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