or my favourite a drizzle of sweet chilli sauce! I'll leave this bit up to you though! You'll never want to buy shop-bought Fishcakes again.



Tuesday, 15 April 2014

New Room

I'm writing to you sat cross-legged on my bed in my brand new bedroom with a cup of tea and a biscuit. Much better than essay-writing which has unfortunately become my life again at the moment!

I've just counted how many bedrooms I've had in my life and answer is 6. In those I'm counting proper bedrooms at either home or uni. And that is going to go up again this summer when I move back in to halls of residence to write my MA dissertation! It's all go. 

Up until the age of 18 and a half though I'd only ever lived in one house and had one bedroom and I loved that room. As I grew up though and my tastes changed I was always given the chance to update it and make it more grown up, as I grew up. I think that first bedroom was pink, purple, yellow (oh god the yellow phase, the brightest gaudiest shade you've ever seen!), pink again and finally white up until I left home; my mum was very patient with me. Good old roomy was really lovely and big and I remember how excited I was when I finally got fitted wardrobes! Complete with full-length mirrors too. I really miss a full-length mirror when I don't have one!

So now I really want to show you a few key bits in my new (home) bedroom! My mum did most of the hard work to be perfectly honest but it was left up to me to make it, 'me'. We're both big charity shop fans and you can find some absolute gems in there for a minuscule amount, which is sort of the focus for this post! I want to show you how I've been jazzing up my bedroom for not a lot. 

I love fairy lights and think there is nothing nicer than having them on when you're snuggling up with a film. These pretty dragonfly lights were from Amazon and cost me £2. They change colours too and they're battery powered so you don't have to have wires going everywhere. 


Dressing table with my gorgeous distressed necklace hanger. I need to fill it up a bit more but I don't want to over do it and detract from its prettiness!


This 'fresh baked fairy cakes' sign was bought from an arts and crafts fair for £2. I'm an avid baker and I thought it would look pretty hanging from some sort of fixture in my room.


And the things on top of my chest of drawers. Pretty, simple and feminine is the thing I've been going for and I think I've achieved it.


I'm very happy with my new gaff! It's light, airy, and rather a lot bigger than the one I was in before, and the wardrobe space just goes on and on. I have a feeling I will be very happy in here indeed.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Tomato, Basil and Garlic Bruschetta


I have a feeling that this may well be my first recipe post since I did my Baked Camembert recipe at the beginning of the year! I absolutely love bruschetta for loads of reasons: it's tasty, it's quick, costs peanuts to make, and it always gets huge praise from my family when I make it. 

It's great being back at my family home because I have all sorts of gadgets to play with and lots of willing taste testers to feed my creations to! Bruschetta is a great thing to serve as a starter or as an accompaniment to a main meal, and tonight we had it alongside a big salad with ham, olives, cheese, and all sorts of sides. I like to think of these little toasts as posh, healthy mini pizzas. 

This is adapted from a Jamie recipe, but with the addition of fresh garlic and onion seeing as I had them on hand. Jamie says that there are no rules for bruschetta toppings but for the best results you should always endeavour to use the freshest of ingredients. 

I'm not sure how many individual bruschetta toasts this recipe makes (I didn't have time to count because there were hungry diners at the table!) but it makes exactly one large chopping board full and serves 4 very hungry adults. So here's how to make it!

Ingredients

5 medium ripe tomatoes
1 onion
4 garlic cloves
Handful fresh basil
Glug of olive oil
1 French baguette
Salt and pepper

Method 

1. Finely dice the onion and garlic. Drizzle on a little oil in to a small saucepan and sautée until softened


2. Finely dice your tomatoes and place in a large mixing bowl. Add your onion and garlic to the bowl. Drizzle with a little bit of olive oil and season 



3. Slice your baguette and toast. Arrange on a chopping board and top each with a spoonful of the tomato mixture. Sprinkle on a little chopped basil and serve immediately!


The taste of fresh tomatoes and basil remind me of warm summer evenings and I have a feeling I will be making this more and more as this year goes on!

This makes for great party food and you can make the tomato mixture in advance in bulk for this, but my advice would be not to toast and top your bread until you're ready to eat it otherwise it will go soggy. 

Buon appetito!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Ourcq Art

Hello one and all from the Lincolnshire/Yorkshire border! On Sunday I made the epic journey from Paris back to my homeland to spend my Easter break at home with my lovely family. My shoulders and legs are a little achey from pulling and carrying 3 months worth of gear around train stations but I've been taken care of very well so I'm sure I will be back to normal very soon. 

I've been home less than 2 days but I'm already feeling relaxed and I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying all the comforts of home (and dealing in pounds sterling!). In even more exciting news I've just moved in to a brand new bedroom (complete with en suite!!!). My lovely Mum decorated it with my stuff while I was away and it was an amazing surprise! She's left it up to me to put the finishing touches on it though, so when I've got it just how I want it I might show you a couple of snaps. 

Anyhoo, I was looking through my photos of Paris and realised I hadn't uploaded the funky street art pics I mentioned a couple of weeks ago - I ended up posting about flowers instead. But I'm really pleased with this little graffiti find so I'm going to show you them now. This ginormous tapestry-style spray painted mural can be found just around the corner from Ourcq Metro station (pronounced Orc, like the scaries from The Lord of the Rings). It's long, it's in your face, and it shouts at you from across the street. I didn't like all the parts of it and I loved others, but there's no question that the whole thing is extremely clever and must have taken hours and hours to achieve. It goes something like this...









Weird, psychedelic, impressive. It takes about 10 minutes to get from one end to the other and each segment flows seamlessly in to the next. There's nothing much in the area to my knowledge sight-seeing wise, but if you're nearby like I was then have a little look!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

L'Ardoise

Last night was an evening of tasty food, lovely surroundings and excellent company. 

It's my last night in Paris tonight and at the moment I'm wedged on the sofa between two mountainous piles of clothes, most of which I didn't actually need to bring as it turns out, but all of which I will have to haul through town to the Eurostar port tomorrow. 

My Parisian adventure has been amazing, but it hasn't been all plain sailing. Studying abroad where you can't always understand the language is hard but it's made even harder when you have to go without any accommodation secured when you set off, which is exactly why I had to do. It was crazy, it was the most stressful thing I've done, but I couldn't have done it without the guidance I got from back home, or the support of this one. 


Thank goodness Jules has been here throughout my stay because I genuinely don't think I would have been able to do it without his help, so if your reading this Julian, thank you again!

We decided to make our final date night in Paris a special one, so we headed out
for food with a little trip to the Pont des Arts on the way (I flipping love that bridge).


We came to L'Ardoise for the first time on Valentine's Day and it was epic so we chose this as our farewell Paris meal. It's cosy and dimly lit, not too busy inside, and there's a florist across the street so there's been fresh flowers on the tables both times we've eaten here. Red roses on Valentine's Day, daffodils this time round. They looked so cheerful and springlike and smelled lovely.


Jules had the chicken burger last time and let me try some of his garlic frites, which were some of the best chips I've tasted. He also let me try some of the special sauce... And hooooly moly, I am not exaggerating when I say that that sauce is the most delectable thing I've tasted oozing on top of a burger in all my years. I was happy with my choice but I confess I did have just a teeny bit of food envy... I knew I needed to come back to try the sauce for myself! (And the garlic chips too, of course). 

We both went for the eponymous 'L'Ardoise Burger', a big juicy man burger made of minced steak, best done medium rare in my opinion. They didn't have the chicken burger on the menu this time, but if you're listening L'Ardoise, I have it on good authority that it was the bomb so you should bring it back!

The food arrived in very good time. Here's me with mine so you can get an idea I the size of the thing. It's huuuuuge! 


You know you've got a beast of a burger when it has to be speared with a stick to keep it in place.


I checked to see how mine was cooked and it was absolutely perfect with a little pink middle. The chips were divine (and there were plenty of them!) but the star once again was the special sauce. After much deliberation about what the secret sauce is made of, we figured out it must be numerous types of glorious mystery cheeses and cream, all melted down. Oh and a little bit of heaven in there too. Sadly the recipe is top secret though so there's no way to know for sure or to recreate it at home, if you have a degree to study for that is, which I do. If you're in the area and are in need of a bloomin' good burger you NEED to try it is what I'm saying. 

One word of warning though, it's probably not the best idea to get this on a first date; tackling this beastly burger gets a bit messy and we reverted to knives and forks pretty quickly! It'd be great to come here with friends or family I reckon, or anyone you don't mind getting a bit messy with. The sauce is delicious but it's unpredictable! 

So au revoir for now, Paris. I couldn't have asked for a more perfect end to a great semester here in France's capital. 


Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Darker Side of Paris (Part 2) - The Catacombs

I've been looking forward to my trip to the Catacombs of Paris for ages. Back in the summer of 2013 I had finished my BA and found out that I'd been accepted to do my MA in Paris and I was just so excited (and relieved!), not only because I'd be getting to live and study in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but because of the amazing menu of trips we were sent as a teaser. I read down the list which had so many glamorous and uber cool museums, galleries, grand chateaus, the list went on and on, but the Catacombs was definitely the stand out and the one which intrigued me the most. 

My uni friends and I rocked up at 10:20am and the queue was already winding down the road and round the corner. One of the best things about these trips is that we get priority tickets as being part of a big University group so we got to go straight inside and get cracking.

France and Paris in particular has such a rich history; wars, battles, plagues, revolutions, it's seen a lot of action and there has been much blood spilled here.  But until today I'd only learned about the events themselves; what I'd never really been taught was what happened to all the bodies of all the lost souls who didn't survive the wars or diseases. The answer? They were transported down here in the early 1800s and their bones piled high to create the Catacombs of Paris.



These pictures I took of all the skulls are from the ossuary, the final resting place of the bodies, which contains row after row and pile after pile of skulls, leg bones, hip bones, all carefully arranged one on top of the other to create a structure that hold the roof up!



It's a real labyrinth in here and we walked round bends and turns for ages. The amount of bones just seemed to be infinite, and the tour guide informed us that there are 7 million skeletons down here, which is currently more than the number of people walking and breathing on the surface of Paris! They stopped implementing bodies down here in the 1960s completely before things got too out of hand, but most of the bodies in here were put in in the early-mid 1800s.

I didn't know if I would feel creeped out but I didn't really at all; it was just the thought that I was just walking on by all these disconnected body parts of skeletons who used to be real people with lives and families and stories. That was the scary part. It certainly gets you thinking being down here!

We were told lots of interesting little bits of information about Paris in the 19th Century, including the fact that death was a big part of life back then, what with the threat of war and disease being rife in the crowded city areas. There were lots of quotes on the walls saying things like 'these people met their fate with death, and someday so shall you'. Chilling stuff!


One little thing which lightened the mood was these carved castle sculptures.



We were told lots about the quarriers who built the Catacombs and these amazing castles were done by a prisoner of war who spent his time down here whittling these for his workmates to enjoy. Unfortunately he died in a rockslide so was never to see how people appreciated his work but I did very much, they're marvellous.

The Catacombs were amazing and did not disappoint - I'd say it has been the best trip that my uni have organised since I've been here. They are well worth a visit if you are tripping in Paris in the future, but make sure you bring a jacket as it is rather chilly in the ossuary and wear comfortable shoes as you will be walking a fair way inside. 

I'm off to blink my eyes back to normal now and enjoy the sunshine now with a cup of tea and a book. See you guys soon!