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Monday, 30 July 2012

California Prune Energy Bars

Sometimes, it's nice to have a plainer sort of cake or bake.  I love rich chocolate cake and light fluffy sponge, but there is something really satisfying about a flapjack energy bar full of oats, seeds and, in this case, California Prunes!  And even if you think you don't like prunes, I think you would like these as they are only one of many flavours and add a nice sticky sweetness to the bars.

California Prune Energy Bars (makes 6-8 bars)

225g rolled oats
25g linseed (I didn't have any so used sesame seeds)
25g pumpkin seeds
60g chopped California Prunes
90g vegetable oil
50g chopped stem ginger
100g runny honey
60g California Prune Puree*

First make the California Prune Puree (makes 275g)
Blend 225g stoned California Prunes with 90ml (6tbsp( water in liquidiser until pureed.  Left over puree can be kept in fridge for up to a week, either to make another batch of energy bars or you can blend it into a California Prune Smoothie

To make the bars:
1. Heat the oils, honey, California Prunes and prune puree in a saucepan until runny.
2. Mix the oats, linseed, pumpkin seeds and giner.
3. Spread in a shallow tray to a depth of 1cm.  Bake at 180C for 15 minutes
4. Remove from the oven, allow to cool and cut into 4cm slices.

The real revelation in these bars, is not so much the prunes, but the ginger!  It adds a real sharp bite to an otherwise sweet snack.  These are pefect adding to a lunch box and very moreish.

I think these would make another great Sporting Snack for the challenge over at Fabulicious Food


Disclaimer: I was supplied with a small quantity of California Prunes and the recipe for California Prune Energy Bars.  Iwas not required to write a positive review and any opinion expressed is my own..

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Saturday, 28 July 2012

Gold Medal Muffins with Elizabeth Shaw

Gold Medal Muffins
Hurrah for the Olympics!
The opening ceremony last night was outstanding and, today, I've had one eye of the telly for the road race, the swimming and the tennis.  I'm not a sports fan but somehow, this is different!

There was another celebration last week when I opened up a hamper sent to me my the lovely people at Elizabeth Shaw.  Oh my goodness so much chocolate!  As well as a couple of boxes of the well known Elizabeth Shaw, Dark Chocolate Mint Crisp, there are some new flavours to try and some different ways to enjoy Elizabeth Shaw chocolates.

Like this bar of Milk Chocolate Butterscotch Crisp.  It's a very mild chocolate at 31% Cocoa Solids, personally I prefer chocolate with higher cocoa solids, the butterscotch crisp has pleasant, if slightly burnt flavour, if you like a mild milk chocolate and cinder toffee, you will like this bar!

Despite my preferences, it didn't last long!

Also new in the Elizabeth Shaw range are a variety of 'Flutes', Orange, Amaretto, Latte and Mint.  These are ideal for nibbling and would make great stocking fillers or little hostess gifts.

Now a review is all very well, but if you are a regular reader you will know that I like to try to make something with the products I'm sent to review.

I looked at this selection of Elizabeth Shaw Butterscotch Crisp, Caramel Crisp, Cocoa Crunch and Honeycomb Crisp and thought 'Muffins'.  Finding a couple of blackening bananas in the fruit bowl and it was clear that some kind of banana and chocolate chip muffin was in order.

When I weighed out the chocolates, I thought how like medals they looked with their shiny foil covers and decided to make Gold Medal Muffins.

I found a recipe for Banana and Chocolate Chip Muffins at Muffin Heaven  I pretty much followed this recipe but, as I only had 2 bananas, I cooked up two eating apples and added those with the bananas.

I used a combination of the Elizabeth Shaw chocolates and chopped them to add to the mixture. I baked the muffins in gold muffin cases which I had picked up in a sale some time ago.

To decorate the Gold Medal Muffins, I made the little flags by scanning a Union Flag that came with Simply Homemade Magazine for the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations.  Using Photoshop Elements I put the flags side by side and printed them out.  So basically, you cut out two flags side by side and then fold them round the cocktail stick using a little glue to hold them together. I love it when my crafting and baking hobbies come together.

The 'gold medal' is, of course, an Elizabeth Shaw Butterscotch Crisp. I printed out the Olympic rings and stuck that onto the 'medal', cut a ribbon and taped it to the back of the chocolate.

I melted half a dozen of the chocolates in a bowl over a pan of hot water and placed a spoonful on the top of the muffin, then stuck the 'gold medal' onto the chocolate, stuck the flag into the muffin behind the chocolate and you are done!

If you would like to win a hamper of Elizabeth Shaw chocolates then they are running a competition on their website:  Win Chocolates to Celebrate

I entering this into the Calendar Cakes challenge. As July's challenge is The Olympic Games.  Calendar Cakes is run by Laura Loves Cakes and Dolly Bakes

I'm also entering this for Sporting Snacks run by Ren at Fabulicious Food


 I can't wait for Team GB's first Gold Medal, good luck to all the competitors.

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Friday, 27 July 2012

Olympic Salad

British Steak and 'Olympic Salad' London 2012

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Thursday, 26 July 2012

Using Herbs: Rosemary Chicken and The Herb Savor Pod

I love herbs and, while it's fine in summer when I can pick them straight from the garden as I need them, out of season I find it difficult to keep herbs in the fridge.  After all, you don't always need the whole pack and they are not cheap. Coriander is probably the  herb I buy most and by the time you return to the pack, it has become a slimy mess  - sound familiar?

This recipe is from Make it Easy by Jane Lovett, Rosemary Chicken with french bean, fennel, sun-blush tomato and feta salad.  The chicken is marinated with rosemary so you get a light delicate flavour, the salad is served warm  and is delicious and filling combining some of my favourite flavours.  I added some fresh tomatoes as well as sunblush tomatoes.It would be great as a lunch dish on it's own and is suitable for vegetarians.

So back to the problem of keeping herbs and not wasting them. What we need is something that will help to keep the herbs fresh until they are needed.  I was delighted when Claire from The Handpicked Collection contacted me and gave me the opportunity to review the Herb Savor Pod

The Herb Savor Pod claims to extend the life of your herbs for up to three weeks, compared to 3-5 days in the fridge.  It can also be used for asparagus.   The pod is fairly simple to use, you take off the clear plastic section, place your herbs inside and fill up the base with water through the little green plug.

I cut some mint to see for myself how well it keeps the herbs.

Here is the mint inside the pod, you only put  a little water in the base of the pod and top this up if needed. It fits perfectly inside your fridge door and there is no leakage of herb smell.

I didn't have three weeks to wait, but after a week, I opened the pod and was hit with a waft of mint, the leaves were still fresh and crisp and seemed as fresh as when I put them in the pod.

I'm really pleased with the Herb Savor Pod, the only fault I have with it, is that the clear plastic was quite difficult to remove, you have to squeeze it in quite hard to release it, so if you have problems with arthritis or other hand weakness, it would not be suitable for you.  Otherwise, I think it's a great little gadget and look forward to using it with other herbs.  The Herb Savor Pod is £14.95, which may seem expensive, but if you think about how many herbs you waste, it is probably worth the money.

The Handpicked Collection has a lot of other lovely gifts for family, friends and for treating yourself,  I will be bookmarking the collection for gift ideas.

Disclaimer: The Handpicked Collection supplied me with the Herb Savor Pod, I was not required to write a positive review and any opinion expressed is my own..

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Monday, 23 July 2012

Another dinner at the Kailyard by Nick Nairn


Here we are again, back in Nick Nairn's Kailyard Restaurant on our second night of feasting.  We decided to forgo the bread so we could have a pudding each, definitely a good move!

I started with the Confit Scottish chicken terrine with baby leeks, crispy ham and pea vinaigrette.  The peashoot bit round the outside was lovely, but I found the terrine a little bit bland 7/10

Brian went for the shrimp cocktail, but they had run out of shrimps and offered crayfish instead, which he enjoyed very much 8/10

For my main I chose Slow braised neck of Dornoch Lamb, beetroot gratin, asparagus, carrot puree and basil gravy.  Oh my goodness, that was fantastic!  The lamb was meltingly delicious, the beetroot gratin was full of flavour, it was lots of very fine slices of stacked up, not sure with what, but whatever it was it was delicious.  This was a definite 9/10

Brian had Spiced confit duck leg, saute potatoes, cumin roasted carrots and celeriac, honey and sherry gravy.  This was also deemed to be a 9/10 dish.  We were both really pleased with our choices.

I finished my meal with this exquisite dessert, it looks pretty with it's spun sugar topping but the flavour was quite outstanding.  This is a Spiced Pineapple Carpaccio with lime, chilli and anise sorbet and the flavours just burst onto your tongue, fantastic and for me, 10/10

Brian went for the warm chocolate pudding with nougatine parfait and berry fruits.  He enjoyed it but agreed that my dessert had more wow factor and gave it 8/10.

I hope you have enjoyed dining with us on our weekend away.  There are still a few pictures of Stirling Castle to post, but otherwise, breakfast on Sunday was pretty much a repeat of Saturday.  You don't have to vacate your room till 12.00 noon, so we also managed to have a lie by the pool reading the papers and then a final swim.  We are planning to go back in the autumn as we enjoyed it so much.

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Sunday, 22 July 2012

Beetroot with Chorizo, Feta and Mint

This recipe has been inspired by a recipe from BBC Good Food July 2012.  However, I made some changes in the method to suit my own purposes!

Beetroot with chorizo, feta and mint (serves 2)

1 pack cooked beetroot
½ regular cooking chorizo, cubed
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
100g feta, crumbled
Handful of mint, roughly chopped
Drizzle olive oil
Salad leaves

1.       Lay the salad leaves on the place
2.        Slice the beetroot and lay out on the leaves
3.       Add the chorizo to a hot frying pan, be careful it doesn’t burn
4.       When cooked add the balsamic vinegar and cook for 1 minute
5.       Tip the chorizo and vinegar onto the beetroot
6.       Crumble the feta over the salad and sprinkle with chopped mint
7.       Drizzle a little olive oil over the salad and serve immediately

I  enjoyed this salad, with it's combination of sweet, sour, salty, earthy flavours and even more because we managed to eat it outside!  Back to rain and wind today, but for one brief day, we had a little bit of summer.

I'm entering this into Herbs on Saturday run by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and, this month, hosted by Vanesther at Bangers and Mash

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Thursday, 19 July 2012

Breakfast, Lunch and Dunblane Cathedral

Everyone knows that one of the best things about staying in a hotel is the breakfast!  Even people who don't eat much breakfast tend to feast on the array of offering in a hotel dining room.  I started with a selection of fresh and dried fruit.  The apricots had a lovely cinnamon taste.

It would have been rude not to have a bit of everything in the full Scottish Breakfast, which includes haggis, black pudding and tattie scones!

This was the view from our breakfast table window

Full of breakfast,  I headed to the leisure centre, no swimming for some time I fear due to massive breakfast, so it was onto the lounger at the side  of the pool to read my book.  I did manage a swim before I went for my manicure...

and pedicure...

Hope that didn't put you off your tea - ha ha!

Then it was a late lunch of smoked salmon sandwiches in the cocktail bar. 

The sun came out so it was time to explore a little of the town of Dunblane, a short 10 minutes walk from the hotel.

This plaque explains a little about Dunblane, the name and early historical significance of the area.

Surprisingly, for a small town, Dunblane boasts a Cathedral, which was standing out beautifully against the blue sky in a brief interlude of dry, warm sunshine.

Heading around the Cathedral,  I came on a path leading down to the 'Allan Water'.

It is clear from the river that there had been a lot of rain, it was fast running and tinged brown with the peat from the hills above.

On the return to the hotel, the heavens opened again and there was time for more relaxing before dinner.  More of that in the next post!

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Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Dunblane Hydro and Nick Nairn's Restaurant

After a very disappointing two weeks holiday in June, much of which was spent decorating, we decided to have a weekend away and got a great dinner, bed and breakfast deal at the Doubletree Hilton Dunblane Hydro, not far from Stirling.

The hotel has recently been refurbished and also has it's own leisure centre with pool, gym and spa treatments.  Your room is guaranteed to be ready by 4pm but we arrived early just after lunch time, left our cases at reception and headed off for a pre-booked massage, then spent time lounging by the pool, followed by a swim.

We had a standard room with king size bed.  I've stayed in a few Hilton Hotels on trips for work and they all look pretty much the same. The bed was really comfortable which is more than can be said for many hotel beds!

Ah, the first sight of food!  Yes, you are greeted at reception with warm chocolate chip cookies and they are very delicious.  Sadly, you only get one and there are no little packs of biccies in your room, even on the second day of your stay.  I also thought they were a bit mean with in room coffee packs, especially as the coffee bought in the bar was extortionate.  I have learned never to go near the mini bar, just don't even open the door because it is weight controlled and any disturbance seem to end up with extras on your bill.  Although, they will remove it when they have checked the contents.

We ate, on both nights, in The Kailyard Restaurant by Nick Nairn.  Nick Nairn was involved in creating the restaurant three years ago and includes some tried and tested Nick Nairn classics, identified by his signature beside them on the menu.  There was live music in the restaurant on both nights, the Friday night band were unobtrusive and it was quite nice especially as we ate quite early when we ate and there were quite a few empty seats when we started - soon filled up though.

We ordered some olive bread to accompany our starters.

I chose this 'Classic Cocktail of brown shrimps, Loch Duart smoked salmon 'Nick Nairn', Hass avocado and cocktail sauce'.  Very retro and very nice indeed, there were shrimps and salmon all the way down to the bottom of the glass and the taste was fresh and light.  I gave this 8/10

Brian went for the Tarbert crab and coley fish cake with an Asian slaw, coriander and sweet chilli dressing.  Brian gave this 7/10 as it was pleasant but nothing special.

We both chose the same main course, 'Pan fried Scrabster monkfish. herb crushed potatoes, roast and braised fennel with sauce Jacqueline'.  This dish did not disappoint, the herb crushed potatoes were particularly delicous and brilliant for soaking up the sauce.  The fennel was nicely braised and went well with the monkfish and potatoes.   Definitely an 8/10.
I added a side dish of buttered summer greens which consisted of french beans, peas and asparagus.  I really loved this as a side dish and there was probably enough there for three people.  Brian ordered the Rocket and Parmesan salad, but he also ate some of my vegetables.

We were very full after all that food so decided to order one dessert and two spoons!  We went for Warm Pear and Apricot Crumble with Honeycomb Icecream.  The crumble was a bit disappointing, it was a crumble and I could easily have made it myself.  The Honeycomb icecream was much better, light and creamy with crunchy honeycomb pieces through it and a little shortbread biscuit.

I was not sponsored to write this post, I did not recieve any discount or gifts. These are my own views based on my experience of Dunblane Hydro and The Kailyard Restaurant by Nick Nairn. I'll be back with part two soon!

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