Sunday, 1 March 2015

Celtic Manor Afternoon Tea Masterclass

After having such a lovely time at the Celtic Manor sampling their Festive Afternoon Tea last year I was really looking forward to attending a live cookery demonstration with the pastry chef Karl. It was billed as 'An unmissable treat for any budding chef or food lover, join our talented Resort chefs for a series of gourmet cookery demonstrations with a difference'. We were greeted with and tea and coffee reception in The Olive Tree restaurant before heading in to see Karl and his team create some wonderful afternoon tea treats. 

Karl showed our intimate group how to make brandy snaps, carrot cake cupcakes and delicate lemon curd tartlets and we got to sample his creations. I took my recipe card home as I'm hoping to try some of these out in my own kitchen. The brandy snaps were so easy to make (or at least they made it look that way) but are really eye catching so they will be a welcome addition to my repertoire.

Karl and his team are so talented, look how neat all of those sweet treats are! I love the little detail of the carrot on top of the cake and all the delicate layers and different colours in the cake on the right. Once Karl had answered a few audience questions at the end of the demonstration we were served a refreshing rose infused gin before heading into the garden room for the main event, Winter Afternoon Tea.

I made sure I didn't eat a large breakfast before I went because we were served roasted carrot soup with paprika, rosemary and savoury oil a tasting spoon with beetroot, Pant-Ysgawn goat’s cheese and Goetre Farm pear chutney, a west coast crab brioche roll and kati roll with spiced chicken, lime, onion seeds and coriander yoghurt. 

We were then served a three tier stand with a finger sandwich selection, raisin and pecan caramel tartlet 
Cappuccino cream, Celtic shortbread and a white chocolate, orange and toasted oat blondie.

Doesn't everything look mouth-wateringly good?

The top tier of the stand was my favourite with the lemon and poppy seed cornets with crushed honeycomb looking and tasting great.The Caldey Island chocolate bar with salted dulce de leche was the highlight of the afternoon tea for me, superb.

When I thought we were all finished a basket of warm freshly baked scones were brought out. They had a hint of apricot and cinnamon and we served with clotted cream and strawberry preserve. We simply couldn't fit these in so we took these home in a box with some of the other leftovers to enjoy the next day.

With the Winter Afternoon Tea costing £24 per person (Monday – Friday) and £32 per person (Saturday & Sunday) I think the Masterclass was good value at £40 as you also got to enjoy a coffee and biscuit reception, the baking tips from the head pastry chef and a lovely rose infused gin for only a little more.

The Spring Afternoon Tea is launched in early March and I know I'll be booking a table to enjoy the delicious hand-made cakes, delicate pastries, freshly baked rosewater and vanilla scones that will be on

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Sunday, 22 February 2015

Romantic Getaway - Wales, Cardiff and beyond.

For romantic breaks I think Cardiff is pretty hard to beat. It's the perfect base to explore South Wales, our castles, beautiful coastline and National Parks. We have our own patron Saint of lovers, St Dwynwen and on romantic breaks you can cosy up in front of a roaring fire in a country cottage, relax in a spa hotel in the city or enjoy the style of our boutique hotels & B&B's in Brecon.

MSC Cruises have asked me to chose the place that I think is the most romantic in the world and I hope my post makes you consider a visit to Wales. You can forget your overpriced Paris and crowded Rome, I love Wales and it has everything you need for a wonderfully loved-up break.  

First up on my list of reasons that Cardiff is a great base for a romantic break is Wales’ abandoned abbeys and castles. Their graceful decay inspired great artists and poets such as Turner, William Wordsworth and Dylan Thomas. Tintern is the most famous of Wales’ beautiful medieval ruins. Its setting in the Wye Valley is simply breathtaking, and its soaring Gothic arches are close enough to the road, river and footpaths to be viewed from many different angles. It's one of my favourite places to visit and is pretty close to the border so if you've from the South West it wont take you long to get there at all. Don't forget to visit Cardiff Castle, the fairytale Castell Coch and the huge Caerphilly Castle all of which are really close to Cardiff city centre or short train ride away.

With mountains and moorland, standing stones and castles and waterfalls, the Brecon Beacons National Park has plenty to offer people looking for a romatic break. If being in the great outdoors isn't your things you can explore some characterful towns, pubs, farmers markets and Michelin-starred restaurants.

There are plenty of places in the Brecon Beacons to go for a lovely drive and spots where you can park up and admire the views like the one below. It's under an hour drive from Cardiff. If you're up for something more active you can climb Pen y Fan which is the highest peak in the south of the UK and there are splendid views from the top.

You can also take an historic steam train ride in Brecon like I did last year.

If you want some sea air and an ice cream you can visit the newly restored Penarth Pier which is only 15 minutes away from Cardiff. You can walk along the pier, watch the Yacht Club members sail out at sea and you get fantastic views over the Bristol Channel.

Just a little further away from Cardiff is the picturesque Nash Point, a place that Martyn and I like to visit. Nash Point is the perfect spot to sit back with someone you care for and watch the sun set.

I'm really excited for my next trip here in Wales. I've picked a week in a converted train carriage on the coast of West Wales. I've already started writing my list of things to pack and I've picked up some Welsh treats which are going to be part of my lovely Welsh food hamper that I'm taking away with me.

Do you think Wales is particularly romantic place? What would you have chosen as your ultimate romantic destination?

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Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Fluffy American pancake recipe

You can't go wrong with the classic crêpe served with lemon and sugar but I fancied doing something a little different for pancake day this year. These fluffy and light American style ones are a firm favourite in my house but we keep them for special occasions. I wish I could eat a huge stack of pancakes for breakfast everyday but I don't think my body could cope with the obscene amount of maple syrup I pour on the top of mine.

If you want to try making these yourself just follow the simple instructions below.

You will need:

1 tablespoon baking powder
1 pinch of salt
1 teaspoon white sugar
2 large eggs (beaten)
30 grams butter (melted and cooled)
300 ml milk
225 grams plain flour
butter for frying

Super straightforward method:

  • Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and caster sugar into a large bowl.

  • Pour the milk, eggs and butter into the flour mixture and, using a whisk, beat until you have a smooth batter. If it's lumpy keep on whisking it. It will seem really thick but that's what we're looking for. Let the batter stand for a few minutes.

  • Heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and add a knob of butter. When it's melted, add a ladle of batter. I add two/three because my pan is big and it means I can cook a few at the same time.  Wait until the top of the pancake begins to bubble, then turn it over and cook until both sides are golden brown and the pancake has risen to about 1cm (½in) thick.

  • Repeat until all the batter is used up. You can keep the pancakes warm in a low oven, but they taste best fresh out the pan. Once I had roughly used half of my batter I tipped in a tub of M&S Belgian Chocolate chunks so I had some plain pancakes and some with gooey chocolate in the middle.

Serve with lashings of whatever takes your fancy and enjoy. I topped mine with strawberries and flaked almonds and Martyn had chocolate chip pancakes with chocolate sauce. These would be great for a weekend breakfast treat served with maple syrup and crispy bacon

 I hope I've inspired you to try something new. What type of pancakes will you be having tonight?

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Monday, 16 February 2015

My mini record collection

Why buy records? There are plenty of answers to this question, but most people opt for records because of the joy of analog sound or a love of the aesthetics of a vinyl record. I've always liked to support the artist and buy their work and much prefer to have a physical thing rather than a downloaded track.

I used to listen to my mums collection of records as a child, lots of Motown, reggae and bands like The Police and The Boomtown Rats. I had a few record of my own which had Disney songs on that are so scratched now, five year old Gemma did not look after her records. My mums Motown records (which now live with me) are also a bit scratched but I love them all the same.

I didn't really start my own collection until I went to university and my mum bought me a little turntable which plugged into my Hi-Fi for my halls of residence room. I would buy a single every week, mainly from whatever Indie band I liked that week like Maximo Park and The Futureheads.

I've started to look back and fill the gaps in my collection now. I've slowly started purchasing classics like Rumours by Fleetwood Mac and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie. I'm also a fan of 60s girl groups like the Shangri Las and The Shirelles so they are starting to feature heavily in my collection too.

Some artists feature more that others like the Manic Street Preachers. I would definitely like to own everything they released at some point. Most of these were picked up on eBay, I wait for them to not release and album for a while and the prices drop. They are touring now so interest in them is high which means prices are a bit steep for me.

I was formerly a bit obsessed with Morrissey and had loads of his records and those of The Smiths. All my records were on the floor in my bedroom and when Sookie was a puppy she chewed loads and mainly my lovely pristine Smiths ones with all the original posters. I had a little cry (how pathetic) but you can't be angry with her with that cute little face for long. 

Lots of my other favourite bands feature too so there's lots of Suede, Bowie, The Maccabees, New Order and The Cure but there's always room for some Taylor Swfit. Not going to lie, 1989 was totally my album of 2014. My record collection definitely isn't about investing and making money and it's not about being cool. I buy what I like, pick things up for cheap in charity shops or support the new artists that I like by buying their music.

I've only got around 80 records and some are still at my mums house so they don't take up too much room at the moment. Martyn has got loads and his take up most of our IKEA kallax storage unit. You can see some of his records below. Lots of Nirvana, Hot Water Music stuff and bands like Descendents.

If you want to start collecting, it's important to remember to never stack your records. Always store them standing up vertically in a dry and cool place. When you stack records, you run the risk of the vinyl warping, which will distort the sound. If a record warps, it cannot be fixed.

Do you still buy music? Do you know any good record shops I should check out in the UK?

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Thursday, 12 February 2015

(Very late) 2015 Goals

I didn't make any New Years Resolutions in January because I wanted them to be considered and well thought out rather than a snap decision on January 1st. How many times have we all said that we will be healthier, happier and fitter in the New Year without any real thought of how we will achieve it all?
I've had some time to think "Where do I want to be in 12 months?" and I think I've come up with some do-able things which I can definitely make happen.

1. Explore more of Wales by foot and bike
Photo of the Brecon Beacons in Wales

I climbed Pen y Fan last year, cycled around West Wales and went on walks in the woods in Usk with my friends along with lots of other walks .I really want to continue this more in 2015 and see more of my lovely country whilst getting some fresh air and good exercise. Martyn bought me a rather nice red bike for my birthday last year and I've definitely not got enough use out of it so if I'm aiming to go on one long bike ride a month and use my bike for some short rides in the evening after work.

2. Cook more from scratch

I'm not a ready meal kind of girl and I make all the meals in my house but I'd like to vary things a bit more and eat a more 'clean' diet. I've become a bit too reliant on a handful of trusty recipes and I'd like to try one new recipe a week. I treated myself to a Good Food subscription for inspiration. My partner likes to eat a lot of meat and things like pies and sausages but I'm hoping I can come up with a few lean dishes which we will both enjoy.

3. Start juicing again

My skin never look as good as it did for the few weeks I tried juicing last year. I didn't do any faddy detox juice diets but by replacing just one meal a day with a juice or adding it to my breakfast my skin glowed and my vegetable intake doubled.

4. Take a relaxing break

I tend to go on city breaks, weekends away with friends and cram as much in as I can which doesn't leave me very relaxed on my return to work. I've booked a week off work in March to relax on the coast in West Wales in front of a log fire and just sit and read books. I rarely get time to just sit back and I don't get to share many days with my partner because he works nights and weekends in retail whilst I'm in 10-6. I'm really looking forward to unwinding, not being surrounded by technology and it just being the two of us. I think relaxing and getting away from it all can really benefit your well being and health so it's a good excise to book lots of breaks away.

Did you set any goals for this year? How are you getting on with them?

*Legal & General asked me to share my 2015 health goals

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