To my followers….

When I started this blog five weeks ago, I didn’t know what to expect. I just thought I’d give it a go, never imaging for a second that anyone other than myself or my husband would ever read it.  However, thanks to your support and encouraging comments from others on twitter and instagram, I’ve decided to continue with it.

For this reason, however risky, I have decided to host my website at http://letseatfirst.com (dropping the wordpress.com bit) for a little more freedom of what I can actually do on the blog.

It would be lovely if you could continue to follow my blog at the new address, http://letseatfirst.com

Thank you everyone

Lorna x

 

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Lemon and Basil Ice Cream | Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons

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Second week of Book Club, making recipes from Diana Henry’s Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons,  and I’m already really enjoying it. I knew I would. Cooking solely from one book for a whole month is almost therapeutic in a way. I normally have so many ideas or questions of ‘what shall we have for dinner tonight?’, it’s nice to have a focus. Calmer.

So this second recipe can hardly be classed as an answer to what to have for dinner. Well, maybe it can be, if that’s what you fancy, but I wouldn’t recommend this as your evening source of nourishment. This recipe is all about pleasure.

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I love lemon.  Given a choice I’ll always pick lemon. I was always the weird kid that got excited when a lemon fruit pastille was next in the tube.

I had, however, never tried this intriguing combination of lemon and basil.  It sounds a really obvious pairing, but even now, I can’t think of a time that I’ve had the two together.

Made from a traditional custard base, the milk is first infused with lemon peel and basil. A HUGE amount of basil.

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I started to worry that I might not like this after all. Basil can be such an overpowering scent: you only need someone to brush past a basil plant, and you can smell it from 10 metres away.  But still curious, I persevered.

Before churning, freshly squeezed lemon juice is added to the custard along with cream.

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As an accompaniment, I thought some candied lemon slices would be delicious! And they’re so quick to make.

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METHOD:

Slice a whole lemon as finely as you can. (I cheated, and put it through my magimix processer). Add the slices to a pan of boiling water for a minute or so before draining.  Then pop equal parts of sugar and water into the now empty pan, and heat until the sugar is dissolved. Lay the slices in the bubbling syrup and leave to simmer gently for one hour, until they look like beautiful pieces of stained glass. Remove them carefully, one by one, and leave to set on a piece of greaseproof paper. The result is sweet and chewy and delicious.

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This is stunning. You HAVE to try this, it’s incredible.

It is intensely lemon. Deep, mellow, cooked lemon flavour from the infused milk, with the zing of fresh lemon from the juice added at the end.  The basil gives it just the most amazing perfume. An enchanting combination.

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Smooth, creamy and fresh. It’s the taste of summers in Italy, in a bowl.  I will be making this all year long.

competition

I discovered last week that I somehow ended up buying two copies of Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons.

I don’t really need two copies of this book! So for a chance to win the paperback copy, all you need to do is follow me on twitter @letseatfirst and look out for the competition details.

The winner will be chosen at random on the 30th April 2015, and notified directly on twitter. Good luck!

KingshEATh’s 2nd Birthday | KingshEATh Streetfood Market

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Me: I said Kingsheath, HEATH!

Matt: oh

So after a slight detour through Kings Norton, we arrived at the market.

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Bathed in sunshine, the square was alive with people eating and chatting, live music playing and wonderful smells of all the different foods cooking.

BrumYumYum who organise the monthly market were celebrating KingshEATh’s second Birthday, and plenty of people had turned up to join in the celebrations : the place was packed!

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I’ve never seen people queue for so long but be perfectly happy about it. I presumed that they were regulars who perhaps knew the food was worth waiting for!

I joined the queue for MeatHeads.

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I was desperate to try one of their meatball subs after being far too full to try one at last weekend’s Streetfood Market in Brindley Place.

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The Zeus Ball Sub: Lamb Balls with Feta, Mint, Preserved Lemon, Olives, topped with  Yoghurt & Mint Sauce and Olive Tapenade. Yum.  I tried to eat this delicately and failed. Choosing instead to adopt the simpler, but less ladylike, apply-food-to-face method, this disappeared in no time at all!

The meatballs were super tender and juicy, and the olive tapenade was so zingy and fresh. And the potatoes: cooked to perfection, they were fluffy on the inside while the skins were chewy and sweet in their herby dressing.  Worth the wait.

Next stop: The Sunday Kitchen’s Dirty Great Griddled Sandwiches. What a name! We were sold.

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I chose the Masala Chicken, Sweet Lime Slaw and Goat Curd. Lou & Harriet who are the clever people who make these beauties, told us how they had sampled the goat curd in Cambridge somewhere, and liked it so much that they actually built this whole sandwich around it. It was sounding promising. I love it when people talk so passionately about the food that they produce, it just makes you want to eat it even more, knowing how much love has gone into it.

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It was incredible. Like seriously good. The goat curd, tangy and slightly sour against the warm spices on the masala chicken, and the fresh zesty coleslaw. Oh my. Try it.

Full, but still wanting more, I bought some sweet things to take home with us.

The guys at Bake were busy.  As I got up close, I could see why.

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I obviously bought a couple of things!

Mrs Mills Cakes, with it’s towers of Rocky Road and Brownies, looked divine.

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I bought a Banana Chip and Peanut Butter Granola Bar. (Although now looking at these photos, it is beyond me why I didn’t buy more).

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Not overly sweet or cloggy, you could taste all of the ingredients. Although I would have liked more peanut flavour. It does contain peanut butter, but maybe some whole peanuts as well would have been good. I do like peanuts though!

The cakes from Bake went down a treat with a cup of tea in the garden.

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The Raspberry White Chocolate Lemon Cake, tasted as if it hadn’t been drizzled with, but in fact SAT in a bowl of lemon sugar syrup, it was so moist. The white chocolate icing was dense, creamy and fudge-like. The tart raspberries were a welcome contrast to the overwhelming sweetness. AMAZING.

I also bought a slice of Salted Peanut Millionaires Shortbread. I’d not tried dark chocolate with peanut before: this was much more sophisticated than a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.  The shortbread base was buttery, and crumbled as soon as your fork hit it, it was so good. The caramel was FULL of peanuts, and salty and delicious.  Topped with the smooth dark chocolate ganache, this was really rich. But oh so good.

I’d just like to point out at this point, that I did SHARE this food with my husband and daughter, although a diet of lettuce for the next week is still required.

Brum Yum Yum run the KingshEATh Streetfood Market every second Saturday of the month.

Street Food Festival | Brindley Place

Date Stuffed Mackerel | Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons

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The last time I went to the Bullring Indoor Market was probably circa 1993. My nan used to love shopping there for fish, meat and huge bags of pork scratchings. I can remember taking the escalator down into the busy, dark and pungent market, feeling a little overwhelmed by bellowing traders and by how much there was to see.

The redevelopment of the Bullring area means it’s all very different to how I remember it as a child.

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I’ll be honest, compared to the ultra sterile conditions of a supermarket that I’ve become accustomed to, the reality of a busy working market was a little disconcerting at first. But the range of fish on offer was fantastic. I was after mackerel.

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Scanning my many, many cookbooks (138 at my last count) I suddenly realised I had two copies of Diana Henry’s Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons!! One paperback, one hardback. I can just picture myself in the shop now, analysing the cover, thinking ‘I’m sure I don’t already have that one’ – oops!

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With two copies, I thought it was probably about time I cooked from them!

The mackerel would be used to make Date Stuffed Mackerel with Spicy Broth and Couscous.  A Moroccan dish, Diana Henry describes it as ‘fantastically exotic – deep, dark and spicy’.

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Although I’m familiar with the sweet within savoury concept, I’m not always a fan. I can’t BEAR sultanas in the retro classic coronation chicken. So I was apprehensive at the list of stuffing ingredients including a large amount of dates,  almonds and mint.  However, I have never cooked a Diana Henry recipe and been disappointed, so I gave it a go.

I wasn’t expecting to be squeamish about handling the fish, but I was a little! I realised that I’d never actually held a whole fish before, or eaten one for that matter. And there was something about him (I’m presuming it was a ‘he’, I mean how do tell with a fish?) looking up at me, as I rinsed him under the running tap, that put me off a bit.

Stuffed and rubbed with olive oil, ginger and cinnamon, they went into the oven.

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They came out looking glorious.  Crisp skin, moist flesh and they smelt AMAZING.

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Served with couscous, and ladles of spicy broth: it tasted very exotic, and unlike anything that I’d tried before. Sat eating this outdoors in the sunshine, we were transported. It felt as if we were eating on holiday, in a little local restaurant somewhere off the beaten track. It was delicious.

The filling was very sweet and sticky, but I loved it! It worked superbly with the oily mackerel. Maybe I should stop picking the sultanas out of my coronation chicken from now on.

competition

I don’t really need two copies of this book! So for a chance to win the paperback copy, all you need to do is follow me on twitter @letseatfirst and look out for the competition details.

The winner will be chosen at random on the 30th April 2015, and notified directly on twitter. Good luck!

 

Street Food Festival | Brindley Place

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Easter Sunday. A day of stuffing your face with huge amounts of chocolate, roast dinners and whatever else you might fancy. I didn’t let the side down.

Breakfast was hot, buttered toast spread with a ridiculous amount of marmalade, made using a wholemeal seeded loaf I’d baked that morning.

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After a Cadbury’s Easter Egg Hunt at Birmingham Back to Backs on Hurst Street, we headed into town on the hunt for more food.

We hit the jackpot in Brindley Place.  Transformed into a huge Street Food Festival, the place was buzzing!

How do you choose when everything looks and smells so good?!

Sticky Fig Catering seemed like a good place to start: Smoked Pulled Pork served with Coleslaw in a Brioche Bun. Oh yes please.

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Man alive, this tasted GOOD! Matt and I bought one between us, but it took all my strength to share this beauty with him.  The roll was buttery and sweet, the meat was tasty and plentiful, and the pickled chillies were bursting with flavour. I mean, just look at it. Something that looks that good,  can only taste amazing.

Verity wanted a pizza. Bare Bones Pizza have a wood fired oven in their van. IN THEIR VAN. What a great idea that is!

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Once it had gone through thorough testing and evaluation, she ate every last piece. Well ok, we might have ‘helped’.

It was hard not to notice Pip’s Hot Sauce : a bright red beacon amongst all the other stalls.

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I am a chilli lover. Bring on the heat, I can take it. Much to the annoyance of my husband, who likes to think he’s as hard-core as I am: he’s not.  He held himself together well, but I could tell from his eyes that Pip’s Super Hot La Boca Del Diablo sauce was burning his insides. I thought it was yummy. Rather than just tasting ‘hot’, you really get the fresh chilli flavour.

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I bought a bottle of the Calabaza Malvada Hot Sauce. Made with pumpkin, cumin and scotch bonnet chillies, this is actually at the milder end of the scale of all the sauces they have.  Matt, who makes all of  the sauces with his partner Pip, suggested using it as a marinade on meat, or stirring it through roast veg towards the end of cooking.

On to pudding.

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I’d seen that the guys at White Heat were advertising Lemon Pie, and I was intrigued. I could see that they were cooking all of the  food from fresh, so how were they going to make a pie?

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A thick layer of Italian meringue was spooned into a serving bowl, before Gaz grabbed his blowtorch (gotta love a bit of on the street, blowtorch action) and cooked the top until it was beautifully caramelised.  He then sprinkled it with a layer of oaty crumble, before dolloping on a huge spoonful of homemade lemon curd. Topped with another layer of crumble, the pie was made.

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I had to fight off both Matt and Verity just to have some of this to myself! A  deconstructed lemon meringue pie, there was just enough crunch from the crumble to bring together an otherwise very wet pudding. Yum.

Stuffed, we left the market to spend the rest of Easter Sunday eating chocolate with my family.

The market is on for just one more day, Monday 6th April, so get down there if you can.

Brindley Place, Birmingham B1 2JF

The Botanist | Temple Street Birmingham

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Up until fairly recently, my sister’s idea of a fancy cocktail was a Malibu and coke.  But just lately she’s been telling me all about the bars she’s been trying around the city, and her instagram feed has become dotted with beautiful pictures of all sorts of exotic drinks: a Hummingbird from Turtle Bay, Mai Tais at Island Bar. So when I was invited to preview a new cocktail bar restaurant, I absolutely had to take Alex with me!

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The Botanist is stunning.  Untreated wood floors, a mix of vintage looking furniture, and the most beautiful and unusual lighting fixtures. Alex said that if Laura Ashley made bars, then this is what it would look like. And I think she’s right: it has quite a feminine feel, but with industrial touches like the wrought iron gates, and lamps constructed from rope pulleys and watering cans.

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I’d had a peek at the cocktail menu on their website a week or so ago, and it’s impressive.  As the name of the place would suggest, the use of herbs and other edible plants feature heavily: a Raspberry & Thyme Martini? Yes please!

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Everything, seriously, EVERYTHING on their cocktail menu sounds amazing.  But hard as it was, I chose one. A Watermelon Martini: Fresh watermelon, Green Mark vodka, watermelon syrup, lemon juice and sugar. Yum. Alex ordered the Strawberry & Cucumber Breeze: Fresh cucumber, mint, Beefeater gin, apple juice, vanilla syrup, cranberry juice, strawberry liqueur, lemon juice and strawberry purée.

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As I expected, they tasted delicious. The only obstacle was trying to drink it without impaling myself on the huge wedge of watermelon!

We were taken to be seated in the restaurant, and wow! The place is actually huge! You can’t tell how big it actually is from the bar, as a wall divides the two areas.

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Alice who served us, was so enthusiastic about the menu, you couldn’t help but want to try everything!

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Our starters arrived looking an absolute picture. I mean, Plum & Apple Chutney in a teeny tiny wheelbarrow – off the scale cute!

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The Chicken Liver & Rum Pâté was hidden beneath a ginger crumb in a small terracotta pot. It was a huge portion, but the ratio to bread was perfect. The chutney was mellow and sweet, not at all overpowering.

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The pork crackling was light and puffed, not like the stuff you get that you fear will break half of your teeth. And oh my, the Salt & Pepper Onion Petals were the stuff of dreams. They had a subtle Chinese Five Spice flavour, which the manager Julian confirmed was used in the batter, along with some other secret ingredients and, of course, some herbs.

So far impressed, out came the mains. Lamb Tagine with Pearl Couscous for me.  A rich and meaty sauce served over chilli and pomegranate flecked couscous. The meat was tender, but a little fatty for my taste.  Alex chose one of their Chicken Hanging Kebabs™.

 

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Just a tip: when they say to pour the melted butter slowly over the hanging kebab, it’s for a very good reason. Alex was a bit too enthusiastic and ended up with half of it spraying out onto the table and almost all over her shirt.

More cocktails? Oh go on then!

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The Botanist Pornstar (ahem): Black Cow vodka and Passoã shaken with fresh passion fruit, strawberry purée, rose syrup, pineapple juice and lemon, served with a shot of Prosecco.  Not the prettiest of cocktails, despite the name, but that hardly matters when it tastes that good.

The Botanist: Green Mark vodka, Havana 3 rum, elderflower liqueur, red amaranth, mint, jasmine syrup and lime juice topped with lemonade.

Carrot & Ginger Crush: Fresh ginger, mint, carrot juice and apple juice served over crushed ice with an optional dash of tabasco. Now this was unusual. It had a clean, fresh taste, I suppose coming from the carrot and mint, but with a heat that caught in the back of your throat. The apple juice sweetened it a little, but we both agreed that it needed a little more sugar in it.

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Orange & Thyme: Appleton VX rum, Grand Marnier, orange juice, lime juice, vanilla syrup and fresh thyme. I LOVED the fresh thyme in this.  I wont normally touch Grand Marnier, but this was a delight. Try it.

Alice told us how the Sticky Toffee Pudding was a long standing dessert in their other branches found in Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Chester and Alderley Edge. So good that it would never be taken off the menu. Sold.

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I was only going to try a little as I was so full by this point. I ate it all. Enough said.

Alex tried the Strawberry & Marshmallow Kebab. It wasn’t the most attractive looking desert: toasted marshmallows dripping down a kebab of fresh strawberries.  She said it tasted nice enough, but would have expected something more impressive.

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Would we recommend The Botanist? Definitely. The food was lovely, the surroundings were beautiful, but for me, the real draw is the cocktails.  I’ll be back again and again, working my way through that beautiful menu.

The Botanist, 14-16 Temple Street, Birmingham B2 5BG

Opens Monday 6th April.

We were invited to attend this press lunch by WPR Agency. All food and drink was complimentary. However, I was not paid to write this post. All opinions are my own.

Steamed Pineapple Pudding with Coconut Ice Cream

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When I visited Harborne Farmer’s Market last week, I picked up a jar of pineapple jam made by the mini jar company.  Having never tried pineapple jam before, I didn’t really know what to do with it, if I’m honest.  All I did know, was that it derserved something better than just being spread on hot, buttery toast (however good that sounds!)

For some inspiration, I turned to my Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit. Pineapple had some interesting pairing suggestions – pineapple and anchovies anyone?!  But it did also describe how well matched pineapple and vanilla can be, and that got me thinking…

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One of my all time favourite cookbooks is Roast Figs, Sugar Snow by Diana Henry.  If you don’t have it already, buy it, it is beautiful.  It includes a recipe for Steamed Apple and Marmalade Pudding, which is an absolute winner.  I had the idea of taking this recipe, and replacing the marmalade with the pineapple jam. Mixed with golden syrup, this would create the sticky, syrupy sauce of the pudding. Something similar to an upside down pineapple cake I thought.

Usually a generous helping of cold double cream, poured over the hot steaming sponge is all it needs to transport you to pudding heaven.  However this time, I decided to serve it with homemade coconut ice cream.  It would still deliver the hot/cold contrast, and coconut is such a classic combo with pineapple, that it had to work!

The ice cream recipe I chose, Easy Coconut Ice Cream is from the book Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati: The Definitive Guide by Caroline & Robin Weir.  My weapon of choice: my Cusinart ICE30 .

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This machine makes ice cream like a dream. You place the bowl from the machine in the freezer the day before you want to use it. Then, when you’re ready, pop it back in the machine, pour in your mixture, and half an hour later, you have the most delicious homemade ice cream. I love it.

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The pudding recipe includes two whole bramley apples, that are chopped and mixed through the cake mixture before steaming. I found this gave the pudding a lightness that counteracted any chance of stodginess, and also kept the sponge moist.

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The pudding steamed away for an hour and half, before being unwrapped and served piping hot with the smooth, cold coconut ice cream. A piña colada in a bowl. Yum.

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Pomegranate Martini

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Cocktails are my thing. Call me harsh, but I often find myself judging a bar by their cocktail offering alone. I love the exotic names, combinations of ingredients I would never have thought of and the feeling of sheer sophistication whilst drinking one.  A level of sophistication that I’m sure decreases with each subsequent drink.

My husband, many years ago, used to work as a bartender in a Brindley Place restaurant, and so likes to think of himself of a bit of an expert.  I take full advantage of this, (obviously, who wouldn’t?!) and we will often experiment with new drinks recipes at home.

Last night I brought home some pomegranate supplies to see what he could come up with.

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I remembered that I had a bottle of Melis Pomegranate Sauce. An impulsive purchase made at some point last summer, which up until now, had sat unused at the back of the cupboard. It’s a really thick, sweet, intense pomegranate syrup.  A perfect substitute for normal sugar syrup.

So with the help of a lime and a bottle of gin, the Pomegranate Martini was born!

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RECIPE

  • 50ml Gin
  • 25ml POM juice
  • 10ml Pomegranate Syrup  try Melis or Monin for supplies, or just use plain sugar syrup
  • squeeze of lime

Shake together with some ice in a cocktail shaker, strain into a cocktail glass, and drink!

Glasses are from the Barware Collection by LSA.

 

Rainbow Birthday Cake | Hummingbird Bakery

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Last week I had the challenge of baking a rainbow cake. Not a task that I had set myself, but my daughter Verity, who was just a tiny bit excited about her forthcoming birthday!

I was given strict instructions: it had to be rainbow, sweets, silver balls, candles and sparklers. Not much then!! And so, eager to please my ever demanding 3 year old daughter, I began my research.

I found a recipe for a cake on the goodfood website, which ticked the rainbow box, however the reviews of “rubbery sponge” and “my son wouldn’t eat it” didn’t exactly convince me that it delivered in the taste department, no matter how glorious it looked.

I decided to make the cake using my old faithful Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. I took their recipe for vanilla cupcakes, and made each sponge with the recipe needed for 12 cupcakes. Yes, this cake was going to be HUGE.  6 sponges x 12 cupcakes = a cake fit to feed 72 people.

I chose to cover it in cream cheese icing in the hope that the tanginess of it would somehow compensate for the sheer amount of sugar going into this cake!  Again, a recipe from Hummingbird, I quadrupled the amount in the recipe. That’s right, 1.2kg of icing sugar.

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I coloured each sponge using a small amount of Wilton Gel Food Colourings, choosing which ones by dying water in some clear glasses, and rearranging them until I had just the right combination of colours.

As I constructed the tower of cake the night before her birthday, I was convinced I was going to come down into the kitchen in the morning to find it in a heap – it was TALL and I was sure the sponges were going to slide right off their layers of cream cheese icing.  But hooray! It made it through the night, I was thrilled!

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It took me the best part of the day to make this cake, but oh my, did it taste good! And hearing the excited cry of ‘it’s a rainbow cake!!’ from Verity as I sliced into it, made it worth all the effort!

 

King Brown Sauce | Makers & Merchants

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I love shopping in Homesense. I can lose whole hours  of my life just wandering the aisles of unique dinnerware sets and discounted wine glasses (the latter being the utmost importance as wine glasses never manage to make it more than two months in my house before my husband breaks them!).

My local Homesense at Merryhill in Dudley appeared to have had a recent makeover when I visited at the weekend, and the food section is now huge! I LOVE discovering new foods and brands, and although, yes, it is all a bit jumbled up and takes some time to shop, you really can find some gems.

A bottle of King Brown Sauce caught my eye: nice graphics, and who doesn’t like brown sauce?! I then read on the label that the company Makers & Merchants were based in the Custard Factory Birmingham, and well, it was sold!

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The only way to eat brown sauce is on a bacon butty in my opinion, so that’s what I did. And it was delicious! I passed one to Matt, my husband, while I was still constructing (photographing!)  mine, and he shouted through to me “that sauce is GOOD!”. And it is. It’s fruity and well-rounded without the usual overwhelming vinegar hit. Mellow, but with a warm heat similar to an expensive aged whiskey. Yum.

Makers & Merchants website states that this particular product is made on the east coast of England.