Tuesday, 25 November 2008
I like to make people happy (stop laughing, I do!) and I also like to show off my talents a little (what do you mean..? I have talents!). I guess I'm pretty lucky that I have learned skills over the years. When I first started uni, I was living with people who could barely make their own toast and there I was cooking proper meals, from scratch, every day. I learned to cook when I was young and have always enjoyed it. I also love to learn (hence the 3 years at uni) and am always keen to try new things.
This is how I got into cake decorating. Actually, I think it runs in the blood somewhat. My mum (and sometimes dad) used to bake cakes for our birthdays when we were kids and one of my brothers has also given it a go. I felt like I needed to jump on the family bandwagon!
It all started with my old housemate's birthday. I was pretty skint so I decided to fall back on the baking skills and make a cheap-ish but well meaning present. She was more than happy for me to bake her a cake so I got asking her about characters she liked and she settled on Mori Chack's Gloomy Bear. After a little research and some pink food colouring, I ended up with this;
I didn't think it was too bad really. So I was brave and offered a cake to another friend for her birthday. This time it was a Pucca cake (yes, pretty much the same deal as the other one but with different colours - we have to start somewhere!).
My next offering was actually for my own birthday (sad but true). I had a few people coming over to mine so I decided a cake was in order (it was my 21st birthday afterall). As you may remember from this post I am all about pirates. I decided a simple but piratey cake was in order...
Since then I made a cocktail glass cake which I actually thought was rubbish. I was really upset as I was being paid a few quid to make it and I just wasn't happy with it (and had no time to change it). It was thankfully for a friend who actually really appreciated it and still talks about it to this day. I however can't look at it without picking out all the mistakes (and there are many) and can't bring myself to post a picture (I don't even know if I have any).
I also did a really good Punisher cake for Al and never got a picture of that either. I'm so slack. So yes, I'm making cakes when I have the time but generally they're not heavily decorated. I am however, about to embark on the decoration of my christmas cakes soon so you will most definitely get photos of those!
Friday, 21 November 2008
I've been away for nearly a week as I've just had my graduation ceremony! It was really good fun but I now need to get back on track with my blogging.
As I've not done much cooking recently I've decided to link you to Glenna's blog A Fridge Full of Food and her delicious looking Peach Cobbler. I particularly like the fact that it's made with stand-by ingredients so that you can get a delicious dessert with minimal effort (which is perfect for week night sweet fixes).
If only I had access to Amish Country Store for some of those brandied peaches!
Saturday, 15 November 2008
Okay, so I've been looking for ways to get a sweet fix without loading up on butter and sugar. It sounds impossible I know, but it's important to try these things. I've also got my parents coming to stay next week and they're looking for healthy treats too.
So I found a recipe for Wholemeal Apple and Cinnamon Scones and, as they were quite simple, I decided to make a batch last night. I substituted the powdered soy milk with powdered skimmed milk but kept everything else the same.
They came out quite well. They're not as light as scones made with just white flour (and butter). They were delicious straight out of the oven and I had a few for breakfast this morning with a tiny scraping of butter. They're also quite small so you can have more than one in a sitting and not feel like a complete pig!
I think next time I'd add a bit more fruit and cut the cinnamon down a tiny bit (I'm always a bit lax when measuring spices) but overall I think they're a real success. I'm still on the look out for more recipes though!
Thursday, 13 November 2008
That's right, Europe's laws regarding the sale of weird shaped fruit and vegetables looks set to be repealed. The numerous laws banning non-perfect fruit and vegetables from reaching supermarket shelves have been in force for 20 years but with food prices rising a rethink has suggested that maybe this is a bit much.
I must say it's pretty ridiculous and terribly wasteful to just throw funky shaped food away. However, this may not be as positive as you might think. Of the 36 types of fruit and veg governed by these laws; only 26 will be relaxed, these don't include apples, citrus, kiwis, lettuces, pears, tomatoes, grapes, peppers, strawberries and peaches/nectarines. It may be that these 10 will be relaxed later as long as they are clearly labelled as "intended for processing."
Also, the weird shapes wont be around until July next year so there'll be no multi-pronged parsnips or knobbly potatoes on your plate for christmas.
So really, does it matter what your fruit and veg looks like? I think that as long as it tastes good, why should it?
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Everyone loves a greasy fry up or a burger from time to time. I'm also pretty sure that most people have been to a roadside burger van. Now, it might just be me but when I see a roadside food van I'm pretty sure that what they will sell is bacon rolls, burgers and fried egg buns all washed down with builder's tea. This is just what you need to refuel, especially if you are an over worked lorry driver or have been on the road for hours.
According to Guildford Council, this is just not acceptable anymore as they threaten to shut down Skip's Greasy Spoon because healthy food is not sold. There's no sign of a lettuce leaf or yogurt with a muesli topping so it's not good enough.
I'm sorry, this is a bit ridiculous. There's no call for healthy food from a greasy spoon! As mentioned in the article, why should they spend money on food that they will not sell? It's completely crazy.
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
Following on from yesterday's post about pomegranates I was greeted this evening by a delicious looking salad from Smitten Kitchen.
The combination of sweet pomegranate, salty prosciutto and the aniseed spiciness of fennel sound like a wonderful combination. Yum!
Monday, 10 November 2008
My favourite thing at this time of year is the pomegranate. Last year I probably ate my weight in the gorgeous little beasts and was sad when I saw them disappearing from the shelves of the produce section of local supermarkets. Pomegranates are in season between September and January here and their jewel like seeds make a beautiful addition to many festive treats both sweet and savoury.
I had my first one of this season yesterday and I'm about to go and grab another. Granted, they're not the easiest fruit to eat but once you find what works best for you it gets easier. I cut mine across the middle and then tear the skin and pop the seeds out. It can be messy but it's rather satisfying and the look of a bowl full of the deep red arils is just amazing. I then tend to just get a spoon and scoff them all but they have been known to make it into some recipes from time to time.
Other ways to get the seeds away from the flesh include cutting the fruit in half and hitting the back with a wooden spoon as you catch the seeds in a bowl, there is also the classic way to shut your kids up - give them a pomegranate and a pin!
Pomegranates are touted as a superfood and are a good source of antioxidants and potassium.
So, if you can resist eating them straight from the bowl then here are some recipes to showcase this most beautiful fruit:
- Easy tabbouleh - cook some bulghar wheat (or cous cous if you prefer) in chicken or vegetable stock, and add handfuls of chopped fresh mint and parsley. Add lemon juice and segments of citrus fruit such as orange or satsuma and some chopped red pepper. Season to taste. This easy salad is great for lunchboxes.
- Marjorie Lang's Aubergine wontons with pomegranate raita (I really want to try this)
- James Tanner's Pomegranate fool
Friday, 7 November 2008
Do you ever get bored with beef? Are you sick of chicken and fed up with pork? Fear not. The people at Alternative Meats are sure to have something more interesting for you carnivorous types (and they even have vegetarian products too).
Alternative Meats are based in Shropshire, UK and carry a wide range of meats including; sprinkbok, kangaroo, ostrich and even zebra! Their vegetarian selection includes; vegetarian haggis and a range of flavoured sausages.
They also have a recipe book to help you in the cooking of your chosen beast.
We're coming to the end of British Sausage Week and if I'd known I would have had some sausage recipes for you. As it is I don't even have any in the house!
You can't beat a good quality sausage. They're so simple and tasty that often all you need for a good meal is some creamy mashed potato and onion gravy, especially on these cold, dark nights. I'm also more than happy to scoff sausage sandwiches with soft white bread and a bit of ketchup (or brown sauce depending on your tastes) or make a toad-in-the-hole.
If you fancy doing something a little more interesting with your sausages here are some recipes for inspiration:
Thursday, 6 November 2008
We bought a slow cooker a few months ago now. It was going cheap at £12 and it's a good size to feed the two of us (and have leftovers) so we decided to go for it. Al's mum has one and we convinced ourselves it'd be a good idea. So far, we've been right. It's very economical and very easy to just prepare the food, switch it on and walk away.
We've made a few different things so far including chilli, stews and casseroles but I've been looking for something a bit different, a bit more interesting. Having scoured the internet and various forums for recipes I decided that it'd be a good idea to cook a joint of meat in the slow cooker. I read lots of advice from slow cooking experts and decided to give it a go.
We bought a boneless turkey thigh joint of about 900g. I seared it in a pan this morning with some dried herbs, cumin and paprika until all sides had a nice golden colour.
I roughly chopped up a couple of small onions and chucked them into the bottom of the pot, I added a crushed up stock cube, the meat, a clove of crushed garlic and about 1/2 cm of water in the bottom and switched the cooker on high.
I turned it down to low after about 3 hours and left it that way until we were ready to eat.
The meat was so tender it just fell apart as we carved it (as you can see in the picture). A few gravy granules were added to the juice to thinken it up a little and served it with the meat and some roast potatoes. It was good. We're using the leftover meat with some fresh pasta tomorrow.
The only problem I had is that turkey and chicken seem to go a little stringy in the cooker. It wasn't so bad with a large joint (smaller chicken pieces in a casserole just aren't good). We've got a lamb shoulder joint to try next and I'm expecting it to be delicious.
I'm sure we've all found an odd hair in our dinner once or twice. It's not nice but if it's home cooked food you're generally going to be fine. There are countless stories of people finding all kinds of nasty things in their meals including chicken heads and dead mice.
A man named Geoff Moule from Dorset, UK, found a pearl worth around £90 in his normal starter of half a dozen oysters. Some people have all the luck!
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
Christmas cake is a bit of a tradition in our house (and many other households across the UK). My mum used to make one every year but unfortunately it often didn't all get eaten. I asked my brother whether he even liked it (with an idea to put them in our christmas hampers this year) and he said he did. He also said something along the lines of "by the time we had them at home, we were all caked and chocolated out that nobody could face it any more." I realised that this was very much true as the christmas cake often didn't come out until christmas day or boxing day. Thankfully, it keeps very well.
For the first time in my 22 years, I decided that I needed to conquer my fear of making a christmas cake. I decided that if I made one big cake I could cut it into 4 and ice each quarter and give them for christmas. That way, nobody had a huge cake to deal with and I got to be a bit creative. Everybody wins.
So, I searched the internet for a good recipe. I read forums, I searched recipe sites. I wanted something that had been used by people and had been successful, that way I was already at a head start. I ended up with this recipe from Delia. I know, I know, it's a terrible thing but, what can I say? The lady knows how to make a christmas cake. I used her scaled up version for my 8" pan and it turned out beautifully.
I made a few alterations (they were very minor as I wasn't confident enough to make big changes). I added 100 grams of nuts (as that was the packet size) and I used a tub of cherries and left them mostly whole. I also used Sailor Jerry rum as my booze of choice as I think the vanilla and lime flavours will go really well with the fruity cake. It smells divine.
So I baked it about 3 weeks ago and am feeding it every Friday with more Sailor Jerry (about 1 or 2 tbsp) to keep it moist. I'm storing it wrapped in greaseproof paper and then wrapped again with foil and it should be fine like that until I'm ready to ice it. I'm so excited about this as I've never even attempted anything like this before.
Okay, this is the last back-logged bread machine post for now and unfortunately I don't have any pictures. This is the Banana and Peanut Butter Bread from the same book (One Hundred Bread Machine Recipes - Vicki Smallwood) as the last two and the only other one I have tried so far.
I wasn't sure whether to make it in the first place. I had a couple of ripe bananas hanging around and some peanut butter that needed using up and I thought I should find a simple recipe to combine them both. This is a good recipe but I was apprehensive as I was making it. It was a very simple "put-it-all-in-the-pan" type recipe but the smell as it was cooking was somewhat disturbing (a mixture of tea bags and banana skins). I was later informed by a good friend that peanut butter and bananas both smell kind of funky when they're being cooked (but taste pretty good when they're done). I was reassured and let decided to actually taste the finished product.
To be honest, I wasn't too impressed with the bread as it was. I had some while it was still warm and although it was nice, it didn't have a strong banana flavour. The crunchy peanut butter gives it a bit of texture which is really good but the over all flavour was a little disappointing.
This bread really comes into its own when toasted. Oh my gosh it's seriously good. I spread a little butter and honey on my toast for breakfast and it's absolutely delicious. Another good thing about toasting it is that it doesn't matter too much if the bread is a little stale (good for me as I'm the only one eating it).
I don't think I'd make this recipe again but I would like to try another banana bread. It's very important to use very ripe bananas as it gives much more flavour to the final product. Crunchy peanut butter is a delicious addition and makes the whole thing a bit more interesting.
So on with the recipe
4 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
1 cup warmed milk
2 tbsp melted and cooled butter
2 tbsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 1/2 cups white bread flour
1 tsp active dry yeast
Mash the bananas with the peanut butter and mix together thoroughly.
Add the other ingredients to the baking pan in the order shown only put the banana mixture in after the salt but before the flour.
Set the machine to "Basic" and let the bread bake.
When the cycle has finished, transfer the loaf to a wire rack to cool.
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
It's time to present my pizza dough experiences. I'd never had much experience of pizza dough. If I was making "home made" pizza then maybe it'd be those plain bases you find in the chiller of the supermarket, I think once I used a box mix with my brother but that's about it.
I honestly wouldn't buy any kind of pizza base now. This recipe is so simple there's no excuse not to make it. I generally have the ingredients to hand anyway so it's not even that I have to plan ahead. Bread machines are so handy to have around.
Again, this recipe is from One Hundred Bread Machine Recipes by Vicki Smallwood (ISBN: 1856057135).
1 cup tepid water
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp olive oil
3 cups white bread flour
1 tsp yeast
Method (brace yourself):
Place the ingredients into the bread machine pan in the order listed and set the machine to "dough."
When the cycle has finished, separate the dough into 2 or 4 (depending on how big you want your pizzas - we did 2 medium rectangular ones) and roll to the desired shape and size.
Put the toppings of your choice on top and then cook in the top of the oven for 8-10 minutes.
That's really all there is to it. You can put whatever kind of topping you want on it to make it exactly how you like it. I think I used cooked chicken along with a ton of other things.
The only the problem I really have with this book is that it doesn't tend to give any guide as to how much the recipe actually makes. This made 2 good sized rectangular pizzas which would have been enough for 4 people (I say "would have been" because I think Al and I ate the lot - in my defence I did have 2 goes at it throughout the evening though).
How are you at adhering to use-by dates? I've got to admit that I can sometimes be found eating something that's a couple of days out of date because I hate wasting food. I may have to rethink my attitudes after reading this article.
According to Guardian.co.uk;
"New figures collected by the Food Standards Agency show the number of cases of listeriosis has doubled since 2001 and risen by 20 per cent in the last year alone. The majority of cases are now in the over-sixties and almost all cases are thought to be food-borne.
'Listeriosis is fairly rare, but when it does occur the death rate is quite high,' said a spokeswoman for the FSA. 'It does not appear to be a problem in the manufacture of products, so it looks as if it comes from what people may be doing at home.'"
They go on to mention that the problem seems to lie with how the food is treated after it has been taken home. Refrigerators are not always kept at the correct temperature and food is often kept longer than it should be. The main food culprits seem to be chilled, ready-to-eat items such as "pre-packed sandwiches, salads, cooked sliced meats, smoked salmon, soft cheeses and pâtés."
To be on the safe side, the FSA are advising that food should be stored below 5°C and to follow the instructions for storage on the chilled food package. Once food is opened, it should be eaten within two days.
With constant reminders of the credit crunch and poor state of the economy it's understandable that people are cutting back on eating out and spending less money on luxuries.
The people (and readers) at Money Saving Expert have put together a selection of Cheap Restaurant Deals, most of which are "click and print" vouchers. They are checked for legitimacy with the providers so you should have no problem using them.
So treat yourself and protect your pennies at the same time.
I got my bread machine a few months ago now. My brother picked one up for me for free from his local Freecycle group. I'd been wanting one for a while but didn't really have any money to spend so a free one was pretty much ideal! The only drawback is that it didn't come with any instructions so there's been a bit of guess work involved.
As I love to experiment, I haven't really had too many issues with working out good, basic recipes for loaves of white or wholemeal bread for everyday use. I've had a few loaves that have sunk/not risen/been a bit weird but I think I've pretty much nailed the basics.
However, general loaves of sandwich bread were just not enough for me. I also got a couple of books with the bread maker with lots of recipes to try.
One Hundred Bread Machine Recipes by Vicki Smallwood (ISBN: 1856057135) is the book that I got the following recipes from. It's a good reference for a range of different recipes from the following chapter headings;
1) Breads and savouries
2) Sweet loaves and cakes
3) Rolls, buns and snacks
There is also a good introduction to the book which includes information about ingredients, equipment, techniques and tips for success. There is also a trouble shooting guide which helps to identify the problem when your bread comes out a bit wrong!
So from this book I have taken the focaccia, pizza dough and banana and peanut butter bread (the last two will be covered later). Trust me, there a loads more that I want to make when I get the chance!
The focaccia was the first recipe that I used as we were having friends over for dinner and I wanted to impress them (without expending too much effort).
1 cup of tepid water
1 tsp yeast (active dry yeast )
4 tbsp olive oil
3 cups of white bread flour
1 tsp salt
Pour the water into a large mixing bowl, add the yeast, oil and 1 cup of the flour. Mix together well and cover the bowl with clingfilm then leave it in a warm place for 2-3 hours. (I think I put mine on top of our modem!)
Pur the yeast mixture into the pan of the bread maker and then add the remaining flour and salt. Set the programme to "Dough"
When the machine has finished, transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead briefly. Place it into a shallow baking tray and flatten/stretch it out so that it covers the base. Cover it again with oiled clingfilm and leave it to prove in a warm place until it has double in size. (Mine went onto the back of the hob where the oven had heated up with the lasagne that was cooking - very convenient!)
Preheat the oven to 220°C, brush your finger tips with some extra olive oil and randomly dimple the surface of the dough. Add your toppings of choice (I think we did dried herbs and crushed garlic and some cheese) and bake for 25 minutes. When baked, transfer to a wire rack to cool.
You can buy this book from Amazon
Monday, 3 November 2008
So Hallowe'en has come and gone but as a metaller I'm always looking for inspiration on what to do next year (though I usually forget by the time it comes around). I found this link to a Cannibal Themed Hallowe'en Supper (via Baking Bites).
So much effort has been put in to this supper and I'm sure it was very well received. I especially love the bleeding heart, it's so realistic and effective. I'd love to go to a dinner party like that (as long as I didn't have to clean up!) Very good work.
I got Nigella Express (ISBN - 0701181842) for christmas last year and have found that it's my general go-to book for quick, easy recipes.
Nigella Express is all about fast food for people who love eating but may not have time to prepare a big meal every day. This book coincided with Nigella's latest BBC television series and is a chunky 390 pages long with lots of beautiful glossy photos to go along with the recipes. Each chapter and recipe is accompanied by Nigella's trademark banter in which she puts across her view as both a cook and an eater.
There are 13 chapters:
(1) Everyday Easy - speedy suppers, day in, day out
(2) Workday Winners - weekday entertaining made easy
(3) Retro Rapido - time-warp favourites given the express twist
(4) Get Up and Go - breakfast at breakneck speed
(5) Quick Quick Slow - prepare ahead to save time later
(6) Against the Clock - no time? No problem
(7) Instant Calmer - super fast soul food
(8) Razzle Dazzle - give a party pronto
(9) Speedy Gonzales - Mexican-inspired moments
(10) On the Run - food for eating on the hoof, packed lunches and picnics
(11) Hey Presto - instant Italian
(12) Holiday Snaps - Christmas quickies
(13) Storecupboard SOS - how to cope when there's no time to go shopping
While these chapters are somewhat helpful it can be a bit difficult to navigate or remember where your favourite recipes are (that's where the helpful attached ribbon bookmark comes in handy). There's a very good variety of recipes from dinner for friends, breakfast on the go and twists on retro classics. There really is something for everyone.
My personal favourite recipes in Quick Chilli (with chorizo, cardamom and cumin to add a new dimension), Quesadillas (these are a fantastic speedy lunch dish), honeycomb, potato and mushroom gratin and I even made the instant pancake mix as a "gift in a jar." My all time favourite salad dressing is also from this book and is a wasabi-lime combination that is just delicious.
Nigella Express is well worth a read for a wide range of recipes and treats. There are still recipes that I can't wait to try (caramel croissant pudding and doughnut french toast - can you tell winter's kicking in?). A very good stand-by to have for quick meals with easy to find ingredients.