I'm a tough crowd when it comes to brownies. They have to be extremely chocolatey, moist, squidgy and rich, or what's the point? Shop-bought brownies are usually dry, heavy and disappointing, and many homemade ones are just as bad. I had never baked brownies before as I'd eaten so many rubbish ones that I thought it was inevitable that they turned out dry and flavourless unless you added huge amounts of oil. Then I discovered that there was a secret ingredient you could add to your brownie mixture in place of oil. It retained the rich, moist texture oil provides while also lightening the calories and fat:
I located a few mayo-brownie recipes online but all used full-fat mayonnaise. I only had Hellmann's Light in the fridge so tried that and it worked just fine, plus, it lightened the calories and fat even further. By the way, did you know Hellmann's only use free-range eggs in their mayo and have done for the past few years?
These brownies are among the best I've ever tasted. If you like your brownies rich, gooey, dense and chocolatey, this is the recipe for you!
Ingredients Makes 24 brownie bites or 12 large brownies
85g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), broken into small pieces
85g plain flour
25g cocoa powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g caster sugar
40g light muscovado sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 medium free-range egg
2 tbsp buttermilk (I made my own substitute with semi-skimmed milk and a squirt of lemon juice)
100g light mayonnaise
Handful of chocolate chips (optional)
1. Heat oven to Gas Mark 4/180C. Melt the chopped chocolate in a large bowl over a pan of hot water, stirring occasionally and being careful not to over-heat as the chocolate will go gritty. Once it's melted, leave it to cool slightly.
2. Line the base of a square cake tin with baking parchment and lightly grease the sides. Add the caster and muscovado sugars to the melted chocolate and stir in with a wooden spoon. Add the vanilla extract and buttermilk and one tablespoon of warm water. Beat in the egg then gently stir in the mayonnaise. Finally, add the flour, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda. Gently fold in until well combined. Add the chocolate chips if using and gently stir in.
3. Pour the mixture into the tin, gently spreading it into the corners. Bake for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean with a few chocolatey crumbs stuck to it.
4. Leave to cool then tip out onto a large plate and slice into the desired number of squares. The brownies will keep for three days in an airtight container...if they last that long.
I've wanted to visit Lyme Park for years and finally made it there this weekend. The largest house in Cheshire, it's probably best known for its appearance as Mr Darcy's Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice. The gift shop is full of Mr Darcy memorabilia but - how shall I put this? - it was all a little tacky, even for me. And I own a heart-shaped, glittery Pope John Paul II keyring. Instead, I came away with a National Trust membership (is this how middle age starts?) and some yummy homemade fudge.
I am totally in love with Lyme Park. I've been to Tatton Hall and Chatsworth several times but I think Lyme's my new favourite. Photography is prohibited inside the house due to the delicate items on show but it's a beautiful, slightly quirky house. The home of the Legh family for many generations until 1946, it's still got a real lived-in feel despite its grandeur and size. There aren't many roped-off areas or displays contained behind glass so even if you can't actually touch anything, you're very aware that you could and it feels much more hands-on and accessible than other stately homes.
The solitary structure of the Cage up on the top of the hill behind the house, previously used as a hunting lodge, is a definite highlight and affords amazing views over the Cheshire Plain and the mountains of the Peak District. It's only open 14 weekends a year and , luckily, was open for our visit. If you don't mind narrow, winding staircases, it's definitely worth climbing to the top for the spectacular views and a small display on the history of the Cage.
The house is surrounded by beautiful parkland and the landscape seems a little more rugged than other stately home grounds. There are miles and miles of walking trails through woods, meadows, gardens and parkland and I'll definitely be back this summer.
and of course, just time for a smoldering Darcy pic...
Well, April, haven't you just been a hectic month? Dealing with a seriously ill cat at the start of the month, racing to meet several work deadlines towards the end and suffering from a lingering flu-type illness that lasted the best part of two weeks have left me little time for anything else. I have managed to fit in a little crochet though. I'm usually a fan of instant gratification in my crafting endeavours but earlier this year, I decided to take on some bigger projects. I'm currently working my way towards my first ever crochet afghan and managed to hook up a few more of these this month:
I'm also attempting to make a kind of over-sized shrug/cardigan type garment and have just started it for the third and, I hope, final time! The yarn I was using was too heavy so I've taken it down a notch to a lighter version. I'm making it without a pattern but my idea is fairly straightforward so hopefully I'll have something wearable by the end...
I'm planning on selling some crochet accessories via Etsy over the coming months and am working on stock. This was a great little project while I was laid up in bed last week. I love anything I can finish in 10 minutes and it's really satisfying to see the little piles growing! Still need to weave the ends in though, boooooo:
I also had a go at crafting with felt. I made a wonky heart first and then tried a little birdie, inspired by the lovely Suki over at the equally lovely Owl Club Blog after I saw one she'd posted on Instagram. I can't remember really using felt before, possibly as I'd been put off by the garish primary-coloured sheets in those craft packs you see all over the place aimed at children, but I picked up some pieces in muted shades the other week and was keen to have a go. I love freehand sewing and felt is much more forgiving towards uneven or mis-judged stitches, making it perfect for a quick and easy crafting.
So there is my April in a crafting nutshell. Thankfully, little Pepster is now doing well and enjoying chilling at home in cute sleeping poses:
It's with mixed emotions that I'm awaiting the start of season 6 of Mad Men on Sky Atlantic. The creators have said there will only be one more season after this one so while I'm really, really excited for season 6, I'm gutted that I'll only have one more season premier after this one *sob*.
Whether you watch Mad Men because you're a fan of dashing men, immaculately put-together women, excellent storytelling or just first rate acting, you'll almost certainly appreciate the incredible attention to detail in each and every scene. I started watching Mad Men a couple of years after it first aired, spurred on to check it out by an article in Grazia detailing the lengths the set-dressers went to to make sure everything was just perfect. Soon hooked on the slow-moving yet utterly absorbing storylines and the sheer beauty of Betty Draper's wardrobe, I became a huge fan of all things Mad Men.
Here are some of my favourite looks sported by the leading ladies of series so far:
Betty's Rome outfit was a real glimpse into who Betty might have been before she met Don, when she was still modelling and had the world at her feet.
I really love Betty's pretty dresses, though, and covet much of her fabulous wardrobe.
I'd play tennis EVERY DAY if it meant I could wear this:
Joan, Joan, Joan
Has there ever been a woman as fabulous as Joan Harris? (Clue: The answer is"no"). An inspiration to tall, curvy gals everywhere, I love seeing her strut across the screen. Her honeyed tones disguise a strong, independent woman who really develops over several seasons. I love you, Joan.
Not a fan of anything Peggy ever wears, ever, I struggled to find a look I liked. I had to include Peggy, because, you know, she's Peggy. She's in practically every scene in many episodes and is arguably the most important female character in the show. I do quite like this cute dress, though:
I adore Sally. From cute little kid to feisty teenager, she has stolen every scene she's appeared in. This glam look is from Season 5 and is the first time we see Sally sporting an adult look:
I love lovely Megan. She's much more of a 60s chick than the other characters and her look tends to be less polished and more modern. As a black eyeliner devotee myself, I can totally get on board with her approach to make-up, too.
I'll be glued to my screen when Season 6 starts this week and trying not to think about the fact that sometime next year, Mad Men will be gone forever. Thank God for boxsets.