It was his birthday in February and we had a weekend of cake and castles, and a cottage with a hot tub (hence the cake!). The cloudy skies made both photography and stargazing a challenge, but the cosy cottage was perfect for snuggling up and playing Scrabble, and we did at least see some sunshine on our way home.
We were given Historic Scotland membership for Christmas so we put it to good use, stopping at Linlithgow Palace and Bothwell Castle along the way as well as a bumper day in the drizzle on Saturday with visits to Caerlaverock Castle, Sweetheart Abbey and New Abbey Corn Mill! Caerlaverock is certainly impressive, with a full moat surrounding a fascinating mixture of architecture thanks to additions and upgrades over the years. There was a wedding taking place while we were visiting which was especially exciting as we’re getting married in a Historic Scotland property in June!
Closer to home, Linlithgow Palace is well worth a visit, with lots of towers to climb and cellars to explore. There is so much of the palace left you can really imagine how it operated in its heyday when Mary Queen of Scots was growing up there. Linlithgow itself is a pretty little town and I would recommend exploring the shops and cafes while you’re in the area, as well as the gentle 2 mile walk around the loch overlooked by the palace.
On Mothering Sunday we had family round for dinner, and after toying with various roast dinner ideas I decided to go Italian, serving bruschetta, lasagne and a chocolate cake for dessert. I do love a good dinner party, as long as I can prepare ahead to avoid any last minute stress! The bruschetta was a simple combination of toasted ciabatta, tomatoes, olive oil, prosciutto, mozarella and a fairly improvised rocket pesto type thing. The chocolate cake was more exciting than it sounds, as I used Lorraine Pascale’s ‘crouching tiger, hidden zebra’ recipe so when cut it revealed chocolate and orange stripes. But the real piece de resistance (or whatever the Italian equivalent is) was the smoked salmon and spinach lasagne we had for the main course. This lasagne with a difference always goes down well, and is one of my all time favourite things to make (and eat!).
Smoked salmon lasagne (based on Tom Kitchin’s recipe)
1. I like to prepare the fillings first. Melt a knob of butter in a large pan and gently saute 2 sliced leeks for 2-3 minutes. Add 400g spinach, a handful at a time, and cook until wilted.
2. Cook 200g salmon (approx 2 fillets) however you like: poached, steamed, roasted or even microwaved in a covered dish. Cool the fillets then break them up into small pieces and mix with 200g smoked salmon, also in small bits. Grate 150g mature cheddar cheese into a separate bowl and set aside.
3. To make the bechamel sauce melt 75g butter in a heavy-based saucepan, then whisk in 75g plain flour and cook, stirring, for a minute or two. Gradually add 850ml milk, whisking until smooth, then allow to simmer and thicken, stirring regularly. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Make up the lasagne in a large ovenproof dish. This serves 6 comfortably so don’t skimp on size! Start with a layer of bechamel sauce on the bottom of the dish, then cover with lasagne sheets (my dish needs 4 sheets per layer). Spoon half of the leek and spinach mixture on top of the lasagne, followed by a third of the salmon. I find the easiest way to do this is to pop on food preparation gloves and do it with my hands!
5. Top with a third of the remaining bechamel and a sprinkling of cheese. Repeat the layers (lasagne / spinach / salmon / bechamel / cheese) then top with a final layer of lasagne sheets. Spoon the remaining bechamel all over, scatter with the salmon and cover with cheese.
6. Bake at 180 C / gas mark 4 for about 45 minutes until golden brown on top. You can easily prepare the lasagne in advance and cook for a little longer to ensure it is heated through. It’s perfect served with a green salad to balance the rich cheesy goodness!
Today was the dedication of my friends’ youngest boy, and I made these two gifts in keeping with those I made for his brother a few years ago. Rory is Oliver‘s baby brother and he’s just brilliant! He and Micah bring such joy to us all, they really are the rainbows amid the storms. He now has his very own rainbow hoop, and we all enjoyed his rainbow cake this afternoon!
As usual I turned to my favourite madeira cake recipe (complete with handy tips) and got to make use of my new 6 inch tin for that wee top tier. My trusty tool kit including a pizza cutter, ruler, tape measure and paint brush were put to good use. It was also good to try making some fondant bunting, in the interests of wedding cake research; not long to go now!
I’ve just discovered I missed breakfast week! On work days I don’t manage much breakfast as I’m too busy rushing around to get to work on time, but at the weekend brunch is my favourite meal of the day. Partly because the contrast with my week days feels so luxurious, and partly because I really really love eggs. In fact, I like brunch so much I even have a pinterest board dedicated to it!
I thought I would take the opportunity to share some of my best brunches with you, as captured on instagram (things might be quiet around here but you can still find me over there on a regular basis). Clockwise from top left:
1. Frittata can frequently be found on our menu, and is a great way of using up whatever’s in the fridge. See below for a recipe.
2. I’ve recently discovered green smoothies and they are taking my mid-week breakfasts from non-existent to refreshing and healthy. This recipe is a good place to start, although I also love a spinach-orange-pineapple-grape combo.
3. Another regular visitor to our breakfast table is some sort of strata. There is a great starter recipe here, but again this is a good way of emptying your fridge. I like to add bacon, chorizo, leek, spring onion, mushrooms, stilton … whatever is kicking around! If you add enough eggs and milk there is no need to let it soak overnight, so don’t worry if you’re not that organised.
4. I’ve shared my favourite pancake recipe with you before: gingerbread pancakes, best served with bacon and maple syrup. Pancakes are handy if you don’t have much in the house, as even without the spices they make a great base for a hearty breakfast.
5. Bonus brunch recipe: I’m intrigued by these cloud eggs! Might have to try them tomorrow.
Now, on to the recipe.
This recipe is fairly flexible, so feel free to change it up depending on what you have on hand. The basic method is to saute meat and vegetables, then add eggs and bake until set. This is one of my favourite variations:
1. Melt a knob of butter in a large frying pan. Add 2 rashers smoked bacon, chopped. Once the bacon is cooked, add 1 chopped onion and saute until soft. Add a large handful of spinach and stir until wilted, then remove from the heat.
2. Grease a large casserole dish (the prettier the better where brunch is concerned) and spread the bacon mixture over the bottom of the dish. Scatter over 10-15 cherry tomatoes.
3. Beat 5 large eggs with a splash of milk. Pour over the bacon and vegetables. Season with salt and pepper and top with a handful of grated cheese.
4. Bake at 180 C for 20-30 minutes, until set. Serve slices with crusty bread or salad.
I came down with the dreaded festive lurgy a week before Christmas and am only just feeling better, so the Christmas holidays haven’t exactly gone according to plan. Amongst the cancelled plans, prolonged naps, bottles of cough syrup, mountains of tissues and extensive tv watching we did however find room for a little fun, and some good food. There were outside lights and an almost-too-tall tree, a three bird roast and my Mr’s first mince pies (I didn’t want to sneeze in the pastry), lazy mornings and a trip into town. Thankfully I was feeling well enough to host a little ‘winterfiesta’ on Hogmanay, comprising a big pot of chilli and some spiced brownies (a.k.a. these with a little cayenne thrown in to the mix), mulled cider and some papel picado-esque paper snowflakes (for which these templates came in very handy). So those were my holidays; how were yours?
Last Sunday night we bundled ourselves up in our warmest clothes, filled our tummies with pasta and headed out into the cold. We had tickets for Night in the Garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens, a trail of light installations topped off with mulled wine and mince pies in the cafe. The whole experience was kind of magical: being in the gardens at night, the views over the city, the eerie soundtrack, seeing trees and plants from a completely different perspective. It’s amazing how much difference light can make.
I started this year with a photo challenge to encourage me to be brighter and lighter, in an attempt to focus on the good and grump a lot less. This year has brought a lot of joy and excitement but I’m still pretty grumpy, so I’ve decided to close the year the way I began it: with some happy instagramming. I’ll be following these daily prompts throughout December. Feel free to join me!