Sunday, 24 February 2013

RECIPE: Muesli and white chocolate rock cookies

Muesli and white chocolate rock cookies
It's my weekend off work, so unsurprisingly I have taken advantage of having a few extra hours by getting my bake on. Yay! Today's offerings: these chunky rock cookies.

It's a well-known fact that dried fruit, nuts and chocolate is a winning combo. Yes, a fact. Don't try and dispute it. I'm a big fan of white chocolate, and also of muesli, so quite frankly there was no way I wasn't going to like these cookies. I suppose I'd call them the love child of cookies and rock cakes, but whatever they may be, no-one's complained.

Brimming with whole nuts, dried fruits and chocolate, they're delightfully chunky and especially delicious warm from the oven alongside a cup of tea.

This recipe makes 24 sizeable cookies, so plenty to feed a crowd. Conveniently enough for my housemates, workmates, and some leftover just for me. Obvs.

Just out of the oven


450g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
225g unsalted butter, softened
225g soft light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g fruit and nut muesli
100g hazelnuts
150g white chocolate, roughly chopped


1. Preheat the oven to 180C and line as many baking trays as you have with greaseproof paper (you'll probably need to re-use them as this recipe makes a lot.)

2. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugar together with a handheld electric whisk until smooth and creamy (this takes a while.) Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until combined. Gradually add this wet mixture to the flour mix, beating after each addition, until well combined. The mixture should come together into a dough. Stir the muesli, nuts and chocolate in with a spoon.

Sizeable balls of cookie dough before being flattened on the baking tray

3. Take large handfuls of the mixture and press them firmly into tight balls (this prevents the cookies from getting too crumbly.) Spread the balls of dough out on your baking trays and press down slightly to flatten them a bit.

4. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until they start to turn golden brown, then leave to cool for a few minutes on the baking trays before transferring to a wire rack with a spatula to cool completely. Or, alternatively, eat them while the chocolate is still melty. Yum!

If you're a white chocolate fan, you may like to try my white chocolate and raspberry Victoria sponge and my white chocolate and raspberry blondies - yup, another winning combo there.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Why dried fruit is great!

pic from
I know what you're probably thinking after reading that title: What an extremely random subject about which to blog! (I hope you're thinking it with the use of that relative pronoun too.) And you'd be right to think that. It is random. Allow me to explain...

The theme for the latest issue of our student paper (well, the less serious section anyway) was "Current". One of our editors decided to twist that and make the ingenious yet tenuous leap from "Current" to "Currants", and behold, we presented the case for and against dried fruit. Yes, it's a very serious and heated debate. Yours truly was arguing the case FOR (obviously), hence cet article:

mmm (pic from

Raisins, sultanas, mini wrinkly brains... Whatever you may think of currants, these are not a food to be dismissed. Sure, they're easily pushed aside in favour of their big, plump, ripe (steady on), fresh fruit counterparts, but currants wield a surprising amount of power for their size.

Oh yes, when it comes to food, currants can be more divisive than Marmite - and to be honest with you, I know some people who actually neither love not hate Marmite. There, I said it.

But throw some currants into a dish, and now you've got a talking point. Take scones for example (the pronunciation of which is a whole other article): should they be with currants, or without? The same for hot-cross buns, cakes and tea breads... I'm going to say something that may be controversial (because I'm not afraid of stirring things up, both literally in the kitchen with currants and metaphorically), but I consider all these food incomplete without a hefty dose of dry fruits nestling in there.

pic from
And then even more powerful: currants in savoury food. Yes, I went there. WHAT ARE YOU SAYING, CRAZY LADY? I hear you thinking. I'm talking about throwing sultanas into a korma, or dried apricots in a tagine. We've all been to dinners where dishes such as these feature, and there's always one person who leaves a small pile of dried fruit at the side of their plate after eating, picked out from the main meal and left at the end, neglected, like a sad mound of rabbit droppings. (I realise that comparison was not a great idea in my mission to convert non-currant lovers, but hey.)

And here's another reason why dried fruit is awesome: it's so portable! Take an apricot or bunch of grapes out in your handbag for the day (well done on choosing a healthy snack), and you’re bound to end up with a squidgy slimy mess everywhere. That's just sad. But a box of raisins on the other hand? Space-saving and clean. You know it makes sense.

Still not converted? Try these delightful apple, raisin, pecan and cinnamon cupcakes (or leave them un-iced as muffins.)

Do you agree with me? If not, you may relate more to this hilarious article arguing the other side of this debate.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Presenting for UBTV: Bristol RAG Procession

Bristol University RAG (Raising and Giving) Procession is one of the oldest RAG traditions in history - last weekend the 88th annual procession paraded through the streets of Bristol to kick off RAG Week. Our uni TV station, UBTV, was there to cover it all (we were actually there two hours early but that's beside the point), and yours truly was asked to be the presenter. What fun.

I shan't explain what the procession is all about here, that way you'll have to watch the vid. (Mwah ha ha!) Here's the resulting video of what was a really lovely procession, and a little chance for me to flex my presenting muscles once more. I like to think I sound slightly less posh than I did in my first presenting job for UBTV, in which I explained how to make my chocolate orange cupcakes on "Look! I Can Cook!" What do you think?


10 easy, cheap ways to refresh your style


By the end of a long winter, it’s far too easy to get stuck in that leggings-and-ugg-boots rut, particularly as a student. Yes, it really is still that cold, so we’re all understandably feeling a bit blergh. And when your reflection looks a bit dull, dowdy and bland, the chances are you’ll feel exactly the same. But fear not, spring is definitely on the horizon, and what better way to usher it in than by refreshing your look?

Obviously, no-one wants to look like they’re trying to hard just to rock up to a lecture (the nonchalant ‘oh, I just threw this on’ vibe is one perfected by most students), but you’d be surprised just how much refreshing your style can do for your outlook, mood, and maybe even life.

‘But I can’t afford a new wardrobe!’, I hear you cry. Well, don’t go rushing to Primark just yet. Those £1 vest tops are going nowhere any time soon. There are plenty of ways in which you can transform your look on the cheap, and most are a lot easier than you’d think. Often, all it takes is a little creativity, and voilà! It’s a whole new you.

1. Get creative with scarves

pic from
A staple in any elegant lady’s wardrobe, the classic silk scarf is much more versatile than you might think. You can channel your granny, but thanks to quirky offerings all over the high street, these babies can be brought bang up to date and can work wonders for jazzing up your everyday look. Tie in a bow round your neck, or go for a neckerchief style. Think Bridget Jones going off on a mini break and wear as a headscarf (before it blows off, that is), or tie in a bow as a hairband. Attach a scarf to a handbag – a patterned scarf looks particularly striking on a plain bag. With a silky scarf blowing in the breeze, you’ll feel every inch a timeless beauty. (Check out my blog about my vintage Hermès silk scarf here)

2. Don’t forget hair accessories

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Our poor hair is so often overlooked – we leave it hanging loose, or scrape it back in a ponytail or top-knot. However, adding a little something to your hair is an easy peasy way of refreshing your style. Try out pretty ribbons, flowers, slides, clips and – that old favourite, reinvented by Team GB gymnasts so superbly last summer – the scrunchie. It doesn’t take much effort (or time – crucial when you’re late for a 9am lecture) to whack something extra in your hair, and can make as much of a statement as you like.

3. Layer up!

pic from
Layering is more than a method for staying warm and an easy way to reinvent the current pieces you’ve got in your wardrobe – don’t be afraid to think outside the box and mix things up. For example, try a shirt over a dress, wear a long top that can be seen under your jumper, choose a shirt with a collar that peeks out over the top, or show off ankle socks instead of hiding them under your skinny trousers.

4. Add a piece of statement jewellery

Caroline from 2 Broke Girls rocks the statement necklace - pic from
All it takes is one bold necklace or pair of earrings to inject a bolt of excitement into your wardrobe stables. Some striking jewels will draw the eye, and whether expensive or otherwise (and I’m presuming the latter), can do wonders for making an old outfit feel new.

5. Colour blocking

pic from tumblr
Not just for summer, bright colours are a sure-fire way of ensuring you’ll catch his eye across the lecture hall (and I don’t mean your professor). With a simple colour-blocked outfit it’s hard to go wrong, and you’re certain to have a spring in your step as you walk up the long hill to uni (particularly if you’re nursing a hangover. And it’s raining.)

6. Mix casual and dressy

Kylie shows us how it's done - pic from
There’s no reason why your daytime and night wardrobes can’t be one and the same, or at least why they can’t overlap – although I’d recommend keeping that body con, cut-out, lacy LBD for the dance-floor, not the lecture hall. A nice smart-ish dress can easily be dressed-down for everyday with some ankle boots and a denim jacket, or team a pretty blouse with distressed shorts for a bit of juxtaposition (yes, I know some long words.)

7. Add a belt

pic from
A great belt can make or break an outfit. Not only can they add a splash of pizazz to your look, but they can work wonders for a girl’s figure. We – unlike men – have waists. Hoorah! Therefore, we should surely accentuate them, right? A waist-cinching belt can take a simple dress from drab to fab in an instant (did I really just write that?)

8. Stay warm and stylish with fun tights

pic from
Tights should be about more than just keeping our legs warm in winter, and are something you can have a lot of fun with. Patterned tights are all over the high street at the moment, offering lots of different prints to try out – think hearts, polka dots, stars, bows and more. With prices from a mere few pounds, funky tights are a student-friendly way to give an old dress, skirt, or even pair of shorts a new lease of life.

9. Go bold or go home

Blair Waldorf shows us how it's done - pic from
Don’t be afraid to clash prints and colours. We all have certain items of clothing which we always wear with the same other item of clothing, but don’t be afraid of clashing prints – it’s been seen all over the catwalks, dah-ling. A stripey top with a rose-print skirt? Why the hell not. Tye-dye skinnies with a polka-dot jumper? Go for it.

10. Change your buttons

pic from
Pop down to any haberdashery and you’ll find all sorts of interesting buttons on offer for (usually) very student-friendly prices. All it takes are basic sewing skills do a quick switcheroo of buttons, but by doing so, you can make an item of clothing look completely different, not to mention unique. Give a Primark cardie a vintage vibe by adding some ornate gold buttons, or choose odd ones for a cute individual look. And who says our generation don’t know have any domestic skills?

Read this article on Refreshers' Wall here.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

The 50 best excuses for not going out

Everyone knows what student life is supposedly about: going out to clubs and getting drunk. (Oh, and getting a degree.) Yeah! Students! #Unay #yolo #cracycray Right?

Yeah. There are those students. And then there's me.

However, I know that I'm not actually alone in my dislike of clubs and my desire to spend my little free time relaxing on the sofa with friends/chocolate/tea. Sometimes (or in my case, most of the time) *whisper it* you just don’t want to go out and pay good money to spend hours in a dirty, sweaty room, full of dirty,sweaty people, where the drinks are overpriced, so you don't want to buy them, and then you sober up, and you realise it's really very boring, you get tired, you want to go home, but you feel you can't because you've paid to get in. Yeah. #yolo indeed.

Onesies, hot choc, Mary-Kate & Ashley DVD. This genuinely was a night during my freshers' week.
Sure, even I occasionally enjoy going out and dancing with my friends, but let's face it, there are nights where you just want to stay in with a cup of tea to catch up on Gossip Girl in your onesie, but student society tells you that you must go out and you must love it. Not wanting to go out can often be hard for fellow students to accept. Quite frankly, one of my ultimate annoyances is when people go "What? Why won't you come out? Don't be lame! Come out! Stop being boring!" in response to someone saying they're not going out. JUST LEAVE THEM BE!

So next time you’re having one of those nights and someone is pressurising you to go out, take your pick of one of the following reasons/lies and they’ll be sure to understand. “I can’t go out tonight because…”

1. I’m sick *coughs*, to quote Mean Girls

2. It’s a full moon and I’m worried I might turn into a werewolf

3. I need eight hours beauty sleep

4. I’ve got a 5,000 word essay to write for tomorrow

5. I’ve got an exam tomorrow

6. I’m broke

7. I need to skype my friend in [insert country with time difference to the UK]

8. I’ve converted to Mormonism

9. I’ve decided to be teetotal

10. I need to paint my nails

11. It’s against my religion

12. I’m fasting

13. I’m saving myself for a big party tomorrow night

14. My parents are visiting tomorrow

15. I don’t believe in socialising after midnight

16. I’m not allowed to leave the house after dark

17. I don’t wish to conform to society’s expectations of a university student

18. I’m above clubbing

19. Nowhere is up to my standard

20. I don’t wish to fuel consumerist society

21. I have nothing to wear

22. I’ve hurt my ankle

23. I’ve got a blood test tomorrow

24. I’m on antibiotics

25. I’m pregnant

26. I’m knitting my own yoghurt tonight

27. I’ve run out of false eyelashes

28. I didn’t fake tan in time

29. I’m waiting for a call

30. I need to be at my laptop when One Direction tickets go on sale

31. I’m waiting for Harry Styles to tweet so I can reply and he’ll notice me

32. I’ve just broken up with my boyfriend/girlfriend

33. I need to look after my ill housemate

34. It’s raining

35. It’s snowing

36. It’s too hot

37. It’s too cold

38. I’m too edgy

39. I don’t like you

40. I’ve got a Scrabble date

41. X Factor’s on

42. I’m a method actor researching the role of a 40 year old

43. It wouldn’t be fair to the other guys/girls who are out on the pull

44. I’ve already been out this year

45. It’s personal

46. I’m washing my hair

47. I lost my ID

48. My horoscope told me not to

49. I don’t have anyone to look after my plant

50. The world isn’t ready for my dance moves.

Boom. Dilemma = sorted.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Baking-Obsessed Britain (but what about the boys?)

It is undeniable that we Brits are completely and utterly obsessed with baking. From cupcakes to cookies... You name it, we've made it. Or tried to anyway. Thanks largely to undisputedly one of the most popular shows of 2012, The Great British Bake Off, the UK has witnessed a huge resurgence, revival and - I'll even go so far to say - revolution in home-baking.

But watching baking on TV isn't just escapism or for the thrill of schadenfreude when someone produces the cardinal sin of GBBO, a soggy bottom (*gasp*) - we genuinely are getting off our sofas and into our kitchens. We're stocking up on baking powder and treating ourselves to cute muffin cases, resulting in an incredible boom in sales of both bakeware and ingredients. And judging by the recent birthday lists of my friends and I (no, we’re not too old for lists), students have played a key part in this new-found desire for sieves, silicon cases and self-raising flour.

Bake clubs are the new book clubs. Mary Berry appears to have single-handedly revived the WI. Baking is the new therapy; it makes us nostalgic for our childhood. Of course, the fact that we're all feeling the economic pinch may have played a part in this unexpected trend - an afternoon spent rustling up cookies in the kitchen not only saves money on going out for entertainment, but also saves you buying cookies. Win-win! Unless you burn said cookies, that is.

I imagine the incredible British summer of 2012 also played a role in encouraging the masses to dust off their KitchenAids (or Wilkos equivalent, as the case may be for many of us.) The idea of patriotic parties with home-made cakes and Union Jack bunting galore was just too quaint an idea for many of us to resist. Nowadays when we go over to friends' for dinner, we don't take a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates; we take home-baked goods - cheaper, more thoughtful and more delicious (well, they should be, if you've avoided the dreaded soggy bottom.)

According to a survey by Mintel, by the end of 2012, 9 million Brits were baking more than they were a year earlier. Interestingly, however, it really does seem to be students that are leading the revival: more 16-24 year olds regularly bake from scratch (79% of us actually) than those over 55 (70%). And I think there’s more to this than just the fact that we’re broke, bored and hungry.

Yes, baking is now cool, and no longer associated purely with grannies. Think of Radio 1 DJ, Fearne Cotton, who regularly talks about her baking escapades on air (or on Twitter.) Take a look through your Twitter or Facebook newsfeed on any given day, and - especially if you follow me - you'll probably be bombarded with yummy looking pictures of home-baked goods. Instagrammed, naturally.

But while my newsfeeds are full of baking pictures, I'm left wondering why they're all by my female friends. Is there a stigma attached to baking? Men are chefs, women make cakes, that’s what people often think. Why do these backwards, sexist stereotypes still exist? Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but it does seem like men are more timid about sharing the fact that they may secretly love to bake (in the same way they may love Sex and the City – I mention no names, but you know who you are.)

Let us consider the last series of GBBO, which had an all-male trio in the final (and two of which were students, reinforcing my previous point about us young'uns). Did these men merely buck the trend? I have to admit that upon discovering the opening line up for the series was a 50/50 male-female split, I thought the men must have had an easier ride to the TV show, and were merely there so the BBC didn't appear sexist. I was wrong. But why had society led me to think that way? Perhaps GBBO is a sign that things are starting to change.

Then there's the George Clooney of the baking world, if you will: silver fox, Paul Hollywood. He's the Simon Cowell to Mary Berry's Cheryl Cole, adding a macho touch to breads, pastries and pies, capturing the hearts of women round the nation with every icy glare he gives and every dough he kneads. Paul Hollywood is not a wishy-washy flower of a man, he is a manly man. Yet even he doesn't seem to be enough to convince our men to step away from their oh-so-macho barbecues and roast beef, and to enter the baking world.

Just like the rest of Great Britain, I absolutely adore Mary Berry. And just like pretty much all British women, I was saddened by her recent comments, in which she said she doesn't want women's rights. Could feminism be moving backwards?

I think it's safe to say that men enjoy a slice of cake as much as us girls. According to Tom Junod from Esquire, "You don't need a cookbook to cook, but you can't bake without one, so there's something sort of sex-manual-y about baking" - and as we know, men will NEVER ask for direction. It also seems like bread, pastries and savoury pies are deemed more acceptable for men to make, but sugary sweet cakes have girlier connotations.

Not every cake has to be covered in pink icing, edible glitter and love hearts, even if that is what many of us girls would like. Rest assured, a boy who bakes will always go down a treat with the girls, so when will baking lose its sexist stigma? And why do so few boys bake?

Read this article on the Huff Post here: Sexism and Students in Baking-Obsessed Britain.

Check out my profile on the Huff post here.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

RACHEL LOVES: Her pink patent Cambridge Satchel

Anyone who knows me should also know that handbags are my weakness. Handbags and cakes. What an appropriately named blog this is. A well-made, beautiful handbag can have a unique effect on me, and I am often powerless to resist. Sure, I like a good shoe or a sparkly piece of jewellery as much as the next girl, but they don't do it for me like a handbag does.

My latest purchase? This patent pink 14" beauty from the Cambridge Satchel Company. Isn't she preeeetty?

I recently read that the average student spends £120 a month on going out. If that shocks you, prepare for the comment made by one of my mates when I told him the statistics: "£120 a month? I spend that in a matter of days."

Now, I obviously do not spend that much, as I generally do not do going out. The closest I come to being on a "night out" tends to be walking home from a work shift at 10pm. It's always funny seeing club bouncers setting up and hoardes of students (usually in either fancy dress or onesies) kicking off their nights in a tipsy state, whilst I stroll home, exhausted, looking forward to my dinner and getting into bed. And what?

Oh, I've digressed. My point there is twofold: a) I do not spend money on nights out, and b) I have a job, and those facts combined mean I have more money to spend on important things. Like handbags, obvs.

Now, I'd been lusting after a Cambridge Satchel for a few years, but had never taken the plunge and just bought myself one. Quite frankly, a Mulberry to call my own was higher up on my bag priority list (don't pretend you don't have one), and I ticked that off this summer. Whoop for being a working girl!

So when I saw ASOS were offering a 30% student discount for a few days, and I had just finished my exams, I decided to treat myself to a casual peruse of their handbag section. Not that I'll buy anything, thought I. I'll just have a look.

After an hour or so of weighing up various options, sending pictures to my mum, and discussing sizes with my friend who already had one, my order was processed, and my satchel was on its way to me. Such a great feeling, right?

I love patent bags, and had initially wanted a subtler peachy colour. However, the peach on ASOS was only 13", whereas the bright pink was 14", and I'd been so usefully informed that the latter was necessary for carrying anything A4 size. Student essential, obvs. Given the fact that both satchels were the same price despite their size difference, my choice was a no-brainer.

And now I have my bright pink satchel, I couldn't be happier with it! In the words of one of my old friends, "Of course your Cambridge Satchel is bright pink." What else, eh? You know how sometimes you buy something and fall even further in love with it the more you use it? Yeah. That's happened.

As winter is drawing on, having my bright pink satchel to cheer up dreary days really is perfection. I like to think it's helping to usher in spring. Yes, it's very bright. But then again pretty much everything I wear is bright. Colour is fun. More people should dress brightly. It makes you feel good. Try it.

The satchel really is the perfect size for day-to-day uni life: it holds my dossiers, paper, wallet, water bottle and all my other daily essentials. Sure, what with the buckles it's not the easiest thing to get into in a rush, but I'll deal with that. And it's such good quality leather - oh, the smell! Handbags are something I totally recommend splashing out on for quality.

The Cambridge Satchel Company story really is incredible - if you haven't seen their advert for Google Chrome, you really should check it out so you know what I mean. The company is only four years young, but now you see their satchels all over the world (in the most hip places, anyway), and they've just opened their first bricks and mortar shop in Covent Garden, London.

Considering Julie Deane founded the Cambridge Satchel Company with just £600, their current £12million turnover is somewhat mad. They now make satchels in all sorts of styles and sizes: from metallic to fluorescent. One of the loveliest options they offer is initial embossing, which I think is a gorgeous touch. Had I been feeling extra flush I would definitely have spent £15 on personalising my satchel with REH. But I wasn't. So I didn't.

Strolling around campus with my satchel swung over my shoulder, I feel like a true student. It always helps to look the part, doesn't it? Practical, well-made and absolutely beautiful - there's a Cambridge Satchel out there for each of us. Guys included. So, what are you waiting for? Oh god... Their metallic satchels are currently super-reduced and with free delivery! Must resist! Must resist! (But if you haven't already got one, GO! GO! GO!)

Friday, 8 February 2013

RECIPE: Simple vanilla and raspberry cupcakes

Simple vanilla cupcakes are always a winner. They're so easy and quick to make, and can be whipped up pretty spontaneously as they require such basic ingredients. I decided to make mine a smidge more exciting by throwing in some frozen raspberries. Yup, I'm something of a maverick.

Raspberry and vanilla are lovely complementary flavours and hark back to childhood memories of raspberry ripple ice cream. Yum. I used frozen raspberries in these cakes as they're a kajillion times cheaper than fresh, and you can't tell the difference at all once baked. Of course, you could use fresh though. I was coming to the end of the packet so it was more like raspberry crumbs, but this actually worked really well in the cakes. Sort of like chocolate chips. But raspberries. Speaking of, white chocolate chips would be a scrummy addition to these cupcakes.

Cheeky overflow, but still deeelish
You could top the cakes with buttercream or glacé icing, but I decided to leave my plain, as I think they're delicious just as they are (particularly when gobbled up warm from the oven.) Sometimes, warm, moist, un-iced cake just can't be beaten. (Eh, baking pun there, anyone? Have I been watching too much GBBO?)

I'd been feeling somewhat uncharacteristically angry earlier, but venting all my frustration through whipping up a batch of these babies (and then, of course, eating them) made me feel a hundred times better. I truly believe there are few things in life that can't be improved by cake. And don't they look pretty in the pink cases?

This recipe makes around eight BIG cupcakes (more the size of muffins the way I made them!), but if you're planning on icing them, it would probably be wiser to fill each case a bit less and thus make more. They rise a lot in the oven, and come out with a delightfully springy texture. For basic vanilla cupcakes, just leave out the raspberries. Don't forget to take your eggs and butter out of the fridge in advance!

Before baking


100g unsalted butter, softened
100g caster sugar
100g self-raising white flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp milk
1 handful raspberries, frozen or fresh


1. Preheat the oven to 180C and line a muffin tin with paper cases.

2. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl using a handheld electric whisk until you have a smooth, pale, creamy mixture (give it a few mins.) Sift in the flour and baking powder, add the vanilla, eggs and milk and mix until all incorporated. Stir in the raspberries. Spoon the batter into the cake cases.

3. Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean and the cakes are springy to the touch. Leave in the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Or not, as the case may be. #hungrystudents

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Pancake Day: What it's all about and recipes for a flipping good Shrove Tuesday


Pancake Day is upon us once again – that glorious day on which it is acceptable to stuff ourselves silly with a food that we rarely eat throughout the rest of the year. The glorious pancake. Who doesn’t like pancakes? Exactly. Everyone likes pancakes, because they are so versatile and customisable. With so many different types just waiting to be tasted, I propose we all have them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Because no-one will judge us if we do. (See below for recipes.)

Of course, Pancake Day’s real name is Shrove Tuesday, and it is part of the Christian calendar (it seems to me that Christianity loves a good old feast – Advent, Christmas or Easter anyone?) “Shrove” is the past tense of the verb “to shrive”, which means “to confess”, as the idea was to confess your sins before Lent. A little religion and language lesson for you there.

Although people may say it’s unwise to devour as many pancakes as we possibly can in one day, the fact of the matter is that Shrove Tuesday is actually known as Fat Tuesday in many Christian countries – Mardi Gras in France, for example. Even better, in Iceland the day is called Sprengidagur, which literally means “bursting day”. Rather appropriate, I’m sure you’ll agree.

But then again, having a fat day is only really justified if you then give something up for Lent. Ahh. Hadn’t quite thought that through, had we? Yes, the original reason for whipping up a load of pancakes was to use up supposedly luxurious ingredients (eggs, butter and sugar) before fasting until Easter. Our “Fat Day” is supposed to be a reminder that we’re entering a time of abstinence.

Not many of us actually do give things up for Lent anymore. For a lot of people, it comes at a time when they’ve only just finished their New Year health kick, so the thought of a further 40 days without one of their vices is understandably unappealing. But whether Christian or not, the idea of challenging yourself can actually be rather enticing.

And then comes the problem of what to give up. There’s no point in deciding to go without crisps if you never ate them before, but obviously you (well, I) can’t bear the thought of 40 days sans chocolate. We all know those mad people who decide to give up chocolate, cake, cheese, biscuits, crisps, bread, sweets, pasta AND ALL ENJOYMENT IN LIFE, and quite frankly, that is just unrealistic. It’s winter, the time of year when comfort food is at its most crucial.

Whether you give something up or not, why not get into the Fat Tuesday festive fun and have a go at whipping up a few batches of pancakes? Quite frankly, the array of ready-made pancake mixes is an insult to all our intelligences. Pancakes are so easy to make, and it’s guaranteed that your housemates will love you as a result. Make sure you have a super-hot pan, as the batter needs to cook immediately. Of course, you have to try and flip them, but don’t worry if it doesn’t quite go to plan – it’s universally acknowledged that the first pancake in a batch is always a bit dodgy.

For a Shrove Tuesday to beat all Shrove Tuesdays, I propose thick American-style pancakes for breakfast; savoury pancakes for lunch; and then a sugary feast of classic crêpes for dinner.

To make thick fluffy breakfast/Scotch/American pancakes, you need to use a raising agent, so for my recipe below you’ll need self-raising flour and baking powder. For traditional thin French-style pancakes, plain flour is all you need. Apart from that, the recipes are very similar, so they’re easy peasy to make.

Breakfast pancakes


200g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 egg
300ml milk
20g butter, melted
Sunflower oil for cooking
Optional: 2 bananas, really ripe and mashed, a handful of chocolate chips, a handful or two of blueberries, chopped in halves


1. Mix together the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Beat the egg with the milk in a jug, and then whisk into the dry ingredients with a fork to make a thick smooth batter. Stir in the melted butter, and mix in the mashed bananas, chocolate chips and chopped blueberries if desired.

2. Heat a teaspoon of oil or small knob of butter in a large non-stick frying pan. Drop a large tablespoonful of the batter per pancake into the pan and watch them spread and small bubbles appear on the surface. Cook for about 1-2 minutes over a medium heat then flip over and cook another minute or so until golden. Try to stop everyone devouring the first one straight out of the frying pan, and smother with your choice of syrup or spread when ready to eat.

Basic thin pancakes


100g plain flour
1 egg
300ml milk
Pinch of salt
Oil or melted butter, for frying


1.       Whisk all the ingredients together to make a smooth batter.
2.       Heat the oil in a pan, then pour away any excess.
3.       Ladle some batter into the pan, and tilt it round so the mixture is evenly spread out in a thin layer. Leave to cook for about 30 seconds before loosening the edges with a spatula and then flipping it over and cooking for another 30 seconds or so on the other side, until just golden.
4.       Serve on a warm plate and top with whatever you desire!

Savoury toppings: cheese, spinach, ham, fried bacon and onion.

Sweet toppings: go for traditional lemon juice and sugar, or try something more decadent like melted chocolate, marshmallows, peanut butter, jam, chopped fruit, syrup, dulce de leche, ice cream or yoghurt. If you’re anything like me, the trouble is you’ll want one of each! Well, it is bursting day…

 This is my first piece as a food columnist for Inter:Mission, which you can also read here.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

RECIPE: Peanut chicken and green vegetable spaghetti

I am an absolute peanut butter fiend, which any avid blog followers (I imagine you exist) may have noticed in my baking (see the bottom of this post...) However, I've not done much in the way of savoury dishes featuring the nutty food of the gods, but I'm still exploring my inner culinary goddess and experimenting. It was only a matter of time before peanut butter would make an appearance.

Said appearance occurred today. I invented this recipe ce soir, and am ridonculously glad that I did. It tastes a lot better than the above picture looks, might I add. The peanutty satay sauce is deliciously sticky, and has a lovely flavour that is both salty and a little sweet at the same time. I had mine with wholewheat spaghetti, but of course you could go for rice or noodles. Equally, feel free to mix up the veg. Anything goes! Well, maybe not anything, but you get my drift.

Whipping this up earlier tonight, I was reminded just how therapeutic I find cooking. Give me an empty kitchen, ingredients, the opportunity to get creative and follow my instincts, and I'm a happy bunny. Especially if I concoct something as yummy as this dish.

This recipe makes a large portion for one person - I am now absolutely stuffed, but in a good way. Happily stuffed, you might say. Of course, you can easily multiply the ingredients to serve a crowd. Full of veg, lean chicken and complex carbs, it's really quite a healthy option too.


90-100g wholewheat spaghetti (one person's worth)
a handful broccoli florets
a handful green beans, chopped into thirds
a splash of oil
2 spring onions, washed and chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed or chopped into tiny bits
1 chicken breast, cut into strips
3 tbsp peanut butter
3 tbsp soy sauce
a handful roasted salted peanuts


1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the spaghetti, adding the broccoli and beans for the last five minutes. Drain and remove from the heat once tender.

2. Whilst the above is boiling, heat a splash of oil in another pan, then add the chicken, spring onions and garlic and fry for a few minutes until the chicken is browning, stirring constantly. Turn down the heat and stir in the peanut butter, soy sauce and a few tbsp water until you get the desired consistency. Keep stirring it all around (adding more sauce if desired) until the chicken is cooked through. Stir in the peanuts.

3. Once cooked, mix the chicken and sauce with the pasta and veg. Serve on a plate, feel very pleased with yourself, and enjoy.

Like the look of that? Well then you will probably also like these recipes... Come join me in my peanut butter madness:

Banana and peanut butter muffins with chocolate chips and hazelnuts

Triple Layer Chocolate, Nutella and Peanut Butter Celebration Cake

Chocolate peanut butter biscuit cake with HobNobs, Malteasers and raisins

Chocolate peanut butter granola bites

Sunday, 3 February 2013

BERLIN: My budget guide and thoughts on the city

 This time last week I'd basically never been to Germany (disregarding a very brief stay in Frankfurt from a time I was too young to remember), which is pretty feeble for a German student, so I was extremely looking forward to spending four days in Berlin with some of my uni coursemates. We arrived on Monday evening, and left late on the following Friday, and I was determined to pack in as much as possible over the course of the four days.

I found Berlin to be a very interesting city, largely because of its incredible history - having studied it over the past year or so, I was genuinely interested in doing all the cultural things on offer, as opposed to just spending four days shopping and eating. Yes, really.

The Humboldt University
I'm going to be honest with you though, I don't love Berlin like I love Paris or Vienna. Although the former of course has some beautiful buildings and areas, for me, it doesn't have the same charm as the latter two. But I feel a bit bad about saying that seeing as so much of the city was destroyed in the war, so I suppose it's inevitable that there's a mish-mash of building styles. And of course, every city has pretty and, well, less pretty parts.

That said, I had a great time in Berlin, despite the rainy, grey, cold January weather we unfortunately were subjected to for pretty much the duration of our stay. And of course, everything looks better set to a backdrop of blue sky and sunshine. I really enjoyed experiencing a bit of German culture, so here are my highlights, recommendations and findings from four days in Berlin:

A cute area near Alexanderplatz


Berlin isn't the easiest city to walk around as it's relatively spread out, so we decided to each buy a Berlin Welcome Card, allowing us unlimited travel on all public transport. We ended up only using the U-Bahn (underground) and S-Bahn (overground), but seeing as each journey would have cost over 3€ individually, our five day pass for 36.50€ was well worth it.

Not only could we travel to the airport and back and all around Berlin, the pass also covered us to travel to the nearby town of Potsdam, which was a delightful little afternoon excursion, only a 45 minute train journey from central Berlin. What's more, the Berlin Welcome Card also gives you all sorts off offers, from reductions on most museum tickets to discounts in tourist shops.

You can buy cards for various lengths of time and for different areas depending on what you want to do, and you also get a little guide book and map. The card was really handy, and meant getting around was quick and easy. We just kept our tickets with us the whole time, but we weren't actually checked once!


German food is great. I knew that much before visiting Berlin, but my view has definitely been reinforced. There are all sorts of easy ways to grab some food on the go round Berlin, with tempting bakeries selling pretzels, sandwiches and cakes on every corner. And then there's the classic German delicacy - Berliner Currywurst (essentially a sausage covered in curry sauce). What can I say? I'm now a huge Currywurst fan. We also discovered Currywurst flavour crisps, which somehow reminded me of Marmite crisps, but hey.

On an equally healthy note, I think I consumed more chocolate over my four days in Berlin than I would usually get through in four weeks. This was largely due to the fact that the supermarket Kaiser's were selling 100g bars of Milka for 59 cents each, and in Germany they have so may more flavours than we do. When you're traipsing round in the cold, having chocolate to munch on is just ridiculously comforting.

So much Ritter Sport!
Another reason for my epic chocolate fest was our visit to Ritter Sport Schokowelt (chocolate world). I may have ended up going three times. When I was little, my German great aunt would always bring us Ritter Sport chocolate when she came to visit, so the stuff prompts good memories for me. Ritter Sport Schokowelt had all sorts of chocolatey variations on offer when we visited, for lower than supermarket prices too - I think my favourite bars were the white chocolate with whole hazelnuts, and the 'Olympia' (milk chocolate with a Greek yoghurt and honey with chopped hazelnut filling.) Literally heaven. But the Schokowelt is more than just a shop: there's an incredible café offering all sorts of food including sandwiches, cakes/puddings inspired by their chocolate bars, and amazing flavoured hot chocolates - basically melted Ritter Sport whizzed up with frothy milk. And we got a 25% discount thanks to our Berlin Welcome Cards. Amazing.

What other German foodie things did I devour? Well, in Germany they have a range of Haribo flavours that puts the UK to shame - my housemates definitely enjoyed the fizzy sour Schlümpfe (Smurfs - how cute is the German name though?) I brought back for them. Chocolate hazelnut nougat Müllermilch (milk) was another great supermarket find, along with a particularly great rhubarb streusel (crumble cake) for breakfast. And WHAT?

But don't worry if you don't like the sound of German food (you nutter), there are Starbucks all over the city, not to mention a strangely large number of Asian restaurants amongst other international offerings.


Well, has the previous section made your realise you want to save all your money for food and spend as little as possible on accommodation? Allow me to point you towards the hostel-that-is-more-like-a-hotel-yet-still-ridiculously-cheap, PLUS Berlin - so impressive, I felt the need to write a whole separate blog post about it, here.


The Brandenburg Gate. And Mickey Mouse.
The Fernsehturm (TV tower), Brandenburg Gate, cathedrals... Berlin has its fair share of monuments and Schlossen (palaces - my faves), and we visited all the main Sehenswürdigkeiten (sights). However, I think the best thing we did was go on a free walking tour of the city. Well, free with a donation at the end.

Pretty cathedral
Sandemans run a 3.5 hour tour of all the main sites for as much or as little as you think it's worth (or as much as you can afford), but just make sure you book a place in advance. 3.5 hours of walking? Seriously? I'd rather sit in a café thanks, I hear you thinking. Well, for starters, there actually is a café break, which is nice. But the tour was so much more than just being led round the main monuments - our English-speaking guide, Rob, was friendly, entertaining and knowledgeable, telling us all sorts of stories and making Berlin's history really exciting. As German students, it was particularly great to see first-hand the sites of everything we've studied. If you do one thing whilst in Berlin, I'd recommend you do this.

The Reichstag
If free tours are your thang, there are others we discovered too (thrifty/broke students and all), such as ones of the incredibly grand Concert House, the Reichstag (parliament building) which gives you amazing views of Berlin (forget paying to go up the TV tower), and an alternative walking tour of Berlin, taking you to all the best graffiti sites and the like (which departed from our hostel.)

Inside the Concert House
Also conveniently close to the hostel is the Eastside Gallery, AKA the largest remaining section of the Berlin Wall. Definitely worth a visit. My other top cultural sites would be the DDR Museum - all about the history of East Germany, but incredibly interactive and fun as well as interesting; and the Holocaust Memorial and museum - incredibly moving... So much so that I was brought to tears.

The Berlin Wall

The Holocaust Memorial

We very nearly managed to get tickets to the ballet for just 3€ - if you queue up 30 minutes before the start of the show, have a Berlin Welcome Card and get lucky, these can be yours - but unfortunately we arrived too late. It'd be worth having a go though.


Oddly enough, I didn't actually buy anything in Berlin apart from food. Not one souvenir. That's not to say there aren't plenty of shops though. Friedrichstrasse is the place to go for all the main high-street shops, mixed in with a fair few high-end labels. There also seem to be a fair few department stores and shopping centres around Berlin, from the standard mall-type Alexa to the oh-so-snazzy rival to Selfridges, KaDeWe, which stands for Kaufhaus des Westens (shopping centre of the West.) I genuinely could've spent hours in the latter, getting completely lost on the food floor alone!

German baking goodies in KaDeWe
So there you have it: my rather long guide to Berlin. Every Berliner I encountered seemed delightfully friendly, despite my shoddy German - there was one embarrassing incident in Starbucks where, long story short, the barista asked me my name and I replied "skimmed milk". Not ideal. But hey, at least I was trying to practice my Deutsch.

Have you been to any of the places I mentioned? Do you have any other suggestions? And do you agree or disagree with my impression of Berlin?
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