22 April 2015

Brownie Haven

Normally I hate it when people ask if you have any Easter chocolate left as I always think "well now I feel bad, because if we're being honest I finished it by midnight Easter Sunday". This year has been slightly different though, as I split my time between Bath and Berkshire.
By some blessing it appears I left my (very) mini eggs in Bath over Easter. In all the anticipation of baking with them I put them out of sight and out of mind, consequently forgetting to bring them home to bake with. Easter has been and gone, but there may be a very small chance that you have some Easter chocolate stashed away somewhere. No? Ok well I give you permission to go buy some smarties especially for this recipe. Minstrels would also work well or if all else fails half-squares of chocolate always taste great.

Amongst the sweet potato brownies, raw brownies and avocado brownies it is easy to forget that actually the full-fat full-sugar brownies are still great. I'm not pretending they're healthy by any means, just promising that they taste delicious.

First of all take a few moments to read my 5 commandments when it comes to brownies as it will ensure you hit the nail on the head.
Brownies (with Easter Leftovers)
Recipe slightly adapted from Nigella Lawson 'Kitchen' due to my limited store cupboard & to allow for the addition of my forgotten Easter chocolate.
150g unsalted butter
300g dark brown soft sugar
75g cocoa powder
150g plain flour
1 tsp bicarb of soda
4 eggs
250g chocolate eggs/chocolate chunks (including white chocolate for the top)
A rectangular tray roughly around 30cm x 20cm lined with baking parchment or tin foil
Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius. Reduce the temperature by around 10-20 degree if you have a fan oven or your oven is particularly efficient.

1 | Melt the butter in a pan on relatively low heat.
2 | Add the sugar and mix together.
3 | Add the dry ingredients (cocoa powder, flour & bicarb). The mixture will be very dry at this point almost crumbly looking (see photo below) so don't panic. Take off the heat.

4 | Add the eggs and beat in to the mixture relatively quickly until the batter becomes glossy.
5 | Add your chosen chocolate and mix til only just combined. You want to try and keep the chunks of chocolate rather than let them melt in to the batter.
 ... I plopped some white chocolate chunks on top purely because it looks pretty.

6 | Cook your brownie for around 20 mins. I checked after 15 minutes and the brownie was done, but this will depend on your oven. The top of the brownie will be just 'set' and look dry to touch. If you do just that and lightly touch the top the brownie, it should jiggle slightly. See more tips on the aforementioned post.
I always eat mine warm from the oven. Give it a few minutes to cool before cutting in to modest squares.
Ps. The white area at the bottom of the brownie is the crispy shell of the (very) mini eggs and definitely the best part of the brownie!

Let me know on Twitter or the Blog of Beanie Facebook page if you give these brownies a shot.

15 April 2015

Amsterdam | A Weekend's Worth of Things To Do

It's been almost exactly a year since I made my trip to Amsterdam, so here's my list of places to check out. You should be able to see them all at a leisurely pace over the course of a weekend.

Anne Frank House
Even as one of the main pulls of Amsterdam, the Anne Frank House does not disappoint. It is very tastefully done and despite the queues to get in it is efficient and worth the wait. No trip should be without this experience. Plan to get there early in the day to try and avoid the worst of the queue or buy online. I would allow half a day to make sure you aren't rushed for time, even though in reality you will probably be in the museum little over an hour. Use the remainder of your time to wander along the canals. Check the Anne Frank House website to secure tickets online.

iAmerstam Sign
You need that photo right? There isn't a deep meaning to the letters, just a great opportunity for a new cover photo.

Red Light District
When you're in Amsterdam you can't ignore the red light district. We considered not going to a sex show but decided that we wanted to experience it at least. We paid by in several minute intervals and you get shown to your own booth so you can gawk in private (though look at the person watching opposite). Definitely read up before you go about the Dos and Don'ts (see this article) as there are several things that can get you in trouble - most commonly taking photos or not showing respect to the sex workers. Don't be put off going to the area as it's an experience and I feel you should go to form your own opinions about Amsterdam's red light district. Traveling is about experiencing a different culture, so don't turn a blind eye or take things on face value. And yes, it can be perfectly safe, just make sure you're clued up.

Van Gough Museum
Even if you know nothing about Art the chances are you know Van Gough. The Van Gough museum is huge with so much to see, including painting which you would never be able to identify as his. The great thing about this museum is that it explains a lot about his processes, how he worked, his life and him as a person. I loved this personal approach to exhibiting (something that was also done at the Andy Warhol exhibition at Rappongi in Tokyo, Japan). I wrote a bit about the museum in my 'Tale of Two Cities' post. I have two big tips for you:
1. Get the kids audioguide. It's simple, cheaper and takes less time. It's a bit of fun and you get a free postcard at the end.
2. Buy your tickets in the building next to the iAmsterdam sign. You will get a timed entrance to the museum and skip the long queues outside.

Pannenkoekenboot - Pancake Cruise
I stubbled across this gooden' when doing some internet research. This is such a fun way to spend a few hours, fills you up for the day and gives you a break from history and culture. It's my favourite thing to do in Amsterdam. There were well over a dozen toppings, both savoury & sweet and freshly made on the boat. Drinks are not included, but this is still a really reasonable activity at only 18,50euros for a cruise and a [big] meal out all rolled in to one... pardon the pun. It was just a shame they didn't let us loose in the ball pit. See the Pannenkoekenboot website for more info.

Walking Tour
I really started to appreciate walking tours when I did a night tour in Rome. Since then I look for walking tours every time I go on a mini break. Far from being bori
ng and reminiscent of a lecture, you are told the stories of the city from someone who is clearly passionate to share their knowledge and answer tricky questions you may have. I definitely recommend choosing a walking tour on your first day as it helps you to get your bearings in a new city and may help you decide what you're more interested in spending your time on
We went on the New Sandemans Free Tour. I cannot recommend the company enough (they were equally great in Berlin). If you're going on the free tour free to tip a little at the end, or not at all - the tour isn't a sales pitch I promise and if you have no money the tour guide love you all the same. As a guideline, I think we tipped 5-10 euros per person - our guides have always been so deserving.

North of the River
I thoroughly recommend getting North of the river to the edgy Noord area. Since industry has shifted out the old warehouses and containers are now artsy galleries, studios, restaurants and bars. There are great eating options here and it's definitely where the cool kids of Amsterdam hang out. Get the ferry that leave every few minutes - look for the directions to 'Noord' at the Amsterdam Central Station. The last ferry is around midnight, but check when you board.

Vondelpark
If you're blessed with sunny weather, follow the crowds to Vondelpark and loll around until you're ready to hit the canals again. The people watching here is top notch.

Logistics
  • You can secure very cheap flights to Amsterdam from London, often for under £100. Reportedly there are frequently very cheap deals from Scotland. 
  • We stayed at the Flying Pig Downtown a very efficient hostel which I thoroughly recommend. The location is great for access to the train station, ferry to the North, an easy walk to the red light district and right in the shopping area. Hostels tend to be more expensive in Amsterdam than other areas of Europe, but flights are often cheaper and costs when you get there can be very reasonable, so in my eyes it all evens out.
  • Amsterdam is a very easy city to walk on foot, and the beautiful views certainly help. Cycling is also a very popular way to get across the city.