Friday, 28 December 2012

Fa la la la laaaaa

Most festive greetings to you – and not sure about the rest of you buy it still feels like Christmas in this house. This is, of course, helped by the fact it was my son’s first birthday today and so we had another fun day of opening presents, eating nibbles for tea and looking at some of the presents for my children and going ‘I don’t remember who gave her that?’ Everyone has been so generous this year and I got some cracking bits and pieces – lots and lots of baking books, you’ll be pleased to hear. Including a nice ‘set’ of Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood – amazing!!

I have a plethora (yes – finally got to use it!) of images of my baking so far this week as not only last week’s Lemon Drizzle came out but also my Plum Pudding from a good few moons ago as well as my son’s birthday ‘cake’. The Lemon Drizzle was pretty full on actually as it didn’t rise as much as I was hoping it would so the syrup was really concentrated and I put on too much icing – although that was delicious! I think most people liked it and we certainly had more on Boxing Day. The Plum Pudding was pretty bloody lovely, if I do say so myself. It might look charred but it’s not – and it was surprisingly light (Xmas Pud can be soooo stodgy!) and crunchy and I was pretty chuffed with it. I also had more on Boxing Day. Finally, the most favourite thing I have made my son so far was the Millionaire Shortbread – I have never seen someone so little, ramming it in so fast because he just LOVED the taste that much! Given the indulgences of the last few days, I toned it down a bit and made chocolate chip shortbread. It was pretty nice but not as crumbly as I’d hoped and my son didn’t go quite as wild (although he has been eating solidly for the last three days which might explain it!). Tasty, though my cookie shaping skills need work – the smaller ones were cut into the shape of his name but when I cooked them, they just became this big slab! Ah, well J

So to my weekend bake – I don’t honestly know except it will technically be a week bake as am off to the rugby on Sunday. I’ll be seeing Saracens v Northampton Saints in Milton Keynes and it will be the first premiership rugby match I’ve been to. I went to see Pontypridd once when I lived there, but that is my total rugby experience – so bring it on! It’s my husband’s birthday next week so I think I will do something he fancies so for once, this will be a surprise for all of us at the moment!
So to end..
“Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.”
Mary Ellen Chase

Friday, 21 December 2012

When you have lemons, make...

It’s the final week of Strictly and I am sort of excited about it... am pretty sure I still want Kimberley and the gorgeous Pasha to win but would be happy with ABD (anyone but Denise) which is probably a bit mean but I just can't warm to her at all. Am also very excited as I have two weeks of holiday coming up and I honestly can’t wait. Last couple of weeks have been really tough and I am ready for a break. It’s actually been a good week as I got to meet the rest of my team at work. Since our most recent restructure, we’ve been split between Eastleigh & York so it was fab to finally meet face to face. Such a lovely bunch – and Secret Santa was good to me too (yuuuum, jelly beans!)

Well, the ole Vanillekipferl turned out ok if a little unexciting. I don’t think it was helped by the fact they didn’t quite look the part – they were more open ended brackets than crescent moons.. think I took the whole ‘roll into a sausage’ part of the recipe a bit too literally! They were tasty enough though, but just like vanilla ice-cream – whilst it’s nice and does the job of an ice-cream, I would never pick it over mint choc chip or honeycomb (oh, goodness – I now want ice-cream in the middle of a cold, wet snap!)

Lemon Drizzle Cake is on the menu this weekend – it’s wanted for Christmas and I’m quite looking forward to baking it. A lady I used to work with used to make the most amazing drizzle cake – she really should have marketed it. I wish I knew her secret but am going to follow a Jamie Oliver recipe which I’ve tried once before and it turned out ok. I’d like it to turn out amazing this time though, so need to find me some poppy seeds and a decent juicer.
And Boy! - hasn’t it been drizzling! Kind of hope it’s not too wet for Christmas and I know there won’t be snow but an icy cold, dry winter’s day would be nice. Still not feeling as festive as I’d like but am hoping that once the weekend hits and we’re only a day or two away, it’ll kick in.

So, brace yourselves people, this could be your last chance to sample my wonderful blog seeing as, according to the ancient Mayan culture – today is the end of the world!!  Or at least there will be a catastrophic event like Earth heading towards a black hole at the centre of the universe, or colliding with the Planet Nibiru (or Planet X, depending on your fancy). Apparently, this collision was prophesised by a lady with regular contact with extra-terrestrials through a communication chip implanted in her head as a child.
Personally, I like to follow the more New Age interpretation that this dates marks the time in which Earth and all who sail on her undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation with today marking the start of a new era. Trying not to come over all philosophical but:

“They must often change who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.”
Confucius (551 BC - 479 BC)



Friday, 14 December 2012

That's the way the cookie crumbles...

With only three weeks left until the final, it felt like it was time for Nicky to leave Strictly Come Dancing this week. If I’m honest, I am quite shocked at just how long he stayed in given that he didn’t really seem that great although I suppose his improvement since that first week was pretty marked. I know his partner, Karen, was new to the show and I hope she’s back (as does my husband who thought she was a schmoking hottie – a la Charlie Sheen) although she did remind me of a vampire.  I’ve kind of got my teeth bared right now as am watching the Masterchef Professionals Final – I saw about three episodes right at the start and then last night when they went to the Fat Duck, so have no favourite but will say all the food looks and sounds delicious! Not sure about stinging nettles and ox heart but I love the sound of Keri’s pistachio cake (will pretend she’s not using olives!) with marshmallows, raspberries and white chocolate parfait – oooo yum!

On to my baking and my first ever attempt at both choux pastry and piping! Well, I wouldn’t say it was a 100% success, probably close to about 78% - as you can see from the wonderful picture here, they almost looked like proper eclairs and they definitely tasted like them. But for some reason, my pastry didn’t really puff up like it was supposed to – not sure why that was but maybe it had to do with my piping in that I didn’t make my sausages thick enough or perhaps as my piping set didn’t come with quite the right nozzle, maybe that had an effect. Ah well – choux pastry is surprisingly easy to make so will have to practice some more, but think profiteroles might be my next attempt.

However, for this week I think I’m going to stick to something quite simple – simple yet totally irresistible, I hope. I will be creating Vanillekipferl, which are Viennese biscuits normally made around Christmas time which are crescent moon shaped and (hopefully) light and scrumptious! It uses icing sugar instead of regular castor sugar to make it melt in the mouth and provided I can make them look pretty, am hoping to kick start the festive feasting in the Stewart household; not that we ever truly hold back but it really feels like Christmas this week, now we’ve got the tree up, so bring on the over-eating, tummy busting few weeks. I did win three months with a personal trainer at a recent charity ball which I will kick start in January so am using that as an excuse to let myself go over Christmas – and why not!

We were lucky enough to have an Olympian visit our offices this week – the rather attractive Andrew Osagie. What an absolutely lovely man – one of those rare people you meet that as soon as they start talking, you’re at ease and could stand talking to them all day. The drive and desire within him to the best at what he does (the 800m, in case the name doesn’t sound familiar) and his self-belief was pretty awe-inspiring – but then, that’s why he competes at the elite level and is the British No1. I am so sad to see Aviva end their sponsorship as it means, on a purely selfish level, no more opportunities like this, but wider, the foundations that have been laid through the grass roots programmes and opportunities for raw talent to be nurtured through working closely with the ambassadors like Dame Kelly may also be lost.. here’s hoping that’s not the case and we can all feel as proud after Rio 2016 as we did after London this summer.
To make myself feel better about my lifestyle after listening to Andrew, I thoroughly concur with the following sentiment:
“I am not a glutton - I am an explorer of food”

Erma Bombeck


Friday, 7 December 2012

Flash of Lightening!

Finally, we see the last of Michael Vaughan on Strictly this year… As soon as he was in the dance off, it was clear he would go and I can’t even remember who he was against! Oh yeah, Nicky who must surely be next. Although I’m looking forward to this fusion business – although I don’t really know much about it as have always been distracted whenever they’ve talked about it. Has anyone else found it all a bit mediocre this year – DvO seems to have it nailed even though she just seems to be really unpopular on the few forums and blogs I read. I still like Kimberley and Pasha but if Louis starts to show a bit of himself (personality wise, of course!) he could be a contender!

Lots and lots of little gingerbread men – my cutter was so small that I only had room for one raisin for a button and had to use currants for eyes (which kept falling off!) And despite me raving about black treacle last week, the recipe didn’t call for it – I misread dark brown sugar??! I do love gingerbread and this was pretty good but I definitely need a new cutter, a nice big metal man!

I am going to try something very new to me this week which uses a piping bag which is something else I’ll be new too! Chocolate ├ęclairs – oooh, lovely soft choux pastry and gooey cream with a nice thick chocolate topping. I might be being a bit ambitious to tell the truth but there doesn’t seem much to it and so I thought, why not?  And guess who is credited with creating this fabulous treat – none other than Antonin Car├¬me, the chef I wrote about in my first blog!

I have largely stayed away from book ‘crazes’ since Harry Potter and have tended to read a lot of crappy holiday type novels and some good old murder mysteries; got the most recent Susannah Gregory book from the library this week featuring lots of monks trying to off each other – fantastic. Anyway, I haven’t read Shades of Grey or Twilight or the like, but I did start to read The Hunger Games this week and I am so enjoying it. I knew the premise and didn’t expect to get sucked in but it is great and I would wholeheartedly recommend it – been keeping me up a bit too late these last few nights. Just keeps getting better and better. Ok, so that’s enough gushing.

I was out last night at my work'sChristmas do and had a blast. Slightly wish there had been slightly less practically naked, 'here is my arse looking pretty in a thong' women dancing around and maybe a slight balance with some men in sparkly headresses and pouches (at least last year there was one man involved even though he was camper than Kylie!) But it was the first works do in a long time where I've really cut loose and had belly aching fun at - so thank you Aviva! And in celebration of all festive hangovers and and the feasting that Christmas always brings:

"I cook with wine; sometimes I even add it to the food."

WC Fields

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Run, run as fast as you can!

Well it was about time that poor old Victoria was put out of her misery really although, as always, I was sad to see Brendan go. She always seemed on the brink of some sort of breakdown and for fellow followers of the Mighty Mighty Monk Seal blog, officially my favourite blog EVER, I will miss her little dramas and crises but she was way short of the fellow competition – even bloody Michael Vaughen!! Surely, surely, surely this week is his time to leave – SURELY!

Anyway, back to the bake! The pumpkin pie was a lovely return to form – I was so pleased as had had some dreadful weeks following the dis-arse-ter that was the plum pudding and haven’t been enjoying dragging out the ole bowls and scales every weekend. However, the pie was yum, yum, yum – oh, so good! Quite reminiscent of custard tart, it is one I will be making again – even the pastry worked and was buttery and ‘flaky’ and very moreish!
Right, enough wax-lyrically about my pie. Am in the mood for some childish treats this week so am going back to one of my favourite things – gingerbread men! I will admit I have probably made these more times than I can count but am going to try a slightly different recipe incorporating black treacle. I always think more things should have black treacle in them – within reason of course! Always reminds me of my gran, sadly long departed now, but she was a demon when it came to treacle toffee (and tablet but that’s a whole different ball game!). I don’t know what happened to her recipes when she died unfortunately but I do have a ‘how to make sweeties’ book which does have a version in it – I just doubt it will live up to my happy happy memories! Once Santa drops off my electronic scales and sugar thermometer, I might start knocking some of these bad boys out – but am happy to wait until the New Year.
The gingerbread man fairy tale (when he legs it from his maker and her husband, a cow and a horse and ends up being devoured by a fox – SNAP) is one of those my daughter became proper obsessed by. Every night for longer than I can remember, we were reading it and she is still so fond of it that we probably read it about once a week – argh! Not only that but we also have the bloody Big Pancake as well – the same effing story but not as cute. I do think this sounds like the best book in the original German: Vom dicken fetten Pfannekuchen. I had completely forgotten that ‘fat’ is ‘dick’ which always made me smile as an immature schoolgirl – however, not as much as the verb ‘to wave’, oh how I chortled!!
I keep trying to eat healthily – thought would try and remove treats and all the crap I shovel down my neck most evening so I can continue to justify baking sweetness every weekend – but my takeaway pizza has just arrived so:

“Life is too short for self-hatred and celery sticks.”
Marilyn Wann


Friday, 23 November 2012

Time to give thanks...

It’s traditional at this time of year (if you’re American) for families to get together and give thanks for the good things in their lives. Rather than bleat on about Strictly (although will give thanks that Richard and Erin finally left – liked him, tolerated him, tired of him!) I thought I would take this moment to give my own thanks for things I am grateful for. So, in no particular order, I am incredibly thankful for my lovely husband and loopy children, Jasper Fforde books, fluffy slippers, dodgy celebrity reality shows (yay, I’m a Sleb is back), chocolate covered popcorn, sleeping more than 4 hours at a stretch (thank you!!) and finally Christmas.. only just over a month to go – yeeha!!
So this week, in celebration of all things Thanksgiving, I am going to attempt Pumpkin Pie – I think this could break me… although the Whoopie Pies almost did. Good golly – they went sooooo wrong, not slightly wrong but let me show you in picture form:

Which ones do you think are mine? Yup – mine are the flatter than pancakes, nowhere near enough cream, stuck to the plate disasters to your right! I don’t even know where I went wrong which is the sad thing – I followed the recipe but as soon as I started to put them on the baking tray, I was clear something had gone horribly wrong. Believe it or not, and am thinking more ‘not’, they tasted ok and I think if they’d turned out right, I would be a big fan. I am going to blame my cold which prevented me making them on Sunday like normal and having to rush job them on Tuesday night. Maybe some time, far away in the future, I might reattempt but will walk away for now!
So, pumpkin pie eh!! My recipe calls for tinned pumpkin – really can’t see that getting stocked in the UK so am going to have to roast and puree one. Given that Halloween was three weeks ago, am a bit worried I might not find one but can always use butternut squash if all else fails? I have never had it so hopefully all my tasters will be just as virginal and not know if it’s going hideously wrong!
I would like to take this moment to say well done to Theresa Nelson from Versailles (in America rather than the French city) who won this year’s bake off at the New Bremen Pumpkinfest. It is also the home of the biggest ever pumpkin pie which was baked in 2010 and weighed in at an absolutely massive 3698 kilos – check out that bad boy! Much kudos to the team and thank you to the official site of the New Bremen Pumpkinfest for the picture!
In a Thanksgiving stylee and about as cheesy as it gets:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
Robert Burns


Thursday, 15 November 2012

Whoopee – it’s Whoopie Pie time!

Who would have believed that the beautiful Kimberley would be in the bottom two of Strictly – not I, that’s who! I am guessing everyone thought she was safe but makes me sort of sad that the ‘great’ British public would rather vote for Michael Vaughan and Richard Arnold – what is up wit’ dat? Obviously, from the two at risk, the right one went home (and I wasn’t sad to see the back of Fern’s overhanging back skin – she looked amazing but that dress didn’t do her many favours, to be honest!) but Michael is still in it – there is no justice! I am embarrassed to admit that my favourite was Nicky from Westlife – he just sold it and I don’t want to like it, partly because he never seems to thank his partner or acknowledge anything she does but mainly because my husband thinks Karen is smoking! She did look gorgeous on Saturday though <sigh>
Right, empanadas! I’m not quite sure what went wrong with my pastry, but something definitely did in that it was elastic and kept pinging back when I tried to roll it out so it was too thick when I finally made them and dry and just not right L The filling was pretty yummy and they were demolished by my husband and daughter but I think (well, I know) I need to work on it. I think pastry is one of those things you need to practice so of course, this week I am avoiding it like the plague and going back to my favourite – chocolate and coconut!
Whoopie pies (or BFO’s – Big Fat Oreos!) are apparently the next big thing to hit us from America – I’m not too sure about that but they sound pretty good and seeing as they may be considered either a cookie, pie or a cake, pretty much covers all my favourite kinds of sweet things! The addition of coconut into the cream just makes me salivate and so I am going for broke! They are apparently the official state ‘treat’ of Maine – see, that’s why I love America, each state has an official treat in addition to the state dessert, which in Maine’s case is Blueberry Pie. I think I could live in Maine, well except for the horrendously cold winters - minus 50 has been recorded - the crazy hicks and bigfoots that live in the forests and the fact no-one else seems to live there, the Northwest Aroostook territory has an area of 2,668 square miles (6,910 km2) and a population of 27!
So this week sees two big events both on Friday; Children in Need is taking place and Aviva has been lucky enough to be selected to host a call centre, taking pledges and donations across the night. It promises to be a lot of fun as I am gutted I have to miss it… but, the reason I can’t be there is we have a big family wedding which is really exciting. Almost ten years in the making, it is going to be the first occasion when we get proper dolled up as a little family of four – my daughter has got silver mouse shoes and my son has a tie with skulls on, we are going to look ace. So, in honour of my lovely Brother in Law and future Sister in Law:

“You know you're in love when you can't fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”

Dr Seuss.



Friday, 9 November 2012

Empanadas or bust!

Another week, another person exits Strictly Come Dancing and this week, I can’t say I was sad to see Colin and Kristina go. When Kristina first joined the Strictly team, she blew me away – she was exciting and ‘gave it’ more than any other professional (except maybe Brian Fortuna who partnered her in those first couple of series!) but I have found my soft spot for her slowly hardening up.. I guess it’s perhaps a hangover from all her bad partners, but I find her routines are very ‘Kristina’ focussed and don’t showcase her partner enough! Ah well, she’s gone again for this year – shame Colin had to go though, now there was a man whose voice I could listen to all night!

Good grief – the Plum Pudding wasn’t a disaster by any means, but it took us almost 17 hours to steam the thing… 17 hours! Our house was like a roman baths and because it also turned into this enormous thing, we didn’t have a pan big enough to steam it in so used our brand new wok – which is now wrecked! I honestly didn’t expect it to be such a hassle (my poor husband was up until 4,30 in the morning, topping up the water, checking to see if it was finally cooked!). I am most definitely having myself a slab on Christmas day, even though I’m not actually a big fan – give me chocolate log every time! Sorry – no picture this week, but in it’s current state, it’s just a big pudding basin covered in cling film so not much to see!

On to this week and as mentioned last week, I haven’t done much savoury baking – I certainly have a sweet tooth and for me anyway, that’s the joy of baking. However, I thought I might take the plunge and so have decided to try and create some empanada’s. These lovely little Portuguese pockets* sound fairly straight forward although I will be heading into the world of home made pastry.. I’ve always used shop bought before (why wouldn’t you!) but it’s a skill I need to perfect if I’m ever going to start banging out quiches and tartlets and pies!

As always, like to do a bit of digging around my chosen bake and who’d have though it, but there is a province in Argentina which hosts its own empanada festival! The Tucaman national festival of the empanada is held every September and has quite strict rules – for example, the meat filling must be minced into 3mm pieces! – but sounds like a great excuse for a party! You can even go on the Ruta Empanada Tucumana, a tour around several big Tucaman cities eating nothing but juicy, spicy meat pies – yum!

To sign off this week and keeping in the party spirit, I love this!

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world”
J R R Tolkien

* They come from all over as this entry shows but I liked the way Portuguese Pockets sounded!

Friday, 2 November 2012

He put in his thumb and pulled out a plum…

Well, it wasn’t a surprise to see Sid Owen leave Strictly as he’s been a little bit dodgy throughout.. I think he was one of those to have a lucky dance early on but then never fulfilled that potential. Not overly helped by Ola’s choreography although she should stop apologising as if she’s the reason they were voted off – he was bad and that’s why, Ola! Anyway, it must be Michael’s time to go really soon. I dislike him intensely for no reason at all except he was sooo very bad and is still in it and yet, Johnny Ball went out first L

My millionaire shortbread was a bit of a winner, even if I say so myself. The biscuit could’ve been crumblier but was nice and the caramel and chocolate were about right – shame I can’t quite get the hang of marbling! It went down well, especially with my son who couldn’t get it in quick enough… he is a true Stewart

Talking of which, look at this beauty! Obviously, during a rather odd time in the 70’s, I penned this lovely seasonal cookery book. Reading through it, it’s really rather dated and I appear to have a slight fascination with game and innards, but perhaps I will find something to bake in there; I haven’t done much savoury baking.

So this week I have nooo pressure (?) as I will be making the Plum Pudding for the family Christmas. It’s a pretty big affair too, there’ll be 9 of us I think. Unfortunately, this does mean I won’t be able to let you know how this turns out for some time yet. But, I will of course post a picture.
I know Christmas is still quite a way away but I do like getting into the spirit, whatever the occasion! Halloween this year was extra special as I spent it with two wonderful women I don’t get to see enough. I wish I’d dressed up as the kids looked fabulous – as did the amazing hosts. And I have been buying lots of Christmas presents this week too which has got me very excited and wishing it wasn’t quite so far away. I do have four family birthdays between now and early January as well as a very exciting wedding so I expect the next couple of months will be a bit of a whirlwind! Yes J

I didn’t realise there was quite such a religious reason behind the humble Xmas Pud but apparently it must be prepared with 13 ingredients to represent Christ and the 12 apostles, and that every family member stir it in turn from east to west to honor the Magi and their supposed journey in that direction – thank you, Wikipedia! It did remind me that in my childhood, my mum always put 20p’s into the pudding. I am sooo doing this as it’s is believed to bring wealth in the coming year. Our lottery syndicate won £72 today, so I am thinking we’re only going up from there!
Right then, time to go chop prunes to soak in tea and bung loads of other dried fruit into beer and stuff (this might take overnight but that’s bearable - it takes 8-10 hours to steam this thing, that’s my Sunday sorted!). All in the name of food, but then again…

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food”

George Bernard Shaw

Friday, 26 October 2012

Making my Millions

With no Great British Bake Off to enthral this week, I was able to focus a bit more on Strictly Come Dancing which I love so much! I’ve never been into X-Factor but for some reason, I have watched every season of Strictly except one (when Jill Halfpenny won – and I can’t for the life of me work out why I missed it?) Any rate – gives me another obsession and I do get very into it. I watch It Takes Two every night although it’s tough with a stroppy young girl at the moment. My favourite pro of all time was Matthew Cutler and I would love to dance the Argentine Tango with him - oh bliss! I do rather like Pasha and have proper stalker tendencies affection for Kimberley so want them to do well. I won’t bore you with too much info as I know it’s not everyone’s cuppa and this is a baking blog after all!
Soooo – the baking! I’m not sure if it was a success or not really.. The rhubarb and ginger upside down cake was perfectly edible and was cooked correctly and everyone liked it but it didn’t wow me!
As you can see from the picture, it was never an overly inspiring looking cake but it did mirror the one in the book – except mine wasn’t as red but then my rhubarb wasn’t as fresh (ok, I admit it – I used frozen!). Considering the ingredients – I had to use preserved stem ginger from southern China, well it didn’t have to be from China but the only jar in the biggest Asda in the country was from there – I expected big things. I didn’t sieve my flour though which is a rookie mistake as it adds air to make the cake fluffier – I always thought it was just an extra step you could just skip but apparently, it can make quite a difference!
So – this weekend I am going to go for Millionaire’s shortbread! I was going for just some plain chocolate chip cookies and then on the same page was a marbled version of these gorgeous treats. I did get a slight Great British Bake Off fix watching the contestants from last years’ talk about their experience. The winner (I think) said  you should always go one step further than you’re comfortable with your baking and you end up surprising yourself. So no bog standard cookies for this household – I will probably regret it when my condensed milk solidifies into a big gooey mess but I am a daughter down this weekend, so will hopefully be able to look after it all!?
So I thought I’d look into how easy it is to become a millionaire – there’s a few pages on wiki-how which basically put it down to good management, sensible thinking and occasional calculated risks. Seeing as there are only 441,000 millionaires currently residing in the UK, I feel now is my time.  It’s interesting actually because whilst it goes into a lot of detail as to how you can do it, it’s the details about the kind of mind-set you need to make the money which was most fascinating. It falls into four categories; believe in the goal of becoming a millionaire is top of the heap - You must believe that you both deserve to be and will become a millionaire! Pick a motivation behind your desire to be a millionaire and stick with it – you need a passion or you won’t keep at it. You must get rid of the phrase ‘if only’ fromn your vocabulary (as I guess this will detract from the all important mission of making money!) and finally, and perhaps most importantly, don't confuse the financial freedom of being a millionaire with being a glamor-driven spendaholic – see now where’s the fun in that.. I know you need to be frugal and reinvest but surely the point to having money is to spend it? Ah well, I will continue to rely on our lottery syndicate – it may not be high odds but at least I won’t feel guilty about spunking it up the wall!
On that note, I leave you with the words of one, infamous, food-loving Italian millionaire:
“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.”
Luciano Pavarotti

Friday, 19 October 2012

Oops up, side your cake!

So – was John the worthy winner of the Great British Bake Off? In my mind – absolutely;
he’s young, talented and keen to pursue a baking career. Plus, he was just so sweet and the
complete underdog so huge congrats from this watcher. However, I know from other forums
I look at that many feel Brendan was robbed (most, including me, wrote off James after his soggy bottom!) I can kind of see where they’re coming from but I personally was put off by his naked
ambition and his rather smug attitude – especially in the final sound bites (I know they were
edited but you’d give yourself 10 out of 10 would you – really!!) He also rarely seemed to
have flair and whilst his bakes looked good if a bit retro, they just didn’t excite me. Plus –
and this is the big Plus – we didn’t get to taste any of their cooking and so we must trust
in the gravitas of Mr Hollywood and the experience of the lovely Mary to have chosen the

So onto my baking of last weekend… ah, the cobbler! It all started out so well and was
amazingly easy to put it all together (doctored buttermilk and all!)… As you can see from
the photo on the left – it looked glorious when it came out. What you can’t see is that just under the
surface, it is raw – not just slightly underdone, but completely, ‘straight from the mixing
bowl’ raw! I am blaming my oven, as all good cooks should, but was a bit devastated as had
it all nicely timed around Sunday lunch!

However, I threw caution to the wind – salvaged a couple of portions so the children could be fed and then put it back in for an extended bake! Amazingly, this worked a treat and, as can be seen by the picture just below, it was rapidly demolished by me, my husband and my Mother in Law – super!

So we move onto this weekend and I think I will return to slightly safer territory (who’d have thought a Cobbler could be so tricky!) and so am aiming to produce a delectable Rhubarb & Ginger Upside Down Cake… What could go wrong with that…?

There is a really surreal use of Pineapple Upside Down Cake in the first episode of The Jetsons (I loved this cartoon for some reason). Mr Spacely, as you all know is George’s boss, gets the cake in his face when Rosie, the wonderful robotic housekeeper, takes offence at a rude remark. Of course, Mr Spacely wants to fire George but is so overcome by how good the cake tastes, that he reconsiders.

It’s nice to think such a simple cake will last so far into the future (although I am hoping
robotic housekeepers get invented pretty sharpish as our house is looking a little cluttered!)
but I am not planning on throwing mine anywhere other than down my throat!

“Edible, adj.: Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake,
a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.”

Ambrose Bierce

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Cobblers & Confusion

So let’s start with the most important bit – Danny is out of the Great British Bake Off and it’s an all male final! She didn’t have a great week at all – it always seems that someone falls apart and so it makes the choice of who to send home quite obvious. I want them all to have a week so you have no idea who is going home and no-one falls apart quicker than Danny’s Genoese thing (sorry, can’t remember the fancy name). I wonder of the three left who will end up Star Baker – I would love it be John but think he’s probably the next one to lose it as he seems on the edge!

On my own baking front, I made some pretty good macaroons last weekend (even if I do say so myself).. I was worried about doing meringue as I’ve not had much luck in the past but these seemed to puff up nicely. I have put a photo of the result before they got demolished – and they didn’t last past Monday night J So this weekend it’s all about the Cobbler! I’m going to make a summer berry cobbler which seems doable and once again, a total first for me… Got some ready made custard to go with it though – nowhere near brave enough to attempt my own custard yet. Will of course let you know how I get on. I am hot-botching some buttermilk using lemon juice as I have been quite disorganised this week – not that I have the faintest idea where I could buy buttermilk from?

The reason for me being so muddled is I’ve been away for work.. to beautiful Accrington and I do mean beautiful. I’ve been up north a lot but not in that area of Lancashire and it truly was lovely – the weather made everything seem a bit misty (read raining and rather grey & rubbish) but gave our filming a great atmosphere.

It did mean that I had to leave my son for the first time which was surprisingly tough. My husband is more than capable of caring for our children and is doing an ace job of raising both of them but I still felt really blue. They were more than happy of course and I wasn’t missed that much although my son was almost drowned by my oversupply of milk J I also got a full night’s sleep for the first time in 9 and a half months.

I’ve been reading a lot of Jasper Fforde the last week or so and in particular the Thursday Next books. If you’ve not read any of his books, try any of them – I can guarantee you’ll be blown away. He’s even got a book called Shade of Grey but without even reading the porn fest that seems to have taken over the UK this summer, this one is better – just so much better.

Ok – so random fact of the week, cobblers are also called Grunts! Names after the colonists of Massachusetts, apparently that’s what noise the berries make when they are cooking – I shall be listening most intently.

Currently watching my husband and daughter do the Hokey Cokey so will leave you with this thought:
"Families are like fudge, mostly sweet with a few nuts"

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Musings and Macaroons

I like food and could talk about it all day - I really love a nice juicy burger or nachos (oh yeah!) , but at the moment, I am pretty consumed by baking. I love it – watching it, doing it, eating it! It's just so much fun - even when things go a bit wrong.
It helps that this year’s Great British Bake Off is a bit of a cracker. I don’t know about anyone else but I’m rooting for Danni – as the sole woman remaining – and John who I’ve warmed to the last couple of weeks. I think Brendon could well win it though as he seems pretty determined and is consistent but I must admit I wasn’t a fan of his gingerbread twee cereal coated birdhouse! As Paul Hollywood himself said “just too much!” I do like Mary Berry though – but I envisage her a complete diva backstage (and secretly hope that she is!) Who else is in it? Oh James – great gingerbread barn! I am also a huge Mel and Sue fan – they are such a delight to watch and the programme itself is so warm and fuzzy and BBC2… you know it’s safe – even when there was serious drama with blood and horror, it was all done very tastefully. If you’re also a fan, I highly recommend this blog – you’ll never be able to say Star Baker without humming along to Boney M J
So the GBBO has reminded me how much I love baking so recently I treated myself to a new baking book and decided that I would bake something new once a week on a Sunday for me and my family. The results, and we’re only into week 3, have been mixed. The first week, I went for Toffee Apple Cake which was almost great but nowhere near enough apples so made a note to double the amount for next time! Then the next weekend, I went for Pear & Chocolate Cake as it was my mother  in law’s birthday and the middle was so raw that when I tipped it out to cool it, the entire centre of the cake fell out L So instead she got a marble cake which turned out ok but wasn’t swirly enough!
So anyway, if you’re still with me – this weekend, I’m going for simple (hopefully) scrumptious coconut macaroons. A favourite from my childhood, I’ve never made them but they sound easy – famous last words. I’ll post a picture!

As mentioned, I do like food and tend to read about it quite a bit (I absolutely love murder mystery books where the detective is a cupcake maker or tea-shop owner and the like! Not as much as medieval murder mysteries with nuns and monks doing each other in - perfect!). Anyway, I  was sucked in to the story of Antonin Careme who was known as the King of Chefs. Abandoned by his parents in Paris in 1794 at the height of the French Revolution, he worked his way up to a patisserie apprenticeship and off he went! He made massive structures from sugar and marzipan and was credited with inventing nougat - what a guy! He even cooked for Napoleon and was once set a test by his employer to create a whole year's worth of menus, without repetition and using only seasonal produce. He passed, of course! 
I can’t hope for that sort of creativity with my baking but I’m game and have a willing source of tasters in my husband and two children. I always thought I was lucky as they will eat anything (as tonight’s dinner clearly showed) but perhaps they’re just really good actors!

"Actors are able to trick themselves into treating anything as if it's fantastic. It's a kind of madness really."

Tom Baker