5 day dinner challenge

So as I've mentioned I don't really fit in to the category or Domestic Goddess.

And Warren is sooooo good at being able to whip a tasty dinner together when all I can see in the fridge is an old bag of sugar snaps, a pack of mince & a jar of honey. So it's just better if he does all our cooking :)

I'm not even any good at the shopping bit & find myself returning home from the supermarket loaded with bags & an empty wallet, but no complete meal. And I always feel drawn to buy pate for some reason even though we don't really eat it & I never even remember to purchase crackers to eat it with. How are you supposed to even eat pate? I'm not even sure. Anyway.

So, along with my increased reading NYR I decided that I'd cook for us all at least once a week.
I thought I'd probably even enjoy it if I got stuck in to it....

But I haven't quite managed to maintain my weekly baking goal.
I'm just not good at even thinking up meal ideas unless I've researched thoroughly, flipped through magazines & done a bit of Pinterest scanning & suffice to say if it was left up to me to cook on an adhoc basis, we'd be eating a lot of pasta pesto & egg on toast.

But inspired by our Winter Dinner Dates, I decided to set myself a challenge.
'To cook for the whole week' and give Warren a break from the stove!
I planned it it last week at work bouncing some meal ideas off my friend Sallyanne & even managed to do a successful shop - on budget!
Here goes!!

Meal # 1
Steak, Egg, Chips & Peas

Verdict : 7/10
Quick & easy to prepare.
BUT my steaks lacked flavour & were a tad on the tough side! With minute steaks there's not much fat so they are a bit trickier apparently - they need a super hot pan & one turn I subsequently learnt. I forgot to pre-season the meat & put a lid on the pan so it kind of stewed them. The frozen peas & McCain frozen oven chips were cooked to perfection however & the egg was pretty good.

Meal # 2
Spaghetti Bolognais

Verdict : 7/10
I don't know what it is, but Mondays always have to be Spag Bol nights. It's probably a comfort thing - a hot bol of delicious pasta whilst watching Survivor! It's a ritual. Mine was pretty good, but the dried packet pasta let down the side. Fresh pasta is definitely more tasty & silky.

Meal #3
Butternut Risotto 

Verdict : 10/10!
This meal is incredible. It's the easiest risotto EVER. Only takes 40mins to cook & is so delicious the recipe has to be shared. This dish is an amazing weekday dinner but is good enough for a dinner party starter or mains. Thanks to my friend Sam at work for sharing Tara Ramsay's recipe. 

400g arborio rice
500g butternut
50g butter
1.5l stock
Put the rice, butter, stock & butternut in oven proof dish. Put in 175 degree pre-heated oven for 40 mins. Stir in frozen peas. Stir in cheese. Top with some crispy bacon bits. (I also added some chilli flakes at the end)
So easy, but so much flavour. I will definitely be making this one again.

Meal # 4
Sausage & Mash
Verdict : 8/10
The onion gravy I made for it (which includes mustard & dash of Worcester Sauce) added a nice tang to the buttery potatoes & good old fashioned pork bangers.  The mash could have been creamier but you can't go too wrong with a sausage or 2 :)

Meal #5
Broccoli & Cheese Soup / Scallops & Chorizo with Strawberry, feta salad / Kahlua Ice-cream

1 carrot
1 onion
2 potatoes
Large bag of broccoli

Saute the onion & carrot, add the broccoli & cover with stock. Cook for 20 mins & then blitz, adding cheese at the end to serve. Based on this recipe - it was really good!

15 medium scallops
100 gms Chorizo

Another Nigella recipe, it was really easy & not too intimidating for my 1st time cooking scallops. 
Fry sliced chorizo for a minute or so, take out of the pan & fry the Scallops for a minute or so. Add the chorizo back in, juice of a lemon & finish with parsley. Quite rich, but great.

 Mixed salad with sliced strawberries, crumbled feta & a rosemary infused balsamic dressing
Ice-cream, in a jar. Tick
Drizzle a shot of Kahlua over it. Tick
Sprinkle some crumbled chocolate digestive biscuit on top. Tick
A squirt of cream. Tick
Milk chocolate square to finish off. Tick

Verdict : 9/10
I made this menu for one of our special Tuesday nights. The soup was really yummy & easy and even appealed to our one friend who doesn't eat much green stuff! I was really worried about giving us all shell-fish poisoning from the scallops but it seems that the trick is actually to try not to over-cook them. Now I've made them once, I'll definitely try them again. They were fishier than I expected, but delicate. Kahlua & ice-cream is my new dessert favourite to whip up at the end of a meal.

Meal #6
Beef Stew

Verdict : 5/10
So disappointing. I definitely get an A for effort after cooking it for 2.5 hours & then waiting a whole 2 more days (as instructed to let the flavours mellow) before serving. This was another Nigella recipe but the Guinness left a slight bitter taste, and the meat wasn't tender at all. Not sure what went wrong there...

Meal #7
Leftover beef stew wraps!

Verdict : 7.5/10
So all was not lost with the stew! For lunch the next day I chopped the beef pieces up smaller, dressed it with some Mrs Balls Chutney and used it as a filling for wraps with ago, feta & a few salad leaves. Was much better than the night before!

Meal # 8
Chorizo spaghetti
Picnic dinner

Verdict: 9/10
Another easy, winning dish! I fried the rest of the chorizo I had leftover from 'Scallops' night, added some garlic, a tin of chopped tomatoes & finished with a dash of cream & a sprinkling of chilli flakes. Perfect Sat night dinner, in the lounge by the fire with some oven-baked ciabatta bread. Comfort food to the max.

So I made it!
1 whole week of cooking!
I have to say, I enjoyed it, but crikey, it takes planning! Making sure you're got all the required ingredients & then timing everything is quite a thing. 
I had some successes and some slight fails, but overall I'm quite chuffed with myself & am now even more appreciative of Warren's incredible culinary skills. 
Next time I need to challenge myself with creating less of a traditional British/comfort food menu & find recipes which are less carb based but still delicious.
But for now, I'm handing my apron back to Warren.
Flip, I'm so glad I'm married to someone who loves cooking!

Show & Tell

One of Warren's pics of my home town, Weymouth from a UK trip in 2009
So for this week's Tuesday sillies :

* I'm so going to win with this illusion that was created in UK!

* I love these cute family travel maps

* on the same travel theme, this game is very addictive & gives an overwhelming sense of satisfaction when you get it right

* a very sweet animation "My Happy End" (not rude!!)

* is that a somersaulting giraffe in this go-pro adrenalin junkie movie?!!

* oh gowwon then!! Here's one for Lula, although all those cake visuals at this Virtual Teddy Tea Party might make me dive in to the nearest gateau (oh yes, it's not supposed to be for me)

* It's quite incredible what a couple of kids can do with some spare time, bits of lego & a lot of imagination http://bit.ly/16Csylk

* I'm always attracted to things Japanese & this site is no exception. Beautiful images, ideas & inspiring short films.

* This is such killer tune, Shine by Hot Creations from Warren. I LOVE it. Like REALLY love it. A LOT! Reminds me of the old days ♥

* Andy shared this amazing art installation in Copenhagan. Incredible

Tuesday Homework

Pretty much since I moved to South Africa we've seen our 'besties' at least once a week. We've been friends with the our amazing "Swampies"/ "Poops" for about 10 years now so that's a lot of chit chat, fun times, life expereinecs & silliness we've shared & we feel so lucky to have them in our lives.
In our younger crazy days, Friday night was the meeting night. Without fail we'd put on our dancing shoes & hit the streets of Cape Town, it took a lot to slow us down, & I treasure those years so much.

But 5 years ago, by pure coinsidence, both Poops & I fell pregnant in the same year which worked out perfectly! Obviously we had to change our lifestyle & social activities (it was time!); weekend parties were no longer on the agenda, so we replaced them with Tuesday night supper dates. It's so easy to lose contact if you're not going out on a regular basis, so Tuesday's are set in our calendars & unless one of us is absolutely dying of flu or so grumpy it would just be horrid for the rest of us we try to stick to it as much as possible so that we all stay connected & our littlies bond.

Now Lula & Maya are besties. They're only 4 1/2 months apart. They're growing up like sisters & love each other to bits.
We love our Poops' more & more each day too ♥

So this year Tuesdays took a twist & Andy had a great idea to add an element of fun in to to them. We have to bring 'homework' to the dinner. It can be anything. The empahasis is on it being something the others haven't seen or know about. So a viral campaign, a joke, an App, an amazing video, a newly discovered artist or just something wierd we've seen on the internet!

I love it. It's such fun.

I'll post them each week along with anything else I see that I like.

* Andy told us about this newly discovered Egyptian City

* Unexplainable shapes in the Chinese Dessert

* A Canadian Politician who confirms that we are living in the company of Aliens (hmmmm.....)

* And this video from Die Antwoord. "Cookie Thumper". Not my favourite. Yuk

* This is a cool take on Photobooths

Last week we had :

* Samsies
* And this fantastic App for IPAD that we are totally in ♥ with. Paper. Obsessed.

I need to get sourcing for our next 'show & tell'!


Easy Reads

Last night we had our 2nd Winter Dinner Date Party and we got chatting about books (as 1 of our friends is about to jet off for a few weeks in Italy and needed some reading recommendations - jealous!!)

I have to say, that I often feel quite awkward explaining my feelings about reading. To say I 'struggle' to read sounds like I barely made it through school or am incapable of interpreting the label on a tin of soup, but what I mean is, either I battle to find time to read &/or lack the concentration required to get stuck in to a good book.
I think it must be a bit like drinking or exercise? If you don't drink very often, it's tough to suddenly party like you did in your twenties at the annual office Xmas party, and you're not going to be very good at it (I know, but that's another story). And if you're not a regular at the gym, it's going to be a struggle to embark on a 5km run thinking that muscle memory will carry you through (again, I know!).
So the same goes for me & books.
My mind isn't used to it, so it often feels too much of an effort.
Especially since Lula was born I just haven't got in to the 'swing' of reading.

Last end of year holidays though, I had quite a bit of time off, my parents came over from the UK and we had a really chilled break. I had time to read.
I read One Day
And I loved it!
I couldn't put it down & loved grabbing a few pages over a cup of tea in the morning sun or a chapter or 2 after an afternoon snooze, and reading in the evening instead of watching tv.
I was disappointed when it finished but decided to set myself a New Years Resolution to read more.

Inspired by my holiday experience I was excited to start the 1st page of my next book.
And it was so disappointing. I just couldn't get in to it.
And I thought that maybe it was because I was back at work & my mind was back to thinking about a million things at once, leaving no room for a book.

Then we went on holiday & I packed 2 recommended books to get me through the long flight to Thailand.
When God was a Rabbit
Case Histories
I loved them and even borrowed a 3rd book from the resort we we were staying at.
The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared
I was inspired again.

Talking to my reading muse at work, I learnt that even the most avid readers have books that they don't enjoy or just can't get in to, and it's about learning what genre you like & moving on to the next.
This friend of mine, Megan, knows me soooo well, she knows better than me what books I like & she put me on to Gone Girl.
I enjoyed it despite being back to normal day-to-day working life, and a thanks to her I'm back on track with reading again.

And I'm not ashamed to discuss now that I like easy reads.

When I say 'easy' I don't mean large font and pictured diagrams to help explain the story!
But light, well written fiction.
I like humour. A story that's imaginative or inspiring with a bit of sparkle that makes you smile inside & out.
My current book ticks all those boxes
The History of Love

I now love reading & am constantly on the hunt for these types of titles.
Here's a few on my to-read list:
You Had Me at Hello
The Snow Child
The Night Circus
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

And this one posted on A Cup of Jo's blog looks quirky & funny.
Lets Explore Diabetes with Owls

Now I just need to master the ability to remember a story longer than a week after I've finished it!

Practise. Practise. Practise.

Winter Dinner Dates #2

I was so looking for forward to this last Saturday night. After the success of the last dinner date, I knew it would be fun to plan a 3 course meal, decorate the table & enjoy fun times with a  few different friends around the fire.

BUT, I got so carried away with catching up with everyone & tucking in to the delicious starter ( that lead in to the pie & then in to the over-boozy pud...), that I totally forgot to take any photos :(

The menu was a winner though so I definitely want to remember that :

The menu

- Baked Camembert with triangle Pita chips
- Roast chicken pie served with buttered baby carrots & peas
- Kahlua & Choc-Chip Cookie milkshakes

And they were all super easy:

Baked Camembert & Pita Chips

250g Camembert
6 pack of Pita breads
Olive Oil

This is soooo easy but really yummy & is  a great winter starter to share with friends.
Literally you get a Camembert 'round', make a few slits in the top & poke sliced garlic & thyme in to them. Bake for 10 mins until the cheese is melted & fonduey. Mmmmmm!
At the same time, take some pita breads, separate the 2 halves, cut in to quarters, drizzle with olive oil & sprinkle with Molden salt, and bake for 7 - 10 mins.

Chicken Pie

For the pie, we used a Nigella recipe that I've made a few times, but this time Warren added a twist by roasting a whole free range chicken & using that for the filling.

1 x large chicken (I used 1.5kg)
250g bacon
400g brown mushrooms
Frozen Puff Pastry
600ml Stock

Roast a chicken (with seasoning/garlic/onion/herbs or however you dress yours normally).
Meanwhile saute the leeks in a little olive oil, add the bacon until it's cooked & then the mushrooms.
Once the chicken is cooked, take the skin & bones out & roughly chop to add to your bacon mix.
Make sure you keep all your roast chicken juices!
Start the sauce with a basic roux made from 2 tbsp butter & 2 tbsp flour (cook for a  few minutes) & 300 ml milk, slowly whisked in. Add the saved chicken juices & an additional 600ml chicken stock (made with cubes/powder). Stir it altogether until it thickens a little.
Pop the chicken, bacon, leek & mushroom filling in to a large pie dish (I used an A4 sized Le Creuset) & pour over the sauce.
Top with the rolled out puff pastry & cook for 30-40 mins until the pastry looks ready and the filling is bubbling.
Serve with your favourite veggies

Kahlua & Choc Chip Cookie Milkshakes!

Per serving:

1 cup of Coffee or Vanilla ice-cream
3/4 cup milk
60ml Kahlua
1 lrg choc chip cookie
(1 cup Crushed Ice if you have)

Stick them all in an electric mixer, whizz them together & poor in to glasses. Sprinkle extra broken cookie on to & serve with a straw (+ spoon!)

I think I was a bit heavy-handed with the Kahlua when I multiplied the quantities to make 7 servings, so use you discretion when adding that (I guess a tot or 2 at max, per person is plenty thinking about it) so that your guests can still drive home!


To set the ambience Warren plugged in our 10th Anniversary Party playlist - a chilled selection of Amy Winehouse, Melodie, Adele & Ellie Golding followed by my current favourite Mumford & Sons.

And the table decor was kept the same as the last time (mini cheat!) : Protea flower heads in my Chinese supermarket enamel cup find, music sheet place mats & old book pages & doilies as a runner. So pretty - although we have discovered that tea lights dotted in abundance around the table with all these paper accessories & serviettes inevitably results in a mini fire & a 5 min episode of hysteria as we try & stop the whole table catching a light!

Lula was so excited about us hosting another dinner party & whilst she didn't have any little friends to hang out with this time, she felt so special staying up a bit later to chat to the grown ups. Each guest got one of her glo stix on arrival & she was very proud to show off her baby dolls & lego to them all. When she went to bed, my friend Gorge read her a story & we all took turns to tuck her in & say good night (with our then very garlic breath from the cheesy starter!). So sweet.

Wonderful evening with wonderful friends.

Next time I must remember my camera!


Park Life

Warren discovered this park right on our door step whilst doing a recce for a shoot and it's become our new favourite place for an Autumn/Winters' walk.

The grass is long & emerald green.
The trees are tall & create beautiful patches of dappled light.
Indigenous plants blossom colourful flowers.
Squirrels run & jump between branches.
The stream runs fast from the recent heavy rains.
Table Mountain stands tall in the background, reminding us where we are.
We think it's pretty perfect.

It's called Boschenheuval Arboretum @ Kirstenbosch, Cape Town.

This weekend we had such a wonderful sunny Winters Day - great conditions to kick a ball around our new favourite place!

And my new Sony HX20V camera has a fun little "mini" function on it which shoots with a lens baby effect.

Here's the results.

Park. Family. Sun. Lens Baby.

Some playful dogs also wanted to chase our ball!

Autumn sun

Winter Dinner Dates #1 (Part 2)

So our 1st winter dinner date was a success!

It was a cold wet Cape Town night but Warren's fire & a few extra bodies soon warmed things up perfectly.

We have never actually taken our lighting decorations down from Christmas - they just look so lovely. I actually added another paper wheel to them from newly opened In Good Company (that is full of deliciously pretty things).

Old music sheets & doillies make good place-mats 

Mini dotty serviettes also from In Good Company and Nutella Cheesecake recipe here

Proteas in cheap enamel cups make a nice alternative to vases & flowers which are normally too big on a dinner table

Lady Bonins Tea made a lovely berry infused iced tea
I just forgot to take a pic of Warren's amazing Slow Braised Beef in Guinness - eek. 

The play list:
- Coldpay
- Mumford & Sons
- Lulu Rouge
- Adana Twins

The littlies were too cute. Watching a movie with popcorn, chips & glo stix!

Then they gave us a show...

The Princess & The Wizard

And Hammy who found the whole thing very entertaining & laughed at everything we did!