Food Blogger Connect 2015: My Thoughts

There isn’t a definitive moment when I decided to become a food blogger. If there was one I can’t recall it. It’s something that just evolved from being a book blogger and teaching myself to cook and bake. It wasn’t until 2 years in that I started connecting with other food bloggers via the wonderful world of Facebook and Twitter. It took even longer for me to discover that conferences that cater to food bloggers existed!

It was an amazing revelation! I attended Food Blogger Connect last year and found it overwhelming in a good way. I walked away with so much to think about and met some amazing people! This year had a lot to live up too.

Just to start out here is a video I made of a selection of my many photos! It can also be found on my rarely used YouTube channel! If you visit it, please ignore the background photo, I'm working on getting a photo to fit it. If you have any helpful tips please let me know!

It started out great with my first lab: Food and Recipe Writing with Sophie Grigson! She was informative and funny! The best part was the hands on experience. She said a recipe can be written in five minutes and to prove it she told us all to write a recipe for Cheese on Toast. Then a handful of us read out our recipes, they were all different. Which is something I suppose we all knew, but I loved how it proves that recipe writing is a very individual thing.

Then she gave us the standards for recipe writing and told us to rewrite the same recipe using those standards and/or guidelines. Basically how cookbooks are written or should I say edited. Some people confuse long instructions to be difficult, but sometimes it’s just better instructed.

Last she read us a nonsense recipe written by Edward Lear circa 1870. It is a good laugh, basically he was making fun of cookery writers of the time. Following that she told us to throw those standards out of the window and right a ridiculous version of the previous Cheese on Toast recipe.  I thought it was a fun learning exercise and so I am thinking of sharing my three versions in another post, we'll see!

The panel I enjoyed listening to the most was with Ben Ebbrell from Sorted Food (You Tube) and David Frenkiel from Green Kitchen Stories (blog). They talked about content, which is why their panel was titled “King of Content.”

Ben and the boys at Sorted tend to give their viewers what they want. They do this by always interacting with said viewers. Their latest video is of the best banana bread ever! They asked their viewers how they made banana bread and took their top tips to then create said banana bread. I love this way of creating content. It’s, as Ben said, how you would describe a friendship.

I related more to how David and his wife create content, basically doing whatever they want. It’s your blog and your space to create and talk about whatever you want. It’s how I tend to write my blog…with my stomach. If I want a peanut butter pie, then I will make a peanut butter pie and sooner or later you’ll hear about it.

I found them to very informative and their discussion/talk gave me a lot to think about. This was just on the first day!! The second day wasn’t as great. I found that the main panel that lasted more then one session was a bit over done. If we were taking shots every time one of the ladies mentioned herself we’d all of been sitting under the table. It just wasn’t as informative or professional as I would have liked or expected. That is my personal opinion.

The day was saved by Monica Shaw’s Awesome Analytics! It wasn’t actually a lab I was signed up for, I just snuck in as there were empty seats. As a blogger you need or should be signed up to Google Analytics, it’s a wealth of information that is invaluable. However, when you sign on it’s very unlikely you’ll even know what you’re looking at! I rarely got on mine as I didn’t! Monica basically took us on a tour of it and showed us how to read and where to find certain information. Which was very useful!

A small group of us escaped to visit Outsider Tart, a must visit if you’re ever in Chiswick!

The highlight of the last day was Content Planning and How to deal with Blogger Burnout run by Urvashi Roe from The Botanical Kitchen. I had met her last year and had a few conversations during the StrEat Parties and knew she had a lot to say about blogging and content, so I was curious to attend her lab this year. I am mentioning it here as it was like the rest of the stuff mentioned one of the highlights of the weekend.

She asked us why we blog, because without a why what’s the point? Then she shared with us a lot of different types of posts, not just a recipe post. The other great part was she had us talking, it was an interactive experience so to speak!

Then it was time to go! Which was sad as I had a great time with all the amazing blogger people I only “see” online. It’s always the people that make these conferences fun! Where you learn from the panels, labs, and the people who talk at you about blogging and/or food stuff we learn the most from each other. I love the foodie blogging community that we have here in England I think it’s great and we all tend to support each other.

There were a few downsides to the weekend, like the venue. I didn’t remember reading that it would be held on the gardens of the Chiswick House and Gardens. If it had been in June like last year I might not have minded so much, but it was the end of September. It was cold and it was dark early. The last StrEat Party of the day was a bit of a bust because of those things. Which was sad because I really enjoyed it last year.

Last year I liked the definitive breaks where we got to talk to brands and drink cold brew coffee or tequila. This was sadly lacking this year. We could have done with better coffee and tequila considering it was a chilly weekend.

Over all it was a good weekend! I stayed at Hotel Ibis in Shepard’s Bush. I was there with a few others attending the conference, which was nice. It was really easy to travel back and forth from the event. Having it right next to the tube was a bonus. The staff were really friendly and helpful! The room was very modern and tidy. The bed was comfortable and with a hot shower what else do you need? I would recommend having the breakfast! There was a lot of variety and it was a great way to get the day started! Thank you Ibis for having me! If you're looking for a hotel in London check them out here!

Want to give a shout out to the awesome StrEat Food stalls I tried this year! Give them some love as I’ve linked to their twitter handles.

StrEat Food Stalls that I really enjoyed! (pictures in the video above!)

Oh My Dog!
Churros Garcia 
Rupert’s Street
Sibberi Water (Birch Water)
The Athenian
Coconut Chilli
Wholesome Bakes
Bit Bourbon Steamed Burgers
Roll n Rock
Massis Tea

I forgot to mention the gift bag….. this post is already so long so I will get to the point! The Microplane (original) was the best thing ever to get and I was really excited about the flour from Merchant. Will probably pop up in future posts! I guess that's it! Until next year......

notes: I received two free nights with Ibis Hotel's for an unbiased review. My Top Ten Things I Learned from Food Blogger Connect 2014! 


Irn Bru Cake - Birthday Traditions Gone Awry

When I was growing up we always got to decide what we wanted for dinner and what sort of cake we wanted for our birthday’s. So, it’s what I do for my husband and daughters. Last week my husband celebrated his birthday so, the customary questions applied. “What cake do you want and what do you want me to make for dinner?” 

He told me he didn’t have a preference of cake or his birthday dinner. How typical and extremely annoying.

When I was studying art at school they gave us a project. They said create an ad for this company (a company they made up) they gave us a brief and set us free. We were stuck before we got started. Without knowing what the company/brand wanted we didn’t know where to start. Was it a print ad? Do they have a logo or are we designing one? What sort of color schemes do they use or want? Who is the audience?

This is how I feel when given creative rein on a cake and even dinner when it’s not for myself. How do I know if he was actually feeling like a hamburger instead of the chicken quesadilla’s that I ended up making. What if was actually thinking of a chocolate dream cake?

I like knowing what people want so I can do my best to provide it. Perhaps it’s a good thing we’ve been together 10+ years and I managed to do things right with the Irn Bru Cake and chicken quesadilla’s. However, after 10 years I’m sure he’s smart enough not to tell me if I got it wrong.

Right. So, yes I decided to make him an Irn Bru Cake, due to the fact that he loves the stuff. Back in the beginning of my blog I attempted to make Irn Bru Cupcakes, but they didn't turn out as well as expected. So, even though I was a little weary of trying it as a cake I was curious to see if I could make it work.

It doesn’t have a strong Irn Bru flavor, but a very subtle, yet distinct taste that works. Before you get started I should warn you that it’s very sweet.

Irn Bru Cake 

165g unsalted butter
320g caster sugar
3 eggs
200g plain flour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
90ml Irn Bru
peach gel food coloring

Heat the oven to 170C and line a 2lb loaf tin with baking paper. If the short sides are exposed instead of messing around with more baking paper just lightly grease it with some butter. Anything to keep things simple.
Beat the butter and sugar together until lighter in color and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time until just combined. Then beat in the flour and vanilla until just combined. Gently fold in the Irn Bru and a butter knife tip of peach gel food coloring with a spatula.
Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes. Use the skewer test to test if it’s done. Leave to cool in the tin a while you make the icing.


approximately 125-150g of icing sugar
blue gel food coloring
1-2 tablespoons of Irn Bru
orange and yellow star sprinkles, to decorate (optional)

I tend to just throw icing sugar in a bowl and add liquid until I get the constancy that I want. Which is what I suggest you do, start with 125g of icing sugar and add a tablespoon of Irn Bru. Mix if you need more of one or the other adjust it until you get a smooth runny constancy. Add the food coloring gel and pour over the cake. Decorate with sprinkles of your choice, preferably orange/yellow colored!

notes: recipe was adapted from hummingbird bakery: Life is Sweet


Stoptober! now is as good of time as any {my story}

The last picture of my mom and I.
I was showing her how to take a selfie with
her new iPad.
This has nothing to do with baking or even food. It’s a campaign that I want to share because unfortunately my life has been more then affected by addiction to tobacco. 

Stoptober is run by the NHS (National Health Services) here in the UK to help those who want help to quit smoking to quit! 

If you aren't ready to quit, then you probably won't be successful. You have to want to quit. Mostly for yourself, but also for those around you. Because unfortunately it's not something that just effects you. 

When I was 5 years old I was hospitalised with pneumonia. I remember waking up and not being able to breathe properly, I had dragged my Smurf sheet (it was the 80’s) off my bunk bed and wrapped it around me on my way to find my mom. The next thing I remember we are on the way to the doctor’s office. I pretended I could breathe properly and tried covering my coughs with laughs so I didn’t have to go. The doctor took one look at me and sent my mom and I straight to the hospital. I remember getting x-rayed and having to take deep breathes in and out. I over heard them say that my lungs were black both of them, not just one. I spent a week in the hospital and then even more time off school. 

"More than 80% of secondhand smoke is invisible and odourless, so no matter how careful you think you're being, your family still breathes in the harmful poisons. This puts them at risk of meningitis, cancer, bronchitis and pneumonia."

It wasn’t the last time I had pneumonia, even though I was never hospitalised again. Bronchitis was also a friend of mine throughout my childhood along with ear infections. Those days were the early days in anti-smoking campaigns. I wonder if my doctor every suspected that I had so many respiratory problems due to breathing in secondhand smoke? Even now I couldn’t tell you for a fact that me having numerous repetitive cases of pneumonia, bronchitis, or ear infections were direct results of second hand smoke but it’s pretty coincidental as studies show that these diseases are caused by secondhand smoke.

"Tobacco was responsible for more than 100 million deaths worldwide in the 20th Century. The World Health Organisation has estimated that, if current trends continue, tobacco could cause a billion deaths in the 21st Century."

Fast forward to my last year of high school when I lost my grandmother to lung cancer that spread to her brain, which left her unable to care for herself. One thing I have learned is that cancers caused by tobacco tend to be aggressive and not responsive to treatments. 

This was confirmed for me when at the end of January this year my mom was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer caused by smoking. She didn’t survive the diagnoses and passed away in the middle of May. It was an aggressive cancer; by the time they caught it had already spread through out her body. Doctor’s couldn’t tell us when it may have started.

"Smoking causes more than 4 in 5 cases of lung cancer. Lung cancer has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers, and is the most common cause of cancer death in the UK."

They grew up in generations where smoking was acceptable. I don’t blame or judge them for smoking. It is an addiction. I wouldn’t know from experience, but I can’t imagine it’s easy to quit. Some people don’t want too, but for those that do what better time then now? So, join in and sign up for Stoptober! There really isn't a better time to quit as with the campaign there will be others around you quitting as well and as a result you will have a support team.  


The Pastry Challenge September Round-Up

Wow! Going from like one entry to 14 is amazing! Thank you everyone for entering. It would be my guess that pastry making and baking will be rising with autumn in full swing and the winter months closing in! I can't wait! I hope to see all of your warming pastry bakes over on Jen's Food!

Here is the round up of all the entries!

1. Puff Pastry Empanada's with Black Beans from We Don't Eat Anything with a Face
2. Cheese, Onion and Potato Pasties (Tiddly Oggies) from Green Gourmet Giraffe
3. Vanilla & Ginger Infused Pear Frangipane from Wishful Wonderings
4. Veggie Sausage, Pea, and Egg Pie from Belleau Kitchen
5. Gougeres - little cheesy choux buns from Gluten Free Alchemist
6. Double Blackberry Chocolate Galette from Tin and Thyme
7. Plum & Limoncello Tart from The Baking Explorer 
8. Chocolate Crunchie Frangipane Tart from It's Not Easy Being Greedy

9. Chicken and Leek Pie from It's Not Easy Being Greedy
10. Gluten Free Plum & Pistachio Tart from How to Cook Good Food
11. Two Tone (Red and Yellow) Balsamic Beetroot Galette from Allotment 2 Kitchen
12. Vegetarian 'Game' Pie from Only Crumbs Remain
13. Pear, Ginger, and Chocolate from Cakeyboi
14. Vegan Black Pudding and Sweet Potato Spelt Flour Galette from Allotment 2 Kitchen 

Thank you to all those who entered! 
I look forward to seeing your pastry creations again next month! 


Blogging Reflections and Paula Deen’s Fresh Apple Cake

When I started blogging I did for a few reasons, first it was a creative outlet and it filled a part of my life that was missing. As a stay-at-home mom it was a distraction that took me away from baby stuff that didn’t take me out of the house. My posts were shared only with friends and family. There was no Facebook page, Twitter account, or Pinterest boards to promote my blog. It wasn’t about the numbers. It was for me; a way to experiment with baking and a way to share my experiences.

I can’t recall when I made my accounts for all these social media sites (I’m sure they would all tell me if I could be bothered to look), but it changed the way I blogged. All of the sudden it was about trends, shares, and likes. I started making things I thought might do well on the blog instead of things I wanted to actually eat in hopes it would get shared and liked. When I realised I wasn’t enjoying blogging or baking any more following this behavior, I backed off and went back to doing what I liked and relished in any views or likes I did get, not the ones I didn’t get.

It’s changed again, but now it seems to be all about the free stuff and/or being paid. There are bloggers out there that have amazing blogs with amazing stats and they deserve to get paid for their work. However, I’m not there yet and I don’t know that I ever will be.

There was a time where I was actually quite flattered and said yes to every “free” sample offered to me. It didn’t long before I didn’t recognise my blog and realised the hard way that nothing is free. I have politely said no to 98% of the opportunities sent my way in the last year or so. Sometimes I wonder if I’m missing out, but I’m not ready, as I mentioned above, to make it a job.

It’s something I do besides everything else I do. It’s something I do for me.

Blogging 101 - Get to the Point.

I do ramble a lot. To the point or to the cake.

I taught myself how to bake by using other people’s recipes and then as I became more confident adapting them one way or the other to make them more my own. There are debates on this method of sharing recipes, but I’ve never considered nor claimed myself to be a recipe developer. My blog is to share my adventures in learning to bake and how it’s become a part of my life and changed it.

There are still many times I still just follow a recipe and a lot of the time these baked goods don’t make it on to the blog. This time I thought I would share it by linking to the recipe online. I found the recipe in a book who had permission to republish it, but it’s also available online. The recipe for Paula Deen’s Fresh Apple Cake from Georgia can be found on the USA Food Network website.

First you have the cake with the apples, coconut, and pecans but to take it that step further you pour a warm butter mixture into/onto the warm cake and let it sit to soak in. There are no words. It’s amazing! Follow the link above and make it for yourself. You will want a slice right away as the whole kitchen fills with the smells of autumn spices!

notes: or I should say disclaimer! I was not asked to make this recipe or to promote it, Paula Deen, or Food Network in anyway. It looked good and so I made it and I liked it and now I’m sharing with you! Enjoy!


Pistachio & Cardamom Madeleines (inspired by The Hundred Foot Journey)

It’s funny how in life just one journey, wether it’s 100 foot or 23,321,760 foot, can change your life forever. The first step is what really matters though. Without the first step the journey cannot begin. Do you have a moment ingrained in your memory as the start of something new. That perhaps you didn’t know it at the time, but looking back you’re like that one decision, that one choice, that one step lead you to where you are now?

That’s what this story is about. The story does start at the beginning with a tragedy in Hassan Haji's youth that changed everything, but that's not where it really starts. It really starts when Hassan makes the choice to walk those 100 feet and start something new.

It’s the tragedy that takes his family first to England, then to France where they decide to make a new home. Once in France they move to a small town across the street from a classic French restaurant run by one Madame Mallory. She discovers that Hassan has a natural ability when it comes to cooking. Learning under the scrutiny of  Madame Mallory will he have what it takes to make it in Paris as a chef? You will need to read the book to find out!

There is a scene in the book where Hassan is having tea with Madame Mallory and he talks about the pistachio madeline’s they are enjoying with said tea. Having only used my madeline tin twice I thought it was about time I dragged it out to use again! Instead of just pistachio madeline’s I added cardamon as well to represent the different cultures that are brought together in this book. I also dipped mine in some melted white chocolate and chopped pistachio nuts!

They turned out good, the perfect balance of salty and sweet. If you’d like to try making these for yourself to eat with a cup of tea (or coffee) while reading this amazing book here’s how I made them!

Pistachio & Cardamom Madeleines

1 large egg
60g caster sugar
60g plain flour, sifted
40g pistachios, ground to a powder
60g butter, melted
3-4 cardamom pods, spilt open and seeds ground up
75g white chocolate, melted
40g pistachios, roughly chopped

Grease a plastic pipping bag with butter, leave to the side. Beat the egg and sugar together with the whisk attachment in a free standing mixer or a hand mixer until it’s tripled and has reached ribbon stage, the batter dripping from the whisk should remain on the surface for a minimum of 3 seconds. Gently fold in the flour and ground pistachios until just combined before adding the cooled melted butter. Again gently fold it in being careful not to knock any of the air out! Place the batter into your prepared piping bag and leave in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours, but ideally 4 hours.
When you are ready to bake heat the oven to 210C. Grease the madeline tin with warm butter and sprinkle with flour, knock off any extra flour (over the sink) and pipe the madeline batter into each mould. Bake in the heated oven for 7-9 minutes. They should spring back when pressed gently with your thumb. These you do not want sitting around in the tin! Wearing oven mitts give it a sharp rap on the counter to release the madeleines. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Once cool to the touch dip in the melted white chocolate and then dip in the chopped pistachios. Enjoy!

notes: This post is part of my #storybookbakes series. 4,417 miles is approximately the distance between The United States and The United Kingdom. I borrowed The Hundred Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais by a friend before obtaining my own copy. All opinions are my own please see my contact/policy page above for more information. Recipe is adapted from John Whaite’s Pistachio and Cardamom Madeline’s found here. The recipe is missing the amount of butter so I made an educated guess and it as far as I am concerned turned out okay! I am entering these madeline’s into this month’s Treat Petite hosted by Cakeyboi & The Baking Explorer. These madeleines are also being entered into the Perfecting Patisserie blogging challenge hosted by The Baking Queen!


Chocolate Truffle Muffins - To Heal Broken Things

Update time. A week ago I missed the last step at the bottom of our stairs which I have done before and been fine. This time I feel straight down and made a noise that at the time I thought came from somewhere or someone else! Turns out I rolled my foot in such a way it swelled up and turned my toes purple. Yay!

Been hobbling around for about a week now and it’s slowly getting better. I am still working and chasing after my girls, but resting it as much as possible! It’s not like me to take things easy. It was all my sisters fault anyhow. Both of them were talking about their injuries and after chiding them for not being more careful I went and hurt myself. Typical!

So, to cheer myself up I made these chocolate truffle muffins. I mean how better to heal your foot by standing on it baking? Lucky for me muffins are super easy and quick and a great place to start baking. Forget cupcakes/fairy cakes when baking with kids get them to make muffins! In fact it’s a great idea for when hobbling about on a strained (possibly broken) foot.

Chocolate Truffle Muffins

200g dark chocolate
200g unsalted butter
200g self-rising flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons Food Thoughts cocoa powder
150g caster sugar
150ml milk
3 eggs
chocolate caramel bar (Mars) 4 snack size or 1 large, cut into 12 pieces

Heat the oven to 180C and line a muffin tin. Melt the dark chocolate and butter together in a small saucepan. Stir until melted and take off the heat. 
In a large bowl dry whisk the flour, baking powder, cocoa powder, and sugar together. In a measuring jug gently beat the eggs in with the milk using a fork until just combined. Pour into the dry ingredients along with the cooled chocolate mixture and stir until just combined. Using a medium ice-cream scoop, scoop the batter into the lined muffin tin. Place a piece of chocolate bar in each one and gently press down with a spoon or something until submerged. Just don’t push too hard or it will sink to the bottom. Bake for 18-20 minutes. Leave to cool slightly before eating so you don’t burn yourself on the melted chocolate middle.

notes: Food Thoughts sent me a sample of their finest organic 100% cocoa to try. Cocoa powder is something I always keep on hand in my baking cupboard as a baking staple! All opinions are my own, no other payment was received please see my contact/policy page for more information. Recipe inspired by Felicity Barnum-Bobb’s 100 Magnificent Muffins & Scones.


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