Thursday, 16 September 2010

Cake Bakery

A few months ago, my very good friend Lillah asked me if I would make her daughter Daisy's first birthday cake. Before this, my experience (almost entirely documented in this blog) with cake bakery, let alone decoration was entirely elementary.
The thing is, one of my favourite things in the WORLD to do is make things as gifts for other people. Whether it be jewelry, clothes or chutney, I want whatever I'm making to be the best I can possibly do, because I'm doing it with love.
So for weeks, I Googled images of daisies and cakes, hit up my ridiculously talented cousin Lucy for tips and supply sources and set about ordering plunger cutters, fondants, colours and dusts. I practiced making daisies out of fondant (instead of gum paste, because I didn't know any better) and made a few practice cakes, which my guys were happy to taste test for me.
Daisy Cake 

I made the 12" bottom tier a lemon cake, drizzled with a lemon syrup, filled with lemon butter cream and raspberry jam.
The top 8" tier was a dairy-free vanilla cake with vanilla syrup, dairy-free vanilla butter cream and cherries and berries jam.

The dairy-free tier I felt was a little on the dry side, so I'm going to see if I can find a good alternative to the sunflower oil spread (Pure) I used. The other drawback to using the non-dairy spread was that it's not as firm as butter at room temperature, so it was harder to keep the fondant as flat and smooth for a long period while it warmed to room temp while I was decorating it.

This was my first properly decorated cake, so I gave myself a couple of days to work on it. I used recipes from Eric Lanlard's mediocre Glamour Cakes cookbook, which I tweaked to improve the flavour and moistness.

The daisies were made by using a PME plunger cutter, then rolling the petals with the end of a small paintbrush to give texture and depth. I made the centres with flattened and textured balls of yellow fondant. I should have taken some close-up pics so you could see the ladybugs, bees, butterfly and dragonfly, but I was too excited to think straight. Grrr! They were all made by hand, as was the grass and the daisy leaves.
In total, it took me about 16 hours to decorate the cake, not including the first batch of daisies that I ended up tossing, because I wasn't happy with them.
I immediately texted my cousin Sharon to ask if i could do her daughter Poppy's cake in November. I'm hooked. I never thought I would find myself this excited about cake decorating of all things
Daisy cupcakes

I made some simple vanilla cupcakes for my cousins Jenny and Sharon this past weekend and topped them off with some pink gerbera daisies and ladybugs. Of course I'm still every bit as obsessed with savoury cooking, but I'm really enjoying the novelty of this sweeter side.

It was my step mum Judy's birthday at the beginning of the month, so I made her this chocolate cake, layered with a coffee and hazelnut praline mousse, covered with a dark chocolate ganache and decorated with roses I made from dark chocolate with milk chocolate leaves.
I used the chocolate cake recipe from Eric Lanlard's book and it was depressingly dry. I will definitely be testing some other chocolate cake recipes in future, because it doesn't matter how pretty a cake is, if it tastes like loft insulation :-)
Dark Chocolate Roses Cake

Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Prodigal Blogger

I know. It's been a while.

I'd love to tell you that I've been traveling the world, sampling exotic and fascinating foods off the beaten track and away from an internet connection, but that would be a big pork pie.
The truth is, I lost my bloggy mojo for a bit there and to be honest, the longer I left it, the harder it got to come back.

It has been an eventful and sometimes stressful couple of months filled with self-doubt and neuroses (but nothing that a little Prozac can't handle) and I have spent a lot of time evaluating my life and where it is going. Maybe because I'm only a few weeks away from my 35th birthday and am very much aware of the spectre of my approaching middle age.
I've spent too many years doing jobs that I'm not passionate about and have come to the stark realization that I'm not a person who can work for themselves, especially when I'm doing something that doesn't make me bound out of bed every morning with anticipation the way cooking does.


I have decided to go to culinary school and make the most of my passion. My best friend Alli was who gave me the final push and the confidence to say "Bring on the student loans! Bring on the sweat and sore back!"
Encouraged as always by my ever-supportive husband and proud parents and step-mum, I took the big step of enrolling in Tante Marie's Intensive Cordon Bleu diploma course, beginning in January. I am counting the days!

Of course my love of cookery has been just as intense while I' haven't been writing and I have been concentrating a lot more on practicing my baking and trying my hand at cake decorating.

My very good childhood friend Lillah's baby daughter Daisy will be one year old in two weeks and Lillah has asked me to make her cake, which I am ridiculously excited about and honoured by. I have ordered Wilton cake tins, boxes, boards, dowels, fondant, coloured dusts, flower and leaf plungers, all kinds of specialty equipment and have taken over much of what has been husband's office to store all my new goodies. Now that he's no longer working from home, I have my sights set firmly on turning this space into a cake decorating and sewing room, as the dining table it taking a bit of a beating.

So that's my news. I'm sorry for neglecting you and being so far away from the bloggiverse. I miss my fellow bloggers and I miss writing daily, and I promise I will be back regularly. Maybe not on the daily basis that I was blogging before, but definitely frequently.

I have my stepmother's birthday dinner this weekend, so I will post the roast duck breasts with locally picked black berries and the chocolate celebration cake I'm making. I promise to post all about the Daisy cake, no matter how it turns out. (I have only rolled out fondant ONCE, so be kind!)

I imagine too that chef school will provide me with plenty of blog fodder, if for no other reason than I will surely meet Gordon Ramsey, who is now a part-owner in the old school and lectures there regularly. And yes, Alli, if I DO get to meet him, I will ask him to call you from my mobile, so keep your ringer turned up when you go to bed, because Lord knows it will be the middle of the night your time.

Thank you all for your patience. I love you.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Upside Down And Ugly

First, let me just say that I, like millions of other people around the world, I cannot WAIT for the World Cup to start. Of course I'll be cheering for Mexico on Friday, but but what I'm really excited about is the England v USA game on Saturday evening. Being an English gal who spent most of her life in the US, I'd like to say I'm a little torn about who to cheer for, but I'm not. That game however, will be the only match that will see me cheering against the States. Unless of course England and the US are both in the final, which let's face it, isn't very likely.

We're going to watch over at my oldest childhood friend's house with her family and we're going to pig out on fish and chips. I'm going to make some red velvet and white chocolate cake balls to take along as treats, so we've got both countries' cuisines covered.  I've never made cake balls before, so if they turn out well, I'll post them. I think it might be fun to theme our coming weekly menus on the teams playing that day, but I might get a little opposition from my picky eater husband who doesn't like football. (I know, you're thinking "Tell us again why you married him?")

So anyway, the coming months promises to be exciting and interesting both for the footie and for the food. Historically, I'm not my most productive during the World Cup, but at least I can post recipes during half time.
Now, on with today's recipe....

It's such a shame that strawberries lose their vibrant red colour when they're baked, instead turning into something that looks like it should be bandaged and given antibiotics.

I actually made this upside down cake because I had a can of apricots that were taking up precious space in my store cupboard and I wanted to use them up. I had bought some fantastic vanilla beans at the London Foodie Festival and thought that the three flavours of vanilla, apricot and strawberry would make a lovely, summery combination and I was right.

This is lovely served either chilled or at room temperature and is delicious with ice cream.

Apricot, Strawberry and Vanilla Upside Down Cake
serves 8-12, takes 1 hour, 20 mins +cooling

1 can halved apricots in fruit juice
400g (14oz) fresh, ripe strawberries, hulled and halved
250g (1/4lb) unsalted butter, softened
250g (1/4lb) plain flour
4 large eggs, room temp
250g (1/4lb) golden caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 large vanilla bean
1/2 tsp good vanilla extract
1 tbsp flavourless veg oil
2 pinches, salt

Preheat the oven to 170C (340F) and grease a deep pie dish or casserole with butter.
Place the strawberries and apricot halves round-side-down in the bottom of the dish and heat the juice from the can of apricots in a small saucepan, reducing to the consistency of maple syrup.

Beat the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer or with electric beaters for 4-5 minutes, until pale and fluffy.
Add the eggs in, one at a time and beat in well between each addition, then beat in the oil and the pinch of salt.
Scrape the contents of the vanilla bean into the bowl and add the vanilla extract, beating well to combine.
Sift in the flour, baking powder and soda and mix well enough to combine thoroughly, but not longer than necessary, so as not to toughen the final product.

Pour the fruit juice syrup over the fruit in the dish and scrape in the cake batter. Spread it out evenly, with a slight depression in the centre, to compensate for the rise.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean and there is no more bubbling.

Remove from the oven and allow it to cool completely before turning it out onto a large plate.

Put on an Astrud Gilberto CD and have a nibble in the garden.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Game On (The Barbecue)

I bought a couple of frozen pheasants from a game supplier at my local farmers' market last month and have been having a hard time deciding how to cook them.
Because pheasant season is October-February, most of the recipes that came to mind were decidedly wintry, which just did not appeal at this glorious time of year when it's sunny out and the garden is full of the colourful produce of spring, not parsnips, cabbages and swede.
I took them out of the freezer with a plan to roast them and serve them with some sweet potatoes and spring greens, but as the day wore on and hours working in the garden had warmed me through completely, I knew that the only way these puppies were making it to our dinner table was via the barbecue.

I decided on a very simple Thai marinade and rather than cooking whole, I jointed the birds and gave them just a few minutes on each side, fully expecting to title this post "Pheasant Fail". I mean, whoever heard of barbecuing pheasant? Thai pheasant? No? I didn't think so.

What resulted was absolutely fantastic, juicy and bursting with flavour. At only £5 for both birds, this was one of the best experiments I have ever done and will definitely be repeated again soon.
You could absolutely do this with chicken, but I might use a little less sugar in the marinade, as it would be likely to burn because it would need a longer time on the grill. I don't see any reason why poussins, quail or other small game birds wouldn't work just as well. If you do use game bird, be sure to warn the other diners about the possibility of finding shot in their meat. Nothing spoils a summer barbie like an emergency trip to the dentist.

Thai Marinaded Barbecued Pheasant
serves 4, takes 40 minutes

2 medium pheasants
4 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)
1 tbsp palm sugar
juice of 2 limes
large handful coriander (cilantro) chopped finely
1-2 large red chillies, finely chopped

Mix all the marinade ingredients together in a large freezer bag.

Remove the legs and separate into thighs and drumsticks just as you would with chicken, except the knee joint is a little fiddlier.
Remove the breasts and place the 12 pieces of meat into the freezer bag, seal and toss well to coat the meat well in the marinade.

Get the barbie going and when the coals are white, pieces on the grill for 2-3 minutes per side, depending on both the size of the meat and the heat from the coal. You want the outside to be slightly charred and the inside just cooked through. There is nothing drier or chewier than over-cooked pheasant, so take care not to overdo it.

I served ours with a simple salad of sweet corn, red pepper, coriander (cilantro), mint, lime, fish sauce, and a little garlic and I roasted the peeled chunks of sweet potato in the oven with just oil, salt and pepper for the about 40 minutes.

The combination of all these flavours and textures was just the perfect summer supper, with plenty of lip-tingling, finger-licking tang and spice. We ate outside with tall glasses of gin and tonic and extra lime wedges on the side.


Saturday, 5 June 2010

The Stuff in Muffins

As usual, this week I was left with overripe bananas in the fruit bowl and because I can't stand to throw away food, I knew I had to do something with them quickly.

Hubby has moved his office from home to an actual office building recently and almost always forgets to take lunch with him. His partner and employees are all young single lads without a girl to look after them and so I have been taking cookies and muffins in with his lunch for him to share with the lads. I made some banana, cardamom and dark chocolate muffins earlier in the week, but yesterday I delivered these tasty banana, apple and walnut nibbles. Of course I kept plenty back for the house and took one out to the garden with a cup of tea as fortification before a mammoth weeding task.

The apple in these little bites adds a little bit of a twang that I think the bananas really benefit from. I used Braeburn, but any nice eating apple should work, although Granny Smith might be a bit to tart and firm.

Banana, Apple and Walnut Muffins
makes 12 muffins, takes approx 45 minutes

2 overripe bananas
2 eating apples (Braeburn, Gala, Jazz, Fuji, Empire etc) skin-on, grated, discard cores.
210 g (7.5oz) golden caster sugar
255g (7.75oz) plain (All purpose) flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of (baking) soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
113g (4 oz) unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1 cup walnuts (or pecans if you prefer) chopped

Preheat the oven to 170C (140F) and line a muffin tin with muffin papers.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or with electric beaters, mash the bananas up and add the vanilla and eggs, whisking well.
Add the sugar and apple, then mix well for a minute or so.
 Melt the butter and allow it to cool slightly before adding it to the wet mixture while stirring briskly.
Add the salt.
Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda together and stir them into the batter until just combined, then add the nuts, stir through well and distribute evenly between all of the muffin papers.
Bake for 20-25 mins, until golden and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before moving them to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.

Either give them to hubby's grateful colleagues or keep them all for yourself.

Friday, 4 June 2010

The Gardener's Treats.

I don't know if many amateur veggie growers would say that growing your own is less expensive than buying the same veggies in the grocery store. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, (probably) but the amount of money that we've spent on gardening tools, lumber to build raised beds, fencing, compost, seeds and young plants would probably take a few years to make back in commercial value.
That's not factoring in the amount of time and back-breaking effort involved in establishing a healthy veg patch, or the frustration when seedlings fail to thrive or are eaten by F*@&ing ba$t£rd caterpillars and pigeons.
These days, I think you'd struggle to find anyone growing veggies who doesn't do it purely for the love of the hobby and the pleasure of eating something that has traveled mere yards from the garden to the kitchen sink.

One of my favourite things about growing some of my own veggies is being able to eat parts of the plant that don't normally make it to the shops, like tiny, tender beetroot leaves or the side shoots of adolescent asparagus spears.

Just as we did last year, we're growing our potatoes in sacks on the patio, freeing up valuable veg patch for brassicas, corn, squash and so on. One of my favourite sneaky things to do at this time of year is feel around under the soil of some of the early cropping varieties to steal a few babies packed with sweet nuttiness and perfect for a summer salad.
The French Breakfast radishes have been popping up out of the soil for a couple of weeks now and those that do not get eaten on the spot have been making their way into all manner of salads, sandwiches and nibble plates.
I decided to roast the little potatoes in a little garlic confit oil and chill them to make a light and summery salad along with the peppery little radishes. We had ours with burgers, but it would be lovely by itself as a lunch or as part of a picnic or barbeque spread.

Roasted Miniature New Potato and Radish Salad
serves 4, takes approx 90 mins, including coking and cooling

500g (1 lb) tiny baby new potatoes, about the size of a 50p (half dollar)
500g (1 lb) French Breakfast radishes or other spicy variety, halved or quartered.
2 tbsp free range mayonnaise
2 tbsp plain yoghurt
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 stalks celery from the heart of the bunch, including the leaves, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely diced
2 tsp dijon mustard (Maille recommended)
2 tsp white wine vinegar
small handful parsely, finely chopped
2 tbsp garlic confit oil (*or olive oil plus 2 cloves of garlic in their skins)
Coarse sea salt
Black pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F)
Wash the little potatoes well, dry them thoroughly and toss them in the garlic oil*
Roast them for 30-40 minutes or until thoroughly cooked, with golden, wrinkly skins. Cool to room temp before refrigerating completely.
Whisk the mayonnaise and yoghurt together well with a the mustard, vinegar, garlic and a little sea salt.
Stir in the potatoes, radishes, celery, parsely and shallot and preferably refrigerate for half an hour or so before serving to allow the flavours to meld.

I had the leftovers for lunch the following day and it was every bit as lovely, but I wouldn't leave it for longer than that, because the radish and celery would likely go a little rubbery.

What is you favourite Springtime salad??

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

100 And Counting.

The other day, I was fannying about in my blogger dashboard, reading others' posts, when I noticed that my own blog listing had "99 posts" next to it.


I've only been blogging since the beginning of Feb, but like many other things I do, I have become a little obsessed. I was posting daily, sometimes more at the beginning, and had thrown myself into my new blog with the same gusto I have for every new creative adventure.
As I don't make an absolutely new dish every day, the posts are less frequent now, as I don't think anyone wants to read four different ragu alla bolgnese or roast chicken posts and frankly, I just couldn't keep up that kind of pace.

Since realizing that my next post was to be my 100th, I've been thinking a lot about what I should write about, as well as whether or not I have arrived here too quickly. I keep hearing "less is more! " and "Quality over quantity!" ringing in my head and wondering if perhaps my excitement about sharing my culinary life and gastronomical endeavours has sacrificed the quality of my posts.
I suffer daily from blog envy, camera jealousy and frustration with my lack of photography skills and the struggle to find new ways to make yet another chicken dish sound so delectable that you simply have to drop what you're doing and go make it.

Before I launch into today's recipe, which is one of my favourite dishes, I want to give a shout out to some of the bloggers who have helped me so much along the way, both directly and by just being inspirational.

These guys make me want to be a better blogger, both by being incredibly inspirational in their own writing, recipes and photography and also by being pillars of a fantastic network of foodie writers who prop each other up and cheer each other on. In finding these people, I have got so much more out of keeping this blog than I ever could have imagined. Thanks guys!
In no particular order:

Stella at The Witchy Kitchen
Liam at My So Called Knife 
Alex at Just Cook It
Monet at Anecdotes and Apple Cores
Ali at Three Baking Sheets to the Wind
Ms. Humble at Not So Humble Pie
Susan at Food Blogga
Robin at A Chow Life
Cassie at Chow Bella
Monica at Floating Cloudberries
Natasha at Five Star Foodie
Wendy at Upstart Kitchen
and Angie at Angie's Recipes

All of these people inspire me to try harder at all this, and if I can learn to take a decent photo and be more conscientious in general, I hope that the next 100 posts will be much better than the first.

In other good news, Olive magazine is publishing my chipotle-rubbed pork shoulder tacos in their September issue, so if you fancy a flip through my favourite cookery mag, check it out! I'll be on the Over to You page, as Reader Recipe of the Month. (Finally, a decent photo of one of my dishes!)

And now onto the food.

I had one of my favourite childhood friends Lillah and her delightful 8-month old daughter Daisy for a sleep over last Thursday. Stepson had requested his favourite Indian dish for dinner and so I turned it into a bit of a feast befitting the occasion.
Chicken korma is not one of the most authentic, nor one of the most adventurous of curries but what it lacks in fire and sizzle, it more than makes up with fragrance and luscious creaminess. I made cauliflower and red onion pakoras to the same recipe as my asparagus pakoras and served the whole lot with a selection of chutneys and riata, saffron rice and some cumin puppadoms.

My Favourite Chicken Korma
serves 6, takes 24 hours, including marinading. 90 minutes work tops.

1 whole free-range chicken, boned and skinned, cut into 3 1/2cm (1 1/2") chunks (or equivalent in boneless thighs.)
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground tumeric
2 tsp ground fenugreek
2 tsp ground red chilli
5cm (2") ginger root, grated
5 cloves garlic, grated
300ml (13 oz) plain yogurt
150g (5.25oz) coconut cream
100g (3.5oz) ground almonds
3 tbsp ghee or veg oil
150 ml double cream (heavy whipping)
sea salt to taste

Mix the yoghurt, ginger and garlic together well and stir in the pieces of chicken. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to let the flavours really permeate the meat.

In a food processor, puree the onion with a little bit of water and the red chillies into a smooth paste.
Heat the ghee or oil over a medium heat in a large sautee pan, then sweat the onions for 10-12 minutes until they're translucent and very fragrant. Stir in the coriander, turmeric and fenugreek, stir-frying for several minutes until the flavours have developed well and the oil is brightly coloured. Add the chicken, along with all of the yoghurty marinade and stir into the spicy onions.
Add the coconut cream and the ground almonds, then enough water to almost cover the chicken. Bring to a low simmer and allow it all to cook for 40 minutes.
Check periodically to make sure it doesn't get too dry and catch on the bottom.

When the sauce has reduced and is very thick, add as much of the cream as you need to to loosen it a little and turn it into something unctuous and silky. Season to taste.

Serve with basmati rice boiled with green cardamom pods and cloves, stirred through with saffron soaked in 1tbsp of milk right before serving.

Cucumber and Radish Raita:
300ml plain yoghurt
5" de-seeded cucumber, finely diced
6 French breakfast radishes, thinly sliced
1 tbsp mint sauce
sea salt

Mix all the ingredients together well and chill for 30 mins before serving

Coriander, Green Chilli and Mint Chutney:
2 tbsp mint sauce
handful coriander, leaves picked and very finely chopped
1 green chilli, deseeded and very finely chopped
juice of half a lime

Mix all the ingredients together and serve at room temperature.

The mango chutney was from Waitrose. What? I didn't make the puppadoms either, Sharwoods did!
pinch of sea salt.