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The humble lemon has been occupying my kitchen a lot recently. Tarts, blondies, pasta dishes, even roast dinners have all been improved by this cheeky little fruit. Lemon is the perfect flavour for this time of year; the colour, the fragrance and the taste are reminiscent of long summer days, which is all I can think about now that I’ve seen the first few peeks of sunshine.

Lemon drizzle is one of those nostalgic cakes, something our mothers and grandmothers (and occasionally our fathers and grandfathers, depending on who wore the apron) whipped up to serve friends and guests. It was one of my favourites as a child – the stick sweetness of the sponge translating into sticky fingers and sweet smiles if I was presented with a slice. More often than not in our house it was shop-bought, but the occasions where time and patience allowed just proved that home-made was far superior. This is actually one of the simplest cakes to make, almost impossible to mess up. A basic lemon drizzle cake should be tucked away in your repertoire ready for all those impromptu tea parties (or, more realistically, for the office bake sale).

This isn’t just a basic lemon drizzle cake, though. Those of you who know your cocktail menus well might have guessed that there’s a naughty little addition of gin in the glaze. Just enough to add interest, not enough to stop you from driving home afterwards (although better safe than sorry). You can leave it out and replace with the juice of another lemon for something a little more wholesome, but if you do take the plunge then I think you won’t regret it. Paul, who is often lacklustre about my baking unless it involves copious amounts of chocolate, declared this to be the best cake I’ve ever made. It’s the gin that makes it.

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You’ll need:

  • 3 eggs
  • 175g plain flour
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 175g butter (room temperature, so it’s easy to mix!)
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 25ml gin (I used Bombay Sapphire)

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease a loaf tin.

2. In a big bowl, combine the eggs, flour, sugar, butter and lemon zest. Cream together until you get a smooth batter.

3. Pour the cake mix into the tin and pop in the oven for 40 minutes.

4. Check if it’s done by inserting a knife or a skewer into the fattest part of the cake. If it comes out clean, your cake is done. If not, pop it back in for 5-10 minutes.

5. Mix up your gin glaze! Just pop your icing sugar, lemon juice and gin all in a bowl and stir together until smooth.

6. Poke holes in your warm sponge cake using a knife or a skewer. Go crazy with it! Pour over the glaze and leave to sink in.

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7. Once your cake is cool, remove from the tin and cut into slices. Serve with a gin & tonic for extra gin-ny goodness!

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Hello, friends! How was your week? Mine was filled with all sorts of treats. I had two days off at the beginning of the week, which I spent mostly watching Buffy, knitting baby blankets for friends and baking delicious treats. You can’t ask for more than that, can you? I also drank cocktails with the beautiful Eloise, said goodbye to friends travelling to Australia, and slow-cooked a pork shoulder in smoky chipotle sauce before practically inhaling it. It was good.

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Isn’t the sunshine we’ve been having completely glorious? On Sunday morning, Paul and I escaped the house for a walk around Roundhay Park to enjoy the beautiful weather and to work up an appetite ready for lunch at Rosie’s Diner. It all sounds terribly romantic and I guess it was – apart from when we argued about the kind of car we should buy in the future. A lesson in keeping in the present moment, I think.

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Roundhay Park on a Sunday morning is a dog lover’s heaven. There are puppies bounding around everywhere you look – from miniature dachshunds to great danes. It’s also a dog lover’s torture; I am so desperate for a puppy so watching all those gorgeous dogs frolicking in the sunshine doesn’t help! Thankfully our cat is going through an affectionate phase so my need to pet something fluffy is somewhat assuaged.

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If you’re local to Leeds, Roundhay Park is the perfect Sunday morning stroll. We wandered around for almost two hours and didn’t cover the whole thing. There are ancient(ish) ruins to clamber, grassy banks to roll down, babbling brooks and swan-filled lakes which sparkle in the sun. It’s all very photogenic, don’t you think?

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There are some flavour combinations which just go together. Matches made in culinary heaven, making their way from dish to dish, spreading joy wherever they go. Tomato and basil. Chocolate and orange. Salt and pepper. Chilli and lime. They just make sense, don’t they? Raspberry and white chocolate is one such combination: the tartness of the raspberries cutting through the creamy sweetness of the white chocolate to create the perfect pudding. From crumbly muffins to velvety panna cottas, raspberry and white chocolate are a fail-safe flavour dream team. Add a sprinkle of lemon, and you’re really onto a winner.

These blondies are the result of my insatiable sweet tooth; a desire to bake (and to eat baked goods) overwhelmed me and the only thing to do was to throw everything into a baking tray and hope for the best. What came out of the oven at the other end were sticky, moist blondies tinged pink by the raspberries which, when cut into large chunks, satisfied every sweet craving I’ve ever had. Blondies are usually more cake-like than brownies but these were sufficiently squidgy. They also disappeared in about five minutes flat when I took them into the office, which is always a good sign.

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For this recipe, I used frozen rather than fresh raspberries. The reason are two-fold; the first is that raspberries are not currently in season and are therefore not as sweet (or as cheap) as I’d like. The second is that frozen raspberries are less structurally sound than a fresh raspberry, so break up pleasingly in the batter – providing a picture-perfect pink swirl to these blondies. As always, my blondies are based on the recipe by the Hummingbird bakery and if you’re a fan of tasty bakes, theirs is definitely the cookbook to invest in!

Let’s get stuck in, shall we?

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You’ll need:

  • 150g white chocolate
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • big splash of vanilla extract
  • 200g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 200g de-frosted raspberries
  • zest of 1 lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C

2. Line a baking tray with baking paper. I used a fairly small Pyrex dish so that they were fat but you can use a larger tray for a more even size.

3. Break the chocolate into chunks and cut the butter into cubes. Pop in a bowl over a pan of simmering water and leave to melt, stirring occasionally.

4. Remove from the heat. Stir in the sugar until fully incorporated.

5. Add the eggs and vanilla extract. Stir quickly together (you don’t want the eggs to scramble!). Don’t worry if the mixture looks like it’s splitting – once you’ve added the flour it will come together nicely :)

6. Sift in the flour and salt; stir until you have a batter. Try not to over-mix as it can make the finished blondie a bit too firm.

7. Add your raspberries and lemon to the mix and fold in until you’re happy that the raspberries are evenly distributed.

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8. Pour into your baking tray and bake for 35-40 minutes. The top should be golden brown but a knife won’t come out completely clean when you test them. As long as it’s not still liquid, they’ll be delicious!

9. Leave to cool and cut into chunks ready to serve.

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Harrogate has quite the reputation. Known for its fancy water, fancier tea rooms and for housing most of the North’s posh people, it is not the place you would expect to find achingly cool eateries serving up, as they put it, delicious meaty balls. Sometimes places really can surprise you.

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Emma kindly invited me for dinner with her at the newly opened The Yorkshire Meatball Company a couple of weeks back. Their rustic website prepared me for wooden tables and a surprisingly varied menu. It didn’t prepare me for the coolest restaurant interior that I think I’ve ever laid eyes upon or for the incredible feast that was about to be served to me. You guys, the light fittings were made of graters and colanders. It was so cool.

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The concept is simple. You choose your balls, you choose your bed, you choose your blanket. Or, in layman’s terms, you choose your meatballs (or fish balls, or fake balls made of chickpeas), you choose your side, you choose your sauce. There are a seemingly infinite number of possibilities and we spent far too long deliberating over the menu. Thankfully we wanted wine rather than beer or else we’d have been there all day; there’s a long list of local beers chalked on the wall but wine comes in just two varieties – house or posh.

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Despite all of the exciting variations, for me, a meatball is not complete without pasta. So I opted for linguine, a spicy sauce and their standard balls for a rather traditional dinner. Emma opted for her balls to come with mashed potato, gravy and a Yorkshire pudding – the latter of which I was rather envious of! Rather oddly, the linguine came on a side dish to the meatballs; I would have perhaps preferred for it all to be piled up together but there was nothing stopping me doing that for myself so it’s only a little niggle.

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The best word I can use to describe the food is ‘fresh’. There’s something about incredibly fresh tomato sauce with pasta that stands out in my memory and this was one of the freshest I’ve had. The linguine was perfectly cooked and, of course, the balls were exquisite. Perfectly cooked and seasoned, incredibly tasty and locally sourced. There’s not much more you can ask from a ball than that, is there?

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However, although the main course alone would have me taking the (incredibly fancy) bus journey back to Harrogate on a moment’s notice, the dessert has been keeping me up at night. We were pretty full after the main but elected to share a portion of the Cheesecake Balls - strawberries and cream cheese rolled in biscuit. Oh. My. God. If you do go to The Yorkshire Meatball Company, do not leave without having some of these – they were heavenly. They had a beautiful mousse-like texture, a light flavour and were completely more-ish. So so good.

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I cannot recommend this restaurant to you enough; having spent the past half hour writing this, I am begging Paul to drive me over to Harrogate. It’s such a great example of how paring back your menu and doing one thing really well, rather than trying to a jack of all trades and master of none. With restaurants like this popping up, and the street food revolution that we’re currently enjoying, it seems that this is what the people want. Plus, it’s fun to say balls. Right?

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I feel like I have been AWOL from the world this week. I’ve had a cold/ear infection/cough thing which has laid me low for the better part of two weeks so most of my time has been spent curled up on the sofa under a blanket trying to persuade Tuna to give me a cuddle. She wasn’t into it. I’m finally coming back out the other side now and I’m so ready to get stuck in with everything. The sun has been torturing me through the window – I want to get out there and enjoy the spring!

Other than taking cough medicine and binge-watching Buffy, I did actually make it down to London last weekend. It was probably a mistake, as I was totally wrecked afterwards but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see some of my favourite people. I have Thoughts about London, which would probably bore you, but I am very much in a love-hate relationship with the city. Last weekend though, was glorious. I got to hang out with friends that I don’t see enough of, ate Mexican food in Camden Lock, wandered around a sunny Enfield and finally got to go to Byron burger. You’ve won this round, London.

When we’re laughing at Brad Pitt wolfing down a slice, we’re laughing at the perceived weirdness of the situation—superhuman actor doing a regular-human thing. When we’re retweeting that group selfie to become the most-shared Twitter image ever, it’s not because the people in the picture are just like us—it’s because the famous lady on TV told us to.

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Whilst I may have stated my intention to be more conscious throughout 2014, I’ll admit that for most of the last two months my focus has been far from conscientious. Rather than enjoying and thriving, I have mostly been enduring January and February, longing for some sunny skies and the ability to leave the house without immediately turning into a block of ice. From general ramblings around the Internet, I think I’m not the only one who’s felt this way. With the clear skies and slight rise in temperature that we’ve had over the last week, I can already feel a bit more of a spring in my step and now that March is here it’s time to stop making excuses and crack on.

I’m setting myself three little goals for the month of March, to try and kickstart myself and get me back on track. It feels easier to work on a couple of things than to try and overhaul everything at once, and I’ve tried to pick goals that are concrete and achievable. I don’t want to end up using my intentions to punish myself – I want to work on creating habits that will ultimately lead me to the life I want to live. There’s that rumour that it takes 21 days to make a habit, so a month should be more than sufficient in this case!

Create a Morning Routine 

I am actually a morning person; I work better in the morning and once I’m up and showered I’m usually pretty perky. I don’t drink tea or coffee, but I am fairly energetic in the morning – particularly when compared to the evening.

However, over the winter I have let my morning routine slip – it has been far easier to stay in bed until the very last second, hiding from the world under the duvet, than to jump out of bed and actually make something of the morning.

I long to be one of those super-efficient people who wakes up ridiculously early so they can work out, prepare meals for the day, eat a healthy breakfast and still have time to have a leisurely read of the newspaper.

I’m realistic enough to know that I’m not going to bound out of bed on Monday morning just because I’ve set this goal, but I do want to work on establishing a morning routine which sets me up for the day ahead. Starting with…

Eat Breakfast

This is a major one for me; it ties into the first but I think it needs its own separate goal because, as we all know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I don’t eat breakfast most days, which is a terrible habit to have slipped into. For the month of March, I will endeavour to eat proper breakfasts every day.

Go Running

I’ve only been on a handful of runs this year, and they have ranged from the traumatising to the energising. I do always feel better once I’ve been on a run, even if it is only due to a sense of smug satisfaction. It’s a free way to move my body and since we’re on a money-saving kick this year, that is a very big win; however, without the added financial motivation it’s something that can easily fall by the wayside in favour of nights sat in front of ‘Breaking Bad’ (no spoilers please).

One of my over-arching goals for this year is to create an exercise routine that I don’t hate and can actually stick to – I’m never going to be a spin-classing, marathon-running gym bunny but I want to be healthy and fit so aiming for three runs a week is achievable for me. Maybe I’ll amp it up as we go through the year, maybe I won’t but for March, that’s enough.

What are your goals for March? 

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Hi friends, how are you? How was your week?

I’ve had a completely indulgent week, so I really can’t complain. On Wednesday we headed over to Trinity Kitchen to try out the new offerings – Leeds residents, if you aren’t heading to Dorshi to try their pork and black pudding dumplings immediately, you are a fool. I’m not even a fan of black pudding and I was totally bowled away! Their home-made sriracha is also a thing of beauty – it burns, but you’ll keep going back for more. I was also lucky enough to dine on lobster at Blackhouse and some delicious Mexican food at Pinche Pinche this week so all in all, I’ve been rather spoilt.

Last night, we also headed over to Sheffield for some leaving drinks; one of Paul’s best friends is heading off to the good old U S of A to live. It’s been a long time coming (their visa system is brutal) but it’s still bittersweet. I often dream about moving abroad (Copenhagen is my current locale of choice) but I’m not sure that when it came to the crunch, I’d really be all that stoked about it.

Other than that, I’ve been getting out on some runs, baking some delicious treats (watch this space) and booking our wedding venue (!). Oh, and reading these lovely links, of course:

 

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One of the best parts of being in a relationship is snaring yourself a whole bunch of new friends. We might not always get on with our partner’s friends, but for the most part you suddenly get to hang out with new, awesome people – a ready-made friendship group who can dish the dirt on your significant other and all of the misadventures they’ve gotten up to together.

I’m especially lucky in this respect, because Paul has a large group of friends from school who have all remained close; together with their now significant others they make up a sizeable and sociable group that I’m happy to be a part of – especially when it comes to celebrations. Have you ever seen a bunch of Sheffield-ers dancing to The Arctic Monkeys? It’s a thing of joy.

All of this is really just a lengthy preamble to explain that we went to go and see two of these lovely friends last weekend. It was pretty ace – we drank champagne from fancy flutes, ate perfectly cooked steaks and talked about weddings (Ashley is going to be our Best Man) and generally had a grand old time. Plus, we got to hang out with their daughter – the little cutie you see in these photos. Paul took some snaps in the morning and I just couldn’t not share them; isn’t she just adorable?

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I’ll admit that I have never been much of a kid person, but Martha is enough to change anyone’s mind. She’s my new best friend. As well as all those grown-up things I just described, Martha and I went to the park to play on the slide, ran amok in PC World (Paul was offering vital laptop-buying advice at the time), had an early morning dance in the garden, read lots of books and laughed a lot. I’m sure that you don’t need to be told this, but there really is something so infectious about baby giggles. Apparently children laugh ten times more than adults; I don’t know if that is true but they certainly laugh with less inhibitions and more abandon.

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It’s so fun to watch her grow; because we only see them every few months she changes so much in between. From this little pudding last summer to the walking, talking (sort of), dancing girl that she is now. Hearing her say ‘shampoo’ will make your heart melt, and that very same heart will almost break when she plonks herself down, waiting for someone to put her shoes on so she can leave with you.

Plus, I’ve been told that I’m her favourite – which makes me feel very pleased and smug. For now, I like being able to hand her back to her loving parents but I think one of my own wouldn’t be the worst thing in the long run. Does this mean I’m a proper grown up?

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I love a good tasting menu. As an indecisive person who really loves food, eating out can pose a problem when selecting just one dish from a menu full of tempting things. What’s worse than that, is when my dining companions pick something more delicious than me and I am stuck with menu envy. Don’t you just hate that? A tasting menu removes all of that anxiety. Rather than having to pick and choose, you are presented with a stream of smaller courses, each more delicious than the last. It’s all very exciting.

Do you know what’s even better than a tasting menu, though? A tasting menu paired with matching cocktails. I was invited down to RARE for the first of their RARE Taste evenings – 4 taster courses which from the same beast paired with 4 drinks made from the same spirit to match, all for £30.

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 We were treated to a feast of Beef & Bourbon – and none of what was presented to us was what I was expecting. It was so, so much better. Each course was surprising, different, inventive and the drinks that accompanied them were incredibly delicious.

If I’m honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of the first course (it’s something about the texture of foam as food that I just can’t quite get my head around) but it was unusually presented in a little Kilner jar which let out a little cloud of smoke when opened. The ‘Cherry Lips’ bourbon that accompanied it though, was sweet and very moreish.

The second course, however, made up for any misgivings that I had from the first course. Little slices of rare beef, caramelised fennel and orange segments – a fresh flavour pairing that had even my very fussy boyfriend raving about fennel. The third was this gorgeous, perfectly cooked steak, paired with rocket and a creamy onion macaroni and cheese. I’m still dreaming about this dish weeks later. Plus, our bourbon came in a goblet and everyone loves a goblet.

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The fourth course sort of threw me for six, if I’m honest. True to their promises, RARE served up four courses of beef – including pudding. The dessert was sweet-cured beef slices, served with date sponge pudding and bourbon set cream. It tasted very good; the texture, however, was very unusual and I had to get past the fact that it was beef to avoid being a bit squicked out. Beef as dessert? I’m glad I tried it, and it was surprisingly tasty, but I’m not sure that this is one that I’ll be rustling up in my own kitchen!

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In the interest of honesty, you should know that I dined for free. However, if I had paid £30, I would have been just as made up about the meal that was presented to me. You can barely get four cocktails for £30 in Leeds city centre, so to be able to walk away satisfied and slightly tipsy for that price is an absolute steal, in my opinion. I am definitely planning to go back for a tequila night – since it’s my favourite spirit – and I am excited to see what else will come out of the kitchen. Foodies of Leeds, I’d watch this space if I were you.

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