From Blueberry to Clafoutis

13 May

I do love French dishes and this is one of my favourites. I made this dish in celebration of my little uterus dance party-er, otherwise known as Little Pudding, reaching the 35 week milestone. He had miraculously grown from the size of a blueberry at seven weeks to the size of two clafoutis at 35 weeks. If you’d like to read more about Little Pudding’s journey, pop over to the latest Pudding Post on my other blog, Pudding Club Days, for the whole story.

I found one blog that called this dish a sour cherry baked pancake, but that doesn’t really do it justice. Clafoutis, pronounced kla-foo-tee, is a classic French dessert: a kind of sweet, baked, dense custard filled with cherries. I was surprised to find that this recipe wasn’t included in my favourite French patisserie book, mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, so I had to search the interwebs to find a good ‘un. Since I had a special reason for making this recipe, I wanted to try one that used blueberries instead of cherries, plus it’s much easier to find frozen blueberries than to source affordable cherries in my neck of the woods.

Many recipes vied for my attention, including some lovely looking ones from Julia Childs and Jamie Oliver, and even a chocolate-plum version from our own Mrs Cake, which I HAVE to try making next! This Guardian post describes how to achieve the “perfect” clafoutis and explains some of the more time consuming, fiddly parts of the traditional method, but I was looking for something quick and easy. Finally, I found a River Cottage recipe that employed blueberries instead of cherries, which was closer to what I was looking for. But, in the end, my recipe wasn’t exactly the same as any of the above, which is often more fun than sticking to a recipe :). Here’s my version, roughly based on Jamie Oliver’s one. I hope you give it a go.

Little Pudding’s Blueberry Clafoutis

You’ll can make this in a casserole dish or cake tin, but it tends to be quite flat (especially once it’s cut up), so a flan or pie dish is best.

Ingredients

For the beginning and end of the dish

  • Butter for greasing the dish
  • 1 Tbsp white sugar
  • Around 300g of frozen blueberries, thawed
  • Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

For the batter

  • 60 grams plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 3 large free-range eggs
  • 60 grams white sugar
  • 300 ml cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180ºC, grease an approximately 25cm round pie or flan dish with butter and then sprinkle the tablespoon of sugar over the surface.

Mix the batter ingredients in a food processor until completely smooth, then set aside for 20 or 30 minutes. This seems to give the mixture time to get that lovely chemical rising process going.

Place the blueberries into the dish, trying to get them reasonably evenly spread over the base. If you haven’t made time to thaw them first (I didn’t), then put the dish in the oven for five minutes or so to soften the berries.

Once that’s done, take the dish out of the oven and pour the batter over the blueberries. They should be just covered. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes: the result should be a puffy, browned dessert.

Serve warm, dusted with icing sugar if you like. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll also add a scoop or two of ice cream to the bowl.

I’d love to hear if you try out any of the recipes and how you get on.  Bon appétit!

 

Christmas Gingerliciousness

21 Dec

Something I’ve been wanting to try for a while is making gingerbread men/women/ninjas, etc.  So, I went on the hunt for the perfect gingerbread recipe. But there are SO many recipes to choose from! There are a few kiwi recipes, for example, Annabel Langbein’s version. Or would something more traditional, like German Lebkuchen be better? The recipe I looked at for this, by the way, comes from the fantastically named website Wives with Knives and describes what a German Christmas market is like, along with very Christmassy pictures. I haven’t been to a Christmas market in Germany, but I did make it to the German Christmas market in Edinburgh a few times and have fond memories of sipping gluwein (spiced, mulled wine) and trying sweet European delicacies.

german-markets_ed

The Edinburgh German Christmas market

Or maybe I could make something less spicy and more treacily like this. I also remember with great fondness the ginger biscuits that Mum used to make, but I didn’t know whether it would be the best consistency for a gingerbread person. In the end I opted for a recipe entitled “How to make perfect gingerbread” as it sounded so promising.

The secret to success with this recipe has two vital elements:

1. Ensure that the dough has been refridgerated for a while. There are several reasons why this is a good idea. For one, it solidifies the fats, meaning they won’t leach out during the cooking process. The recipe says to pop the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes but I ran out of time to make the cookies that day and it stayed there overnight. You will see from the previous link that 30 minutes is ideal, but I found that as long as you give it some time to rest on the bench and get back to room temperature, it should be fine (I wouldn’t, however, keep the dough in the fridge for days).

2. Get the thickness right. The instructions are to roll out the dough to the thickness of a 1 pound coin, as the recipe comes from a British source. If you don’t live in the UK, this is somewhat unhelpful. I cast my mind back to living in the UK and googled just to be sure. So, if you’re a kiwi, you want the dough to be slightly more than the thickness of a New Zealand $2 coin. If you live elsewhere, you’re going to have to ask Uncle Google. But, the important thing is to not roll out the dough too thinly. The suggested thickness means that you get a soft, satisfying mouthful with each bite. Any thinner and they are just too easy to overcook, as evidenced by the ones I made with leftover dough which were edible, but not enjoyable.

I was curious about where gingerbread came from, so I asked Uncle Google. Due to lack of time and space, I won’t go into it in this blog, but you can read about its fascinating history on the Smithsonian website. Traditionally, gingerbread was a romantic gift and used to be shaped like flowers, birds, animals or even armour and there were regular gingerbread fairs in France and England. For my wee gingies, I stuck with the usual people shapes and (since I can’t bear to waste it) I used the dough spaces in between to make heart shapes.

The Sunday before last, the BFG, some friends and I had a Christmas DVD session at our house, so it was the perfect occasion for gingerbread peeps. The recipe I chose did indeed deliver pretty damn good gingerliciousness!! To make it even more fun, we each decorated our own, using writing icing and M&Ms.

Gingerbread creations

Gingerbread creations

The recipe can be found here, but it’s rather a long article, so, in summary:

perfect-gingerbread-people

I have a very talented friend who makes tiny gingerbread houses. I’m not quite at that level yet and I definitely don’t have the patience, so kudos to her!!
I’d love to hear about your gingerbread attempts/failures/successes/hints. And what shapes did you choose?
Merry Christmas to you and yours! I’m looking forward to sharing more baking adventures in 2017 :).
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The Wedding: Part Deux

9 Nov

Sooo…. it’s been over a year now since the actual wedding but, as John Lennon said, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. Or making babies.

I finally found a few snippets of time here and there (while baby is napping, for example) to put fingers to keypad and get this post done. In The Wedding Part One, I promised that Part Two would dish the deets on “the suppliers, the highlights of the day, the honeymoon, and, most importantly, THE FOOD!” So, here we go.

Since this is (mostly) a food blog, that’s what I’m spending the most time on. However, as the venue were the suppliers of said food, they deserve a mention first.

The venue
Gracehill Vineyard Estate is not only a beautiful setting, it was simply a beautiful experience altogether. From the minute we sat down with Warren Roodt to discuss what he could offer, we felt at ease. Unlike some other venues we visited, Warren spent time going over the options and making us feel like we were important, whether we chose to use their venue for our wedding or not. At Gracehill, Warren and his wife Linda not only presented some lovely options as to how we could use their venue, they did so with a high level of professionalism as well as kindness and humour. We weren’t rushed or pressured and they offered a very competitive winter wedding special. Despite the season, we still wanted the ceremony to take place outdoors. Warren assured us that they could set everything up outside but, at a moment’s notice, could rearrange everything indoors if the weather didn’t hold (fortunately it did). They were open to whatever level of decoration we wanted for the reception and were flexible with the meal selections, which was perfect given that I and several of our guests required vegetarian or gluten free options. They even cooked a special meal just for the BFG-husband-to-be, as he decided he’d like something special for such a festive occasion. The BFG is, decidedly, NOT vegetarian, so they prepared a Beef Wellington for him and even let us have an extra dessert to share :).

We were really impressed with the wait and bar staff and how everything ran seamlessly, including the music (for both the ceremony and the dancing) and the all-important monitoring of the bar tab :). We were also pleasantly surprised by the special touches, such as presenting our Best Man and Maid of Honour (Oh Chief of the Brideslaves) with a bottle of bubbly to celebrate the fact that they had got married at the very same venue, in the same month, but four years earlier.

We can’t say enough good things about this venue and would recommend it to any couple looking to get married somewhere really special.

Blackroom Sarah's wedding blog-21

The food
The food was divine! We had bubbles just after the ceremony along with some delightful canapes: mini BBQ pulled pork burgers with crispy purple slaw; pan seared prawns with garlic, lemon and dill mayonnaise; and mozzarella arancini with tomato and basil coulis for the vegetarians.

For the meat eaters, the entree selections were smoked ham hock rillette with warm mustard veloute and crisp; and grilled thyme and rosemary chicken on a haricot bean and pancetta cassoulet. The vegetarians were lucky enough to enjoy a caramelised shallot Tarte Tatin with roasted peppers and rocket.

The main meal choices for the carnivores were sticky beef short ribs with potato gratin, honey glazed carrots and braised leeks or Marlborough Salmon with a lemon and parsley crumb accompanied by crushed potato and green pea sauce. The vegos supped on potato, leek & mushroom filo pie with baby spinach salad.

Finally, the desserts! Sticky date pudding with caramel sauce and crème fraiche ice-cream or warm chocolate fudge cake with chocolate semifreddo and salted caramel sauce. There was also a spiced apple crumble for the vegan and gluten free guests.

 

Of course, I didn’t try the meaty meals, but the shallot Tarte Tatin was a perfect balance of sweet caramelised shallots and rich roasted peppers with some very tasty pastry.  I was too nervous about my speech to finish the main course but it was cooked to perfection. Having had the chance to try the first two desserts, I can state with great satisfaction that they were decadent and delicious!

The photographer
Megan Blackwell of Blackroom Photography was absolutely wonderful. We chose her not only because she is a friend of ours but because she does beautiful work. And, as it turns out, she is also a pleasure to work with. We were really pleased with how easy she made the whole process: from discussing possible shots before the event, to helping us to compose great photos on the day, to finally putting it all together into albums and onto canvas, Megan was organised, professional, friendly and just plain delightful. It can be a risk engaging a friend in what is essentially a business relationship but, fortunately, Megan did not disappoint. I have since recommended her to many people for their weddings or other special occasion photography and would not hesitate to do so again. She managed to capture some very special moments. All of the photos in these two wedding posts are from Blackroom Photography. Megan’s blog post on our wedding can be found here.

 

Hair and make-up
Elizabeth and her assistant from Face Me Make-up did a smashing job on my hair and make-up and really did help me to feel like I was the most beautiful bride ever. A special mention here goes to my Maid of Honour, who did the bridesmaids’ make-up and one of my other bridesmaids who did the bridesmaids’ hair. You really don’t have to spend a lot of money to get quality work done! Our budget only allowed for professional hair and make-up work for me, so I am just very lucky to have two very talented friends whose hair and make-up skills were second to none (even the professional!).

Blackroom Sarah's Blog-4

The wedding night
We didn’t immediately set off on honeymoon as we wanted to spend the day after the wedding with family at our place. But we did stay somewhere special on our wedding night. Rosebud Cottage was tastefully decorated, warm and cosy. A highlight was the outdoor bath under the stars! Our hosts were lovely and even posted back the tie that the BFG accidentally left behind.

Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, we were not able to have our honeymoon in Thailand, as planned. But we were lucky enough to have two local honeymoons instead: the first in Rotorua just after the wedding, and the second in Wellington a few months later. Highlights of the first included visiting Paradise Valley Springs Wildlife Park, staying in a suite and getting massages. The best bits of the second were the Zest Food Tour, the Weta Workshop tour, and Wellington Zoo, where we experienced a Cheetah encounter.

All in all, we had a perfect day and a lovely pair of honeymoons. What a very lucky girl I am :). And now, we also have a beautiful baby boy. More on this at my other blog The Pudding Club… when he gives me some time to write!

I would love for you to share the best bits of your wedding and any recommendations you might have for those planning their special days below :). Till next time…

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Naughty New Year Niceties

26 Feb

We were away for the holiday period so I didn’t have the chance to do much cooking or baking, apart from helping out in other people’s kitchens, which mostly involved chopping veges and tasting dishes. I had planned to write about my Christmas recipe experiments, but in the end there weren’t any. Oops. Instead I travelled, visited friends and family, socialised and relaxed.

So, instead of Christmas recipes, I have a couple of New Year recipes for you. One is pretty easy-peasy and the other, a little harder, especially if you are easily distracted like me…

Potato Gratin

This is a favourite of mine because it’s so easy and so damn delicious. As a bonus, it’s reasonably healthy too. The traditional French recipe calls for lots of cream and butter: this is just as delicious but with less of the fatty stuff. Make sure you cook it for at least an hour so that the potatoes are melt-in-the-mouth consistency and the stock has had time to develop into a thick, tasty sauce.

I have made this recipe so many times that it can really only be called a very loose adaptation of the one I originally found in a low-fat cook book, which I sadly no longer possess.

Potato Gratin Recipe

  • 1 garlic clove (ok, so I forgot this this time so I’m going to call it optional, but it does add some flavour)
  • Around 5 large potatoes – how many you use depends on how deep you want the dish to be. Bear in mind that the deeper it is, the more cooking it will need. I usually use 4 – 6 potatoes, depending on their size –  Cut these into thin slices
  • 600ml to 1 litre vegetable stock – the original recipe used chicken stock, but vege stock gives just as much flavour
  • Parmesan cheese, grated – approximately 1 cupful (the original recipe says 3 tbsp but hey)
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • Salt and black pepper to season
  • A large, oven-proof dish. I used an ovular Pyrex one (see photos)
  1. Preheat the oven to 200° C (392 °F)
  2. Halve the garlic clove and rub over the bottom and sides of your dish, then grease the dish as well. You can use a roasting dish if you don’t have a Pyrex one
  3. Arrange the thinly sliced potato pieces in the dish so they form a layer
  4. Sprinkle with some grated Parmesan and season with salt and pepper
  5. Layer again with potatoes and sprinkle with cheese, salt, pepper
  6. Repeat until you reach your desired dish depth. The original recipe says three layers, but I tend to do a few more
  7. Pour stock over so that it is enough to cover the potatoes but not drown them
  8. Sprinkle with nutmeg
  9. Add a final covering of cheese
  10. Bake at 180 deg for about an hour. You may need to extend this to 1.5 hours, depending on your oven and how much you want to brown the potatoes
  11. Test near the end of the cooking time to ensure that the potatoes are soft and the stock sauce is bubbling and thickened

Beautiful as a main or as a side dish.

 

Russian Fudge

I managed to whip up some Russian Fudge for a loved one’s birthday. As I launched into the fudge making process, I had vague memories of only ever having made this particular treat successfully once, but I ignored that and decided that it was time to give it another crack. Well, in all honesty, it is not the easiest thing to make and it was almost a disaster and I almost had a meltdown, which is not really like me, but I am a little bit more prone to meltdowns at the moment…

I have to confess to not being very good at carefully watching things that are simmering or boiling on the stove top, such as custard, white sauces or… fudge. So, it came very close to being burnt. After attempting to bring the mixture to the boil, I saw some ominous brown flecks float to the surface, pulled the saucepan off the element and declared the project a ruinous mess! But then the BFG (after sticking a finger in the hot-mess-mix and then in his mouth) pointed out that it didn’t taste or look burnt and I should soldier on. And so, soldier on I did, being a lot more careful to SLOWLY heat the mixture and to bring it to a GENTLE boil as the recipe instructs and it turned out pretty perfectly. I think part of the problem is that I get impatient and turn the heat up too high and, not surprisingly, end up burning things. Let’s just say that the BFG no longer lets me grill things in the oven. Well, he threatens this anyway :). So, my tips for good fudge making include:

  1. Keep an eagle eye on the mixture while it’s heating and make sure you’re doing it gradually (read: slowly and gently heating!)
  2. Follow the instructions around the timing of the boiling and the beating of the mixture
  3. Use the soft ball test. It actually works! This is when you test if the mixture is ready by dropping a little bit into cold water and seeing if it forms a soft ball. If it’s just a blob, it’s too soon; if it’s a hard ball, it’s too late!

Russian Fudge recipe

I used the Chelsea Sugar recipe, which is apparently originally a Jo Seagar recipe.

  • 3.5 cups white sugar
  • 125g butter
  • 3 Tbsp Golden Syrup
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 200g sweetened condensed milk (half a tin)
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  1. Grease a 20cm cake tin or slice tin
  2. Place all the ingredients except the vanilla into a medium, heavy based saucepan
  3. Warm over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved, about 10-15 mins
  4. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for about 10-15 minutes, until it reaches the soft ball stage (as mentioned above, but if you have a candy thermometer the temperature should reach 120°C
  5. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla
  6. Cool for 5 minutes then beat using an electric mixer until the fudge is creamy and thick and has lost its gloss (approx. 10 minutes)
  7. Pour into the prepared tin, score the top and cut into pieces when set

A tip from the original website: Cut two sheets of baking paper the width of the tin, criss-cross the paper to line the tin making sure the sheets are long enough to extend over the sides. Use the paper to lift the fudge out of the tin once it has set.

Unfortunately I didn’t take many photos of the fudge: the ones that didn’t end up in the birthday package (along with some of my date truffles) were taken to my Book Club… and devoured! If you’re wondering what the first picture is, it’s my Scottish spoon rest. Brought back all the way from Edinburgh and very handy too!

 

Before I finish, for those who are wondering, there will be a wedding blog part deux, but all in good time, my friends. I may have been a little distracted by another exciting blogject on the go! It was launched a couple of weeks ago and can be read here: Pudding Club Days.

 

 

 

 

Frocks, jocks and polka dot socks – The Wedding: Part One

3 Dec

So here I am again, post-wedding. We had an absolutely wonderful wedding day. The weather held out, the venue and its staff were amazing, the bridal party did a top notch job and everyone seemed to have a good time. It was definitely one of the best days of my life, probably THE best to date, which is as it should be.

The whole process leading up to our wedding day was a really interesting one. There was so much to do, but I relished every aspect of it. So many people asked if I was nervous and balked at our nine-month time frame from engagement to W-day, but really there was plenty of time to do everything we needed to and my focus was on enjoying the process rather than getting stressed out about it.

Something blue?

Something blue?

I received one piece of really valuable advice from a friend who got married earlier in the year: Just let it go. There are so many pieces to the wedding day puzzle that it is almost inevitable that something doesn’t quite work out, but on the day the important thing is that you, your spouse-to-be, the celebrant, and hopefully some guests are there and, even better, everyone has a good time. All of the little things don’t matter, even though you may have spent months painstakingly getting them right. If something does go wrong, let it go! Or, as a former colleague would say, put on a blue dress, build a snowman and let it go! Yes, that is a Frozen reference for those who are confused. I apologise in advance for the ear worm.

Challenges along the way included: dress woes, special underwear and the search for the perfect sock (hence the blog title), plus the time it took to make the bouquets and to sort out the guest list.

Finding the perfect dress

I had this grand idea of what I wanted. It was quite different, it was not very bridal, it seemed it could be achieved easily and cheaply. Unfortunately, this was just not true. I ordered a dress online from an overseas bridal website. Now, this can and has worked out for plenty a bride, but buyer beware! This is not always the case, and certainly wasn’t for me.

I think the main issue was that I didn’t just pick one of their dresses and then ask for it in my size. No, I had to be difficult. My order was more like ” Could you combine this element of this dress and these elements of this one and then also change the colour … and the material?” Yep. That was probably asking for trouble even from a dressmaker I could physically meet. But throw in a few thousand miles and a language barrier and you’re bound to end up with something that isn’t quite right. Or, in my case, completely wrong. When it arrived it was the wrong colour and the wrong size. Now, I had lost some weight in between ordering and receiving said product but, how did they get the length wrong too? And the colour was several shades lighter than requested. Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to on-sell the dress, so if you know anyone who needs a ballgown (as this is decidedly not bridal, as stated above), then let me know.

Fortunately, with the help of my trusty MOH/COB (see previous post here), we found the perfect dress at a physical store. It was an hour out of central Auckland and it was a long-shot, but it was totally worth it. We arrived to find that not only did the dress I had seen on their website fit me perfectly, it also had pockets (!!) – very handy for storing emergency tissues for the potentially emotional bride – and another little secret feature which would come in handy for the first dance (all shall be revealed in part two of this blog). It was definitely bridal and also cheaper than the disaster-dress!! And, though it was nothing like what I originally had in mind, it was actually the perfect dress for me. My advice is to spend plenty of time looking for the right dress and not to settle for anything less than you deserve, but to also be realistic about cost, availability and the ability of the dressmaker to read your mind :).

The perfect wedding dress

The perfect wedding dress

Walking round in special underwear

There was a theme to the wedding – vintage, particularly polka dots. I decided very early on that a polka dot wedding dress would be way too OTT, but managed to find awesome polka dot bridesmaid dresses (see photo below). However, I had to get in on the action somehow, so I found some polka dot underwear. It took a while, but eventually I spotted some in Farmers. Good old reliable Farmers (a NZ department store for my non-kiwi friends). I will not be posting a photo of these since they were for the BF-Groom’s eyes only ;).

Bride and best girls' outfits

Bride and best girls’ outfits

The perfect, manly, polka dot sock

Surprisingly, it was easy enough to find polka dot ties online.  Socks for the BFG and his boys were a bit more of a challenge. We looked in several stores and all over the internet but we were struggling to find socks that were dark blue with white polka dots, so that they matched the ties and the bridesmaids’ dresses. In the end we settled for lighter blue socks, rather than dark, and white dashes which, from a distance, could be mistaken for polka dots. After all, we wouldn’t really be seeing the blokes’ socks all that much on the day, except for the odd photo or two. They ended up looking quite smart. Check out the awesome cuff links too!

Spot on socks

Spot on socks

Bl**dy bouquets and button-holes

I wanted to do a few DIY things for the wedding for three reasons. Firstly, I knew it would save us some money. Secondly, I wanted an excuse to create things (something I hadn’t done for a while) and to have my creations be part of our wedding. Lastly, I knew that it would add a point of difference and would represent “us” more.

So, the biggest DIY job (for me, anyway) was creating the bouquets and button-holes. I also made my garter, but that was the work of about ten minutes, so nowhere near as trying by comparison. I decided to make ribbon rose bouquets, as I didn’t want to use fresh flowers, which are both expensive and perishable. Ribbon rose bouquets can look amazing, but it’s a matter of learning how to make them, refining the technique so the roses are similar in size and shape, making a whole sh*tload of them and then figuring out how to attach them to a handle of some sort. As you can tell from the *censored sweariness*, this is the only part that got me a little stressed!

Fortunately, I had (yet again) my COB on hand to help. Many a night was spent making flower after flower while watching TV or doing anything else that didn’t require my hands.  The button-holes, fortunately, were pretty simple as they only required three small flowers, but the bouquets required around 40 flowers each and I was making four of them. Soooo, you can imagine that I got pretty good at making ribbon roses over the course of several months. The BFG was also instrumental in helping me to figure out how to attach the flowers (reasonably) securely to the bouquet-holder base. And I’m quite proud of the result. The BFG also designed and printed some amazing “Wedding Survival Guides” for our guests.


Bouquets and shoes

Bouquets and shoes

 

Handmade bouquet - boom!

Handmade bouquet – boom!

Letting it go

And so, I let it go. And really nothing went wrong. At least, nothing that I noticed. Nothing that ruined the day or even made it less awesome. As I said, both I and the BFG think it was a perfect day.

The wonderful BFG (Big Friendly Groom – is he still a groom after the wedding day??) is making me his own special version of macaroni cheese, so I’m going to sign off for now.

BUT, stay tuned for part two, where I discuss the suppliers, the highlights of the day, the honeymoon, and, most importantly, THE FOOD!

 

 

Boot baking and dressmaking

9 Jun

Just a wee note to show off my latest cake and baking/cooking creations and to share a few wedding-related stories.

I happily enrolled for another cake decorating class recently. Unfortunately there were a few last minute cancellations by students, so the class only ran for one out of four nights (since most people had already baked cakes for the first class). Despite this setback, we managed to make some awesome some high-heeled boot cakes. It ended up being sold for a worthy cause at my workplace’s Pink Shirt Day bake sale. I forgot to wear a pink shirt, but at least I brought cake! Thanks to my colleague, Linda Nguyen, for the bake sale photos.

 

I must admit that the cake I baked beforehand actually fell apart, so the cake under all of that fondant in the picture was actually one that my teachers made. Luckily for me, they had baked, frozen, thawed and brought along an extra cake in case someone had a cake fail… Oops. BUT the decorating is all my own handiwork. I was looking forward to making more amazing looking cakes, but I shall have to wait until the next class and until I decorate my own wedding cake the week after next! Wow, time has flown by so quickly!

I also tried out another of the wonderful recipes from the marvellous Outlander Kitchen website in preparation for another Outlander-watching-marathon. For those who didn’t manage to read my last post, OK (Outlander Kitchen) combines two of my favourite things by posting “historical and character-inspired recipes from the fictional world of Diana Gabaldon”. Food + fiction! What could be better?!?!

So, I tested out the recipe for bannocks, found here. Bannocks are kind of a flat, oaty scone. I wasn’t sure how they would turn out, but they were delicious, especially when hot from the oven and smothered with butter on a wintry, wet Sunday. Don’t worry if they don’t rise too much. Mine didn’t, but I don’t think they’re supposed to if the picture on the OK site is anything to go by. Here’s a picture of my scrumptious bannocks.

Ma wee bannocks

Ma wee bannocks

The Outlander-fest was once again held with my wonderful MOH. What is an MOH, you may ask? If you haven’t been perusing wedding websites lately, especially American ones, you may not know that this is an acronym for “Maid or Matron of Honour”. I tend not to use this title as it’s a bit old-fashioned for me, so “Chief Bridesmaid” is bandied about more often. Also, I have been known to call her “O Chief of the Brideslaves!” :). We both have a fondness for great food and men in kilts and she has been absolutely invaluable in the planning of the wedding. Long story short, my COB is amazing and I don’t know what I’d do without her! I’m looking forward to sharing another pre-wedding Jamie-marathon, I mean, Outlander-marathon, with her soon!

The other recipe I wanted to share was BBC Good Food’s Creamy courgette lasagne. Just another one to add to your repertoire that’s a bit different and doesn’t require a million ingredients, as many other lasagne recipes do. I used fresh pasta sheets instead of dried ones, to make the process a little quicker, and I used cottage cheese instead of ricotta as it’s cheaper and easier to find. Plus, I can’t really tell the difference between the two…

Creamy courgette lasagne

Creamy courgette lasagne

Lastly, it pays to shop around, and not just for cake boards and flowers. I went to two different dressmakers to get quotes for alterations to my wedding dress. One, which shall remain nameless, quoted upwards of $350. They urged me to make an appointment with their bridal specialist as soon as possible. It was a fancy chain store in a more upmarket area of Auckland, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. The second quote was from a very experienced seamstress who works from home. She quoted the music-to-my-ears sum of $120. Needless to say, I didn’t book that appointment with the bridal specialist!

Ok, so my next post will be post-wedding!! I’m really really really looking forward to marrying the lovely BFG and I can’t wait to tell you how it all goes… Stay tuned!

Joining the baggy pants club again

21 Apr

Wow! Has it been that long since I last published a post? Ooops! Time has got away on me and wedding planning has taken over ever so slightly… It’s probably a good thing though as a lot has happened since my last post…. on 14th December. Ooops, again… Let’s see. I had a lovely Christmas with the BFG and his family and since then I have managed to extend my work secondment, book a wedding venue, hire a celebrant and a photographer, buy two wedding dresses (the first one didn’t work out but the second one is beautiful, thank goodness!), send out Save the Dates and, more recently, post wedding invitations. I am knee deep in centre piece materials and fabric flowers, the Hens’ party is being planned as I type, the BFG has been prodded and prompted when necessary 😉 and it is now W minus 67 days!!!! 

Oh and I also signed myself up for the ten week Mind Body Transformation (MBT) programme my Boot Camp was running and lost seven kilos! I’m pretty proud of that. I had already been a Boot Camp member for about a year and a half, and thought I was doing really well. I went religiously, three times a week and also did a bit of running in between sessions. My fitness increased and I felt good and healthy. However, over the course of the last year I managed to put on 4 – 6 kilos. Not a colossal amount, true, but on a 153cm frame, it shows. I’m not a huge fan of scales, it has to be said, but they are sometimes a good reminder that things have changed and perhaps that change indicates the need for a change in behaviour. I’ve realised that this weight gain occurred because I had fooled myself into thinking that, because I was exercising a lot, I could eat whatever the hell I wanted. Eeeeennnkk! Cue the “wrong answer”-game-show-buzzer noise! Simply. Not. True. For one, exercise can burn off a certain amount of calorie consumption, but calories in still need to be lower than calories out (the amount of calories burned through exercise) for weight loss to occur. Plus, when you’re exercising a lot, you need to be fueling your body properly with good, healthy foods, enough protein for your body to repair itself, enough water for your body to be properly hydrated and therefore function at its peak, enough fruit and vegetables to absorb enough minerals and vitamins … the list goes on.

Now, I am not a qualified nutritionist or trainer, so I’m not going to go into detail about this stuff as I don’t want to give you the wrong advice, but mostly it’s just common sense. I knew all the things I needed to be doing: I just wasn’t doing them. I have learnt over many years, but clearly needed to be reminded, that there is no quick fix. It’s all about changing your lifestyle. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything that you don’t know already. For me, doing this programme was about getting me back into good habits; habits I had once performed without really having to think about them. After ten weeks I am back into practising good habits and the result is noticeable! I allow myself treats, but only once or twice a week (or if I have more than that then I compensate with more exercise), I drink more water, I am eating more fruits and vegetables, more protein and fewer carbs, and (SHOCK HORROR!) less sugar :). My portion sizes are smaller and so is my waistline! The BFG was dragged into this and, even though he is able to consume a lot more calories than I can, given the fact that he’s over a foot taller than me and is naturally slim and athletic, he has found benefit in this programme too. He’s eating less sugar, is more toned and has lost some weight as well.

“So what did you eat during this time?!” I hear you ask. Well, many things, not all of them healthy, BUT I made enough of a change that my weight and my behaviours changed too. Mostly my strategy was to up my exercise (sometimes doing two Boot Camp sessions in a day), reduce portion sizes and stick to healthy foods, except for two pieces of dark chocolate most evenings. Chocolate has many health benefits of course – it’s even good for vascular function, apparently. Since two pieces doesn’t exactly tip the calorie scales all that much, this was my way of having my cake and eating a very small portion of it too. Choosing to sometimes have this small treat made all the difference in terms of making smart choices earlier in the day. I knew that if I held out till after dinner I could have a reward that wouldn’t really affect my weight loss. And, for some reason, just after dinner is when I crave sweet treats the most.

I also discovered that drinking more water really helped. Now everyone knows we should be drinking eight glasses of water, or more, each day, but it’s easier said than done. I actually found this really difficult to do, even on Boot Camp days. So I had to consciously consume more. The benefits were weight loss, of course, but also being less hungry and having clearer skin. Also, curiously, I realised that sometimes when I thought I was hungry, I was actually thirsty.

One of the best things about this programme was tracking what I ate and drank. Now at first I thought that I really couldn’t be bothered noting down every single thing I ate and tracking how many glasses of water I drank. But it really does help you to be aware of what you’re putting into your body, how many calories it works out to, and what results it achieves. We used the My Fitness Pal app and it was fantastic! It contains a database of foods created by the developer and then added to through user input and it even lets you scan the barcodes of packaged food, which was pretty fun and easy to do. The app lets you track your food, water, exercise, weight and measurements, so it really was invaluable.

Onto the recipes! Let’s start with the healthier ones and then finish with some naughtiness ;).

The wonders of cruciferous vegetables

For those who don’t know, cruciferous veges (cauliflower, broccoli, etc.) have AMAZING health benefits. They promote better digestion, and it’s thought that they help to prevent cancer and diabetes as well. See here and here for more info. The BFG and I tried substituting cauliflower for carbs. As this seems to be all the rage at the moment, we wanted to give it a crack to see if it really was a tasty substitute or if it was as delicious as chewing on cardboard. We used it as a pizza base and as a rice substitute with curry. And it was actually delicious! But, a word of warning, it does take quite a bit of effort. Having to chop then blend a whole lot of cauliflower and then dry it takes a bit of time and patience. I thought it was well worth it, but that could be because it was the BFG that did all the hard work before I got home… I also made a delicious broccoli and potato soup from my Veganomicon recipe book (online version here).

 

I also found a recipe for Moroccan Chicken Couscous with dates … and you know how much I love dates! I substituted the chicken with Quorn pieces since I’m a vege and it was YUM.

Moroccan fake chicken couscous with dates

Moroccan fake chicken couscous with dates

 

My new favourite place

We also had a lovely MBT brunch at a local cafe called Ethos. This place is now my favourite brunch place. You only have to look at the photo below to understand why. They have lots of healthy brunchy foods as well as delicious slices, cakes and smoothies.

Ethos breakfast hash

Ethos breakfast hash

 

Chocolate covered everything

And of course, I had to try out some more of Chocolate Covered Katie’s recipes. Katie’s Cookie Dough Protein shake was a good post-workout breakfast, though it was still fairly high in calories. I don’t normally buy protein powder, but had some left from a post-running race goodie bag. Her dark chocolate banana bread is dense and moist and lovely served warm. I sprinkled chunks of dark chocolate on top but next time I make it I’ll add them to the mix as well. Unfortunately I neglected to get a picture of this one, but I did get a photo of a thawed frozen banana. These things look disgusting but are great for so many recipes!

 

Naughty but so so nice

I also tried Katie’s Brownie Batter pancakes. A very decadent breakfast made marginally healthier than it otherwise might have been :). ‘Nuff said! I served them with her Healthy Chocolate Sauce, using coconut oil, cocoa and a bit of maple syrup as even though Stevia may have the health benefits its marketed as having, there is some suggestion that it could have some other unwanted side effects too.

Hot Cross buns were a must at Easter. It’s a family tradition and I love the whole process: patiently waiting for the yeast to rise on the window sill, giving the mixture a good old, therapeutic knead to punch the excess air out of it, rolling the short pastry crosses for the top. And, lastly, cutting open fresh hot buns, spreading butter onto them and watching it go all melty. *Sigh* I enjoy these even more than the Easter chocolate, believe it or not.

 

On the very welcome return of the series Outlander (if you haven’t heard of it, where have you been?!?), my Outlander and Boot Camp buddy and I partook in some lovely Scottish fare, namely Millionaire Shortbread. The recipe was from Outlander Kitchen, which is fast becoming another favourite foodie site of mine, but definitely not the place to go for healthy recipes :). It was rich, but melted in the mouth and gave me a sugar hit that I haven’t experienced in quite some time… That recipe may have to be banished for a while!

Home gardens equal healthier lives

The final picture is of our burgeoning garden. Usually the plants sit on the deck, but we stained it recently so everything was clustered by the back door for a while. We’re already producing more lettuce than we can use and the herbs are not doing as well as we’d like, but we still manage to add them to recipes here and there. The idea is that by growing some of our own food we’ll save a bit of money and eat a bit more healthily. We haven’t got a lot of space to plant, but we do what we can with the space we have. On that note, I’ll leave you to your evening. I can’t promise to post regularly before the wedding, but I’ll try to add short blogs here and there and will definitely be writing more regularly after the big day. Wishing you health, wealth and happiness!

 

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