Sunday, 8 October 2017

Chocolate chip peanut butter cake

 This cake. Ohhhh, this cake.

As you may have seen, I made it for my birthday this year - and yes, I always WANT to make my own cake - and I have to say I fell a little bit in love with it.
Being the peanut butter obsessive that I am, I was always going to make something PB-related. Remember my peanut butter and nutella cupcakes, triple layer chocolate, nutella and peanut butter cake, and my chocolate chip peanut butter cupcakes?

I didn't, lol. In fact, I totally forgot about those last cupcakes when I made this cake.

But yes, let's get back to this cake. This glorious, glorious cake.
The sponge is incredibly moist but crumbly and fluffy, chock-full of chocolate chips, smothered in lashings of light vanilla buttercream, and topped with chunks of chocolate praline and chocolate fudge.

Is it indulgent? Yes. But is it so worth it? HELL yes.

Did I eat the final quarter by myself the day after my birthday? You betcha. And I don't even regret it.

I knew I was going to love this cake because it's full of all my favourite flavours (could you guess?) but I was also super pleased because even my friends who don't really like peanut butter - honestly I don't know why I'm friends with them - loved it.
Or they told me as much anyway. It was my birthday after all, they were hardly going to say they didn't like my cake.

It's flavoursome and rich, but the hint of saltiness means it's not too sickly.

Honestly, it's probably in the top five best cakes I've ever made.

I was really worried I'd underbaked the cakes, but actually they were perfect, so don't worry if you feel the same.

Hope you love it as much as I do!

Ingredients

Cake:
1.5 cups self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup crunchy or smooth natural peanut butter
1/3 cup slightly salted butter, at room temp
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup Greek yoghurt
100g milk chocolate chunks or chips

Icing and topping:
250g unsalted butter, at room temp
600g icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
Chocolate, fudge pieces and sprinkles of your choice

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line two round sandwich tins.

2. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium-sized bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the peanut butter, butter and brown sugar and beat using an electric which until well combined. Beat in the vanilla and eggs until just combined.

3. Add the yogurt and flour mix bit by bit, alternating as you go and mixing well in between. Don't over-beat the mixture though.

4. Fold in the chocolate chunks and then pour the batter evenly between the two tins. Bake in the oven for 15-18 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out just a bit moist. Leave to cool in the tins for ten minutes before turning on to a wire rack to cool fully.

5. To make the icing, beat the softened butter until smooth and light, then beat in the icing sugar a bit at a time. Once all combined, carry on beating with your electric whisk for five minutes to ensure your icing is lovely and fluffy. 

6. Place one cake on your serving plate and spread about a third of the icing on top. Sandwich together with the other cake and do the same with another third of the icing. Spread the remaining third around the sides of the cake. Top with chocolate praline pieces, fudge, chocolate buttons, silver balls and even edible glitter if your party is silver-themed like mine.

Enjoy! 
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Wednesday, 4 October 2017

My silver jubilee (AKA 25th birthday)

I love birthdays. I love birthdays SO much. I love everyone's birthdays, but of course I love my own the most. Duhh.

I had thought that I'd get less and less excited about my birthday with each one, but it would seem that is not the case.

It was my 25th birthday a week or so ago and I was SO EXCITED! Definitely more excited than I had been for my 24th, and I don't even really know why.

I made all my friends save the date months in advance, I wouldn't shut up about it for weeks on end, and in the week before, I told pretty much every person I spoke to that it was my birthday that coming Saturday. Yup, I'm that girl.

On the morning of the big day, I kept waking up over and over again from about 4am or 5am, each time just wishing it was time to get up (like a little child at Christmas. Or me at Christmas for that matter. OMG YOU GUYS CHRISTMAS IS COMING!)

I just got so into it this year. I had so much fun planning my party and the whole day, and it's made me realise that if/when I ever get married I am going to go nuts. Like, properly obsessed crazy. Can't wait. Lol good luck to my friends and family.

This year, I was blessed to have a Saturday birthday, which we all know is a rarity. So I decided to fully make the most of it - largely by drinking champagne all day, naturally.

On the morning of my birthday, I woke up in my birthday PJs (they're from Boux Avenue and I thoroughly recommend you get some for yourself), donned a tiara and three different birthday badges and started the day opening presents and cards with my flatmates.
We then made breakfast: peanut butter banana pancakes, topped with peanut butter cups, maple syrup and mixed berries. All washed down with Buck's Fizz. Honestly, it may have been the best way I've ever started the day.

I actually used this recipe and the pancakes were pretty healthy too - I thoroughly recommend it.

Next we started decorating the flat with the ludicrous amount of decorations I'd bought and made (honestly, I spent a fortune but I have no regrets).

Being the both extra and basic girl that I am, I had decided my birthday was going to be known as my silver jubilee (well, the definition is the 25th anniversary of a significant event...), so everything was going to be silver and sparkly. I didn't want it to be tacky though, and Pretty Little Party Shop is perfect for tasteful decor. I suggest you pay them a visit in the run-up to your next festivity.

I also decorated my cake, which I'd baked earlier. People are always like, "OMG why do you make your own cake? Someone should make it for you." But these people don't understand that for me, the joy is as much in the baking of the cake as the eating it. Baking is my fave.
I made a chocolate chip peanut butter cake, with buttercream icing (dusted with edible silver glitter) and a topping of chocolate praline chunks, chocolate fudge pieces and silver balls. Don't mean to brag but it was undeniably one of the yummiest cakes I've ever baked so I plan on sharing the recipe with you all soon.

Then it was time to get ready and head out for lunch with the girls - we were off to Duck and Waffle!
If you didn't know, Duck and Waffle is the famous restaurant on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower in the City. I'd been dying to go for aaaaages but it's really hard to get a reservation, so you can imagine my joy when I managed to book us in all those weeks in advance.
It was every bit as fab as I'd hoped, both the food and the view. We toasted with champagne and got stuck in - most of the girls went for the signature duck and waffle, Stef chose a sweet waffle, Frankie opted for salmon and I went for avo and scrambled eggs. Cos brunch food is life.

And after a long, late lunch, we went back to mine to eat cake, drink more champagne, open more presents, finish decorating the flat, get a Franco Manca pizza delivery (yes, there was lots of eating, but one has to line one's stomach well when drinking) and beautify ourselves for the evening's festivities.
Mmm cake. Mmm pizza.

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It was party time! We LOVE hosting parties in my flat because we have a fab open space. I basically spent the whole night drinking from my giant champagne glass (it holds a whole bottle lol) and the GORGEOUS Bottega rose gold metallic prosecco bottle my fabulous flatmate Maddy brought me back from a recent trip to Italy.
In head to toe sparkles, surrounded by my friends and family, it's safe to say I had a ball.

It was just the best day.



I'm so so touched by how my friends made it so special for me because they know how much I love birthdays.

It'll be hard to top 25, but I sure am going to try. At least I have a year to plan it...
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Friday, 29 September 2017

How to save money in London (and still live your best life)

Living in London can be tricky. It's so much fun, but it's not cheap.

So when you don't work in a particularly well-paid industry (I'm looking at you, journalism) but have rent and bills to pay, you have to be savvy.

I've always been thrifty - even as a student, I've never touched my overdraft - I think it's a mindset I inherited from my grandma.

Whilst I may not have a load of money, I always manage to save, even just a little.

I'm not tight with money either though - what's the point in living in such a fabulous city if you're not going to make the most of everything it has to offer?


Sure, I still go on family holidays and live in a tiny room because I can't afford more, but I love it. I have so much fun.

Granted, I am very lucky to get perks through my job - the occasional meal out, free box of chocolates and even press trip from time to time - and I accept most people don't.

But freebies can't pay your bills and rent unfortunately. I haven't actually tried it but somehow I don't imagine my landlord is going to accept a Le Creuset teapot and packet of fancy biscuits as payment.

So a gal's gotta be thrifty. My attitude is that if I save money in some areas, I can afford to treat myself in others.

Did you know that 94% of women believe they’re financially frugal compared to 88% of men? I'm sort of not surprised really.


Even as a pretty frugal gal, one can always be better with money, so I was keen to get involved when E.ON invited me to take part in their Savvy Shopper challenge.

The premise was simple: jot down everything you spend for one week, then try and cut that amount down the next.

Of course, some weeks one has one-off big costs, but I was pleased to cut down my weekly spend from £172 to £132. When I look at those amounts, it looks like a lot of money, but ya know... Dinners and drinks and waxes and clothes and travelling all adds up eh?

And I'm pretty chuffed with a £40 saving. How did I do it?

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Here are my top tips for bring thrifty in the city:

1. Use Spending Tracker 

This is a great app for just seeing where your money's going. Log your earnings and everything you spend, and then you can see which categories are eating up most of your income. For me it's always rent first obvs, usually followed by travel (not that I'm going anywhere, just from topping up my Oyster card to get around London, cry), eating out, clothes, drinks and food shopping.

2. Buy frozen fruit and veg

Eating healthily is important to me but the healthy stuff always costs money, boo. So I'm obsessed with frozen fruit and veg, and I'm talking a lot more than just peas. I'll chuck some berries in a bowl of yoghurt in the fridge before I go to bed and in the morning I have a delicious berry yoghurt mix, I throw spinach into stews, and all frozen fruit and veg are perfect for thick, creamy smoothies.

3. Put your young person's railcard on your Oyster

Not many people know you can do this as TfL don't really advertise it, but if you find a station with an attendant and ask them, they'll put your 16-25 railcard on your Oyster, giving you a third off off-peak journeys.

4. Walk everywhere 

Obvious I know, but I always walk when I can. I'll walk for hours. Saves travel money, it's free exercise, good for the soul and I get to see more of this beautiful city.

5. Be prepared 

Learn from my error and don't leave your gym stuff at home because you think you're going to have time to pop back and get it before your evening cardio kettlebells class. You won't. You'll end up working late because there is always extra work to do, and then have to buy emergency gym gear near work and dash to the class.


E.ON recently launched their Cap and Track 1 Year tariff which is a new dual fuel, fixed monthly Direct Debit tariff, which tracks the average price of all energy tariffs on the market and is priced below the market average.
The tariff offers customers the simple reassurance that their energy prices will be tracked against the market average and that their bills won’t rise above those the cap they signed up to for the duration of their contract, but could fall further. 
The aim of Cap and Track is to remove the hassle for people who don’t want to spend time shopping around but who still want the reassurance that their prices are fair and stable – with the important possibility that they could fall further too.
See here for more information.
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Saturday, 19 August 2017

New hair yay!

I'm going to sound like a stupid Dove or Special K or Activia advert right now, but it's so true that when you feel confident about how you look, you have a brighter outlook on life and feel better about everything you do.

And there are few things I love more than getting my hair done to boost my mood - whenever I leave the hairdresser, be that after just a blow-dry or a cut and colour, I sassy walk home, unable to resist checking myself out in every window I pass (and trying not to sniff my hair too much in public because that would be weird.)

Last week, I paid a visit to a Headmasters salon for the first time. There are tons of salons and I'd heard such good things from my friends, but had yet to get around to visiting. I'm one of those awful people who waits till her hair is super straggly and horrid before actually sorting it out, but hey. Life is expensive.
One of the best things about Headmasters, however, is they regularly have offers on such as 50 per cent off colour which, let's be real, makes a huuuuuge difference.

Getting your hair done is pricey. But I love it SO much.

I love the whole experience of a visit to the salon. I love having my hair played with, I love being pampered, and I love the excitement of a transformation.

My hair was long overdue a cut (cheers to my sister and her brutal honesty for pointing this out), but I decided I wanted a little more of a change so decided to go for a balayage.

I wanted to be blonder, but still look natural. It needed to be noticeable, but subtle. I'm a picky customer.

But folks, I was so so pleased with the outcome. The wonderful Clare Hollywood from Headmasters worked her magic and I am so so chuffed. I feel like a new woman! Well, the same woman but with better hair, perhaps. (Apols none of these pics are great cos they're nighttime selfies but what can ya do?)
The great thing about colouring your hair with an ombre balayage is that it's so low-maintenance and it continues to look good no matter how much longer your hair grows.

And I'm excited to be a little blonder. Change is good, after all.

The dreamy waves, however, were sadly not a permanent affair. I am either cursed or blessed (I can't make my mind up) with deadly straight hair. Whilst it is indeed easy to manoeuvre and very low-maintenance, it's also just a bit meh. A bit flat. A bit boring.

Sure, I could curl it, which I do occasionally, but I'm too lazy to do it often.

So I've decided just to embrace the straightness. And this is where my new fave hair styling product comes in...

The kind people at Revlon generously sent me their new Pro Collection Salon One Step Hair Dryer and Styler to play with. Yeah, it's quite the name. Essentially it's a hair brush and hair dryer in one. So yeah, a gadget you never knew you needed.
But I'm a big fan - it leaves my hair super sleek and got rid of any sneaky kinks.

The brush is very easy to use - you simply plug it in, choose the power setting (dependent on the thickness of you hair) and gently brush your hair, miraculously drying and smoothing it at the same time. No frizz allowed.

You want to use it on towel-dried hair (otherwise you may be there all day), but it's more efficient than I was expecting, taking probably just a smidge longer than a normal hair dryer.
I also like the styler because you can use it with your head at any angle and don't really need a mirror either.

It's not too loud, which is always good, but it is quite big so not the most portable of stylers.

The first time I used the styler I was concerned it would leave me with really dried out ends, but that wasn't the case at all.

So now I can go around with sassy hair and check myself out in every window again. (I need to stop this.)
Also how adorable is this ballerina necklace? I've received tons of compliments on it so just wanted to let y'all know it's from Ted Baker. So cute, right?

I love the rose gold and as a gal who did ballet for 20 years, it will always have a special place in my heart.

Aaaaand this concludes the blog post of probably the most selfies ever. Were I a Serious Blogger I'd have got someone to take a million pictures of me on a fancy camera, probably outside houses in Notting Hill. But I'm not. Sincere apologies.
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Sunday, 6 August 2017

Wine and pizza girls' night in to celebrate Friendship Day

Whether you're someone who has a huge circle or a select few, life would be horrid without friends.

Who would you send ugly snapchat selfies with a million chins to? Who would commandeer your phone on a night out to stop you sending messages you'd later regret? And would would get sloshed with you on your birthday but not quite as sloshed as you to make sure they could always look after you?

Obsessed with birthdays as I am, I forced kindly asked my closest pals to put the Saturday night of my September birthday in their diary back in April.

When I started actually organising birthday things a few weeks ago, the girls told me they'd had the whole weekend booked out for my birthday months ago without me even asking. I was so touched. Bit emosh really.

That's the lovely thing about friendship: you'll do anything for the people you care about, especially if you know it's important to them.

Urgh so soppy.

But this was something we celebrated last weekend, which was, in case you didn't know, international friendship day.

With my oldest best friend, flatmate and sister - so arguably friends from all different areas of my life - we settled in for an evening on the sofa.

To be honest, that's quite a rarity for me. As someone who loves going out for food, drinks and dancing - and living in London where there are endless exciting options - I don't often have a night in.

But that's exactly why I enjoy a rare one so much.

I feel like you know you're with top pals when you plan on watching a film and doing face masks but don't ever get round to either because you can't stop chatting.

We ordered a deliveroo and of course, cracked open the wine (which let's be honest always helps keep the conversation and lols flowing).
And considering how long it took for our pizza to arrive - note to self, never order deliveroo at 7pm on a Saturday night - it was most fortunate that we had plenty of wine, courtesy of the kind people at I Heart Wines.

We started with the rosรฉ because summer and girls and basic.
Hand modelling and pouring by the beautiful and expert pourer, Jessie.

It looked quite heavy but was actually light, mediumly (not a word but go with it) fruity and totally delicious.

And then our pizzas arrived, praise the lord.
Guys, Franco Manca is life. It was so bloody worth the wait.

The original sourdough pizza company, which started out right on my doorstep in Brixton, if you've never been to Franco Manca you need to remedy that asap.
The pizza bases are so soft, chewy and doughy but not greasy like, ahem, a certain popular pizza takeaway company.

It's pizza, but tastes high quality.

What's more, it's such good value. A margherita is just £6.40, pals, and who can argue with that?

Having been eating nibbles for about two hours while waiting for our pizzas, we weren't actually that hungry. But did we still finish them? You betcha. Because a) they were that delicious, and b) who gives any f***s about your figure after a bottle of wine? Quite.

We cracked open the Sauvignon Blanc next which I knew I was going to love because it's my fave wine.

It was crisp and oh so drinkable. (Apologies but by this point I was past taking pictures. You've all seen white wine before.)

And because no meal is complete unless it ends on something sweet™, we proceeded to demolish a bar of chocolate between three of us.

And I mean a giant, sharing bar. After pizza.

If you're judging us for this, you've clearly never tried Dairy Milk peanut caramel crisp.

Yeah, you try not eating it all. It is so damn good.

We had originally entertained the idea of going out out after our dinner and draaaanks. But you will perhaps be unsurprised to hear that in our very full, tiddly states, we ended up getting no further than our beds. In my case, face-planting and starfishing (man I love being single).

In bed by midnight on a Saturday? A revelation. I think it could catch on.
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Sunday, 30 July 2017

Percy Pig's Official 25th Birthday Party

I never buy sweets. I eat them when they're offered to me, sure. But I prefer chocolate on the whole so don't tend to buy sweets for myself.

Well, there is one exception to the rule. And that is Percy Pigs.

The pig is a legend. Due to some clever marketing on the part of M&S and the sheer deliciousness of the sweets, Percy Pigs have become iconic.

All Brits know Percy. And I've never met anyone who can resist him. The seductive little fella.

My siblings and I loved him when we were little, my colleagues and I love him now. My friends have always loved him.

Imagine my excitement then, when I learned Percy was this year turning 25, just two months before I was set to hit the milestone myself.

And that excitement went up another notch when I received an invitation to Percy's birthday party. His official 25th birthday party! What an honour.

Let me tell you, it was a lot fancier a soirรฉe than my birthday party will be (not through lack of my trying - there's only so much you can do with a tiny London flat and a journalist's salary.)

Along with a select group of lucky journalists and bloggers, I entered on a hot pink carpet and was greeted with a choice of a Percy on the Beach or some rosรฉ sparkling wine.
How could I choose? Obvs I had both.

Here's the recipe for the Percy on the Beach, should you want to taste the deliciousness yourself:


The room was insanely beautiful. It was so pink and essentially what my dreams consist of.
The most gorgeous bunches of pink roses and peonies atop every surface (my dream flower combo), cute retro glass jars of every different type of Percy for us to pick n mix, and huge pink pom-poms adorning the room.
And of course, I was most excited to meet the guest of honour.
Although you might think I wore pink trousers especially for the occasion, the fact of the matter is that on any given day there is a 90% chance I will be wearing pink. Safe to say I felt very at home.

We mingled, sipped drinks, scoffed canapรฉs and discussed our favourite Percies - mine, should you care to know, are veggie Percies (I prefer the texture, they're more squidgy).

And then it was time to sit down for dinner.
The chefs said they'd tried to put the essence of Percy every course, and each dish was inspired by a different top chef too.

The starter was plated up in a retro way - it was wild seabass with citrus nage and turned courgettes, inspired by Marco Pierre White.
The mandarin definitely conjured up Percy vibes and it went down a treat with the lovely sauvignon we drank.
The main was amazing: Heston inspired ricotta tortellini with summer vegetables, greenhouse pesto, potato and a confit garlic foam.
It was accompanied by orange wine too which I loved.

Pudding was, as you might imagine, sensational.
Citrus compressed grapes with yogurt sorbet, meringue and rosemary oil, inspired by Renรฉ Redzepi. It was very sweet and did taste like Percy, but it was herby at the same time which was unexpected.

Oh, and the Asti we drank alongside the pudding was so delicious. I'd forgotten how much I love Asti. I'm so basic. But who says bubbles are just for the start of the night? Asti with pudding is going to be my new thing.

And just because we hadn't had quite enough sugar, we finished the meal with mandarin sherbet dib-dab...
And blackcurrant and Parmesan marshmallows.
Yes, really. Not going to lie, it was a bit weird and confusing. But hey, you win some, you lose some.

It had been a wonderful evening and I feel very privileged to be able to celebrate Percy hitting the big 2-5.
Here's to Colin the Caterpillar's 21st next year!
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Sunday, 16 July 2017

Baths, bars and breathtaking beauty in Budapest for the weekend

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of spending the weekend in Budapest. 

On a flight that was at least half hen-dos - Friday flights from Gatwick at this time of the year are always hen and stag central RIP me - we whizzed on over to Hungary, and it was my first visit to the country so I was mad excited.

Over the course of the weekend, we explored as much as we could, and guys, Budapest is beaut.
We tried to eat as much local cuisine as poss too - feast your eyes on this chicken paprikash, which was entirely delumptious.
Most people know Budapest is famous for its natural baths, but rather than go to the arguably prettier but more touristy central ones, my pals and I decided to venture out to Margaret Island - this gorgeously green island in the middle of the river - and try out the baths there.
The water was the most delightful warm temperature, but not so hot that it didn't cool you down which was great because BOY OH BOY was it a toasty weekend.
Oh, and in Budapest you can get wine spritzers in plastic bottles and we were all over that.
Delicious.

If you didn't know, Budapest is actually split into Buda and Pest, which are separated by the river.
Amongst all the historic buildings, there are a lot of ruins and run-down areas, but Budapest seems to make it work somehow.

You probably know about the ruin bars as they're pretty famous - we tried going to the best-known one but when we rocked up at about midnight there was a queue down the street that seemed to be made up of solely Brits, so we decided to skip it and find somewhere we thought a touch more authentic round the corner, if less famous.

Fun nightlife, has Budapest.
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And we were lucky with the weather in the daytime too.
I found that the different areas of the city had completely different feels.

The spot below, by the opera house on a beautiful big, wide, tree-lined street full of designer shops, reminded me of Paris.
And then across the river in Buda, we found this beautiful area that felt more like Prague with a touch of Bavaria.
I suppose I haven't really told you the main reason I was in Budapest in the first place, and it was both random and awesome.

The Red Bull Air Race was taking place in the city over the weekend, and I was there to interview Ben Murphy, former Red Arrows leader and current aerobatic pilot.

The race is insane and amazing - in the tiniest of planes, the pilots zoom down the river, slaloming through bollards and looping all over the shop.

Most excitingly for me, I got to fly with Ben - a proper G-flight with loop-the-loops and flying upside-down and everything!
You can see a little taster of what it was like in the video below...


Man, I bloody loved it. It reminded me that I am at heart a bit of an adrenaline junkie, and I've decided I need to make the things I've always wanted to do happen. Like sky-diving. The question is... where?
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