September was a bit of a busy month! I turned 30 (!!) in the middle of the month and was treated to two consecutive surprise weekends away, then there was the referendum, some decorating, a lot on at work and my first cold of the season. So far being thirty hasn’t been too bad.
The first of the big birthday surprises was a family weekend in the Lake District. I have no idea how they managed to keep it secret as we are all known for being terrible liars, but keep the secret they did, and it was brilliant!
Some of the things I want to remember about the weekend include:
The glorious weather, being too hot in jeans, and having to cool down with ice cream.
Lots and lots of bouncing on the trampoline. Nieces trying knee jumps and sitting jumps and various types of animal jumps. Daddies and Uncles bouncing too vigorously, and Granny doing her best but being told very seriously that she is “not very good at bouncing”.
Handing out drinks to passing walkers, and offering hopeless directional advice.
Playing pin the tail on Peter Rabbit.
A brilliant knitted birthday cake, and too many actual cupcakes to get through.
My nephew’s many attempts to escape / climb on the dining table / dismantle the gas oven.
My two nieces so sweetly holding hands in excitement as we arrived at Beatrix Potter world.
A fly by while sailing on Lake Windermere.
An incredible meal at two-Michelin-starred L’enclume. That feeling of anticipation, excitement and incredulity when taking the first bite of oyster pebble.
None of us ever remembering cash for the parking meter in town. Ever.
1. We had a lovely long weekend in London to go to Wimbledon, his first time and my sixth!
2. I got my hair cut, bringing back the bob. I missed it!
3. I made lots of cakes for my friends’ wedding, and we had a wonderful time celebrating with them.
The bride and groom wanted a selection of good, tasty cakes and weren’t too bothered about fancy decoration. In the end they had rich fruit cake with fondant and royal icing, carrot cake with cream cheese icing, and chocolate cake with fresh raspberry icing. I piped the designs on top and added fresh raspberries to bring them all together. The carrot cake didn’t find its stand until it was at the venue, hence the cardboard box in the photos above! Those boxes are well worth a mention though: an ebay bargain and perfect for transporting and maneuvering cakes around, and storing the spare cakes in the kitchen.
Of the three flavours the chocolate raspberry cake was the most popular, and there has been a recipe request from the bride. This chocolate cake recipe is my favourite for celebration cakes, as it’s moist and rich and both keeps and slices really well. After a few tests I settled on this fresh raspberry icing with more raspberries on top. It was just such a brilliant pink colour!
Chocolate celebration cake (recipe from Lindy’s cakes)
1. Line an 8 inch round tin with baking paper. The cake will be about 3 inches deep so make sure your tin is not too shallow.
2. Melt 225g unsalted butter, 225g good quality chocolate, 1 tbsp instant coffee, 450g soft brown sugar and 150ml water in a pan. Once melted allow to cool then add 4 large eggs, 35ml vegetable oil and 100ml sour cream and stir well.
3. Sift 125g self raising flour, 125g plain flour, 50g cocoa powder and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour the chocolate mixture into the well and mix until thoroughly combined.
4. Pour the batter into the lined tin and bake at 160 C for 1 hour 45 mins or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. To stop it burning outside before baking inside, wrap the tin with several layers of newspaper before filling with batter. Once cooked through, remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.
5. When the cake is completely cool, cut it in half and fill with a layer of raspberry jam before icing.
Fresh raspberry icing (recipe from Two Peas and their Pod)
6. Puree 250g raspberries (I used a hand blender) then push through a sieve to remove the seeds.
7. Put the puree into a large mixing bowl with 250g icing sugar and 340g soft unsalted butter. Using an electric hand whisk, beat until well combined. Add another 250g icing sugar and continue to mix until light and fluffy.
8. Start off by scraping thin layer of icing all over the cake to catch the crumbs. You don’t want any dark chocolate crumbs in the nice pink icing! Once the crumb coat has set a little, dollop more icing on the top of the cake and gradually spread it all over. The cake is so rich you want a thick layer of icing to balance it. Finish off with some fresh raspberries to make it look pretty.
The day we moved into our new house was super sunny. The poor movers kept having to stop to rest in the shade while I dashed about with glasses of cold water! I think the first few weeks after we moved saw a lot of sun too, but we were too busy unpacking and assembling and rearranging to witness it ourselves. By the time we were ready to hang the bunting and make the most of our new garden with some housewarming BBQs, Scotland was over summer and the wind and rain had arrived! I did manage to grab some photographs of what was flowering a few weeks ago though. The previous owner left us a veggie patch complete with strawberries, potatoes, rhubarb, lettuce and mint so that’s been an unexpected delight, as have the new flowers that have popped up every week or so since we moved in. And long time readers will know just how much I love hanging laundry on the line!
We Scots are made of hardy stuff so we persevered with our parties in spite of the weather. We just grabbed jumpers and brollies, and have now hosted two BBQ parties, complete with last minute rainbow decorations and the above desserts (Nigella’s London cheesecake and my favourite chocolate berry pavlova, and a Very Big Mac cake inspired by Coco Cake Land). So our house is now feeling thoroughly warmed; it’s just a shame the garden is so chilly!
I don’t quite know where to start when talking about Orlando. It was brilliant and bonkers and absolutely amazing, even more so because we were celebrating our brand shiny new engagement while we were there! Yes, the boyfriend-now-fiance proposed at the end of May so we are now happily planning our wedding as well as still recovering from Florida and the big house move. It’s all been a bit overwhelming, in a wonderful way. I feel ridiculously lucky to be where I am (as I did in June, when we were in this magical place, with Mickey and Minnie and numerous princesses, and Harry and Hermione, and dolphins and lions and tigers and many many minions).
Just popping in to say sorry for the absence, and to give notice of more absence to come. No need to worry; all is well, and also exciting, overwhelming, and very busy as we are having not one but two holidays in June, and in between the two we are collecting the keys to our new home!
Yes, we have bought a house (a little by accident as we weren’t really looking, we were just doing some vague research and of course we found somewhere we love when we least expected to) and will be moving in July. So we’ll be leaving this fabulous city flat with its big windows and spotty floors, brilliant wallpaper and yellow doors, and moving to a lovely little house in a nearby seaside town. We’ll have a driveway, a conservatory and a garden, as well as some rooms and windows and things. All very grown-up-feeling, and super exciting, but it is going to be a bit hectic as we move to our new home sweet home! I’ll be back once things have quietened down a bit (and we’ve got an internet connection).
My 100 happy days finished over Easter weekend (so I’m only two weeks late posting this!). The final 25 days saw spring arrive in full force, plenty of time with family and friends, some stunning skies, some terrible weather, some brilliant breakfasts, and the start of what will hopefully be a summer of many ice creams!
I’ve already written about the joy of doing 100 happy days, and how it has helped me in my efforts to look on the bright side. I honestly can’t recommend it enough, and it’s been so lovely to see other friends picking it up during my 100 days. It’s also lovely to look back over the past 100 days, from the dark depths of January to a sparkly, sunny Easter weekend.
Speaking of Easter (and in a seamless segue), I promised you a hot cross cupcake recipe, so here it is!
Hot Cross Cupcakes (recipe from Twigg studios)
1. Melt 175g unsalted butter and allow to cool a little. Add the melted butter to a bowl with 3 large eggs, beaten, and 100 ml buttermilk (I just added some white wine vinegar to some normal milk and let it sit for a few minutes). Add zest of 1 orange and mix it all together.
2. In another bowl sift 175g self raising flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 175g light brown sugar, 2 tsp mixed spice and 70g ground almonds and mix. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix well.
3. Fold in 100g dried mixed fruit (I used sultanas, raisins and mixed peel but you could do something much more exciting) and divide the mixture between 12 muffin cases. Bake at 180 c for 18-20 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.
4. Once the cupcakes have cooled, make the topping. Mix 60g cream cheese, 20g butter, softened, and 60g icing sugar until smooth. Pipe crosses on top of the cupcakes (ideally using something like this, which makes it so much easier and less messy!).
The results are in and it’s a tie! Just as many of you wanted the hot cross cupcake recipe as wanted the duck ragu! There were some special requests for the duck though so I’m posting it first (unfortunately with the exact same photo as before as by the time I sat down to eat this I was hungry so prioritised my fork over my camera). I’ll be back with the cupcakes later in the week.
My sister introduced me to this recipe as something a bit special that requires little effort. A perfect prepare-ahead recipe, you have to simmer the duck legs for two hours so it’s handy to make it the night before you need it, and doesn’t take long to finish off on the day.
Duck ragu (serves 6)
1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large pan, then brown 4 duck legs on all sides for about 10 mins. Transfer the duck legs to a plate and set aside. Finely chop 2 onions and soften in the pan for 5 mins. Add 2 crushed garlic cloves and cook for another minute, then stir in 2 tsp ground cinnamon and 2 tsp plain flour for another minute.
2. Return the duck legs to the pan along with 250ml red wine, 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes, 250ml chicken stock, 3 rosemary sprigs, leaves picked and chopped, 2 bay leaves and 1 tsp sugar. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Bring the pan to a simmer then lower the heat, cover and leave to cook for 2 hours. You’ll need to check on it every so often and move the duck legs around a bit so they don’t stick to the pan.
4. After 2 hours, take the pan off the heat and lift out the duck legs, which will be very tender. Pull off any skin and fat, then shred the meat with 2 forks. Add the shredded duck to the sauce. If you’re preparing ahead, this is where to stop, allow the ragu to cool, and pop it in the fridge until you need it.
5. 15 minutes before serving, add 2 tbsp milk to the ragu and simmer, uncovered, while you cook the pasta. It’s lovely with something big and ribbony, like tagliatelle, a little bit of parmesan and a green salad on the side, and feels special enough to serve to guests (as we did this weekend, with this to start and this for afters).