Thursday, 24 July 2014

Easy Canapes - A Cheats Guide

easy canape
These canap├ęs could not be easier, which is one of the reasons I love them, but also because they are delicious! I served these at our cocktail party the other week and I think they went down pretty well!

Simply grab some cocktail sticks (I prettied mine up by using wash tape to make little flags), and slide on your ingredients.

For the meat eaters we had half a tomato, a slice of chorizo followed by a rolled up basil leaf.

We also had the option of tomato, feta and basil for those that didn't want to eat meat.

Easy peasy right!?

tomato, feta, chorizo, basil canapes

Laura xXx

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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A Hidden Gem - Ice Cream and Video Games

Tooti's gelato bar southampton  Today I have a story for you of a delicious Gelato bar with a difference!Chris and I have resumed our weekly dates, where we each organise a surprise outing every Thursday. Last week Chris took me to Chewton Glen in New Milton, for a very posh 3 course dinner. It was delicious (I instagrammed the food if you want to take a look). Weirdly that very same night as we were watching the telly, we noticed Chewton Glen pop up on 'I Wanna Marry Harry' (not that I watch that sort of thing! Winkey smiley). Obviously that's where the fake royals hang out!
Anyway, this week I decided to take Chris out to a Gelato bar in Southampton that my friend had told me about. Apparently the food was great, and it had one even bigger selling point, retro gaming stations at the tables! Whaaaat!?
retro games consolesnintendo controller
It was a tough decision which table to sit at, as each one had a different make of console. Luckily it wasn't busy at all, so we managed to have a go on each of them by swapping tables every time we fancied a new one.raspberry sorbet smoothie
I chose a rasberry sorbet smoothie and a lemon and sugar crepe, while chris had a mountain of chocolate ice cream and a coffee. Yummy!
mario cart
We played Crash Team Racing, Mario Cart, and my favourite, since the Sega Megadrive was my weapon of choice as a youngster, Sonic and Tails! I'd never played it 2 player before though, so that was a treat!

Here I am probably loosing miserably at Mario Cart. I did come 7th once though, so not all bad!
ice cream and gaming
Afterwards we went to see Dawn of The Planet of The Apes, which I think was pretty darn good. Especially the apes, they are amazing, it's crazy how far technology has come to be able to make a film like this!

Weirdly Tooti's don't seem to advertise that they have games on their website, so it is a bit of a hidden gem!  If you're near the Southampton area any time soon I'd definitely suggest popping in.

Are there any hidden gems near you that you know about?

Laura xXx
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Friday, 18 July 2014

Cocktails Made Easy - 3 recipes to get the party started

Cocktail recipes
This time last week I was adding the finishing touches as I prepared for my first cocktail party! If you saw my post about simple syrups earlier in the week, you will remember that I was going to share a bit about the party and the cocktails I chose to make.

Since there were about 15 people coming to the party, I decided it would be rather tricky to make a cocktail for each person individually. So instead I came up with 3 cocktail recipes that I could make and serve in bulk in my pretty drinks dispensers, which we originally bought for the wedding. You can buy them here if you fancy giving this a go yourself.

Here are the recipes I devised for my cocktails, all of them went down well, but I think the Mojito disappeared the quickest!

Drunken Watermelon (far left)
500ml Vodka
2 litres Lemonade
350 ml of Watermelon Simple Syrup - Recipe here
Lime Juice to taste
Watermelon chunks (I cut mine into pretty stars using a cookie cutter)
Frozen Blueberries

El Macho Majito (middle)
500ml White Rum
2 litres of Soda Water
350 ml of Mint Simple Syrup - Recipe here
7 juiced lemons
7 juiced limes
2 sliced lemons
3 sliced limes
Mint Sprigs

Elderflower Fuzzle (right)
350ml Gin
4 litres Tonic Water
350ml Elderflower Cordial
Raspberry and mint ice cubes

And here are some pictures of the madness that ensued after consuming these sugar filled cocktails;
straws and mojitococktail chalk board
My Dad recently came over and mounted the chalkboard that was used for the open-mic at our wedding, to the wall in our hallway. I was excited to use it to show where important things were located.
cocktail recipe - drunken watermelon cocktails in bulk pretty glasses
Check out my pretty Italian wine glasses from Liberty London. I was very brave and allowed everyone to use these, thankfully they all remain in one piece!
shot glasses
We decided to do some shots of Apple Schnappes. Unfortunately it seemed that my shot glasses were all different sizes, and mine was by far the largest! Oh well, bottoms up!
And so we have the last ones standing.  The alcohol has clearly taken its toll at this point as Chris has replaced his glass of delicious cocktail with some freshly squeezed lemon juice in a lemon juicer.
He seems quite happy about it though.
We had a lovely night and I would definitely recommend my method of bulk cocktail making. It meant that I could relax once it had all been done, and I think it meant less mess too.  Everyone said how yummy the cocktails were, so I think we did pretty well. The secret is just put loads and loads of sugar in it! None of us slept for days.

Laura xXx

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Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Herb 101 - Lemon Balm

Whilst on a trip with my friend to a garden centre recently, I picked up a rather nice pot of herbs for just £9.99, which I thought was a bargain!  Unfortunately most of the herbs in the pot aren't ones I use very often in my cooking. I tend to be a creature of habit, and stick with coriander and basil when using fresh herbs, as they are my favourites. I love a good thai curry or noodle/rice dish with lots of tasty coriander, and I have a weakness for basil in a sandwich with some tomatoes and cheese!

I realised that learning what to do with most of these herbs would require a little bit of research, so research I did!  In the interest of sharing knowledge, I thought I would pass on some of the information I learned with you!
And so, I give you my herb of the week... Lemon Balm!

Lemon Balm is a herb I had heard of (bit of a tongue twister!), but had no idea what it looked like or what to do with it. Of course I knew it would smell lemony, but other than that I was at a loss. It turns out that it is a fantastic herb for attracting bees to your garden, which I am all for! Its latin name 'Melissa', is derived from the Greek name for Bee. When the plant flowers it will apparently attract lots of Bees from far and wide. Hurrah!

It is a herb that is known for its medical properties against stomach ailments and nervous conditions.

But what can we do with it? As it turns out, a whole heap of stuff! ;

  • Make a pesto. Great recipe found at The Healthy Green Kitchen. You can use this as a  pasta sauce, as a sandwich spread, or on crackers as an appetiser. I'm looking forward to giving this a go!
  • Use it as a substitute to lemon grass. Perfect for Thai dishes when you have forgotten that all important ingredient, or are trying to save your pennies.
  • Make candied lemon balm. I gave this a go and I think these would be a fantastic edible garnish for a dessert!  They taste wonderfully sweet and lemony! To make them you just need to dip each leaf in some lightly whisked egg white mixed with a dash of water, then dip in sugar. Lay them on a baking tray and pop in the oven at about 100c and leave for about 20 minutes.
  • Flavour cold drinks. You can add the leaves as a garnish, or create a simple syrup from its leaves like I did in this post with mint.
  • Add it to a fruit based dessert like apple pie.
  • Make a tea. Steep the leaves in boiling water for a few minutes to made a deliciously lemony tea! It is meant to have wonderful calming properties! I've tried this and it's actually really good.
  • Make a tasty lemon balm flavoured butter to spread on toast like I did here. This was really easy to do, I just mixed 100g of softened butter with about a teaspoon of finely chopped lemon balm, and a dash of honey. To make the butter presentable I filled an ice cube tray with the mixture and popped them in the freezer to set quickly. I think they look rather good!
  • Add to a bath and enjoy its delightful lemony scent. Use a little mesh bag to keep it from straying into your nooks and crannies.
Wow, I think Lemon Balm is my new favourite! What do you like to do with Lemon Balm?

Some of the ideas above were inspired by The Nerdy Farm Wife whose blog is full of wonderful tips on herbs and flowers!

Laura xXx

Take care when using Lemon Balm if you are on hypothyroid medications, are pregnant or have any other medical conditions. Always consult a doctor if you are unsure.

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Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Fancy Pants Butter - A Cheats Guide

Ever wanted to impress with your culinary skills, but lacked the time or energy to do so? Here is a quick and simple trick you can prepare way ahead of time. Whip it out for dinner parties, or just when your friend pops over for a cuppa and a snack. 

Create your own delicious toast topper by mixing softened butter with a flavour of your choice. If you're going for a sweet sensation you might want to try cinnamon, vanilla or honey. Or if you prefer something savoury try finely chopped herbs. Whatever you like, give it a go, you can always make a few little batches at once before deciding on your favourite.

Scoop your butter mix into silicone ice cube trays and pop in the freezer. Next time you've got guests just take out a few cubes in time for them to defrost, and you will look super prepared!

Laura xXx

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Monday, 14 July 2014

Simple Syrup Recipes

While Chris and I were away on our honeymoon, I made a list of things I wanted to do when we got home. One of those things was to host a little cocktail party! In preparation for the day I decided to make my own simple syrups to make things a bit easier for myself. Basically these are used to sweeten any cocktail, since sugar tends to not dissolve, which you will have already discovered if you are Mojito lover like me!

It turned out to be really easy, and I had most of the things I needed to make it already in the cupboard. The most basic ingredients are granulated sugar and water in equal parts, but you can add different flavourings depending on what you have in mind for your cocktail!

What you will need:

Flavouring (optional)

Wooden spoon
Glass bowl or large jug
Cling film
Sieve for straining
A bottle to decant your syrup into

First of all I made some plain simple syrup using 2 cups of demerera sugar and 2 cups of water. The trick is to always use the same amounts of these two ingredients. I simply heated the water in a saucepan until simmering, and then added my sugar. I left it on a low heat for about 15 minutes until the sugar had fully dissolved, and stirred continually.  I let the syrup cool in a covered bowl, then decanted into this rather pretty little bottle, which I got from Dunelm Mill. It made slightly less than 500ml  I imagine if you want a clearer coloured syrup you could try giving white sugar a go instead.
simple syrup recipe
Then I got a little more adventurous and tried a couple with flavourings, since I was having a watermelon cocktail and a mojito style cocktail.

The mint syrup was easy, I just added about 2 packed cups of fresh mint after the syrup was made, but before cooling.  I left this to steep all day, then once it was cool I put it in the fridge overnight.  In the morning I strained it and decanted it into my bottle

I found it trickier to find a recipe for watermelon syrup, so in the end I made up my own. I decided to blend some chopped watermelon to make a juice, I used about the same amount as I did water, and I added this right at the beginning. I also added a few chunks of watermelon. I left this one to simmer a bit longer since there was more liquid. Again I left it to steep and then strained it into a bottle.
Amazingly, although it was my first go all three simple syrups worked really well, and the drinks I made went down a storm.  I'll fill you in on the full recipes and how the rest of the party went later in the week!

What are your favourite cocktail recipes?

Laura xXx
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Monday, 7 July 2014

Our Honeymoon

the beverly hills hotel
As you probably know by now, I recently got married to my lovely new hubby Chris. For our honeymoon we went to LA and Beverly Hill, did Disney and then drove to Las Vegas. I thought that today I'd share some snaps of our time away and let you in on what we got up to;

Day 1 - After an awesome flight with Virgin, and having watched American Hustle, About Time, and Hunger Games - Catching Fire on the way, we finally arrived at our awesome hotel. The Beverly Hills Hotel! Chris spotted Steven Seagal at the check in desk! We had to have a little nap because we had a big night planned, we were going to see Crystal Fighters at the Troubador!  The driver of our courtesy car was awesome. His name was Chip and his son sings in a band with the guy that plays Mclovin in Superbad. They're called The Young Rapscallions if you want to check them out. Crystal Fighers were amazing, but unfortunately (and slightly embarrassingly) I kept nodding off due to major jet lag. (it was 6am at home!)

Day 2 -  We grabbed some delicious breakfast at the Fountain Coffee Room, then headed into Hollywood to check out the famous spots.
hollywood Chinese theatre
Chris was excited to find Arnie at Mann's Chinese Theatre, and of course I found Marilyn Monre, classic.
This wasn't a real bed. It was not comfortable! This place had a cool vue though, can you spot the Hollywood sign in the background?

We found a Hollywood museum which turned out to be in the building Max Factor once worked.  We got to see the room that Marilyn became a blonde in, which I found really fascinating, as there was lots of information about how Max Factor had to change her complexion with make up so that it matched her new hair colour! Also, there were different coloured rooms for Blondes, Brunettes and Red heads, because apparently these colours helped reflect the way that the film camera would show them on screen!  There were also lots of props and costumes from films and TV series, I was particularly excited to see a Dharma suit from lost, and The Hunger Games outfits!
Then we hopped on a Hollywood tour, where we were taken around some filming locations, went to Mulholland drive and spotted lots of celebrity houses. This pic is of me at the top of Mulholland drive, not far at all from Ron Howard's House.

Day 3 - We just chilled out by the pool on this day. The customer service was incredible, they addressed us constantly as 'Mr and Mrs Powell, which was weird to get used to, and when they found out we were just married they brought us champagne!  Later I had the most yummy frozen mojito,  and studied my Disney book ready for our adventure later in the week.
Disneyland book
Day 4 - This was the day we picked up our Ford Mustang! So with our new wheels we headed over to Venice beach. Its a really crazy place, like Brighton on acid! There was some amazing graffiti, and lots of people dancing and performing in the street which was fun! We also went to the Hotel Erwin for a cocktail, as they have a rooftop bar with fantastic views.
venice beach
venice beach graffitivenice beach
We have friends that live in Santa Monica, so we contacted them on the spur of the moment, and luckily they were about! We parked out car at their apartment and then walked to Santa Monica pier. I was excited to see it as they used parts of it in the film Lost Boys as Santa Carla.
santa monica beach
santa monica pier
photo booth pictures
Chris and I got a picture in a Photo Booth, it had to be done right!? Then we walked through Santa Monica to a restaurant, and we saw these cute parrot's amongst other weird and wonderful things! Like a sad clown at a bus stop, I think he genuinely was waiting for a bus.
sad clown
Day 5 - I would say I was equally excited and nervous about going to Universal, as I am quite a scaredy cat, but it turned out to be an absolute blast!  The only ride I was scared on was Jurassic Park, as I am terrified of life size dinosaurs. I will not lie, I did close my eyes at one point!

The Transformers ride was really amazing, I have no idea how it worked but it sure felt like you were there! I also loved the new Despicable Me ride. They have built the whole of Super Silly Fun Land, complete with lots of fluffy unicorns! I am a massive fan of the minions, I think they are so funny and cute so this ride was just brilliant as we got turned into minions! Sort of. The outside of the ride looked like Gru's house, and they even had the orphanage!
super silly fun land
despicable me at universalgru's housewaterworld ride
As well as the rides we also went to a Waterworld show which was mega cool! (resorting to 90s phrases now as I'm running out of complementary words) The actors were very funny and extremely talented doing all sorts of stunts. Another highlight was the Universal Studios Tour. We saw Jaws, Norman Bates house, as well as being in the middle of a massive fight between King Kong and a bunch of Dinos! A great day finished off at Bubba Gumps for dinner, where the waiter randomly did a  Sponge Bob Square Pants/Forest Gump quiz for the tables he was waiting on.

Day 6 - We were going to go to Griffith Observatory and  the Getty museum but it turned out that both were closed on a monday! In the end we decided it must be a sign, so we had another pool day.

Day 7 - We went on a Warner Bros Tour and saw the friends set! Look, its the Friends couch right there!
central perk
friends set
And here we are sitting on the Friends couch! Central Perk was way smaller than it looks on TV! On the tour we also got to see some Harry Potter stuff, and lots of Batman cars, as well as the Two Broke Girls set, and The Big Bang Theory Set. Although it was completely covered over, so that was kind of a waste of time.  I did enjoy going through the props department, and getting to see some things that have been in movies and on TV. 
warner bros tour
Afterwards we headed over to Griffith Observatory to take in the views. We went to see a show at the planetarium, it was quite amusing because the woman narrating it had a really, really weird voice! Here's a picture of the Hollywood sign taken from Griffith Observatory.
hollywood sign
Day 8 - We travelled to our Annaheim Hotel ready for Disney, via the Guitar Centre, and Melrose. We found a place called Lala's that did delicious food! From this point onwards I started having a very weird reoccurring dream/nightmare that Chris and I had accidentally fallen asleep in a pitch black track ride, and the seats were the shape of a bed. Because of this it took me quite a long while each time to work out that I was actually just in the pitch black in bed! I kept having this dream until after I got home! What does it all mean!?
guitar centremelrose
Day 9 - We went to Disneyland! It was amazing! I loved the Buzz Lightyear 'Astroblasters' ride as well as Star Wars 'Star Tours' ride, where C3P0 takes control of a spaceship which you are a passenger in, and you end up in a high speed chase! We had lunch at The Golden Horseshoe whilst watching a funny show from the balcony, a blind date style show with members of the audience being dragged up on stage. They were all very good though. The Peter Pan ride was another favourite as you get to fly amongst the stars.  I found The Pinocchio ride rather scary, since I am terrified of Whales, and of course one jumps out at you right in the middle, argh! Towards the end of the day we watched the parade, and then later saw the show 'Fantasmic',where Mickey Mouse conducts all sorts of water jets and explosions. My favourite bit was when all of the princesses and princes float by on little rowing boats, singing the songs from their movies. Chris liked the huge pirate fight Peter Pan has on the Jolly Roger, it was pretty impressive with all sorts of stunts!

Day 10 - We went to Disney California! I think we both preferred this park. For a start it had Cars Land! It was EXACTLY like the film, I felt like I was in it. The Radiator Springs Racers ride was so much fun too. It was one of our favourites along with Toystory Midway Mania and California Screamin', one of very few roller coasters I actually enjoyed! I also made sure we made time to watch the Aladdin show as I had heard it was good, and it really didn't disappoint! The World of Colour show was also ridiculously good! At the end of the day we were both thoroughly pooped!
radiator springs racers
cars land
Day 11 - We drove to Vegas! On the way we stopped off at Peggy Sues Diner. It was great! They even had a Diner-Saur park out back, with big dinosaurs, and a gorilla!

50's diner
roadside attraction
dinosaur and gorilla
This is the kind of stuff I want to see more of in America! Id love to do a road trip and find weird quirky side of the road stuff like this!

Days 12, 13 and 14 - We spent our last few days hanging out in Vegas. We stayed at Mandalay Bay and it was enormous!  There were 64 floors and our room was on the 24th, there were 24 lifts in the lobby! It had a wave pool which was pretty cool, but unfortunately there wasn't much shade to sit in and it was 40 degrees!  We spent some time walking down the strip, visiting all the famous hotels like New York New York pictured below, The Bellagio, The Venetian and Caesars Palace. We also went to se the Michael Jackson Cirque De Soleil show 'One' which was showing at our hotel. It was AMAZING!  There was so much going on I didn't know where to look!
las vegas
On our trip home I managed to watch Frozen, Cuban Fury and Saving Mr Banks. That last one was a good choice as Emma Thompson's character stays in The Beverly Hills Hotel when she gets to LA, which, if you remember, was the first hotel we stayed at!

All in all we had a fab time, and we can't wait to get a proper American road trip under our belts now that Chris has had a bit of practise driving on the wrong side of the road!

Have you been to any of the places we went, what did you think?

Laura xXx

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