Spiced Pumpkin Cake

One of the books on my summer reading list was Heartless by Marissa Meyer. I read it in a day or two, I was completely taken with Lady Catherine Pinkerton, the future Queen of Hearts. We all know the end of the story, but we don't know the beginning....until now.

Catherine is a keen baker, the story opens up with her making the perfect lemon tarts. We also quickly learn of her dream of opening her own bakery, but of course being a proper lady her parents have different plans for their only daughter. 

When I was trying to figure out which delicious bake to make out of the many Catherine makes I didn't know if I should go with the lemon tarts, rose macaron's, or the climatic bake the Spiced Pumpkin Cake. 

If you want to know exactly what that means then I suggest you get a copy of this book right away and give it a read! It was an easy read and I loved being taken back to Wonderland even if it was only for a short time....well until I re-read it! 

This Spiced Pumpkin Cake turned out perfectly soft and spiced. The slight tartness of the cream cheese frosting perfectly matches the cake and as Catherine did I topped it with toasted coconut. Which did give it an extra something, she really knows how to bake. 

Spiced Pumpkin Cake

165g plain flour
115g sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2/4 salt
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
115g light brown sugar
225g (1/2 can) canned pumpkin
2 large eggs
150ml vegetable oil

Heat the oven to 180C and line the bottom of two 7 inches or 20cm round cake tins. 
Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarb of soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in a bowl and set aside. Beat the brown sugar and pumpkin together until combined, using a whisk or hand mixer. Add the eggs and beat until just combined, then add the oil and beat until it too is combined. Add 1/2 of the flour mixture and gently beat until combined, then add the other half and again beat until completely combined. Pour half of the batter into one prepared tin and fill the other prepared cake tin with the rest of the batter! 
Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes or until sponge comes back when gently pressed or used the skewer test. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before taking out of the tins and leaving to cool completely before icing. 

Cream Cheese Frosting
170g cream cheese
45g unsalted butter, room temperature
170g icing sugar (plus 1-2 tablespoons)
1 tsp of vanilla extract 

Beat the cream cheese and butter together until soft and completely combined. Add the vanilla extract and the icing sugar bit by bit. I added a couple of extra tablespoons to my frosting to make it come together better. If it's too runny add a tablespoon as a time. 

to finish: 
approx. 25g desiccated coconut, toasted 

Place the first layer of the cake on a cake stand and spread half of the cream cheese frosting on top leaving a bit of room around the edge, when the top layer goes on it will smooth it out to the edge. So, go ahead and gently place the top layer on. Then put the rest of the frosting on top and spread nicely. Before covering with the toasted coconut. 
I toasted my coconut after the cakes came out of the oven, as it was already warm, by spreading about 25g of desiccated coconut on a baking sheet it only takes like 3-5 minutes so watch it! 

I'm not 100% sure this cake would stand up to the Queen's standards nor am I sure it would win any baking competitions, but it is delicious!! If you want to read more about Heartless check out my review in the previous post or linked here

Heartless by Marissa Meyer {book review}

Everyone loves a good fairytale, but it's a thing since the days of Gregory Maguire and Wicked to write all about the villain.  I have to say I'm loving the thing of villains getting their say, learning how they became the villain, but only if the villain becomes and stays a villain. Ya know what I'm saying?

And where I have a separate appreciation for tv shows/movies like Once Upon a Time and Descendants and Ever After High where the bad guys are choosing to be good and writing their own stories I can't help but feel that a really really good story is only as good as the villain.

Hero's have their own role to play, but I do like a good villain.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

From the back cover: Long before Alice fell down the rabbit hole... And before the roses were painted red... The Queen of Hearts was just a girl, in love for the first time.

My thoughts: I couldn't help but love this book. Not only because the first chapter, well the very first page talks of the perfect lemon tarts Catherine, the future Queen of Hearts, is baking. Having enjoyed Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicle series I knew I would be surprised if I didn't like this book. Not only do we get a good idea of who the Queen once was we also get a good understanding of why she is the way she is. And I should add an understanding that makes sense unlike the wonderland she lives in. My other praise for the book is the secondary characters: Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, the King, the Knave of Hearts, the White Rabbit and so on were all portrayed in the best possible way to fit into the story. I was very impressed with how Marrissa Meyer was able to keep the world we know and love similar and relatable. If you like me love a good fairytale with a twist definitely give it a read! As some suggested to me make sure you have a good slice of cake ....

In fact why not make this Pumpkin Spice Cake - after reading the book you'll understand!

North: How to Live Scandinavian by Brontë Aurell

Coming from America I grew up around a lot of different heritages; even more so as I moved around to different states. In Northern Minnesota I encountered a lot of Johnson's, Olsen's, Anderson's, Peterson's, Larsen's, Christensen's and so on - all these names, although spelt differently in different areas, all come from the Scandinavian's.

A few of these names belonged to friends and some of those friends still keep some Scandinavian traditions and recipes! So, reading this book was like listening to an old friend and brought back stuff I already new about the Scandinavian world.

Brontë Aurell is Danish and not only wrote this amazing book about her culture, but also owns and runs the ScandiKitchen cafe and shop in London as well as writes cookbooks and articles for publications here in England. Needless to say she knows what she's talking about!

Speaking of cookbooks, I was first drawn to North for the recipes scattered appropriately throughout out the text, but stayed as I started to take in all there was to learn about the Scandinavian way. In the first chapter we discover exactly What is Scandinavia? Which isn't as easy to answer as one would expect. It's a bit confusing so I will let you read that chapter for yourself it's only a page....

Then we get stuck right into the chapter all about Style! It delves into how they see themselves and how others see them and how they see each other. Each other being the Danish, the Swedish, and the Norwegians. Being a foreigner it's always interesting to think about how I used to see myself and how I now look at my fellow country people. I found this chapter to be very interesting and humorous at times. Especially with the lists of "How to be more .... Danish, Swedish, Norwegian." The style chapter also covers fashion and interior decor!

We move on to my favorite chapter, the one on food, titled At the Table. Where we learn about curious Scandinavian dishes, national dishes, fika (fee-ka) which basically means to "sit down, have a chit-chat, with a coffee and something baked,"salty liquorice, and open sandwiches! As well as learning how to slice cheese properly, smörgåsbord, to drink aquavit and how to breakfast!

Life Outside is the following chapter where everything from the darkness and lightness to sports and sauna's! Being where they are they experience times of prolonged darkness and lightness and Brontë Aurell gives us great tips on how to get through, especially the winter/dark.

In the next chapter we learn how to date a Scandinavian, how to be in a relationship, as well as how kids are raised! Extremely useful if you are looking to win over a stylish coffee drinking Scandinavian!! She covers everything in Family Life including traditional Scandinavian names, it was in this text I recognised a lot of familiar names!

Culture; such a small word for such a big meaning. One of the longest and more interesting chapters in the book it covers everything that hasn't already been discussed. Common greetings, hygge (who-guh (if you were wondering how to pronounce it properly!)), Nordic mythical creatures, basic politics, and how to drink are just a few of the topics covered.

The last chapter covers Celebrations! Which tells exactly how to have a Scandinavian Christmas and Easter as well as how to celebrate Eurovision and the National days of the three countries. Midsummer or St Han Aften/St John's Eve is something we all talk about, but apparently it's a big deal over there especially in Sweden. It is always the closest Friday to the 23rd of June. I think that's an ingenious idea, no one likes a great holiday on a weekday!

If I had to take a life in the Scandinavian's test, like the Life in the UK test I had to take to stay here, I bet I would pass after reading North. This review only skims the top of the iceberg, so to speak, this book is full of interesting, fun, and informative facts for those who dream of visiting or are planning a trip! Not to forget the beautiful photography by Anna Jacobson!! 

*I was provided a copy of North: How to Live Scandinavian by Brontë Aurell to review by the publisher, Aurum Press, Retails at £20 and available now from your local book retailers or online! All opinions are my own, I was not given any other compensation nor was I asked to give a positive review, please see my contact/policy page for more information.

Pavlov's Dog, Reading Berkshire {restaurant review}

It seems like it's all happening this summer. I haven't been invited to check out a new restaurant in ages and then in the last 4 months I have been to 4 new places and 2 including this place that have changed up their menu!

Stepping in Pavlov's Dog was like stepping back into my college days. It has a fresh fun vibe from the minute you walk in the door. The bar is all lit up and there is a pool table and in the 'quieter' area where we sat there was a Nintendo Gameboy with Mario Kart set up!

We ordered our drinks. I just gotta say I'm in love with these new tin can cocktails I love apple and had to start with the Canny Smith Apple. It is Ciroc Apple, Sourz Apple, lime juice all mixed in a Tango Apple can topped with fizzy apple belts. Which were very sour by the way. Alyssia, isn't a big drinker, I think I'm a bad influence as I convinced her to try a cocktail. She went with the Dr. Meister which is Jägermeister and lime mixed in a Dr Pepper can and topped with cola bottles.

While we waited for our drinks we couldn't resist having a race on Mario Kart! Alyssia of course beat me over and over as she is our gamer!

Having always loved a good plate of nachos I couldn't resist trying the Nachos Grande - topped with chilli con carne, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, jalapeños, and nacho cheese sauce all the best things you could ask for on top of nachos!

We also had to try the Chicken Wings which were great on their own, but even better with the variety of dipping sauces buffalo, blue cheese, mango and lime, chilli zing with sesame seeds, peanut butter, and chilli jam with sesame seeds. If you are a fan of chicken wings then you need to visit on a Wednesday.

Wednesday night are wing night from 5pm and you get them for 25p a piece. They also have a contest that if you can eat 50 wings (£12.50) as fast as you can you get your score on a board, a t-shirt that says Lord of the Wings, and a reward card topped up with rewards.

Finding myself at another pub I can't turn down a good burger! I couldn't resist the New York Bagel Burger which of course is a burger served on a bagel, with cheese, bacon, pulled cured boneless beef rib, sliced gherkins and mustard. It was so big it was really hard to eat, but was a great burger!

My partner in crime also choose a burger the All New Dirty Burger which is topped with cheese, bacon, southern-fried chicken fillet, pulled pork, BBQ sauce and gherkins; which Alyssia asked for on the side so I could have them!

We always seem to choose burgers, but there are other things to eat like ribs, chicken, fish & chips, and mac & cheese. You can even get a burger topped with macaroni and cheese... back to the burgers. They also serve breakfast and have great lunch deals!!

We had another cocktail and played another game of Mario Kart while we decided on desserts! I stuck with the tin can cocktails and went for the Pina Can-lada which is Malibu, Havana Club 3-year-old rum, and mixed in a can of Lilt topped with pineapple cubes. Alyssia stuck with a classic Sex on the Beach all these cocktails did not help us with our game. Although it didn't help that we decided to play the rainbow road!

I was stuffed and hadn't planned on eating a dessert, but Alyssia insisted on a pancake stack from the breakfast menu - pancakes stacked with Nutella, chocolate, and maple syrup. Knowing that their warm mini churros are something to try we gave them a go. They are filled with a caramel-cream and come with a chocolate dipping sauce.

Tuesday nights are churro nights and just like the wings are only 25p a churro. Unlike the wings there isn't a competition with the churros, I think that would probably be more of a disaster if people were trying to eat 50 churros as fast as they could. I wouldn't want to see that, however I may have to stop in on a Tuesday night as that's a great deal! Plus they have a Nintendo Game Cube.

Overall Alyssia and I had a great night! We have been to so many places, like I said, over the last few months and this was by far one of the more fun and tasty nights! Be sure to check them out sometime and have a look at their website for all their going ons!

21-23 St. Marys Butts

*My friend Alyssia from AlyssiaRose {lifestyle blog} was invited to Pavlov's Dog to review it and she invited me along as her guest and it's just a bonus that I am a blogger as well! I was not asked to review and all opinions are my own for further information please visit my contact/policy page above.

Amaretti Biscuits

Amaretti refers to amaretto or almond flavored macaroon that comes from Italy! The first time I had tried one was at a coffee shop sometime and became some what obsessed with them for a while. I was buying a big bag and munching on them with every cup of coffee I drank!

It never really occurred to me to make my own. It's crazy as I am a baker and although not every bake is successful, more on that in a minute, I have some experience in the baking world and the thought should have occurred to me.

I expected these to be like the bagged ones like and airy and crispy, but they were more dense and chewy, but still delicious! More like a macaroon and macaroons and I have never gotten on with. Never really had a successful macaroon experience, they were edible, but not pretty!

There is still a soft spot for the bagged airy crispy ones, but a new appreciation for the soft chewy almond-y home baked ones! Just a note when baking these that there is a whole hour wait time before baking.... so as always read through the whole recipe before baking so you know!

Amaretti biscuits

1 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
160g caster sugar
95g ground almonds
1 tsp grated lemon zest
2 eggs whites
30g icing sugar

Line your baking sheets with baking paper before sifting together the plain flour, cornflour, and ground cinnamon in a large clean bowl. Add half the sugar (80g), almonds, and grated lemon zest and gently mixing it together. In a separate clean bowl beat the egg whites with clean electric beaters until stiff peaks form before gradually adding the rest of the of caster sugar (80g).
Using a clean spatula or metal spoon fold the egg whites into the dry mixture until combined. Using a regular teaspoon heap it up with the dough/batter and drop on to your prepared baking sheet, continue to do this spacing them apart to allow for spreading, until all the dough/batter is used up! Leave to sit for an hour.

Heat the oven 180C/350F/Gas4 - Sift the icing sugar liberally and bake for 15-20 minutes.

My only regret is not being more liberal with the icing sugar, on the ones that had more there was a lovely caramelised finish and a lovely powdered sugar touch! I of course have had one or two or three of these with my morning coffee.

Wait I have one other regret... I hadn't made these sooner!!

Pho Restaurant - Reading Berkshire {restaurant review}

It was in a recent post I wrote about how much Reading has grown and I can't help but support that growth if it includes restaurants like Pho!

Pho is named after the Vietnamese national dish, an amazingly tasty, nutritious, filling noodle soup! I can say in all confidence, after my visit to the newly opened Pho in Reading, that the soup is all those things!

I tried the Pho dac biet which is one of the House Specials. Now before I tell you what is in that soup if you are trying a new restaurant always check out the House Specials; they are called that for a reason so I implore you try something off that part of the menu!

Back to the soup, Dac Biet in Vietnamese means "special" or "super" or "combo with everything" and Pho as we already said means noodle so Pho Dac Biet is Super Noodles combined with everything! Everything being king prawns, chicken & flash fried steak with garlic in beef broth and it was delicious and so filling I couldn't finish it! I suggest sharing if you can agree with someone on just one bowl.

Alyssia, my friend and fellow blogger, was my date and she had never tired Vietnamese food before! So, we had fun trying all sorts of dishes. I sort of jumped right into the noodle soups, but we did trying some amazing starters first!

Alyssia like the sound of the Nem nuong which is homemade pork & lemongrass meatballs with lettuce and herbs to wrap & dip with peanut sauce. The lovely and amazing wait staff informed us that it was best eaten wrapped in the green leaf. I hadn't heard that at first, but not only were the meatballs good wrapped in a leafy green but the Nem hai san was also delicious wrapped in a lettuce leaf!

As you can see the Nem hai san is a large crispy spring roll and is filled with king prawn, crab & pork with nuoc cham dipping sauce, which is a sort of sweet and sour sauce which is delicious! I couldn't recommend this enough, it was my personal favorite dish of the night.

We also tried the muc chien gion (pictured above) which we were told was a very popular dish because it's very lightly coated tender fried baby squid. I ended up using the nuoc cham dipping sauce for my fried squid as the salt, pepper, & lime dip was good, but a little too much citrus for me, but definitely try it and make your own decision!

Then we dived into our noodles, literally with spoons and forks! We had a great time figuring out the best way to eat them, the noodles are slippery! With a little advice from our amazing waiter we managed to twist the noodles with the fork in the spoons just like when eating spaghetti!

I have already talked about - Alyssia picked out the Pho ga - simple chicken breast in chicken broth and I tried a spoon full and I have to say that it's the best chicken soup ever. If I had a cold I would total get someone to deliver this to me pronto!

Which delivery service will be available at some point in the near future, so I've stored that bit of knowledge away! Also with the bonus of having a delicious broth soup with noodles and vegetables and meat when you aren't well is that these soups are packed full of good things that are good for you!

Pho doesn't just serve noodles they also serve other authentic Vietnamese dishes we couldn't resist trying a Com tam dac biet - or super broken rice combined with everything! We had ours with crispy beef, but you could also get it with chargrilled pork or chargrilled chicken thigh. We were both very impressed and happy with what is essentially a rice bowl. It was a mix of fresh crunchy vegetables, perfectly seasoned meat, and soft rice with a great sauce; be sure to mix it all together!! Top tip from our waitress!

Of course we had to try some desserts and authentic cocktails, and other drinks! Again not know where to start we had some help from the waitress on what we should try! We eventually tried the passionfruit cheesecake, chocolate truffle, and banana fritters!

Alyssia was drawn to the cheesecake, Bánh phô mai chanh dây or Passionfruit cheesecake. I am starting to see a trend in her love for cheesecake as this isn't the first time she was drawn to a cheesecake on one of our dinners out! However, I have never heard her talk about how light and creamy and refreshing a cheesecake was until this one! I snuck a bite and I couldn't agree more! 

Generally I'm not drawn to chocolate desserts after a meal, but the green tea ice cream paired with this chocolate truffle slab, had me curious! It's officially called Bánh sô-cô-la truffle and it was as light and creamy as the cheesecake and a perfect ending to a perfect dinner. 

We couldn't get away without trying the Chuối chiên or banana fritter. It's served as is or with a coconut or honey & ginger ice cream. Ours was without and I could only literally eat half of one as I was at this point throughly stuffed. However, that half of fritter was enough to allow me to say if you like bananas then this is the dessert for you as it was perfectly crispy and tasty! 

So, throughout the evening we tried the cocktails! My favorite is the one pictured in the top left corner the Ca the martini, which is basically an espresso martini made with nep phu loc a clear rice spirit, Vietnamese coffee, and condensed milk.

My second favorite cocktail of the night was the Phjoito,  their signature cocktail and it is a mojito with mint, lime, soda, and a clear rice spirit, same as above, nep pho loc Phu Loc. I love a good mojito and this one went down well!

Alyssia, not a big drinker went with the Rose Apple Bellini which like any bellini is made with prosecco and their's is made with a splash of Tao Mea rose apple liquor. It was dry and good accompaniment to dinner.

There are other things to drink besides cocktails, but as I'm not a big wine or beer drinker we stuck to the cocktails. The cocktails reflected the food and were all citrus type based cocktails. Nothing too fruity, we couldn't leave without trying the Lemon & Basil Martini made with their
homemade lemonade & muddled Thai basil. It had a very aniseed type flavor and if you like that sort of thing give this cocktail a try!

Last, but not least the coffee lover that I am couldn't leave without trying a Vietnamese coffee as according to my sister they have the best! So, I went with the iced coffee with a little condensed milk which is what they call Ca phe sua da. You can get it without the condensed milk if you don't like it. 

That pretty much wraps up our night! This place is my kind of food and it's one I will be visiting time and time again. The food was amazing and staff were super friendly and knowledgeable! Not only was the food great, but it was fun taking pictures so bright and colourful, I think this post has the most pictures I have ever put in any post ever.

1-1a King's Walk, King Street
Reading, RG1 2HG

*I was invited to visit and check it out Pho as it's recently opened in Reading, I was not compensated in a monetary way for my review, all opinions are my own, please see my contact/policy page above for more information.


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