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 éclairs – 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 Carême, 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