Thursday, 27 March 2014

Restaurant Review: Urban Tap House

I went to the Urban Tap House in Cardiff last Friday night on a work night out. They claim to 'serve the best burgers in Cardiff' on their website... I was very keen to verify this ambitious statement!

We got to the venue at 5:30pm and it was already pretty full. The atmosphere is very relaxed and there's no loud music so you can actually have a decent conversation. I know this makes me sound like an old lady, but I hate going to places where I have to shout to make myself heard and also have to pretend that I can hear what everyone else is saying. You know those embarrassing moments where you're just nodding along because you can't hear a word, and the other person is actually waiting for you to answer a question? I experience those moments a lot.

We congregated upstairs as there were so many of us, and we pretty much took over half the upstairs bar. The little bar upstairs has lots of rustic round tables (and dangerously high plastic chairs), and there's also a private room called the 'Cwtch'. For those of you who don't know, 'cwtch' is the lovely Welsh word for 'hug'! Coincidentally, the Urban Tap House also sells a variety of beer called 'Cwtch'.

I'd been thinking about what burger I was going to order for about three weeks, so it didn't take me too long to decide on the Big Welsh. This beast was made up of a beef burger, Welsh cheddar, bacon and pan fried leeks. The meal also came with chips and coleslaw, and cost £7.50 in total. I've never had leeks in a burger before, but no harm in trying something new!




Wow. Just wow. I loved the meal and finished every tiny little bit of it, down to the last smear of coleslaw. Yes, that purple concoction is coleslaw... some people commented that it looked like purple strips of chicken! The chips might actually have been the highlight as they were so beautifully crisp and salty, but the burger was pretty good too. It definitely wasn't a 'plastic' burger like the one I had in Frankie and Benny's last year! I don't usually bother to eat the bacon in cheeseburgers as it's never cooked properly, but this bacon was cooked to perfection. Oh, and leeks in a burger taste really good. Who knew? I've had a lot of good burgers in my time, and this one was definitely in my top ten. 

I'll certainly be going back to the Urban Tap House as I thought the food was very reasonable and it was a nice relaxing place to spend a few hours on a Friday night. I've also seen a few photos of their mouth-watering specials on Twitter which make me want to hop in the car to town there and then!

Have you been to the Urban Tap House? What did you think?

Monday, 24 March 2014

Wales v Scotland... it was fun even if we had nothing to play for!

I was lucky enough to have tickets for two Six Nations games this year at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff... Wales v Italy and Wales v Scotland. Thanks, Neil!

Sadly the championship was already lost by the time we played Scotland on the final Saturday of the tournament, but it was still a great occasion and I'm really glad we were a part of it. I'm certainly not going to complain about a record win and lots of tries! I also love visiting the Millennium Stadium, whatever the occasion.

I thought I'd post a few photos from the day... enjoy!



Welsh rugby shirt gets another outing



One of my favourite places in the world



Just before kick off!



Ooh, fireworks...



Lining up for the anthems



Great view!



I love being in a packed Millennium Stadium...



Could it be yet another try?



Flocking out of the stadium!


We finished third in this year's championship... I'm hoping to finish two places higher next year!

Thursday, 20 March 2014

My carrot cake... I love Mary Berry!

We held a Great Welsh Bake Off in work this week so I decided to bake a carrot cake as I'd never made one before. It was a risky strategy and it would probably have been safer to bake my apple, cinnamon and walnut cake again, but I'm very keen to try something different every time I put my metaphorical baking hat on. I'm also a big fan of carrot cake and I wanted to see if I could make one that tasted as good as the carrot cake Neil made me for my birthday.

I used my beloved Mary Berry 'Cakes and Bakes' book again for the carrot cake recipe... the woman is amazing and she's never failed me yet!

Here's how the cake turned out:




So how did I make it? Read on and find out!


Ingredients

225g self raising flour
2 level tsp baking powder
150g light muscovado sugar
50g walnut pieces, chopped
100g carrots, coarsely grated
2 ripe bananas, mashed
2 large eggs
150ml sunflower oil

For the topping:
250g mascarpone cheese
2-3tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp icing sugar, sifted
25g walnut pieces, chopped

You'll also need a deep, round 20cm cake tin. I used my 23cm springform cake tin and it turned out fine with no problems. 




Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C / Fan 160C / Gas mark 4. Lightly grease the cake tin and line the base with non-stick baking paper. Lining the base is always the part I hate most about every baking experience!

2. Put all the ingredients for the cake into a large bowl and mix until thoroughly blended. 




3. I put all the dry ingredients in first (flour, sugar, baking powder, walnuts and carrots). I love the look of the grated carrots! The sugar, however, does not look appetising. 




4. I then added the mashed bananas (messy!), then put in the eggs and the sunflower oil. An electric mixer is preferable for blending the mixture but you can also beat by hand with a wooden spoon. I used my electric mixer and it worked perfectly as the mixture wasn't too thick, as has been the case with my last few baking adventures!




5. Next, turn the mixture into the prepared tin and gently level the surface. The mixture didn't look very tasty at this point! However, it was an excellent consistency so it was very easy to level the surface properly. 




6. Bake for 50-60 minutes until the cake is well risen, golden and beginning to shrink away from the sides of the tin. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then loosen the side of the cake from the tin with a blunt knife, turn the cake out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely. As you can see from the photograph below, my cake did start to crack at the top but this didn't matter once I put the topping on. 




8. For the topping, put the mascarpone cheese into a small bowl, add the vanilla extract and icing sugar and beat together. You can also add the walnuts into the mixture if you want to, but I chose to decorate the top of the cake with them instead. 




9. Spread evenly over the top of the cake, then store your iced cake in the fridge. 


I was really pleased with the finished result... I used low fat mascarpone cheese for the icing so I don't think it tasted as rich as it could have, but overall I think it was a successful attempt! I was also worried about including the bananas as they tend to have quite an overbearing taste, but the banana flavour was very subtle and they made sure that the cake very moist. I think this cake actually had the best texture out of everything I've baked so far because it was so lovely and moist.




Does anyone have an alternative recipe for carrot cake, or have you ever tried Mary Berry's recipe? Let me know! 

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Restaurant Review: Cedar Tree Farm

Newsflash... I might have found a new favourite restaurant. Cedar Tree Farm is a relatively new pub/restaurant which is located in the Cardiff Bay Retail Park area. Neil and I went there on Sunday evening with a few of Neil's friends, and I'm still raving about it. I know I talk about food a lot, but this place really is worth talking about.



This photo was taken from my car window...




There was only one parking space left in the entire car park when we turned up at 5:30pm on Sunday, so you might need to park elsewhere if you're visiting on a Sunday. Luckily Neil's friend had booked us a table (again, booking is essential on a Sunday) so we went to join the rest of the party and salivated over the menu for a while. As well as offering a very impressive carvery, Cedar Tree Farm also provides pub favourites such as chilli con carne, curry, fish and chips, pies, sandwiches, and so on. 

If you choose to go for the carvery like I did, you have a choice of three plates - small, large or mega. I went for the large option as I wanted to leave some room for dessert... I'm always thinking about my next course/meal. You go up to the counter area to order your food then move on to the carvery section to choose your meat/s and help yourself to a copious selection of vegetables. 




You can choose gammon, turkey or beef for your meat option. If you really like meat, you can choose all three! I just went for turkey as I'm not a big meat fan and wanted to pile my plate high with vegetables instead. All the meat was falling off the bone in lovely thin strips... it all looked amazing. 






Although the meat looked impressive, I was mostly impressed by the veg and all the trimmings. Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, boiled potatoes, carrots, red cabbage, green cabbage, broccoli, swede, stuffing, parsnips, gravy... my eyes must have been like saucers! I LOVE VEGETABLES. I wanted to take more photographs, but the counter was very busy and I don't think people would have appreciated my camera standing between them and this amazing food. 




As you can see, I managed to fit quite a lot on my 'large' plate, including a very healthy portion of parsnips as they looked really delicious. I can confirm that everything on my plate tasted beautiful and I ate every last crumb. I was genuinely gutted that you can't go up for seconds! My highlights were the parsnips, swede, red cabbage, roast potatoes... I'm going to stop there before I name everything on my plate. I'm not even a big fan of turkey usually, but I was even impressed with that. Definitely the most tender turkey I've ever eaten. Everything tasted fresh and of a very high quality, and I wasn't disappointed with a single aspect of the meal. 

In spite of my huge meal, I still wanted to try a dessert as the rather magnificent dessert counter had caught my eye on the way in to the restaurant. After having a closer look, I can confirm that I've never seen anything like it outside of America. The cheesecakes on display were as big as my head! I have quite a big head so that makes them even more impressive. 

I obviously had to post lots of photos of the desserts on offer...












Are you hungry yet? It was an extremely difficult choice due to the vast array of options available, but I decided to go for the Strawberry Shortcake Sundae. Although I was very tempted by a number of the cheesecakes, I was in an ice cream mood. I thought it would probably be quite large due to the sheer size of the cheesecakes, and I definitely wasn't wrong! 








Although the double whipped cream on the top was lovely, it was quite heavy after a while so I was relieved when I hit the ice cream layer underneath. There were huge strawberry slices in the sundae as well as strawberry ice cream, clotted cream ice cream and oodles of crushed shortcake. The ice cream was very creamy and, unsurprisingly, there was lots of it. I was full to bursting by the time I got to the end, but I absolutely had to finish every drop. There was no way I was wasting even a tiny bit of this spectacular dessert!

The atmosphere in the restaurant was very relaxed and homely, and I thought the prices were pretty reasonable. My 'large' carvery plate was £7.95 (it's cheaper during the week) and my dessert was £4.20. The desserts at the Harvester are the same price and they're definitely not as big as the desserts at this restaurant. So if you live in the Cardiff area and fancy a nice Sunday lunch/dinner during the next few weeks, you can pop down to Cedar Tree Farm for a huge and very reasonable meal!

I can't wait to visit Cedar Tree Farm again... the big question is, should I go for a 'mega' plate next time and sacrifice dessert, or should I try a slice of cheesecake? All comments welcomed! 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Idyllic Images #25

It was still light when I left the gym one evening this week... spring is coming!


Thursday, 13 March 2014

Outfit of the Day... just because I love my new bag!

Drum roll... this is my very first Outfit of the Day post. The outfit isn't even that special, but I really love my new bag so wanted to include it in a blog post. I find myself wanting to blog about everything I ever see/buy/do/eat... if only there were more hours in the day!



Scarf - Camden Market, London (ancient)
Leather jacket - Oasis (last year)
T-shirt - Universal Studios, Florida
Jeans - Gap 
Ugg boots - Journey, Florida
Beautiful pink bag - Dorothy Perkins


I've been looking for a big pink bag in this kind of style for months so I was rather pleased when I saw this beauty in Dorothy Perkins last weekend. I hadn't bought myself a bag for a while so I thought I'd do something nice for myself. I love bags and I love pink things... it had to be done. The bag is very spacious and conveniently has a long shoulder strap as well as two little handles. It has a zip closure which is perfect for a paranoid android like me, and it looks and feels like a really high quality bag for a high street price. I love it! 

The rest of the outfit isn't particularly spectacular, but I do love my Ugg boots and it was nice to be able to wear my leather jacket rather than my hooded waterproof coat for a change. Spring appears to be just around the corner!

The bag isn't on Dorothy Perkins' website yet for some reason, but you should be able to find it in your local store. Has anyone else bought this beautiful bag?

Monday, 10 March 2014

Wedding planning... highlights so far!

I'm getting married at the end of August (eep!) so I've been busy wedding planning since we got engaged last September. Although it can be a very stressful task at times, I have really enjoyed quite a few aspects of the planning.

I thought I'd share some of my favourite wedding planning tasks and tools with you, and I'll also take this opportunity to give you a little insight into what our plans are for the day so far.


1. Wedding cake samples


I think this must be everyone's favourite wedding planning task. I've had one appointment with a cake maker so far and she provided me with the amazing cake samples below. We asked for lemon, chocolate and fruit cake samples, and we also threw in Neopolitan as an outside option as we were allowed to choose up to four samples. Unsurprisingly, we were busy eating cupcakes all weekend. I can't wait for the next wedding cake appointment... I won't even fit into my dress at this rate!





2. Wedding invitations

Regular readers of my blog will already know that I work in communications and am obsessed with proofreading. These two important factors meant that I was in my element when looking at invitation designs and wording. I possibly spent more time than was necessary on this aspect, but the look and general feel of the invitations was very important to me. The lovely (and very efficient) Anna from Cardiff Invitations has designed our invitations for us, and they'll all be sent out within the next few weeks. I won't write a blog post on them until everyone has received them as I don't want to spoil the surprise. They're beautiful!


3. Choosing my dress, shoes and accessories!

I went wedding dress shopping with my mother at the end of January and managed to find a dress on my first outing. I did try on five dresses, but the one I chose really stood out for me. It's quite similar to the dress I've always pictured in my mind for my wedding day, but there are certain aspects to the dress which I would never even have thought of and which make it very unique. I've also bought a few of my accessories for the day, including this amazing bag for the wedding reception! No sneak previews of anything else I'm afraid, you'll have to wait until after the big day.





4. Browsing wedding ideas on Pinterest

I've already blogged about how much I love Pinterest, and it's been invaluable for my wedding planning sessions. It's been really useful to search for colour schemes, ideas for hair and make up, wedding cakes, table centrepieces, flowers and even ideas for our honeymoon. You can browse my 'Weddings' Pinterest board here. Let me know if there are any other wedding-related boards I should be following!


5. Researching colour schemes

This leads on nicely from the last highlight. We toyed with a few different ideas for colour schemes, but have settled on teal/turquoise with ivory. Teal is quite an awkward colour to get right as there are so many different shades, but I think everything will look really warm and pretty on the day as it's such a rich colour. The ivory will complement the main colour really well, and I like the fact that ivory is traditionally a very 'weddingy' colour. I'll be writing a separate blog post on our colour scheme in the next few weeks... watch this space.


6. Choosing items for our gift list

We've just bought our first house so our Debenhams gift list is full of bathroom and kitchen essentials, photo frames, little things for the lounge and just general items to help us with the process of turning our house into a home. I've loved browsing the Debenhams website for ideas and adding things to the list, as this has also involved choosing colour schemes! Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to add any clothes or jewellery for myself to the wedding gift list.


7. Keeping my wedding planner up to date

I bought a wedding planner at the first available moment after getting engaged, and it's one of my favourite things in the world. It's already chock-a-block with receipts, confirmations, paper samples, flyers and business cards, and I'm busy recording my every move in all the various sections. A decent wedding planner is an absolute must if you're attempting to plan a wedding!





8. Wedding fayres

We've been to two wedding fayres so far this year. One was in the Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay and the other was in the Copthorne Hotel, our reception venue. The wedding fayre at the Millennium Centre was extremely busy with a lot of pushy 'bridezilla' types, but I did pick up some very useful contacts there such as my florist and the designer for our invitations. We also got to taste lots of wedding cake samples! The fayre at the Copthorne Hotel was much more pleasant and relaxed. We managed to pin down a few more things while we were there as well as having the opportunity to have another look at our reception venue. Wedding fayres can be extremely scary when all the other brides seem to be getting married about 2 years later than you are, but don't be pressured into thinking that you have to sort everything years in advance!


9. Visiting our wedding church 

We're getting married in a lovely church in Penarth and I've really enjoyed going to the morning service every other Sunday for the last few months. Everyone is very friendly, including the Reverend who'll be conducting the wedding service, and it's nice to be welcomed into such an inviting atmosphere. I also love having a good sing song on a Sunday morning!


10. Planning all the food for the day 

Yes, I love food. This isn't a secret. I've loved planning all the food for the day from choosing our menu options for the wedding breakfast, sorting the wedding favours, thinking about flavours for the wedding cake and choosing our options for the evening buffet. I'm hoping I won't be too nervous to eat on the day as we've got some amazing food lined up!


Have you planned a wedding lately? What were your favourite planning aspects?

Friday, 7 March 2014

Monthly cinema round up: February

This is the second post in my 'Monthly cinema round up' series. Unfortunately I didn't see as many films in February as I saw in January... I blame the new house and the fact that February went insanely quickly.

So what films did I see in February?

Dallas Buyers Club
Amazing film. It tackles so many prejudices and misconceptions about the HIV virus which are sadly still prevalent in communities across the world, and the acting is spectacular. Matthew McConaughey is phenomenal and just keeps getting better with every film!

That Awkward Moment
I've heard lots of bad reviews about this film, but I thought it was great. It was good to watch a film told from the male perspective for once, and it made me laugh a lot which is generally what I want from this kind of film. Zac Efron also plays a starring role... I have a bit of a soft spot of Zac Efron.

The Lego Movie
Loved it! Every seat was filled when Neil and I went to see this, and there was only one child in sight. Adults will definitely enjoy this film a lot more than children will due to the often very subtle humour and use of irony and satire. 'Everything is awesome!'

Cuban Fury
Another great film. How can Chris O'Dowd be so endearing in the IT Crowd and so hateful in this film...? Nick Frost's dancing was a definite highlight! Entertaining, easy to follow and just generally a feel-good film.


My favourite film last month was... Dallas Buyers Club. A difficult choice this month, but this film really left a lasting impression on me.

Look out for March's update in a few weeks!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Apple, cinnamon and walnut cake... birthday surprise!

It was Neil's birthday last weekend so I thought I'd bake him a surprise birthday cake. I've baked quite a lot of different things in the last year or so (shortbread, brownies, cupcakes, muffins etc), but I've never baked an actual cake so I was keen to set myself a new challenge. I dug out my trusty Mary Berry book and decided on the apple, cinnamon and walnut cake. Seriously, how good does that combination sound?

It turned out like this... I think this is actually the tastiest thing I've ever baked, and Neil agreed!




So here's how I made it...

Ingredients 
225g unsalted butter, softened
225g light muscovado sugar
3 large eggs
100g chopped walnuts
100g sultanas
225g self raising flour
2 level tsp baking powder
400g cooking apples (peeled, cored and grated)
1 level tsp ground cinnamon
Extra light muscovado sugar, for sprinkling
Extra chopped walnuts, for sprinking
Icing sugar, for dusting

You will also need a deep, round 23cm cake tin. I used a springform tin which worked with no problems, apart from the minor ones listed below!




Method 

1. Preheat the oven to 180C / Fan 160C / gas 4. Grease the tin and line the base with non-stick baking paper. 

2. Measure the sugar, chopped walnuts, sultanas, flour, baking powder, eggs and butter into a large bowl and beat for about 2 minutes until the mixture is thoroughly blended. 





3. I added the dry ingredients first, then added the butter and the eggs. I needed to beat for a lot longer than 2 minutes... the mixture was very thick! What is it with me and thick mixture?




4. Spoon half the mixture into the prepared tin. As you can see, I didn't quite soften my butter enough! Good lesson for next time, as this is probably why my mixture was extra thick. 




5. Spread the grated apple and ground cinnamon in an even layer on top. Spoon the remaining cake mixture on top, level the surface then sprinkle generously with light muscovado sugar and walnuts. This step was fairly difficult as the cake mixture was so thick, but there was thankfully enough left to spread an even layer over the grated apples. 




6. Bake for 75 minutes to 90 minutes, or until the cake is well risen and golden brown. Shortly after I put the cake into the oven, I noticed that there were tiny droplets coming from the bottom of the springform tin. I just put a layer of foil underneath it to catch the drips, and next time I'll wrap the bottom of the tin in foil just in case. 

7. After taking the cake out of the oven, leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes then turn out, peel off the parchment and finish cooling on a wire rack.




8. Dust with a generous sprinkling of icing sugar to serve. I know it doesn't taste of anything, but it makes the cake look pretty! I'm so proud of this cake and the way it looked when it was cut up... my biggest fear about baking a cake was that it would be too crumbly to even cut into decent slices. 




9. If it's a surprise birthday cake, add some candles!




Has anyone else tried Mary Berry's apple, cinnamon and walnut cake? What did you think?