Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Another Savoury Sunday

Slightly behind on my baking blog posts, but I'm catching up! With my brother visiting at the weekend, I thought it would be a good chance to try out one of the savoury plaits I'd had my eye on!  However, my brother isn't the biggest fan of mushrooms, and I'm not sure if he liked black pudding either, so I didn't risk trying out the Paul Hollywood recipe I'd previously noted!  After spending a bit of time exploring, and realising I'm really quite indecisive about this type of thing, I opted to make 2 different plaits! The first one was a Vegetarian Plait  that I located on the BBC Food website, and the2nd plait was straight from the BBC Good Food magazine (it was something like this one - - but by the time I'd taken out the chillies and extra ingredients that I didn't fancy, I would say it really was quite similar!)

I'm trying to have a bit of a post-christmas health kick (aren't we all), so am very conscious about calories, fats, portion sizes so I made sure I was only making half a portion of the two plaits, and I used a "lighter" ready-made puff pasty. Thinking back though, I literally just trusted that it was lighter, and I didn't actually look at the calories, fat etc, so on this occasion I'll just have to trust the manufacturers, and hope it really was lighter!

So for the two plaits, I laid out all my ingredients, which included red and yellow peppers, red onions, garlic, goats cheese, sausage-meat, spring onions, tomato purée and puff pastry.

Firstly I needed to roast the peppers, onions and garlic. I've done similar recipes before where I roast the veg with sausages in a big roasting pan, and just make a meal out of that - but I've never had proper instructions to follow of how you really roast veg, so in this case I had it on a baking tray, on gas mark 6, for 30 mins. They came out looking nice and soft with a bit of brownness to them, so I think I'd be trying that again :) I then mixed up the sausage-meat  with onions and tomato purée.

Then for the exciting bit, the pastry! So from not having done very much with pastry ever (I've made my own sausage rolls once) I've not experimented with 2 (well, 3 if you count these as separate items) pastry dishes since Christmas! Pastry is already pre-rolled, and much easier to handle than I cut it in half, and filled on side with the veggie filling, and the other with the sausage-meat filling.

I've had some experience of plaiting bread, and so really enjoyed plaiting the pastry, it's not quite the same technique, but I found it easier to manipulate. I think the overall effect is really quite neat, and I like to think Paul Hollywood wouldn't turn his nose up at it, but since he'll never see it, I can just live in blissful ignorance ;)

Here's the two plaits, pre-baked:

(yes, I'm a bit of a photographer too, and had my nice Canon camera out from having taking photos earlier in the day, to do excuse the slightly arty shots of my food....) Here's the final result, baked, and then baked and cut open to demo the fillings. Even I was impressed with the photography, may be I'm biased, but I think it's good enough for a magazine??  Good Food, any offers?


And finally, the dinner - a slice of each, and some home-made sweet potato wedges (expertly prepared and roasted by my brother)

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Birthday bakes

With the tea cosy freshly made for my brothers birthday, I couldn't let him visit without having a birthday cake made for him as well! So I asked if he had a special request, and he came up with an old family favourite of Mary Berry's Apple and Almond cake, which I got from a much loved version of this book - Country Cooking

The story behind this book, and the cake which I only fully heard recently) was that my Dad (who worked for Belling cookers), was asked to help out at a launch for a new Belling cooker. The person who'd been invited to demonstrate the cooker was non other than Mary Berry! Dad was on-hand to help out should there be any technical difficulties. Well, when mum heard that Merry Berry was going to be there, she was a bit jealous and asked if there was any chance she could tag along. Dad managed to arrange it and off mum went. Back tracking a bit, when mum and dad met, mum was a demonstrator for the Electricity Board, much the same way that Mary started her career. So when mum got to the Belling demo, she somehow got talking to Mary and got her to sign a copy of the above book, shared recipes with Mary and then even did a bit of baking with her as well! Wow, go mum! (Sadly mum is no longer around to confirm this story, but I've got the book, and the signature as semi-proof). Mary is of course my baking godess, and I have met her myself just last year - and got my own Mary Berry booked signed too! Sadly, I didn't get to do any baking with Mary when I met her :( (the pic below is from my mum's book)

Since then, the apple and almond cake has been a firm favourite in our household, and we had a special loose bottom square tin, which we only used for this cake! Since moving out, I've been searching high and low for a similar tin (too big, too small etc) but I think I've cracked it, and I have a nice one from John Lewis of all places.

So this last week, I cracked on and made the apple and almond cake as requested! :) Interestingly, the recipe indicates we should have flaked almonds on the top, but I've never used them. Always just the almond essence (one of the first things I bought to restock my kitchen after all the building work). It's important to mention the almond essence, as my kitchen has been smelling of it for the last few days, as I managed to knock the bottle over in a fit of hand waving, and half a bottle soaked into my wooden work tops. Thankfully, I really do like the smell, but I do think it's finally starting to fade now.....they say oil's good for wood worktops right? :/

Thankfully, the cake went down well - and I'm just sat enjoying yet another slice - warmed through slightly and spot of cream poured over the top, while curled up with a log fire and a nice spice apple cider. Perfect way to spend a Saturday evening, and perfect way to round off our home baked tea of experimental plaits! I'll leave you wondering what experiments I've been conducting, and fill you in with more details and pictures tomorrow :)

Making not baking

Last weekend didn't quite pan out as expected. I was hoping to crack on with some baking, but my kitchen had other plans!

Although I have a new kitchen, it's not quite complete and I needed sealant between the work surface and tiles. A friend kindly offered to help me out with this, so on Friday night I cleared down everything from my kitchen surfaces except my lovely baking books - these needed their own space! So I bought myself a lovely new bookcase from Argos (which I'd intended to pick up in my lunch hour and walk home with - thankfully a different friend took pity on me as it was raining and gave me a lift - much to my relief when I actually picked up the flatpack!!) So Friday evening, after work, I pootled down to B & Q to buy the bits needed to make the shelf and then proceeded to put it together. Yay! My first solo flat pack (when I say solo, I did have some help for the final stages, as my friends tipped up for a craft evening - I don't think this is the craft they intended though!) 

So now I have my lovely bookcase, I was able to shift the books and make space on the work surface! I then kept the work surface as free as possible for the remainder of the weekend, and my friends popped round Sunday to help out with the sealant, which we then had to leave to dry for a few hours. Thankfully, my friends are also keen cooks and treated me to a mini lasagne they'd prepared and chilled just for me! Aww thank you!! Lasagne is my all time fav food, but something I've never tried to make for myself...

While on the topic of making, not baking, I'd set myself a mission of making a tea cosy for my brother for his birthday. For Christmas I'd bought him a subscription for a tea club from eteaket, which came with a lovely little filter teapot. When we made the first cuppa with it, I realised we'd need a little tea cosy to keep it, well, cosy! I always have such great plans for knitting and crocheting, and then forget how long it takes me to actually make anything,. Anyway, the remainder of the weekend was spent knitting away to get the little tea cosy ready for his birthday and visit (he was coming to visit on 23rd Jan). Thankfully, my lack of space to bake focused my attention and I got it all finished and ready (and wrapped up) in time. Here's the cosy being modelled on my own teapot (his is red) 

Can you guess what my next baking challenge will be...

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Sweedish chef?!

haha, just had to post this!  A friend posted a link to "which muppet are you..." and I can be a real sucker for this things, so while sat watching to Great British Bake Off Sports Relief, I gave it a go....and I got.....

Also, Emma Freud isn't the only person to make bacon brownies - yum yum :) :

Monday, 13 January 2014

Savoury Sunday

This weekends challenge was to use up those 11 egg yolks left over from the Angel Food Cake, so after a bit of research, and rummaging around my cook books, I decided to adapt a Hairy Dieters recipe and make their Asparagus & Bacon Flan (I've only just seen this picture from the website as I was using their book - I suddenly realise that the crust looks somewhat different to mine!). Well, that was the basic plan...however...I decided to adapt it some what to suit what I had available in the kitchen. This is the first time I've really gone quite off-piste! I took the very basic recipe, aka the filo pastry, and then completely made up the filling and the eggy mix! And fair play, it actually wasn't too bad!

So....I took their basic idea of using the filo pasty for the base and then made the rest of it up. I had some bacon, peppers, mushrooms (just on the edge of turning, but you really can't ever waste a mushroom!), also some onions. I was tempted to add courgettes, but didn't want to overfill the mix.

I've not worked with filo pastry before - it's quite a challenge to unwrap is isn't it? Once I'd finally unfolded all the layers, and stopped accidently ripping it, it wasn't too bad. I've got some left - so that should e a mini challenge for the week :)

I then prompted to make the white sauce - which sadly took two attempts (the first just became a rather unglamorous all of gloop....why??) The 2nd attempt, well that also glooped, but not so much so I took my chances and used what wasn't glooped (the rest stuck to the spoon, so was easy to separate!) I added to this the er *coff* 11 egg yolks, rather than the 3 eggs suggested by the recipe, and mixed them all together. When it came to putting the pastry into the flan tin, I realised that I didn't even have a 20cm, ut more like 23 and a bit - so the extra liquid came in useful in the end.

I did chuckle when it came to the part that said "Scatter the remaining asparagus and bacon mixture on top and press down lightly", as it was just liquid - not really a whole lot of pressing down required: 

I then carefully manoeuvred it to the oven, trying not to trip, spill or having any other bake-off related disasters and left it there to bake. I lurked around the kitchen for a good 10 mins staring in the oven hoping it would all be OK, before I decided I couldn't will it to work and wandered off around the house.

I came back 20 mins later, to find that it wasn't quite the disaster I was expecting, and this was the end result:

I really should have done a taste test before relying on it for work, but here's the slice in my lunch box today:

and the verdict? really rather yummy!! Unlike most of my bakes, I think I'll be keeping this one for myself - this week will be forever known as quiche week!! :)

So what have I learnt from this? Well, this is probably my first baking disaster in a while. Although the end result was lovely, I really do need to work on those sauce making skills. I'll certainly stocking up on some more cornflower and giving them a few goes.  I've also really enjoyed working with filo pastry, I don't think I've ever done that before, so I've been exploring some other recipes and might try a cheese and roasted veg parcel at some point in the future. So there will definitely be some more savoury baking coming up in the future!

I then ended the weekend with a trip out to see my friend, and to watch my newly aquired Julie and Julia dvd. We both saw it at the cinema a long time ago, but thought a drizzly Sunday afternoon activity was to munch on the last bit of angel food cake that I'd made, and the ginger biscuits she'd made, sup tea, scoff home made bread rolls (not my creation - but really rather scrummy) and watch the dvd. Lovely afternoon, and perfect was to end the weekend!

Next challenge? Well, I've been asking some of my taste testers at work for some suggestions, and I've had a request for a swiss roll, and for a genoese sponge - am tempted to combine the two - would that work?

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Baking Angel

At the weekend I said that I really wanted to try the Angel cake - the reason? Well, it was a technical challenge on the 2013 bake off, and at the time I thought the angel cake was a light sponge with buttercream in it, so after seeing it on the bake-off (and all the fun they had trying to make it), I've really wanted to give it a go.

A good friend, who knew I really wanted to make it, got me a really lovely angel cake tin for Christmas, that even has little hearts in the base of the tin, (although as I start to write this post, I've no idea if this has worked!) It's currently looking like this - so it will be a moment of truth at the end of the post :) yes, it's propped up on a champagne bottle, again from my friend, (only the best for my angel cake!!)

This week has been more planning, trying to make sure I picked the best recipe for my tin. The tin is 9 inches, and the only recipe I could find in any of my books was for 8 inches. Mary Berry's bake off recipe was 10 inches, so after a bit of searching I found one for a 9 inch tin.  After recovering from the shock of needing 12 egg whites, I then set to locating the other ingredients. Cream of tater (or as my lovely brother suggested, tartar sauce - I think not). I thought that would be easy! My mum always had some, and before all the work on my kitchen, I thought I'd had some in my cupboards too. So last night I popped over to the local garage, which is surprisingly good for baking supplies (I even located arrowroot there, after searching all our supermarkets, when making a cheesecake sauce last year), but no! Nothing in the garage, so in the pouring rain I trotted over to the nearest supermarket and has a look there. I found myself staring at the baking aisle for a good 10 mins before I finally spotted it. Not quite what I was looking for, but it did the job:

I also had to locate quite a few eggs! Thankfully my lovely next door neighbours keep chickens, so do tend to keep me in a steady supply for all my baking needs, although even I thought asking for 12 might be a step too far, but all their chickens are being very productive atm, so they had a good stash ready to use up! Everything else needed was really just basic store cupboard ingredients, so I set too it.

Here's my pics as I work through the various stages, if nothing else, over the last couple of weeks with my soufflé and angel cake, I've really picked up separating eggs! Now I just need to work out some lovely egg yolk recipes (any sugestions??)

How many eggs??

So just as I finish this post, the cake has been released from the tin. There was a moment of fear, as it's a quick release tin, but half the cake was stuck to the non stick side (at least there was no slipping then?) and when I released it, the cake tried to split in half - arghh - quickly unreleasing the tin, and then locating my trusty pink palette knife (in fact, another gift from my friend Matt, he really does know me well!). Cake separated from the sides, I set to releasing it again, and then slapped on some cream cheese style butter cream, and some vanilla and cherry jam, and voila, one angel cake. Proof will e in the pudding tomorrow, it's a bit late to be munching cake this evening, but I'll give my work colleagues a surprise treat tomorrow and see what they think!

 It's rising!!

 and cooling - and pic from beneath!

 released from it's cage!

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Relaxing weekend

First weekend of the new year - and you'd think I'd be eager to be cracking on with my new year's resolution. However, there's no point rushing things - preparation is the key to success, or something like that? Am I just making excuses? May be...however, let me explain...

Working back through the last couple of months, I've barely been at home. I'm not normally a jet-setter, but a number of events all events all collided, and involved me travelling back and forth between England and Wales (and at one point Scotland too) and left very little time for me to be in my house and kitchen. This of course meant (am sure everyone else is the same?) that I literally just landed in the house, dumped things, did enough washing to keep going, and then flew off again.

So I think this week is my first full week at home in a long time! As a result, I've spent the weekend slowly (carefully) tidying Christmas goodies away, and having a sort out of my lovely new kitchen (I'm sure I'll explain more about that in future posts), tidying my living room and generally relaxing. This morning, I've had the tv on in the background as I potter around my house, with James Martin followed by Paul Hollywood inspiring me. In fact, Paul has just made a gorgeous looking sausage plait, that I'd really like to try. I wonder if I have any friends willing to come round and sample it. I might have to adapt some of the ingredients as there was mushroom and black pudding in it. I'm happy to munch away on them, but I suspect some friends might not..

So really, this has been a weekend of planning, tidying, sorting and preparing! I have some ideas of what I'd like to bake over the next month, so I'll buy the ingredients and hopefully try and make something next weekend.

I have some lovely baking related Christmas presents, including an angel cake tin, so that might be one of the first things I attempt :)

Thursday, 2 January 2014

New Year Resolutions

So while everyone else is planning new year resolutions that involve giving up food and getting healthier, I decided 2014 was the year to take a different approach!

Never one for being normal (in the past I've had resolutions of visiting a different friend in a different county every month)! So this year, along with my bake-off habit, I've decided to try and take on a Julie and Julia style blog. I've hunted through my vast collection of cookery books, and sadly not one of them seems to be a proper cookery course. However I have Mrs Beeton's Everyday Cookery book, which was my mums. I also have a number of Mary Berry books, who is my Julia Childs to Julie Powell, so I hope that these will give me the ideas, inspiration and support I need. 

I also have amongst my huge array of book, Paul Hollwood, James Martin, Hairy Bikers, Stacie Stewart, John Whaite, Tospy & Tim (we all had to start somewhere), and my mum's own cookery book. Mum did a city & guilds in Manchester, and then went on to be a demonstrator for the electricity board (just like Mary Berry). I recently found out that my granddad on my mum's side was also a baker, so it's in the blood and I am determined to keep it going. Sadly mum is no longer with us, but am sure both mum and granddad are here in spirit when I bake. 

So to get into practice, I cooked up a 3 course meal for my dad, brother and friend on New Years eve. It consisted on home-made dinner rolls (first time I'd attempted these), fried rump steak with chips, and greens with a peppercorn sauce, and then madly for desert I wanted to try Chocolate soufflé, and once I get an idea into my head it just has to happen! I had a friend's home-made Christmas pudding on stand-by just in case it didn't work out!

I was so pleased with the dinner rolls, although my first tip - always read the full recipe before starting anything - don't assume that because you can make bread that bread rolls will follow the same method! The recipe I used was straight out of the bake-off book from 2012, and too a lot longer than I anticipated (far too much proving, but worth the wait in the end). I also managed to mess up when I started to split the dough, and mis-calculated, so some were bigger than others. I used this opportunity to be creative and made a plaited roll as well as mini baguettes and normal round dinner rolls.

As I left these to cook (which I served up with shop-bought pate, as some things are really just not worth attempting to make yourself!!!) I then started the soufflé, (a Mary Berry recipe, from her complete cookbook) which I was then juggling with the frying of the steak and steaming the veg. Am still not sure quite how I managed, as to be honest I didn't really had a proper time management plan in place, but lets just say we nearly had steak soufflé!!  

Anyway, it all came together beautifully, with the help of my brother stepping in to make the peppercorn sauce while I folded the egg whites.

So here are the before and after pics of the bread and soufflé, both were my first attempts (and the first time I'd even tasted soufflé!)