Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Sweet and Simple Bakes - Vanilla Cupcakes

Finally! The essay is finished and handed in. What a nightmare. Talk about making things difficult for yourself. All was going very well until Sunday when I got up and looked at what I'd written was rubbish and appalling and not even relevant and decided to start all over again. I'm an idiot. I think I was just over-thinking the whole situation and making things more difficult than they needed to be - not only have I not had to write an essay for about 3 years but the last essays I was writing were for my Masters degree and this is just a Diploma level, there's no need to panic.

Once I sat back a bit and stopped freaking out completely I realised what I needed to do and set about writing my masterpiece. Well. Maybe not masterpiece.
Either way it is now out of my hands and handed in so now it's just a case of waiting.

So what did I do to cheer myself up when I was buried under a mountain of papers and couldn't see an end in sight? Got myself in the kitchen!

The Sweet and Simple Bakes blog is something I've been following for a while but haven't plucked up the courage to try out. So this is my first go - I couldn't resist these babies!!They were absolutely brilliant and did exactly what they said on the tin - they are sweet and oh so simple!! Simply chuck all the ingredients in the bowl, give it a whisk, put in the cases and you're off! Which meant that I didn't need to feel guilty about taking time out from essay writing to make them - you are supposed to give your brain a rest after all!!

The other fantastic thing about this recipe is that I got to take a trip back to my childhood and play with food colouring and sprinkles - nothing wrong with that.

These cupcakes are soft, fluffy and light and I could happily eat a million of them. But I'm trying not to!

Vanilla Cupcakes
Makes 12


175g (6 oz) self-raising flour

1½ level tsp baking powder

175g (6 oz) butter, softened

175g (6 oz) caster sugar

3 large eggs

2 tbsp milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

Buttercream Icing

150g (5oz) butter, softened

300g (11 oz) icing sugar, sifted

1 tbsp milk

¼ tsp vanilla extract

Edible food colouring(s) of choice, optional

Sprinkle(s) for decoration of choice

You will also require 12 holed muffin tin lined with 12 paper muffin cases


Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan oven 160°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.

Sift the self-raising flour and baking powder into a large bowl, and then add the butter, caster sugar, eggs, milk and vanilla extract.

Beat together until well mixed, trying not to over mix the mixture.

Spoon the mixture equally into the prepared paper cases and bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until the tops spring back when lightly pressed.

To make the buttercream, beat the butter until soft. Add the icing sugar and stir until it’s just mixed in, then add the milk and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Divide into as many bowls as you want different colour(s) and add edible food colouring (you only require a few drops). This is purely optional should you wish to leave out the edible food colouring(s) and keep the buttercream natural. Spread the icing on thickly with a palette knife on top of each cupcake or put the icing into a piping back and make a large swirl on top of each cupcake. Decorate each cupcake with your chosen sprinkle(s).

I'm really looking forward to trying out more bakes at Sweet and Simple and at least I will now have an excuse to get in the kitchen and make things - I'm constantly having to find good reasons for going and baking things and now I'll have a perfect one - for at least once a month...

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Vegetable Bhajis - Jamie Oliver's Ministry of Food

Ingredients (serves 4-6)
2 large carrots
10cm piece of fresh root ginger
2 medium red onions
2-3 fresh red chillies
Large bunch of coriander
2tsps mustard seeds
1 tsp turmeric
1 heaped tsp cumin seeds
2 tsps sea salt
125g self-raising flour
1 litre vegetable oil
Juice of 1 lemon
2 limes

To prepare the bhajis:
- Peel and finely grate or shred the carrots, ginger and red onions and put them in a large bowl (if you have a food processor, this is where it comes in handy!)

- Finely chop the chillies and add to the bowl

- Roughly chop the coriander leaves and stalks and add to the bowl

- Add the mustard seeds, turmeric, cumin seeds and salt to the bowl

- Add the flour and 125ml of cold water and scrunch together well, using your hands, until you have a nice thick mixture.

To cook your bhajis:
- You either need a deep fat fryer or put a large pan on the hob and add the oil. Once the oil is up to temperature (you can test by putting a piece of bread in, when the bread sizzles you're good to go!)

- Using 1tbp of the mixture, press it together tightly and then lower into the hot oil.

- Repeat until you have several on the go.

- Cook for 5 minutes until crispy and golden then remove with a slotted spoon and put them on kitchen paper to drain.

- Sprinkle with salt and lemon

- Continue until all the mixture has been used.

To serve your bhajis:
Cut the limes into wedges and serve them on a big platter or plate with your bhajis.

These are absolutely fantastic and I seriously couldn't believe just how easy they were to make. And you can trust me because I'm totally clueless in the kitchen department. Believe me if I can do it then anyone can do it.

The sense of satisfaction was so great that I don't know that I'll ever buy them again!

(PS - I know the picture is the wrong way round but Blogger doesn't seem to upload it the right way round. After the 5th time of trying I've just given up!)

Essays and a Saturday night with Jamie

I'm in the middle of hell at the moment. Work have paid for me to do a module on a university degree course at Hull University in research methods. I'm incredibly grateful as it will undoubtedly help me progress as a researcher but at the moment I'm wishing I never opened my big mouth and said I wanted to do it.
I loved being a student. It was absolutely brilliant but I was an absolute horror for leaving things until the last minute. I would start each term with the best of intentions - I was going to do all the reading for each lecture, I would pick my essay title and start the reading for it immediately, I would go to every single lecture and tutorial that was required of me. Even the ones that started early in the morning. But no matter, by the first month in, I was skipping lectures, wouldn't think of doing the reading for them and although I would start compiling my reading for essays, what would generally happen is the books/photocopies would sit in a pile in the corner of my room until about a week before the essay was due in and I would panic and start reading and writing.

I just think I'm one of those people that cannot perform unless there is a looming deadline, unless I'm feeling the heat of impending panic I can't seem to make myself get going. Everything always got handed in, I only ever had to ask for 1 extension in an undergraduate degree and a Masters degree, and there were many many many late nights and early mornings getting my masterpieces finished off, but they were always in on time.
So I didn't panic too much when I knew my first assignment for this research module was due in, "That's how I roll" I told myself "You'll get it done. You always do."

Except there's one big difference this time.

I'm working full time!!

Why did this not compute in my tiny little brain? Of course I could always get my essays done on time at uni - I had all freaking day to write and read! Trust me the last thing you want to do after you've been at work all day is come home and then work all night. My head can't cope with it, it's totally frazzled. I've ended up having to use a holiday and took Friday off to get all my reading done in the hope that I can pull 2,500 words from somewhere over the weekend, in time for the hand in date on Tuesday.

So after spending all day sat in front of the computer whilst the sun was blazing outside, I needed something to cheer me up for the evening. So I turned, as I always do, to food. Nothing like it for making you feel better. I turned to my cook books and pulled out good old Jamie Oliver's Ministry of Food. I've made a couple of things from here before and they really are easy to make. My only criticism is that they're not necessarily cheap to make, you need quite a lot of basic staples already in your cupboard so the initial layout can be quite expensive.

For Saturday night there's really no option.....CURRY
The curry recipes in this book are great - he tells you to use a jar of Patak's curry paste but also gives you a recipe to make your own curry paste if you're more confident. That's definitely not me yet so I headed to the supermarket to get my jar of curry paste.

It was also fun because I got to dig out my little glass bowls. My Dad got these for me from Muji years ago and they're great - perfect for putting dips in but also great for pretending you're a chef on tv and putting all your ingredients in them before you chuck it all in one pan.Yes I know I'm a geek but I'm very proud of it :) I went for a Rogan Josh and it was really easy to do, you basically just chuck it all in and then leave it simmering for an hour, which even I can manage.

The rogan josh wasn't the star attraction though. That accolade went to the onion bahjis. I saw these and ummed and aahhed about whether I would be able to do it or not. What swayed me eventually is that I'd be able to use my food processor which I got my birthday and haven't got around to using yet!

Once they were made I felt amazingly proud of myself, they looked brilliant and tasted amazing, I couldn't believe that I'd actually made them and I can't wait to make them again when we have people round.

So in the spirit of the Ministry of Food movement I thought I would pass the vegetable bahji recipe on...

But in another post because this one's too long now!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The trip

I took a trip down South to see some old friends this weekend. I know (let's change her name) Rita from uni, we lived in halls of residence together in my first year and her final year and became firm friends. We got on so well and were so similar that we called the other our twin and I was gutted that she wasn't going to be around the rest of the time I was at uni because she was moving down South to live with her boyfriend.

I try and visit as often as possible which is not as much as I would like because it's so far away and I have to get the train which costs about £70-80 even with a railcard and it involves a whole day of travel because it takes about 7.5 hours to get there.

So we've remained friends for some time really, I was maid of honour at her wedding and she recently had a baby and I would be meeting him for the first time this weekend.

Our lives have undoubtedly started to diverge. She's settled down with a house and a family and I'm still bobbing along, going out and getting drunk and not really having any plans to settle down in the immediate future. I have to say though it's never really bothered me. I get on great with her husband (let's call him Bob), I've known him as long as I've known her.


This weekend made the void between us totally apparent and for the first time I wondered if this was it for our friendship. I have to stress that this is not because she is married and has a baby, one of my friends here in Hull also has a baby and most of them own houses with their partners and are engaged. The problem is one that I seem to come up against more and more often and that is the balance between a boyfriend/husband and the rest of their life.

I love my boyfriend very much and I'm incredibly happy with him and I fully intend to be with him for the foreseeable future. However. He's not the be all and end all for me. I have my own functioning social life outside of him that he has nothing really to do with and that's absolutely fine by me. I like that. I make a conscious effort for it to be like that. He's more than welcome to come and meet my friends and will come out on the odd night out and vice versa with his friends but it certainly doesn't happen often. If he was off out I wouldn't presume he was coming along and I wouldn't presume he was coming out with me.

With Rita and Bob it's completely different though. She has the worst situation I could ever imagine myself being in. Namely, that the majority of her friends are the partners of Bob's friends. I know a couple of people in this position and it is one that fills me with dread. Mainly beceause I'm a bit of a negative nelly and all I can think of is "What will you do if you split up?" I'm not saying it will happen and it probably won't but no-one can predict what will happen in the future and if you think that you'll keep those friends when you're no longer together then you're crazy. It's just too difficult. Everyone will make an effort and try to keep everything flowing along but sooner or later all will fizzle out because it's just too hard.

I just don't think it's healthy. It's good to have some different interests and go out and do separate things and then you can come back together and talk about what you've been up to. Rita and Bob are together all the time. In a way I admire it; they'll be together forever because they've been together 12 years already and can stand to be around each other 24/7!

It just would have been nice for Rita and I to spend some time on our own together. Like I said, I've no problem with Bob at all, he's great. But Rita is my friend and she's the one I come to see and we didn't spend any time just us together. We went shopping. Bob came too. We went out for a meal. Bob didn't come but some of Rita's friends came out (and guess what, they all go out with Bob's friends). Bob went to play golf. Rita and I ended up all day round at friends' house before going out for lunch with all the boys. Came home. Bob there too.

And I'm not suggesting anything sinister like oooooooh Bob won't leave Rita alone in case she spills the secret about the body under the patio. I just wanted to see her on our own. It'd have been nice. I did not spend £80 and 7.5 hours to sit in the house with Bob and Rita.

It was sad more than anything. I came back home and cried. And I wasn't really sure why I was crying. I think I was crying for what was lost and what might never be regained and for all the things that I would like to say to her but can't for fear of losing our friendship forever. What use would it be for me to say that I think she spends too much time with her husband? In fact what business of mine is it anyway?! I just feel like she loses more and more of herself every time I go down there.

I won't be seeing for a while anyway. The next time will be at the end of June when we go to Manchester to see Take That. And guess what? Bob's coming too.

Monday, 20 April 2009

The return

I've been away for four days visiting some friends down south (more to come on that in another blog) but had left everything in my boyfriend's capable hands whilst I was away. He was going away Saturday-Sunday and had some friends staying over on Friday night. I'd done all I could to make sure the place was tidy and looking nice for our guests and had left him with a list of things he needed to do before they came round. Nothing heavy, put some rubbish out, take the recycling to the bins, just generally make sure everything was fine.

I spoke to him on Friday night before his friends had arrived when he assured me all was fine and all looked nice and my jobs were done. I could relax. His friends were barely here anyway, they didn't get up here until after 9am and they were leaving first thing Saturday morning so not much damage could be done.

He came back to Hull on Sunday evening and went round to his parents (obviously couldn't face 1 night cooking for himself!) but text me to let me know that he was making sure the flat was looking good for when I arrived back home today. How smug I felt. What a lovely boyfriend I had that knew that my flat looking nice was important to me and that I wouldn't want to come back to was a flat full of empty pizza boxes.

When I got back here however my smugness vanished....

Now I'm sure that he thought he'd made everything lovely for me but there's a part of me that wondered exactly what state it was in beforehand for him to have 'tidied up' for me. They're only small things but they're things that have just bugged the hell out of me!

He didn't take the rubbish out. Or he took the black bin liner from the kitchen bin out but failed to take out the stonking big bag of rubbish that I had helpfully put by the door for him ready to take out. That's right. By the door. So the first thing people will have seen upon entering the house is a bag of rubbish. Brilliant.

One of my plants is dead/dying. I'm remaining hopeful that I can revive it but time will tell...

The daffodils in the vase are dead. If there's one thing you don't want to come home to it's dead flowers. I don't mind coming home to no flowers but dead flowers? Not welcoming.

The fridge is rammed. Absolutely rammed full of totally unhelpful things. Fresh things as well that can't all be put together in to one meal and so much of it that there's no way we'll be able to use it before it goes off. On top of this, there's loads of stuff in there that should have been thrown out and hasn't been. How can you not see mould?!

He's done something so that I can't watch a dvd. I just wanted to come back home and relax and whack Friends on or something similarly inane while I checked my e-mails but I can't get the DVD player to work. I'm blaming it on the X-box. I don't know why but I feel it's going to be the culprit.

So instead of coming back to the flat and breathing a sigh of relief that I'm home, I've spent the past hour dealing with dead flowers and putrid food and rubbish bags all the while searching for something half decent to watch on the only 5 channels we have.

I am not in a good mood.

And yet I know I shouldn't be mad at him. I'm just tired because I've spent seven and a half hours on a train (actually 3 trains because there's no direct route) and I haven't had the best of weekends and I know I've got to spend the next week working my backside off for an essay I have due in and I'm absolutely sure that he will have thought that he's made the flat lovely for me and I'll be really happy to be home but I'm nooooooooooot.

Either way I have about an hour to get this bad mood under control and out of my system before he gets home and I let loose a tirade of abuse that's not entirely deserved...

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Our first guests

So we are due to have our first overnight guests on Friday night but unfortunately I'm not going to be here as I'm travelling down South to see an old friend.

The guests are friends of my boyfriends, who are travelling up from Birmingham to stay the night before they all head to Whitby for the weekend.

It makes me feel a little antsy to be honest. I wanted to be here for the first time that people stayed over; I wanted to play host. I wanted to cook and have everything all pretty and looking nice for when they arrived. It's not that the boyfriend won't but he just doesn't think about things like I do.

For instance...

He came home this evening with some curtains for the spare bedroom, we haven't gotten around to choosing some material yet and you can't really have people round and not cover their window whilst they're sleeping at night. Anyway he'd found some el cheapo ones that'll do for now in Primark of all places and he was going to hang them. We have massive windows which are very high but luckily he's pretty tall so it wasn't going to be too hard for him to manage.

He stood on the bed to hang them, got them up then jumped off the bed and went to get changed.

I was left frantically smoothing out the rumpled quilt cover. You see it hadn't even occured to him to straighten it out once he'd trampled all over it. In fact, more to the point, he hadn't even thought to pull the quilt back before standing on the bed.

You can see my crisis. If he doesn't think about that is he going to realise the importance of making sure that the bins have been emptied and the flowers have enough water in them and the reclycing needs.....recycling?!

I have no choice but to whip out my trusty pen and paper and make a list. A list of things that need cleaning and tidying away. I can do most of it myself tomorrow evening and first thing Friday morning but how can I be sure that by Friday night, when the guests arrive, the place won't be lying in ruins?

It's a worrying time....I'd have made sure some candles were lit and everything :(

Monday, 13 April 2009

The visitors

We've had an eventful this weekend thanks to the arrival of two little furry visitors in the shape of Fred and Lily, my Mum's cats. Mum was going away to my sister's for Easter so we said we'd look after them while she was away. They're about 8 months old now and are the best of friends, Lily is very much Fred's protector and keeps an eye out for him. Fred is the soppy one - loves absolutely everybody and is only interested in cuddles and affection. He's also the little scaredy cat - he's very friendly but just takes a while to get his confidence around new people. Lily is more forthright and ballsy, stalks right up to new people and demands their attention.

However, coming to a new place out of the blue unsettled them a little bit and for the first half hour or so didn't want to come out of their box to explore their new surroundings!
However once they got their confidence there was no stopping them as they explored every inch of their new surroundings and, as predicted, Fred was quick to climb to the top of our shelving units and walk along our DVD collection. He loves climbing things and whatever keeps him from climbing our curtains is fine by me!
It actually wasn't such a bad thing because we're looking after them for a week at the end of April and this weekend was a chance to see what they get up to because we'll be at work when they're here again so we need to make sure the flat is well kitty-proofed! Having watched him clamber all over things I now know that all plants/ornaments/cards need to be removed as they're only going to be knocked down in all likelihood.

They were soon happy at home though and curled up with one another on the settee which is their favourite place to be.

We've taken them back to Mum's now and I'm missing them so much already. We're not allowed cats in the flat because it's rented but I wouldn't have them anyway, cats need to be outside and a first floor flat isn't really the right place for them. Doesn't mean that I don't want them though. I've lived with cats all my life and not having them about just doesn't feel right. I need a substitute although I've no idea what at the moment.

I'll just have to bide my time, at least I only have another couple of weeks to go until I get them for another week!

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

My Birthday & Red Velvet Muffins

It was my birthday this weekend which meant we had our first party in the flat which was very exciting. I've been really looking forward to getting people round to the flat since we moved in and I haven't really had a chance to so my birthday was a great excuse to get everyone round and for those who hadn't seen the place yet to have a good nosy round.

Entertaining can only mean one thing - food and drinks. However I guessed that since I was going out the night before my birthday I probably wasn't going to be in that good a shape to be providing lots of finger food the next day so I cheated and just got a load of crisps, dips and those frozen party pack things in. Next time I'll be brave and try and actually make some stuff.

I did get my baking hat on though - no birthday is complete without birthday muffins/cupcakes and I knew exactly what I wanted to bake. I'm fairly new to the baking game and I'm still finding my feet a little bit, there have been a few disasters along the way - I still can't talk about the orange shortbread (although I still insist that the recipe for that was wrong and it wasn't my general incompetence). Muffins I'm not too bad at though and these bad boys are my favourite and perfect for adding a little wow factor. Everyone just loves the look of them (it's amazing what a little bit of food colouring can do for you) and once they have a bit of the cream cheese frosting on top they're hooked forever.

So I present to you.......

Red Velvet Muffins
These bad boys are not for the faint hearted - they definitely wouldn't make a list of healthy muffins but they were for my birthday! They're also a little fiddly to make - one spoon of this, one spoon of that and a hell of a lot of folding but I've been told you've got to fold to keep the air in and keep the muffins light so who am I to argue! Pain to make they might be but one bite and it'll all seem worth it...
Ingredients - makes approx 12 muffins
150g butter, softened
350g castor sugar
2 eggs
450g self raising flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
250ml buttermilk
2tbsp red food colouring
1tsp vanilla essence
1tsp white wine vinegar

For the frosting:
1 vanilla pod (or if you're poor like me some more vanilla essence!)
100g softened butter
125g cream cheese
200g sieved icing sugar

Preheat oven to 170c and take a 12 hole muffin tray and full with muffin cases
Cream the butter and sugar together until it looks fluffy and then add in the eggs one by one, beating well in between.

Take 2 separate bowls and sieve the dry ingredients in to one and the mix the wet ingredients into the other. Then mix alternate spoonfuls from each into the egg mixture, folding thoroughly after each addition.

Fill cases with a spoonful of the mixture - be careful not to overfill the cases as these babies rise! Then bake for 10-15 minutes or until they have risen and feel springy. Remove from the oven to cool completely and then transfer onto a wire rack.

To make the frosting scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod and then add the butter and cream cheese (for those of you that can't afford the pods stick in a little bit of vanilla essence - you can always add more to taste). Beat well and then gradually add the icing sugar a little at a time until mixed in and smooth.

Once the muffins are cool, pile a splodge of the icing on top and you're good to go! How can you say no?!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The mess

I'm a pretty neat and tidy person. I like order in my life, something you may have guessed with my 'ode to a list' type blogs. My love of order extends to my surroundings. I don't like mess.

This is not to be confused with some kind of minimalist ideal that I have. Oh no no. I just like things to have a place. At first sight I would understand how someone would say I was lover of clutter but I'm really not. Clutter is when you have a load of crap hanging about. On the contrary everything I own is in its place. Everything has its home.
At this point I feel I should probably point out that I'm not some crazy Kathy Bates in Misery type person that can walk in to my living room and shout "My penguin is facing South when it should be facing South-East!" I just mean that my things have a home and their home tends to be logical.
Take the elephant for instance. The elephant is with the giraffe. This makes sense. They are wild safari type animals. They belong together. They are under the shade of a plant because it gets hot out in the desert, they need shade. No no, I'm joking, I'm not really that bad. Honestly.

This delight in order means that I'm not really a messy person, I don't like mess. It confuses me and makes claustrophobic and bizarrely angry. I don't know why. I just see it and makes me mad. Probably at myself for being messy but whatever or whoever I'm mad at, it's not a nice feeling.

However since moving the flat I've found that I've suddenly become a messy person. Either that or my small mounds of mess that I make are breeding behind my back and multiplying to make huge mounds of mess. Maybe I'm not innately tidy and my neat habits were forced upon me by my environment.

The rooms I lived in at uni ranged from a pretty decent size to crazily small and I had to come up with all kinds of inventive ways to be tidy and clean. Laundry had to be done on a day when I wasn't planning to be in my room because there wasn't room for me and the airer in the same place at the same time. And no I most certainly was not going to waste my precious 20ps on the tumble driers in the laundry room. I'd have only ended up shrinking everything anyway. When I was living with my Mum, my room was also small; if you didn't hang your work clothes up immediately after coming in from work you found your available floor space cut in half.

So now I have a whole flat to live in? Things seem to have got a little bit crazy. Everywhere I go there's mess! I come back home after work and find myself going around picking up things and putting them away and the most frustrating thing is that I can't blame any of this on my boyfriend! It's all mine!

Why have I randomly put down a book on the dining room table when clearly it belongs on either a bookshelf or the bedside table? What are my headphones doing on this chair? It doesn't matter if no-one sits on the chair. That's not where they belong! Why exactly are there a pair of pants and socks on the floor when the laundry hamper is clearly within throwing distance?

That's why I'm almost certain that the mess is either a) cloning itself or b) tiny gremlins are coming in to the flat while I'm out and chucking everything all over the place.

Whatever or whoever it is I'm on the look out for you. I will not accept that I'm not a tidy and neat person. I've merely let things get out of control slightly. It's time to rein it in.

Right I'd better go and tidy up the kitchen. Don't even get me started on who's making the mess in there...