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December 8th’s Duck of the Day – Best of British

Feeling a little bit patriotic today, so therefore today’s Duck of the Day is taking a very British form.

I stumbled across a website tonight called British Corner Shop and I’m a little bit sad that I have not been here before! it is an online store for ex pats around the world to ensure that you can still get all your favourite British brands wherever you are! It is not all food, they do cosmetics, books and gifts. Gifts is where I stumbled upon these Duck(s) of the day.

I do feel like I am maybe cheating a little but here but I could not narrow it down to just one duck today. Could not have the queen without her guards right?

Queen Elizabeth Duck

Can you get more British than the Queen? Her majesty is available from The British Corner Shop by clicking here. Queen Elizabeth is currently the second oldest serving state leader at 92 and the longest reigning British monarch in history. She has a fondness for Corgis and is the only person in the country who can legally drive without a driving license!

Royal Guard Duck

This duck is available here. These Queens Guards are seen as being very British, with thousands of tourists having their photos taken with them every year. However there are many videos in where they have got in the way of the guards performing their duties and these guards will not take a second thought when it comes to rightly moving you out of their way. Don’t think the same will happen with this duck, but he is a very cute souvenir!

Police Constable Duck

I had to include him too. Mainly because of the gifting opportunities this duck has! I have a lot of police in the family and this duck would make a great Birthday/Christmas present for any serving or ex police officer. Also as a new job gift, retirement gift, the list goes on. Police Duck is available here!.

Enjoy 🙂

Sam

Christmas Cupcakes!

Christmas time, lots of cupcakes and wine.
Who wants mistletoe when you can have cupcakes?

I have neglected the baking side of this blog for far too long so we are back with a little bit of festive flair. These were baked for an early Christmas gathering which was the perfect opportunity to rustle up something nice. Actually I got a little bit carried away and made three cakes. This is because I found some unicorn cupcake cases and could not resist baking something colourful.

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Vanilla Cupcakes (Unicorns and Christmas Trees)

Recipe: (This will bake 12 cupcakes):
*180g Caster sugar – (I am a very loyal Billington’s golden caster sugar fan)
*180g Butter – (Again I am very loyal to Stork, makes the best cakes!)
*3 Large Eggs – (Weigh them, should be approximately 180g
*180g Self raising flour
*1/2 tsb of vanilla extract
*1/2 tsb of baking powder

You will also need cupcake cases. I got the ones below from Morrisons, a nice cupcake case can really make a cupcake and give it an individual look.

For the buttercream icing:
*350g Unsalted butter
*700g Icing sugar
*1tsp Vanilla Extract
*A selection of gel food colourings. I always use gel as it does not water down the icing and gives a much bolder colour.
*3-5 tsp of whole milk (amount will vary on consistency of the icing)
*Some festive and colourful decorations. – I got the Christmas ones and Unicorn sparkles from Morrisons.

Baking the cakes: (Very Easy!):
*Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C
*Mix the caster sugar and butter together until it is nice and fluffy. I know some people swear by the all in one cake method but I find that getting all the air into the mixture at the start really makes a cupcake light and airy.
*Mix the eggs into the mixture along with the vanilla extract and baking powder
*Add the flour and you should have a nice smooth cake mixture.
*Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases in a cupcake tray and bake for 20-25 mins. Test with a skewer, if needed bake for a few more mins. Then leave on a wire rack to cool.

Making the Icing:
*Beat the butter until it is smooth and add the vanilla extract
*Slowly add the icing sugar to the butter, make sure the consistency stays smooth. If the mixture gets too thick add some of the milk and keep mixing in the icing sugar.
*Add milk to make the icing a pipe-able consistency.

For both the unicorn and Christmas tree cupcake I added a marshmallow to the middle. This means the cupcakes can have the correct height without having too much icing.

Icing the Christmas Trees:
*Add the green gel food colouring to the buttercream and mix in well. It should become the lovely shade of green below
*I used a large open star icing tip and piping bag to pipe the icing in swirls around the marshmallow in the middle.
*Add round candy sprinkles to the tree for Christmas decorations and a star on top.
Easy right!

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Icing the Unicorn cupcakes:
*This is super easy as you do not need to colour the buttercream!
*Use the same open star icing tip but this time you need to paint stripes up the inside of the piping bag before you put the buttercream into the bag. I did one stripe of pink, purple and blue to get the squirly effect below.
*Decorate with sprinkles and unicorn confetti. I added a touch of edible glitter just to give it a bit of unicorn sparkle.

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So both very easy to achieve and they got a lot of compliments on how unique and quirky they were, and they tasted fabulous too.

Chocolate Cupcakes:

Recipe (This will bake 12 cupcakes):
*180g Unsalted butter
*170g Caster sugar
*120g Self raising flour
*1tsb of Baking Powder
*40g of Cocoa Powder
*3 Large Eggs
*1tsb of Baking Powder

For the Icing:
*60g of Unsalted butter
*250g Icing Sugar
*30g Cocoa Powder
*3tbsp of Whole Milk
*Decorations – The Holly is from Morissons

Baking the cakes:
*Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.
*Mix the butter and caster sugar together until fluffy (Again, I am not a fan of the all in one method, with chocolate cakes you need to get as much air into them as possible)
*Add the cocoa powder and eggs to the mixture then fold in the flour and baking powder to keep the air in the mixture.
*Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases in a cupcake tray and bake for 12-15 mins, check if the are cooked with a skewer. Cakes should be risen and spongey to touch. If not cooked check again after 2 mins.
*Cool on a wire rack.

Making the chocolate icing:
*Melt the butter (I did this in the microwave)
*Add the cocoa powder to the melted butter and then slowly add the icing sugar and beat well to make sure it does not go lumpy.
*If the icing gets too thick then add the milk a little at a time to make sure it is the correct consistency for piping.
*This icing comes out really glossy and shiny, I think it may be a new favourite!

Icing the cupcakes:
*I used a slightly smaller open star tip for these cupcakes and did not put a marshmallow in these ones as I wanted a gelatin free option.
*Put the icing into a piping bag and pipe in swirls to cover the cake.
*I decorated these with some edible holly decorations and a bit of gold edible glitter.

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I was super chuffed with these! They were so easy to make, no mucking around with colours or any of that. The glitter just gives them a little bit of flair but they are simple and cute.

I got so much positive feedback on these which was lovely after not baking anything for so long. I think I may have been bitten by the baking bug all over again 🙂

Skittles Pinata Cake

Remember the Pinata Cake? If not Click Here.

I could never bake properly in my old flat due to not having a dishwasher. No matter how much I hand washed icing bowls they were always left sticky. However now I have a dishwasher and baking can commence!

I ended up making a skittles Pinata Cake. I needed to make a cake that was both Halal and Vegetarian so found myself looking for a gelatin free alternative to my usual pinata cake. Not too sure how I ended up with skittles, I think it was the fact that I was surprised that they were suitable for vegetarians without any traces of gelatin.

My friends Ellie and Nikki helped me make a lovely fluffy buttercream to fill between the layers of the cake and around the outsides. We then filled the centre of the doughnut with skittles. We used the rest of the buttercream to “dirty ice” the cake. I do not know if that is the correct term for the first layer of buttercream that goes on the outside of the cake but that is what I learnt from my time watching Cake Boss so that is the term I am going to go with.

After the weeks I endured with dust all over the kitchen I actually didn’t mind the thin dusting of icing sugar which coated every possible surface of the kitchen. When it comes to cake decoration I always end up making far too much buttercream through fear of running out!

I iced the cake with different coloured flowers, leaves and some little butterflies before attacking it with even more skittles. This was quite a relaxing cake to make actually.

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I took this photo on my phone and it turned out that I have created a very photogenic looking cake!

Little bit of Storage DIY

Been a very long time without a post. I do not know what has happened! Too much work and not enough sleep I think!

However I finally have a solution to the space under the stairs dilemma.

Good old IKEA comes up top again and thanks to a very talented Dad we sliced the corner off to make it an under the stairs storage solution. So glad I did’t give up and make it a cupboard!

Veggie Spaghetti Bolognese

People always ask me “so if you can bake completely from scratch you must be able to cook?” I never know how to answer as I can cook, but I have never really attempted much cooking completely from scratch so thought I would give it a go. Normally I use sauces out of a jar to make most things as it is quick and easy but it often works out a lot more unhealthy this way. First attempt of cooking 100% from scratch was a success and I finally got to try out the long awaited spiralizer. After many accidental sliced fingers with a manual spiralizer I have invested in the Morphy Richard’s Spiralizer Express. I discovered vegetable spaghetti (or veggetti) about a year ago as a great low fat and healthy version of spaghetti. It is also a great way to cram in some of those 5 portions of fruit and veg we are apparently supposed to eat each day.

I have never made a spaghetti bolognese completely from scratch before but it seemed like quite an easy place to start. I took inspiration from my Mum’s cooking and tried to cram it with as much vegetables as possible.

  • Onion (1)
  • Garlic (2 crushed cloves)
  • Celery (2 Sticks)
  • Mushrooms (a few)
  • Carrots (4/5)
  • Courgette (When describing this to one of my colleagues at work I could not remember the name and ended up referring to it as a “vegetable cucumber” even though I am pretty sure a cucumber is also a vegetable. (2)
  •  Tomato Puree (1 table spoon)
  • Chopped Tomatoes (small tin)
  • Vegetable Stock with 200ml of boiling water
  • Red Wine (Or double up on the stock if you do not want to use wine)
  • Quorn mince
  • A sprinkle of mixed herbs.

Chop the onion, garlic, celery and carrot and gently fry in a pan with olive oil for 5 minutes. Then add the mushrooms and fry for 2 more minutes. Add the stock, red wine, tomato puree, chopped tomatoes, mixed herbs. Stir, put a lid on and let it simmer away for 5 minutes then add the Quorn Mince. Let it all simmer for another 5 minutes. It really was as simple as chucking everything into the pan and letting it do the rest itself. I think I could get used to this cooking stuff.

While the bolognese was cooking I finally got to try the spirilizer! It simply clips together and the blade spins round slicing the vegetables into lovely little spirally shapes which collects in the bottom. In my opinion it’s worth every penny and has just become my favourite kitchen gadget.

I cooked the spaghetti in a pan with a tiny little bit of oil as I find when it is boiled you have to take it out at precisely the right moment or it overcooks and you are left with nothing. It only needs 2 minutes in the pan and you are done!

Ta-Da! So much healthier than out of a jar and I actually enjoyed cooking it too. 100% vegetarian, crammed full of vegetables and without the cheese it’s vegan too. Vegetable spaghetti is such a good alternative to actual spaghetti and a great gluten free option too. I may not be Gordon Ramsey just yet but you never know, give me a few more months and I might be!

The Last Binge

So for anyone who is not aware me and my lovely friend Jenna have undertaken a year long challenge for Children In Need. If you are interested you can visit our fundraising website at www.CINChallenge.com. Unfortunately this means it is time to get fit. Even more unfortunately this means saying goodbye to most of the stuff that I actually enjoy eating. Therefore I thought it was acceptable to partake in one last unhealthy night with a friend of mine. This unhealthy binge consisted of a bottle of wine and a rather interesting snack which I had stumbled upon at the local shop across the road. Up until then I had no idea that pizza could actually come in a dessert form. So with no further ado I present to you the Goodfella’s Sweet Fella’s Delicious Dessert Pizza. In fact there is a little bit of ado as I have now had to partake in a rather lengthy conversation with my flat mate about the difference between “ado” and “adieu”. Turns out “ado” is a lovely little English word meaning without fuss or unnecessary hustle and bustle (think Shakesphere, Much Ado About Nothing”. “Adieu” is a dramatic French farewell, think of it as a last goodbye. So here I am with now a little bit of ado but that is okay because it is not a French goodbye. Easy mistake to make, don’t judge me too harshly and trust me I am a lot more intelligent in Spanish than French! Muchas Gracias.

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So this was my choice of a final unhealthy snack. I have to say that I disagree with their slogan that “the best things in life are worth sharing” because that pizza was amazing and I would happily not share. But I am a sharing caring individual and shared. After looking at the calorie content I am very happy that I did.

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Outside of the box it looked a little bit like a pizza which had gone mouldy. I fought the urge to cover it in magic stars and maltesers and put it in the oven for 14 minutes.

14 minutes later and this calorific and chocorific (if that is not a word it is now) specimen emerged from the oven. Was it an acceptable last binge? Definitely so! Could I have eaten it on my own? 100% definitely not! Goodfella’s I am sorry and I agree with your slogan. Now I know that these are hanging out in the freezer at the Tesco across the road I don’t know how I am going to be able to leave them alone. However I think that the fear of not actually being able to complete this Children In Need challenge slightly outweighs the unhealthy pizza chilling in the freezer! Can’t even remember the last time I ran!

Why do IKEA not sell Coasters?

I have really been procrastinating and avoiding making decisions. That is why I think Dad decided to take matters into his own hands one evening and drag me off to Reading to buy some bathroom storage and a mirror. I had been putting this off because I am a genuinely indecisive human being when it comes to purchasing things. Pretty stupid excuse as I am putting off purchasing things to go inside the biggest purchase I have ever made to date. I bought a flat with less indecision than I am currently having around purchasing somewhere to store my shampoo. Dad collected me in the van after work and he had also accosted Nan on his way to get me which was nice. I had quite a random list of stuff still to get. I needed bathroom storage for both bathrooms. Lots of people have told me that you do not need storage in a bathroom but I have always had a lot of bathroom storage. This has its downsides because it has allowed me to acquire a rather large collection of different shampoos, shower gels and other bath & shower related things which now require a home.

So this is what I ended up with. There are so many options with IKEA’s Kallax and it looks really smart. I love how you can take the basic shape and then add doors, drawers and storage containers as you see fit. You can also leave cubes empty which looks really nice if using in a living room or bedroom as you can put photos, candles or ornaments in them. However as I was using these in a bathroom it was important to protect things from condensation. I now just have to decide what to put on top of them. Thinking along the line of candles or a bowl of that nice smelling stuff (I believe it is called Potpourri but do not quote me on that). I did initially buy this lovely little specimen to do that job:

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Introducing Dobby the House Plant. Dobby was supposed to brighten up the bathroom but unfortunately when I got him home it just seemed a shame to leave him in the bathroom. So now I have another living room plant and a continuation to my Harry Potter references. At least if I ever burn myself I’m never more than 1 flight of stairs away from a nice dose of aloe vera. I have always wondered if the Aloe Vera plant is able to regrow back the bit that we break off. May need to do some aloe vera research.

The strangest thing I have found about IKEA is that they do not really sell coasters. I am now left to wonder if the Swede’s use coasters. Maybe I was bought up strangely but a drink always went on a coaster. Not only would that stop that really horrible ring that you get left behind when a glass is wet or a drink is knocked it protects the surface underneath. In that massive store there was the grand total of 1 coaster. This coaster was round and made of cork which I’m sure would have done the job but it just was not the coaster I’m looking for so it got left behind. I did however pick up some multicoloured place mats for the table and one of these is currently doubling as a rather large coaster on the coffee table.

I also went to pick up the mirror which had been looking at the past two times I had been to IKEA. I was very lucky as I managed to get the last one of these mirrors from IKEA Reading. So overal this was a very successful shopping trip. I even managed to treat my Nan to dinner in the restaurant!

However the next day when we went to put the mirror up there was the horrible realisation that it was broken. I went online hoping that maybe I had not been looking correctly when I thought I had bought the last one. Sadly for once my eyes were not paying tricks on me and the only way I was going to get this mirror was going to be by driving down to IKEA Southampton. Not ideal but it did allow for an evening of family bonding as my brother lives halfway between me and Southampton so he came along too and it became a bit of a family trip. I took back my broken mirror with no problems and went hunting for a shiny new one. I could not find it and was starting to panic. I got to where all the mirrors were and there was not my mirror anywhere. By now it was 20:30, we had been there over an hour and I only had half an hour left so I had to ask someone to help me track down this mirror. There was no way I was leaving without it after driving all that way. Luckily for me they had some somewhere in the warehouse although they did not know where. This must have been why they were the only IKEA in this half of the country to have it! I was “that customer” who was hovering in IKEA collections half  an hour after closing refusing to budge without the mirror while they tried to find it. Anyone who works in retail or who has ever worked in retail will know what I mean by “that customer”. So Apologies to the people of IKEA Southampton for making you late home. At least I was not tapping my contactless card on your non-contactless card machine despite you warning me it was not contactless. It could have been worse.

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However I am now a very happy customer with a lovely abstract mirror hanging on the wall in the hallway. Not too sure why it has been discontinued but I love it!

Anyway I still do not have an answer to my question which was why do IKEA not sell coasters. After visiting two in the space of five days I have not managed to find an answer so if anyone knows the answer to this question please let me know. If you were by any chance looking for cork round coasters to put your drinks on then IKEA is your place. You’re Welcome.