Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My First Wedding Cake

So, my lovely friend Emma is getting married in May and has tasked ME with the wedding cake. Eeek ! Is she frickin' crazy ???? Of course, I should be thinking about Christmas and all that, but I have that feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach, and the thought of the cake is filling my mind.

The wedding theme is red, ivory and roses. I had an idea of red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and red love heart sprinkles. Too cute for words huh ? Earlier, Em told me that the cake would also be dessert. So, it gets even worse - people are actually going to be eating the stuff instead of leaving it in the bottom of their handbag for a week before chucking it in the bin, which is what I think happens to the majority of party cake, no ?

On another subject, well actually still on the subject of parties.. I was at a birthday party this week where I was served the most absolutely delicious pound cake made using sour cream. I don't think I have ever tasted a plain, unembelished cake that tasted quite so delicious. I look forward to trying out the recipe (which I begged the cook for) on here at some point...

Well, one would hardly know it is Christmas from this post, but I am pleased to report that I have packed the chutney and the homemade cranberry sauce and whilst cooking Christmas dinner may be daunting, I think I have it under control! Full report to follow soon.

Merry Christmas Everyone !

PS> Any hints on making wedding cakes - PLEASE  let me know.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Snowed in (again) and Christmas Cake Decorating - Step 2

So, you have a lovely marzipaned cake and now it's ready to decorate.

Firstly, remove your watch and rings. You would be amazed how easy it is to mark the icing.

This is what you need.

Your cake :o)
1) A rolling pin
2) A small glass of vodka
3) A pastry brush
4) A pack of ready-to-roll icing
5) Your various decorations - ribbons, edible decorations, 'Merry Christmas' sign etc.
6) A tape measure

Technical stuff eh ?

Method

1. Take you cake, and if you have one place it on a revolving, raised board - as in the photo below:


NOTE: I only had a revolving board because I did a cake decorating course and I thought it would be nice to have one. You definitely don't need one, just try and position yourself and the cake so you can see all around it when you lay on the icing. Ditto the icing sugar shaker above, nice to shake on to your worksurface when you are rolling out the icing, but good enough to just toss some sugar onto the work surface too.

2. Take your icing and using your hands, knead it until it is soft and pliable. The aim here is to warm up the glucose in the icing to make it easier to handle.

3. Take your tape measure and measure your cake so you know how large to make your icing.

4. Clean your work surface with anti-bacterial spray or soap and then leave the work surface for five minutes to dry, so that the icing is not tainted.

5. Roll out your icing to the measurement you took in step 3 above. I prefer to move my icing every second roll with the rolling pin so that the icing does not stick to the work surface. You don't have to turn it, just move it a couple of inches at a time. You might have noticed I have a lovely rolling pin in the photo above. This is especially for icing, it has a smooth surface and does not leave pit marks on the icing like a wooden or other rolling pin might. Having said that, using a different roling pin which may leave marks is not a major problem as it is easy to get rid of icing marks by polishing the cake (see step 10 below). I only use the rolling pin above for icing cakes - which is a little bit of a kitchen kit indulgence on my behalf, no ?

6. When you are ready to put the icing on the cake, quickly brush the vodka all over the cake. The vodka makes the icing stick to the marzipan, and then evaporates so no alcohol taste is left behind. NOTE: If you put the vodka on any sooner, it will evaporate and the icing will not stick. (eek!)

7. Carefully lift the icing by folding the icing over your rolling pin, you will also probably need to use your arm to manouever the icing. The icing is about 3-5mm thick (depending on how thick you like it), perhaps 20-25 centimetres in length, and depending on the size of the cake the icing can split easily so just take it slowly. I like to look down on the cake, as I position it and ensure the icing fits the cake all the the way round.

If the icing should not stretch all the way to the bottom of one of the sides, then there are a couple of things you can do. Firstly, you can gently lift the icing and reposition it. Or, you can coax the icing down the sides of the cake and do some patchwork on it from left over icing.

8. Once the icing is on, roughly trim the excess as soon  as possible. I have found that sometimes the weight of the excess icing can cause the icing to rip. Then, take the blunt edge of a kitchen knife and trim the icing so that it is close to the cake. Run the knife along the edge of the cake, to smooth it down, still with the blunt edge of the knife. This is simply because the sharp edge of the knife could leave knife marks on your board.

9. Your final result shoud look like this:


10. Now, use your hands to smooth down the cake. Start with the top, and move your way down the sides. Defintely make sure you have no jewellry on at this point, as you will mark the cake. I tend to use the palm of my hand, and the bottom of the palm of my hand. You can achieve a really shiny, smooth, polished finish.

11. I then use a paintbrush to brush on lustre dust and I then scatter on edible glitter. Then I 'glue' on my little shop-bought figures, and add a pretty ribbon to the base of the cake. I stick the ribbon and the figures to the cake using either a tube of white, shop-bought glue if I happen to have some around, or I mix a little icing sugar with a drop of water to make a icing 'glue'. Just a dab will fix ribbon or figures quite firmly to the cake.




Leave the cake alone for a day or two, so that the icing can dry. I then wrap my cake in cellophane and tie with a matching ribbon.

Voila !

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Marroush - A review

Today I had a lovely Christmas lunch out. Maroush is a chain of lebanese restaurants in central London. This is their web site: http://www.maroush.com/pages/home.htm

To start we shared houmous, tabbouleh, a pastry filled with vegetables and an aubergine salad. The houmous was smooth and silky, the aubergine salad smoky yet fresh, and the tabbouleh bright green and crunchy, and acidic. It was truly delicious.

For the main course, we ordered chicken shwarma, prawn kebab, green salad with sumac - in the salad was lettuce, tomatoes, onion and red pepper. The salad was vibrant, cruncy and tasty. We also enjoyed yoghurt and lebanese flat bread.

This was all 'washed down' with a nice bottle of red, and a bottle of water. We had filter coffee and my friend had mint tea to finish. The mint tea was delicious. We were offered a complimentary fruit basket which was very nice, so I had a couple of slices of the sweetest pineapple before the coffee arrived. Also, on the fruit basket were bananas, pears and plums. So, we didn't need any additional desert, although I'll bet the baklava was delicious.

We were at the branch in Vere Street. The atmosphere is quite casual, so you could go along in your jeans.We were slightly more dressed up, although we still did not feel out of place.

The service was good, I would have preferred a little more resting time between courses, the houmous bowl was scooped up a little too quickly for me (there were still some whole chickpeas in there !) and I would have happily scraped my bread around the bowl it was so delicious.

As soon as the starters were cleared away, the main course arrived. There was no delay, maybe 5 seconds but it's not like it's the kind of food that will ruin if you leave it for ten minutes while you rest before courses. So we did.

The same promptness though was applied when we ordered coffees, I ordered 2 filter coffees and then it was only when I had chance to get the dessert and coffee menu, and saw that there was 'Lebanese coffee' on the menu, that I thought it might be nice to try that -  but it seems that it was not possible to change my order. I've no idea how the coffee order got back so quickly. It would have been nice to try the other coffee, but I felt like it was too much trouble...

The promptness of the bill's arrival when we asked for it was great. A pet restaurant hate is waiting an age for the bill to arrive. The food and drinks bill was £90 not including service, which I would consider to be excellent value for three people in central London.

When I next go it's falafel, mint tea and baklava for me !

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Winter Warmer #1 - Pumpkin and Parsnip Cassoulet

I first came across this recipe in an email from Sutton Community Farm. They are a great organisation which gives people the opportunity to take part in some community farming. I would love to say that I have been and helped out, but the best I have done so far is signed up for their emails. One day, one day I hope to get there and lend a hand...

So, I thought the recipe looked great, made it and it was delicious and then I promptly lost the recipe, but thank goodness I found it again online on the BBC Good Food website. A link to the recipe is here: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2924/pumpkin-and-parsnip-cassoulet

This recipe is of course vegetarian, except I served it with sausages and it was the perfect delicious winter warming recipe. This would be just a lovely with veggie sausages or with garlic bread. I made some changes to the linked recipe of course ;o) I will put my changes in italics next to the 'proper' ingredient list (as usual).

Ingredients           (Serves 6)

2 tbsp olive oil       I usually use less olive oil...
2 large onions , chopped     I had these ..
500g pumpkins , deseeded, peeled and diced  I substituted courgette (yes, still got 'em!)
500g parsnips , diced  I had these too !
3 garlic cloves , crushed  .. and these !
2 x 425g cans mixed beans , drained I had to do a bit of a substitution here.. simply making sure that my bean blend totalled 950gr or thereabouts. You will see from the image below that I used 2 small cans of baked beans and one larger tin of cannellini beans
780g can tomatoes  I used 'cheap' passata and 4 fresh tomatoes
225ml red wine I had this
300ml vegetable stock  .. and this
2 large sprigs fresh thyme    .. and this
1 tbsp sugar         ..and this !
75g fresh breadcrumbs  I  didn't want breadcrumbs
25g vegetarian parmesan -style cheese, grated .. or parmesan, vegetarian or otherwise..

Method
 
Here's what I did:
 
Preheat the oven to 200 deg.

1. Start by sauteing the oil, garlic and onions in a large pot until nice and soft.


2. Add the chopped pumpkin/courgette and parsnips saute some more. All this chopping takes quite a while, so I recommend making this recipe when in a 'chopping mood'.


3. Add your beans, thyme and chopped fresh tomatoes.


4. Mix briefly, and then add the rest of the ingredients and it will look like this:

Yum huh ?

5. Bring this to the boil and then tip it into a suitable receptacle for the oven and bake for 40 minutes at 200 deg.

It looked like this:

As you can see I cheated and used a tin foil tray  - perfect for the lazy cook that either doesn't want to wash up, or wants to freeze and then defrost and stick straight in the oven - perfect for busy days..


NOTE:
The good food recipe web site says the following if you are using the breadcrumbs and cheese concerning the crumble topping :

Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and grated cheese. Cover, then cook for 40 mins. Uncover, stir well and cook for a further 40 mins. Serve with garlic bread and stir-fried cabbage

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mince pies - my way

I think Mince Pies are somewhat of an acquired taste, but if you make your own mincemeat, then you can tweak the recipe and add more spice and raisins, if you like them, and less if you don't.

Many mincemeat recipes use suet which gives a mince pie that almost greasy 'mouthfeel' that you get with some of them. I use that great Nigella recipe which was given to her by her friend Hettie and it substitutes apples to provide the 'fluffiness'.   (Find it in Nigella's 'Domestic Goddess' book)

Here is a link to the recipe (no time to type this evening...):

http://traineedomesticgoddess.blogspot.com/2007/12/suet-free-mincemeat.html

I am also somewhat averse to too much pastry (trying to maintain the figure y'know ?). Anyway, instead I use marzipan (because that's just SO healthy no ??) Actually, I really just don't want a top and bottom layer of pastry.. The marzipan caramelizes when baked so you are left with the most gorgeous chewy, almondy loveliness.

I made these last year with my vintage mincemeat and again this year, with more vintage mincemeat. Whilst I cannot advocate keeping your mincemeat for two years (eek!), mine has been in an unopened jar and still tastes seriously scrummy. Indeed, I think the flavours have developed in a most lovely way...

Last year I took some mince pies to work and the girls there loved them and this year they begged me to make some more, and you know how I just love to have my food complimented. I just couldn't resist taking them some more to hear their appreciation. And oh lordie mcglordie, were they good !

This is the easiest recipe in the world.

1) Preheat your oven to 200 deg c.

2) Take a bun tray and grease it.

3) Buy some frozen pastry. Defrost it and roll it out. (or make your own if you have time..)

4) Cut pastry circles to fit you tin (pastry about 3-5mm thick)

5) Fill your pastry cases two thirds full with your mincemeat.

6) Roll out your marzipan to about 3mm thick

7) Cut out stars or other Christmassy shape and place on top of the mincemeat


8) Brush the stars and any exposed pastry with beaten egg for a glossy finish.

9) Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the marzipan has caramelized as shown below.
10) Leave to cool on a wire tray (if you can resist !)





10) Pack the mince pies into clear bags and tie with ribbons

11) Take them to your friends and be adored ! :o)


Dust with icing before serving if you wish.


Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Snowed in and Christmas Cake decorating - Step 1

Well, we're snowed in this evening, so what better thing to do when it's cold outside than write my blog ! I had so wanted to go for a run after work today, but it was not to be.. by the time I got home the snow was welll over my boots and the traffic was practically at a standstill..

So, Cupcake and I came home and I made a start on the five Christmas cakes that are in need of decoration. I had already marzipanned three of them at the weekend, so they were ready to decorate. Well, actually that's not entirely correct, one of the cakes does not have marzipan so I will put a double icing layer on that one. So, I marzipanned two, did a one-layer icing on another and left them to dry out..

When decorating your cake this is what you need to do:

1) Get a cake board. Get a board that fits your cake nicely. Remember by the time you have added marzipan and icing, and also if you plan to ice around the base of the cake, this can quite increase the girth of the cake, so just bear that in mind ok ?

2) So, you have your board. Take a wodge of marzipan or icing and use it to stick the cake to the base of the cake board.

3) With your cake nicely secure, open your marzipan and use it to fill all of the little gaps on the top of the cake to create a surface that will look as smooth as possible when iced. Also, look at the base of your cake, if it is not perfectly flat then fill in that space with marzipan so that your cake will be a perfect round or square when iced.






4) Once you have filled the holes,done some patchwork and created the perfect shape, you can now glaze the cake and get it ready for the marzipan. BUT before you do this you must measure the cake to check what size you will need to roll out your marzipan and icing to. You can do it when it's covered in glaze if you like, it's just easier and less messy before... I use a standard sewing measuring tape.


5) For the glaze you need apricot jam or you can buy 'Apricot jam glaze'. The secret of the glaze is that it must absolutely be fruit-free and clear. If your glaze has pieces of fruit in it, and you brush them onto your cake, and then add marzipan and icing, apparently the pieces of apricot can start to go mouldy in your cake... Enough said huh ?

5) Put several tablespoons of the glaze into a saucepan and heat it gently (or chuck it in the microwave for 15 seconds or maybe less actually - it just needs to be warm and 'brushable' (is that a word ??)). If you happen to just have jam and not glaze, you can still heat the jam the same way, but you must sieve the jam afterwards, before you use it, to get rid of any fruit 'bits'. Brush the warm glaze all over the cake. I use a wonderful silicon pastry brush, but I have been known to use a traditional brush and then spend hours (or what felt like hours !) quite literally 'picking hairs'. Actually, being quite a pedantic person I quite like to pick hairs at times, but not literally !!



6) Roll out the marzipan to the desired thickness and diameter. I have a lovely smooth rolling pin which I only use for decorating cakes. Wooden rolling pins tend to be a little pitted which can leave marks on your lovely iced cake, which you want to be smooth, smooth, smooth... Use the rolling pin, and your arm if necessary to drape the marzipan over the cake. Once you are happy with the position and cover,  use your hands to secure the marzipan over the cake.

7) Once the marzipan is in the correct position and smoothed out over the top and sides of the cake, take a blunt knife and trim the excess marzipan from the base of the cake. Always leave a little more than you think you need and use the edge of the knife to press the marzipan against the cake and make a neat bottom edge. Please ensure the knife is blunt and you press lightly as the cake is now on it's presentation board, otherwise you could very easily mark your board.



8) Once you are happy with the trimmed area, clean your cake board. (I use kitchen towel dipped in alcohol to get rid of any jam drips or icing sugar dust). Cover the cake with either a perforated cake cover, or loosely with greaseproof paper and leave the marzipan to dry.



The marzipan needs at least 24 hours to dry before you ice the cake.

See Christmas Cake decorating Step 2 - coming soon !

Friday, November 26, 2010

Christmas Cake - it's not too late !

If you start now, and I mean NOW, you can probably just about get the cake done in time for Christmas. I have made six cakes in total and have been feeding them (whiskey) for the last couple of weeks. They are now ready to marzipan and ice and will be with the recipients next week or the week after (depending how quickly I manage to get them decorated).

You may be thinking in awe, what ? Six Christmas cakes ?? But actually Christmas cake is really easy to make, you just need to know a few tricks of the trade. I went on a year long cake decorating course which I thoroughly enjoyed, and of course the first project was Christmas cake decorating and baking. So, here goes...

This is my tried and tested Christmas Cake recipe taken from a book called 'The Cook's Encyclopedia of Christmas' by Martha Day. (Just reading that title tells me that it's my kind of book). My mom bought me the book a couple of years ago and the recipe makes for a nice tasting Christmas cake.

Here's how it goes:

Ingredients

225g sultanas
225g currants
225g raisins
115g dried, chopped prunes
50g glace cherries
50g chopped, mixed peel
45ml brandy, sherry or whiskey
225g plain flour
pinch salt
half tsp cinnamon
half tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp cocoa powder
grated rind of an orange or lemon
225g butter
225g soft brown sugar
4 large eggs
50g ground almonds
50g chopped almonds

Method

1. The night before you want to make the cake - presoak the dried fruit in whichever alcohol you are using.
I guess I never really realised just how important soaking dried fruit in some form of liquid is, until I first tried it in a banana loaf cake. Soaking the fruit makes so much difference it's like eating a different cake. So, put all of the dried fruit mentioned above, cherries and prunes included into a huge bowl, pour the alcohol over and preferably leave over night. I also cover my bowl with clingfilm so the alcoholic vapour is not lost. :o)

NOTE: If you don't like cherries/mixed peel/raisins, then remember the above is a guide only. As long as you use the correct weight of dried fruits, then you can substitute any for your favourites. For example, Biscuit Boy adores cherries so I will often use triple the amount of cherries and half the amount of raisins, and no mixed peel, but more sultanas.. You get the idea...



Preheat the oven to 160 deg/325F or gas 3.

2. This makes enough for an 8inch round cake, so you need to grease and line that. Although I use a 7in square tin and this quantity does fine for that too. Don't forget to make the lining in the tin nice and tall, this prevents the corners of the cake browning too quickly and becoming dry.

3. Sift the dry ingredients into  a bowl - flour, cocoa, salt and spices. In a different bowl whisk the (softened) butter and sugar together until light and fluffy and then add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.

4. Next, add the orange or lemon rind to the sugar.butter/eggs mixture, then add the ground almonds, chopped almonds, flour mixture and fruits (basically all the rest of the ingredients above !)

5. Mix all of this together and place in your prepared cake tin.

 6. Put in the oven and bake for 3 hours, do a skewer test to ensure the cake is cooked. eg if there is raw cake on the skewer that you dip in, then you need to cook it for longer. If the top of the cake is looking done, but the middle isn't you can cover the cake either with tin foil or cake liner to remove some of the direct heat from the top of the cake.



Here is the cooked cake:


As I am going to be decorating these cakes in the next few days I will do a Christmas Cake decorating masterclass which should be fun as I still have all of the bits and pieces from the course. Edible gold anyone ?? Come on, it is Christmas !!!

Let me be the first to say it, and not even in December ..


Merry Christmas !!!!!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Gosport Half Marathon 2010 - Race Review

Well, yet again there were a few lessons learned for me, and here they are so that you may learn from my mistakes ...

Please, please, pleased read the race instructions before you leave the house for the race. I have a tendency to rely on Biscuit Boy to sort out everything I need for my races, like nutrition and journey route etc; although I do actually sort out my own race kit.  I had assumed (wrongly) that there would be no showering facillities... We had just reached the (congested) motorway when I started reading the race instructions and saw that there were showering facilities and, of course, I had no towel or shower gel, or anything... Enough said.

When we arrived at the destination we joined the queue of cars heading past the school to the car park at the bottom of the road (I assume...) However, before we could reach the car park, the nice marshall told us that the car park was full and they were no longer letting cars into the car park from that entrance as they were about to close the road for the race and we had to turn back and go left at a roundabout, and then straight on, and then left again..(or something like that ...) Instead, luckily we were able to shoe-horn ourselves into a space outside someone's home... as for the rest of the cars snaking down the street waiting in line patiently to be told exactly the same thing... well I'm not sure what happened to them... Moral ? Get there in plenty of time to park...

I say luckily because by this point I was absolutely bursting for the loo. I had faithfully drunk my lucozade sports energy drink on the way down and now my bladder was aching... Into the school we went, to locate the ladies.. I located the facilities and then started following the queue, with nearly 2000 competitors (I don't know how many of those were women though), you can imagine what the queue was like.. long. I went back outside to Biscuit Boy and told him we needed to find somewhere else to powder our noses ... Of course, I had passed a petrol station just before we turned into the side road, that was, of course, empty. I remember I noticed that someone very much looking like a runner was exiting the petrol station at the time and I was thinking 'He probably had the sense to make a pee stop before reaching the race'. Moral ? The facilities at any  race are often busy before the race starts. Everyone (me included) either seems to develop pre-race nerves that makes you want to pee literally every 5 minutes before the race, or (as all runners will know) you want to try and empty your bowel, because if you don't do it now, by mile 8 or 9 or even 10 with all that jiggy-jogging up and down you are going to find yourself in trouble and with a very uncomfortable ending to your race, which quite frankly can ruin the whole race.. Moral ? Don't wait until you reach the race destination to make your first toilet stop. If there are services or a petrol station near to the race venue, go there on the way. :o)

Back to Gosport half marathon itself. They had wonderful things on offer like pre and post-race massage - for free ! (I think you could make a charity donation as a contribution.) They also had a refreshments tent and a running stall selling items, you could also get your medal engraved. Unfortunately, by the I had returned to the toilet queue through the throngs of competitors, collected my chip and attached it to my stupid laces it was 9.50 and I had 10 minutes before the race started... and I wasn't even at the start line...

Biscuit Boy tells me that he did see a cafe on the beach front that looked good, but he didn't want to waste time queueing - we're both SO impatient ! He didn't check out the facilities at the school either..

So, I joined the competitors on the start line. I noticed that you could stand according to the time that you thought you were going to do. I saw there was a 2 hours+ line and I thought I want to be in front of that this time, so I went in front. Not all races start on time and with the parking problems and the toilet congestion I had thought that we might be delayed.. and we were but only by about 3 minutes, which is not at all bad.

Now for the course, I had studied the course map in detail, this is because although I got third prize at the Tough Tracks race none of the marshalls that I asked knew how much of the race was left, which made me run slower because I wasn't sure how much energy I needed to conserve. Not good.

I needn't have worried about this today. First of all the course is most wonderfully signposted, has mile markers and plenty of marshalls. Excellent. Also, if you look at the course map you will see that it is basically 3 miles to the airfield, 2 miles in the airfield, 3 miles out of the airfield, 2 miles back in the airfield, 3 miles to the finish. Easy. So, you can roughly pace yourself based on that.

The course is flat, flat, flat. For someone that is used to cross country and off-road running, or if road-running then at least a couple of undulations along the way, this was a taste of something new. Hastings half marathon was a road marathon, but there were quite a few uphill and downhills. On this out of 13 miles you have about 25 metres of downhill as as you enter the promenade and perhaps one or two places where there are a couple of very slight declines, same for inclines, maybe one or two very slight, otherwise it's flat, flat, flat.

What do flat courses make ? Fast times. Well that's what they say anyway... I did cross the line in 1:55:05 and I had wanted to make less than 2 hours, so obviously I was pleased but I cannot say it was an 'easy' run. As far as I'm concerned, fast runs make for fast times, and I felt like I was running fast for the whole of this half marathon. On an undulating course you can almost take a breather on a fast downhill and also on an uphill (kind of), on this flat course there is no let-up and everyone is running fast. That's how it felt to me, no let up at all. A solid 1:55 of running quite literally as fast as I could.

There were plenty of water stops, 2 in the airfield and as you go through it twice that makes it 4 and also one at the 11 mile mark which I didn't use. At the first three I glugged water and had an energy gel. I wore my compression calf supports, so my calves did feel nice and supported.

Not surprisingly after this race my thighs are aching so no running for me tomorrow.

Who would I recommend this race to ? Basically, people who are not accustomed to undulating courses or are maybe used to running on a treadmill rather than outside. As I mentioned I think getting a fast time is a little bit of a fallacy. If you want a fast time you have to run fast and you can at least do that on this course. The course was well organised, the organisers had actually thought about what to put in the goodie bag with a banana, fruit cake, salt and vinegar crisps the absolutely practically perfect combination to replace lost carbs and salts in a tasty way.

All in all thank you for a lovely race and of course a half marathon PB.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Gosport Half Marathon 2010

Tomorrow I will be competing in Gosport Half Marathon.. (http://www.gosportroadrunners.org.uk/ ). Eeek !!

I have been training well and for the last few weeks I have been on a couple of eight mile runs,  this has taken about ninety minutes. I am hoping to run the course tomorrow in less than 2 hours. You may recall that I did Hastings half marathon (http://alwaystri-ingmybest.blogspot.com/2010/03/hastings-half-marathon.html) recently in 2:02 and that was a hilly course, so I live in hope...

I have been tapering the running all week, so this week my running was like this:

Sunday:  8 miles, nice and long and slow.

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: 4 mile run (Oaks Park)

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday:  3 mile road run (too soggy for Oaks Park)

Friday/Saturday: Rest

So tomorrow my legs should be nicely rested. I have all of my kit sorted, including the race belt that I managed to forget last time.  I've also been eating lots of nice carbs for the last few days to ensure my muscles are fully stoked ! It's now 10.30pm so it's an early night for me and an early rise. Gosport is about two hours drive from South London. This will be my second race running for South London Harriers.

If I have the energy tomorrow, I will update this post with a brief report and time...

Wish me luck !!

An update:  Provisional Results: 1:55:05. This is my 'unofficial' 'race' time. My 'chip' time should be quicker, probably by about a minute. So, I'm absolutely VERY pleased with the result.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Homemade Granola (Vegan)

Well, it's not like I'm stingy or tight-fisted or anything...  but when I saw the price of the granola on the supermarket shelf the other day, I thought 'There is no way I am paying all that hardearned cash' for what is basically baked oats !!!

I had a vague inkling of how to make it, it's a little bit like a flapjack recipe actually. You need oats, any sort of fruits and nuts and a binding sweetner, choose honey, maple syrup, normal syrup and you also need a little bit of oil or butter.


I looked at my book shelves for a 'proper' recipe, and would you believe that out of all of these books, not one of them contained a recipe for granola. Shameful !

So, onto the computer and there I found this wonderful recipe within two seconds flat ! (I still love my cook books tho.)
http://www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk/recipes/crunchy-nutty-granola

Crunchy, nutty granola is just what I was looking to make. Perfect. As usual, I tweaked the recipe to match what I had available.

This is what I did, my mods are in brackets.

Ingredients
125g PURE soy margarine (one of my favourites, this)
150ml maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
500g oat flakes (I used cheap muesli and picked out the fruit(!))
100g flaked almonds (I didn't have any of the below nuts so I used 200g of chopped walnuts instead)
100g chopped cashew nuts
100g desiccated coconut
100g pumpkin seeds (I used 200g as I was missing nuts and sunflower seeds)
100g sunflower seeds (I didn't have any of these...)

200-300g mixed dried fruit, such as chopped pitted dates, figs, apricots, raisins, sultanas
I used sultanas, chopped dried apricots, and chopped dates. I think the whole lot came to about 250g. You can kind of tell by looking how much you need, oh and also the dusty dried fruit from out of the muesli (waste not, want not :o))

Here is the lovely recipe method below with pictures interspersed.

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C/fan 140°C/gas 3. Place the margarine, maple syrup and vanilla in a small pan, and put over a gentle heat to melt together.

2. Mix the remaining ingredients, except the dried fruit, in a large bowl. Stir in the melted margarine mixture and mix well. Spread out in a large roasting tray and bake for 25 minutes, or until the nuts and grains are a pale golden brown, stirring every 5 minutes so it browns evenly. Note that if you do put the fruit in it will cook the moisture out of the fruit and will render it into to 'Bitter Bullets' so don't do it, as it tastes yuk ! (A bit like the 'overdone' bit on a Christmas Cake...)



3. Remove the tray from the oven and leave to cool, stirring the mixture in the tray occasionally. (If you transfer it to a bowl while it’s still warm, it will go soggy.)




When it has cooled down, add the dried fruit, stir, and put into an airtight container. Store at room temperature for up to a month.

Here it is with the fruit added ...

.. and now in the jar :


I had this for breakfast this morning, and it was delicious ! As you can see it fills quite a large jar. Do be careful and literally check it every five minutes as it can suddenly be ready very quickly. Enjoy !

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Leek and Potato Soup (Vegan)

Last weekend I was treated to lunch and a reflexology session by a couple of friends as a belated birthday present. It was my first experience of reflexology and I am still reserving judgment on it until I find out a little more about it...but it was relaxing though.

We went to Fanny's Farm for lunch, it's the most amazing, odd place, all higgledy-piggledy and seemingly thrown together. In truth, I think the place probably has grown and changed over the years so that may explain it's oddness.... Pigs and pianos ?? The Mother and Daughter team are quite formidable and I have seen Fanny and her farm featured on TV a couple of times. They produce a lots of their own products (including award winning marmelade), but they also do a good job of supporting small, local producers. Cupcake once played their piano that they have right in the middle of the place. Once we booked their treehouse for a girlie 'high tea'. I have to say it was a real treat. As you can guess I am a fan of this place. Check out their website here: http://fannysfarmshop.co.uk/

On to lunch, sometimes I don't want a meaty option, lately I don't even want a dairy option, so the leek and potato soup was perfect. When it arrived it was a huge bowlful with a roll, as this was Bonfire Night and afterwards I was heading out to help out at Riding for the Disabled in Epsom (http://www.riding-for-disabled.org.uk/)  warm soup was all the more welcoming. It was absolutely delicious, although the soup was quite smooth, somehow the soup was still quite fibrous and very thick. They had also added a lot of black pepper, which is never a bad thing for my palate. I was seriously impressed. As I left Fanny's, and marvelled at the collection of multicoloured cherry tomatoes, Fanny's daughter called over 'How was the soup?' My reply ? 'Perfect'.

So, a week later I decided to try and recreate the recipe... so, here's what I did.

Ingredients
3 leeks, chopped into rounds
Loads of black pepper
A pinch or two of salt (add to taste)
1 tbsp olive oil
2tsp PURE Soy margarine (suitable for vegans)
A pouring of Alpro soy cream (also suitable for vegans... I just checked. :o))
2 baking potatoes, cut into cubes
1 garlic clove, grated
Hot water from the kettle

Method

1. I put the leeks, salt and pepper, olive oil and soy margarine into a frying pan and heated that on a medium heat until the margarine melted.


2. Then I chopped the potatoes.
3. Then I added the potatoes and some water from the kettle and some soy cream to the frying pan.
 
 
4. I then covered it and let it bubble until the potatoes were tender. I looked every few minutes and topped it with water or soy cream, as necessary. If you want a richer soup add soy cream, a thinner soup add water..
 


5. I had a taste and added a lot more freshly ground black pepper as it wasn't as peppery as the version at Fanny's Farm.


 
6. When the potatoes are cooked, it's time to tip it all into a blender.
 
7. I blended mine in two batches. When it was blended, I tipped it all into a saucepan for reheating at a later date.. for me, this will probably be tomorrow with some crusty bread.


NOTE: When I tasted tested this, it was not fibrous at all, but very smooth and very creamy. I am guessing that perhaps the version at Fanny's Farm is not blended at all, but is perhaps left to bubble away all day until the leeks actually disintegrate !!! Ok, maybe I'm wrong, but how else would they manage to keep the texture like that .. ??

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Running and Christmas Cakes

Well I've not given up on the runnning, but things have been a little stale lately. We only managed one run whilst in France, so since we got back I have been stepping things up a little, and what better way to do that than signing up for another race !!

So, I will be completing Gosport half marathon on November 21st. In light of this I have had to step up the training and this is why I found myself out on an eight mile training run on Sunday. I took it nice and steady, some road and some off-road and not only had I been looking forward to it, I also enjoyed it. I wore my CompressSport calf supports and afterwards my legs felt great. Not at all tired.

I had planned to run on Monday with Biscuit Boy but rain ruined play, so I didn't run. On Tuesday I went to Oaks Park and did my usual 4 mile loop through the woods which is so pretty in the late autumn. Wednesday found me doing a'super sprints' session. I had planned to, quite literally, sprint up and jog down a hill in the park, but a super long bus journey meant that I missed the train back from work. Not wanting a training session to be ruined, I did the next best thing and found a closer hill  and sprinted up and jogged down that instead. It was good, my legs felt strong and not at all heavy. That makes me happy and positive in terms of the upcoming race. I did not run today (Thursday), I am tempted to run tomorrow, but as it will be a squashed-in between work and shopping run I am considering ditching those three or four junk miles for another quality eight-miler on Saturday. Saturday I will be running whatever the weather. Then next week I will taper ready for the race, hopefully learning from previous mistakes this time !!!

Oh, and yes, in between all that Cupcake did a swimming gala and swam very well. Biscuit Boy did the Windfarmer triathlon with the weather from hell, and I have been busy making Christmas Cakes, four so far and soon to be five.... Don't ask......

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Labour of Love - Kitchen and Sanding - An Update

Biscuit Boy and I are just back from Labour of Love, our lovely village house nestled in a valley in south-west France. My project was sanding and varnishing some floors and BB was tasked with fitting the oven, hob and tiles.

Here's a few photos from the trip:

There used to be a really, stinky old woodburner in here which didn't work. Well, you put wood in it, it burned and the place remained absolutely freezing. Absolutely not what you need when it's freezing cold and you have no other source of heat. Thankfully, we do now have wall-mounted heaters upstairs, but there were a few winters where there was no heat other than this thing. We used it once, spent many euros on some logs and remained cold. So it had to go. I think this looks good. Now for some tiles, no ?

Ta-da!


I love the contrast of the white subway tiles with the grey grout, and the grey tiles with the white grout, and the variation in laying style. I wanted the oven area to be 'similar, but different'.  I am happy with the finished effect. Now, here's a view of the whole kitchen....


Oh... and here's what I did, the floors on the top level...



The floors came out really well, I am pleased with them. In the style of my recipe writing, here's what I did:

1) Scrubbed the floor by hand with good old soap, water and scourer to get rid of water stains, paint and cement 'droppings' on the floor. Sweeping the bits up with a brush as I go.
2) Make sure the floor is clear of all marks that can be removed by hand and is now dry.
3) Get out a hand sander (or larger sander) fit with appropriate sand paper, and sand the whole floor, paying special attention to any remaining stubborn marks. Don't forget to wear your mask whilst doing this to avoid breathing down sawdust. NOTE: even if you think your floor doesn't need sanding, give it a light, quick sand anyway. Apparently it provides a 'key' for the varnish to adhere to.
4) Sweep excess sawdust from the floor
5) Wipe the entire floor with white spirit and wait for it to dry.
6) Varnish floor.
7) Wait two hours and reapply.
8)  Wait two hours and reapply.
9)  Wait two hours and reapply.

Yes, you want four layers of varnish in total for a nice hard-wearing surface. Maybe even more! You might notice that I am wearing socks in the photo above, I am about to apply one of the later layers, basically the varnish is still too soft for you to be on there in hard shoes, and if in bare feet the natural sweat from your feet could mark the floor as you will stick to it. So, keep your socks on ! You need to wait eight hours after the final layer before you allow your usual traffic on it.

We used Ronseal Hard as Nails Diamond Gloss varnish that comes with it's own sponge/mop applicator thingy and it actually works very well. I would recommend it.

If you do get to do some sanding in your own Labour of Love, then I hope that helps.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Green Tomato Chutney

I promised Color Chic that I would post a green tomato chutney recipe after I commented on her blog about her tomato recipes. So, here is that recipe:

The truth is that I referred to one of my favoutite recipe archive sites for this recipe and that is The Cottage Smallholder. I am going to repeat their recipe here after a jolly photo of my homegrown tomatoes. Nice huh ?


Green tomato chutney


As usual, I tampered with the recipe and will indicate what I did instead, in italics.
Ingredients:

1 kilo of green tomatoes (chopped)
35g of red onion (chopped) I think I used a little  more - I like onion.
1 lemon quartered (skin on), sliced finely
100g of sultanas
250g of pale brown sugar
10g of fresh ginger (skinned and finely chopped) I used my jar minced ginger which keeps in the fridge.
10g of fresh garlic (peeled and finely chopped)
10g of green chilli pepper (deseeded and sliced fine) I didn't have any green chilli pepper, so put in some tabasco instead - it's chilli no ?
The juice from one small orange (mine weighed 150g) I used a splash of carton orange juice - about 3tbsp.
250ml of white wine vinegar
2 cloves I had these - I was amazed !
5 cardamom pods (just the seeds) and these !
1 small star anise None of this tho...
Half a heaped tsp of allspice berries  nor this..
1 tsp of mixed peppercorns ..and I only had black peppercorns
1 heaped tsp of coriander seeds
2 heaped tsp of coriander powder
2 heaped tsp of turmeric powder
Half a tsp of ground white pepper - I used black pepper instead..
Half a tsp of yellow mustard seeds
1 tsp of cayenne pepper I think I used chilli pepper. ...

Method

1. Put all of the above in a big pot. I doubled  (or was it tripled?) the recipe and this is what it looked like:



I love the colour of this - stunning.
As you will see from my post on Courgette chutney the idea is that you have to basically mix all the ingredients and then boil it, then you have to turn it down to a simmer (lid off) for a good few hours, and maybe a few more hours after that....

This is a photo of it as it comes to the first boil:



I still think it looks great - so garishly green ! (My favourite colour btw, well green, not the garish bit....)
Although the chutney may still smell a little vinegary by the time it is ready to bottle, it should have lost that acrid vinegar smell that it had when it first started to boil. The chutney, when it is ready should look like chutney and have a jam-like, thick chutney texture. It will thicken a little more on cooling - but not loads.. When, you run a spoon through the mix, you should be able to see the metal of the pan (like you would with a jam).

After a while (eg a couple of hours) cooking, the chutney looked like this:


You can see where the vinegar has evaporated. So, what you struggled to fit into one pot, will eventually disappear... all that lovely, condensed flavour, yum ! You can also see that there is still vinegar / liquid on the top there that still needs to be evaporated off, so this is nowhere near ready at this stage - still a fair bit of simmering to do yet ..


This is the finished article: (photo to follow)

NOTE: Although this can take quite a few hours, you don't need to stand over the oven stirring - it ain't risotto ! Just leave it on a lowish simmer and give it a little stir as you're passing. It will (obviously) need more attention the longer it simmers away for, but for the quantity listed above, for the first hour the odd stir is fine. If it is still very watery/vinegary you need to turn the heat up on the gas and get a faster simmer going.

As with most chutneys this is best left to mature for four weeks in a cool, dry place so if you get started now it will be delicious in time for Christmas ! Once opened, keep refrigerated (although personally, I hate fridge-cold chutney, and prefer it a little warmer...)

Enjoy !

Update: December 2010, here's a photo of a jar ready to present as a lovely homemade gift. I think it looks lovely !







.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I am British ... or am I ??

I've just been described as 'perky, cheerful, happy-go-lucky, and probably American' and you dear reader - and, she-who-shall-remain-nameless could not know how happy this makes me feel.

I'm not American, but I had an Austrian Jewish grandfather who lived the last 35 years of his life in the US having fled from Vienna (via London) and marrying (and divorcing) my Granny along the way. The US was his saviour. Suffice to say, his mother (Florence) and sister were killed in the Holocaust. Anyway, Grandfather Harry was a great man and when we were together in New York people would question what this young English girl was doing with this foreigner in New York. Cool.  We used to laugh at that.

I have had other interactions with American people over the years, and by and large have found Americans to be warm, friendly people. So there ! For example, the beautiful Candace, we were *thrust* together by a friend of mine, and Candace's mother. I was 'tasked' with showing Candace London. Well, that was the beginning of a beautiful and long friendship. Candace, as only a corny person (Brit or American)  would say 'I love you and I'm glad you are in my life'. One of my best holidays was spent at a wedding in Michigan as I watched an English Rose marry her Septic Tank. Michigan is a beautiful state. I would love to go back there, and what a ball I had in Florida and Miami on a girlie road trip all those years ago.

More recently, (although not that recently actually) we ventured to San Fransisco. I want to go back there RIGHT NOW ! So different to all the other parts of the US I have visited. I also enjoyed a trip to South Carolina, although that was even longer ago still. Washington is still beckoning... One day my Washington friends, one day.... and then there's my good friend in Atlanta who I keep saying I will go and see. I doubt I will go back to New York without my Grandad there any more, well... enough said. Although, I know I have a great aunt in Florida, (who I have never met). Yes, I should go there next ! :o)

I guess (that's an Americanism isn't it ?? I guess) one of the overwhelming features of the American people that I have gained generally is a sense of optimism, a positive outlook and the, ironic as it sounds, the pursuance of the American Dream. Let's face it, us Brits carry around the burden of the world on our shoulders, and have a very pessimistic view of the world. Basically, I grew up 'depressed' and as my mother would say 'moody'. How miserable is that ? Well, I'll tell you, at times I felt like I spent my days walking round with someone holding a black, grey cloud over my head, that was reserved especially for me. It was invisible to others, but I was forced to wear it like a garish costume and I could feel the weight of it at times like a ton of lead. I can happily say that I have seen the back of that in the last few years. That grey cloud has been replaced more frequently by flashes of blue sky, and dare I even say it .... sunshine.


You know what, I'm not American but if over the years their ways have rubbed off on me a little, and I am now more optimistic, and 'perky, cheerful, and happy-go-lucky' then I can only say that I am the better for it.

God Bless America :o)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Honeycomb aka Cinder Toffee

Cupcake had been going on at me for ages to buy her some chocolate-coated Honeycomb which they had in a UK clothes store, temptingly placed near the tills. One day I gave in and said 'OK'... '... you can have the honeycomb', the cashier rang the register.. that's £3.50. 'Sorry Cupcake I said, you can't have the honeycomb'. There was no way I was paying that amount of money for something that in the supermarket would cost £1.50, or, even better, something I could possibly make myself.

Anyway, I've wanted to make my own honeycomb for a while. I already knew it was sugar, syrup and bicarbonate of soda and that's it. Sounds easy. You can cover it in chocolate if you like .. or not.

So, I looked up the recipe on-line, gathered the ingredients, followed the instructions and ta-da !! Honeycomb. See photo below.


Lots of it isn't there !!

Here's what I did:

Recipe courtesy of:  http://www.robertprice.co.uk/

I doubled up the original recipe. (I knew it would disappear super quick !)

Ingredients

200gr caster sugar (I used golden unrefined)
6 tablespoons of Golden Syrup
2 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda

Method:

1. Mix the caster sugar and golden syrup together in a saucepan
2. Put the saucepan on a low heat
3. Slowly stir with a sugar thermometer until it reaches about 300F. This is known as 'Hard Crack'. If you don't have a sugar thermometer, you can test the mix is at 'hard crack' stage by dropping a little bit of the mix into a glass of cold water. Then dig out the little bit of sugar and it should be crunchy and hard, not soft and like fudge.
4. At this point, add the bicarbonate of soda and stir quickly and very well. If you don't stir you could be left with a salty taste to the honeycomb... Enough said. I did find that I wasn't quite sure when I had stirred 'enough' ... I assumed that you didn't wait or mix all of the bubbles out of the mix otherwise then you wouldn't have honeycomb...

5. When you think you've stirred enough... Pour the mix onto a baking tray and leave to cool.

6. You will be able to break up the honeycomb...and eat !!

Cupcake was super-pleased with the results.
If you are going to cover the honeycomb in chocolate, I suggest you tip the melted chocolate over the poured honeycomb when the honeycomb is cool, and then leave the chocolate and honeycomb to cool further, and then chop. I made the mistake of chopping the honeycomb first and then 'painting' bits of honeycomb with chocolate, and I made a mess...

NOTE: The second time I made this I used the wrong measuring spoon. I used a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon for the syrup. Silly me! Then I tried to 'guestimate' what the syrup shortfall might be... and added a few more spoonfuls. I carried on with the recipe, poured it out etc and well, it was more like toffee than honeycomb, tasted salty and was, well... inedible. Biscuit Boy joked that he the only thing he could think to do with it was to use it to glue down the kitchen floor (which we are currently laying..) Cheeky beggar !

This post is linked to Prairie Story - Recipe Swap Thursday
and Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tag.. I'm it too !

I just got tagged by Alison of  http://prairiestory.blogspot.com/ to answer the following eight questions in this fun game.

It works like this, you get asked to answer eight questions, you then tag a further eight bloggers to answer your selected questions. I like the sound of this already! Deep breath, and here goes...

1) What inspired you to start a blog?

Well, I'm quite a chatterbox and I have a few areas of interest - cooking , sport and reading for example ... and I also enjoy writing, but don't get to write much, so I thought how can I combine those interests?? A blog seemed to be the answer. I could try and write a book, I guess, but I lack the imagination to come up with an interesting, funny story line and I prefer to write about what I know. Saying that, the blog does seem to be a juxtaposition  of the very different things that inspire me and I guess the swinging between subjects could be a little disconcerting. I'm still working on that one, that and linking this to Facebook and Twitter etc; but so far, I'm really enjoying my blog journey and the folks I am meeting along the way...

2) What is your all time favorite food to eat?

There are so MANY things !!! It's really difficult to choose just one ! If I was really pushed it is probably Cha gio (nems) which are vietnamese crispy spring rolls served with an acidic dipping sauce which always has chopped carrot in it. I have yet to see these in the UK, I'm sure they're to be found in a supermarket somewhere here, but I haven't found it yet... so I only get to eat these when in my beloved France. When answering this I wanted to answer with something that I could happily eat every day for the rest of my life ... and yes, even I am surprised by my answer.

If you want to take a look, I found what looks like a good recipe for Cha gio here:

http://www.gastronomydomine.com/?p=431



3) If you could take a trip any where in the world where would it be?

India.

I would really like to explore the spiritual side of 'me' in more depth (whatever that means). No, I know what I mean, I want to practise yoga, I want to meditate, I want to see all of the beautiful (and not so beautiful) things in the country. I want to smell the spices in the Indian markets, and eat street food. I could go on and on, but I will stop there. Suffice to say, that other than a bit of yoga and meditation and a little bit of Indian cookery that's all I've managed so far...

I would also take Cupcake with me, at just nine years old she is infatuated with India and has a full sari and for her birthday we went to see the show 'The Merchants of Bollywood' in London. I know she would love it, as would I. Maybe when she is older we will go...

4) Who would play you in a movie of your life?

Probably Honor Blackman, but only because I have a friend who says I look like her...

5) What has been your worst kitchen or cooking disaster?

The one that springs to mind is when I was eighteen and my parents were away and I decided to cook Paella for my boyfriend. My Mom isn't really into recipe books, and I think I must have found the recipe in a 'Microwave Recipe book'. Cut a long story short, I overcooked it,in the microwave, big time ! I  had spent an absolute, absolute fortune on the ingredients and it was inedible. Looking back, I should have stuck the lot in a pot and tried to hydrate it, but at the time there was no one to tell me that, so the whole thing went in the bin. I was gutted. Paella is still one of my favourite things to eat, but interestingly I have NEVER since that day cooked it myself.


6) What is your favorite restaurant?

This is easy. It has to be L'Entrecote in France. This is a chain of restaurants. There is now one in London (in Marylebone) although I have never eaten there. I have eaten at the one in Paris and the one in Toulouse. I first went to the restaurant when I was either 20 or 21 and living in France. The beauty of the restaurant is it's simplicity. This is how it goes:

Starter: Green salad and walnuts, dressed with the most amazing dressing.
Main: Steak with French fries served with the most amazing 'secret' sauce, which is a herby/cheesy/buttery just divine sauce
Dessert: Chocolate Profiteroles or Chocolate mousse

It is the same menu in every restaurant. There is no other choice, and people queue round the block to go there. I haven't been for a number of years, but I am going to take Biscuit Boy to the one in London or the one in Paris one of these days - and I've been saying that for ages....

Check them out here: http://www.relaisdevenise.com/ 
Having just looked at the web site I see there is a branch in New York now too.

7) What will you do for yourself today?

This sounds odd perhaps, but write this blog. It's my 'creative outlet'.

8) What will you do today to "pay something forward" or "random act of kindness"?

This is going to sound funny, but today, by chance, I managed to find a whole lot of discounted kitchenware for my kitchen in France. I like to think this is paying something forward as I am so looking forward to cooking for all of my .friends and neighbours in France. They have made us some lovely meals over the years whilst we have had no kitchen, and I will finally be able to give something back. In fact, I think my first repertoire is going to be a 'Curry challenge' with my Indian neighbour (who lives in Brussels, but has a house in France) that is planned for this Christmas holiday. Saying that, we still haven't fitted the oven yet. (That's later this month...). 

Here are my eight questions:

1) What do you most enjoy about blogging ?
2) What is your personal acheivement or moment that sticks in your mind and why ?
3) What is your favourite party drink ?
4) If you could go on holiday tomorrow, where would you go ?
5) What is the most unusual ingredient in your store cupboard right now ?
6) What do you do in your 'free' time ?
7) What is the name of the last restaurant you went to ?
8) What is your favourite style of cooking to eat out (rather than cook yourself) ?

and here are the people I am going to tag:

The Cottage Smallholder
The Idiot Gardener
Recipe Rifle
Appetite for Good
Susi's Kochen und Backen
Caveman Cooking

Please leave me a comment to let me know once you've answered the questions! Lastly, I understand that you might not want to play, so if you choose not to do this, that's alright!


Enjoy !

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Coffee Walnut Cake

A while ago now I did a post about Nigella Lawson's new book 'KITCHEN' - and what a wonderful book it is. At the time, I remember coming across the Coffee and Walnut cake recipe and thinking 'That's a keeper' and making a mental note of the ingredients. Specifically, espresso powder which I knew I had run out of. You might be thinking, is espresso powder not just coffee ? Well, it's similar, but different and as Cupcake would say, 'the clue's in the name'. This is a lot stronger than normal coffee; eg like espresso and it is also a smooth powder rather than the instant granules. Espresso powder is used in a lot of coffee recipes for that depth of taste, and probably for it's powder rather than grainy texture.




So, why was I making coffee cake ? Well, Biscuit Boy and I (and Cupcake too) love going out for coffee and cake at the weekend. There is a really pretty garden center, really near to where we sometimes go for a jog on the weekend, as we did this weekend, and so we usually find ourselves in there eating coffee cake and drinking large mocha coffees. Bliss after a chilly run. This cake tastes good, it's also more that £2.00 per slice which is rather expensive. Of course, I love a challenge so I wanted to make a coffee cake that would rival the one from the Garden Center, not only on  cost but also on taste too.

For once, I followed the recipe to the letter.. well, kind of, I only changed two things. Firstly, I didn't have 2 cake tins, well I did, but the bottom from one of my 'loose-bottomed' tins no longer fit the tin... It had somehow warped and would not fit in the bottom. So, I resorted to plan B and put all of the cake mixture into one big tin and then extended the cooking time. I also chopped the large cake through the middle once cool to make my two halves. My other problem was that I had no baking powder and as you will see the recipe calls for two and a half teaspoons of the stuff... What to do ?? So I looked online for an alternative and learned that you can make it using Cream of Tartar and Bicarbonate of Soda, or you could if you had some Cream of Tartar, which I didn't. I did find some Liquid Glucose and some Stem Ginger that I'd forgotten about though. Anyway, I'm rambling, what I did was add an extra teaspoon of bicarb and I also added another two tablespoons of self-raising flour, as I know this contains baking powder... and then I just kind of crossed my fingers..

As I had no idea how long the cake would take to cook, I did keep opening and closing the oven door and every time I did that I was sure I was jinxing my cake into coming out as flat as a pancake, but to my total pleasure it rose considerably and also did not deflate the minute it came out of the oven. Excellent.

Here is the recipe.

Coffee and Walnut Layer Cake
For the sponge:

50gr walnut pieces
225gr caster sugar
225gr soft unsalted butter (I used margarine), plus some for greasing
200gr plain flour
4tsp instant espresso powder
2.5 tsp baking powder
0.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 eggs
1-2 x 15ml tbsp milk

For the frosting:

350gr icing sugar
175gr soft unsalted butter (I used 'utterly butterly  - a lower fat buttery margarine - it worked well)
2.5 tsp instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 x 15ml  boiling water
25gr walnut halves to decorate (I used the rest of the packet of walnut pieces as I didn't have any halves..)

2 x 20 cm sandwich tins (or one large cake tin  - as I used)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180 deg c/gas mark 4.
2. Butter the cake tin(s) and line the base with baking parchment if you wish - I didn't..
3. Put the walnut pieces and sugar into a food processor and whizz to a nutty powder. Add the butter, flour, espresso powder, baking powder, bicarb and eggs and process until all mixed.
4. Add the milk, pouring it down the funnel and pulse the food processor to loosen the mixture.
5. Divide the mixture between the two tins (or put in one tin, as I did).
6. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, or until the top is springy. (If you use one tin, the cake will take a lot longer to cook, check it after 30 minutes, and every 5-10 minutes after that. Again, until springy to the touch.)
7. Cool the cakes on a wire rack.

... and now for the buttercream

1. Pulse the icing sugar in the food processor (to get rid of any lumps).
2. Add the butter and pulse until you have a smooth icing.
3. Add the coffee that has been dissoved in the boiling water to the processor, and pulse again to mix.
4. Do not frost the cake until it is cool. (Otherwise the frosting seeps into the sponge, which actually I quite like.. :o))
5. Take one of the cake, (or cut the one cake in half horizontally, as I did) and add about half of the frosting to one half of the sandwich. Place the other half of the cake on the top of the frosted one.
6. Spread the remaining frosting over the top of the cake in a rustic, swirly pattern.
7. Press walnut halves (or pieces) into the top of the cake.
8. My sponge was a little warm, so I put it all in a cool place to cool down nicely.

Serve and Enjoy !!

PS>
I also made this cake as a bribe to Biscuit Boy to lay the kitchen flooring. Trouble is the cake is now all gone and he is refusing to continue with it until I make another cake. I am refusing to make a cake until the floor is done.... and so the Circle of Life and Love continues...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

My French kitchen


When we went to France this year, we already knew we would be facing phase three of 'Project Kitchen - France'. We had already tried to start the project back at Christmas (yes, nearly a year ago !!!) but our plans were thwarted when the hire van that we were due to collect Christmas Eve just didn't happen - can you remember that far back ? Most of London was covered in snow or slush, I was nursing a most, completely horrendous cold and I remember having to get out of my sick bed to collect Biscuit Boy from the train station as he was travelling home by public transport - and not in the hire van !!! Man alive, we were m.a.d !

And so, the result of this was that the kitchen was taken over piecemeal, several units at Christmas (in our new car-not in a van), the washing machine and more cupboards at Easter, and the dishwasher and the rest of the units last month). Ironically, when we arrived back after taking the washing machine at Easter, the washing machine in the UK broke. Of course, guess what happened after we took the dishwasher out in August ? Yes, correct, the dishwasher in the UK broke - would you believe it ?? If it hadn't actually happened to me, I wouldn't believe it myself !!


Now it's nearly October. Over a period of two weeks in August we started and finished that kitchen. We're out there again later this month to fit the oven and hob in the chimney breast that once housed the wood burner. Actually, the hob arrived today ! Yippee !

Meanwhile, we are still finishing off the updates that we started to the kitchen here in the UK earlier this summer, and today Biscuit Boy started laying the wood for the floor that will be laid over the top of that. I am VERY excited by all this. I can feel that progress is being made in my favourite room of the house. Result !
PS> The kitchen cupboards came from Magnet (a UK-based company), the worktop was bought in France and the tiles were taken over from the UK too. Sockets were bought in France (obviously) :o) Oh yes, and the ceramic sink was bought in France, and the taps we took with us from the UK. (And yes, it felt like I did take everything but the kitchen sink !)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Falafel Kerfuffle

I was SO excited about finally making falafel. I had been planning it for ages. I bought some of those lovely, nutty chickpeas back from France which I planned to soak specifically for making my falafel.

And so, what recipe to use ? Although I love Moroccan and Middle Eastern cooking, I had no recipe for falafel, so online I went and I found this one at Foodie in NY web site: http://www.londonfoodieny.com/2010/06/03/edamame-chickpea-falafal/

Of course I modified the recipe slightly (when don't I ?) So, for me, it went as follows. I knew I would be making the falafel so I put the chickpeas in cold water to soak a few days before. I left the peas to soak and soak, and soak a little bit more...Actually until Biscuit Boy pointed out that there was a kind of 'foam' forming on the top of the water, and he questioned whether they were really still safe to eat. I looked up online and checked that the beans were 'safe' - and I soon put Biscuit Boy right !

This is what I used:
175gr chickpeas
275g frozen edamame beans
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 chopped picked red chillies (this was instead of red pepper flakes)
handful chopped parsley
handful chopped coriander (cilantro)

2 tbsp chickpea (besan) flour (this was instead of plain flour-I wanted to stay on the chickpea theme)
1tsp ras el hanout spiece mix
1tsp cumin
1tsp ground coriander
1 preserved lemon (chopped) (added this for extra 'depth of taste' ?? yeh I know - I'm not sure what I mean either !)




This is what I did:

1. Preheat the oven to 200 deg. c.
2. Put all of the ingredients in the food processor.
3. Form the mix into falafel style balls...

.. but hold on !!! My mixture is TOTALLY NOT forming into balls. Actually, it is doing the actual most opposite of that, it is completely falling apart in my hands, There is NO WAY this is forming into balls. But, why or what has happened ?? What have I done wrong ??? AND THEN IT DAWNED ON ME.

I had forgot to cook, to boil the blinking-flipping chickpeas. Oh damn and blast, and every bad word I can absolutely think of but not type. So, what to do now ??? My beautiful 'soaked-for-days' chickpeas, all of those lovely ingredients. I wanted to cry. But I didn't. So, I thought to myself I only need to boil the chickpeas, why don't I do that ! This is what I did next:

4. Tipped all of the mix out of the food processor into a saucepan. Added enough boiled water to cover the peas (and of course everything else !) added a lid and set to boil for ten minutes.

5. After ten minutes I kept checking until the water had been absorbed by the peas, of course my peas had already been whizzed up in the food processor so they had gone quite mushy - as they are supposed to, and as I didn't want them to dry out too much, I drained them and kept them on the 'mushier' side.

6. To dry them out a little before forming them into balls, I added 1tbsp chickpea (besan) flour, 2tsp lemon juice, salt, pepper, and a half teaspoon of cumin. I added this because I felt the boiling of those lovely herbs, spices ans juices had made them a little bland and it all needed a bit of a resurrection.

7. I then did as I should have done earlier (!!!) and formed them into balls which I then pressed flat to make little disks. I placed these on a oiled baking sheet and baked for 20 mins until browned and smelling lovely.



NOTE: Do check your falafel after 15 minutes as the amount of time needed to cook really does depend on their size. Big balls take longer than little ones.

I served these in pitta with all the usual salad items. Yum ! As usual, disaster averted and photos to follow ....

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Autumnal Delights

Life has gone crazy again at the moment, with barely time to brush my teeth - let along write a blog ! So, with that in mind we decided to give athletics a night off and come home straight after school, and chill. Of course for me that means cooking. I honestly hadn't meant to cook anything that required much effort at all really what with my eyes feeling like they are out on stalks, but there you go.

First up, was what to eat ? I ventured out to the freezer in the garage at the bottom of the garden and found a packet of turkey sausages. Cupcake is notoriously difficult to feed. It's not that she's fussy, although she *is* fussy. She won't eat any form of pasta, she won't eat most meat, ham, she won't eat most fruit. She will eat rice, veg and cheese so most of the time she is practically vegi, which is fine by me. So, I thought maybe she'll eat the turkey sausages maybe she won't, as it was she managed half a sausage with homemade potato wedges and carrots.. her kind of food...

Now on to what I wanted to do with the sausages, well I was half way through baking them in the oven when I suddenly thought about throwing some veg to roast in with them. I took the sausages out of the oven, put them in a larger roasting tin and did this:

I took some tomatoes off the vine outside, I picked a couple of the last of the small yellow courgettes, a manky yellow pepper that has been in the fridge for I don't know how long !, ditto a carrot, a red onion, a white onion, chopped them all chunkily and nestled them in amongst the sausages. I topped this off with a handful of fresh thyme, a blitz of lemon juice, oilve oil, a blitz of balasmic vinegar, a spoon of sugar over the top and some salt and pepper. Then I let all of this meld together in the roasting dish. By the time I had finished it looked like a mix of Autumn, Halloween and Bonfire Night all mixed into one giant dish, hence the name of this post.





Then I preheated the oven to 200deg. and baked the lot for thirty minutes. I served it with garlic bread. See photo below, when I get chance to upload it !




For dessert, I was again using up store cupboard/fridge ingredients for a totally modified Bread and Butter pudding. I got out a nice big pyrex dish and teared up some old, stale croissants, some previously frozen chocolate brioche from France and a chocolate brioche hanging around from the weekend. I put this in the pyrex in layers and between each layer I chucked in a half-handful of chocolate chips, and a half-handful of raisins.

In a jug I had also whisked 2 eggs, about half a container of single cream (About 200ml), some drops of proper vanilla essence, some sugar and added enough milk to make quite a runny textured custard (I knew I had a lot of bread to cover).

Then I tipped all of the creamy custard over the bread. .
 

Then I melded it down a bit with a spoon until it 'squidged'.



I baked this in the oven at 200 deg. (seems to be my failsafe temperature!) for 30 mins. You don't need to serve this with anything it's gooey and decadent enough as is..

Perfect Autumnal Delights !

Here's a final picture of this lovely pud on the plate:




WARNING: A word of warning, I think I left this in the oven either too long or on too high a temperature (maybe both) suffice to say, the top was VERY brown. I would rather it had been a 'lightly toasted' colour. ?So do check this after 20mins, and every 5 mins after, so it doesn't 'catch' (as my mother would say).
PS> I was just thinking to myself how fattening all this food looks. I ate this after walking 2 miles to work and running four miles, so I feel I can eat this. Believe me, if I did not do that exercise, I would NOT eat the food.

Anyway, that leaves me with nice cleared out cupboard ready for when the shopping arrives in a couple of days. Result.