27 July 2015

#RSPieceofCAkeoff

 I do like any excuse to bake, and I really like any excuse to eat lots of cake, so when I was challenged to the #RSPieceofCAke off I didn't take much convincing to accept the challenge! The idea behind the project is a work-place bake sale to raise funds for the RSPCA.
 
RSPCA bake sale

I was up against a couple of other bloggers (say hi to Rebecca and Amanda!) in the cake off, and since I have a teeny tiny office with only a handful of folk in on a regular basis, it soon became apparent that I wasn't going to come out on top in terms of funds raised. So I decided to go for the 'most ridiculously over the top ratio of cakes baked to people in the office who might feasibly buy said cakes' (this, believe it or not, isn't actually a real thing but I gotta take my glory where I can get it!) and made more or less one full cake per person... oops!

RSPCA fundraising

It was so hard to know where to stop though! I took a number of requests, which had already committed me to making gooey brownies and 'that raspberry thing' that I'd taken scraps of in the week before after making it for my daughters school leaving party, as well as all-time favourites like flapjack and crispy buns.

bake sale ideas

These were rounded off with a sweet zesty lime cake, coconut and cherry cupcakes and a lovely cappuccino loaf. Just to reiterate, my office had five people in full time last week. One of whom was on a diet. What was I thinking?

raspberry white chocolate cake

Thankfully we did have a small pool of engineers popping in and out too that were easily convinced into a slice of two. One of the young chaps picked up a brownie everytime he walked past, and a couple of dedicated cake eaters took bits home for family members too. I even managed to convince Steve to take a break from his diet to indulge in a little piece of something fruity (raspberries are good for you!)

easy tray bakes
 
Despite a week of essentially bullying my coworkers, I (unsurprisingly!) still ended up with a fair bit to take home with me! Never fear though, no cake gets wasted round these parts!

bake sale cake

I did have a couple of baking disasters too - my 'gooey' brownies were so gooey in the middle that they were pretty much impossible to slice, and the cherry coconut cupcakes didn't rise at all (in fact that's quite generous - it'd be fairer to say they sank) but I figured it'd be nothing I couldn't disguise with buttercream and they tasted ok! (BTW notice how half are iced and the other half buttercreamed? There are people in my office who don't like buttercream, can you imagine that?!)

pretty cupcakes for bakeale
 
All in all though, despite these blips, w managed to raise £48 for the RSPCA (I ended up with £47.96 in my box and have no idea how as everything was priced in multiples of ten? It's like the one time I checked my credit card bill to find I'd spent £6.70 in Poundland - how?!) which, according to the RSPCA website, is enough to equip an inspectors van with an animal first aid kit and pet carrier.
 
If you want to get on board with helping out the cute little critters the RSPCA looks after yourself, there's loads of fundraising ideas on their website, or if you want to help in a more passive fashion you can donate online too! And if you want a cakey reward for your donation you can always send me your address and I'm sure I could manage something ;)
 
Cake for all!
 

17 July 2015

Degustabox June 2015 - The Picnic Box

Summer is here! The sun is shining (sometimes), school holidays start tomorrow - it couldn't be a more perfect time for a food delivery targeted towards that most loved of sunny day activities, the humble picnic!
 
Picnic Food Box 
Thankfully the clever chaps over at Degustabox seemed to think so too, because exactly what they've done with this months box! Wanna know what tasty treats this one held? Read on!
 
 June 2015 Degustabox

The drinks are always one of my favourite parts of the boxes (second only to any of the cakey/chocolatey sweet things!), and this box has not let me down. The Zeo drinks not only look remarkably sophisticated for a soft drink, but taste great too - zesty lime is always a flavour favourite, especially in good weather, but the peach and grapefruit has to be my top choice - you really don't see peach flavoured drinks often enough and I don't understand why as it really is a delightful taste!
 
Sadly I'm not as big a fan of the coconut water - it's something I want to like because I know it's good for me but I don't particularly enjoy it (green tea syndrome?), but I know half the world is mad about the stuff so I'm sure I'll have to trouble finding a taker for this bottle from Vybe.

coconut water in subscripton box

The Rekorderling strawberry-lime cider was quite a coincidental arrival, as we'd just been discussing how great this stuff is the office the day before the box arrived! I'm definitely not a traditional cider drinker, but this is definitely not your traditional cider! Sweet, refreshing and perfect for a summers day!

I was also really excited by the Icycl vodka ice pop! Containing a cheeky 4.6% kick of vodka in a frozen fruit flavour, this is a really fun way of turning a picnic into a party! Mine was apple flavoured but they also come in lemon and lime and blackcurrant, both of which I imagine will be great if the apple one was anything to go by... I'm not sure if I'd buy these for my house as I'd be too wary of one of the kids picking them up by mistake but if I loved in an adults only abode I'd have a freezer drawer full of them for when the sun hits!

Degustabox booze

The little individually wrapped Brioche rolls from Brioche Pasquier are great for a picnic as they are perfect to eat just as they are - but I decided to do something a little different with mine - you may have already seen my Chocolate Orange Bread and Butter Pudding Recipe?

chocolate brioche
 
Another ingredient I used in my pudding was the Coconom coconut sugar - while sadly not actually tasting of coconut (wouldn't that be good though?) this is an all-natural healthier alternative to refined sugar and it works a treat in baking!
 
healthy alternatives to sugar
 
The Melba thins have become one of my go-to work snacks, I keep tem at work with a variety of toppings (I say variety - I mean mainly cheese. I love cheese. But it's a variety of cheeses!)
 
Love Chin Chin is an interesting one, definitely not something I've tried! It's a popular African stack with the tagline 'crunches like a biscuit, tastes like a cake'. They taste a bit like a sweet version of a savoury biscuit, if that makes sense (that sounds like it should just taste like a sweet biscuit, but that's not quite right either!) Mine were cinnamon flavoured but they also come in vanilla, lemon and chilli.
 
chin chin africn snack

Lastly were the corn and rice snacks from Kallo. The little packet of salt and vinegar rice cakes were ok - it's not really my flavour but there was plenty of flavour so if you like salt and vinegar you might just love these - I'd definitely try one of the other flavours though!
 
But the rice cake thins covered in Belgian milk chocolate and caramel pieces? Absolute heaven. Honestly, these were so good. They sorta looked and felt a bit like coasters but tasted incredible, I'll definitely be buying these again. And, like a good coaster in fact, they are perfect with a nice cuppa. Yum!

lovely low calorie snacks
 
If you don't already know the drill when it comes to Degustabox - it's basically a monthly subscription box that comes packed with loads of different food and drink items to try. Each box costs £12.99 including delivery and if you sign up here you can get £3 off your first box with the discount code X2U84!

15 July 2015

Blogger Scavenger Hunt

I do like it when a blog opportunity comes my way that's a bit different, so I was very excited to be asked to take part in a Blogger Scavenger Hunt with experience day experts Into The Blue.
 
In small teams (I somehow made it onto the 'fashion team' with no one realising that despite my penchant for pretty frocks, I'm the least fashionable person in the world) we have to work out a word based on a bundle of clues, and then all tweet that word to win! To figure it out we all get out own individual clue that will lead us to an experience on the site... once we work out what all of our experiences are, the first letter of each should make a word - so it's important to get the right experience (which might be tricky as there's over 2000 on the site!)

My clue is
 
clue scroll
 


And I think, I hope, the experience it's pointing me towards is this one!
 
into the blue experience vouchers

 
 
What do you think, is there anything else it could be?

Hopefully my more fashionable teammates Char, Laura and Ami have theirs and we are ready to win but you should probably pop over to each of their blogs to see if we need any help!

14 July 2015

Afternoon Tea at Jesmond Dene House

When I booked our recent stay at Jesmond Dene House one of the things I was most excited about was the afternoon tea - I've heard so much about the wonderful tea offerings (mainly from Chloe who knows her stuff when it comes to afternoon tea and has often said this is her favourite!) that expectations were very high!
 
best afternoon tea north east

Firstly, if I didn't say this enough when I previously wrote about our stay, the place is just beautiful. There's a nice tea list on display too, and I opted for a summery Strawberries and Cream tea as I'd been on English breakfast all day.

english fruit tea


Regarding sandwiches, we had a bit of a change from the standard menu. The Jesmond Dene House afternoon tea sandwiches come filled with, as standard, gammon with pease pudding and wholegrain mustard, coronation egg mayonnaise, smoked cheddar with apple pickle, and hot smoked salmon with avocado. But, and I think I've mentioned this before, my Mr is very fussy when it comes to sandwich fillings. More so than me. In that he pretty much just likes plain cheese sandwiches. Not one to cause a fuss, I'll usually smooth the situation by, well, by eating all the sandwiches myself (hehe) but this time round I was still so stuffed from my massive breakfast that I definitely needed help with eating them - so we got them all swapped for cheese! Not everyone's cup of tea but the poor chap ate more on this occasion than any other afternoon tea we've had together so he was happy!

afternoon tea cheese sandwiches

The scones were honestly the lightest fluffiest scones I've ever had - and there was three of them, winner! One plain, one fruit and one cheese scone, but small enough to not be totally over-facing. If I had one small criticism here it'd be that while we were given plenty of jam and beautiful clotted cream for the scones, there was no butter... and it just seemed wrong putting jam on the cheese scones, so we ended up taking those away with us! (They were lovey buttered at home the next day though!)

plain fruit cheese scone

There was certainly nothing disappointing about the cake layer tier though - and this really is the most important one! This layer consisted of a massive and perfect lemon and raspberry macaroon, red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, chocolate and salted caramel financier and rhubarb cheesecake sundae. I'm not usually the biggest fan of rhubarb (Yorkshire heresy?) so I was surprised that the cheesecake sundae was my favourite of the lot, creamy and sweet and delicious!

jesmond dene house cakes tea
 
So was it the best afternoon tea ever? Sooo close but not quite, sorry! Though the food was all grand (which is definitely the most important thing) there were  just a couple of issues that stopped it being perfect for me. I understand that we may have held up proceedings by asking for different sandwiches but this meant that by the time our cake stand arrived I was pretty much out of tea. It took me 'til mid way through the scones to get my hands on a glass of water, and these sweet treats just don't go down as nicely without a drink to go with them. The staff were absolutely wonderful when you managed to get their attention, but were just a little busy at the time of our visit.... so while the service was no where near bad, it wasn't exceptional either. But bear in mind, as I said earlier, I did go in with very high expectations!

13 July 2015

Chocolate Orange Bread and Butter Pudding Recipe

I'm of the firm belief that most things in life are better if they include chocolate. When a whole bunch of chocolatey brioche rolls came my way in this month's Degustabox, they gave me the perfect opportunity to demonstrate my theory! This Chocolate Orange Bread and Butter Pudding recipe is a deliciously chocolatey twist on a classic!
 
Brioche recipe

Here's how it was made!

Ingredients

* Brioche - I used a total of about 10 of the individually wrapped brioche rolls from Brioche Pasquier (a combination of the chocolate chip ones and the chocolate filled) but about 8 thick slices of brioche loaf should do the trick.
* 400ml Double Cream
* 85g Butter
* 100g Dark Chocolate (maybe a little more if you have plain brioche?)
* 4 tbsp Triple Sec
* 100g Caster Sugar (I used half and half caster sugar and coconut sugar)
* 3 Eggs
* Zest of 1 Orange (My local supermarket didn't have any 'proper' oranges so I thought I'd make do with these easy peel satsumas. That wasn't a very good idea - ever tried grating an 'easy peel' orange? Guess what happens!

how to make choc bread butter pudding

Cut the brioche into triangles (mine were slightly squished already, making this nice and easy!) and arrange them, overlapping slightly, into a buttered oven dish.

brioche bread pudding
 
Put the cream, butter, sugar, triple sec, orange zest and chocolate into a bowl and melt together over a pan of simmering water.

mix cream sugar

Crack and whisk the eggs into another large bowl. Pour the chocolate mixture in with the eggs and stir it all together.

 
Pour all the chocolate gooey stuff over the bread, making sure you get all the gaps and corners! Cover the whole lot in clingfilm and leave in the fridge to soak it all up for 24 hours (or, like, five if you are impatient like me!)

recipe choc bread pudding
 
When you can't handle the wait any longer, remove the clingfilm ad bake at 180 for 25-30 minutes - until a little crispy on the peaks but still gooey in the middle!

 
chocolate dessert cream recipe

Unfortunately I didn't get to try much of this as it was destined for elsewhere, but I did make myself a little mini one (had to test it was good enough to give as a gift, didn't I!) and I have to say I was pretty impressed - especially served warm fresh out of the oven in a pool of double cream, yum!

12 July 2015

Breakfast at Arlo, Jesmond

A few weeks ago we popped up to Newcastle to sample the finest tea and cakes the far north had to offer. We recruited Chloe (New Girl in Toon) as our tour guide (because if anyone knows tea and cakes in the area, it's this girl!) and she suggested breakfast at Arlo in Jesmond after out arrival, as came highly recommended and we were staying nearby.
Best Breakfast newcastle
 
Being so highly recommended, it was inevitably a bit busy when we first got there but we were directed to a cosy seating area to wait for a proper table, giving us time to catch up and nosy at the cool little nick-nacks on display.

vintage bricabrac

It wasn't a long wait but seeing all the food go past me while waiting for a table to become free was making me very excited and hungry indeed, so I was very glad when it was our turn to be seated. I was even more glad when I saw that my cup of tea (all the hot drinks, in fact) came with a little spoonful of brownie! I'd usually of course save my cakey bits 'til after my meal but it was a weekend so....

arlo jesmond tea

I'll admit I surprised myself with my first choice from the breakfast menu, but the Vegetarian Cooked Breakfast sounded like the most interesting option. Instead of being a slightly apologetic and sad version of a meaty breakfast like you see so often, this was a really well thought out and exciting plate of eggs (2 - poached, scrambled or fried), baked beans, mushroom, grilled halloumi, hummus, guacamole, and sweet chilli sauce, with toast and butter.

interesting veggie cooked breakfast
 
The idea of having cheese and guacamole for breakfast was just too tempting! The whole thing was delicious - I even ate my eggs (I think I've mentioned this before but I don't really like eggs - even though I really want to like them.... eggs are such a big part of so many good breakfast options I think I'm denying myself by avoiding them, so I've been trying to train myself to like them. These are the first I have actually eaten and enjoyed!) Special mention goes to the sweet chilli sauce, that had a real kick to it and went beautifully with everything on the plate!

breakfast hummus chilli
 
I think this was my fist vegetarian breakfast since I stopped being vegetarian (many moons ago!) and definitely the best I've had. I joked (alright, I was only half joking) about ordering a couple of extra sausage to meaten up my veggie meal a bit but I'm so glad I didn't, I was already stuffed after this lot! (So much so that I even managed to leave Arlo without buying one of the beautiful looking cakes on display to take with me!)
 
I knew that with Chloe's recommendation we were onto a winner with this place but it definitely didn't disappoint! e even headed back later in the day for drinks - and I'll be back for that cake next time I'm in the area!

8 July 2015

Pandora - Charm Bracelets and Tea Cups

I like tea. There's a very good chance you knew that about me. I also like pretty things. I really like pretty things that involve tea! Things like this ridiculously cute Tea Cup Charm from Pandora.

pandora bracelet for tea lovers

I've sort of secretly wanted one of these bracelets for ages. I think since my mum got my sister-in-law one for Christmas a couple of years ago (and a spoilt inner voice somewhere deep inside went 'hey, where's mine?)*
 
But I finally have my hands on one - or one on my arm, at least - thanks to the lovely folk at Joshua James (which is, on a slightly related note, where I always used to help my dad shop for my mum's Christmas presents when I was a young 'un).  

jewellery shopping

I took a picture of the bag so you can see how sophisticated and grown up the packaging is, and then realised I could have made loads of really clever and funny 'Pandora's box' jokes if I'd snapped the box instead. But I didn't, so now I don't have to think of any - hurrah! It did come in a really nice little box inside the bag though - like I said, sophisticated and grown up! (No wonder I never had one before!)

pandora tea charm

Anyway, as well as the lovely bracelet, I was allowed to pick my very first charm for it - how perfect is this super cute little tea cup? Not only is it a lovely tribute to the number one love in my life (sorry kids, sorry boyfriend!) but a beautiful reminder of all the brilliant opportunities that have come my way through this little blog. What a lucky sausage I am!

tea cup jewellery
 
I think that's the really lovely thing about these charm bracelets - every new addition mean something new: a reminder of a special time or person, a tribute to a favourite hobby or pastime, or just something really pretty. I love how they all come together to tell a story about the person wearing it. So far mine is only a short story but I'm sure there will be a lot more to add in the future!
 
Do you have one of these lovely things? What's your favourite charm and what does it mean to you?

* I'm honestly dead grateful for all the lovely presents I get from folks or anyone, I'm just being awkward!

6 July 2015

Ever had a really bad idea...?

Today I did something most unusual (for me anyway). Instead of utilising any spare time in the best way possible (drinking tea and scouring Buzzfeed), I strapped on my trainers, went outside, and ran. I rad badly. I ran slowly and awkwardly and painfully. But I ran!
 
 
 What is the reason for this bizarre shift in activities, I hear you ask? I've somehow found myself agreeing to take part in a 5k run - and I know that if my current attempts at running are completely embarrassing then those same attempts in front of loads of people - fit, running-type people - would be so much worse!
 
Thankfully I've got plenty of time to get some practise in. I don't ever expect to be good at running, I'm certainly not a natural, but if I can pull off not standing out like a sore thumb amongst others I'll be pretty impressed with myself!
 
And to be fair, as far as runs go, this one does sound pretty fun! I've committed myself to Run or Dye, which not only has a great name but has a very colourful take on the traditional fun run (and I mean that literally - as the idea is that you are pelted with brightly coloured dye as you complete the course!)

There are some gorgeous venues for the upcoming runs too - Yorkshire's next one is at the gorgeous Castle Howard, for example. But it's October's event in Chatsworth I have my eye on - Chatsworth House has been on my to-visit list for a while now and this gives me the perfect excuse (though I'm not sure how they'd feel about me turning up for afternoon tea covered in pink dye!).


October also gives me plenty of time to get moving a bit quicker, but if something stops me (like not being able to walk tomorrow after todays exertion) I'm safe in the assurance that Run or Dye is happy to accommodate walkers! On the other hand, kids are 6 and under can join in for free so I might get the little lady - who is must faster even on her little legs than I will ever be - to join me for a bit of extra motivation/competition... no one likes getting messier than that girl!

Entry for those of us over 6 is £27.50 but (if anyone else is feeing masochistic) you can save £3 off the entrance fee with the code KISDISCOUNT, and you can see all the upcoming events and sign up here!

4 July 2015

A Weekend Walk (and Fancy Hotel Stay) in Jesmond

If you are reading this I'm sure you've already read Chloe's post on the little tour she took us round Jesmond - and if not I'd go read hers instead, she's a superstar! But if you want more on our trip up to the far north, here's my take on it.


First of all we headed for breakfast - we were hungry after our drive! - but you can read all about that in a whole separate post, this one's gonna be long enough as it is!
After eating our fill we went for a little wander thought Jesmond Food Market. The market takes place the third Saturday of every month so we were quite lucky to be about on the right day, but were sadly too full from breakfast despite Chloe's constant exclamations of 'Oh my god, these guys are amazing' and 'ooh this lot do the best burgers in the North'.

I did manage to resist temptation after painful temptation, but this definitely looks like a top stop off if you are ever in the area and hungry!

Of course, I'd have been thoroughly lost if we'd been deserted at this point but Chloe and her lovely Mr hadn't finished showing off this lovely little corner of the world and graciously guided us back to out hotel thought the lovely Jesmond Dene.



It's such a pretty little bit of woodland and I'd have been perfectly content wandering round it without any cute and fluffy bonuses but I was nonetheless delighted when we stumbled into Pet's Corner!


I love animals and it was great to wander through this little area and visit the pigs, goats and chicken - we all liked the fluffy bunnies best though, this lil guy seems to have understood exactly how I was feeling!






I mentioned we were being escorted back to out hotel, but woo, what a hotel! I'll be honest, I really struggled with finding somewhere to stay in Newcastle. I'm a tight Yorkshire lass at heart at the prices popping up for hotels in town made me cringe!

I've heard such wonderful things about Jesmond Dene House (mainly from Chloe who is happy to rave about the place, but plenty of other sources have verified her high opinion!) and when I realised I could stay here for not much more than a Travelodge in town it was (and I hate to quote Kevin Bacon here) a no-brainer!

Hotel newcastle

We called in with our guides for a quick drink before it was time for us to check in - so we could get an outsiders view, as it were. A warn northern welcome and free cookies with the hot drinks, it took us no time at all to be convinced we'd made the right decision regarding our choice of accommodation!

jesmond dene house dogs
The hotel is beautiful. We didn't explore or photograph as much as we might have done as the place was busy due to a wedding (though we were never made to feel as though we were in the way or anything!), but I'm glad snapped these cutie puppies! The place was full of these little doggie sculpture and other cool little nick nacks.

nicest smalling hotel
The downstairs was so lovely I was really looking forward to checking out our room! I loved the really cheerful pink wall and the bathrobes in the wardrobe and the complimentary fruit bowl,...but most of all, and this is an odd one, I loved the smell of the room! Seriously, the whole place smelled like a spa or something, really luxurious and lovely!

jesmond dene hotel fruit bowl

In a similar vein, I was really impressed by the toiletries provided in the bathroom - aren't they pretty? I figured it was only fair to treat myself to an afternoon bath! These were genuinely the nicest products I've come across in a hotel bathroom and just another welcome layer of luxury!

cute hotel mini bottles

We did make sure we got ourselves booked in for a highly-recommended afternoon tea while we were at Jesmond Dene House but that's a whole other post!
Massive thanks to Chloe for being an excellent tour guide!!