Saturday, 28 July 2012

RECIPE: Ham, pea and cheese muffins

I recently acquired the Hummingbird Bakery recipe book, "Cake Days" (more to come of how I did so in the next few weeks! It's more exciting than it sounds. Honest) and am very impressed. It's a huuuge book, so of course there are cupcake, cookie and traybake recipes galore, but there are also more unusual offerings such as various types of whoopie pies and savoury muffins.

Having never actually baked anything savoury, I decided to give the latter a try, so modified one of their recipes to create these babies! The Hummingbird Bakery say you should use feta cheese, but not being a big cheese girl, I went for Red Leicester. I imagine you could choose any cheese you want, depending on your preference, and if I was to make them again, I probably would use something a little stronger... Cheddar, perhaps.

They're really very delicious - and that means something coming from a girl with such a sweet tooth - especially warm from the oven (Mum and I devoured four between us pretty much straight after they were done!), and would be fab for breakfast, lunch, as a starter or for a snack at any time of the day. Mum spread hers with some Philly cheese which she loved. Just an option for ya. I imagine macho men who think baked good are too girly for them would feel these muffins are manly enough for them. Men like meat. And cheese. And beer but that's irrelevant.

The recipe makes 12 muffins.

300g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
250ml milk
85g butter, melted
40g tinned or frozen (and defrosted) peas
60g sliced, cooked ham, cut into small pieces
40g cheese, grated or crumbled into small pieces

1. Preheat the oven to 190C, Gas mark 5, and line a tin with muffin cases.

2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large mixing bowl.

3. Measure the milk into a jug and then break in the eggs, stirring together until well combined and bright yellow.
the milk and eggs
4. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the milk and eggs mixture gradually, mixing together with a handheld electric whisk on a low speed. When all the ingredients have come together (don't worry if it seems really doughy and unlike cake batter), add the melted butter and mix together on a medium speed until the batter is smooth.

5. Add the peas, ham and cheese to the mixture and stir in with a spoon, making sure they are evenly dispersed throughout the batter.

6. Spoon the batter into the muffin cases, filling them two-thirds full, and bake for 25-30 minutes until the tops of the muffins are nicely golden and springy to the touch - mine looked a bit like scones on top! Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack... And then devour!
I'd love to know if anyone has any ideas for variations or has made other types of savoury muffins!
et voila!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

My guide to eating and drinking in Lagos, the Algarve, Portugal

Hello again everyone! You may have guessed judging by my lack of blog posts over the past couple of weeks that yes, I have been on holiday again. It's a hard life, I know, but someone's got to do it. And I am lucky enough to have spend the past two weeks working on my tan in the super buzzy, exciting town of Lagos in the Western Algarve of Portugal. I've been going there with my family most summers for about ten years now, so I feel I know the place pretty well.

What did I do on holiday, I hear you ask... Well, I lay. By the pool, at the beach, in my bed, on the sofa. All interspersed with meals. That's what holidays are really about, aren't they? It was delightful. Of course, if you wanted to go off on boat trips, to theme parks and do generally active stuff, you could, as there's lots to do in Lagos, but that's just not the type of relaxing holiday my lazy family were after. Don't judge us. So, here is my guide to eating and drinking in Lagos. 


Taquelim Goncalves 
As far as I'm aware there are two branches of this delightful cafe-slash-bakery-slash-ice cream place in Lagos, one at the marina and one in the town centre. They serve an incredible array of freshly baked pastries, buns and cakes, my favourite of which is their coconut bun. Deee-lish. My family have a tradition of having breakfast there overlooking the BEAUTIFUL marina, with freshly squeezed orange juices all round. It is bliss.


Linda The Beach Bar
This fantastic beach restaurant has been a family favourite of ours since our first visit to Lagos. Situated to the west end of the beautiful Meia Praia beach bay, you can expect colourful smoothies, cocktails, burgers, sandwiches, salads, pitta breads and more - all with a beautiful view of golden sands and a deep blue sea. (One of the things I always loved most as a little girl is the sparkly sticks they stick in the burgers to keep them together!) They also do a BBQ every Friday night. I had a delumpcious pitta bread filled with chicken, onions and peppers and a "honey rider" smoothie. 
Estr. de São Roque, 8600-315 Lagos - +351282792308

yes, that is sangria in the background too
Oasis Cafe
Another great little place at Lagos' gorgeous marina, serving pretty much everything you could want to eat - including home-made burgers, nachos, English-style fry-ups, baguettes, salads and chicken nuggets. There's also an impressive ice cream sundae menu and a takeaway counter where you can make your own wraps, sandwiches and more. It may not be typically Portuguese, but it sure is yummy. I went for their New Yorker baguette: burger meat, onion rings, fried onions (usually with cheddar cheese but I don't like it) and BBQ sauce, served with salad and coleslaw. YUMMA!
Marina de Lagos, 8600-780 Lagos, Portugal  - 968 364 192


Padaria do Wini
Whilst all the main supermarkets sell yummy cakes, our favourite place for home-made, interesting cakes is a teeny German bakery. It's pretty difficult to find, but really worth it. This year I had a cherry crumble cake, my mum had "Mornstrudel" (made with poppy seeds) and my sister had an apple and cinnamon cake. Here's how you find it according to At the back entrance into town, as you enter the old wall archway, you pass Praça d'Armas on your left; the road turns into a V; stay right; you are on Travessa do Forno; keep walking until you reach a 4-way intersection; the bakery in on the left corner; the bakery is not well signed; it has a stand-up chalkboard just outside promoting its baked goods.


Restaurante Caravela
This restaurant has a fantastic location, right in the heart of Lagos, making it a great place to go for dinner to watch day turn to night (the city really comes alive in the evening). Sitting at their outside tables (all of which were taken on a Monday night!), I was spoilt for choice on the menu. In the end I settled on a delicious ravioli, whereas my brother had a tuna steak and my sister went for a pizza - that just shows the diversity of their menu... all at reasonable prices, too!
Rua 25 de Abril, 14Lagos 8600-763Portugal

Lagos at night
Pizzeria Italia
Another longtime family favourite, Italia is not just your classic pizzeria, serving up a wide range of other dishes too (like pasta and meat). However, I always go for the pizza, without fail, as it is fab. One of the best things about Italia is their "cover" - as opposed to your standard sour dough bread with butter and tinned sardines, they offer freshly baked pizza bread with garlic butter, tzatziki, olives and peppers. The garlic butter melting on to the warm bread is not to be missed!
Rua Garrett 26LagosPortugal


You will find a lot of places offering scoops of ice creams in all sorts of flavours, but we have discovered that Miam's is the best. From Bounty and Ferrero Rocher to cherries & cream and passion fruit... it is divine. They also offer yummy chocolate covered fruit kebabs.
Rua Marquês do Pombal 22-24, 8600-753 Lagos - 00351 282762406

The Popcorn Man
If you want to eat the most delicious popcorn in the world (well, the best I've ever had), make sure you go to the Popcorn Man. Every night he's there with his cart opposite Italia, freshly popping up both sweet and salty warm popcorn. It's crunchy and full of flavour, not to mention super cheap. He puts cinemas to shame with prices around a mere one Euro!


Amuras Bar
Also situated at the marina, this bar has an incredible list of cocktails for five Euros each, and they bring you bowls of (yes, more) salty, peppery popcorn for free, which always goes down well. I had a Pink Butterfly, which was a yummy mix of Malibu, strawberries and cream.

Marina de Lagos, Loja 4, 8600 780 Lagos - 282 792 112

So go forth, dear readers, and eat your way round Lagos!


Saturday, 7 July 2012

RECIPE: Banoffee Cake

This is a really delicious and simple cake: a dense, moist banana cake topped with a fudgey toffee icing. Try serving it warm for a classy dinner dessert or you could leave off the icing for a less rich afternoon tea treat. I made it to celebrate my brother's graduation, and it's another recipe I've adapted from the Primrose Bakery book. The cake went down a treat with everyone - I can't imagine anyone disliking it. Enjoy!

Cake Ingredients

125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
250g golden caster sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g plain flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
4 ripe bananas (preferably turning black), mashed with a fork

Topping Ingredients

45g unsalted butter
5 tbsp milk
165g light, soft brown sugar
180g icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
pecan nuts to decorate (optional)


1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease the sides and line the base of a 23cm cake tin (about 6cm deep).

2. Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl with an electric hand mixer until the mixture is pale and smooth. Add the beaten eggs, one at a time, mixing briefly after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and beat again briefly. Gradually add the flour and the baking powder and beat yet again until well combined. Do the same with the bananas.

3. Pour the mixture into the tin, smoothing the top as best you can.

4. Bake in the centre of the oven for around 50 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

5. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then turn out of the tin and peel off the baking paper from the base of the cake. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

6. When the cake is completely cool, make the caramel icing:
Combine the butter, milk and brown sugar in a heavy-based saucepan and put on the hob over a high heat. Stirring continuously, bring the mixture to a boil. Allow it to boil for one minute, then remove from the heat and stir in half of the icing sugar.
Allow the mixture to cool for a minute or two more, then add the rest of the icing sugar and the vanilla extract and stir until it thickens to the desired consistency - don't let it get too thick as it will be hard to spread, but if needs be just soften it in the microwave for a few seconds.
the icing
Smooth the caramel icing on to the cake (work quickly as it will start to stiffen and cool) and top with whatever you like (I went for a few pecan nuts.)

7. Enjoy!

My guide to New York City (on a budget!)

The view of New York from my friend's rooftop. I know.
Everyone knows that New York City is utterly fabulous - it seems like the city is the setting for a good 50% of films, TV shows and books nowadays, so unsurprisingly, it holds a very exciting image for my generation. I have recently come back from an 11 day stay in the City That Never Sleeps, and can vouch for the fact that it really is fabulous, but to be honest, I don't think I'd want to live there unless I was rich (I touched on this in my earlier update whilst in NYC). But never fear, economically challenged readers, I made sure to suss out the best ways to spend my time/fill my tummy whilst keeping as many dollars in my wallet as possible, and rest assured, I'm going to share my findings with you all here.

Free samples. Most students are pretty good at finding these, and they are EVERYWHERE in NYC. Sometimes, I barely needed to buy a meal because I'd filled up on so many testers. A lot of the time they are just on the street outside food shops, sometimes you have to go inside (it's a good idea to suss out the deli counters in non-chain stores) and markets often offer lots to try. However, Chelsea Food Market had very few. This is possibly largely to do with the fact that it's not really a market like we have here in the UK, but more of an indoor mall for food shops. Classy foodshops. In a trendy mall.

Inside Chelsea Food Market
It's also quite de rigeur for people to ask to try different flavours in ice cream/froyo places, so don't feel bad about asking to do so. My friend and I walked past the same shop that sold chocolate covered fruit multiple times every day, and every time we did so there was someone standing outside offering free samples, and needless to say we had one each time. Heck, sometimes we made detours on our journey just to walk past the shop in the hope of a sample. Don't judge. We always got one.
2 Bro's Pizza. I had to dig in before taking the pic. Sorry.
$1 pizza. There are many places in NYC that offer a huge slice of pizza for just $1 (plus maybe 50 cents more for a topping), so don't even think about going somewhere that charges more than $2. You're probably thinking "What? $1 pizza? That must be disgusting!" But no, it's really very delicious. The chain you want to go to is called "Two Bros", as it really is the best. It's not a classy restaurant, but at $1, who's complaining?

pic from
$2.50 falafel pittas. There are various places that do deals like this, but I have found the best, and it is undoubtedly Mamoun's. The queues are always going out of the door (but worry not, they move pretty quickly), and there are two locations in NYC. Check out the website to find them. Pitta bread stuffed with falafel, salad and some sauce - simple but deeeee-lish!


woohoo Starbucks knows my name!
It's all about the tap water. All restaurants and cafes will give you free tap water, thank goodness. And if you do want to buy perhaps a soft drink of some sort, do it at the little delis that are everywhere (more like mini grocery stores than English style delis), as it's much cheaper. However, the aforementioned Two Bro's Pizza does a two slices of pizza + can of "soda" deal for $2.75, which is pretty awesome. Needless to say I pounced on that multiple times. For basically all of my stay in the city, it was over 30C, so there was a constant need to hydrate. Luckily, Starbucks are happy to give out cups of iced tap water. I also used them a lot for their free wifi and loo (usually nicer than the McDonalds one too, but both offer free wifi).


The most beautiful shop on 5th Avenue. Henri Bendel.
I had so many free make-overs throughout my time in New York. There are tons of department stores (Bloomingdales and Henri Bendel were my faves!), a Sephora on practically every block and individual make-up shops, like Benefit, and they are all willing to show you their latest products... on your face. Interestingly, in Sephora in particular, they expect you to try all the products out yourself, and it's full of ladies putting their faces on. They even have special little desks for doing your nail varnish. NAIL VARNISH! You almost would never need to buy your own make-up! My favourite make-up brand is Perfekt. It is INCREDIBLE, and much more widespread in America. It's expensive, both here and in the US, so I can't afford to buy my own, but I made the most of being able to try it out multiple times.

Staten Island Ferry

The Manhattan skyline from the ferry
The Statue of Liberty from the ferry
This is really great: a free 25 minute ferry ride to Staten Island, going past the Statue of Liberty and offering incredible views of the Manhattan skyline and Brooklyn Bridge. It goes every half an hour. Compared to expensive cruises, I think this is a kajillion times better. Need I say more?

Park Activities
The pond in Central Park
In the summer in particular, there are lots of free activities going on in the main parks, such as Bryant and Central. From Shakespeare in the Park, to Maroon 5 concerts via impromptu street performers and yoga classes, all you have to do is look it up beforehand. And this brings me nicely to...

The friend with whom I was staying discovered this great company called Yoga To The People, which offers loads of yoga classes multiple times a day at various different locations across the city, and as they're aiming to make yoga accessible to everyone, you pay on a "donate what you can" basis. You can even rent your own mat from them for a couple of dollars too.

Galleries, Museums and Exhibitions
A lot of the big museums offer free entry for a few hours on certain days of the week, so if that's your thing, it's definitely worth checking it out before paying for a ticket. I went to the free exhibition at The Fashion Institute of Technology, which had this fab Barbie exhibition amongst others:

Of course, some things in NYC you just have to splash out for, like clothes, manicures (I got mine for $8 though!) and massive brunches. But as you can see, there are ways to keep costs down and still make the most of the city. Does anyone else have any top tips for doing New York on a budget? Or holidays in general? Studenty holidays can be just as fun as millionaire ones, as far as I'm concerned. Just with a little less Champagne.
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