BAKING | Chocolate Nest Cake

Sunday, 27 April 2014 ·

By now my love for baking is probably becoming pretty clear - it seems the majority of my posts have been baking related, so Easter weekend was the perfect excuse to do yet more baking (not that I need an excuse)! For as long as I can remember my mum and I have made a chocolate nest cake at Easter but it's also one of my favourite cakes throughout the year. This is a really simple recipe and it looks great!

- 6oz margarine
- 6oz caster sugar 
- 5oz self raising flour
- 1oz cocoa powder
- 3 eggs (medium) 
- mini eggs

Step 1
Grease the baking tins - I used bunt cake tins so it makes a doughnut shaped cake  - and preheat the oven to 190 degrees. 

Step 2
Measure out the margarine and caster sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream together until pale yellow, soft and fluffy.

Step 3
Whisk the eggs together in a separate bowl and add to the sugar and margarine mixture a little bit at a time. TIP: be careful not to add too much at once as this can curdle the mixture. If the mixture does begin to curdle simply add in a spoonful of flour which should counteract this. 
Step 4
Sift the flour and cocoa sugar together in a separate bowl and add in to the sugar, egg and margarine mixture 1 spoonful at a time. Make sure to fold this into the mixture to make it light and fluffy this is important to stop the end cake being too dense. 

TIP: if the mixture seems too dry add a tablespoon or two of milk. 
Step 5
Pour the mixture into the pre-greased baking tin, keeping the top as smooth as possible. TIP: tapping the tin on the work surface a couple of times will help the mixture to settle.
Step 6
Place this into the centre of the preheated oven in a cool baking tray and bake for around 30 minutes. 

Step 7
Whilst the cake is in the oven is the ideal time to whip up some buttercream icing to cover the cake. Mix together 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder with 150g room temp unsalted butter and 300g icing sugar. TIP: cut the butter into small cubes before mixing.
Step 8
After 30 minutes remove the cake from the oven - it should have risen and be spongey to the touch. Remove the cake from the tin and place on a wire rack to cool. 

Step 9
Once cooled cover the cake in the butter cream icing - use a fork to rough up the surface making it look more like a nest. 

Step 10
Last but not least fill the middle of the cake with mini eggs.

This is my favourite cake to make - probably because of the amazing memories of this cake throughout my childhood. I highly recommend this as your next bake - hopefully you enjoy it as much as I do!

DIY | Terrarium

Wednesday, 23 April 2014 ·

I absolutely love living in London but one of the things I miss most about home is my garden. Whenever I go home I always spend as much time as I can out there - see this post for some pictures! So I try and have fresh flowers in my room in London whenever I can but this isn't the most financially viable option unfortunately! So for the last few weeks every time I've walked passed the florist I've had to resist the urge to go and buy some flowers, and then Essie Button's Spring DIY video popped up on my YouTube subscription box! This gave me some inspiration to spend my Easter weekend making a terrarium!

They're so easy to make that to be honest a DIY is probably not necessary but I had so much fun making it that I had to share it with you. All you need for this is doe cacti and succulents of your choice, a pot/vase/bowl, cacti repotting soil and some pebbles (I used grit for chickens - don't ask! But you could use aquarium pebbles).

The first thing to do is pour some of the cacti repotting soil into your container - you only need enough to comfortably fit the cacti in so not too much. I then placed my cacti in the vase in their plastic pots first so that I could get an idea of where I wanted them all to go.
Once you've decided where you want them all to go all you have to do is take them out of their little plastic pots and get them planted in. You might want to use a pair of tongs to plant the so as to avoid getting any spines in your fingers although it might not be necessary.

The final step is to sprinkle in some of your grit or pebbles - make sure to get as close around the base of the cacti as possible so you can't see any of the soil from up above. I absolutely loved how the chicken grit looked in my terrarium as it has broken up shells in too which makes it look like a little beach scene! You might also want to give them a little spritz with some water too once your finished.
Heres the final product - as you can see Monty was intrigued by it, luckily he didn't get too close so there were no spines stuck in his nose!! I was so happy with my glass version that I decided to also throw together one in a little terracotta pot which I painted a lovely muted olive green.

I'm so pleased with both of these terrariums (is the one in a pot even called a terrarium? I'm not too sure!! All I know is that these will make a fantastic addition to my room down in London and will hopefully stop me spending a fortune on fresh flowers - we'll see though!! That is if I don't kill them - I'll keep you updated.

If you guys make a terrarium please tweet / instagram (@theopaldiary) me a photo as I would love to see how yours turn out!!

EAT | Mama Lan, Clapham

Thursday, 17 April 2014 ·

A few months ago I was on the way to work and was flicking through Timeout (which by the way, alongside Stylist, is my saviour on the commute to work) and I came across an article about Mama Lan and immediately added it to my list of restaurants I wanted to go to. I'd wandered past it a couple of times but it never really caught my attention until I read about it.

So the other night Matthew and I were feeling particularly lazy and didn't want to go home and cook (nothing new there) so figured we'd try this out instead! It's a really small restaurant, much smaller than I thought - I figured it would have a downstairs part or something but no it only has about 6/7 tables most of which are only for 2 people! To drink we both got an apple and elderflower fix which was a delicious non-alcoholic cocktail made up of apple juice, elderflower cordial and soda water - this is definitely something I'm going to be making at home as it was so tasty and refreshing.
On to the food - the most important part! We were both pretty hungry but as we hadn't been there before we decided to just order a little selection and share everything / fight over it all!! My choices were two of the smaller dishes - spicy chicken wings and pork buns.
The pork buns were AMAZING. They were filled with some kind of slow cooked pork which just melted in my mouth and they were so moist (anyone else hate the word moist?!). My only complaint with this was that there were only 2 buns...nowhere near enough!
Now the chicken wings... the menu did warn that they were spicy but me being me I totally ignored this. I am not the biggest fan of spicy food - for example when I get a curry its chicken tikka massala or nothing, boring I know! So the chicken wings arrived and they looked delicious so I jumped right in only to end up being choked by some chilli catching me at the back of my throat. Now don't get me wrong the wings were seriously tasty I just couldn't quite hack the spice so Matthew got to eat them all guilt free! Lucky boy!
Last but not least was Matthews choice - beef noodle soup. I am such a fan of a good clear noodle soup so this ticked a lot of boxes for me. Not only was it really tasty but the portion was enormous! I'm so glad that we decided to share as there's no way I would have been able to finish it by myself. My only issue with noodle soup is that I always make such a mess - I end up with soup all over myself, does anyone else have this problem?

I highly recommend Mama Lan if you want a delicious dinner and great service. They also have a take away service so long as you can pick it up so make sure to give it  a try if you live in either Clapham or Brixton!

INTERIORS | A Pastel Home

Monday, 14 April 2014 ·

Whenever I get asked what my favourite colour is I always find it virtually impossible to give a straight answer as I love any pastel colour. They're always the colours that my eyes are drawn to whether it be fashion, flowers, interiors  - literally anything! I tend to find that my style (particularly with interiors) is a little bohemian and eclectic, I don't like anything too matchy matchy and when it comes to interiors pastels add a great pop of colour without being too in your face and when using pastels you aren't limited to just one colour as they all go so beautifully together.

There aren't many trends that come along that I genuinely love but I couldn't have been happier when the spring/summer trend of pastels started to emerge this year. The first thing I did was go out to Boots and stock up on pastel nail varnishes as my first take on the trend. However since then, I've found myself browsing one too any interiors websites, along with Etsy, to get inspiration of how I can incorporate my love of pastels into my home. Not only this but Matthew and I are currently flat hunting which has got me well and truly one track minded when it comes to homes and interiors. I may be getting a little ahead of myself when it comes to making a wish list of everything I want to buy for when we find somewhere considering we've only been looking for a couple of weeks but what can I say I like to be prepared! Quite how Matthew will feel about all of these pastels I don't know but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it! Am I the only one who gets carried away planning for things that haven't even happened yet....?

These are just a few of the things that have caught my eye during my many online browsing sessions over the last couple of weeks. These are a great way to inject a little bit of colour into your home without having to spend a fortune or completely redecorate. I'm someone who always has cream walls and pale bedding and when trend like this come along it reminds me why - it now couldn't be easier for me to incorporate these into my home without things looking out of place.

I think my favourite from this little selection has to be the chopping boards with the pastel edges which are actually courtesy of Pinterest. They're such a lovely and simple DIY so I can't wait to try this out at some point. Speaking of Pinterest, am I the only one who gets lost on there for hours and hours? Too often I get distracted on there when I'm meant to be working - oops! For that reason my Pinterest boards are getting overloaded with inspiration and craft ideas.

If anyone wants a post on my favourites from Pinterest, whether it be crafts, recipes, fashion or anything for that matter just let me know in the comments section.

For more information about any of my latest favs head over to my Luvocracy page!

DINNER | Goats Cheese, Pesto & Red Pepper Tart

Sunday, 13 April 2014 ·

Looking for something quick, easy and healthy for dinner? I highly recommend this one, it's fantastic for spring summer time as it's light and yet filling. Not only that but the list of toppings it literally endless - you can never get bored of this one! 

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes

  • Puff pastry (ready rolled optional) 
  • Pesto
  • Goats cheese
  • Red peppers
  • Chives
  • Baby rocket
  • Mozzarella 
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic

First of all you want to chop your peppers up and lay them on a lined baking tray, drizzle them in oil and crushed fresh garlic. Pop these in the oven to roast, depending how well roasted you like them they can take between 15-25 minutes.

Whilst these are booking you can start prepping the rest of the tart. Lay the puff pastry on another linked baking tray. I recommend using greaseproof paper to line the tray as the pastry won't stick to this. Then smooth some pesto and goats cheese over the pastry leaving a border of at least an inch around each edge.

Once the peppers are cooked place these on top of the pesto and cheese, there's no right or wrong way to do this so just do whatever you fancy. Cut the balls of mozzarella into slices and place these on top of the peppers and then lastly sprinkle the chopped chives on top and now you can pop it back into the oven for about 10-15 minutes.
When it's finished cooking take it out of the oven and sprinkle over the baby rocket for a little peppery kick and it should look a little something like this.

This is a fantastic dinner for the upcoming warmer months and are a great alternative to a pizza as they're so much lighter. As I said at the beginning you can adapt these as much or as little as you like, if your a little short on time I would suggest just putting fresh peppers on instead of roasted.
I can't wait to experiment with more toppings in the future! Let me know if you'd like to see anymore posts on quick, easy recipes like these! I hope you enjoy making them as much as I have.

EXPLORE | Fortnum & Mason

Friday, 11 April 2014 ·

This might sound stupid but I never realised that I'd never been to Fortnum & Mason until I actually went there the other week...ok yeh that definitely sounds stupid but it's true! I think it's because over the years people have told me so much about it that I've built up this picture in my head and it's just got to the point that I felt like I'd actually been there. However the other week I found myself wandering past and had a bit of time to spare so thought I'd pop in and have a bit of a mooch around and I am so glad I did.

Before I even walked in the door it was clear that they take their displays very seriously! The most obvious examples of this are the window displays which I absolutely loved. There were so many little details that, despite me standing and ogling them for goodness knows how long, I still didn't notice until I got home and was looking through my pictures. Who would have thought a display purely focused around food could look this good - I think more shops need to devote window displays to their food sections!
Inside it's easy to see the pride that they take in their displays doesn't only reach as far as the window displays, it's continued throughout the entire store, from their chocolates and desserts to tea and biscuits. The beautiful tiffany blue that they use on the majority of their package - particularly the tea and biscuit tins is simply stunning. I won't lie I definitely got sucked in and bought a tin of biscuits purely for the packaging!
All in all it's an understatement to say that this shop is a delight to visit, displays are positioned far enough apart that it doesn't get too crowded and it's genuinely a shop which is lovely to just wander around and take it all in. I saw a few people downstairs in the cheese and meat section wandering around clearly picking things up for their dinner that evening - oh how I would love Fortnum and Mason to be my local shop that I could just pop to without thinking about it. Unfortunately I don't think that will be happening anytime soon so I'll just have to stick with Sainsbury's for now!

BAKING | Raspberry Crumble Squares

Wednesday, 9 April 2014 ·

I got my usual urge to bake on Sunday and after browsing pinterest for a while I decided to try making Raspberry Crumble Squares. I'm a sucker for  a good crumble so the idea of being able to snack on one of these whenever I fancied was enough to get me down to the shops for the necessary ingredients!! 

This is ridiculously easy to make and believe it or not requires only 7 ingredients!! It takes only 10 minutes to prep and then between 30-35minutes cooking time. 

Now lets jump on in... 

  • 4.5oz plain flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3oz rolled oats
  • 3.8oz light brown sugar
  • 4oz unsalted butter
  • 8oz raspberry jam
Step 1
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and line an 8x8inch baking tray with greaseproof paper. 

Step 2
Mix together the plain flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl until evenly distributed. Add in the rolled oats and light brown sugar, making sure to break up any lumps of sugar with your fingers. 

Step 3
Add in the butter and work this into the dry mixture using your fingertips - this can get a little messy but it's a lot of fun. It can take some time but be patient, when it's done it should look a little like the below picture. 

Step 4
Add about 3/4 of the mixture to the baking tray and push the mixture down in the tray until it reaches all of the corners - try and keep the layer as even as possible although it's not the end of the world!

Step 5
Add the raspberry jam on top of the crumble mixture and smooth as evenly as possible. Try and keep a border of about 1/4 inch around the edge of the jam (I didn't on my first batch that I photographed but I found that the jam on the edges tended to burn slightly so leaving a gap prevents this).
Step 6
Take the rest of the crumble mixture and sprinkle this over the top of the jam. Again keep this as even as possible, I find that by sprinkling it from a greater height this helps with getting an even spread. Then press this crumble mixture gently into the jam to make sure it is firmly secured.
Step 7
Now place the baking tray in the oven and set the timer. I would suggest checking on it after about 25 minutes just to see how it's doing although it will probably take at least 30 minutes - this can vary between ovens!
Now comes the best bit, take them out of the oven - they should look lovely and golden brown on the top and you might be able to see some of the jam bubbling under the surface slightly depending how thick your top layer is! Let them cool for 20 minutes or so before cutting them, believe me I know it's hard but it'll be worth the wait.
These are absolutely delicious if I do say so myself! I love them with some fresh raspberries as they just add a 'freshness' that lightens the whole thing up. They'd also be lovely with a bit of ice cream!

I'm already planning on making yet another batch but with apricot jam this time! Make sure to send me a picture on twitter or instagram if you make these as I'd love to see how yours turn out! 

EAT | Coq D'Argent

Sunday, 6 April 2014 ·

Last weekend Matthew and I were lucky enough to be invited for dinner at Coq D'Argent for a friends birthday. I decided to make the most of the lighter evenings to take an OOTN. Although we may now be creeping into springtime it as still a little chilly hence the blazer and black tights but this is still one of my favourite outfits for in the evening. 

So from the top my blazer is from Primark and I absolutely love it - it's such a lovely pale peach colour and goes with almost everything and is perfect for spring/summer time. The dress is one of my all time favourites from  a brand called Mimi Chica, I picked it up from TK Maxx just before Christmas. My shoes are super old (hence all the scuffing) but are undoubtedly the most comfortable heels I own - I got them years ago from Monsoon. My clutch is from Osprey, I was given this for my birthday last year by my parents - it's a great colour as it seems to go with most things and is ideal throughout the year. It's big enough to fit my keys, purse, phone and camera which is perfect for things like going to dinner.

This photo shows off the necklace a little better than the last one - it's from New Look, I picked it up in the sale after Christmas. It's perfect for a dress like this as it adds a little bling without being too in your face, also it's really light which I love. I always find myself drawn to big statement necklaces but the weight puts me off as I imagine them to be quite uncomfortable. 

We popped up to a bar called Madison in Bank before dinner. My knowledge of the city is beyond awful seeing as I never have to go up there so I couldn't have been more surprised when we got out of the lift and I looked to my left to see this stunning view of St Pauls - could it be any more beautiful? Unfortunately we didn't get time to have a drink but I highly recommend going up there just for the view if you're ever in the area.

Onto Coq D'Argent, this is a beautiful restaurant up on a rooftop near Bank. Matthew started with St Jacques - scallop and bacon crispy sandwich with braised peas - personally I hate fish but Matthew seemed to love this. I had Tarte - caramelised onion, goats' cheese tart fine, watercress and black olives. This was absolutely delicious, although anything with goats cheese is a winner with me! I wolfed this down so fast I completely forgot to take a picture!

Believe it or not the mains were even better than the starters! Matthew (and almost everyone else for that matter) chose Chevreuil - almond and cacao nib crusted roe deer venison, parsnip puree and Amaretto sauce. I tried some of this and the meat was beautifully cooked so I highly recommend it!

After much back and forth I finally decided on Agneau - slow cooked lamb belly , carrot and cumin puree, rosemary and orange sauce. Lamb is one of my favourite meats and this literally melted in my mouth - it was incredible.

Now at this point in the evening we all got a little carried away on the extensive wine cellar and I forgot to take anymore photos. The bottom line though is that if you have something to celebrate or just fancy something a little more high end this should definitely be on your list!