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!

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Sunday's shortbread

I've never made shortbread before - how can this be?  I fancied baking, but it's so warm that I didn't want to spend long in the kitchen and do anything too fancy or complicated, but still wanted to try something I piled through my recipe books and plucked out Mary Berry's shortbread recipe, although am sure they're all pretty much the same?  

I did ponder adding different ingredients to spice it up a bit, but then deicded to go for the basic shortbread first, get that right, and then add my own twists.

So...mixed up all the ingredients (I got the recipe from her book, but it's the same as the

100 g plain flour
50 g caster sugar
100 g butter
50 g semolina

blend it all together by hand, and then roll out into a round.  I took a stab and just rolled it a bit and then patted the general roundness into a more speicifc roundness and was quite pleased that it came out as 7 inches - good guess!

I marked my 8 slices, and did the fork jabs and crimping and then chilled in the fridge.  I didn't cover it, just left it on the baking tray.  Once it was firm, I baked in the oven for about 30 mins, and then as soon as it was baked I sprinkled some more sugar on and marked the slices again.

I left it to cool for a bit, but couldn't resist having a slice myself with a cuppa.  Note to self - shortbread it nicer once it's been left a while - so found it tasted much better after resting.

I tried it out on a couple of friends, one of whom is Scottish, and had nothing but compliments.  Either they're being very kind, or it was quite successful!  I found it a bit soft in the middle, but apparently that's good.  So there we go :)

Next time, I want to try adding different things. I've heard of lavender in shortbread, but am not sure about that myself. I might try cherry and vanilla, and may be white choc and dried raspberries?

I think I need to use a sieve for sprinkling the sugar as well, as I just pinched it over, and that didn't come out looking very good.

The whole reason for making the shortbread was to use up some strawberries I'd bought, but I'm not quite sure what I was thinking, may be 2 shortbread rounds, with strawberries and cream in the middle might work.  Shame the first round didn't last very long :/ I might try 

Finished shortbread (with my spice rack in the background!):

Cheeky cherry

After a week away in sunny London with friends, and a few days at home as well )oh, and a few days at a sunny conference before all that), I decided I wanted to do a bit of cake baking - I was missing it.

I wanted to make quite a hefty cake, as my dad was coming up to help in the garden for a few days, and a friend was popping around to help him - so they needed to keep their strength up.  I also wanted to take some cake in for some new work colleagues that I'd been nattering to at said conference, as they were really interested in the blog and my cake baking (probably more the cake baking), but after all the talk I thought I should walk the walk (or something like that?) and bake them a cake!

So, something a bit different, and a recipe from a friend's mum (I'd already had her cake, so had something to live up to), but went for a toffee-cherry upside down cake.  Basically lots of almonds, ground almonds and cherries. Lovely lovely!

I've made upside down cake with a friend before, but never ventured into doing it myself. So I merrily lined the cake tin, which was a bit big. How do I have so many tins, and none ever the right size? Am sure it's the same in most kitchens. I'm not very good at the lining bit, and I do always try and rush it, but I figured this was going to be pretty crucial to getting the upside down cake out, so I did measure and cut out neatly and properly.

I mixed together all the ingredients, pretty standard sponge mix, but with ground almonds as well, and then chopped up all the cherries to place the at bottom on the tin.  I just scattered the whole almonds around the tin, but on reflection I think I could have done with toasting them lightly first, and also cutting them in half.  I was only following the instructions, but certainly something I'll try differently next time - and as it was cherry and yummy - there will definitely be a next time!

Then I heated up some butter and sugar (there may have been something else in there, I can't remember now), and poured this over the cherries and almonds.  I didn't seem to have enough of this mix to spread and cover all the ingredients at the bottom, so again, something I might make more of, or...use a smaller tin and have a deeper cake?

Then I added the main cake mix and popped in the oven.  It was a slow bake on a lower heat, but seemed to cook quite happily within the time needed, I don't think I'd have given it any longer to be honest (I don't have the recipe in front of me, otherwise I would try and be a bit more specific, sorry).

So the end result, well, the cake didn't last long and I had happy people wanting more - so a good result.  It was very yummy and light, and a bit sticky. Only concern, the almonds just didn't feel at all cooked, bit odd really.  Here's some pics of finished piece.  Again, trying out the photography skills here:

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Cupcake swirls

I went off to London a couple of weeks ago, the plan was to attend an experience day with Eric Lanlard - learning to decorate cupcakes with the aware winning master patissier, which was a present from my brother. However, too good to be true, just as I was leaving for a three-day conference, (the plan was to travel down to London straight from the conference), I got an email to say the day I'd booked for had been cancelled due to low numbers. Arghh! Hopefully I will be able to rebook it again soon, as I've been looking forward to it for 6 months, and crikey I need help with my cake decorating!

Anyway, before I headed off to London, I thought I would be a swotty student, and attempted to make some cupcakes and try out my decorating skills - so that I could ask questions based on experience and hopefully learn something! 

So, the experiment....I made up half a batch or raspberry cupcakes, and half a batch of blueberry cupcakes.  I then mixed up some butter and mascapone, then split the mix in half again to have half blueberry and half raspberry.

The mascapone and butter mix - taken directly from a cupcake magazine recipe - seemed quite sloppy, so I stuck it in the fridge for a bit, then once firmed, I mixed in the fruit.  However, as you can see from the pictures below, the topping seemed to curdle a bit - it still tasted very yummy (I really really ate far too much) but runng and slightly wishy washing looking.  Not sure where I went wrong - hence the idea of being able to quiz Eric.  Ahh well, I shall save my questions up.

Trying to be clever (this bit worked well) I split the mixture, but placed both in the piping bag, to produce a marble swirly effect.  Yay, I got something right....once I'd finished icing all the cupcakes, I then finished off the last of the topping straight from the icing bag. This is where I accidentally ate too much of it, seems to bag holds a lot more than I realised.  I was feeling a tad sick!  oops!

The cupcakes - managed to spill the mix onto the paper cases, so looking a bit messy - need to up my game a bit there...

Close up of the buttercream type topping - you can see the wrinkly effect in the piping, is this curdling? I'm not sure, but it wasn't the effect I was after.

And here's my trying out my other love - photography.  Oh well, I think I'm better at food photography than cake decorating today!

Ooh and finally, here's my friend at work enjoying one of the cupcakes! Or at least she said she was enjoying it!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Maple meringues

To go with the banana pudding (which had a fair bit of maple syrup) I decided to have a try at meringues again. I've not made any for years and years, but I do so love the home-made ones!

I know all meringues have the same basic recipe (sugar and egg whites), but I was flicking through my books for inspiration of fun things to do with them - and having seen chocolate and raspberry swirls, I knew I wanted to swirl something into mine too.  I didn't have any chocolate or raspberry in the house - and this weekend was about using up left over ingredients, so I decided to use the maple that was already out from the banana pudding.  This was left over from our Shrove Tuesday evening the other months.  It's actually maple flavour, but I'm working with what I have here - and it's an experiment!

I have a lovely supply of fresh eggs, as my neighbours keep chickens - last weekend I was out in the garden with them for a BBQ (not this weekend, with the downpour), and took some pictures of the lovely girls, and the mess they made when they found the remains of the BBQ! The pictures are on my Flickr site.

So the meringues are easy enough to make, and much quicker now I have an electric mixer - yep - the first time I made them was with a hand whisk! I mixed half the sugar a spoonful at a time and whisked and whisked, and then for the 2nd half, was folding them it in with a metal spoon.  This seemed to make the meringues slightly less stiff, I don't know if I needed to whisk them again?  I shall experiment and research this some more! Once all the sugar was folded in, I then squirted in the maple syrup, folded with a wooden spoon, bit more syrup, fold, and then one final squeeze for good luck.

Then I did pretty big dollops onto the baking paper, and baked the top shelf meringues for 1.5 hours, and the bottom shelf (even though it's fan assisted gas, it's still uneven baking top and bottom), so they had 2 hours.

I confess, I ate one while still warm, and it so so gooey, almost like candy floss. The rest are for this evening, to go with the banana pudding - I think meringues and banana pudding go together? Well, if not, they can be for a slightly later supper?

This time, I took my better camera to take the photos, rather than the mobile phone, so they've got a bit arty....

Overly ripe bananas

What to do with overly ripe bananas? I always seem to get too many bananas - not matter how many of few I buy - there's always a couple I've not finished off.  This week I had 3 sitting on my desk and work that were really starting to smell, as well as a couple hanging up in my fruit basket that had seen better days.

In the past I've made banana breakfast muffins, and banana loafs with various different recipes, but I wanted to try something different this time - because to be honest - trying to eat that many muffins or that much loaf, and you end up wasting even more food than just the bananas! (Although I've just had an amazing idea for a banana bread and butter pudding now....that would work right?)

So, distracting from new ideas, and focussing on what I've actually made, I've been invited round to a friend's for tea this evening. Her husband is away, and she's babysitting her kids, but she fancied a bit of adult company as well (with me? ha!) but she's offered to cook something special for tea and I'm bringing the pudding.

Usually, I stick to just basic bakes that I know, even though this blog was meant to be about trying new things. So I sat down with my recipe books last night, looking for banana type things that were above and beyond the basic loaf/muffin variety, and cake across a banana pudding.  This from the book Stacie Bakes, which was a gift from my friend, who's also a baking blogger BareNakedMummy.

At the start of this bake, I had the worry that I didn't have the right size dish again (see my last post about brownies and dishes), and also, knowing that I had to carry it around to my friends as well, so I actually did some measuring, and found a lovely little casserole type dish that also has a lid on it.  (Are you impressed I actually did the measuring this time!)

This is one recipe I haven't been able to locate online, but the book is still available and I throughly recommend treating yourself to it!  The basic ingredients were flour, baking powder, bananas, maple syrup, caster sugar and brown sugar. There's probably some other stuff as well (book's back on the shelf now, sorry).

First off, you make up the batter and mix in the mashed bananas, and pour this into your dish.  Then you make up the butterscotch topping. I didn't quite read the instructions correctly (always leaping a step ahead), and mixed the maple syrup in the the dark down sugar. I think it would have worked out better to have sprinkled the sugar on, then then dribbled the maple syrup. Still I had fun licking out that bowl! (I may possibly be on a sugar high for the rest of the day...). I don't think my order of ingredients mattered too much though, as I then added boiling water to the whole mix and popped it into the oven.

It has been suggested this looks more like a rum liquid, then sugar and maple syrup, but I think my version is gonna taste scrummier (hopefully...)

After around 40 mins of baking, it's all puffed up and looks like this. The smell is just amazing! I wish I could capture that on the blog :)

And here's the final piece:

It's meant to be served warm, but as it's for tea this evening, I've just had to sit and stare at it.  I've covered it over now, and it has sunk a little bit,  but am sure we can heat it in the oven or microwave later.  Hopefully it will taste as good as it smells.  I'll report on that later - may be amend the blog with pics of the inside too. I need to serve it with custard, I'm really bad at making sauces, that's one thing I've never got on with, but I'm tempted to try and make custard from scratch, mainly because I went all adventurous and made maple syrup meringues to go with this pudding (because it really needed more sugar?) and now have some egg yolks wondering what I'm going to do with them....

Meringue post up next :)

Bank holiday brownies

In a few weeks I'm off to a cake decorating class with @eric_lanlard, which I'm really excited about!  - However, I don't actually have any of Eric's books in my collection of recipe books! Shocking! So I had to set this right. He has a really lovely choice of books, but the one I decided to go for was his home-baking one. I'm sure I'll end up buying more, as I've been drooling over this book for the last two weeks. The pictures, taking you step by step through some of the recipes are just beautiful - and is inspiring me to try and take more care of my baking photos. I should be using my proper camera, not just snapping on my phone.

Anyway, this blog post is meant to be about the brownies, not me and my photography :)

So, after much deliberation, and a few coffee breaks and work with me and some colleagues flipping through the pages, I decided to try out the cream-cheese brownies.  I was hosting a crafty night for some friends, and I though brownies would be perfect for everyone coming round, and they're finger food....right?

So after a rather manic day at work on Friday, I came home and set to baking straight away. Baking just takes me straight out of whatever else is going on, and I just relax and focus on the now.  I stick the radio on (this time I was listening to Simon Mayo on Radio 2, doing the Bank Holiday drive time - so very grateful I wasn't stuck in traffic!) and starting working through the various steps.

A quick online brought up Eric's bakingmad website, with a link to the recipe, so I can share it with you all -

 I've only ever made brownie once before, and those were a strange mix too, the last time I made them was bacon brownies!  My friends thought I was mad, but I really liked the sound of bacon with chocolate, and I think it did work, although there were some larger chunks of bacon that were a tad chewy and a bit strange....

Anyway, so that was my last attempt at brownies, and I was willing to try again, as the cream cheese combo with chocolate sounded too good to be true!

Mixing up the chocolate bit first was fine, I'm quite happy with melting chocolate and butter, and then mixing in all the ingredients.  Although - I did mix a bit too much butter....when I opened my baking cupboard to get out the vanilla, I had a mini disaster, as a block of butter dropped out of the cupboard and straight into my bowl!! After scraping off most of the chocolate, I did have a bit of fun licking it clean :)

I wasn't sure if I had a big enough tin (I should have measured, but I do tend to wing these things, and anyway, I only have the tins that I have!) So I tipped the chocolate mix in, which did seem a bit runny, but I stuck with it as I knew it would cool while I prepared the next stage.

Making the cream cheese, I did use an cheaper own brand cream cheese, on reflection, I might use a slightly more expensive one next time and see if that's thicker) When I was scooping it out, I thought it felt a bit runny :/ As I mixed everything together, and then poured it over the top of the chocolate, it started to sink in, so again, my tin might not have been big enough (it was now full to the brim), but also, the cream cheese was runnier than Eric's pictures....

Still, post swirl, the basic raw mix looked pretty good. So into the oven for 30 mins, and a quick lick (erm, I mean clean) up of all the equipment.  Have to say, the raw mix tasted divine, I know we're not meant to eat raw eggs, but the chocolate with the cream! I am not condoning this though, so please don't try it at home....

I left the brownie to bake for 20 mins, then covered over with foil for the last 10 mins, as recommended.  The mix was still very liquidy at this point - but I remember that from the last time I made brownies.

A further 10 mins later, it was still very very liquidy, more than I was happy with, so after testing, baking, testing, and baking, I ended up giving it an extra 15 mins, and on reflection, this could have been longer still - however - I was running out of time!

I took the brownie out to cool, and as it was still wobbly, I placed it in the fridge for a while to try and encourage it to set.  It seemed to be the cream cheese over the chocolate that wasn't setting for me.

Once the outside bit was set, I lifted it out of the pan and onto a cooling rack, but still with the paper below it, but when it came to slicing the brownie, the edges were fab, but the middle was faw more like a chocolate pudding than a brownie.  I don't know if I needed to leave it for longer in the oven, or if it was the cream cheese and I should try another brand, or if there's something else I could use to thicken it up.

I will definitely be trying these again though, everyone loved them - considering they were for 12 people - and there were 5 of us at the crafty thing, I have 2 pieces left! So can't have been that bad! ;) I think I need to experiment a bit more to get the right consistency and final result though.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Crazy experimental tarts

What do you do when a chocolate-mad friend comes round for tea and asks "what's for pudding", just as you're about to serve up the main course. Pudding?  You wanted pudding? I had some chocolate in the cupboard that he'd stored after coming over for Shrove Tuesday, and announcing he was giving up chocolate for Lent. The chocolate was just a Mars bar and a Fudge bar - probably not a satisfactory pudding really, and not really something I'd created (I am starting to get the reputation of being a a bit of a cop out!)

So I had a quick rummage in the fridge, and found some almost out of date ready-rolled short crust pastry. Hmm...what could we make with that?  We'd previously been looking through my "small" collection of cook books, looking at tarts and pastries and goodness knows what else (playing the pick a number and I'll make it game...more about that later), so tarts?  That's an option! I didn't really have much in the cupboard to put in it, but I found cherry and vanilla jam, strawberry jam (discounted due to the extra life form growing in the jar), honey-roasted peanut butter, Fluff TM (other marshmallow products are available, but not in my kitchen cupboards) and Nutella (apparently there are also other chocolate based products, but I've not used them).

So, to create!  We discounted the BIG flan dish, because suspected the amount of jam needed would exceed the amount of jam left in the nice jar, but also that amount of jam would just get stupidly hot when we bake it up?  Would I need to use baking beans and blind bake the pastry? I've never done this and so possibly a step too far for a speedy pudding. A further rummage in my baking drawers and I found a large clean Yorkshire pudding tin, and a smaller bun tin that was sadly looking a bit worse for wear with baked on Yorkshire pudding batter and rust - hmm I think I'm using my tins the wrong way round! Anyway, going with the easiest option (i.e. the clean tin) seemed the best bet - so now to find a cutter to get the right size circles for the tin. Another quick rummage in my baking drawers (they're big drawers you know!) and I found a pastry cutter, but it was barely big enough for the small bun tin, that was never going to work for the Yorkshire pudding tin. So looking around mugs, glasses, ooh and a plastic food container lid - perfect fit!

You can see my friend in the background looking through the good home-keeping book for cooking information, it's a fab black and white book from my mum's collection.

So the little pastry cases, tarts are sitting in the tin and we have to stab them with a form (ok, not quite the wording in the book but means the same thing).

We then got to introduce our experimental filling. My friend, the chocolate-mad one, was actually pushing to not try the Nutella thinking it wouldn't work, so two tarts were filled with the jam (just a thin layer), and then two experimental tarts, one with the honey-roasted peanut butter with jam and then Nutella with a dollop of jam on top. Proper experimental crazy tarts!

Stuck in the oven, while we ate the main course (if you're interested, chicken with leeky and cheese sauce, with rice and garlic bread).

10-12 mins in the oven, beeper going off as we finish the last mouthful, and the end result was incredibly yummy tarts that I will definitely definitely be making again. The peanut butter and jam could have done with a bit more ja, but baked up it was a lovely gooey texture.  The two jam ones were very sweet, may be a spot of lemon juice in the jam mix to take the edge off?  The Nutella and jam was by far the best.  The Nutella was left over from Shrove Tuesday (noticing a theme with chocolate left over from Shrove Tuesday?), and to be fair it was a bit hard and wouldn't spread easily into the tarts, but as the jam and the chocolate melded together in the oven it softened and just became a lovely mix of flavours, so I really want to try that one again.  I have more pastry left over, so may be that's the plan for tomorrow eve?

Interested to know if anyone else has tried making any experimental crazy tarts?  What flavours/fillings do you want to try?

Monday, 12 May 2014

Eurovision madness

For those who may have missed it, this weekend was Eurovision weekend. The big European wide song contest. I may not always have been to Eurovsion parties, but I've always made sure I've watched the competition. In recent years, I've at least managed to find to like minded friends who've also enjoyed the whole Eurovisionness (is that even a word) surrounding the competition, and in the last two years they've even been baking friends too!

My next door neighbours are BIG Eurovision fans, well, I'm not sure if both of them are, but Martin definitely has been around for a few of the parties I've attended, and if not at the same part, we still spend the entire competition texting about each act.  This year we decided to make it easier and actually be in the same room!

I offered to host the party at my house, especially as as we've had some particularly chilly weather this week, and I could crank up the log burner.  I knew I wouldn't have a lot of time to do a massive bake (last year a friend and I spent the entire day baking, which was amazing fun, but it's a big commitment), so we decided to keep it simple and just cook a Eurovision themed meal.  What even is Eurovision themed?  Well, it was hosted in Denmark, so we researched the Danish national dish, and one of the suggestions was meatballs.  Perfect - just the other week I'd brought back some meatballs from Ikea, so that was the main ingredient sorted, but we couldn't just do meatballs and pasta - so I suggested go Italian and make our own pizzas!

We found ourselves running late, but about an hour before the competition started, we began making the dough for the pizza. You may start to notice a theme with my baking, but I found I didn't have all the right ingredients for the base. I have just about enough strong bread flour, but had to top it up with some plain flour - so we just threw in a bit of extra yeast and hoped for the best.

In less than 30 mins we had a lovely risen base (OK to be fair it was "resting" by the log burner, on a comfy chair, so was in a lovely warm room).

Once the dough was nicely risen, I left Martin to roll it out to pizza ish shapes, while I grated the block of cheese (gadgets are great for this - food processor with grater here I come) and then chopping up veggies and meat for the various toppings.

Just to give you a full picture of what was going on, I was bopping away to Radio 2's broadcast of Eurovision, while dashing into the living room for each song, just to check up on what the act and the costumes looked like - it's important don't you know :)

So the three pizza's consisted of:
  • Sarah (in no particular order) cheese, tomato purée, garlic salt, peppers, sweetcorn, tuna, olives, spinach. (I'll update this later, or let them both comment if they have more toppings to add)
  • Martin (in no particular order) cheese, tomato purée, IKEA meatballs, salami, peppers, chilli, ham, sweetcorn, mushrooms, olives, and no doubt random other meats as well. (I'll update this later, or let them both comment if they have more toppings to add)
  • Mine (in some order, as I created it) tomato purée, Ikea meatballs, salami, ham, courgettes, mushrooms, sweetcorn, mushrooms, peppers, mushrooms, cheese, mushrooms, garlic salt and a bit more cheese.

The pics below are mine at the top, in the oven, then Sarah's (bottom oven) and then Martin's waiting to be cooked - I think he was checking how long to cook them for with ours... ;)

They really were huge pizzas, and lasted for the whole of Eurovision, well, I had my final slice the following morning for breakfast, but I had been taste testing most of the ingredients as we prepared them!  Oops

My pizza, post cooking, pre-eating! Yum yum!!

I did create a rather English rhubarb and apple crumble to go alongside our Danish/Italian pizzas, but none of us had the room to indulge after all that food, so that had to put on the shelf for a couple of days. I'll blog a bit more about that one next....

So after our fab pizza creation session, we definitely want to get a bit more creative. Things we'd like to try next include a stuffed crust, possibly looking at those cheese string things (meant to be good?), also looking at a pizza pie like the one @OMG_foods tweeted about recently -

So, is anyone else inspired to create an over the top pizza? What would your favourite topping be?

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Another birthday bake

This bake follows closely on my Shrove Tuesday bake, as I gave up coffee for Lent - not because I drink too much coffee really (3 to 4 times a week isn't too much right?) - but more because I have too many syrups and sugars in my coffee, and I needed to get a grip. So yes, I gave up coffee, and it had been going so so well, I pined a bit for it, and missed my Saturday coffee treat, and the occasional coffee break at work in the local cafe, but I was coping and drinking plenty of tea in it's place!

However, it was my friend's birthday yesterday, and she invited me to her birthday BBQ. Before you ask, we don't live in sunny climes, and it is still only March, we live in Wales, and it was raining, but we'd had sun so therefore it really was BBQ weather - just wear a coat or a jumper! :)

So as a present for my friend, I thought I'd bake up a mocha cake, from my Great British Bake off books, it's one of the show stopper recipes and quite early on in the book. It's a chocolate marble mocha cake, with a white chocolate ganache ( Yum yum! I'd made this for a friend's birthday before, (but wasn't keeping this blog at the time). The cake went well, but the ganache was a bit rushed at the end and I didn't give it enough time to set before pouring it onto the cake, so I thought this would be a fab time to try it out again, get it right and blog about again I'd left it all til the last minute, made the beautiful ganache and then realised I had about 30 mins before I had to head off to get a bus out to my friends....

The cake has been made much earlier in the day, and was quite a success. It's a loaf cake, and meant to be baked in a 2lb loaf tin. The mix should be split in two, with one half having a coffee essence and the other half having a lot of coco powder. So much it feels like its drying out the mix, but with a drop of milk it seems to help a bit.  The mixture is then blobbed into the loaf tin, taking it in turns to blod in the different mixture. There's meant to be a couple of layers in the cake where you add chocolate chips as well, but I struggle to get one layer out, let alone 2 or 3, so I just make sure there's a good mix of chips in there too.  The cake takes a good hour to bake, so I set to cleaning up the mess I'd made (cake bowls everywhere), before popping into town to grab the ingredients for the ganache.  Sadly, I forgot that the mix had coffee in it, and had a good ole scrape around the bowl and licked it out, before remembering the coffee and that I'd given it up.  Oopps...too late to do anything.

So later in the afternoon I set to making the ganache, which is white chocolate pieces, whipped cream, and as it was white chocolate, some butter needed mixing in with the cream.  That part went well, and it was really lovely white chocolate with vanilla specks in it as well. I could happily have eaten it all!  But as I had to get it so warm to melt the chocolate, it just wouldn't cool quick enough, so the ganache was dribbled on, rather than spread, and a nice gathering formed at the bottom of the box I used to carry the cake.

It went down really well at the party though, lots of compliments, so either everyone as been drinking by the time I got there, or they did really like it!  I once again forgot about the coffee, and had a slice of the cake myself, and was impressed it wasn't dry after fearing the worst with the chocolate side of the mix.

I forgot to take a photo myself, but my friend grabbed on once the cake had started to be demolished!

Apologies for the sideways photo, I'm a computery person, I've tried turning the photo around in an editor and then saving it, it appears fine in the editor and has returned to the sideways photo when I upload it.  I'll try again when it's not late on a sunday night)

Shrove madness

A double post, to catch up with my March bakes. So the 4th March brought about Shrove Tuesday and I've always tried to ensure I have friends around to celebrate. Making pancakes for yourself just isn't the same. This year, I had a stitching relating pancake night. Sewing friends were invited around for a night of pancakes (yes, quite literally a night, 3 course meal of pancakes) and then as we recovered, we got to watch the Sewing Bee - perfect!

The menu line up was:

Butternut Squash and Feta Cheese

Hotdog pancakes

Pancakes server with any of the following:
Banana, Lemon, Orange, Marshmallows, peanut butter, maple syrup, golden syrup, chocolate spread, honey, caster sugar (I think that's everything!)

I dread to think how many we had between us, and we did have a mini disaster with the first pancake - attempting to toss it over a gas hob, ended with a pancake on the gas flames....after that we went for a safer approach of using a fish slice to "toss" them.

How scrummy do these look though


Following on from a successful Shrove Tuesday, I then took part on the Sunday Bake club Shrove Sunday challenge - bake something with your favourite pancake ingredients -

So I quickly whipped up a honey and banana muffin, which I used as breakfast muffins for the week. Very delicious recipe adapted from the one I found here:

I say adapted, as I didn't have wholemeal four (only wholemeal bread flour) or coconut oil, so a few adaptations (half and half bread flour and normal flour, and plain sunflower oil), and they were just as delicious, and made up such a big batch that they got shared around at work as well.  I also had a load of carrots to use up, so made some carrot muffins as well, definitely has kept me in breakfast muffins for a while!!!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Birthday bakings (and crafts)

This post is a little bit late, as the birthday in question was last month - but I have to mark it - as the birthday girl is also the fab neighbour that keeps me in eggs for my baking (The Yellow Chicken House). It would be rude to not have made her a lovely birthday cake!

So the night before, I sneakily found out her favourite cake (hmm, ok, by sneakily, I went round as specifically asked her, but you's the thought that counts!).  So the plan was, a nice vanilla sponge - easy peasy....

Never never say any bake is easy!  I was so relaxed about this one, I was juggling it with a trip to the gym (where I rather ouchily pulled a calf muscle), an evening of The Great British Sewing Bee with a friend (I was meant to be watching it around her's, but was unable to limp round with aforementioned ouchy pulled muscle), so she kindly came round to mine. I quickly mixed the cake together and popped it in the oven. For some reason - I thought it was a good idea to open the oven early on in the bake and swap the pans over. I'd decided that the oven wasn't big enough to put both tins on the same shelf, and putting one on the top and one on the bottom seemed to be causing a very inconsistent bake. Of course, all those sensible bakers out there will know what happened...yes....sinking cake syndrome. I've never never had a cake sink!! Arghhh :/ ah well, we all have to go through it once I guess?

So I left the cakes to cool while watching the Sew Bee, and then inspected the damage with my friend after. She had the amazing idea of using my cookie cutters and some rolled icing and decorating the cake.  So I went for vanilla butter cream and jam in the middle (quite a bit to build up the dip in the middle), and then sprinkle icing sugar over the top of the cake, blobs of butter cream around the top (not as stylish as I'd have liked...I definintely need more practice in that area), and then some purple flowers cut out and positioned around the cake. I was quite impressed, so happily took the cake round early to be greeted by a delighted neighbour!  

I should add that baking is not the only craft thing I do, although is the main thing I'm blogging about - my other crafts take me a lot longer to create and finish. However, for my friend's birthday I wanted to make something special and I'd spotted some lovely chicken fabric in my local haberdashery - which has the fab fab name of Aberdashery! I had to rope in another friend to help me start off this crafty present, I knew what I wanted to make, but not quite sure where to start. So one Sunday afternoon we set to cutting out triangle templates and then I chopped out lots of fabric while she created exciting things in her kitchen (I can't blog about them, as I wasn't involved...I've also potentially forgotten what they were!) Can you guess what I was creating with many triangles and chicken fabric? Hmm, OK not many clues.  So instead, here's a picture of the finished piece hanging up in Sarah's house (if you look closely enough you might even spot some little lego characters hiding in the stonework)

I should add that the lovely little cat glaring at the camera is Rex :)

Happy birthday Sarah!! xx

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Sour Dough Starter

Why did I decide to start a sour dough? I've never even tasted one and I have no idea what's involved! Of course, that's why I have to try it :) I guess it was partially that, and also I loved Paul Hollywood's description of the sour dough puppies, and sour dough hotels to keep your little puppies in. Hmm....he makes it look so much quicker and easier on the bread show though - well - it's easy I'll give it that - but it's a slow slow process. I feel like I've been making this for an eternity. Which, isn't too far from the trust. Looking back through pictures I started the starter on the 11th Feb.  Here's the story of the starter so far.... (and no, it's still not finished!)

I was given the Paul Hollywood Bread book as a Christmas present, as bread was always something I wanted to make more of (and I loved his show), but I just didn't know where to start. The book is great, and I wanted to tackle something a bit different and thought that the sour dough would be an interesting challenge. So I stocked myself up on grapes, strong white flour, and kilner jar and got going! The initial starter really doesn't take long so I made it all up, and then tried to find somewhere warm to leave it to grow. My kitchen it lovely and warm when I'm baking, but when I'm not in there, or the heating isn't on, it can get a bit chilly. So I left the jar on the bookcase next to the radiator, but tucked up in a towel, thinking I'd be back in a couple of days to check on it's progress.

I would saw I was very dedicated to start with, but then one thing after another cropped up, and I forgot about the poor little starter. When I next came back to it, it was all separated and I was a bit worried that I'd killed the poor thing off.  Thankfully I spotted that Deborah Manger from 2013 bake-off was talking about sour dough on twitter, so I posed a quick question and she sorted me out.  Pour off the liquid layer, and then feed it up and leave it for another few days. That was back on the 22nd Feb, so I fed stirred, left, fed, stirred left for another week and then finally today I decided to actually crack on an make the starter into something a bit more useful than a jar on my bookcase!

Now, I know how important it is to read instructions all the way through, and I know that you need to plan ahead of time with baking - not just wing it (ahem), so I just read the first page of Paul's instructions this morning and then left the dough to rise for 5 hours.  Off I tootled to bellringing this morning, met a friend for lunch and then went to see Cinderella at the cinema....all good...I'll be able to bake the dough when I get home and have it for me tea, yay how organised!

NO! Turning the page, I then realise I have to knock back (that's fine) and knead the dough again. This was lovely actually, it's a really nice dough to work with, so if it does finally taste nice, I'll try this again - just with a tad more planning! :)  So the next step is to put a combination of flour and semolina onto the dough, and leave it to rise for a further 4-8 hours. Ahh, by now it's already 5pm. I don't think I want to be baking bread at that time of night : Ho hum.  Also, it appears I don't have semolina in my cupboard (not that I've ever bought it in my life, but still...stranger things have happened - they actually haven't - but that doesn't sound so good). So it's Sunday, after 4pm, there's only one shop near by open, and that the local garage. Last time I went there, they didn't even have white bread flour (although, oddly they had wholemeal bread flour and arrowroot??), but no, i didn't spot any semolina. To the internets - what can I replace semolina with - and the general consensus was that I could possibly get away with just flour! So bread happily knocked back, floured and back into the bowl.

I've pretty much decided that it's not going to get baked up this evening, so we'll be back tomorrow for a further check in and see if I finally get to taste sour dough, and if 24 hours of rising is actually OK for it!  Is there anyone brave enough to try??? :)

Thank you to the twitterers out there also making sour dough today, having the twitter support there as you bake is as good as having a giggle with friends as you bake. So thanks should go out to:

This is the dough as it goes in for it's first prove....shiny!!