Tuesday, 28 October 2014

RECIPE: Skinny chocolate squidge squares.


Yes, squidge.

Kinda like brownies crossed with chocolate mousse, this is some seriously good squidge.

And guess what – they're super healthy!


But before we get on to the health benefits, let’s talk about the deliciousness.

These squidgy squares are light and moussey and the crunch of the pecans is just divine. The milk chocolate top marries it all together b-e-a-utifully.


They’re rich, but not sickly, and they taste seriously indulgent and decadent.


And here’s the crazy thing – this chocolate squidge really is good for you.

Don’t tell anyone, but they contain:
  • Sweet potato
  • Avocado
  • Dates
  • Apple sauce.
And no-one would guess it! My housemates didn’t anyway.


Before deciding to make these, I’d never actually bought an avocado before. I know, how very remiss of me considering the very trendy health food of the moment which avocadoes are.

I was a little worried the avocado flavour would overpower these squidge squares, but luckily it didn’t. However, I think the avocado flavour comes out stronger when they’re just baked, so best to refrigerate them for a least a few hours before sampling. It’s a test of the willpower, I know, but it’ll be worth it.


While the milk chocolate topping ain’t exactly the healthiest of health foods, it does add some delightful sweetness and helps stop the whole thing mushing apart. Make sure you slice your squares before the topping has totally solidified though.



I’ll be honest, there are a couple of stages to these squares, but once you’ve prepared the sweet potato purée and the date paste (I did mine the night before), whipping up the rest is a doddle and super quick.

My date paste


They're really rather moreish not to mention packed with goodness. Just look at all those colourful nutrients above!

Ooh, let's stack them up...!


Aaaand down they fell...


If you're expecting something to rival the most indulgent (and naughty) brownies you've ever had in your life, I'll be honest, you may be a little disappointed. 

But considering how healthy these are (and that they're so much better than rice cakes), these babies are gooooood.


To make the date paste, follow this recipe from the Healthy Foodie. It was also her brownie recipe that inspired my skinny chocolate squidge squares. Make sure you prepare it, and the sweet potato purée, in advance.

This made 16 squares of chocolate squidgy goodness.


Ingredients

1 ripe avocado
170g sweet potato purée, or one average-sized potato's worth *(see below for how to make it)
125g apple sauce
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
75g plain flour
55g cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
60g pecan halves
200g milk chocolate

* To make the sweet potato purée cut one average-sized sweet potato in half and place it in a roasting tray with 1 tbsp water in the bottom. Cover with foil and bake in an oven at 200C for about 45 minutes, or until the potato flesh is super soft and mushy. Leave to cool completely then scoop the potato out of their skins (I like to eat the skin by itself) and mash it all together in a bowl until you have a smooth purée.


Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C and line a 9 inch square baking tin with foil. Combine the avocado, sweet potato purée, applesauce, date paste, vanilla and eggs in a large bowl and beat with an electric handheld whisk until creamy and smooth.


2. Combine the dry ingredients in another bowl then fold into the wet mix until smooth. Fold in the pecan halves.


Pour the mix into the baking tin and smooth the top as best you can.


Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out just a little sticky (I did mine for 22 mins.)

3. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for about 20 minutes, then carefully lift out the square (in the foil) and transfer to a wire rack to cool fully.

4. To make the chocolate topping simply break the chocolate into squares and melt it slowly in a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water.


Stir occasionally and once all smooth, remove from the heat. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes before pouring over the squidge and spreading it out as evenly as possible. Be sure to leave yourself some melted chocolate to eat by itself though.


5. Once room temperature, transfer the big squidge square to the fridge to set, but don't let it set fully before slicing up into squares.


Keep your squidge squares in the fridge and enjoy them over the next few days - they genuinely get better!

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Cosy candle-lit nights.


My mum isn’t a big fan of scented candles. Weird, huh?

And whilst I realise I’m more and more like my mummy dearest day-in, day-out (seriously young ladies, please wrap up warmer when you go out at night), we certainly differ on our view of scented candles.


I, for one, love them. Especially come autumn when the nights draw in and the urge to hibernate grows stronger by the day.

So I was jolly excited when a new brand of scented candles was brought to my attention: Beefayre.

I’ll be honest, when I read the name in the subject line I thought I was being emailed about beef. And as much as I love a good burger (mmm burgers), I thought a beef-themed company contacting me would've been a little odd. (However, burger brands, I am very open to emails!)


Beefayre was inspired by nature and the plight of the honeybee. The brand’s mission is to produce high quality gifts, using the finest ingredients and made in England. All the products come beautifully boxed in colourful botanical print and 3% of the company’s profits are donated to bee conservation too.


I often find scented candles are disappointing because while they may smell great when you sniff them unlit, they actually don't waft out any scent when lit. So rubbish.

Thankfully, this is not the case with Beefayre's candles.



Just the smell of lighting a match brings back memories of childhood birthdays and brings a smile to my face, but these candles genuinely smell gorgeous in themselves.

The scents aren't so strong that they assault your nostrils, but they add a subtle sweetness that you certainly notice once you come back to your room after popping to the loo.

"Winter Scents" has a slight Christmassy vibe going on with definite cranberry undertones, and "Honey Lily" is just delicious.

The sweet smell in the air is relaxing, soothing, calming and just down right pleasant. It almost takes away the constant desire to eat for no reason. Almost.



Whether I'm spending the evening studying, relaxing (rare) or getting ready to go out out, a scented candle always helps. It almost doesn't seem right if I don't have one lit of an evening. There's one next to me right now, adding warmth (if only slightly literally), cosiness and a pretty glow to my bedroom.


My lovely candles create a nice atmosphere every evening and a good working ambiance, slightly helping me avoid getting super stressed about ALL THE WORK!

Are you a scented candle fan? Thanks to Beefayre for the candles but, as always, these opinions are entirely my own.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Reliving my Bavarian year abroad at Bristol's Oktoberfest.

Photo credit: Ross Silcocks
“Hi, welcome to Bristol’s Oktoberfest. Have you been before?” asked the friendly Lederhosen-clad man upon our arrival.

“No,” we chorused back. “Well, only the one in Munich.”

“Oh.”

Somehow I don’t think that was the response he was expecting.
 
Photo credit: Ross Silcocks
Munich’s Oktoberfest is legendary and has been an important part of Bavarian culture since 1810. In just its 2nd year, however, Bristol’s Oktoberfest perhaps isn’t as well-known as its German counterpart, but that didn’t stop it selling out. On one of the two nights at least.

As a final year German student who loved and lived in Bavaria on her year abroad – naturally I went to actual Oktoberfest (remember my post about it?) – the chance to unleash my inner German here in Bristol was too good to pass up.


Luckily, I can still (just about) squeeze into my Dirndl, and with a couple of equally eager wannabe German chums, we wandered down to Brunel’s Old Station to relive our glory days for a night.

There were two ways the evening could’ve gone, we thought: either it could be totally cringe and try-hard, or it could be pure hilarity and genuinely German in style. Oh, the suspense.


Pleasingly, there were definite similarities between Munich’s and Bristol’s Oktoberfests, the main one being that ludicrous quantities of beer was consumed by all. 

The Maße, (huge Bavarian beer mugs) however, were plastic in Bristol, making the Dirndl-clad waitresses’ jobs far easier. You know those images of German ladies carrying five giant beers in each hand? Yeah, that really happens at Oktoberfest.


But while the Maße may have been plastic, no-one cared in the slightest. They were all too busy dancing on the benches and swigging away.

I’ll be honest, I don’t recall any organised dance routines at Munich’s Oktoberfest (and no, not because I was too betrunken to remember), but it seemed to be a rather large part of my Saturday night at Bristol’s Bavarian party. 

While the “oompah” band (a total stereotype) played, we revellers were encouraged to sway “forwards, backwards, left, right, stand up, sit down, and drink!” So we duly obliged.

This was not part of the routine. I can't even explain what is happening. 
Everyone was getting into the spirit of the evening, and I was genuinely impressed by how many people had made the effort to wear TrachtDirndl and Lederhosen. However, while in Germany my Dirndl most definitely stood out as a cheap one, it’s safe to say it looked extremely legit and classy compared to the outfits of the majority of ladies at Bristol’s Oktoberfest.

Our waitress was wearing a choker. I’m fairly certain that’s not traditional, but kudos to her for reinventing the look.

Photo credit: Ross Silcocks
There was a conga line, a very bendy performing lady and a food hut called “Fooden” (definitely not German), so it’s safe to say it wasn’t a totally authentic Oktoberfest experience. However, there were definitely aspects of the night that took me back to my time in Munich.

For starters, the classic German toast “Ein Prosit, ein Prosit, Gemütlichkeit” was sung over and over again, which I loved. Everyone belted it out each time, regardless of whether they knew what they were saying or not. Who needs to understand the words when it ends in beer-drinking, oder?

We also indulged in some traditional German (and conveniently carby) German “Fooden” – pretzels, Wurst, chips and potato salad may have all occurred, and it’s safe to say that by the end of the night not even we German-lovers cared in the slightest that the potato salad was more British than German in style.


The fact of the matter is that Bristol’s Oktoberfest was a great night out. If you don’t believe me, ask any of the many stag dos who appeared to be having the times of their lives.

As far as I’m concerned, anything that encourages people to see how awesome Germany is, even if done so in a somewhat stereotypical fashion, is a winner.

Bavaria was brought to Bristol for two nights only, and now all this Germanophile can do is sit around waiting for the Christmas markets to start…

This article originally appeared on Epigram. There's loads of other good stuff on there too. And I'm definitely not biased. At all. Promise. 

Friday, 10 October 2014

The Cosmo Blog Awards Ceremony 2014


It was always going to be a glamorous night.

And by jove, was there a lot of glamour.

The Cosmo Blog Awards had seemed a long time coming, but Tuesday 7th October 2014 finally rolled round (somewhat springing up on me, actually) and I was so excited to be going, especially since I hadn’t been able to make it the previous year.

So, after a morning of lectures and seminars, I got curiously glammed up for the middle of the day and made my way down to the train station to meet my Bristol blogging buddy, Ambi (of the wonderful Bombay Rose, shortlisted for Best Beauty Blog.)

Despite having been online friends for yonks, Ambi and I had never actually met before Tuesday. It’s strange how you can really feel like you know someone despite having only spoken online. But unsurprisingly Ambi and I hit it off like a house on fire in person too, and we chatted, gossiped and laughed all the way to London. (I’m sure the rest of the carriage enjoyed our Tinder stories too.)

I’m really glad the awards finally gave us a reason to meet and it was much more fun having Ambi to travel with than it would’ve been alone. We made our predictions as to what the evening would involve (cupcakes and cocktails were my bets) and shared each other’s excitement. 


As a real London lover, I was pretty psyched to be off to the capital, even just for the evening. And yes, I turn into a massive tourist upon seeing all the sights I’ve seen a million times before.

The awards ceremony was being held at the OXO2 Tower overlooking the Thames in Central London. Quite the location!




Yes, I intentionally chose a bag with cupcakes on.
Ambi and I casually slipped on our heels, checked in our coats and excitedly headed into the party.


I think I’d like to have men offering me cocktails and Champagne every time I enter a room. Can we make that a thing please? OK, good. 


There was much to explore, but we figured a flute of sparkle was a good place to start.


Next sponsored the whole blog awards, but do you wanna know something else about Next? They make a mean cookie-pop. (Is that a thing? Did I make it up?) 




I definitely had at least four of these over the course of the evening. 



Now I must say, the bar was simply wonderful and the alcohol was pretty free-flowing. There were so many gorgeous cocktails to try and so we obviously made sure to sample them all. 





It turned out some were rather strong so we may not have finished them all, but hey, we’re just responsible young ladies like that.

Cosmo had organised a whole host of beautifying treatments for the night. Convenient, then, that yours truly had not done much herself beforehand. A lot of the bloggers were like, “yeah, this is great, but I’ve already done my own make-up/hair/eye-lashes/nail wraps.” NOT THIS GAL! So I pounced. On everything.

Got my smokey eye on thanks to MUA



Got my hair curled thanks to Remington





Got false lashes thanks to The London Dolls



And got nail wraps thanks to IZ Beauty.



Not too shabby eh?

So I gradually got more glamorous over the night, which was fun. 

Speaking of glamorousness, I haven’t told you about my dress yet, have I? *gasp* Shame on me.


Well, it shall now be known as the Elsa-from-Frozen dress. I hadn’t seen the resemblance before, but so many people said I looked like Elsa on the night, and hey, I wasn’t going to complain. She’s a babe. What do you think?

Elsa
Me
We could basically be twins, right?

I'm not going to lie, I totally love my dress. It's different, which I like a lot. And so spaaaarrrkly!

A couple of weeks before the awards I tried on the dress I'd planned on wearing. It was a smidge tight. Awks. Never mind, thought I, this is the perfect opportunity to treat myself to a new one. So off into town I went.

It transpired there were, like, ZERO suitable dresses on the British high street. Where was all the glitz and glamour? I guess it's just not quite Christmas party season yet.

Just when I was giving up hope, I strolled into my saviour, Miss Selfridge. My dress was in the sale for an absolutely nuts £17. And if that wasn't good enough, there was a 20% student discount on for a limited time. AND THEN it was buy-one-get-one-free on all sale items so I only went and grabbed another back-up dress too.

Biggest shopping win ever? I think so.

But let me tell you, there were a lot of fabulously dressed ladies at the awards, as one would expect.





It was so much fun to meet and chat with so many like-minded ladies. The blogosphere is generally such a supportive community, which I love. It was also wonderful to put faces to names and meet so many of the ladies I stalk follow online.

L-R: Ambi (Bombay Rose), Natasha (Graphique Fantastique), Katie (Scarphelia), Samantha (Nashbag), me (I think you know my blog.)
Total babes. Do check out their blogs.

If I hadn't been feeling sufficiently in my element already, the cupcakes just about sent me overboard. Not just cupcake-eating, my friends, but cupcake-decorating, courtesy of Two Little Cats Bakery.





It was awesome: they had a choice of chocolate or vanilla cupcakes, loads of different flavoured icings, all ready in piping bags, and then ALL THE SPRINKLES! Too much fun. I may have gone back multiple times. (And in all seriousness, I'm still dreaming of the peanut butter icing... *eyes glaze over*)


Just about managed to save one for the train journey home. NOMS.


I had to quickly stuff one in my face at the awards because...


...it was time for the real reason we'd all travelled to London (although I'd have totally gone just for all the beauty, cake and cocktails): the awards! So we all filtered into another room and excitedly took our seats.



I literally was not expecting to win so simply enjoyed watching everyone else get their awards and cheering them on. Check out the winners here and watch the video to see my few seconds of fame!


To be perfectly honest though, it did make me even sadder that I couldn't make it last year as it would've been super awesome to have gone up to collect an award. Oh well.

And post-awards it was back into the main room where the party continued!



By this point we were feeling the effect of the cocktails and thinking some actual food would go down well.

So it was perfect timing when the most adorable little bowlfuls of food started appearing.


There was steak and chips, and then a bowl of halloumi, lentils, sweet potato and spinach which was utterly divine.

The fun continued with Thomson's random beach spot. They'd sponsored the Best Travel Blog competition, and who doesn't love dressing up in beach stuff over a snazzy dress in the middle of London? Exactly.



The evening was drawing to a close and it was soon time for Ambi and I to head off and catch our train back to Bristol.


But of course, we made sure to pick up our goodie bags before leaving!


What a sweet selection, eh? Lucky us.

When we left the building, we were treated to the most AMAAAAZING view!





It was simply stunning, and as we wandered along the Thames back to the tube station (half expecting to bump into the cast of Made In Chelsea having an awkward but dramatic conversation), it made me even more sure of my desire to live in London after graduating.


It was a truly wonderful evening and I had an absolute ball. Thank you so much to every reader of Handbags and Cupcakes and everyone who voted for me. Considering there were over 47,000 entries this year, I'm still proud of my achievement in being shortlisted.

I think it's wonderful that Cosmo put on the awards and champion us all as well. It's a great way to find new blogs, discover new talent and make new friends.

Thanks to Ambi for letting me use some of her fab pics!