Monday, 23 May 2016

Meal Planning Monday - 23rd May

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Last week actually went really well Monday-Thursday, I stuck to the plan and ate healthily, I even did some exercise. Lets not talk about Friday though, lots of eating out and finished off with a dominoes. Whoops.

I'm not going to let that spoil my momentum though, I am feeling good about eating well and want to try and do a bit more in the exercise department. I'm not going to be able to go out running much for various reasons I won't go into here, so if anyone has any home workout tips/DVDs/Youtube things to share, please do.

So without further ado...

Monday


Breakfast - Porridge with honey and banana
Lunch - Carrot and coriander soup with seeded bread
Dinner - I am going out for dinner and drinks with the girls, I am really excited to try out the menu at Jamie's Italian.

Tuesday


Breakfast - Toast with fruit
Lunch - Soup and salad, I got some of those big tubs of fresh soup
Dinner - Prawn pesto pasta

Wednesday


Breakfast - Porridge with fruit
Lunch - Leftover pasta
Dinner - Sausages with jacket potatoes and salad - we really enjoyed this last week (pictured).

Thursday


Breakfast - Porridge with banana
Lunch - Soup and seeded bread
Dinner - Chicken and sweet potato curry

Friday


Breakfast - Pancakes or drop scones
Lunch - Not sure what our plans are, if we are going out or not, so will play it by ear.
Dinner - Lasagne with garlic bread

What's everyone else got planned?

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

St Mary's Inn - Afternoon Tea with a Toddler

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I briefly mentioned on my Sunday Moment post about our recent trip to the lovely St Mary's Inn in Stannington, near Morpeth. For the past eight months my lovely sister has been working incredibly long hours 4 days a week to take a Wednesday off each week to look after Zoe, which has saved us around £200 a month! On top of the financial benefits it has been lovely to see the bond growing between them, and Zoe loves the time they spend together. Happily, my sister got a much deserved promotion, and could no longer have a mid-week day off, so to celebrate/commiserate we headed out for a spot of Afternoon Tea.

We have actually been to St Marys Inn for afternoon tea before, when Zoe was a teeny newborn. So this felt like a good bookend for this baby chapter, and also Zoe got to actually participate this time!

We arrived a little early for our booking, but Zoe was fast asleep so we had to do the stereotypical parent thing of sitting in the carpark waiting for the baby to wake-up. Had we been on time I may have tried to wake her, but I was conscious of her being cranky and disturbing other diners. Thankfully she woke up on her own just before 2pm and was in a great mood.

We were shown to a table in the conservatory, which was lovely and bright on a sunny day. I absolutely loved the wallpaper, it created a great backdrop for selfies. Although sadly the wifi didn't work in the conservatory, so I had to keep popping into the bar area to tweet/snapchat - although I only did that once.

They had a highchair waiting for us and provided a fab colouring sheet and pencils to keep Zoe happy. The colouring sheet had a picture of St Marys Inn on it, which was a lovely touch.

The service was great, one of my biggest pet peeves in a restaurant is over eager waiting staff, there is nothing worse than constantly being asked if everything is OK or having someone swoop in the second the final crumb passes your lip. The staff were attentive but also gave you time to enjoy.

We ordered the Afternoon Tea for two, with a pot of early grey and english breakfast. Zoe had already had her lunch before we arrived so she had a bit of ours.

The tea was OK, it was loose leaf, the first cup was delicious but with the leaves sitting in the pot it did become very strong by the second cup. Although to be honest I am a coffee girl at heart, so the tea wasn't the most important part for me. If I was to go back I might take the leaf filter out of the pot to stop it over stewing.

My sister loved her earl grey though, it was fragrant with a lovely slice of fresh lemon.

We started on the bottom tier with the savoury. There was cheese, fruit and plain scones, they were small but perfectly formed. I have had afternoon teas before where the scones were HUGE and you only got one, I think I prefer these little ones with more variety. I had the cheese slathered in lovely salty butter, the plain with butter and jam, and then the fruit with jam and clotted cream.

The sandwiches, which they were more than happy to make without butter for my fussy sister, were lovely and delicate. The beef and horseradish were my favourite, they packed a punch! Zoe loved the ham and pease pudding, and my sister went for the egg mayonnaise.

We did enjoy the savoury, but to be honest we were all pretty focused on the top tier, and all of those yummy cakes! Zoe just kept pointing to the cake as if to say "why are we wasting tummy room on these sandwiches when there is chocolate up there?"

We were not disappointed, we each had our own favourites; my sister loved the sharp freshness of the rhubarb sundae, Zoe loved the cream cheese frosting on the lemon sponge, and I was all about the chocolate brownie.

It was so much more than just a bog standard chocolate brownie, it had two different types of mousse in surrounded by a thin layer of chocolate ganache. I am not ashamed to say I ate them both! The macarons were huge! It is not easy to eat a macaron of this size delicately, I bit into one and sprayed flakey bits of almond shell all over the table... Luckily non of our fellow diners noticed, and Zoe was more than happy to polish off the crumbs.

We also spotted a great specials menu, and have promised to go back for lunch really soon. I love how focused they are on fresh local and seasonal produce.

The restaurant serves Afternoon Tea all day, and they are family and dog friendly. A lot of places I would feel a bit embarrassed taking a toddler, but the staff were so lovely, we felt really welcome and I was comfortable letting Zoe have a bit of an explore. They also have a great selection of cakes and serve lovely coffee, would be a lovely place to meet up for a relaxing cuppa with friends if you didn't want a formal afternoon tea.

The afternoon tea can also be made gluten free or vegan, as long as you pre-book.

All in all we thoroughly enjoyed our time at St Marys Inn, and had Zoe not been getting a little impatient and cranky we would have happily got some more tea and chatted the afternoon away. Huge thank you to St Marys Inn for inviting us along, we will be back!

Monday, 16 May 2016

Meal Planning Monday - 16th May

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I am loving avocado and siracha at the moment

I am feeling very summery right now, and heavily craving light, healthy meals. I have really been enjoying making quick baked eggs/frittata using up veggies from the fridge. My current addiction is siracha chilli sauce, which I have been adding to everything! I have also been trying to save money (as always) and be more organised and planning my work lunches too. From today I will be working 4 days a week, as opposed to the 2.5 I have been doing, so it is even more important that I am organised. So you may notice some added detail to the meal plan.

I was also asked on instagram to do a post about meal planning for a toddler/baby. Which I am totally planning on doing, but not here. So look out for that separately.

So without further ado...

Monday

Breakfast: Porridge with banana and honey
Lunch: I usually go to M&S on a monday morning to pick up milk, a little loaf of bread and some banans for the week, so will pick up something for lunch (they sometimes have reduced count on us ready meals)
Dinner: Prawn pesto pasta - still enjoying this one.

Tuesday

Breakfast: Porridge with banana and honey
Lunch: Leftover prawn pesto pasta
Dinner: Caramelised onion sausages with new potatoes and salad.

Wednesday

Breakfast: coffee and fruit
Lunch: egg and avocado salad
Dinner: Slow cooker spag bol - with working more, the slow cooker is really helpful.

Thursday

Breakfast: coffee and seeded toast
Lunch: leftover spag bol with a baked sweet potato.
Dinner: Pork egg fried rice - the same as the salmon one, but with diced pork.

Friday

Breakfast: Drop scones and fresh fruit - I am home with Zoe today, so fancy something treat-y.
Lunch: hummus with dippers - if you follow me on instagram you know this is our current favourite. I cut up lots of veg and pitta and we dip into hummus.
Dinner: Homemade pizzas - using up any leftover veggies and sandwich meat (ham).

Hope everyone has a great week and wish me luck in my new longer working week, no doubt by Friday I will be exhausted. I know most of you probably work full time and have zero sympathy, its just an adjustment. lol

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Sunday Moment 15th May

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1. Last Wednesday was the final Wednesday my sister was having Zoe before she starts her new job properly, and Zoe starts her new childminder. We have been incredibly fortunate that my lovely sister was able to condense her hours to look after Zoe for us one day a week. We will be eternally grateful for the last 8 months, not only the small fortune it saved us, but also the wonderful bond that Zoe and her Auntie now have. To say thank you we went for afternoon tea at St Mary's Inn near Morpeth, it was such a lovely day and I am so glad I was able to say a proper thank you; with cake.

2. I have been running again! My running buddy has been on holiday but I still managed to head out a couple of times. I still need to work on consistency but I definitely feel myself improving slowly. I am thinking of adding a couple of other workouts, I've found some youtube videos which look doable, so watch out for that! (you should follow me on snapchat, nellyscupcakes, if you want to see snippets of my sweaty face lol)

3. WAAHHHH! My trusty and very much over worked stick blender/processor broke! I use it all the time for chopping onions and making hummus and other sauce/dips. I am a little bit devastated if I am honest, as we are loving homemade roasted garlic hummus at the moment. So I am currently doing some research on small processors vs larger models and what would work best for me, recommendations loved.

4. As well as the aforementioned exercise, I have been trying to eat better. I am keeping track of things using My Fitness Pal (nellyscupcakes, follow me!) and so far so good. I am only about a week in but I am feeling determined and keen to get back into my size 16 jeans.

5. Everyone enjoying the sunny weather?! Last weekend we took a trip to Rising Sun Country Park, which isn't far from us and loved running around, visiting the farm and eating Lemon shortbread squares in the sunshine. Despite slathering on the sun cream I managed to miss a perfect circle on my back, which has resulted in sunburn. Made me feel less bad for keeping Zoe covered up when other babies were running around in nappies.

6. I am a huge lover of instagram, its my favourite social media platform (although snapchat is climbing the list) and this month I have been taking part in the Tattooed Tea Lady photo challenge (#ttlmaymamachallenge) and I've really enjoyed it! It is up to day 15 and I have yet to miss a day, unheard of for me. If you too are an instagram lover, you should check it out, I have found some great new accounts to follow through it.

Did everyone have a good week?

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Lemon and White Chocolate Shortbread Bars.

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The baking bug has hit me again and I am finding that I'm enjoying it more and more. I'm feeling inspired and constantly thinking of recipe ideas in my head again, which feels great. I feel like I am finally getting a bit of 'me' back; which sounds so cheesy but its true.

During pregnancy and that first year of motherhood I was quite rightly completely focused on me being a mum and at the time that felt right, I didn't have the time or mental capacity for hobbies or anything other than being a new Mum. Now that we are entering toddlerhood I am feeling much more relaxed and free to explore other interests and get a bit of myself back. I'm slightly worried that this sounds a bit selfish, I am still obviously very focused on being a Mum, but I am a firm believer in self-care and having time for yourself.

At the must love getting into the kitchen, blasting some music and singing at the tops of my lungs (sorry neighbors). This is usually on a Saturday, so Paul spends some quality Daddy/Daughter time with Zoe. Last weekend I was scouring the recipe books for ideas when Paul suggested 'those lemon things you made that one time' ... Turns out he meant Lemon Bars, which ironically I blogged a recipe for lamenting my lack of time/energy for baking!

I did tweak my recipe a little, as last time I found the base a little sweet and not as crisp as I'd like. I also added a white chocolate topping, which I have to say was a very welcome addition!

Butter, for greasing
Greaseproof paper, for lining

Filling.
4 eggs
310g caster sugar
Juice of 2 lemons and the zest of 1
45g flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

Buttery Base
300g flour
150g caster sugar
180g unsalted butter, room temp
pinch of salt

Topping
200g of your favourite white chocolate - we love the madagascan vanilla Moser Roth from Aldi.

1. Grease and line a shallow baking tin. I grease the tin then lay a strip of greaseproof across the centre, which makes it easier to lift out of the tin - you can grease and line however you prefer though. Preheat the oven to 160C

2. The base is just a simple shortbread, so you want to cream the butter and sugar (around 3 minutes in a stand mixer, longer by hand) and then add the flour/salt. It will come together into a rough dough, it may seem dry or like its not coming together, but you basically want a rubble-y sand type mixture with butter evenly distributed.

3. Press the 'dough' mixture into the baking tin, make sure it is as level as possible, I have two identical baking trays so I lay a sheet of grease proof between and press to flatten evenly, you can do just a good a job with your hands though, it doesn't have to be exact but you'll be pouring a liquid on top so you want it to be evenly distributed.

4. Pop the shortbrad base into the oven for 10-15 minutes, you want it to be starting to brown.

5. While the base is cooking you can prep the filling; start by adding the eggs and sugar into a bowl and whisking until incorporated (it will be thick and gloopy), add the lemon juice and zest, followed by the flour and mix until no lumps remain.

6. Pour the liquid onto the partially cooked shortbread, return to the oven for 15-20 minutes, you want it to be firm (not jiggly in the middle).

7. Allow the shortbread to fully cook before removing from the tin, it is prone to cracking if you're too hasty. You can run a sharp knife around the edges when its warm to help.

8. Once fully cooled, remove from the tin. Melt your chocolate of choice and pour onto the top, spreading into an even layer. I allowed my chocolate to set for 30 minutes and then cut into squares, so it was still slightly soft, this helped avoid any cracked chocolate - once chopped into square I popped them in the fridge to set the chocolate.

The lemon filling sort of soaks into the top of the shortbread and makes for a delicious light and delicate biscuit. The base maintains its crispness, but the middle is a little squidgy, without being too lemon-curdy.

And there you have it, a delightfully light and moreish treat. The dangerous thing about these squares are how not sickly they are, you could literally eat the whole tray! They are definitely a naughty treat, but would be lovely for an afternoon tea or as party food (you could chop into bitesize pieces).

As much as I am loving my reignited passion for baking, I need to start feeling passionate about salad, or my already expanding waistline will be in serious trouble!

Casa Costello

Monday, 9 May 2016

Meal Planning Monday - 9th May

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A little late this week, but better late than never eh? I had a really busy weekend in the sunshine, and then a full on day at work, topped off with solo bedtime! Phew, needless to say I am having a ice cool bottle of beer and putting my feet up as I write this.

This week we are as always trying to be frugal and use things from the freezer, we have a sort of (but not really) unexpected extra childcare expense, due to switching providers mid-month and upping her hours, however my pay won't reflect the change until the end of next month... The beauty of being paid in arrears and paying childcare in advance. So, we are doing a lot of looking under sofa cushions and penny pinching this month.

Monday - Prawn pesto pasta, still a big favourite, especially on those mad days when you don't get a chance to breathe until 7pm.

Tuesday - Salmon egg fried rice, anyone else feel the meal plans are getting repetitive? This is another favourite of ours, with the warm weather its perfect.

Wednesday - I am heading to St Marys Inn for afternoon tea with Zoe and my Sister at 2pm, so not expecting to be wanting any dinner after stuffing my face with scones!

Thursday - I am out for colleagues leaving do, so I will probably be eating out, or grabbing a quick bite at work to save pennies. Paul is at home with Zoe so they are planning a tuna pasta bake.

Friday It is my day at home, so I'm planning on making pork chops with some sort of potato and veg.

So there you have it, I am on the hunt for some new summery/light meal ideas, if anyone had any favourites?

Also, ideas for making a bit of extra ££ welcome. LOL

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Sunday Moment - 8th May

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1 & 2. It's been a fairly quiet week around here to be honest, Lots of little moments of loveliness, like an early morning bubble bath with my baby girl, or bedtime stories with Daddy. I am sharing these as a reminder (to me mostly) that these moments are precious and just as good as big days out.

3. Zoe's favourite foods at the moment involve some sort of dipping. Hummus and cucmber/pitta, fruit and yoghurt, fish fingers and ketchup. This girl loves to dip! Oh and also, I picked up this really cute picnic-ware in Aldi last week. Really reasonably priced and a lot cheaper than toddler-specific tableware.

4. Zoe and I got up with the larks on Thursday and went to vote in the local election. I feel very strongly about being politically active, even if the current political situation seems less than great, I hate a wasted vote. Although, it was slightly worrying that when I got to the polling station, there were 3 different votes being cast, two of which I hadn't heard about! Two people who came into the polling station after me thought they were voting on the European Referendum! There needs to be more information our there, and less bias in the media *cough*BBC*cough* - OK, I'll get off my soap box now.

5. I've been baking again! I feel like my mojo is creeping back. These are utterly moreish and delightful Lemon and White Chocolate Shortbread Bars - look out for the recipes coming to a blog near you soon.

6. I love this photo of Zoe, she has so much style and sass, it kills me. I mean, I know I dressed her, but she added the jelly shoes and hat to top the look off. Her personality is growing each day and I am loving seeing the tiny human she is becoming. Don't get me wrong, I am finding toddlerhood so much harder than babyhood, but thats just parenting, isn't it?

How's your week been? Anything exciting I should know about?

P.S I am sorry for the lack of posts this week, I am feeling a little bloggers-blocked at the moment, struggling to know what to write about, lots of ideas but no focus...

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Probably the best (if slightly wonky) Chocolate Cake in the World Ever.

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I am going to preface this post with the fact that I don't really like Chocolate Cake. I find it is often dry or just a bit sickly. Give me a Victoria Sponge or Lemon Drizzle any day of the week, I will never ever chose chocolate cake from a menu, and I rarely make it. That being said, this is without a doubt the best chocolate cake I have ever had. If I could be assured that all chocolate cake would be this light, fluffy and moist I would rethink my anti-chocolate cake stance.

Some lovely friends of ours were planning to come over on Sunday, we hadn't seen them in a long time so I decided to make them their favourite cake; chocolate. I decided to go all out and make something a little bit special, a showstopper, a cake with the wow-factor, something which would show how much we love them. I am a big fan in showing affection with food...

When I think of showstopping cakes, which are not only pleasing to the eye but also crazy tasty, I think of one blogger; Sarah from The Sugar Hit. Seriously, if you are not following her blog, go rectify that right now, I'll wait here while you do...

Done?

OK...

I am not going to post the full recipe here, as its already on Sarah's blog, and is hers to share. I will however, share my couple of tweaks and my experience making it.

Now, my cake is not quite as high, or straight as hers but it is mighty tasty and those little cracks and slight slope to the left is what makes it intrinsically me. Who needs perfection when it is made with love?

The best way I can describe the texture of the cake is a chocolate cloud. It is light and airy with bags of flavour. I did make a couple of tweaks to the recipe based mostly on what I had (or didn't have) in the cupboard. I subbed out the vanilla bean paste for a tiny bit (25ml approx) of strong brewed coffee; which I think just brings out the intense chocolate flavour, rather than adding a coffee flavour.
I also used milk chocolate rather than 70%, I was worried the darker chocolate might not be everyone's cup of tea, and that it might be a bit strong for Zoe.

I used my Kitchenaid with the paddle attachment to make the whole thing, and it worked a treat. It did feel a bit crazy adding water to an already quite wet cake mix, and I was a bit nervous about how it would turn out, but it totally worked! I am not sure what the science is (if you know, please comment) but I'm guessing the wetness of the mix helped with the overall moistness and even rise (I didn't have to trim it at all before stacking)

Having said that I am not a huge lover of chocolate cake, the frosting on the other hand I could eat with a spoon! It is fudgey but not too sickly, the sour cream adds another dimension, takes the sweet edge off slightly. I will definitely be making it again, I'd love to experiment with some other flavours, orange or nutella would be insane!

I was tempted to cover the entire cake with frosting, but in hindsight I am glad I didn't as it would have been a little too much. I really want to try piping it onto cupcakes next.

I topped the whole thing off with some chopped chocolate, because you know, there wasn't enough chocolate in there already. This is definitely a chocoholics dream. If I was to make it again (which I most definitely will) I would use slightly smaller tins (I used 25cm) to try and get more height and I'd also put more frosting between the layers so it is more visible squidging out the sides.

Sadly, our lovely friends had to cancel due to illness, so I now have a HUGE cake to share if anyone wants some? Seriously, what am I going to do with all this cake?!

Casa Costello

Monday, 2 May 2016

Meal Planning Monday - 2nd May

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Treated myself to a delicious sandwich at Lola Jeans on Saturday

Back to the daily grind after a lovely long bank holiday weekend. Not that I'm complaining, I do love a bit of a routine. Last week didn't really go to plan, I made so much lasagne on Tuesday we ended up eating leftovers for 3 days! We have sat down and written an inventory, to try and use what we have, rather than buying unnecessary things and wasting money.

So without further ado...

Monday - Chicken Enchiladas, I have some sour cream left over from a cake I made yesterday so Mexican sounds like a winner.

Tuesday - Prawn and Pesto Pasta - Everyone loves this one, although I've never given Zoe prawns before so not 100% sure if she'll like them, but I know she will love the pesto pasta.

Wednesday - Bangers and Mash, classic and never fails.

Thursday - Salmon Fried Rice, after bumping it two weeks in a row we should really make this.

Friday - Homemade pizza, cheaper than a takeaway and I will have all day to prep dough, as I am not at work.

So, all that will be on our shopping list this week is;

Tortilla wraps
Fresh fruit and vegetables (usually what is on offer at Aldi)
Prawns
Mozzarella
Flour (I used the last of it yesterday)
Bread
Milk

What is on your menu this week?

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Sunday Moment - 1st May

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1. We found this book in a local charity shop for 50p, it is such a hoot to read and Zoe laughed her little head off when the dinosaur started pooping! There's this one page which just has the word POO! on it, which she found hilarious and kept going back to. She still doesn't quite have the attention span for a whole story, but she's understanding more and more, which is great.

2. I have been practising my back wrapping this week in preparation for helping out at a back wrapping workshop, while I do carry Zoe most days I tend to stick to the same 1-2 carries, so I branched out and tried a double hammock - so very comfy. I'm feeling inspired to try a few more carries, so if this is your sort of thing - follow me on instagram!

3. I started running again. I retired breifly for winter but with the light nights I decided to get back out there. I still need to sort my eating out (she says eating pizza while typing) but I do feel better getting out and working up a sweat. My sister is my running buddy which is great, we motivate each other.

4. Me and Paul managed to get an overnight babysitter last Saturday and headed out on the town to celebrate a friends birthday. It was great to know we could stay out late and drink freely without worrying about Zoe, or getting up super early etc... Although, we may have taken it a bit far and the two day hangover was HARD!

5. I helped at the aforementioned back wrapping class yesterday and had SO MUCH FUN! I am still learning and I'm a bit awkward showing others how to do things, something you do a lot is tough to breakdown and explain. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and felt more confident when they left, which felt good. Oh and if you are local to the North East and you're interesting in babywearing, check out Parenting North East. They are a great company who do lots of fantastic things.

6. I left Zoe with Paul yesterday, so managed to sneak in a little mama lunch date with myself. Pre-baby I hated being alone and would have never gone to lunch alone. Now, in all honesty, the chance to eat a meal and drink coffee alone, while reading a book or even just catching up on twitter uninterrupted is pure bliss. So I decided to head to Lola Jeans in Newcastle and it really was the perfect place, great music, brilliant menu. I can't wait to head back to sample the cocktails.

Hope everyone else had a great week and are enjoying the long Bank Holiday weekend.

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