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).
What a brilliant Easter weekend. It’s hard to beat four whole days of food, family and sunshine. This week has been a bit of a slog after all that fun, and the grey, drizzly days aren’t helping; the BBC weather headline for today was “mist and murk” which sums it up perfectly! The lovely long weekend already feels like a lifetime away.
We had a bit of a family-fest over Easter, so of course it was also a bit of a cook-a-thon for me. In between walks in the Botanics and along the John Muir Way (of which more later), a visit to a Lego Exhibition (sadly now finished), playing with Jenga, cellos, Monopoly and dolls houses, and multiple treasure hunts, ice creams and conversations about bodily functions (that’s what happens when two of your company are aged 3 years and 10 months!) we fitted in a lot of food. Above are hot cross cupcakes, chocolate pecan pie, Easter Sunday roast chicken and a prepare ahead dinner of duck ragu for two. There was so much food that I can’t quite decide which recipe to share with you, so I’m putting it to a vote! Let me know which recipe you want to see and I’ll post it ASAP.
I had planned to post this last weekend but then I came down with something unpleasant and it hung around all week, so my plans went awry. I am thankfully feeling better now and finally getting caught up! Being ill while the boyfriend was away with work was pretty miserable though, so it made days 78 to 82 of my 100 happy days project more challenging than the others. But you’ll have to wait until the next (and final) round up for those (unless you’re following along on instagram); for now here are days 51 to 75, which have seen some family time, a beautiful bouquet, some sunny and sociable days, and some experimenting with curling hair and making marshmallow fudge, the latter of which I’m sharing with you. I’ve never had much luck with fudge before – I’m a bit scared of all the boiling sugar – but the marshmallows make this much less of an exact science. The results are yummy but dangerously moreish!
Chocolate, peanut butter and marshmallow fudge (adapted from Lorraine Pascale’s recipe)
1. Put 70g butter, 300g soft light brown sugar and 125g evaporated milk in a pan over a low heat and melt gently until the sugar dissolves. Add 225g mini marshmallows, turn up the heat and boil for 5-6 minutes.
2. Take the pan off the heat and add 150g chocolate chips and 150g smooth peanut butter. Rest for a minute while the chocolate melts then stir together until smooth.
3. Pour the mixture into a greased and lined 20cm square tin. Cool in the fridge until set then cut into squares. It’s best eaten straight from the fridge.
We had friends round for brunch on Sunday and it was very lovely. We were out celebrating another friend’s birthday on Saturday night so I knew I had to prepare ahead, as there would just be time to roll out of bed and have a shower to shake the hangover on Sunday morning! We love entertaining (brunch, dinner, karaoke, cocktails … you name it, we love to host it) so over time I have developed these tried and tested tips for easy entertaining. I have a friend who is so on top of things he types up a detailed timeline for the day of the do; I’m not quite that organised but here are my top tips for stress free hosting!
1. Plan food that you can prepare in advance. Inspired by my mum, an expert in prepare-ahead meals, I always try to choose a menu which can be prepped earlier in the day (or the night before) and either popped in the oven or quickly assembled on the plates when our guests get here. For brunch we had this spinach and cheese strata (with added chorizo) which I smugly put together before going out on Saturday night! Much less stressful than the tapas feast I made last month which left me in a total last minute flap: lesson learned.
2. Set your table as far ahead as you like, and pick out your serving dishes too. If we’re hosting on a weeknight, I might set the table in the morning before work, or even the night before. It always takes longer than you think to find the matching cutlery (we have two sets that always get mixed up), and the sight of the table all set and ready has a strangely calming effect on pre-party nerves. The same goes for doing any dishes the preparations have created so you start the festivities with a clear, clean kitchen.
3. Clean your bathroom and put out a fresh hand towel. Even if it’s just hanging on top of your own damp towels from your hangover-clearing shower, this is a must.
4. Pick out lighting and a playlist to set the mood: whether it’s bright and bouncy for a big party, or nice and soothing for an early brunch, both can really help to get you and your guests in the right mood.
5. Get yourself very nearly ready before you finish off the food. I usually do my hair and makeup before the final food preparations so all I have to do at the last minute is change my clothes. We live on the fourth floor so at a push I can get changed in the time it takes visitors to climb the stairs!