Paul Hollywood’s Marmalade Cake

It may surprise you to know that, despite all the recipes and food stuffs I have tried during my Jake Tries Things time, until last Autumn I had never baked a cake. Baking to me is a mystery, with too many science things that can make it go wrong for my liking. My wife’s 30th birthday forced my hand as I delved into my first foray at a cake.

Through a combination of being gifted Paul Hollywood’s British Baking* and needing to keep Amelia amused on a meh Sunday afternoon, this number has now increased to 2!

Marmalade cake is something simple but different. I could have tried a Victoria sandwich but they’ve been done to death in our house. This recipe means I got to create a simple cake while combing Amelia’s new found love of marmalade.

Ingredients

  • 175g unsalted butter (or Stork)
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs (2.5 medium)
  • 175g self raising flour
  • 110g marmalade

Equipment

  • 20cm-ish springform tin, lined with baking parchment/greaseproof paper
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Spatula
  • Wooden spoon
  • Sieve
  • Scales

As you can see, nothing out of the ordinary here. Two and half eggs is hard to come by, but I only had medium not large so I added 2 whole eggs then clumsily let half the white of a third fall into the bowl as well.

Step 1: You need to put your sugar and butter in a bowl and mush together with your wooden spoon.

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Step 2: Crack the eggs in one by one, with a spoonful of flour to stop it curdling, and mix them hard to get something nice and mixturey.

Step 3: Take the rest of the flour and sieve it into the bowl. Fold it all in with a  spatula until you get something nice and more mixturey

Step 4: Until now it has just been cake mixture. So what’s next? Marmalade! Fold that in as well, tip it all into your tin and whack it in your oven at 180*c for 40 minutes or so.

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Step 5: Check it is cooked by putting a knife in the middle. If it comes out clean then it’s cooked! If it comes out covered in cake mixture, put it back in for a bit…

When it’s cooked, leave it to cool for 10 minutes before popping it from the tin and onto a cooling rack.

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Optional Step 6 (icing): Grab a medium sized orange, grate the zest off and squeeze the juice out of it. Weigh out 200g of icing sugar while getting half of it over your counter. Then put the zest in, mix a little (gently, unless you want more on your counter) then add the juice. Mix until thick then dribble all over the cooled cake.

Step 7 (mandatory): Eat. Eat. Eat.

Pro top: Make sure you read the ingredients carefully otherwise you might put plain flour in it instead of self-raising flour. That’ll make for a much flatter, denser cake than expected. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…

Next up from Mr Hollywood’s book will be the giggle-inducing Norfolk Knobs.

* Affiliate link. This is the link for you if you would rather not use my link to view the book.

Egg and Bacon Muffins

Firstly, these aren’t really muffins. More things in the shape of muffins. Secondly, they’re likely to make you make a noise. They’re that good.

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The amazing thing is, apart from how good they taste, is how stupid you have to be to get these wrong and/or stretch the whole creation process past more than 20 minutes.

Just 4 ingredients. Just 6 steps and one of them is turning the oven on. Just really easy.

Ingredients:
6 rashers of bacon – smoked or unsmoked
6 medium eggs
30-40g feta cheese (or you could use goat’s cheese)
Chives

1. Pre-heat an over to 200°c/180°c fan/gas mark 6.

2. Take a muffin tray, grease it lightly with butter and then line it with a slice of bacon per muffin hole. Don’t worry if you need to cut it to cover any holes. Put the tray o’ bacon in for 5 minutes to let it crisp up a little.

3. Crack an egg into each of the newly-formed bacon cups.

4. Crumble on some feta. I used about 30g, so 5g per muffin, but you can add more or less if you want. Sprinkle on the chives.

5. Add to the oven for 15 minutes. The egg whites should just have stopped being gooey.

6. Take out the oven. Admire. Leave to cool a little bit before turning out and eating, otherwise you’re likely to melt your mouth.

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And that’s it. Eat them! I’ve been taking them to work as a mid-afternoon snack as I battle my sugar cravings.

I came upon this idea when reading Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar. I’ve started the 8 week programme with my wife and needed something to fill my snack gap which was usually filled with biscuity things or yoghurt covered rice cakes. This hit the precise spot!

Paper Shaker Customised Cards

We all know the pioneering figures of the customised card revolution. The space-exploring pig. The motorbike-riding pigeon.

Well, there is something bigger and better than both of them. It’s a company called PaperShaker.

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What sets PaperShaker apart from the Moonpigs and Funky Pigeons of this world is that this isn’t a service to get an innuendo-filled card with your uncle’s name on it. No, PaperShaker is about creativity. It gives you the freedom to create a design that you otherwise couldn’t without a graphics programme and lots of skill.

I was approached by PaperShaker at an opportune moment, as my wife and I were gearing up to our daughter’s first birthday/an excuse to eat as many sweets as we could buy. We had been looking at ready-made cards but were left uninspired. We tinkered with the idea of making our own, but the prospect of gluing our fingers together and having a permanently glittered carpet weren’t too inviting. We were a bit stuck.

Luckily, Hugo at PaperShaker popped up and asked if I wanted to try them out. He was lucky the exchange was via email or I’d have hugged him.

Once we were all set up PaperShaker showed us what it can really do. There were lots of templates, all categorised by event, colour scheme, the theme of the event, so it was really simple to browse for the right one. Once selected, the editing interface was really easy to use. We were able to add photos and graphics by simply dragging and dropping. We then typed the details on the design on the back (yes, they print double-sided cards as well) and were all set.

When they arrived, we were over the moon. They looked so good we felt like Mr and Mrs Hallmark. We couldn’t wait to get them out to our friends and family.

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Overall, the experience of using PaperShaker was fantastic. The ease of using the site to design our cards should be the main selling point, but the sheer range of cards and templates comes a very close second. You can be extremely thick but still look like you’re a graphic designer. “Oh, these? I knocked them together in about 15 minutes. No big deal.”

If you’re looking for stationary that’s different and can be highly personalised for an event such as a wedding, birth announcement or party (and makes you look good) then PaperShaker is well worth a look.

Two orders were provided free of charge by PaperShaker for independent review. I was under no obligation to provide a positive review. You can read my review policy here.

Tough Mudder: I didn’t die!

First things first. I took part in this Tough Mudder at the end of September which was, I’m sure you’ll agree, some time ago. However, it being the New Year and a time when everyone is looking to get fit I’ve found an excuse – I was saving it to inspire you to signup and stay fit!

Yes. That will do.

If you didn’t read any of my training blogs, Tough Mudder is a hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle courses designed by the British Special Forces. It tests all-round strength, stamina and determination by throwing ridiculous obstacles at you on your way round. It is so tough, they make you sign a death waiver. Yes. A death waiver.

Regardless of the thought of myself drowning in a pool of mud I braved it – and completed it!

It wasn’t quite as brutal as they make out. It is still the toughest, muddiest thing I’ve ever had to do and I had plenty of scratches and bruises to prove it, but it wasn’t the death-facing experience they market it as. All of the obstacles were a challenge, but some stick in the mind more than others. Here are my “top” 5:

5: Funky Monkey (aka Monkey Bars)
These were surprisingly hard and probably the toughest from an endurance point of view. They went up and then went down. Going up was a struggle, but the strength it takes to keep yourself steady on the way down was draining. The first lot of bars were wet and muddy, making it harder but grip became less of an issue as you progressed as fewer people had reached the further bars to sully them!

4. Berlin Walls
They were rather hard, especially considering I helped my team over, giving everyone a free pass to stand on my hands and shoulders to get them safely over… and then everyone vanished. I had to then haul myself over a 12 foot high wall all by myself. And then do it a second time.

3: Cage Crawl
The most mentally tough obstacle. Lie on your back, head semi-submerged in cold, muddy water and pull yourself along using the cage that is only about 6 inches away from your face. It was a little claustrophobic, but I was doing ok after the first third. Then a marshal told me to put my head back more. “They know what they’re talking about” I thought, so I lifted my chin and put my head back only to smash my nose on the cage. My reaction was to pull my head away from the point of impact. Meaning I went under. Emerging, spluttering, I then had to power through to get out the other side. Urgh.

2. Electric Eel
This is the one that takes all your bravery to tackle. Crawling over rocks and mud while a huge number of volts dangle menacingly around you. You know you’re going to get shocked. You can’t avoid the wires. But you foolishly hope. When the shocks arrive they don’t hurt as much as you thought they would, but the jolt certainly wakes you up. Once you get shocked your body is uncontrollable. I managed to get a shock on my backside which went down my leg and make me kick out like an irate donkey. As an added bonus, the rocks cut your knees and elbows to shreds.

1. Arctic Enema
I knew this would easily be the worst obstacle – and I wasn’t wrong. It is as every bit as cold as it sounds, but worse. You think you can just jump in, brave the cold and get out with nothing more than a “golly that was nippy”. Wrong. You jump in and your body seizes up almost instantly. You swim under the barrier in the middle and emerge yelling because you’re so bloody cold. You’re sluggish, slow and disorientated – all because of a little ice. You then have to lift yourself out, but you now feel three times heavier than normal. For me this was the hardest part. The person in front of me couldn’t pull themselves out, so I had to shove their frozen backside out of the ice before I could even begin my struggle. Brr.

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Once you’ve ran through some more electric wires you get to the end. You get an awesome sense of achievement that you’ve overcome the obstacles and did it all together. The odd thing is the “I really need to do that again… soon” feeling you get once you’ve crossed the finish line. Rather than doing a second lap you have to contend with an orange headband, a finisher t-shirt and a pint of cider, which is a great start to your recovery.

Overall, as long as you are doing Tough Mudder with a team, it is a really really enjoyable experience. You get a mini lecture when you start about the importance of looking out for your fellow Mudders and you can see people lending a hand all over the course and you find yourself looking for opportunities to help. Being a Tough Mudder is about being part of a group that are sludging through not matter what, rather than trying to do it in the fastest time possible. One team who took part on the same day as me had a member in a wheelchair who they practically carried around the course. That’s Tough Mudder.

If you’re looking for a challenge for 2014 and want something a bit different to the regular 10Ks and half marathons on offer, I would wholeheartedly recommend throwing yourself head first into a Tough Mudder. Not only do you train for something (meaning you keep it up) you get to sound like a badass when you tell people what you’re doing. “Oh, just a 12 mile course full of barbed wire, electric shocks and 12 foot high walls. No big deal”

The cost can be a little steep (entry typically costs between £55-£120) but the earlier you grab a spot, the less expensive it is. I didn’t hear anyone complaining about the price on the way round!

If you want to take part in a Tough Mudder, take a look at the 2014 calendar. They happen all over the county. If you’re in my neck of the woods, the South West Tough Mudder is on 16th and 17th August. I might see you there…

I am took part in the Tough Mudder South West on Saturday 21st September in an effort to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. I was awarded a media participant place by Tough Mudder’s PR agency, Frank. I was under no obligation to provide a positive review. You can read my review policy here.

Koochi Speedstar Stroller

The Koochi Speedstar Stroller is epic. That’s all you really need to know.

However, if you insist on knowing more I have thought about it a bit further than that and written some things…

(Amelia also spent time evaluating the stroller)

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Compared to other strollers in this range, such as those from Maclaren, Graco and Quinny – you get so much more for your money. Priced at around £140 (possibly cheaper from stockists) it’s a mid-range stroller in a market with plenty of options – but it really makes its mark.

The design makes a real statement. It isn’t a boring black or grey like a lot of the others about. It isn’t even a standard pink, red or blue. The Speedstars comes in colours that ensure you’ll be seen – and never lose sight of it yourself. We were sent the Mix Magenta and it really stood out next to our existing stroller and buggy collection. You could see it turning heads as you walked down the street. In a good way, I think.

The build is wider than usual, so no squeezing your tiny tot in and there is plenty of room to grow. The basket below the seat is roomy, much more so than I’ve seen on others strollers. There is no need to quickly launch my daughter out of her seat to get the rain cover out when it started raining and it could hold a good amount from a quick trip to the shops.

The other bonus of this room is that it allows the seat can lay flat, which is fantastic for when your fifth trip round the block finally does the trick and your little ‘un drops off. It makes it much more comfortable for them, meaning they get that little bit extra they really need (and a break you deserve).

The downside of all of this that is that it is slightly heavier and bulkier than other strollers, which can be an issue when folding it and putting it in the boot of a car. However, that’s the trade off. You can have spacious and sturdy, or cramped and flimsy.

As well as the sturdy build quality, you also get added extras that would usually come as a costly optional accessory. A matching changing bag, a nice fleecy foot muff and even a cup holder, which is great for carrying much-needed caffeine (or perhaps something stronger depending on how many trips around the block you’ve needed to get them to sleep…)

I have found myself on a few reviews getting to this point of the post and saying that the price can put some people off, but the Koochi Speedstar is fantastic value for money. It compares very well to competitors, even those who cost more, so they are really making good strides at grabbing a share of busy parents’ attention.

I was very impressed and will be recommending to anyone who will listen.

Pearlys Home Teeth Whitening Kit

In the past I’ve had people send me things to try that seem to be hinting at my personal upkeep. First it was someone telling me that my face needed a good wash. Then someone else was saying that my underarms needed addressing.

Now someone seems to think my teeth aren’t looking so great.

That or Pearlys just wanted someone to try out their home whitening kit. I think it was the latter.

I was sent the Pearlys Smile Box which contained three treatments – the daily foam, the weekly powder and the whitening pen.

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First impressions weren’t amazing. I was sceptical. The RRP of this kit is £50 onthe Pearlys website yet it comes in quite a cheap box and the products themselves don’t have any clear branding or information on them so you start to wonder what is actually in them…

However, once you start seeing the results of the foam, powder and pen those concerns fall by the wayside. This stuff really works.

I won’t bore/disgust you with close-ups of my mouth but after two weeks of using it all I can really see a difference in my smile (or any other facial expression where I need to expose my nashers).

My teeth haven’t gone all Ross Gellar white but they have changed from a dull beige to a dull white. It is a noticeable, natural looking improvement.

My wife also joined in with the review. Her opinion? “Love. It.”

There are a couple of downsides however. As I mentioned, the packaging is quite flimsy and doesn’t give you confidence in the quality of the product. The other (slightly picky point) is that Pearlys claim the kit makes your teeth 4 shades whiter instantly, but there is no scale provided for you to compare to. It made my teeth whiter, but I couldn’t tell you how many shades. Maybe 4. Maybe only 2. I have no idea.

Overall, the Pearlys Smile Box is a fantastic product and really does wonders with your teeth for little effort on your part. The price might put people off if they are used to just trying a whitening toothpaste for a fiver but this is a million miles away from those types of products and I’d recommended if you really want to make a difference to your grin.

Tough Mudder Training: HHIIT (Homemade High Intensity Interval Training)

As you may know, I have gone a bit mental and signed up for the South West Tough Mudder. My judgement day is fast approaching (September 21st) so I am in the midst of my training plan.

Training for a marathon is easy. Run, run, don’t run, run a little further. Simple. This is a little different.

My weekly plan consists of eating clean (overnight oats, no-bake energy balls), 24 miles of cycling a week, a run (gradually increasing to 8 miles) and some interval training. My gym puts on interval classes, but seeing as I can do it for free on a nice village green outside my house, I’ve been using a homemade version made up of things picked up from the gym and my ex-PT brother-in-law.

So what is a HHIIT? First of all, it stands for Homemade High Intensity Interval Training. Second of all, it is a series of exercises whereby you bust your gut for 30 seconds for each one, without a break in between. Do them all once, then have a quick break. Do it again. And again. Then you’re done. Not only is it effective, but it’s also quite quick.

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So, three sets of 30 seconds bursts of:

Stair Climbs
Hands on the floor in a press-up position, then bring one knee up to your chest/stomach, then the other, as if you were, you guessed it, climbing stairs.

These will be good for the 10-12 miles I’ll have to run.

Standing Knee Raises
Stand on the spot, raise one knee and twist to touch your opposite elbow with it. Drop the knee and do it with the other side.

These will be good to increase the range of motion in my legs and hips to try and counteract the impact of the distance and the obstacles.

Burpees
Jump up, land, hands on the floor, fire your legs back. Pop them back in, stand up. Repeat. You’ll get 10 seconds in and think you can do them forever, then they’ll start working…

These will build up the explosive power needed to tackle the Dirty Ballerina.

Plank with Knee Raises
Get into the press-up position, then bring one leg up, like a dog cocking their leg… Bring it up as far up your side as you can. Then do the other side. The last set will feel like they take about 5 minutes.

They work your obliques something rotten, which will come in handy for the Trench Warfare and Boa Constricter obstacles.

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Renegade Rows
These can also be known as Alligator Walks. Again, press-up position, with a wide hand stance. Lift your right or left hand straight upwards, like an alligator would walk. Get it? Do the other side.

These work your core and your obliques, so they’re good prep for Devil’s Beard and the wonderfully named Turd’s Nest.

Jumps
Jump up and down. Done.

This is good for all round cardio and explosive power needed to get up/over things such as Everest and Berlin Walls.

Press-Ups
Get into the press-up position. Do a press-up. Then do some more.

These will help boost arm and chest strength for Funky Monkey and Hanging’ Tough.

Squats
Stand up. Then act like you’re going to sit down, sticking your bum out a bit, stopping before your bum goes lower than your knees. Then stand up again. Carry on. Nearly there.

Twists
That old favourite, yup, the press-up position, then lift one arm, twist your upper body and turn so you’re pretty much sideways. Return back to the middle and do the other side. Well done. Only one more to go.

Plank
In that classic press-up position again, but this time, instead of being on your hands, move down on to you elbows with your forearms level with the floor. Keep your bum down and brace your abs. Hold it and keep your back straight. My back wants to break by the second attempt so they’re a good one to end on.

Both these and the Twists will help create a strong core and improve my balance for obstacles such as Twinkle Toes.

Now, you’ve tanked through them all, do it again, and again!

Now if I could only find some exercises to prepare me for Arctic Enema, Electric Eel and Fire Walker

I’m supporting Macmillan Cancer Support because everyone hates cancer and those suffering from it get some great support from Macmillan, so they deserve some more cash. If you fancy donating a few pennies you can at my JustGiving page.

Jake Tries Things

I like trying new things. I also like blogging. Let’s put these things together shall we?

As well as buying new things to try, some people like to send me things. This week I was asked to become a member of the Tesco Magazine Reader Panel and review two bottles of wine for them. “Excellent” you may say, but I feel that I should be sharing these reviews with more than just those people. They (Tesco aside pehaps) can usually benefit from being shown to a wider audience.

So here we are. Jake Tries Things.

I’ll be trying and reviewing all sorts of things. Things I’m sent and things I’ve bought and will let you know if they’re any good or if they need to be shunned. Regardless of how I got my thing, I’ll always
be as honest as possible.

Now let’s hope this wine doesn’t taste like weak lime squash and Flash…