Baking: Hot Toddy Cupcakes

Yep, I’m on a diet. Nope, I shouldn’t be eating cakes. Especially not moist stick cupcakes, slathered in zingy sweet alcoholic icing, drizzled with tangy, spiced ever more alcoholic syrup.

 photo 2015-01-03 18.14.24_zpsc05yoh56.jpgBut these are SO DAMN TASTY.

Just the right amount of spice to warm, the right amount of lemon to make you feel energised, and enough sugar to add some life back in…these are wonderful winter bakes. With or without the whisky (I love the stuff) these are enough to chase away a cold, brighten up a miserable afternoon, and put a smile on anyone’s face. They’re like a hug in a cupcake.

 photo 2015-01-03 18.14.18_zpsjxfdtogb.jpg photo 2015-01-03 18.13.36_zpstsbxnxwo.jpgI like to avoid cupcake and proper cake mixing, as they are so much better when made with an electric whisk. I refuse to add to my kitchen equipment with one yet – my parents will undoubtedly disown me if anything else gets purchased. These were made using my boyfriend’s electrical items…and now he has a shiny purple KitchenAid (when are we moving in together?!) I’m hinting that he really doesn’t need a hand-held one too…BUT anyway, if you fancy making these by hand, have two as you’ll have burnt off enough calories!

 photo 2015-01-03 16.01.18_zpsf74tpdmm.jpgNow, there’s a lot of ingredients here, but the recipe is simple, many of them are easily found in the average cupboard (I had everything but the cloves). The amounts make 11 generous cupcakes – I reckon they’d be great as mini fairy cakes too!

Ingredients (sponge)

  • 120g self-raising flour (the advantages of a well stocked kitchen, I normally stick to plain!)
  • 115g caster sugar (again, I usually use ordinary granulated)
  • 1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 big teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • a pinch of ground cloves
  • 140g very soft unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • Zest of 1 lemon, along with two tablespoons of juice
  • Splash of milk, if the mix looks too dry

Ingredients (icing)

  • 150g butter, again very soft
  • 325g icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons of whisky

Ingredients (syrup – makes a little more than you need, add some to hot water for a warming drink!)

  • 100g caster sugar
  • 50ml lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons whisky
  • 3 cloves

 photo 2015-01-03 15.33.34_zpsthefjgq2.jpg photo 2015-01-03 16.00.14_zpsofburr7y.jpgStart by making the sponge. Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl.

 photo 2015-01-03 16.03.53_zpstjrjfvzx.jpg photo 2015-01-03 16.07.33_zpscribqyil.jpg photo 2015-01-03 16.08.59_zpsnasm0tcd.jpgAdd everything else (not the milk) and beat until combined. Add the milk if needed.

 photo 2015-01-03 16.09.07_zpsjqrikkdq.jpgDivide between cupcake cakes and bake for around 18 minutes at 170C.

 photo 2015-01-03 16.09.15_zpsfaq64jff.jpgWhilst the cakes are baking make the syrup; it needs plenty of time to cool. Put all the ingredients into a good saucepan and heat, slowly and on a low heat, until simmering. Simmer until you have a syrup-y consistency, but you don’t want the mix to darken – it will taste burnt if it does. Try not to stir (or it will crystallise) but instead swirl the pan from time to time. Pass through a sieve into a jug and let cool.

 photo 2015-01-03 17.26.40_zpszsl83aph.jpg photo 2015-01-03 17.26.49_zpssxzsmp80.jpgAnd while the cakes and the syrup cools, make the icing. Beat the butter until light and fluffy, then beat in the icing sugar in stages. Yep, this causes the kitchen to suffer a bit of a ‘snowstorm!’

 photo 2015-01-03 17.29.27_zpsf9kohue6.jpg photo 2015-01-03 17.29.54_zpstpe4h6gh.jpgOnce the icing sugar is all mixed in, beat in the honey, lemon juice and whisky. Taste and adjust if necessary.

 photo 2015-01-03 17.47.07_zpshtorltno.jpgAdd the icing to the cupcakes – I had a lovely boyfriend ready with his piping bag but otherwise I’d have just piled it on with a spoon. Drizzle over the syrup, and there you go.

 photo 2015-01-03 18.15.52_zpsuvxpdbwi.jpgZesty, spicy, warming cupcakes with the most delicious whisky kick. One of my best bakes.

Have you baked anything recently, or are you trying to be ‘good’ too? I promise I’ll be back to more healthy recipes soon! 

Festive Friday: Christmassy Jumpers

I’m not a huge jumper fan. I rarely wear jeans, I live in floral dresses and skirts (and pyjamas…) and cosy cardigans are my go-to cover ups. But there’s something about a festive jumper that screams Christmas, and for a few weeks I’ll happily live in one. I tend not to go too festive, and I still tend to accessorise with tartan scarves, but these are my wardrobes concession to festiveness. Excuse the slightly yellow light – the new lightshade in my room might look pretty, but isn’t helpful for blog photos!

 photo 2014-12-03183821_zps21671c4a.jpg photo 2014-12-03183838_zpsde03ec6a.jpgNot strictly a Christmassy jumper, but I’m so glad I splurged on this Terrier number from Joules (one of my favourite shops!) last year. Not only does it match my fur-baby, the cashmere makes it feel wonderfully soft and luxurious – as it should for the price I paid (especially considering the assistant neglected to give my three-year NUS card back, and I never saw it again). The colours make it suitable to wear whatever time of year, and it looks great dressed with with smart trousers as well as thrown over jeans.

 photo 2014-12-03184037_zps5fd79350.jpg photo 2014-12-03183859_zps6199e167.jpgSorry to say, but I failed at taking a photo of my real dog against my jumper-dog! Real dog just wouldn’t sit still for the camera, so his feet are the best I have! See here for the likness!

 photo 2014-12-03183234-Copy_zps8fb923d9.jpgNext up and I couldn’t resist included my boyfriend in his festive jumper. A classic reindeer in a lovely berry shade, this was a bargain from New Look. I think men’s jumpers are so much nicer than womens – especially this year as there’s far too many pastel colours around! M&S have some lovely ones this year, there’s one I’m desperate to get him but being short on funds makes this unlikely…sorry my love!

 photo 2014-12-03183853_zpsd072b36f.jpgNow for my favourite festive item – not a jumper, but a ridiculously oversized cardigan. It’s unbelievably a Size 8, and from Warehouse, but I’m afraid you’ll only pick this one up by rifling through attics as it’s actually older than me! This was one of my mum’s 18th presents many years ago, so many that it is officially a vintage piece. I’ve loved this for years, and I finally bagged it two years ago. Perfect with skinny jeans, and it acts as a festive dressing gown on Christmas morning too. Oh, and its warm enough to wear without a coat. I love it!
 photo 2014-12-03183831_zps67a0837a.jpg

Are you a fan of Christmas jumpers? What one are you wearing this year?

Recipe: Slow Cooker Beef Rendang

I’ve gotten hugely into Thai food lately. I blame Surrey. There’s a hugely disproportionate number of Thai restaurants here, with Reigate alone having three or four at last count. Being one of my favourite cuisines anyway, I challenged myself with trying them all out. And got hooked. And started cooking it myself. Now my fridge is a fragrant combination of coriander (though any ideas on how to keep it fresh for longer than a day?!), ginger, lemongrass and chillies. I always feel quite healthy after eating Thai, it’s a lot lighter than Indian, and a lot easier to load with fresh veg. It’s quicker too, I find the flavours don’t need as long to develop. It’s easy to whip up a Thai Green Curry completely from scratch after work, and I’m working on an amazing soup recipe to share with you all.

 photo 68ba1fe1-5d9f-4cca-ae44-7c62facf3588_zpsd5827237.jpgThis recipe is a bit different. It’s slightly more luxurious than your usual Thai, slightly heavier and richer, but still fragrant. And although it could be cooked quick, the beefy flavours definitely benefit from a day in the slow cooker. Not to mention that the cheap back of stewing steak turns melt-in-the-mouth tender. And my whole house smelt pretty damn amazing all day. There’s nothing better than coming in from the cold to the scent of something slow cooking, and this spicy twist was enough to have me wishing for dinner time at 2pm.

Ideally and authentically the pasta would have galangal in – but I can’t seem to find this anywhere. I’m not sure what it adds to the flavour, but if I find some I’ll let you know! My amounts below made two generous servings.

Ingredients (paste)

  • 1″ piece of ginger, peeled
  • 2 red chillies
  • 3 garlic cloves (I love garlic)
  • 1 stick of lemongrass
  • 1/2 onion, or a couple of shallots
  • 1 teaspoon tumeric
  • stalks of 1/2 a bunch of coriander, and a few leaves too
  • 1 tablespoon of oil

Rest of Ingredients

  • 250g of stewing steak
  • 1/2 tin coconut milk
  • 100ml beef stock (I used 100ml water and half a stock cube)

Make the Paste

 photo 15c16f2b-b748-45f9-bc38-f7a96dde8243_zps62fd85a6.jpgPrepare all of the paste ingredients, through into a food chopped, and blitz until it is as paste like as you can get it. My chopper isn’t brilliant, and hence this is all I managed. But it still works well as you are cooking it long enough for any chunks to soften down.

Begin to fry the paste on a medium heat until very fragrant.

Prep for the Slow Cooker

 photo 338862c4-a515-4add-8295-0c476303a956_zps44a7e093.jpgOnce the paste is suitably fried, tip in your beef chunks. Continue to fry until sealed well. A good colour on the beef at this stage will ensure a richer coloured curry at the end.

Add in the coconut milk and stock, then transfer to your slow cooker pan.

Finish

 photo 960ee976-a0c7-4ac9-8264-23c97c68b726_zpsa73cf221.jpgCook on low for as long as possible, I think mine had six or seven hours. Stir every couple of hours, as I find coconut milk can stick slightly. Serve with rice and some green veg, garnishing with some coriander leaves. I also threw over a few peanuts for an added crunch.
 photo SlowCookerBeefRendang_zpsce9336e6.jpg

What’s your favourite cuisine? Do you like Thai? Ever made a slow cooker curry?

Beauty: The Perfect Winter Blush

This was my first ever MAC purchase. I fell in love at the tender age of 13, when me and a friend stumbled into Brighton’s MAC store. It was literally love at first swatch, but I never purchase. I lusted after it, swatched every time I went in store, and it finally earned a place high on my 20th birthday list.

 photo 0ef08e6c-eceb-4f21-9638-16f7d7b62b96_zpsb3d17e49.jpgExactly a year on, I’ve barely made a dent. That’s not to say I don’t use it! Most winter days see Love Thing flushed across my cheeks, blended well to give the rosiest of glows. You need the lightest of hands with this one, it’s so scarily pigmented a swipe will leave you looking clown like. And this blush sticks around too. It’s definitely still there when I go and take it off in the evening!

 photo 30c9e08b-1b0c-4964-9833-8389e6967896_zps8335203f.jpgI’m slowly becoming more confident with this. Last winter saw it being used to give the slightest hint of colour. This year I’m rocking the berry tones even more, and this blush goes perfectly alongside MAC Craving. Yup, it opened up a MAC addition I didn’t know I had.I can’t say any other of the blusher colours particular call out to me, but the formula seems like it’s pretty fail safe. A slightly dewy finish, a solidly baked powder that has survived multiple falls to the floor? It’s a winner in my book.

 photo 1cf8daa7-597a-44d9-af7b-305d8e6913cc_zps8e6f42f0.jpgNow, did anyone get my subtle hint above?! In case you haven’t noticed from posts becoming more excitable, and not-too-subtle twitterings, it’s my twenty-first birthday today! I’ve been utterly excited for weeks, with a whole three days booked off work for lie-ins and celebrations. My plans so far (I’m writing this in advance to make the most of my time off!) involve a pampering sessions with my lovely mum, my dad baking me multiple cakes, a romantic meal with my man, and then a family meal tonight. I’m hoping to squeeze in a brisk walk in the cold with my dog too, so I’m hoping for good weather! I also am being whisked away for a surprise tomorrow…

What’s your favourite blusher? Do you love berry tones in the cooler weather?

Life: Feeling Low

I normally get a little low in the dark and dull days that come after the New Year sets in. With a whole host of birthdays in December and early January, it’s always a little bit of an anti-climax when they’re over. And pretty much a good pep talk from myself, a bit of forcing myself to think happy thoughts, and everything is right as rain again. So when I sat in a pretty deep depression last week, it came as a little bit of a shock.

 photo 2014-09-13150354_zpsb756f772.jpgRegular readers will have noticed that only two posts went up. Colleagues noticed I had retreated into my shell. There were a few tearful nights, a few moments where I was perhaps a little short-tempered. But what worried me most of all was my lack of motivation. I didn’t want to do anything – not blog, not work towards a university deadline, no knitting, no cooking, no baking, it was even a no to online shopping. I pretty much just sat on my bed and was miserable. Luckily I have a great support network, and I was also able to recognise that I needed to do something quickly or it would only get worse.

I’ve started making an effort to get fresh air on my lunch break, which is easier now the local park is open again. On Monday I sat in my coat, in brilliant sunshine, eating my sandwich and reading a book. I then wasn’t tempted to nap at my desk, and I came home, cooked soup and was suitably productive.

A recommendation from his darkest days at university, my boyfriend told me to put the radio on if I’m feeling lonely. Surprisingly so much more effective than just music, I find myself feeling less alone even if there’s no one about.Still a student at heart (and remembering that’s what I will be again next September), I’m trying to learn that a little treat now and then isn’t bad. Whether it’s ingredients for my favourite meal, or even just a coffee on the way to work, little treats can really perk up my day. I treated myself to a hazelnut hot chocolate, topped with cream and marshmallows, last Friday. Best thing I’d done all week.

Helping others feel happy is also something which seems to give me a real buzz. The thanks I get when bringing a fresh batch of cakes into work puts a huge smile on my face, and it’s having double the effect this week as we’re raising money for a fantastic cause (you can read a bit more about our campaign here). 2014-09-28 10.14.21A fry up makes everything better. Fact. I went home this past weekend and had one both mornings. Bacon, eggs and toast are my staples, black pudding is a regular addition, though this weekend saw the return of a new favourite. Mushrooms fried in bacon fat. That size 8 dress I was dieting to fit into? I changed it for a 10… (in defence, it was tight on my hips which are stubbornly bony).

I’ve also tried to put less pressure on myself. Its not easy, as I’m such a perfectionist and I’ve never let myself off. Getting less than perfect marks? I’ll beat myself up about it for years (I can still get tearful about my A-Level results, and they were far from bad!). I forced myself not to type out a blog post I didn’t have the heart for. And to be honest, nothing bad happen. My views dropped by probably 20 a day, which is miniscule in the grand scheme of things. I still gained followers. So now I know the world doesn’t end when I don’t push myself to my limit, I can relax a little more. Have a long soak in the bath instead of rushing back to my laptop. Stand and cook a risotto without thinking of my to-do list. Eat a greasy fry-up without thinking of my hips…

 photo 2014-08-30143507_zps857050c4.jpgI’m now feeling much more happier having made some time for me. Sleep is coming slightly easier at night, though it would be great to not see midnight most nights. I’m still convinced the dull, dreary weather doesn’t help (if anyone wants a natural light box reviewing, I’m your SAD girl!) but making the most of my days is definitely helping keep me cheerful. I’m sure my laptop is grateful for the rest too…

What do you do when you’re feeling a little down?