Ugly Halloween Coconut and Jam Spider Cupcakes 

If you know me you’ll know that I like to make themed cupcakes any tine there’s some sort of seasonal or other event (baby showers, Christmas, etc etc). I’m a sucker for what Anericans would call a holiday. I’m planning to make some bonfire night cupcakes next week, but with being away last week and being back to work this week I’ve been playing catch-up with myself and havent really been very organised enough. 

Nevertheless, a notion came over me to whip something together. I started a bit late in the evening though and lost patience so please excuse the messy decoration…I figured it was worth sharing anyway because it’s a good recipe and you are probably more artistic than I am! 

  
The beauty of this recipe is that I got all the way through it without substituting anything without having shopped specifically for the recipe. It’s really important to me that baking should be about not only what you like, but what you have to hand, and in my case, I had half a jar of jam in my fridge and loads of dessicated coconut in my cupboard, both left over from other recipes. Of course, as long as you have eggs, flour, butter and sugar, you can make a decent cupcake, but a holiday cake should be the perfect combination of flavour and theme. And let’s face it, you can’t go much more Halloween than a cake which oozes dark red jam…  

  
You will need:

175g salted butter, softened

175g caster sugar (I ended up using about 125g of caster and 50g of golden caster to use up odds and sods instead of opening a new bag)

3 eggs 

3/4 tsp vanilla bean paste or half tsp extract 

175g self-raising flour 

80g dessicated coconut 

Half jar of your favourite jam, I used cherries and berries conserve by Bonne Maman

150g more of softened butter

300g icing sugar, zest of 1 orange and a few squeezes of the juice (or a couple of teaspoons of milk or cream – I don’t keep much in the way of dairy 

  
1. This is the hardest stage when you haven’t planned ahead, because I would recommend taking the butter out of the fridge before you go to work in the morning if you’re baking in colder temperatures. At short notice you can chop the butter up and give it a quick blast in the microwave or set it in a bowl and then in hot water. This isn’t really a great solution though, as it tends to melt the outside piece while leaving the rest hard. I went for the hot water trick for not very long at all then just used my electric hand mixer to beat it into sumbission. Get it really creamy then add in the sugar and vanilla and cream together until light and fluffy. 

  
2. Add in the eggs one at a time, combining each one. Once they’re all add, which it up for a good few minutes to get loads of air into the batter. 

  
3. Add the flour and coconut and combine until just mixed. Don’t overwork it!

  
4. Set out 12 muffin cases in a 12 hole muffin tray and divide the mixture between the 12 cases. They should be about 2/3 full. Make a well in the centre of each portion of batter and spoon in a teaspoon of jam into each.   

5. Carefully cover over until the jam is concealed – I used the end of a teaspoon. 

  
6. Bake at 160C fan for around 20 minutes, or until golden and slightly springy to the touch. 

  
7. Meanwhile, make the buttercream by creaming together the rest of the butter and the icing sugar, adding a splash of orange juice or milk. Whisk until light and fluffy. Attach a star shaped nozzle to a piping bag (I like to use disposable piping bags to make cleaning up easier), fold half of it back and carefully spoon more jam in a stripe from the nozzle upwards to create the bloody swirl effect in the icing. You’ll need to hold it flattish so the jam doesn’t go everywhere – remember the nozzle has a hole! Spoon in the buttercream and pipe onto the cakes in swirls. You might get extra ooze in som places but I think that makes it look more authentic. You can always spoon on some jam if you don’t end up with much on a particular cake.

  
8. Decorate with something ghoulish. Halloween jelly sweets would work, but I made some fondant spiders with some black ready roll fondant I had in the cupboard. 

  
Just roll two balls, press together, and add some little rolled legs. 

  
Get creative! They’re pretty terrible actually but they sort of look like what they’re supposed to be. 

Add to the tops of your cakes and there you have it. Not a bad spur of the moment recipe if I do say so myself!

October Favourites

I can’t believe we’re a whole month into the proper Autumn/Winter season already. It seems as though we’re skipping right past the gorgeous coppery Autumn though and straight to the dark chill of winter. Never mind! All the better for cosy jumpers, good coffee, boots, Netflix and beautiful shimmery make up. Here’s a quick run down of what I’ve been loving most this month. 

  
Make-up wise, I haven’t been using many new things, but the products I have tried have been massively successful. Also, I’m really into these mini squashes right now for decorating the kitchen. This guy is a Munchkin Pumpkin from Tesco. I won’t eat it…but I think there’s something cool shout having pretty vegetables hanging around. 

So, first thing’s first. I bought this Simple Kind to Skin Protecting Moisture Cream to take on holiday because it was a nice size and contained SPF 30, which is a good backstop for those Autumn European days when the weather turns out better than expected. I’m actually really impressed with this. It has a really thick, creamy formula which makes your skin feel really hydrated. I’ll probably buy it again over the usual Rich Moisturiser. Currently £3.45 in Superdrug. It’s on offer just now, but Simple products tend to be on offer more often than not. 

  

  
I had a voucher for Debenhams so I treated myself (at last) to a travel sized Make Up Forever Mist & Fix setting spray. I was dubious of the £8 price tag, but it really helps your make up to stay on all day, and it’s nice to have a light spritz in the morning, especially now it’s getting colder and your skin is getting drier. You don’t need to put down the setting powder!

These Rimmel Salon Pro Nail Polishes are really good quality, but the range is quite limited and you really need to use a base coat and top coat. The “Lycra” included doesn’t really prevent chipping so it isn’t the most long-wearing product. That said, the Nail Base and Top Coat is really impressive, especially with Barry M polish in between. The colour I plumped for is 402 Urban Purple, which applies quite reddish, but builds to a really lovely burgundy on the third coat. 

  
I have three of these Rimmel London HD 5 Pan Eyeshadows and I’d give them a mixed review. I first bought Goldeneye about a year ago and loved the idea of a smoky grey look with that beautiful goldy mustard on the inner two thirds. I’m still in love with that one actually, but then I bought Pinkadilly Circus and found most of the colours to be far too bright and glittery so I hardly ever use it. This one, Brixton Brown, is autumnal perfection. I’ve swatches the colours above so you can see for yourself! £6.99 in Boots. 

  
Finally, I have a couple of lifestyley things to throw into the mix. I bought a 10 book Harlan Coben collection from The Book People last year and have been gradually working my way through them, sandwiched between other books. I think I’m just over halfway through them now with Promise Me. He’s a great writer if you like an easy, thrilling read with likeable characters.

The Book People is a really great company actually, which I remember being catalogue only when I was a kid. They’ve transitioned really well into the online world and offer great deals, especially on their sets and cookbooks. Big recommend!

Mr Brooker and I went to IKEA a couple of months ago and they had this weird food tasting sort of event on which twisted my arm into picking up these biscuits. They are the best jammy sandwichy biscuits ever, and the chocolate ones are delightful too. Only 80p!

  
Finally, I’ve been hooked on Halt and Catch Fire. There are only two seasons on Amazon Instant Video at the moment but it has, thank goodness, been renewed for a third season. Thanks to Mr Brooker for finding this gem – he always makes the best recommendations. You kind of have to watch it to understand it, but it’s basically about the tech boom at its most exciting. Even if you don’t really get tech (like me) you’ll love this series if you like a good American drama. Plus, there’s an actor in it called Scoot McNairy plus the guy from Pushing Daisies. It just made me a bit sad that I don’t have a vocation to get them excited about.

See you soon for some baking recipes!

Chicken and Chorizo Cassoulet

I think I’ve solved the problem of healthy winter comfort eating! I used to make this recipe with some really good pork sausages so  it was a sort of sausage and bean casserole, but I had some chorizo in the fridge and thought I’d give it a try with some chicken thighs to lean it out a bit. I might actually try it with turkey thigh meat the next time…I digress! This is hearty, delicious and packed with loads of really good for you veggies. It’s nourishment in a cast-iron dish. It would be great served with pasta if you want to stretch it out a bit, or with some good crusty bread or pitta for dipping, but if you’re keeping things low carb, just serve a slightly bigger portion with plenty of fresh, green vegetables.   

You will need (for 4 generous portions):

 1 onion

2 peppers, I used 1 red and 1 orange for some contrast (who likes green peppers?!)

1 carrot 

2 cloves garlic 

8 skinless and boneless chicken thighs (it saves so much time if you like to remove all the fat and prefer not to eat meat on the bone – plus it makes your bin smell a lot nicer!)

1 cooking chorizo, chopped into smallish pieces 

2 cans chopped tomatoes

2 chicken stock cubes 

Salt and pepper 

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup red wine 

1 can cannellini beans

1 tsp parsley 

1 tsp thyme

1/2 tsp mild chilli powder

Pinch sugar

Splash lemon juice   

1. Chop the vegetables – I like reasonable sized chunks as they’ll cook down, but keep the onion quite finely chopped. 

  
2. Chop up the chorizo and add it to a cold, large casserole on a low heat on the hob. Allow the oil to leak out and leave in, flipping every now and again, until it starts to crisp. Set aside in a plate, leaving the oil in the dish. 
  

3. Throw the vegetables into the oil and turn the heat up a little and let the vegetables sautée until tender. 
  
  4. Trim the chicken thighs and cut each one into 2 or 3 large pieces. Put a medium frying pan on the heat and add a little of your favourite frying oil. Brown the chicken pieces on all sides then set aside. Try to do this in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. 
  
  5. Add the tomatoes to the vegetables, then add the chicken stock, using as little water as possible to dissolve them. I like to do this in the tomato cans so they can be swilled out at the same time, using up any remnants. Cook out for around half an hour.  

6. Add in the chicken, beans, spices and flavourings and chorizo and cook for another hour or so with the lid on at a low heat, so it’s just simmering. Then it’s ready to serve!

What’s in my Hand Luggage

Whilst recent events have made me reconsider my normal hand luggage packing practice (being tested for explosives in a Croatian airport), I always find it interesting to read other people’s hints and tips for packing, so I thought I might as well share mine.


The bag – first of all, you need a bag to put all your stuff in. I prefer a large handbag with good handles or a shoulder strap. If you go with a bag that has to be carried (rather than a small wheely case), you’ll be less likely to overpack. Also, for a girl, it’s better to treat your hand luggage as a roomy handbag, as you’ll want to keep your normal handbag essentials on you when you travel.

Being short, I’ve always struggled with managing overhead storage on planes, trains and buses, so for me it’s essential (unless I’m travelling with Mr Brooker) to have a bag that will fit under the seat in front (or under the table on a train). That makes this bag perfect for me, as it’s fabric and will easily mould into a small space.

A change of clothes – despite never having experienced lost luggage (touch wood), I always pack a change of clothes in my hand luggage, just in case. Usually, that consists of a pair of shorts, a tshirt, a change of underwear, flip flops and a dress, if you have one light enough which won’t crease easily. This also takes a little weight out of your suitcase. Stick them in w plastic bag, to keep them nice and clean, just in case emerging in your bag leaks or spills.

Important Documents – passport, tickets or boarding pass, travel insurance policy schedule and contact details. I also had some Italian and Croatian phrases to read on the plane. 
Your general essentials – phone charger, camera and charger, your tablet, if you’re taking it, and any medications you might need. I also travel with Vaseline in my bag to deal with dry lips, mints to freshen up and a hair bobble in case my hair needs to be dealt with. 
Travel time essentials – sunglasses so you’re prepared as soon as you step off the plane, and something sensational to read during all that time sitting on your bum. I also take another book or two in my suitcase, or buy more at the airport, but that usually works out to be extremely pricey!
Money! – I always travel with 2 purses to split my money up. I have my every day purse with sterling and a little local currency as well as my cards etc, and another for foreign currency only. Only when we travel do we carry such an amount of cash. So keep what you don’t need for each day safe in a separate purse in your hotel safe. Plus if you get pick pocketed en route, they’re not going to be looking for 2 purses. 

Make-up – we’re talking non-liquid essentials and anything fragile, such as palettes and baked blush. You don’t want these getting wrecked in the hold. And everything’s to hand  if you do lose your luggage. 

Ok, a pop-up wine glass isn’t essential. But this one’s pretty cool. £4 at Tesco.

  

Liquids – I’m sure you all know about the plastic bag rule for liquids in your hand luggage. Nothing over 100ml, and all to be placed in a clear plastic bag. I think ziplock freezer bags are the best thing for the job, and a great way to keep all your make up and hand sanitiser altogether.

So that’s pretty much it! I’d love to hear your hints and tips for packing – which items can’t you do without?!

Smoked Haddock Kedgeree

Sometimes you just get a hankering for smoked fish and rice. And eggs. And some spice. Or maybe it’s just me! This one is made with brown rice, but it’s just as good with your preferred rice, and would probably be quicker to make! Oh, and it’s dairy-free friendly (most kedgerees have you poach the fish).  
  You will need:

75g of your rice of choice 
75ml boiled water 

Big pinch of salt

1 smoked haddock fillet 

1 egg

1/2 onion

1/2 red pepper 

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp ground coriander 

2 tsp curry powder

1 tbsp vegetable oil 

 
  1. Put the rice in a medium saucepan with the salt and boiled water and put the heat on at medium. Boil for around 20 minutes or until the grains start to burst and it is tender when tasted. You may need to add a small amount of water if it bold dry before it’s ready. In fact, it’s highly likely.  
 2. Slice the onion and pepper and sauteé the onion and pepper. Once they’re good and soft, add the spices and turn off the heat.  
  3. Trim and debone the haddock and wrap up in foil. Bake in the oven for around 8 minutes, until starting to flake. Boil the egg for 4 minutes, cool and peel.  
  4. When the rice is ready, turn the heat back up under the onions and peppers and chucj the rice in. Stir a few times until everything is hot and well-mixed. 

5. Pour out into a bowl, chop and add the egg and flake the fish in top. 

Done!

Don’t be tempted to add too much salt as the fish will be really smoky and salty. Otherwise, enjoy!

Baked Trout with Garlic Vegetables

This is a massively smile recipe but massively delicious. You know that way when something is unexpectedly delicious? That’s this. Trust me. Let the produce talk to you.   
  You will need:

1 trout fillet 

Salt and pepper

1/2 tsp lemon juice

A few leaves of fresh parsley to garnish

Your choice of fresh vegetables (or even frozen, I guess!) I used baby carrots, tenderstem broccoli and green beans.

2 tsp olive oil

1 clove garlic

 
  1. Trim and debone your trout. Sometimes it’s supposed to be boneless then you run your finger along it and you can feel tiny spiny bones. I’m a girl who has nails, so I just dig them out myself, pulling against the grain, but you could always use a clean pair of tweezers if you don’t have deboners. (Ha..deboners!). 
  2. Place it on a piece of foil on a baking tray, then season, drizzle on the lemon juice and add some fresh parsley. Wrap up in the foil and pop in the oven at 180C for about 7 minutes, until it is just cooked, flaking and delicate.  
  3. Meanwhile, put the veg on to boil in salted water for about 5 minutes. Chop up the garlic and heat gently in the oil.  
  4. When the veg is cooked, drain and allow the water to steam off. Then toss in the garlic oil. Serve with the trout. Trust me. It’s a simple thing, but it’s night and day.  
  

Warm Turkey Salad

I think you’ll notice a pattern here in that I’ve been eating a lot of warm salads for supper and soups for lunch, but I’ve been seriously short on time and in need of something quick and light to keep me eating healthily while fitting the preparation around my revision schedule. 

This is a great, balanced meal, packed with protein, big on flavour and providing fresh, nutritious veg. 

 
  You will need: 

Salad vegetables; I used a couple of handfuls of iceberg lettuce, a medium carrot, peeled into ribbons as chopped into sticks, half a red pepper, sliced, a good chunk of cucumber, chopped, giving you st least 3 of your 5-a-day in one easy meal 

2-3 turkey mini fillets

Greek yoghurt, whichever kind you prefer (I’m not really one for low-fat dairy – everything in moderation)

2-3 heaped teaspoons of your favourite curry paste 

1 tsp lemon juice

Salt and pepper 

1 tsp curry powder

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1/2 tsp lemon juice (for the dip)

 
  1. Mix the curry paste with about 4 tbsp of the yoghurt. Season and add the 1 tsp lemon juice.  

2. Add the turkey into the bowl and make sure every piece is covered.   
  3. Put in the oven for around 10 minutes at 180C until looked through. I only baked 2 pieces one night she had the remaining 3 with rice the next day. Boil the egg for 4 minutes, allow to cool then peel and chop. 

 
  4. Meanwhile, add the dry spices and remaining lemon juice to the remaining yoghurt to make the really simple dressing.  
  5. Chop your veg, the add the turkey, egg and dressing to the top. Serve and enjoy.  

Skinny Minestrone Soup

I’m determined to keep on track with eating healthy even though we’re now into comfort food season and my lunch salads have been replaced with hearty soups. When it’s cold and wet outside, and you’ve been working hard all morning, there’s little more rewarding than a bowl of steaming hot soup. Ditch the pasta, and you still have a great, filling, nourishing soup.   

 You will need:

1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil

1 onion

1 leek

3 carrots

1 clove garlic, grated

1 red pepper

1 litre chicken stock – I used 2 stock cubes

1 can cannellini beans 

1 tin chopped tomatoes 

Seasoning

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp parsley

4 leaves fresh basil 

 

1.  Chop the vegetables and gently sauteé them in the oil. Add the grated garlic and tomato purée and cook out for about 20 minutes.  
  2. Add the stock. Then add the tomatoes and seasoning and cook for around 20 minutes, before adding in the cannellini beans and seasonings, setting the fresh basil aside.  

3. Simmer on a low to medium heat for around an hour to an hour and a half.  Add the chopped basil and immediately remove from the heat. 

This should keep in the fridge for around 5 days, but I wouldn’t recommend freezing it as the chunks of carrot will change in texture. 

When My Exams Are Over….

This time next week, I’ll have finished my dreaded, life stealing CII Personal Finance exams, trying to forget about the impending results as I attempt to become a Chartered Financial Planner (funnily enough the results are due on the day of the firm’s Christmas party). I’ve been working on these exams for 5 years now, alongside my full-time job, though I’ve been qualified as a Financial Adviser for 3 of those. Now it’s time to try to secure the holy grail “Chartered” title by completing the Advanced Diploma, even though I’m going to stay well and truly behind my desk in the back office, there’s more and more pressure on us technical kids to be as qualified as we possibly can. And if you want to get anywhere, you have to work at it, right?

  
It’s boring. It’s unexciting. And it’s not easy. The course materials are dry. The text is quite literally grey. And they make it as difficult as they can for you to pass because the materials and exam sittings go for over £100 a pop for each module. Because it’s so dry and so difficult, the process has been stealing a lot of my free time. And, finally, after two 3-hour exams next week, I should be free. Unless I fail.

When I struggle to concentrate, I find my mind drifting to all the things I could be doing with my time, so I thought I’d share some of my autumn/winter plans with you, even if it’s just to stop them swimming around my mind! It’s quite therapeutic to think about all the things you’re looking forward to!

  
1. Cook more! At the beginning of the year, I started this blog to give me the motivation to keep trying new recipes. And it was going really really well, until my evenings became too squashed up to really let me think about my grocery list and take the time to approach things in a chilled and creative way. So back to the kitchen! 

2. Have a clear out. I’ve been trying to systematically tidy my flat every few months or so, this drawer one evening, that cupboard on a Sunday afternoon, and so on, but I just haven’t had the time over the last few months, so I’ve really just been keeping the place clean and tidy in plain sight. If I pass these exams, my study materials are hitting the recycling, my clothes are going to be thinned out and my junk is going in the bin. It’s going to take some work, but I’m really looking forward to the calmness of the results.

  
3. Take up Yoga. I used to take yoga classes when I was but a girl, but it fizzled out fairly quickly when my auntie got bored of taking me and I’ve had a mild inclination to start again ever since. I’ve never really been one for exercise, so yoga suited me down to the ground, but now I’m a bit fitter and into regularly pushing myself, I think it might be time to start again, especially as my Blogilates routines and leaving me a little stiff in the late evenings and mornings. I’ve been doing Blogilates for about 2 months now and I really think it’s doing wonders for my strength…we’ll see if it survives the long-term! Anyway, I’ve discovered Yoga with Adriene, a YouTuber who offers free Yoga “practice” (as she calls it). There are beginners tutorials, foundations to the trickier moves and also a 30 day series which I think I might try. She also has a couple of early morning routines as well as a bedtime routine, which is where I might start. I think there are other classes you can pay for, but you can’t really go wrong with this taster, which looks to require about 30 minutes a day. 

   
4. Read. I love reading. Adore it. Especially in the autumn and winter when it’s so cold outside, but so snug and cosy inside. Sadly, there just isn’t the time when you have two tricky exams to cram for. I actually got so excited about the prospect of the pile of books waiting for me that I came vey close to a Busted style jump looking in the window of WH Smith the other day when I remembered I’d get my hobby back. Bliss, bliss, bliss.

  
5. Plan my wedding. Yeah, I should probably get on to that.

  
6. Crafting and Sewing. My sewing machine is feeling neglected. And who doesn’t love a Christmas craft?!

7. Give more time to friends and family. While the positive result of frantic studying is that I really don’t have time to watch Strictly with my Nan, I really need to be less miserable about giving up my time… It’s just so precious when you work full-time and have lots of other things going on. 

8. Go on holiday! Hopefully with a blog to follow. Don’t worry; I plan to schedule a few to fill the gap!

Warm Sesame Salmon Salad

There are some evenings you just need something light and healthy for supper. The problem with salad is that it can often be dull and uninspiring, but adding in different textures and flavours can really elevate a salad to something much more filling and luxurious, without necessarily adding carbs. This protein- packed warm salad is a perfect example. 

  
You will need: 

A handful of lettuce

1 medium carrot 

1/2 large red pepper

Chopped cucumber, a piece about 3 inches is a good starting point 

Any other vegetables you love to add to a salad! I know I’m not normal but I can’t deal with raw tomatoes, so feel free to add them liberally if that’s your bag…

1 egg, soft boiled (I aim for 4 minutes on a rolling boil, then immediately cool in cold water before peeling and slicing)

  
1 salmon fillet 

1 clove garlic, grated

1 knob ginger, grated

1 tsp honey 

1 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp shaohsing rice wine vinegar

1 tsp chilli sauce or sriracha 

Couple of drops sesame oil

Couple of drops lemon juice

1 heaped tsp sesame seeds 

 
1. Prepare the marinade by mixing together the wet ingredients, including the garlic and ginger. 

2. Set the salmon in a piece of foil and drench in the marinade. Allow to sit for 10 minutes or so.

  
3 Preheat the oven to 180c and prepare the vegetables and boiled egg, if you haven’t already done so, adding the cooled egg slices to the salad and getting some really beautiful colours! Now you’re getting excited about that salad!

  
4. Just before putting the salmon in the oven, sprinkle the sesame seeds over the top, and bring the sides of he foil in towards the salmon so it’s in a little foil basket. This will help to prevent the marinade burning. 

  
6. Bake in the oven for around 8 minutes, or until just cooked, then remove from the oven and flake with a fork. Add to the top of the salad, pouring out any excess marinade as a sort of warm dressing, and enjoy!