Sunday 25 December 2016

Christmas glitter

It's Christmas day - and my treat to my family (and myself) was to attempt to make my first ever Christmas cake.  OK, so I didn't attempt to make it today, that would be silly - but we cut into it and managed to eat a slice, and I was pleasantly surprised.  The fear with a Christmas cake is that is takes so long to bake, (or as my Grandfather used to say "to dry it out"), and then the weeks of feeding it (cherry brandy in my case, as I didn't have any normal brandy), how do you know that all that time, money and energy is going into something that is tasty and works.  Had I burnt it in the hours of baking, should I have risked the chocolate fruit cake instead of a traditional fruit cake, does the cherry brandy make it too sickly?  So it was lovely to cut into it, and see my family really enjoy it (and go back for seconds!)  I even quite enjoyed the decorating, and have some fun ideas for next year now I know how to do the icing and marzipan!

So, how did I get there?  Well, in the office we'd been discussing cakes and someone had found a recipe for a chocolate fruit cake, which just sounded a little it different - enough to make me want to give it ago.  The recipe was from the trusted BBC Good Food ( which then surprises me that it didn't quite go to plan!

I had a friend over the evening I decided to make it, and she's quite practical when it comes to lining tins - so she happily got on with that aspect while I measured out the ingredients, melted the butter and chocolate into the fruit and got everything mixed and ready.
Sue proudly displaying the double-lined cake tine

Melting butter and chocolate into the fruit

To be honest, it took us about the same amount of time to line and prepare the mix (she's very attentive to detail!)  Then the mix was poured in and popped into the oven.  The recipe stated 1.5 - 1.45 hours...hmmm!  NOPE!  Having read a few of the comments on the page, there's varying times ppl had to cook, am quite surprised, which is why I was worried I'd massively over baked it, and having started in an evening, you can imagine how late I finished!  Nearly midnight by the time the skewer was coming out clean, I was very tired and slightly irritated by then, I guess this is my inexperience of fruit cake baking that lead me to massively underestimate!  I knew they could take ages, but thought there was something in this being a chocolate that made it take less time?  Can you tell I've not gotten over it yet??  I've learnt my lesson though, but am surprised at Good Food for such a variation in their time to mine.

Finally baked!

Anyway, so once the cake was finally baked and left to cool over night, I then proceeded to feed it Cherry Brandy every few days leading up to the week before Christmas.  Stabbing the cake and pouring a tablespoon over the top; then halfway though the countdown, I turned the cake upside down and would feed from the bottom.  Just trying to make sure it wouldn't be too dry.

Then, researching how to place marzipan and icing, I found some fab videos online, and realised it's not as hard as I'd been imagining, just lots of rubbing down of the top and smoothing the edges. Definitely happy to do this again now I know how easy it is.  Although, having seen other Christmas cake decorations I'm thinking I could have done more with mine, but for a first attempt, am pleased to have it looking fairly neat and festive, and most importantly glittery! Very festive!

Glittery cake

Glittery cake
And finally, we cut into the cake yesterday (Christmas eve), it took some effort to cut through - me getting nervous that it's just a charred mess under the icing - but it all looks OK, and feels moist, so we share it out and everyone happily chomps into it.  Couldn't taste the cherry brandy, but I think that's help to keep it moist, but there's a slight chocolate taste that adds to the richness of the cake - really quite pleased - and my first Christmas cake!  I think I'll try again next year, may be look for a smaller recipe, or split it before bringing home, so work can have some too..... more blog posts to follow on the festive office bakes I've produced over the last month.  Have spent too much time baking and not enough blogging :)

Merry Christmas!

Sunday 3 April 2016

Adventures with overripe bananas

I regularly eat bananas, they tend to be my grab and go breakfast (I'm not a morning person) or I eat them in the afternoon if I'm planning a gym session - so I'm always astounded that I always seem to be left with a bunch of overripe bananas. May be they're breeding?!

Anyway, I put out a plea to twitter for some help with interesting recipes for overripe bananas, because I can't face making another loaf of bananas muffins, and @sundaybakeclub came to my rescue with lots of really interesting ideas!

I had a fab Wednesday evening nattering away to fellow bakers about various ideas, while baking up some peanutbutter and banana cookies (and they possibly munching on them too):

Yum yum! I took them into work, and they were very much enjoyed! I always struggle with cookies and biscuits, I seem to over or underbake them, This lot, I think I managed to achieve both states within the various batches!  Oops...oh well, more practice required. 

So some of the fab suggestions that came from Twitter included freezing the bananas to make lollypops or ice-cream. I love this idea, but my freezer is currently full with various stews and casseroles, but definintely a plan to remember for the summer. Banana flapjacks, which I think I might try next weekend! Then today's experiment which was banana blondies. I love blondies at the best of times, as I'm more of a white choc kinda girl anyway, so couldn't resist trying this one out - I've made brownies before but this was my first blondie.

Annoyingly after heading into town for the extra ingredients I needed, I managed to forget the key white choc! Thankfully a friend had donated a batch of white choc reindeer that her family didn't like. Am not sure this type of choc is intended for baking, but it seemed OK...until I melted it with butter! all separated  out, and I couldn't recombine it. I thought I'd take the plunge and stick it in the egg/sugar mix and just see what happened, and thankfully it all combined back and made a fab mixture! Phew (I didn't take photos as I was panicking too much!)

Once everything was all mixed in and ready to go, I realised my square tin wasn't quite big enough, so I've made up a small circular blondie for me to try and then a bigger one that I'll cut up and take into work.  I hope it's cooked all the way through....I remember this being a problem with my last brownie!  

They're both looking a little crispy in the photos, the smaller one definitely is..and I'm eating it while I try it and it tastes OK, but not quite like any blondie I've had before, so not sure I've succeeded here.  Just letting the bigger one cool down, and then I'll slie it up and see if that's had any more success.  This may not be one of my best bakes.... :/

Monday 14 March 2016


I've moved house (well, country to be precise!) Hence the lack of posts lately.  I moved from Wales to England (Derbyshire) just over a year ago - living in vile rental accommodation for 6 months (there was no cooker, and only an electric camping 2 ring hob for cooking). Not ideal conditions.  Then I finally sold my gorgeous house with my perfect kitchen and was able to buy in my new location - it's not as perfect as the old place and requires a bit of work but I'm getting there. I've not enjoyed baking in the new kitchen (it took 4 major cleans to get the oven back to a reasonable colour and it's not what I'd call "clean"), but I thought I'm never going to get there if I don't give it a this evening after spending a bit of time enjoying the sun out in my little garden, I thought I'd try making a pie (I genuinely didn't realise it was #PiDay today) and also some cookies for work tomorrow.

Far too ambitious - but got me baking and working out how to manage my kitchen a bit better (I think I need to reorganise!) but here's the result of my endeavours:

Chicken and Leek Filo pie a variation of this dish from Tesco -

This is possible the first time EVER that I've not been able to eat as much as the recipe suggested. It claims it's for 2 people, and I are a quarter of it (OK, so I may have been eating some of the cookie dough mix while mixing them up and waiting for the pie to cook). This made me happy though, as I could use my lovely purple Le Creuset and the filo pastry that I bought a while back and then never decided what to do with them.  It was an interesting mix of ingredients and the recipe suggest pre-cooked chicken and microwave rice (OK, on this occasion I did use what they suggested), but now I've played with this, I think I'd be more than happy to put my own pie mix together and produce something a little less pre-cooked/prepared.  

Then while the pie was baking away, I started to put together the mix for my double chocolate and peanut butter cookie. The recipe was from a lovely book of biscuits I got for Christmas.  All too often my biscuits start sounding nice but by the time I've finished they really don't taste that great and it's something I've wanted to crack for a while.  They're either too well done and tasting burnt or I've somehow undercooked them - one day I shall crack it.  Not sure this mix proved hugely successful (we'll see what they say at work tomorrow), but I enjoyed all the mixing and especially taste testing the raw mix of peanut butter, normal butter and light brown sugar - yum yum!

if they'd not been for work I think I might have stayed at this stage and ate them all!

I had to compromise on white chocolate, as although I was sure I had two bars of Lindt white choc I could only locate one, so had to throw in some milky bar to make up the weight.  Looking at the final cookie, I'm not sure if this was the best plan - there is definitely white chocolate melting from the bottom of these (which meant I had to scrape the excess white chocolate from the baking sheets - shame). However, they definitely needed white chocolate, as I feel the dark was a bit overpowering. I'm not sure if these are undercooked, but I followed advice of bake for 10 mins, squash them down with a pallet knife and bake for another min - I actually went for an extra couple - and I could still taste cocoa powder or strong dark chocolate.  Like I say, work taste test tomorrow - as I'm not the biggest fan of chocolate! Although usually white and dark aren't too bad.....

Here's the mess in the kitchen as I try and batch bake and balance them around (at this point I was trying to dish up my tea as well!)

Batch baking madness

Melting white chocolate?

Monday 7 July 2014

Strawberry kitchen

My kitchen smells of strawberries, it's the most amazing smell on a lovely sunny day - breeze blowing in through the back door, tummies full of the lovely veggie surprise tart, fab company with a friend round for 80's DVDs (St Elmo's fire - I'm still humming the tune to myself now) and a catch up - and we have the lovely smell of fresh (well, purchased Saturday) farmers market strawberries all washed and chopped ready for my spectacular post-Wimbledon dessert.

Yesterday I mentioned I'm made meringues, so you might be able to guess what this evening's desert was - it's not a complicated recipe, but goodness me it was yummy!

I followed Delia's recipe - I'd bought her "How to cook" books in Hay-on-Wye when I visited a few weeks ago, but not really used them.  To be honest I was looking for a Eaton Mess recipe - OK most people probably don't need a recipe for this, but I wasn't sure what all the individual ingredients were meant to be (I still don't), but after finding Delia's meringue recipe I didn't get much further. Her suggestion was a bit different to the last one I tried. 

I needed two egg whites - and she'd included instructions of how you should break the egg white into a separate bowl and then add to the main mix, just in case you had a separating disaster - I've never had a disaster - until now! I managed to get some yolk into my white - but as it was such a small amount I thought I'd try anyway.  The eggs whipped up beautifully, then I started to add the sugar, but either the yolk caused a delayed problem, or I added the sugar too quickly, but I ended up with a white gloop, rather than an meringue :/  Sadly I washed this down the sink and started again. This time with more care and attention to detail and was far more successful.

Delia has you using the electric whisk the whole time you're adding the sugar (110 grams, about half a tablespoon at a time), but in the past I've always folded in the sugar ( with a large metal spoon (apparently this is important, not sure of the reasons), but I though I'd go with this recipe, and really did end up with a lovely thick glossy mixture.  For added effect, I dropped in some red food colouring, and whisked for a bit longer, but not to make them completely red, I was definitely going to the swirl effect.

I had the cooker heating up to gas mark 2, and then plopped the mixture onto the baking sheet, Delia suggested I should be able to get 8 out of the mix, but I managed 4 1/2, and I didn't think they were that big either.

As I was making nests, I used the back of the spoon to squash down the mix, and then had to develop a kind of flick to get the spoon off the mixture without pulling it all back up.  I think I perfected the nest by the 4th one!

Pop them in the oven for 30 mins (immediately lowering the temp to gas mark 1), and then just turn the oven off and leave them to dry out.  I have a double oven, and had planned my baking the wrong way round - I should have done the savoury stuff first, but I grilled the frittata in the top over/grill and then baked the tart - hopefully there wasn't too much heat passing down into the bottom oven, just enough to keep them drying out.  To be honest, I left them in there overnight as well, just because I didn't have a spare box to store them in.  However, I did have a snack on the 1/2 meringue! Quality control you know :)

I then made the meringues up into mini desserts, not really sure what to call them - but I had some strawberry and cream Lindor chocolates, which I chopped in half and popped into the nest, then a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, then piled on the freshly chopped strawberries, and finally poured over an Ambrosia vanilla sauce cream type thing (I didn't have any cream in the house). Finished result, lush!

Really the best meringues I've ever made - I think I pretty much decide this every time I make them, but the had that nice stepping on fresh crisp snow crunch as you put the spoon into them, and then so soft and gooey on the inside.  Wow!  I don't buy meringues any more, as I never find shop bought ones that I like, but these are perfect (for me, anyway)

Sunday 6 July 2014

Another lunch-box surprise

So hot on the heels of my last post about my lunch boxes being made up of random left over vegetables, I've just spent the afternoon in the kitchen (while popping back for the Wimbledon Men's Finals) preparing another lunch box treat, and a another veggie surprise that I wanted to make for a friend that's coming round for tea.

So the first left-over veg surprise was a frittata, nothings special, just really yummy and keeps for a few days so fab for lunch boxes.  In this one, I boiled up some potatoes (still with skin on - truly lazy today), then fried up some mushrooms, courgettes, an aubergine. I'd been making meringues earlier (a treat to go with tomorrow's tea), so had 4 spare egg yolks so I stuck these in with with 3 full eggs, then whisked up with a fork - adding some oregano and mixed herbs with it.  While frying up the veg, I added some paprika too.

As the veg started to shrink down in size, I then added the egg and shook the frying pan to let the egg seep into all the corners. I'm lucky, as I have a really big deep drying pan - very useful for frittatas!

Then left it on a medium heat for about 5 mins while I grated up some cheese.  Sprinkled this over the top and then popped it into the grill until it started to bubble and, well, smell beautiful!

While this was grilling, I then got some shortcrust pastry, smeared it in tomato puree, and then chopped up some more veg to go over the top.  This time I added a mix of green and red peppers, red onion, courgettes, and then broke up some ham as well.  Finally sprinkling with grated cheese and some more oregano.  I folded the edges up to make this into an open tart, and baked for 20 mins, once the frittata was out of the oven.

Oncwe the frittata had cooled a bit, i did a double flip - from the frying pan onto a plate, and then from one plate to another so as to keep the cheese on top.  Once it had cooled, I had a sice for my tea (yum yum!) and then cut it up for lunch box portions for the week. I'm not sure if these freezes to be honest, so I might be eating this for lunch and dinner for while!  It's sitting in the fridge at the moment anyway.

The open tart was slid onto a baking tray for cooling, and also popped into the fridge. Am hoping to reheat it tomorrow, and have with some chips and salad - lets hope this sun lasts!

Left over veggie surprise

It's becoming a bit of a tradition that by the weekend I have a lot of veggies left to use up. I really do overstock on them - but there are a lot worse things I could be overstocking on :)

So generally, at the weekend (or in this case it was Tuesday) I do something creative with the veg that will fit into my lunch box for the week.  It's usually a veggie plait, after I discovered a fab recipe - I think I saw one of Paul Hollywood's programme once, and got me hooked.

Anyway, this last week, I tried to be clever! I'd bought a pack of Gruyère cheese. I'd actually bought it for a purpose, but couldn't for the life of me remember what.  I've just remembered the bit that made this funny (well, to me) I'd been to the gym on Tuesday, and then decided to do the baking when I got home while making my tea.  I opened up the pack of cheese (having never had these cheese before) and immediately though - ooh I'd better have a shower I'm a bit smelly.  Hmm, turns out it's slightly smelly cheese! :) Anyway, I get side-tracked.  I grated up the cheese, but thought it looked a bit boring on it's own, so added in a tin of tuna chunks and then some basil.

Then roasted up some veg, peppers, mushrooms (actually, only one - it's very rare that I have mushrooms left over), and boiled up some potatoes that I then roasted as well. While doing this, I had the baking sheet in the oven heating up (I always do this, it seems to help with the soggy bottom), then once everything was ready, I got my pastry (not home-made - life is too short sometimes, it was shop bought puff pastry) on the baking paper, then straight onto the baking tray and started piling up the ingredients.  When it came to folding in the plait, I realised my error - make the plait - THEN put it on the hot baking tray.  The pastry was starting to cook and I couldn't shift it - oops!

So quick thinking, I just used the baking parchment and sort of "packed" the pasty into a roll shape and hoped it would hold in the oven.

25 ish mins later, and I have a very yummy looking bake.  So tasty I ended up having this for tea, and it lasted me for the next 3 lunch boxes as well! Not the prettiest looking lunch, but very filling and yummy!

Saturday 5 July 2014

Don't waste the strawberries

I always buy far too many strawberries at this time of year - it's only going to get worse because I'm trying (ok, not very successfully) to grow some.

Last weekend the local supermarket had an offer 2 for £3 on a big punnet of strawberries and raspberries.  They sat in my fridge for a few days, and then I realised I really really had to use them or lose them. A quick recipe search online (after a rather lengthy one through my book collection gave me this fab idea -

Sounds so easy, it didn't quite go to plan.  I had the right size tin (hurrah) and made up the oaty mixture, split it in half, and then tried to pat it into the baking tray. I don't know if myhands were too warm, the mixture too soft, but it just wouldn't pat down nicely, and was far too squidgy in my hands.  I ended up having to use some of the top mix to fill the bottom layer.

The strawberry and raspberry layer should be fine though, I had plenty of them! Chopped them up and started spreading them out, and still they didn't fil the whole tray. Either I'm being too generous or I just can't measure properly.  I squished them down, but left them at 3/4 across the tray, I didn't want to skimp on the filling.

Finally, trying to put the top layer on over the juicy strawberries and raspberries just wasn't going to happen.  I used far too much, and pretty much only made it half way across the tray, even scooping up the excess from the bottom layer just wasn't enough.  Still, it smelt lovely, so I whacked it in the oven (and started on the next left over baking project....see next blog post).

So my conclusions!  Ok, I think firstly I need to chill this dough, especially in warm weather! Secondly, although I greased the tray, I will use baking parchment and may be a smaller tray. Thirdly (or am I only fourthly now) I will attempt to roll the base, and may be even the top layer, and then drop it onto the tray and onto the berry mix. Finally, oooh I want to try this with lots of different berries, and may be wholemeal flour and brown sugar and .....well...lots of ideas from this one!

The pics probably don't make it look that appetising I realise, but it was very yummy. I've had it in my lunch box everyday, and only shared with one friend.  She cooked me dinner, I brought pudding, and we topped the bowls (with a couple of slices in) with crème brûlée yoghurt!  Wow!