Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The First Second

Tomorrow is Hubby's birthday. Not only is it exciting in it's own right but it's also the first time we have celebrated a specific special occasion more than once together. Our first second so to speak.

Having firsts is very exciting, new situations and new experiences, but although it sounds a little boring I am really looking forward to all the seconds (thirds, fourths and more...). This is going to be the beginning of us forming our own traditions. Exciting times.

Last year all my efforts for Hubby's birthday (although he wasn't hubby then), seemed to go horribly wrong. Not only did I choose presents that I thought were wonderful, but were way off the mark I also had a massive cake disaster. I spent ages baking a cake that looked delicious, but was actually held together but what I can only describe as chocolate flavoured cement. If effort and love could have made a cake taste delicious, this would have been the most wonderful cake ever. Unfortunately they don't and it wasn't.

This year I am playing it safe with a shop bought cake and have hopefully got some presents which will go down a little better. I really don't want to be making a tradition out of bad presents and worse cake.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Grilled Sweet Potato with Tomato, Honey & Mustard Salsa

Sweet potatoes are delicious. I love them in curry, as chips or wedges, but my all time favourite is to slice them thinly, grill them and top them with something delicious. 

I first got this idea from a tapas bar that I used to go to whenever I went home to visit my Dad, but unfortunately it has now closed. That meant that I had to start cooking it for myself, and bit by bit I changed the recipe and now it's almost completely unrecognisable. 

This makes a great side dish to share with friends, served either with some grilled meat or fish and a salad or as a combination of smaller dishes if tapas style eating is your thing. If it isn't your thing you should make it your thing. I think that there is no better way of eating than sharing lots of delicious yummy dishes with a group of friends. 

Take all the measurements as an approximation, I don't know how big your potatoes and tomatoes are. 

What I used...
4 sweet potatoes
2 fresh tomatoes
Half a red onion
Tablespoon of honey
Tablespoon of wholegrain mustard
Tablespoon of red wine vinegar
Tablespoon of olive oil + some for cooking

How I did it...
1. Heat the grill to medium.
2. Wash sweet potatoes.
3. Thinly slice sweet potatoes, lay on a baking tray, lightly spray or brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt & pepper.
4. Bake sweet potato until the edges are beginning to get crispy.
5. Chop tomatoes and half a red onion into small dice.
6. Mix mustard, honey, vinegar, olive oil, salt & pepper to make a dressing. Adjust quantities of each until the flavour is to your taste. I like equal quantities. 
7. Mix the tomatoes and onions into the dressing.
8. Arrange the sweet potato on a plate and top with the tomato, honey and mustard salsa.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Morning After The Nights Before

Although I moan about it, I really don't mind working on nightshifts. My problem is getting back into the swing of things afterwards. Luckily we do our nightshifts in little blocks and this morning I just finished my 4th nightshift in a row. Excitingly I'm not back at work until Monday so I hve some time to wind down.

My first day post nights always feels slightly wasted. I stumble home, exhausted and always do the same thing.

Drink, eat, catch up TV and bed.

I got in today and drank 2 pints of water (no time to drink in my 13hr shift last night) and then thought about what I'd fancy. The good thing is after a nightshift it's entirely up to you if you want breakfast or dinner. I went for my guilty pleasure. Instant noodles. There's something so comforting about a big bowl of really soupy instant noodles. These were Mama's pork flavour. A new favourite.

The noodles, the kitten and my iPad were all taken into my nice cosy bed. When I'm on nights I always sleep on hubby's side of the bed. It's silly but it's nice to be able to snuggle down under the duvet that smells like him and pretend he's there to cuddle. (Somewhat strangely hubby and I have separate duvets because otherwise I steal the duvet and hubby has to freeze - separate duvets are one of my top tips for a successful marriage.)

The blinds were drawn and Inara and I snuggled into the duvet to catch up with this week's 90210. Perfect. I fell asleep meaning to only have 3 hours but over 5 hours later I woke up. Perfect post nights day. I always feel guilty for "wasting" the day, but I feel so good having had such a good relax.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Home Cottage - Redhill

I can't believe that it has taken me 2 months to visit this lovely looking pub that is walking distance from my flat. To make up for that I have been twice in the last few weeks. Once with a friend from work for lunch (where I was too shy to get out the camera) and on Sunday with hubby for a roast dinner.

The pub is split into a dining room and a pub section, both times I've sat in the pub part. There are a mismatch of tables, chairs and sofas which all add to the intentionally "designer rustic" look of this place. I'm always a bit shy about trying new pubs as I've had some horrible experiences in grotty local places for local people, but this place has a wonderful welcoming atmosphere.

When I went for girly lunch we were lucky enough to get a cosy sofa seat. I was impressed with the choice of soft drinks (they have Fentimanns rose lemonade!!), and noted that they had a big choice of real ales which I knew would interest hubby.

I had a prawn marie rose baguette which was surprisingly huge with the most delicious chips I have had in a long time. They were golden and crunchy on the outside while staying soft and fluffy inside. My friend had a charcuterie platter with a nice choice of cold meats, sun dried tomatoes, olives and hummus. She stuck to the small platter but they do bigger ones to share.

I was so impressed that next weekend I dragged hubby in the rain for Sunday lunch. It was much busier so we weren't lucky enough to get a seat next to the open fire... so next time we'll have to get there earlier.

Hubby is a pescatarian so roast was off the menu for him, so he chose fish and chips. The fish was covered in a lovely light batter and accompanied by those amazing chips. The best bits however had to be the minted pea puree and the chunky tartare sauce bursting with capers and onions.

I went for roast beef (with a nice big glass of red wine, obviously!). The rare and tender roast beef came with a huge homemade yorkshire pudding perched on top, resting on crunchy but fluffy roast potatoes and loads of fresh steamed veggies. The gravy wasn't a thick artificial gloop, but instead a tasty jus... my only complaint was that there wasn't more of it, I could have drank the stuff in a glass. I'm sure if I would have asked they would have given me a bit more. The veggies were lovely and fresh and as soon as I tucked in I stopped moaning that they didn't have my favourite, braised red cabbage.

I was also convinced to get a side of cauliflower cheese. Big mistake. I love cauliflower cheese and this was a massive disappointment. The cauliflower was so crunchy it seemed raw in the middle and was topped in an underseasoned white sauce. I'm not sure that it had ever seen cheese. I wish I hadn't ordered it because otherwise this would have been an amazing lunch.

I'm not going to let the cauliflower cheese stop me coming back to this lovely pub as everything else I have tried has been absolutely delicious. In fact I can't wait to try more of the menu and banish the memory of that cauliflower forever.


Wednesday, 23 October 2013

It's Booked!

Hubby and I have finally got organised, we booked our anniversary weekend away!

We have known that we wanted to go away for the weekend to celebrate our first wedding anniversary since we got married. I remember sitting in a cafe the morning after we got married and saying how great it will be that our 1st wedding anniversary falls on a Friday, the perfect excuse to have a long weekend.

As luck would have it, my usually horrible rota not only had me off that weekend, but the Friday too. It was clearly meant to be. 

Our plan has always been to have quiet, romantic weekend in a cottage somewhere we can drive to, and except for a brief flirtation with the idea of Disneyland, I've spent longer browsing holiday cottages than I spent planning my wedding (not hard when we planned a wedding in 6 weeks). 

I had a little panic this weekend when I realised I'd left booking the cottage I'd found too late. Someone else had booked it. My first reaction was to be devastated, but then I realised that everything happens for a reason, and there must be a much nicer cottage hiding somewhere, waiting for us to book it. 

I was right. 

We have found a gorgeous little cottage near Bude, which is part of a small collection of holiday cottages. It has a huge bed, a copper bath and beautiful views over the countryside. I've always wanted to visit Cornwall and this will be my chance to spend a couple of days with my wonderful husband visiting lots of cute little towns and enjoying each others company.

I'm not going to spoil the surprise of where we're going, but I promise to show some pictures when we get back if you promise to keep your fingers crossed that the weather won't stop us getting there!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Prosciutto Wrapped Figs & Goats Cheese

After my Costco trip, I had a glut of figs. I fed some baked with balsamic syrup and goats cheese to hubby which was a big success, but even then I still had figs left over. Hubby had a work night out at the last minute, going to one of my favourite ever restaurants. So I was home alone and with no-one to cook for.

My guilty pleasure when hubby is away is meat. Hubby is a vegetarian.

Mixing something meaty with the lovely, sweet and juicy figs seemed like a great idea. It was. This might have been the most delicious thing that I have ever eaten. There is something special about the sweetness of the figs, the tang of the goats cheese and the salty porkiness of the prosciuttio. It was like magic happened in the oven.

I served these on a bed of lettuce and slow roasted tomatoes with a dressing made of balsamic vinegar, pesto and olive oil.

It was so delicious that I didn't feel even a little bit jealous of the posh meal out that hubby was having.

What I used...
Two black bursa figs
Two slices of prosciutto
Crumbly goats cheese

How I did it...
1. Heated the oven to 180 degrees C

2. Cut a cross in the top of the figs

3. Stuff each fig generously with goats cheese

4. Wrap each fig in a slice of prosciutto

5. Bake for 15-20 minutes

Monday, 21 October 2013

Coming or Going?

Unless you work in a hospital or are friends with a doctor, you're probably not fully aware of how training for junior doctors happens. In fact so many bits of it change to often I'm sure most doctors aren't even sure anymore.

One thing that hasn't really changed is how much you are expected to move around as a junior doctor. That's not just for the first couple of years after graduating, but actually all the way until you're a consultant which for some specialities (like mine) can be over 10 years after graduating from medical school.

I'm not employed by a hospital, but by a "deanery" that is in charge of my training and sends me out to various hospitals within the three county (!!) area it covers. I'm very lucky because I have a training job in the speciality of my dreams that, unless I encounter big problems, will see me right through to being a consultant. I thought I was even luckier because I'd been told where I'd be working for the next two years... it's almost totally unheard of for a junior doctor to know where they'll be for two years.

My first year was in the hospital that I'm in now, and my second year was a whole year in another hospital that although it is an hour away was commutable for me and meant it was easy to live between our two jobs for hubby and I.

I got an email the other day telling me that my jobs had changed. Mega sad times. It's pretty frustrating, although I completely understand that making sure everyone gets fair training opportunities is the most important thing. I also realise that I'm a very lucky girl actually having a job in the current economic climate, but still... I need a little rant.

I'll now be working in two different hospitals next year, 6 months in each. They're about an hour and a half apart in decent morning traffic. Importantly the first hospital is over a 2 hour drive from where I am now in morning traffic. That makes it uncommutable for me. I just don't think it would be safe to do a night shift which is 13hrs long and have to spend 4 hours travelling. I'd be an exhausted wreck.

This means moving again in August. Boo. I've moved so much in the last 8 years that I'm not sure if I'm coming or going.

I'm spending hours of my time on google maps trying to work out the best place to live between all the hospitals, while still making life for my hubby not too difficult. It's giving me a right headache. I'm so filled with dread at the thought of packing everything and the drama of actually moving it, not to mention finding a new flat to live in.

What a bother!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Vanilla Sugar

Who doesn't like cake? I certainly do. Or at least I do now, I was a strange child who didn't really develop a sweet tooth until I was about 12-13. 

I'd love to say that I'm one of those people who bakes a couple of times a week, loving packing my husband's lunch box with homemade chocolate brownies but I'm not. However, when I do make cakes I like to think that I'm pretty good at it. 

My secret ingredient in most desserts or baking is vanilla sugar.

I don't spend lots of money on buying it from the shops, I make it myself. It's easy and almost totally effort free, which is good when you have as little time as I seem to.

You just need a big jar, some sugar and a vanilla pod. In fact I use the left over shell from when I scrape the seeds out of a pod. All I do is put the vanilla pod shell and sugar in a jar and leave it for a week or two. 

I don't only use it in baking, I also like to sprinkle it on my porridge and mix it into tea. Delicious!

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Wintery Feelings

Okay, it's not quite snow angel time yet this year, but I am starting to get that happy winter feeling.

I'm in the middle of a run of horrid shifts in my rota (8 shifts in a row including 4 nights should be illegal!), but no matter how tired I am I just can't seem to be grumpy at the moment. Now part of this could be due to all the beautiful babies I get to see at work, some of it is definitely due to the honey roast cashews that I'm nibbling, but I think a large part of it is due to the slowly growing wintery feeling inside.

Although I'm being stubborn and not turning on the heating yet, it feels like winter is truly setting in. I've switched to a big warm coat and started wearing boots to walk to work. I've also started burning winter scented candles.

As a rare treat I have next weekend of to spend with my (not so) long suffering husband, and I'm trying to think of something nice and wintery to do. We have to pop to Ikea to get a bed for the spare room before the in-laws come to stay next month, but that still leaves a whole day spare.

I'm thinking a walk outside through the woods nearby and then perhaps lunch in a pub with a big warm roaring fire. Last week we popped to the pub behind our flat which has an open fire, but couldn't get a table anywhere near it, next time I have a plan to get there earlier and beat the crowds. I took a couple of sneaky pictures so will post about our Sunday Lunch there soon.

I also have lots to look forward to this winter. In less than 2 months it's my 1st wedding anniversary and we're planning a romantic weekend away. In fact tonight we need to look at booking a romantic cottage for the weekend... I love planning trips away. As well as that my oldest niece is turning the scary age of 13, we have our 1st Christmas just the two of us at home (although I am working) and then New Year with my Dad.

What do other people like doing when the weather gets chilly?

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Baked Figs with Goats Cheese and Balsamic Syrup

Hubby has been trying to get a hair cut for over a month now. He is very particular, and will only get his hair cut by the lady who has been doing it since he was 3. This means a drive up the M25 and M1 every time he needs a hair cut. Lucky he doesn't mind having longish hair. We have been jinxed when it comes to getting hair cuts, and like the other times as we've set off the M25 has been closed due to some incident. 

This time we didn't even make it on to the motorway, and after an hour of queuing diverted to Croydon. Most people wouldn't get excited about Croydon, but most people aren't me. After dragging hubby to Ikea to bounce on the beds and bury myself in the sheepskin rugs, having a HUGE plate of meatballs with loads of loganberry jam and stocking up on tea-lights we went to my favourite place in Croydon. Costco.

For those of you who haven't been to Costco it's a big cash & carry, but stocks EVERYTHING. There are lots of gadgets for hubby to browse, a big range of all kinds of household stuff, but most importantly food. Our cupboards have been stocks with enough loo roll and washing powder to last a year and our fridge has done pretty well too.

One of my Costco impulse buys was a big box of black Bursa figs. I adore figs but rarely buy them because they're so expensive, here I got 10 figs for £3.99. Hubby has never had figs so I had to do something special to introduce him to them. 

This recipe was a complete no brainer. We both LOVE goats cheese and can regularly be found dipping our bread in balsamic vinegar. It's really simple to make and feels like such a decadent treat.

I made this for dinner for 2 of us and served with a big green salad, but it would serve 4 as a starter. 

What I used...
Four figs 
25g butter 
Tablespoon of honey
Generous glug of balsamic vinegar (about 50ml)
Crumbly goats cheese.

What I did...

1. Melt the butter, balsamic vinegar and honey together. Heat oven to 180 degrees C.

2. Cut figs in half, lay skin down in an oven proof dish.

3. Pile little mounds of goats cheese on each of the figs.

4. Pour over the syrup.

5. Bake for 15 minutes (or until the figs are soft and the cheese is melty) and then serve up onto plates to share with a special friend.

Enjoy with lots of bread to mop up the balsamic syrup.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

The Lavender Tea House - Folkestone

Last weekend hubby and I took a drive down to the seaside to visit my Dad. At the same time we took a couple of hours to catch up with V, a lovely lady that I went to school with and still try to see whenever I get home.

She had the great idea to spurn our usual trip to one of many high street coffee chains and instead go to a lovely cafe we have been eyeing up for a good while.

After being stuck in traffic for a couple of hours longer than anticipated our "quick cup of tea" catch up needed to turn into something more substantial and The Lavender Tea House didn't let us down.

From the outside it is very twee, painted lavender (unsurprisingly) and nestled on an old fashioned little street curling off of the high street. Inside the cute tea house theme continues with bunting, fairy lights and a lovely mismatch of chairs, sofas and wooden tables.

Rather temptingly there's an impressive selection of homemade cakes by the front door. I was almost swayed from my usual choice of a scone, but decided that would be madness. I LOVE scones. V and I both went for cream tea. We had a choice of teas and chose a citrusy local tea called Blue Lady, a nice change from my usual choice of Earl Grey. Even though I have a teapot at home it always feel like such a treat having tea served in a pot, and with such cute little cups too!

The scones were generously sized, light and delicious. Served with cream and jam I was in scone heaven. Even my husband's mickey-taking of the way I say scone couldn't ruin them for me.

Hubby had a cheese and chutney sandwich made with lovely fresh bread, stuffed full of good-quality cheddar and fruity chutney. I had a nibble or two and it was delicious.

Next time I go I think I'll have to try one of their tasty sounding savoury tarts or their sausage and mash with homemade sausages. Who doesn't love a good sausage? I also really want to try some of their cakes, so I'm either going to have to go in very hungry or make a couple of trips.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Slow Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

A fruit masquerading as a vegetable. There is something magical about tomatoes. Don't laugh. There is. What other food stuff is so universally loved? If not in it's raw form, it's loved as ketchup, or in a bolognese or even juiced and mixed with vodka to cure a hangover.

A large portion of my weekly shopping budget is taken up with tomatoes. Lots of tasty cherry tomatoes, chopped tomatoes for sauce, Tiptree ketchup for dipping, big tomatoes for slicing in sandwiches, salsa for dunking... the list is almost endless. As much as I love autumn and winter, it always depresses me the way that fresh tomatoes are replaced with tasteless, watery, high-airmile little red bobbles.

The obvious solution to this are sundried tomatoes, but I have yet to find an affordable brand that don't have a horrible metallic aftertaste or aren't drenched in cheap, tasteless oil.

On a surprise outing to Costco this weekend, when we were stranded in Croydon for an afternoon, I managed to pick up a massive box of cherry tomatoes for a bargaintastic £3.99. There were so many tomatoes that I knew even someone with a hardcore tomato habit like myself would never get through them all before they went mouldy so I decided to have a bash at making my own slow roasted tomatoes. They are sensational. Great in salads, in sandwiches, on pasta or just for snacking on their own.

What you will need...
Cherry tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt

How I did it...

1. Heat an oven to between 100-120 degrees C.

2. Slice as many tomatoes in half as you can fit onto a baking tray. Place them skin side down.

3. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with the olive oil.

4. Bake for 2-3 hours in the oven. You want most of the moisture to evaporate but without them turning crispy.

5. Store in a clean jar topped up with olive oil to cover the tomatoes. As you eat the tomatoes the extra oil can be used for salad dressings, cooking or dunking bread.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

DIY Lego Minifigure Display Frame

Like an overgrown child I love Lego Minifigures. I love the surprise of opening up a little packet and not knowing which one I'm going to get, but most of all I love having the cute little characters dotted around to put a smile on my face.

Unfortunately dotting them about on bookshelves and window frames meant that they were getting scattered around the place and eaten by the hoover-monster. I imagine if I hadn't have found a storage solution they'd have been chewed on by the kitten-monster when she arrived too.

I didn't like the chunky Official Lego display units, and I didn't fancy putting them in a box where I couldn't see them. I spent ages looking online at different storage solutions and found a couple of expensive tailor-made box frames.

Although I love my Lego I wasn't willing to spend £80 to house it, so I decided to make my own.

Ikea has some great, cheap box frames which come in all different sizes. I have a lot of Lego Minifigures so I chose the 50 x 50 x 4.5cm Ribba frame, which was a bargaintastic £9. I'm planning to get one of the little ones to put our bride and groom lego in soon.

I covered the back insert of the frame in a pretty wrapping paper. I chose a gold paper with little white stars.

Next I dug out some random bits of colourful Lego and superglued lots of random blocks of flat Lego on the card that forms an inner frame.

I used black 2 x 6 dot lego squares for the figurines to stand on. These were stuck directly on the wrapping paper covered backing to the frame. To place them I followed the line of the inner cardboard frame sticking them with superglue. Luckily exactly 9 Lego blocks fit across.

I then used a piece of Lego to measure how tall the Lego Minifigures are and used this to space out my rows. Starting from the bottom I managed to fit in 5 rows. The headpieces of the top row overlaps the cardboard inner frame slightly, but I think this looks quite good. It also means my Lego Minifigures with tall accessories fit in quite nicely.

Lastly I stood a Lego Minifigure on each black Lego block and put the frame together.

I was so impressed with how good this looked. If I'd have thought the first attempt would have turned out so well I'd have taken some step-by-step pictures.

We have ours in the living room, but I think it would make a great addition to a geeky study or to any Lego-loving child's room.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Twitter Christmas Cake Cook-A-Long Part 2 (#twitcakebake)

I was supposed to get on and bake this cake 2 weeks ago, but with the horrors of night shifts and then the dreaded lurgy I kept putting it off. This means my fruit were well and truly soaked by the time I started baking yesterday. I tested some (quality control is very important in baking) and they were sweet, juicy and burst with fruity sherry. In fact I spent the rest of the afternoon baking in a giggly mood snaffling more and more of the dry fruit. I don't recommend attempting to bake this if you're planning on hopping in the car later. 

I'm so pleased that I chose a decent sherry to soak the fruit in. Sherry is having a massive revival at the moment as is rapidly becoming the drink of the sophisticated as well as the Christmas tipple of choice for most Grandma's. Apparently it's the perfect drink to have with tapas, so next time I'm nibbling on some parma ham for dinner I might try a little glass. 

As is normal for me I decided I was going to bake this cake, and then realised I was missing half the ingredients. No matter. I just made it up a bit. It is now a vastly-modified Delia Christmas cake. I don't think that she'd even recognise it. Now I know that I haven't actually tried it yet, but I think that it smells and feels great. I can't wait to tuck in over Christmas. 

Here is the recipe I used...

What I used...
225g sugar (Delia says soft brown, I used my homemade vanilla sugar)
225g unsalted butter
4 large eggs
225g plain flour 
1 teaspoon baking power (Delia doesn't but I was given this tip)
Nutmeg, all spice and cinnamon to taste (again different from Delia)
1 dessert spoon of golden syrup (Or black treacle like Delia)
Zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
(Delia also adds 50g of chopped almonds, I think walnuts would be tasty too!)

How I did it...
1. Get a 20cm cake tin and butter and dust it with flour. 

2. Heat the oven to 140 degrees C

3. Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy and pale. I can't find my mixing bowl so resorted to using a big pan to mix everything up in. 

4. Add the 4 eggs one at a time and whisk into the mixture. Some like to beat the eggs first and mix them in little by little to reduce the risk of the mixture curdling. I like to live on the edge. My mixture didn't curdle. 

5. Fold in the flour and spices. Don't over mix at this point. I think I used about 1/4-1/2 a teaspoon of each spice. This is a great excuse to eat the cake mix while telling everyone that you are "tasting to balance the spices". My one massive warning is that if you attempt to spice a Christmas cake while not listening to Christmas music it will definitely go wrong. This is just as much about Christmas magic as baking skill. 

6. Now add the boozy fruit (while having a little nibble to make sure they taste good), lemon zest, orange zest and golden syrup. (Now is also the time to add nuts if you're that way inclined). Don't over mix at this step either. 

7. Pour it all into your baking tin. Yes I know it's not lined and Delia would probably have a fit if she saw us doing this, but life is too short to cut out baking paper when this works just as well. I have NEVER had a cake stick to a tin I have buttered and floured properly. 

8. Make the cake a little foil hat to wear in the oven. This stops the aliens reading it's mind. It also stops the top burning. Poke a little hole in it to let the steam out or it will explode. 

9. Bake for 4 1/4 - 4 3/4 hours in the oven. It's ready when you stab it and the knife comes out clean. 

10. Cool for half an hour or so in the tin and then finish cooling on a baking rack. I don't own a baking rack so I cooled mine on a plate. It survived. 

11. Wrap in foil. 

12. Occasionally unwrap the foil to feed the cake some more sherry. It soaks in better if you poke lots of little holes in the cake. Delia says if you don't like alcohol you can use orange juice. Magali says if you don't like alcohol she might make you a chocolate Yule log nearer Christmas. 

The next step will be decorating the cake...