Monday, 26 December 2011

Trifle Time

Ready for trifle? Of course you are. It's Trifle Time!

This Christmas my 27 year old boyfriend asked me to make him a trifle(!) My memories of trifle as a child consisted of some ill-informed parent at my primary school throwing tinned fruit salad, jelly and whipped cream into a bowl together. Seriously, I was traumatized. So I didn't want to repeat the experience. However, I also didn't want the "adult" version of trifle - namely sherry or whiskey trifle. I hate liquor in desserts, for me it needs to be 100% sweet.

I prepared all the components of this simple trifle on Christmas eve, and assembled them on Christmas day. I made the sponge cupcakes from scratch, as I couldn't find sponge fingers at our local supermarkets, but store-bought is fine too.

Makes 6 trifles.


For the sponge cupcakes:
100 grams caster sugar
100 grams butter
100 grams flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg

1 packet jelly mix (I used raspberry flavor)
Water to add as per instructions

Instant custard powder
Milk to add as per instructions

2 cups raspberries (I used frozen)
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar


Heat the oven to 180 degrees C and grease the muffin tray. Melt the butter in a microwave, then beat the sugar into the butter until it is light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat. Add in the flour and baking powder and beat. Spoon the mixture evenly into 6 of the muffin cups. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean. Leave to cool before assembling with the rest of the ingredients. (These will also keep in the fridge for a few days).

Make the jelly up following the packet instructions. It's best to leave this in the fridge overnight so it sets nice and firm.

Make up 1 1/2 cups of custard, as per packet instructions. If you want to refrigerated this overnight, pour the custard into a Tupperware container and place cling-film over the custard so that the custard cannot come into contact with any air. This will stop a skin from forming.

For the raspberry coulis, place the raspberries (fresh or frozen) into a small pot with 1/4 cup of water and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes until the liquid has become sweet and syrupy.

To assemble the trifles, divide the raspberry coulis equally between 6 wine glasses. Place your sponge cakes on top, pressing down with your fingers so the sponge soaks up the coulis. With a knife slice a cross-cross pattern into the set jelly, to make it into easy to handle cubes. Spoon the jelly cubes on top of the sponge, and cover with custard. You can also top it all with whipped cream, if you're feeling extra indulgent.

Serve with pride and eat like a child. Heck, eat this instead of dinner. I just did!

Nearly Guilt-Free Sausage Rolls

These sausage rolls are nearly guilt free due to the healthy fat-free meaty filling, though of course the flaky pastry is pure indulgence. Most recipes for sausage rolls will tell you to buy ready made sausages, split them open and roll in pastry. I didn't fancy this, as god only knows what's in most sausages. So I used the following recipe, which I adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe. The lemon rind really lifts the flavor - it's a great addition. You could also use orange rind if you prefer.


For the filling:
450grams lean pork mince
1 onion, finely diced
1/2 green apple, finely diced
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
Rind of half a lemon, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried sage
Salt and pepper

For the rest:
1 packet store-bought flaky pastry*
1 egg, beaten

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C. In a bowl combine all the filling ingredients with your hands. Take the flaky pastry out of the fridge and roll out onto a floured surface. Cut into strips which are at least 12cm wide. Form the sausage mixture into a log in the middle of each strip, and then wrap each side over, pressing the join closed with your fingers. Flip the sausage rolls over onto the baking trays, so that the join is at the bottom. Brush each roll with the egg glaze, then cut to your desired length, prick with a fork and bake for about 30 minutes.

Makes 9 large sausage rolls or 18 bite-sized ones.

*If you want to make the flaky pastry from scratch, you could try Delia Smith's Quick and Easy Flaky Pastry

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas Y'all!

Apologies for my lack of blogs lately - things have been a little more busy than usual with Christmas parties, drinks, lunches and general over-indulgence. Also I have a cracker of a cold which has confined me to the couch watching Top 20 countdowns of Christmas songs on repeat. What's my favorite, you ask? Bony M's "Mary's Boy Child" and "Walking In The Air" from the Snowman. Unbeatable in my opinion.

So, the Christmas party. Really just an excuse to spend an inordinate amount of time preening and pampering. See below for my before and after.

It was a great night, culminating a passionate rendition of "Tribute" by Tenacious D at a Manchester nightclub at 2 in the morning. 

Now, a selection of my favorite Christmas things:




The Hoff!

I hope your Christmas was filled with similarly cheesy and delicious things!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Only a ginger can call another ginger ginger

I don't know why gingers get such bad press, as there are so many delicious ginger-related things! Gingernuts, ginger and lemon tea, gingerbread men... and many more I'm sure. For my mum, Christmas is never really Christmas until she makes her legendary shortbread which everyone has come to expect. For me, it's gingerbread. Specifically gingerbread men. It wasn't a childhood thing for me, I think my obsession came about when I worked for awhile with a Swedish girl, and every Christmas she would bring in Swedish Pepparkakor, the most more-ish gingery spicy biscuits you'll ever taste. The recipe for Pepparkor is very similar to that for gingerbread, and I like the kitch-ness of gingerbread men - like fairy bread or cheese straws, there's something wonderfully ridiculous and fun about them. One day I'm going to make a gingerbread house, though I may wait until I have children, otherwise it might be a little bit strange.

As I wanted to make this recipe during the week I decided to split the process over three nights, for the sake of my sanity. Day one: make the dough. Day two: bake the gingerbread men. Day three: ice and decorate. This works out great, as the dough is best when left overnight in the fridge before baking. Also, you don't want to rush the icing, or ice the cookies when they are not completely cool. It would also be a great recipe to make with kids, as it's very simple and fun. I tried to get my boyfriend involved, but unfortunately he's about 20 years too old to get excited about such things.

I found this recipe online, and it's from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook which would be a pretty good book to own I think.... and it would make a lovely Christmas present... hint hint.

I followed it word for word, and was rewarded with gingerbread men that are crispy on the outside but chewy on the inside - the perfect Christmas treat.


400g plain flour
¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
2tsp ground ginger
2tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp salt
180g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g soft dark brown sugar or dark muscovado sugar
1 egg
125g black treacle (I used golden syrup as that was all I had, and they turned out fine)


1 egg white
½ tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
310g icing sugar, sifted
food colouring, optional


Gingerbread biscuit cutters
A baking tray, lined with greaseproof paper ( I used my new non-stick baking trays for the 99p Store - what a bargain!)


Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl and set aside. 

Cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and treacle, scraping any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Slowly add the flour mixture, stopping often to scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Once an even dough has formed, take it out of the mixer, divide into 3 and wrap each piece in clingfilm.

Leave to rest overnight in the fridge.

When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F) Gas 3. Take the dough out of the fridge and leave to soften for about 10 minutes. Generously dust a clean work surface with flour and roll out the dough to a thickness of about 4 mm with a rolling pin. Cut out shapes with the biscuit cutters. Arrange the cookies on the prepared baking trays and bake in the preheated oven for about 10–15 minutes.

Leave the cookies to cool slightly on the trays before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

For the icing: Beat the egg white and lemon juice together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk). Gradually start adding the icing sugar, mixing well after each addition to ensure all sugar is incorporated. Whisk until you get stiff peaks. If the icing is too runny, add a little more sugar. Stir in a couple of drops of food colouring, if using, and decorate the cookies.

From this mixture I made 8 large men, 12 medium sized men, and 24 small men. With the small ball left over I made two German-style love hearts, one for me and one for the man. Marry Christmas darling!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Diary of a Yogi

I've had an incredible year, for a lot of reasons. I've had a lot of realisations about how I want to live my life. Made some life-changing decisions. The things that will shape my future - those seeds have been planted. But the most immediate and extraordinary thing which has happened is my re-discovery of Ashtanga yoga. I did my first sun salute 10 years ago, at the age of 16. I was attending a contemporary dance class taught by the late, great Sheryl Robinson, one of the most influential dance teachers in Christchurch, New Zealand. Her warm-up sequence borrowed heavily from the Ashtanga sun salute sequence B. She also loved Navasana (Boat pose) and would make us hold it until we were literally shaking. The yoga became my favorite part of the dance practice. I loved the depth of stretch, and the profound strength and challenge which came from the postures. One year later I found myself at contemporary dance school where we were lucky enough to be taught by two incredible yoga teachers. Every week we would study Iyengar with Felicity Malloy, and Ashtanga with Andre from the Ashtanga  Yoga Centre in Auckland.Both teachers were like gods to me. They could do things with their bodies that I could hardly understand, let alone emulate. They both traveled to India regularly for ongoing training. In many ways they convinced me that I could never be good at yoga - not that they would have said it, they were both encouraging and brilliant teachers. But from watching them, I felt so out of my depth, and most of all doubted that I would ever have the mental strength to do what they did. I admired and feared the resolution necessary for daily practice. In 2006 I attended my first ever Bikram class, in Wellington. It was challenging and eye-opening. The competitiveness of it was addictive, and it spurred me on. From then on I attended the occasional class whilst I was living in both Sydney and London. The great thing about Bikram is that it's like a MacDonalds, Starbucks or Pret; it's the same everywhere you go. And there's a great comfort in that. Even when I was far away from home I could turn up to a Bikram class and know exactly where I was. Once I even did the 30 day challenge - 30 classes in 30 days. The practice became as automatic as taking a shower. I noticed a lot of change in my practice, and the strength I gained through Bikram is still with me today. I would recommend anyone to try a Bikram class; it's certainly better than doing no yoga at all. But I always knew, deep down, that Bikram didn't sit well with me. For one thing it sucked all the energy out of me and left me useless afterwards. This is specific to me, as I have friends who find it very energizing. Also, the blatent commercialization, competitiveness and profiteering by Bikram himself seems a very long way from the essence of yoga, to me. I wanted to find a different yoga class, but the search was fruitless so I gave up for awhile and focused on contemporary dance. And then....
My boyfriend and I went on a surf and yoga holiday in Morocco. He likes surfing, I like yoga. Simple. I thought it would be a bit of fun, more active than your usual holiday, we'd get a tan and go home. I wasn't expecting it to change my life. But it did. We had two fantastic teachers, Emma and Louise. They taught a broad range of styles with Ashtanga and Bikram influences. They were warm, funny and genuine. They were also a bit like me. Late 20's, well traveled, always active but dabbling in a lot of different careers. Happy drifters. So they were similar to me, but they taught yoga for a living. And I though "Oh my god, I could do that". Suddenly, it didn't seem so out of reach at all. And I realised that my 10 years of on-and-off practice, a bit here and a bit there, had solidified into a well-rounded knowledge, and a body that knew what it was doing (or at least knew what it was trying to do). And on the day we left, Emma asked me "So, will you do your teacher training now?" and I said "Yeah, I think so!". It was a complete revelation to me, that something which had seemed so far was suddenly so near, like a game of creep-up I didn't know I was participating in. I came back to London and within a week had found a yoga centre which offered daily Ashtanga practice and signed myself up. I made a deal with myself that if I could practice Ashtanga every day for a year I would be ready to do a teacher training course. I'm now four months in, and my teacher just told me I could be ready to do the teacher training course tomorrow, if I wanted to, which is an incredible validation. But it's not just about the training course. Daily Ashtanga practice is now the focus of my life. It's the first thing I do when I get up in the morning. It's what I measure myself by. It's a great antidote to my 9-6 desk job, because it makes me feel whole again.

Yoga means "union". It creates a union between the mind, body and spirit. I think I'm realising what this means more and more every day. 

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Crazy Low-Fat Oaty-Nutty-Nutella cookies

Do you ever have a strange but very specific craving? Last night I was craving a chewy cookie filled with oats, nuts and Nutella. I typed "oat nut Nutella cookie recipe" into Google, but couldn't find exactly what I was looking for. Oh yes, I also wanted them to be low fat. So, feeling a frustration that only food cravings can cause, I took at look at my new favorite blog SkinnyTaste. It has low-fat versions of almost every delicious recipe you can think of. Sure enough, I found something tempting straight away, "Low Fat Chewy Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies". The only problem was that I didn't have any chocolate chips, and I really wanted to use Nutella instead. So, fearing disaster, I followed the recipe, adding blitzed mixed nuts and a heapful of Nutella instead of chocolate chips at the end. I was particularly worried that the Nutella and the apple sauce would combine in a horrendous way leaving something inedible. But the mixture looked sound (just like a normal cookie mixture) so I went straight ahead.

Oh. My. God. Words cannot describe how happy I was with these cookies. They are the perfect mixture of nutty, oaty and sweet and they are delicious and wholesome at the same time. The fantastic thing about this recipe is that it contains just one tablespoon of butter, and half a cup of sugar. The sweetness and the stick-ability come from the egg and the apple sauce. I'm an absolute convert to the recipe and will make it again using all kinds of combinations. Here's my version of the recipe:


1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup soft brown sugar
1 egg (if you decide to double this recipe, still only use 1 egg, as in the original recipe)
1/4 cup apple sauce
1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 cup oats
1/2 cup blitzed mixed nuts (I used almonds, hazelnuts and peanuts, but any will do)
1 heaped tablespoon of Nutella

Cream the melted butter with both sugars. Whisk together all the dry ingredients, save the nuts. Into the butter and sugar add the egg, then the apple sauce and vanilla.Beat together. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet, beating all the time. When the mixture is well incorporated and sticky, stir the Nutella through with a metal spoon - it's good if it's just swirled though, not fully mixed so you get little pockets of Nutella in your cookie! Spoon dollops of the mixture (1 teaspoon each) onto a baking tray and bake for 10 minutes at 180 degrees. When they come out they should be set, but still a bit gooey in the middle. Leave to cool so they can fully set before gobbling them up.

Makes 15 delicious cookies.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Eat With Relish

You may think I'm crazy when I tell you that there's nothing better than my mum's tomato relish, but it's true. It's so delicious you can practically eat it straight from the jar. Coupled with some cheese and bread it is pure heaven, but you can put it on the side of just about anything. It's always been a staple on the fridge at my parents house, and after years of disappointing store-bought relishes I decided to make some for myself. All you need are a tonne of tomatoes, a big pot, and about 4 hours.

Mum's Tomato Relish

       2500 g tomatoes (skinned) (5x500g packs)
       2 peeled and diced brown onions (don't use tough outer layer of onion as it doesn't soften enough).
       2 peeled and diced apples
       1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
       375 g brown sugar
       1 tbsp cloves (use whole ones and pick them out when the sauce is done).
       2 tsp ground allspice
       1 tsp salt
       Black pepper
       ONE PINCH of cayenne pepper. If you are tempted to put in more it will be fairly hot.

To begin: Skin the tomatoes by placing them in boiling water for 30 seconds or so. The peel should come off easily. Combine all the ingredients in the large pot, stir and bring to the boil. Simmer for 4 hours without a lid so that it reduces by half. Occasionally give it a stir and break up the larger piece of tomato with a wooden spoon. After the first two hours prepare your glass jars. Wash your jars with warm soapy water and rinse thoroughly. Place them upside-down in a warm oven at 100 degrees and leave them to sterilise. When you take them out (carefully, with large oven gloves) be sure to fill and lid them quickly to create a seal. They will then last in the cupboard for ages.

This recipe gave me 10 8oz jars of relish - perfect for Christmas presents!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Detox Update

So it's Day 5 and I have encountered a small hiccup in my detox plan. It was all going pretty well until yesterday when, after 3 days, I awoke with an uncomfortable bloated feeling in my stomach. It lasted all day and put me in a terrible mood. I still forced down my lunch, but couldn't face dinner. I had to wait until the evening to call my mum in NZ (due to the time difference) to ask her advice. She has experienced digestive problems her whole life and also worked as a nurse, so any health problems I have I immediately consult her. What she said surprised me. I've been eating more fruit than usual this week - a banana and half an apple every day, plus dried fruit for snacks. She told me that eating fruit bloats a lot of people, and she herself was tested as being "allergic" to most fruits - not severely allergic, but enough to cause painful bloating after consumption. What a crazy world we live in when fruit causes stomach problems! Apparently some people think it's due to the over-use of genetic engineering and chemicals to grow the fruit, which could be something to do with it. I don't know, but I do know that after taking out my daily dose of fruit today I feel a lot better. I've substituted in wholegrain toast with avocado (no butter!) for my breakfast. I'm not sure if bread is really meant to be in a detox diet, but it can't be doing too much harm!

I'm really enjoying being sugar and dairy free this week. I've still experienced sugar cravings, but have been surprised at how quickly they pass if I nibble on a handful of nuts or an oatcake (that's a kind of Scottish cracker made out of oats - it tastes exactly like bland porridge but for some reason I love them!). I'm hoping some of the healthy habits will stick, like replacing my afternoon chocolate bar with a herbal tea. Stranger things have happened!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Christmas Card Star

Got a spare 6 hours on your hands? Why not make a large spiky Christmassy star? I found this craft pattern here, a couple of years ago, and since then I have been hoarding all our old Christmas cards for this very project. I love the idea of recycling old Christmas cards, they are so beautiful (and some are so cheesy!) that they shouldn't be thrown away like any old rubbish. Another great idea would be to make Christmas tree ornaments out of them, or even a decorative paper chain.

Here are my little army of star points, twenty in all. I made  this over the weekend, and I think it took roughly 6 hours - not for the faint-hearted! (or impatient...) The end result was well worth it, very satisfying. Now all we need is a tree to hang it on!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Merry Detox

I've been meaning to do a detox for about a year. I saw this detox plan in GOOP last year and really wanted to try it. The only trouble was it looked a bit fiddly and I didn't have a blender to make all the smoothies. So I thought I'd do my own version, focusing on cutting out dairy and sugar (my two best friends), and replacing my usual toast, cereal, cookies and cakes with fruit, nuts and vegetables. This is my meal plan for the week:

9am: Hot water with lemon
10am: Snack - Banana
11am: Snack- Nuts and dried fruit
12pm: Lunch - Either a healthy wrap filled with falafel and salad, or a quinoa, salmon and parsley salad.
3pm: Snack - Apple slices
7pm: Dinner - Miso soup with chilli, ginger, chopped vegetables and seaweed.

This is specifically tailored to my needs - for example I can't eat before 9am as I do yoga before work. Also, I need more snacks in the morning as that's when I'm hungriest. It's day two now and I'm feeling better than anticipated. I'll let you know how I get on!

PS: Sorry, no hair photos. I tried, but 15 minutes watching Youtube does not a hairdresser make. I'll keep working on my technique for the Christmas office party - 2 weeks and counting!

Friday, 2 December 2011

Plans for the Weekend

In anticipation of the upcoming office Christmas party, my weekend goal is to teach myself how to curl my hair using my hair straightener, using this nifty blog as a tool (and motivator!). It's going to be totally outrageous. I'll post a photo if it works!