The Hobbit Themed Chocolate Birthday Cake

The Hobbit Themed Chocolate Birthday Cake

Hobbits are well known for their love of food. So is my family. As the Hobbit is one of my Dad’s all time favourite books it seemed pretty fitting to have a birthday cake themed around the part of the Hobbit; although the execution of it was something of a lucky fluke. Fortunately although it is not an exact replica of how Smaug or his hoard looking in the film, or how I imagined it in the book, it is a pretty good approximation.

This cake is a perfect birthday cake for any chocolate lover. You wouldn’t necessarily have to make this exact cake, you can adapt this around other themes as you wish.

To make this cake you will need:

170g caster sugar

170g butter

150g self raising flour

20g cocoa powder

3 eggs

For the filling

100g white chocolate

50g double cream

For the ganache topping

200g dark chocolate

200ml double cream

50g milk chocolate

To decorate

3-4 packs of chocolate fingers

Chocolate such as Malteasers, Minstrels or similar

Kinder Eggs (basically I wanted a Minion from one)

Gold lustre cake spray

Gold cake decorations

To make the cake preheat the oven to 180°C and line 2 medium cake tins. Whisk your eggs and sugar until light and fluffy so they leave a trail on the surface of your cake mix. Melt your butter and fold this into the mix, along with the flour and cocoa powder. Bake for around 12 minutes or until a skewer comes out of the cake clean and the cake is springy to touch. Once cooked set aside to cool down. It is nigh on impossible to decorate a warm cake.

While the cake is cooking make the chocolate ganache and filling. To make the white chocolate filling melt the white chocolate and cream together. Set aside to cool. Take the same approach with the darker and milk chocolate and cream to make the ganache topping. Melt the chocolate and cream together until thick and glossy and then leave to cool before putting on the cake.

Once the cake and ganache are cold sandwich together the 2 cakes using the white chocolate filling. Cover the cake and the sides with a smooth layer of ganache. Line up the chocolate fingers on the side of the cake (this looks attractive and hides the fact that decorating cake sides tidily is a chore). Half the Kinder egg and place on top of the cake as a cracked egg. Add the chocolates as treasure at random, however bear in mind that it doesn’t have to be perfect and most people will want a bit of chocolate topping on their cake. Spray with gold lustre spray and add your cake decorations.

Put in the fridge to chill to firm for several hours before serving. Add a dragon if one is available.

Serve as part of second breakfast, elevenses or similar. Hobbits need to know there is decent fare in the pantry at all times.

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A weekend in Northumberland

A weekend in Northumberland

Northumberland you stole our hearts. It turns out that all it takes for D and I to be happy is a beach, fish and chips, a place of historical interest and a boat trip. (Maybe also a day off work). We visited not one but 2 castles; Alnwick Castle, where much of the first 2 Harry Potter films were shot; and Bamburgh Castle which is just beautiful and overlooks the sea.

Considering we did everything at a relaxed pace we managed to fit a lot in. I really and wholeheartedly recommend taking a boat trip from Seahouses. Apart from seeing some of the beautiful coastline that the UK has to offer, we also got to see some adorable seals and puffins (the smell of guano was a bit ripe though).

Obviously being at the seaside we have to take the opportunity to have some of the best fish and chips we’ve had in a long time overlooking the sea.

We hit the jackpot with our B&B and I wholeheartedly recommend it. The room and bath were beautiful and the owners were so kind. We stayed at the Old Station House just outside of Belford. I could not recommend the place enough.

I think with planning a wedding its sometimes tempting to focus purely on the day ahead rather than enjoying your time as an engaged couple. I’m so glad we took an opportunity to spend time together in such a blissful and relaxed surroundings.

If you’re looking for a relaxed and reasonably priced break in the UK I couldn’t recommend Northumberland (both the coastal area and the National Park) enough.

Spinach and tomato pie

This year D and I have been eating a lot less meat. There were several reasons for this but the best thing to come of it (apart from feeling so much better) was the opportunity to try a whole host of new recipes.

Considering D is not really much of a vegetable eater he actually enjoyed this recipe. Alongside having a great many health benefits, spinach is one of the most versatile vegetables. This is also a pretty easy thing to put together after work and packs a punch in terms of fruit and vegetable portions.

To make a pie to serve 4 you will need:

1 pack of lighter puff pastry

2 eggs

450g frozen spinach

50g Parmesan cheese

200g garlic and chive soft cheese (the lighter option)

Salt and pepper

Herbs de provence

4 large tomatoes cut into segments

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 onion, diced

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Lightly fry the onion and garlic on a medium heat until soft. Add the spinach, tomatoes, herbs, salt and pepper and fry until the spinach has cooked down. Once the spinach is cooked; add the cream cheese, Parmesan and egg. Reduce the heat and make sure the cheese and egg is distributed through the mixture.

Place the spinach in a pie dish and top with the (rolled out) pastry. Glaze with the egg. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden.

This pie also makes excellent leftovers or vegetarian picnic food.

The Florida Road Trip

The Florida Road Trip

Oh Florida you stole my heart! Our final leg of the trip was preceded by a rather disastrous flight to Jacksonville from Washington DC, but we had a wonderful time in Florida.

We started in Northern Florida at the beaches of Jacksonville and St Augustine, enjoying relaxing on the white sand and swimming in the sea. We followed our day at the beach with seafood dinner at Red Lobster. I’m still dreaming about the dinner we had there.

Other the next couple of days we visited two natural springs. On my birthday we had a wonderful time at the Devil’s Den snorkelling in a fossil cave. The following day we swam, kayaked and ate delicious barbeque food at Manatee Springs. It was great to see the wildlife, but we were both pretty wary of the large snake on the steps to the water.

Following our adventures in Northern Florida we headed to Orlando. I’ll be honest, I wanted to love Orlando but I didn’t. We had a good time there, but it was so much busier and more commercial than Northern Florida. It didn’t really help that I got the worst cold and one of the days I was too ill to do what we had planned.

In terms of the Orlando parks we both loved Islands of Adventure. We somehow managed to go on a day where we didn’t have to queue for anything and we managed to walk straight onto all of the rides. The dream day at any theme park! Be aware though, we both got absolutely soaked on the water rides, down to wringing out our underwear! We also went to Typhoon Lagoon at Disneyland and had a relaxing day at the water park.

On our final day we visited Magic Kingdom. There were some elements to Disney’s Magic Kingdom that I loved – the Castle, the shows and attractions. However, it made me realise I am not really one for crowds and the queues were insane. If I were to go back to Disney I would probably pick one of the other parks to visit – I know its the big one to visit but it was a bit much in the heat for D who isn’t really a Disney fan.

All in all we loved Florida. For those interested we upgraded our hire car to a minivan for the extra space and for the ease of it. (Thank you D for driving!) We stayed in Jacksonville, Gainesville, Palatka, Ocala and Orlando. I wouldn’t recommend driving too much in Orlando; we actually returned our car in Orlando and used the hotel shuttles, the bus services and Ubers.

I know the main draw for a lot of visitors to Florida is the parks but we both really felt that if we had gone straight to Orlando we would have missed out on some really special experiences. Although theme parks are fun, swimming in springs in the sun and walking across beautiful beaches felt pretty once in a lifetime and was exactly what we needed at the time in life that we visited. It gave us the chance to just enjoy being engaged and let life happen for a while.

Also, a final thought for the last of my America posts. Buying premium economy tickets for our flight home was possibly the best £70 per ticket I’ve ever spent.

Shenandoah

After more than a week of city breaks we were so ready for some time outdoors and we couldn’t have picked a better location than Shenandoah National Park. Situated in Virginia, we were both blown away with the scale of it and its beauty.

We had picked up a hire car in Washington DC and headed for the park, only stopping for walking snacks at Walmart. We stayed in a cabin at Skylands, one of the resorts in the National Park. The whole park had a lovely relaxed feeling and we spent a lot of time recharging our batteries outdoors.

We climbed Stony Mountain and did several waterfall walks further up the Skyline drive. The best thing we did, however, was going horse riding on part of the Appalachian trail. No pictures exist of this event, but poor D was at the back with the slowest horse. If you’re new to horse riding rest assured we are pretty inexperienced riders and it was not a problem.  It was incredible cool to be experiencing something relatively new to us in such a scenic place and I’m glad we took the opportunity to do it.

We were both sad to leave such a tranquil place, in a way it was when we first started feeling like we were on holiday after such a busy few days. For any people from outside the USA looking to travel in the USA I would totally recommend taking time out to visit one of the spectacular National parks.

 

Washington DC

Washington DC

We had a completely different experience of Washington DC to a lot of visitors as we had a very knowledgeable guide. My friend lives and works in Washington DC and has really made the most of living in the capital city and all it has to offer.

We started our visit at a barbeque restaurant (where I was so excited to eat that I didn’t take any pictures). We continued the next day in this vein with a visit to Old Ebbitt Grill which serves delicious food to diplomats, government staff and locals. The brunch was divine and really set us up for the Monuments Walk.

The whole of Washington DC has been perfectly designed so that everything is aligned, making it straightforward to navigate. I particularly liked the reflecting pool and the Roosevelt monuments. The Monuments Walk is the thing to visit in Washington if you only have half a day to see the most famous sights, including the White House.  I only wish we had been there early enough in the year for the cherry blossom festival.

D and I rounded off our day with a visit to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Washington has so many amazing museums open to the public for free. If anybody is visiting Washington DC soon my friend particularly recommends the Arboretum.

Good Morning Baltimore

Good Morning Baltimore

Following our visit to Philadelphia we spent the day in Baltimore. We barely had time to drip our bags off before heading to the harbour and the National Aquarium. It was apparently unseasonably hot in Baltimore and we really felt it!

The harbour in Baltimore is pretty beautiful, especially on a clear day. As it was a Friday night everybody was relaxing in the bars and restaurants on the waterfront. If you love seafood, Maryland is the one of the best places to go (especially for the crab cakes).

The National Aquarium was obviously impressive, and we liked looking around all the different habitats and it was well curated. The staff were all absolutely passionate about marine biology and were open to questions from adults and children alike.

Although Baltimore is a friendly city, there are areas where it feels a bit unsafe, especially at night, however the area we stayed in was more studenty and felt very safe.

Embarrassingly I lost our Airbnb keys, making the trip a bit more eventful, but our Airbnb host was so kind about it and we ended the day eating pizza in our quirky apartment.

Before we left we had just enough time to visit the Poe house but not enough time to actually go inside! I would go back to Baltimore as with Philadelphia I felt that we only touched the surface on the city. It had a cool Bohemian vibe in the area we stayed and there was certainly more to explore as Baltimore has a big artists scene.