Spread a Little Joy. #ChristmasWithMackays

Christmas is not a word I normally utter until at least 1st December.  I’ve no time for people who do their gift shopping in mid June, (and worse still, feel the need to tell you about it!), our decorations don’t come out of their tissue paper slumber until about 13th December, and I can still be heard uttering, “we’re in for an Indian summer”, when most people are stocking up on selection boxes.  However, the one exception to this, (just!), is Christmas food.  I love Christmas food.  The bakes, the roast, the sweets.  All of it.  I’m happy to start thinking about what I’m going to make, and more importantly, eat during the festive period once the last of the Guy Fawkes bonfires have burned out.

Just around the time that I was starting to think about mince pies, roast turkeys and the like, word came out about the #ChristmasWithMackays challenge.  Following on from their successful #BakingWithMackays initiative, the Arbroath based producer of jams, marmalades, curds, preserves and conserves, asked bloggers to come up with recipe ideas specifically for Christmas, using their products.  Well I’m always up for a challenge, so decided to have a bash.  The recipes have been tried, tested and tweaked and my merry band of guinea pigs gave them the thumbs up, (to be fair they’d eat anything but having tasted them myself I can say they were actually pretty good.)  The idea behind these recipes is that they offer a lighter alternative to traditional Christmas pudding and cake but are still full of the flavours we associate with the festive season.

Citrus & Spice Steamed Christmas Pudding

Serves 6 – 8 (or 4 very greedy people)

Ingredients:

  • 4 – 5 tbsp Mackays pink grapefruit marmalade    
  • 175g soft butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 175g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • juice and rind of 1 small unwaxed orange
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 tbsp Marsala (optional)

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Method:

  1. Grease a 900ml pudding basin, (mine is a bog standard Pyrex bowl), and put the marmalade in the bottom.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat the eggs in one at a time.  If the mixture looks as though it’s curdling, add a spoonful of your flour and beat like crazy.
  4. Sift in flour and spices, add vanilla, orange rind and juice, and Marsala, (you can use any booze you like or leave it our completely).
  5. Mix everything together so all the spices, rind etc. are evenly distributed.
  6. Spoon mix into pudding basin, on top of the marmalade.
  7. Lay a large sheet of baking paper on top of a sheet of foil.  Grease the baking paper with butter to stop it sticking.  Fold a pleat in the centre of the foil and paper to give the pudding room to expand as it cooks.  Tie the foil onto the pudding basin with string. It needs to be really tight so tie twice to be safe.  Tie on a length of string to create a handle over the top of the pudding.  Trim off the excess foil and paper and tuck it all underneath to make sure the pudding is completely watertight.
  8. Put a saucer face side down into a really large pot, sit the pudding on top of the saucer, fill the pot with boiling water from the kettle about halfway up the pudding basin, clamp on a lid and leave on a very low heat to putter away for around 2 1/2 hours.
  9. Keep an eye on the water level during this time and top up with boiling water if needs be.
  10. To test if the pudding’s ready insert a skewer into the middle.  If it comes out clean it’s ready, if not give it about another 15 – 20 minutes.
  11. Once ready, remove the foil and paper and carefully turn onto a plate or cake stand.
  12. Serve with custard, cream, brandy butter or ice cream.

If you have a pudding basin with a lid and a nice fancy steamer you can miss out all of step 7 and most of step 8.  To be honest though, the paper/foil pot/saucer methods work perfectly.

The pudding will keep for about 3 – 4 days if covered well.  It doesn’t generally last that long!

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I think this pudding is perfect for those who don’t like fruit laden, traditional Christmas pudding or those who want a bit of a lighter option.  This pudding smells and tastes like Christmas with the lovely orange and spices, (and booze!), and the sharp, tangy grapefruit marmalade cuts through the sweetness and richness and goes really well with all the spices.  If you cook this you won’t need expensive scented candles in the house.  It smells fantastic when it’s cooking!  If you don’t like some of the spices I used you could easily change them for something you prefer.  I like a strong ginger flavour and less cinnamon, you may be the complete opposite.  Do go easy on the cloves, though, or the pudding will taste like a trip to the dentist!  Likewise you can use any booze you like or miss it out completely.

The pudding mix can be made in advance, so if you’re making this on Christmas Day you can get all the mix done, covered and tied in the morning, leave it and then just pop in to steam as and when you want.

Now you’ll probably notice that the ingredients and mixing method for the pudding look remarkably like those of a baked sponge cake.  I thought so too so decided to try this out as a baked cake rather than a steamed pudding.  You only need a few tweaks if that’s the option you prefer…

Citrus & Spice Christmas Cake

Serves 8 – 10

Ingredients:

  • 200g soft butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 200g self raising flour
  • All other ingredients exactly the same as those used in the steamed pudding
  • Icing sugar, glitter, any decoration you like

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 190c/375/f/gas 5 and grease and line 2 x 20 cm loose bottomed cake tins.
  2. Mix everything together as instructed in the steamed pudding recipe.
  3. Divide the mixture between the tins, knocking each on your work surface to release any air bubbles.
  4. Bake in the oven for around 20 minutes, (my oven only take 17 minutes so get to know your own oven).  When a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean, it’s ready.
  5. Cool cakes on a wire rack and remove from tins.
  6. Once completely cool spread a generous amount of Mackays pink grapefruit marmalade on one of the cakes and top with the other cake.  Whipped cream or one of the lovely flavoured creams you get at Christmas, whipped up, would be delicious spread on top of the marmalade before topping with the second cake.
  7. Dust a snowfall of icing sugar on top of the cake or go crazy with glitter and baubles or any other festive adornment you fancy.

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Again, this is a great alternative for those who don’t like or don’t want heavy, fruit Christmas cake.  The addition of spices, orange and booze take it up a notch from a normal Victoria Sandwich so it does feel and taste more special and festive.  Without cream the cake will keep for a good 3 – 4 days as long as it’s covered.

Both the steamed pudding and the cake would also work really well with Mackays spiced ginger preserve but I think the tangy marmalade was a really tasty and quite unusual addition and really worth trying.

So there we have my #ChristmasWithMackays recipes.  Worth a try for a wee change and both really, really easy and pretty purse friendly.  Although I’m presenting them as Christmas recipes I think they’d both work well any time of the year. Remember, a pud is for life…not just for Christmas.

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How To… Piñata Cake and Guinness & Rye Bread

This past week I’ve been doing quite a bit of baking and I’ve been asked to blog the instructions for two of these bakes by several people.  The first, and most popular, is a piñata cake that I made for my niece’s birthday.  The second is an experimental Guinness & rye loaf.  An experiment which turned out much better than I thought it would!

I’ll try and give the instructions in as clear and easy a way as possible but, of course, if there’s any questions just ask.

Piñata Cake

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This is a really easy way to give a sandwich cake a bit of wow factor.  The cake is filled with sweets and when it’s cut the sweets will spill out of the cake.  Hence why it’s called a piñata cake.

I made this with a Victoria Sandwich recipe.  I wanted three layers so I used a standard recipe for two of the layers and then just halved that recipe for the third layer.  I wasn’t sure if that would work but luckily it did.  So here’s the ingredients and method for the sponge part:

Ingredients:

200g soft butter (100g for the 3rd layer)

200g caster sugar (100g for the third layer)

4 eggs (2 for the 3rd layer)

1 tsp vanilla extract (a scant tsp for the 3rd layer)

200g self raising flour (100g for the 3rd layer)

Food colouring gels (optional)

Method:

Set the oven to 190c/375f/Gas Mark 5

Butter and line 3 x 20cm tins

Cream the butter and sugar together until very pale and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating after you’ve added each egg.  Stir in the vanilla with a metal spoon.  Sieve in the flour and stir to mix with a metal spoon.  At this point I divided the mix and coloured each layer differently with food colouring gels.  That’s completely optional.  Divide the mixture into the tins and bake for approximately 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool in their tins on a wire rack.  Repeat all the steps for the 3rd layer of sponge.

Now to explain how to assemble and fill the cake.  I used a small amount of seedless raspberry jam to sandwich the layers together.  I used a mixture of Smarties, white chocolate buttons, sweetie teeth and dolly mixtures to fill the cake but to be honest if I was making this again I would use only Smarties as they ‘spill’ out of the cake much easier.  Jelly beans would probably work well too.  At least 5 tubes of Smarties would be needed to fill a cake of this size.

Put the bottom layer of cake on a board with the flat side on the board.  Take a small amount of sponge out of the middle of the cake so you get a slight crater in the cake.  Spread jam round the top of the cake – don’t put any jam on the crater part.  Take the second sponge and cut a circle out of the middle of the cake so your left with a cake ring.  Sit the ring on top of the bottom layer and fill the hole with your sweets, (see pic above.)  Spread jam on top of the ring but make sure it doesn’t drip into the sweets.  Take the third layer.  As you did with the bottom layer, remove a small amount of sponge from the middle of the cake so you’re left with a crater.  If you do this on the rounded side of the cake you’ll be left with a nice flat top for decorating.  Sit the third layer, flat side up, on top of the other two layers.  Press it down gently to make sure all the layers are sticking together nicely, but not so hard that jam comes squirting out of the sides.  Don’t worry if there’s any gaps around the side of the cake as these can easily be filled and smoothed out with your icing.

At this point you could just cover the whole cake with buttercream or cream cheese icing and the effect would still be the same when you cut into the cake.  Because my niece wanted a Peppa Pig cake I was decorating it with fondant icing.  I made a vanilla butter cream and spread a thin layer all over the cake, filling in any gaps around the side of the cake, (see pic above.)  I then put it in the fridge until the buttercream set.  This stops crumbs from the cake getting into your icing.  I then removed it from the fridge and applied a second coat of buttercream which was the glue for the fondant icing which was rolled out, draped over the cake and cut and smoothed to a neat-ish finish, (see pic above.)  I then decorated the cake with a fondant icing Peppa Pig, fondant stars and my niece’s name iced onto the cake.

Any decoration would work well with this cake whether it’s a creamy icing or a fondant or royal icing.  There’s no way of telling from the outside of the cake that there’s loads of sweeties inside so the look on face of the person you’ve baked it for when then they cut into it will be worth the little bit of extra work you’ve put into making the cake.  I promise, this is not much more difficult that baking and assembling a standard sandwich cake.  You’re just making one extra layer and doing a wee bit of cutting.  If you don’t want to waste the extra sponge you’ve cut out you could maybe use it to make cake pops or just eat it as you go along!

Guinness & Rye Bread

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I hadn’t baked any bread for a while and fancied having a bit of an experiment with a new loaf.  As I had some Guinness in the house and some rye flour that never gets used I thought I would try using them in the loaf.  The recipe was based on a tin loaf recipe with a few tweaks.  Tweaking doesn’t always work in baking as it’s such a science but sometimes it’s good to try something new.  If it works, great.  If not, it’s all a learning experience.  I’m glad to say this particular experiment worked.

Ingredients:

300g strong bread flour

100g rye flour

8g table salt

7g instant yeast

25g unsalted butter, melted,

250ml Guinness

oil for kneading and greasing the tin

Method:

Put the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl.  Make sure the salt and yeast don’t touch at this stage as the salt will kill the yeast.

Add the butter and about 2/3 of the Guinness and turn the mixture around with your fingers to make a dough, (if your hand looks like a claw you’re doing it right!)  Slowly add the rest of the Guinness whilst mixing until all the flour has been picked up into a dough.  You might not need to use all the liquid or you might need a bit more, (the Guinness comes in 330ml bottles so you’ll have plenty.)  Keep mixing in the bowl until you have a rough dough.

Spread a little bit of oil on your work surface to stop the dough sticking.  Put the dough on the work surface and then knead for a good 10 minutes until the dough feels smooth and not sticky.

Put the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave somewhere warm for at least an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

Oil a 1kg loaf tin.

Tip the dough onto a work surface that’s been lightly floured.  Shape the dough into a ball until all the air is knocked out and you have a smooth dough.  Roughly shape it into an oblong to fit the tin making sure that any folds are on the bottom.  Put the dough into the oiled tin.

Put the tin into a plastic bag and leave it somewhere warm for at least an hour until the dough has doubled in size.  It should spring back when you prod it gently.  Set the oven to 220c and put a roasting tin in the bottom of the oven.

Dust the top of the loaf with a wee bit of flour.  Fill the roasting tin with some water to create steam, which will give you a nice crust, and put the bread into the oven.

Bake for around 30 minutes.  You’ll know the bread is ready when you take it out of the tin and you tap the bottom and it sounds hollow.

Cool the bread, out of the tin, on a wire rack.

The flavour of this bread was yeasty and nutty.  The smell when it was baking was fantastic and the Guinness and rye flour gave it a lovely colour.  This was great just with butter but would also be perfect with cheese.  Given it’s ale content it would be the ideal loaf to have with a Ploughman’s.  Delicious.

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Spread A Little Happiness. #BakingWithMackays Part 1.

Whilst I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth, I really like jams, marmalades, jellies, etc.  One of the greatest pleasures in life for me is a jam sandwich made with either raspberry jam or bramble jelly, (incidentally I’m a salted butter with my jam girl and the bread has to be Mother’s Pride plain.)  So I was really excited when I got the chance to be part of #BakingWithMackays, an initiative that Mackays, the Arbroath based producer of jams, marmalades, curds, preserves and conserves, have been promoting on Twitter.  I selected a number of items from Mackays’ range which they very kindly sent to me in return for me coming up with some recipes and telling you all about them on here.  All of the posts for #BakingWithMackays will come under the title of ‘Spread a Little Happiness’.

The first of these recipes is Ginger & Lemon Sandwich.  This was made using Mackays’ Spiced Ginger Preserve.  It’s a very simple recipe based on a traditional Victoria Sandwich, but highlights how by using different ingredients or flavours, an old favourite can be transformed into something new and exciting.  I love ginger and use it a lot in my cooking; both savoury and sweet.  I love the heat it provides and matched with zesty lemon it’s a culinary marriage made in heaven.  Ginger is reputed to have a number of health benefits so if you bake and eat this cake perhaps you could convince yourself you’re actually being very health conscious!

 

Ginger & Lemon Sandwich

Ingredients:

200g butter, softened

200g caster sugar

4 eggs

200g self-raising flour

zest of 1 lemon and 1 tbs lemon juice (you could replace this with 1 tsp vanilla extract if you wish)

small tub whipping cream (approx. 200ml)

approx. third of a jar of lemon curd*

approx. third of a jar of Mackays Spiced Ginger Preserve

2 – 3 tbs icing sugar

(I’ve given approximations here as I think it’s a personal choice how much filling you have in your cake.  As you will see from the photograph below I probably used too much filling!)

*Mackays produce a lemon curd but I think it’s fair that I point out here that I didn’t use their’s for this particular cake.

 

Method:

1.  Grease two 20cm loose-bottomed cake tins and line the bottoms with baking paper.  Preheat the oven to 190c/375f/gas mark 5

2.  Cream the butter and sugar together for a good 5 minutes with an electric whisk, (if you’re lazy like me!), until really pale and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.  If the mixture looks like it’s starting to curdle slightly just add a wee bit of your flour, beat well and it’ll all come good.

3.  Stir in the lemon zest and juice or vanilla with a metal spoon.

4.  Sieve in the flour and stir in with a metal spoon.

5.  Divide the mixture between the 2 tins.  Top Tip…if you make a slight dip in the middle of the cake batter your cakes will come out with a flatter top.  I always forget to do this!  Knock each tin on your work surface to get rid of any air pockets and put in the oven to bake for approximately 20 minutes.  This is totally dependant on your oven.  I’ve found with my oven 17 minutes is the perfect cooking time.  Once ready the cakes should bounce back when pressed slightly and a skewer inserted into the middle will come out clean.  Leave the cakes to cool completely on a wire rack.

6.  When the cakes have cooled completely remove them from the tins.  It’s easiest to do this by sitting them on a mug and pushing down so the outer ring of the tin falls but the cake and base of the tin are still secure on top of the mug.

7.  Whip the cream until it’s voluptuously thick but hasn’t gone ‘buttery’.  Fold the lemon curd through the cream.  It’s nice to have ribbons of the curd so don’t mix it through completely.  For an extra lemon hit you could add some additional lemon zest.

8.  Place one of the cakes on a serving dish or cake stand and spread thickly with the Spiced Ginger Preserve.  Top with the lemon curd cream, (you probably won’t need to use it all but it’s nice to serve on the side as well or, even better, eat straight from the bowl!), and place the second cake carefully on top.  Sieve a small amount of icing sugar over the surface of the cake.

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Et voila!  Ginger & Lemon Sandwich.  Perfect with a cup of tea.  A lovely combination of sharp lemon and spicy, earthy ginger.  I recommend you give it a try.

You can follow Mackays on Twitter at  @Mackays_jams or like on Facebook at facebook/Mackays.jams

 

 

 

 

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Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice. A Beginner’s Guide To Weaning.

Anyone who says they’re an expert on everything and has nothing to learn is both a liar and a fool.  One of my favourite sayings is, “every day’s a school day.”  With this in mind I thought it would be good to feature some guest writers on here, in particular writers who were going to speak about something I know little about.

I’m the proud Auntie to five gorgeous nieces.  I’m more than happy to cook with and feed the three older ones, in fact this is something I adore doing, but I wouldn’t really know where to start with the two babies in our family.  Babies can chew on a ribeye steak can’t they?  The only experience I have of weaning babies is reading the chapter dedicated to it in How To Eat by Nigella Lawson, (Chatto & Windus, 1999).  Whilst that makes for very interesting reading, I thought it might be fun to hear some real life experiences of this from my sister Hayley who had her first baby, (niece number 5), last year.  Here my sister talks about her, her husband and her daughter’s first tentative steps into the world of ‘real food’.  What my sister doesn’t know is, I’m hoping she might do some updates on here every few months so me, and any readers who may be interested, can follow this food journey as it progresses…

When my sister asked me if I’d like to write a guest post on Blow Your Own Crumpet I’ve got to say I was somewhat shocked.  It’s well known amongst my family and friends that I’m no cook.  My idea of being a good hostess is showing you where the kettle is and handing over a take-away menu!

But something happened on the 2nd December 2012 that was to change my attitude, (although I’ll still show you the kettle!)  My beautiful daughter, Elsie, was born.  Like all new mums, you start your journey wanting the best for your child, wanting them to have what you didn’t and wanting them to eat well and healthily.  I didn’t have any hands-on experience of weaning before being a mum so it was a whole new world to me but from the very start I knew I wanted my child to have fresh, homemade, tasty food.  I’m not criticising anyone who decides to feed their children jars of pureed food but I knew it wasn’t for me.  I did a lot of research into weaning.  The Health Visitor provided an NHS leaflet and plenty of information face to face.  After embarking on this research I was ready to start when Elsie was.

The weaning  started when Elsie was 5 and a half months old.  Starting weaning before 6 months is not recommended and there are a lot of restrictions to food types babies can have, but we knew she was ready so we went ahead giving her what we could.  She started with baby rice, followed closely by pureed banana.  We started small and before we knew it Elsie was eating 3 times a day!

The day Elsie turned 6 months was the day her wonderful journey with food really started.  If there’s any advice I could give, it’s make sure you start giving the lumpy food on their ‘half birthday’.  It is so easy to continue giving your baby pureed foods as more solid food can be messy, time consuming, there’s the fear of chocking and many times babies will point blank refuse to take it!  But keep going.  You’ll reap the rewards before you know it!

I’m no Annabel Karmel and would never claim to be, but I know I want the best for my child and if that means standing in a kitchen cooking a few evenings a month to make sure she’s getting the best I can give her, then I will.  I’m a big believer in bulk cooking and freezing meals, especially as I’ll be returning to work in September.   I’m certainly not one to deprive her of sweet, sugary things.  Elsie enjoyed her first bit of chocolate at 8 months old in Cadbury World and I couldn’t have been more excited to see her face as she experienced that taste for the first time.  Of course she doesnt get things like that every day, but once in a while I don’t have a problem with.  I don’t think it’s fair to stop a child enjoying a treat now and again.

Elsie is now 9 months old and so far has loved all the different foods she’s been introduced to, from moussaka to a custard cream!  We’ve been very lucky that Elsie isn’t a fussy eater, (so far!), and took to solids very well but I also believe that persistance and variety in textures has helped.  She loves fruit and many of the recipes I make are full of vegetables so she’s healthy, happy and satisfied.

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I’m proud of the fact she’s tasted things I never have.  She’s opened my eyes to foods I would never have even noticed before and I thank her for giving me the opportunity to become a better, healthier person… and learning to cook!

Below are a couple of recipes I’ve cooked from Ella’s Kitchen: The Cook Book (The Red One) by Ella’s Kitchen (Hamlyn, 2013).  I really enjoy the recipes in this book and they’re enjoyed by all the family.

Magical Moroccan-Style Chicken 

I love this recipe as it’s easy and full of flavour.  It’s a great recipe to introduce babies to spices and many different textures. This recipe makes around 12 ice-cube portions if you’re freezing.  

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

2 chicken breasts (about 300g, diced)

1 large carrot, diced

1 leek, sliced

1 red pepper, chopped

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

400g chickpeas drained and rinsed

1 tablespoon tomato puree

600ml/1 pint vegetable stock

100g dried apricots

50g dried prunes

Method:

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the chicken pieces for 4 minutes until golden on all sides.  Add the vegetables and spices and fry for a further 2-3 minutes

2. Add the chickpeas, tomato puree, vegetable stock, apricots and prunes and bring to the boil.  Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally until all the ingredients are tender.

3. Serve on a bed of couscous.

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Squishy Salmon/Cod Fishcakes

Fish is a very important part of the weaning diet.  I have made these fishcakes with both salmon and cod; the cod was the more favoured fish.  I tend to mash the green beans into the mixture rather than chop which seems to be better for younger childen.  This recipe makes around 9 fishcakes.  Great for freezing!

Ingredients:

400g potatoes, cut in to large pieces

1 carrot, cut in to small pieces

200g salmon/cod fillets, skin removed

3 tablespoon sunflower oil

1 small leek, thinly sliced

25g green beans, finely chopped

2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Method:

1. Cook the potato and carrot in boiing water for 15 minutes until tender.  Drain and mash them together, and set the mash aside to cool.

2. Meanwhile, poach the salmon/cod in simmering water for 5 minutes until cooked through, then allow to cool.  Break up the fish into flakes, taking care to ensure there are no bones.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large frying pan and fry the leek and beans for 5 minutes until tender.   Stir them into the carrot and potato mash, (mashing the beans if you prefer), then add the cooked salmon and the parsley to the mixture and stir again.

4. Using your hands mould the mixture into fishcakes.

5*. Heat the remaining oil in the frying pan and cook the fishcakes for 5 minutes, turning once, until golden brown on both sides and warm through.  Serve immediately with some peas.

*If you are freezing the fishcakes do not do step 5 until you have defrosted and are ready to eat the fishcakes.

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Recipes courtesy of Ella’s Kitchen: The Cook Book (The Red One) by Ella’s Kitchen (Hamlyn, 2013)

I hope you enjoyed Blow Your Own Crumpet’s first guest post.  If you fancy writing one please just let me know.

What I find great about these recipes is they’re not ‘baby’ food.  I regularly make fish cakes and the Moroccan chicken sounds exactly like something I’d cook.  I’m no expert, but I would imagine that feeding your baby the same food as you from the get-go would help to introduce the idea of family mealtimes, people eating the same foods at the same time, not a continuous conveyor belt of different dishes being served up by a harassed cook.  Surely that has to be a good thing?

Karen x

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Naked Naivety? A response to Jamie Oliver.

On Tuesday morning I made the following comment on Twitter…

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This was in response to Jamie Oliver’s interview with the Radio Times as reported in the Guardian. Promoting his latest TV programme, Jamie’s Money Saving Meals, commenting on modern-day poverty in Britain, the TV chef insinuated that some poorer families in Britain were living on cheap junk food, choosing to spend their money instead on high-price gadgetry such as “massive f*cking TVs.” He went on to say that poorer families wasted money on convenience foods and ready meals and would do better by shopping in the local market where they could “grab ten mangetout for dinner” rather than being slaves to a supermarket; their loyalty to which he said was stronger than to any religion or brand. I can only assume his contract with Sainsbury’s has now come to an end. We were also told that we could learn a lot from our Spanish and Italian neighbours who manage to eat well on very little money, throwing a few mussels, cherry tomatoes and pasta together for 60p. Hmm.

Now I should say, I like Jamie Oliver. I bought into his cheeky chappie, pukka persona. I’ve watched his TV programmes, bought at least a couple of his books and a set of his pie dishes, and eaten a decent fritto misto in the Glasgow branch of his chain, Jamie’s Italian. I think his heart’s probably in the right place and his intentions seem honourable. I don’t question his efforts with improving school dinners or helping Americans be less obese, although what the long term merits of Jamie’s Dream School are, I’m not sure. He seems like a decent bloke. So when I read his comments in the Guardian I cringed with disappointment. Of course it’s possible what he said was taken out of context, but in my mind he immediately came across as a seriously out of touch, right-wing idiot.

Twitter went a bit mad with people sharing their opinions on his rant. The comments I received were pretty mixed with some people agreeing with me and some feeling that he had made a good point. It made for an interesting debate with subjects such as ‘shopping local’, education and supermarkets being thrown into the mix.

Here’s the problems I have with his comments . I’m not sure Jamie Oliver fully understands modern-day poverty. His description of the ‘poor’ family smacks of those of the ‘chav’ fraternity. Mum and the kids plonked in front of the big telly, stuffing their faces with chips and cheese from the local take-away. An easy stereotype to latch onto when discussing poverty. He claims to have spent time in “poorer communities” but the reality is, in this day and age there are poor families in every community, not just inner city sink estates. It’s a sad fact that there are more and more working families who are on the bread line and being forced to go to food banks in order to put a meal on the table. Poverty is not exclusive to the unemployed and those on benefits.

The other problem I have is his solution of “nipping to the local market.” Where are these local markets? We all know that supermarkets have pushed out local, independents. The high street has been decimated and whilst some areas are lucky enough to have farmers’ markets or good independent stores, these do tend to be more readily available in more affluent areas. And let’s face it, unfortunately they’re not always the cheapest option . So even when they are available how financially accessible are they for low-income families? In most areas, not just inner cities, the local greengrocer, baker or butcher just doesn’t exist anymore. Yesterday I passed through an affluent area on the outskirts of Aberdeen and noticed that their fishmonger and convenience store had both closed down. So even the ‘posh’ areas are not unaffected by the might of the supermarket. The sad fact is though, regardless of where it’s come from, some families simply do not have enough money to buy food. Jamie’s mussels and mangetout are well out of their reach.

I should point out that I’m speaking from experience. There have been times in my life when I’ve been poor. Properly poor. ’Can’t afford food’ poor. When I was in my early twenties I was really struggling. I remember one instance in particular where for 2 weeks I had absolutely no money whatsoever. I literally could not buy food. I had to eat what I had left in the house. Every night for that 2 weeks I ate dried pasta flavoured with chilli powder for my dinner. To this day I can’t smell chilli powder without thinking about that time. Some cherry tomatoes or the now infamous ten mangetout would have been an absolute luxury! Now here’s the thing. I was working at that time. I wasn’t living in a so-called poor community. I didn’t have a “big f*cking TV.” I was working hard, earning a rubbish wage and having to pay for a flat in Aberdeen which was, and still is, one of the most expensive places to live in the UK. I’m not looking for any sympathy. There’s millions of people worse off than I was and I got through it. But the point is what I went through then is no different to what many people are going through now. I was lucky really. I only had myself to worry about. There were no children to feed. I didn’t have to make the choice of who ate in the house that day. Jamie Oliver may think families are choosing flat screen TVs over food but the fact is, in some households the choice is coming down to a box of tampons or something for that night’s tea. That is the brutal, awful reality.

What I suspect Jamie Oliver might have been getting at, and what was highlighted in my Twitter feed, was the need for better education on how to cook well on a limited budget, (incidentally I believe there are also people without financial problems who could benefit by being educated on how to cook and eat properly!) That is not to say that this is a solution for all. I knew how to cook when I was poor. I just didn’t have anything to cook! However, I absolutely believe that food education is vitally important and it’s something that’s sadly lacking today. At a time when we all seem to be obsessed with TV cookery shows and celebrity chefs, it’s a shame that schools aren’t jumping on this bandwagon and making food and nutrition a bigger part of their curriculum. Whilst I don’t have children, friends who do say that it’s a real postcode lottery as to whether their children are taught about food and nutrition at school. Fellow blogger @foodiequine volunteers at her children’s primary school doing cookery lessons. This is fantastic but it’s not every school that has parents willing or able to give up their time in this way. I’m sure the home economics classes I had at secondary school with the terrifying Mrs. Campbell, (told me I was useless and I’d never find a husband!), gave me a basic understanding and that, coupled with being encouraged to cook at home, made me self sufficient and able to look after myself when I went off to university. I’m not sure that would be the norm for most of today’s school leavers.

On the back of the Twitter debate, my friend Holly got in touch to talk about her experiences of ‘living in poverty’ and how education may have helped her and her son. These are Holly’s own words.

When my son was born (almost 19 years ago) I was a single mum and was on benefits for a period of time.
Even though I came from a family that wasn’t classed as “low income” and that ate well and healthily, I feel I fell into the trap of eating badly, probably due to many reasons including – as a single mum to a young baby, I didn’t have a lot of time to cook the kind of food you can bulk cook and freeze (stews, chilli etc).
Also supermarkets at the time didn’t sell a lot of loose veg and, in fact, the only cost effective way to buy veg and other things were in big quantities. If you live in a low income area, and don’t drive, you become reliant on the local shops, these tend not to be lovely little butchers or fishmongers who can advise best/cheapest cuts or how to cook. Things are very different now, more people are aware of eating better but I don’t think that has filtered through to lower income families. Education is important but needs to be done in an non-condescending way as the people Jamie Oliver is talking about will probably not respond well to that. Low income families may have large TV’s but they’re probably bought as a Christmas present or similar, or on credit, and the pressure on parents to have these sort of things is massive. Not having a large TV would not mean that the family would be able to go out and buy mangetout or any other vegetable. Priorities change when you are struggling financially; you may not be able to go out for dinner, cinema or for nights out so having a decent TV or games console becomes your family’s entertainment, and believe me, when you live somewhere less desirable these kind of things are important.

I think there’s a lot of people out there who could relate to Holly’s experience. With little time on their hands, lack of money, poor amenities and little knowledge on how best to feed themselves effectively, they fall into the trap of eating convenient, low nutritional food. This isn’t laziness or a lack of care. They don’t have access to the type of food Jamie Oliver’s talking about or the skills to cook it. They need to feed their families and they need to do it on a tight budget.

I also agree with Holly’s comments about the luxury items. It’s a shame this seems to be the type of thing the media focuses on when talking about ‘poor’ people. “Oh they’re poor but they have a huge TV. Their priorities must be all wrong.” I wonder if anyone’s considered that some of these ‘luxuries’ may have been bought in more affluent times for the family.

I truly believe that, on the whole, children don’t learn to cook at their mother’s knee anymore. TV cookery shows have replaced that interaction and, as such, TV chefs have a responsibility to the people watching. I really hope that when Jamie’s Money Saving Meals starts on Monday what we are given is sensible, achievable advice, not patronising rhetoric about Sicilian street sweepers and hard to find ingredients. And please Jamie, enough with the mangetout!

Burger Me!

As I’ve had such a long break from writing this blog there were loads of tasty things I could have chosen to write about in my return post. However, I decided to tell you about something I made recently which proved very popular on Twitter and Facebook, as well as in this house.

Spicy Bean Burgers. Cheap. Easy. Totally tasty. That ticks plenty of boxes with me. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m the antithesis of a food snob and I’m proud to celebrate the so-called low-rent food I enjoy. I’m not ashamed to admit that I like a trip to Burger King now and again. Sometimes unhealthy, lukewarm, processed food served in cardboard is just what you need. These days I’m a big fan of the Bacon Double Cheeseburger but there was a time when BK’s Spicy Bean Burger was my hangover food of choice. For some reason memories of these popped into my head recently and as we don’t have a Burger King within staggering distance I decided to make my own.

Here’s the recipe. This could definitely be tweaked to include any herbs or spices, etc. you prefer. Extra vegetables could be added or different beans used but I used what I had in the house at the time. I didn’t really want any extra shopping to be involved in the making of this dinner beyond the buns and salad leaves I used.

Spicy Bean Burgers and Crispy Crinkle Spuds (makes 5 -6 burgers*)

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For the burgers:

1 tin butter beans

1 tin red kidney beans

1 small red onion, finely chopped

2 spring onions, finely chopped

1 large clove of garlic, minced

Tsp each ground coriander, ground cumin, crushed chillies (if I’d had any fresh chillies I would have used 2 of those finely chopped)

Salt and ground pepper

Small bunch fresh mint, finely chopped

2 slices worth of brown bread breadcrumbs (white would be fine)

2 eggs, lightly beaten (1 is for dipping the burgers in before coating with breadcrumbs)

Seasoned flour

Approx 2 cups of panko breadcrumbs

Oil for frying

 

For the potatoes:

As many potatoes as you want to eat! 3 – 4 makes loads for 2 people.

Vegetable oil

Semolina

 

To make the burgers:

Drain and mash up the butter and kidney beans. I left a few of the kidney beans almost whole. Lightly fry the red and spring onions with the minced garlic. Add to the beans. Add spices, herbs, salt and pepper, breadcrumbs and lightly beaten egg. Mix everything together well and put in the fridge for a while to firm up.

Get 3 bowls. In one put some seasoned flour, lightly beaten egg in the second, and the panko breadcrumbs in the third. Shape the bean mix into burger shapes. It might be easier to flour your hands first. Dip each into the flour, then egg, then panko breadcrumbs. Heat oil to a medium temperature. Fry each burger for about 4 minutes each side until golden brown and crispy. As I had the oven on to cook the potatoes, I put the cooked burgers into the oven for about 5 minutes just to make absolutely sure they were hot right in the middle.

*If like me you’re only cooking 2 burgers at a time you can freeze the rest before you dip in the flour, egg and breadcrumbs.

 

To make the potatoes:

Put the oven on to 220 degrees. Put a good glug of oil into an oven dish and put in the oven to get really hot. Peel and thickly slice your potatoes. I have a crinkle cut slicer that my Mum gave me. This is a gadget she’s had since I was a child which she then gifted to me. I’ve never seen them in the shops so if you don’t have one just slice the potatoes with a knife. They won’t be crinkly but they’ll still be good! Parboil the potatoes for about 5 minutes. Drain and then shake them gently to rough up the edges, (particularly important if you’re not using a crinkle slicer.) Sprinkle about 1 Tbs dried semolina onto the cooked potatoes and shake gently to cover them. This is the secret of super-crunchy potatoes, (thank you Nigella!) Put the sliced potatoes into the hot fat and cook for about 30 – 45 minutes. The time is really dependant on your oven and the amount of potatoes you’re cooking. You should turn the potatoes halfway through cooking. Once cooked, drain on scrunched up kitchen roll before serving.

 

To serve:

The burgers are great in a sliced burger bun with just a bit of rocket and mayonnaise and for me plastic cheese is essential, (something else I refuse to apologise for!) I use the more expensive cheese slices, not the ‘bargain’ ones but I know for some this is still a travesty. It’s our cheese of choice for a burger though. The crinkle potatoes should be on the side, salted and served with tomato sauce. The less fuss with this the better I think.

 

So there you go. A really easy, filling and economical meal. I’m not going to pretend it’s healthy due to the frying but sometimes in life you need a treat. It may also be a way of getting children to eat things like kidney beans although, as I have no direct experience of this, I’m making no promises!

N.B. I’ve just been informed by @foodiequine that Pampered Chef sell a crinkle slicer. Thanks Claire. Looks very ‘foncy’ compared to my old antique!

Another N.B.! @FabFood4All has also found (cheaper than Pampered Chef) versions of the crinkle cutter via a Google search so if you fancy buying one I suggest you might want to do the same.

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A Rest and a Ring

So I’ve not written this blog for 3 months. Shocking. Sometimes, though, you just need a break from things to allow you to come back refreshed and enthusiastic again.

The past 3 months have been full of food, friends and family and perhaps most excitingly of all, a proposal. I’m delighted to say on 1st June Bobert got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I’m even more delighted to say I accepted! We’ve still to decide on a date but needless to say wedding planning has begun in earnest. Ah wedding food. My thoughts on that may make an interesting post!

Despite the long sabbatical I hope there’s still someone out there interested in reading this. I still haven’t cooked crumpets but there’s been some tasty treats on the go of late and plenty more to come. As well as my ramblings I’m hoping to feature some guest bloggers on here so if you fancy writing a post please let me know.

I hope you’ve all had a great summer. It’s nice to be back.

Karen x

Have Your Cake And Eat It

This past week I’ve been doing a lot of baking. More specifically, I’ve been baking a lot of cake. This is no bad thing as the smell of cakes baking in the house, especially during this vile weather we’ve been having, is both cosy and comforting.

First up were Pimm’s Cup Cakes. I baked these to have on Sunday which was World Baking Day. I was going along to a Tea Party Crafternoon run by knittykittybangbang and thought these would be a welcome addition to the cake stand.

Unfortunately it’s far from Pimm’s weather just now but if you eat these in a warm, cosy house, perhaps watching ‘Escape to the Sun’, or similar, it might not feel as though you’re in the grip of some Armageddon-esque storm.

Pimm’s Cupcakes

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There are lots of recipes on the go for these and I’ve tried a few of them. This is my cobbled together version that borrows from several of the recipes I’ve tried. I top them with cream cheese frosting because I don’t like buttercream but you could easily make a Pimm’s flavoured buttercream if that is your preference. You could also leave out the filling if you can’t be bothered with it, but it’s a really nice addition and I strongly recommend you include it.

This makes 6 large muffin size or 10 – 12 fairy cake size.

Cakes:

  • 125g butter, softened but not melted
  • 125g golden caster sugar (it doesn’t have to be golden, that’s just what I always use)
  • 2 tbsp Pimm’s
  • 2 large eggs
  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tbsp milk

Filling:

  • 5 strawberries (approximately, depends on how big they are)
  • 8 – 10 raspberries
  • a couple of segments of orange, skinned
  • about an inch of cucumber
  • about 4 – 5 mint leaves
  • tbsp Pimm’s

Icing:

  • 115g butter, softened but not melted
  • 165g cream cheese, at room temperature (that is really important. It won’t mix well otherwise)
  • 330g icing sugar, sieved
  • tbsp Pimm’s
  • lemon juice (optional)

Decoration:

  • sliced strawberries
  • whole raspberries
  • small, thin pieces of cucumber
  • mint leaves (smaller ones look better)

Equipment:

  • paper cupcake cases – either muffin or fairy cake size. If you can get red, white and blue ones they look great for these.
  • 6-hole muffin tin or 12-hole fairy cake tin
  • If you have an electric hand whisk or freestanding mixer and a food processor these cakes will be even easier to bake!

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees if you want flat-top cakes or 180 degrees if you want dome-top cakes. (That is a TOP TIP. I spent years trying to get flat-top cupcakes until I discovered it all came down to temperature and time in the oven. This came courtesy of lovely Marian Keyes‘ fabulous book, Saved By Cake). Line trays with paper cases.
  2. Using an electric hand whisk or a freestanding mixer if you have one, (you lucky sod!), cream the butter, sugar and Pimm’s until they’re really light and fluffy. A good 5 – 7 minutes I’m afraid, or at least until your arm wants to drop off.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time and give a good mix after each one. If it looks like the mixture has curdled a bit don’t panic, just add a wee bit of your flour to the mix and give it a good beat. It’ll all come good. (That is also a TOP TIP).
  4. Add the flour, baking powder and salt to the mix. I don’t think you need to sieve it unless you want to. Add the milk and fold the whole thing gently with a metal spoon but don’t over mix. (That is a DOUBLE TOP TIP. If you use a plastic or wooden spoon to mix with you’ll knock the air out of the thing you’ve just spent 7 minutes getting light and fluffy. If you over mix at the flour stage you’ll get tough, dry cakes).
  5. Dollop a spoonful of the mix into each case. You want them to be about 3/4 full so they don’t spill madly over the top.
  6. If you’re doing big muffin sized cakes and you want flat-tops bake for around 25 minutes, 22 if you want dome-tops. If you’re doing fairy cake size bake for 22 minutes for flat-tops and 18 minutes for dome-tops, (remember they’re done at different temperatures). It’s important to stress each oven is different so just keep an eye on them. You likely know how long a cupcake takes in your oven. I tend to turn my tray halfway through as I’ve got a hot spot in my oven. When a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, they’re ready. This particular recipe gives a moist, sticky cake. I think that’s down to the booze. Cool them on a wire rack and don’t even think about putting any icing near them until they’re completely cool, tempting as it may be!
  7. To make the fruity filling chuck all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until mushy but not totally annihilated. If you don’t have a food processor or a blender you could probably achieve the same result by mashing with a fork but the orange and cucumber may prove slightly more difficult to mash. Put this in the fridge to chill whilst the cakes are cooling.
  8. Once cool, cut a circle out of each cake to remove the centre, (not all the way down to the bottom of the cake), fill with about a teaspoon of the fruity mix and pop the cake tops back on. You might have to ditch a small amount of the sponge you’ve cut out so the fruit doesn’t come spurting out the top.
  9. To make the icing, cream the butter, cream cheese, icing sugar and Pimm’s together. I also add lemon juice to give a slightly sharper flavour. Now, if you’re using a freestanding mixer you’ve probably got one of those posh guard things to stop the icing sugar flying everywhere. If you’re like me and you’re using an electric hand whisk, try and cover your arm and the bowl with a tea towel so you and the kitchen don’t end up looking like something from Miss Havisham‘s parlour, (another TOP TIP). However, please be careful to make sure the tea towel doesn’t slip and end up in the blades of your whisk. I speak from bitter experience. You’ll need to mix for a good 2 – 3 minutes to incorporate all the sugar. If it’s looking a bit ‘loose’ just pop in the fridge for a bit before you start icing. I actually baked my cakes on Saturday, covered them when they were completely cool and iced them on Sunday, (sounds like a Craig David song!) This is absolutely fine to do. The booze in the cakes keeps them nice and moist.
  10. If you’re more talented than me you can pipe a lovely swirl of icing on the top of each cake. However, I just sort of spoon a bit on and encourage it over the top of the cake with the back of a teaspoon. Top with raspberry, sliced strawberry and cucumber and a small mint leaf. Try not to top with the fruit until just before serving to keep it as fresh as possible and to avoid it ‘bleeding’ all over the icing.
  11. Apply to face and enjoy.

This week was the Pinnies & Petticoats Eurovision Song Contest extravaganza. We each selected a country and had to take along a bake pertaining to that country. As one of the last to choose, I ended up with Iceland. I have to be honest, I know very little about Icelandic cuisine, especially any baking heritage they might have. Thank God for Google!

In every search I did the same cake kept getting mentioned; the Vinarterta. This is a celebration cake that’s made for weddings and at Christmas. Vinarterta literally translates as ‘Vienna Cake’. It became very popular in the US and Canada at the end of the 19th century due to Icelandic immigrants taking versions of their family recipe with them. The Vinarterta remains popular in the US and Canada today. This may explain why all the recipes I found for it used American weights and measures. The recipe I finally chose came from The Epoch Times, which I’ve given here but with a few of my own tweaks, hints and tips.

Vinarterta is a cake made up of 3 to 8 layers of very thin sponge sandwiched together with a variety of fillings, the most common filling being prunes. The cake can be made without it’s icing 3 – 4 months before you want to eat it and it apparently improves with age. You really need to bake this at least 1 day before serving. When I made mine I went with the 8 layers and popular prune filling.

Icelandic Vinarterta

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The picture above shows the cake in its various stages of assembly. You can have a Vinarterta without icing but I felt the icing gave it a more ‘finished’ look. However, as I don’t like buttercream I would be happy to have it without.

This makes a large cake that would easily feed 12 – 16 people. It’s very rich so should probably be served in small slices.

Prune Filling:

  • 500g prunes, pitted
  • 1/4 cup golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Cake Layers:

  • 1 cup butter, softened but not melted
  • 1 1/4 cups golden caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp single cream
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • zest from half an orange (I also added most of the juice from the 1/2 orange)
  • 4 cups plain flour, sieved
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 – 2 tsp ground cardamom (I only had whole cardamom so just took the seeds out and crushed in a pestle and mortar)
  • pinch of salt

Almond Buttercream:

  • 1/2 cup of butter, softened but not melted
  • 2 cups icing sugar, sieved
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1 – 2 tbsp single cream

Equipment needed:

  • 2 – 4, 8 inch round cake tins. Loose bottomed are pretty essential for this.
  • Baking parchment or cake release if you have it.

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and grease and line your cake tins. I only had 2 tins the same size so I just had to do 4 batches of 2. After the first batch I used cake release instead of greasing and lining the tins as I found it easier and quicker. Use whichever method you prefer.
  2. Boil the prunes with just enough water to cover them until soft. Drain them but save 1/2 cup of the prune water. Blitz the prunes in a food processor until smooth. Put them back in the pan with the prune water, sugar, and cinnamon and reheat gently until thick enough to spread. Remove from heat and beat in the vanilla. Leave to cool. This can be made a day ahead.
  3. Using an electric hand whisk, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until it’s all incorporated and the mix is very light. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the cream, orange zest and almond essence. Sift in the dry ingredients and gently fold together, (remember the DOUBLE TOP TIP from the last recipe). What you will end up with is more of a dough than a batter.
  4. Divide the dough into 8 even portions, (yes, I weighed mine but I can’t judge anything by eye). Spread each portion of the mixture with your fingers into the cake tin. At this stage you might want to give up. A portion looks nowhere near enough to cover the bottom of the cake tin but keep at it and eventually the mixture will start to spread evenly. The layer will be very thin and you’ll almost be able to see the cake tin shining through. Don’t worry!
  5. Bake each batch of cakes for 10 – 15 minutes, (mine took 10 minutes. Remember, each oven is different). Be careful not to overcook. The cakes should be cooked through but remain pale, not brown.
  6. As soon as they come out the oven remove the cakes from the tins and cool on a wire rack. Just be careful. Because they’re so thin, they’re really delicate. Almost as soon as they’re out the oven they’ll start to go crispy, more like a biscuit than a cake.
  7. Repeat this rigmarole until all 8 layers are done.
  8. Once all the cakes are cool, (which takes no time), start to assemble. Each layer should be sandwiched with an equal portion of the prune filling, (again, I weighed it), but leave the top layer plain.
  9. Wrap the cake up tightly in cling film and leave somewhere cool, at least overnight.
  10. (We’re now on the following day. When you unwrap the cake you’ll notice that the layers have gone from being crispy back to a soft, spongey consistency as the cakes have taken in some of the moisture from the prune filling). To make the almond buttercream put the butter, icing sugar and almond extract in a bowl and beat with an electric hand whisk until all the sugar is combined, (remember the TOP TIP about the tea towel). Add a small amount of the cream until you get a smooth, spreadable consistency.
  11. Spread a thin layer of buttercream evenly all over the cake. I find the easiest way to do this is by having the cake on a cake stand so I can turn it easily, (you may have one of those fancy cake decorating turntable jobs), and using a palette knife to spread the icing on and smooth it out.

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As you can see from the picture I added some Icelandic flag butterflies to my cake to tie in with the Eurovision theme. Completely unnecessary kitsch!

I didn’t expect to like this cake as I thought it would be too sweet for me but surprisingly I enjoyed it! The buttercream was too much for me but it does give a nice finish to the cake. If you were making this for someone with a nut allergy you could easily substitute the almond extract for vanilla or orange extract. Go easy if you’re using orange though as it’s pretty strong stuff. A 1/4 tsp of any flavouring in the buttercream is probably enough.

If you’re looking for a bake club or party theme I suggest you give Eurovision a whirl. We had an amazing range of bakes and everyone really got into the spirit of the night. I think it helped that we all had our own country to go off and research. I can’t remember them all off the top of my head, but amongst last night’s bakes were, Russian tea cakes, Black Forest gateau, madeleines, monkey bread, rhubarb cakes, rye bread, Italian bread, baklava, apricot doughnuts, Danish pastries, Greek honey cake, Swedish meatballs, potato cake and stuffed prunes. If you’d like to see more detail of what was baked and some of the recipes from the night just pop over to the Pinnies and Petticoats’ Facebook page.

The third thing I baked this week was a version of banana loaf. The only reason I baked this is because I had 2 bananas kicking about the house that were black. I won’t eat a black banana but I hate waste.

I decided to have a bit of an experiment with this bake and added some maple extract to the mix. I adore maple syrup and the idea of banana and smoky maple really appealed to me. Maple extract is readily available online, (I bought mine on Amazon). I’m not sure this would have worked as well using maple syrup as I don’t think the syrup would give a strong enough flavour, (the extract is really concentrated), and adding a liquid to the recipe would affect the bake.

The recipe I use as a base when making banana loaf is Nigel Slater’s Black Banana Cake. Nigel’s version has hazelnuts and chocolate chips in it. I substitute those for walnuts and dried fruit. This version should feed 8 people who will get a slice each, (1 slice!), or 2 hungry sods over the space of a couple of days.

Banana, Walnut & Maple Loaf

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Ingredients:

  • 175g butter, softened but not melted
  • 175g sugar (if you have it use half light muscovado and half golden caster, otherwise all golden caster sugar will do)
  • 55g chopped walnuts
  • 2 large eggs
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 2 very ripe bananas, mashed coarsely
  • 1/4 tsp maple extract (or 1 tsp vanilla extract if you don’t have maple)
  • 55g currants (or dried fruit of your choice. I just happened to have currants in the house)
  • a little demerara sugar (optional)

Equipment:

  • an 8 x 5 inch loaf tin
  • baking parchment

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees. Line the base and sides of the tin with baking parchment. I have to confess I was lazy and scrumpled up a piece of baking parchment, smoothed it out into the tin and poured the mixture on top. This method works fine but you’re not absolutely guaranteed to get a perfectly shaped loaf.
  2. Using an electric hand whisk, beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy and almost coffee-coloured.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each addition. Gently fold in the walnuts, dried fruit and flour.
  4. Then gently fold in the banana and maple extract. Be careful not to over mix.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and smooth the top if necessary. Dust with a little demerara sugar. This isn’t necessary but it gives a nice crunchy topping to the loaf.
  6. Bake in the lower shelf of the oven so the top of the loaf tin is aligned with the centre of the oven, (that is a Delia TOP TIP), for between 1 hour and 1 hour 10 minutes. Cover the cake with foil if the top is getting dark too quickly.
  7. Remove from tin and cool on a wire rack. Don’t remove the baking parchment until the loaf is completely cool or you run the risk of breaking it.
  8. This is best eaten at least a day after baking, (torture!), so once completely cool wrap tightly in cling film.
  9. The only way to eat this is with ice cold, salted butter, thick enough for you to see your teeth marks in. It’s even better if you warm the loaf very slightly before buttering. Must be taken with copies amounts of tea or coffee

If you can get maple extract it’s really worth trying this in place of the usual vanilla. For one thing your house will smell amazing when it’s baking and the smoky taste along with the walnuts and banana is fantastic. I’m also keen to try the maple extract in an American pancake recipe to have with crispy bacon. No doubt I’d still continue to drown my pancakes in maple syrup as well!

The final recipe in this post is for a cake I didn’t actually bake this week but it came up in conversation and I promised to include it here.

This is a recipe I’m very proud of as it’s the first cake I invited myself. The cake came into existence about a year ago and proved very popular at the time. A lovely mix of coconut, lime, rum and mint, this bake is called Beach Loaf and was inspired by my love of a good cocktail and the memories of sunny beach holidays.

I don’t have a photo of it to include here but I do plan to bake it again soon and will add in a photo then.

Again, this should feed 8 people 1 slice each or more likely a couple of people who know what’s good for them.

Beach Loaf

A cake to transport you to the sun-kissed shores of the Caribbean from the relative comfort of your own kitchen.

Cake:

  • 190g unsalted butter, softened but not melted
  • 190g plain flour
  • a good handful of mint, chopped finely
  • 1 lime, grated zest and juice
  • 190g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 50g plain yogurt
  • 60g desiccated coconut
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbs rum of your choice (optional)
  • coconut shavings for decoration (optional)

Syrup:

  • 1 lime, juice only
  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • tbsp rum of your choice (optional)
  • approx 100ml water

Equipment:

  • 8 x 5 inch loaf tin
  • baking parchment

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees and grease and line the loaf tin.
  2. Cream butter, lime zest, sugar and rum with an electric hand whisk until really light and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
  4. In a separate bowl mix flour, coconut, baking powder, salt and mint.
  5. Add dry ingredients to batter, folding gently. Don’t over mix.
  6. Fold in yogurt and lime juice.
  7. Pour in to prepared tin and sprinkle coconut shavings on top.
  8. Bake for 50 – 60 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. The pieces of coconut on the top will have gone a lovely toasted brown colour.
  9. While the cake is baking make the syrup. Put all the syrup ingredients into a small pan and bring to a boil and allow volume to reduce by half until you achieve a syrupy consistency. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t boil over and remember boiling sugar is a dangerous beast. Be careful!
  10. Once the cake has come out the oven, insert a skewer into it several times and then carefully spoon over the lime syrup, letting it seep into the cake.
  11. Leave to cool for a while in the tin before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
  12. This is delicious sliced and eaten as it is or served with either yogurt, cream, creme fraiche or mascarpone sprinkled with some lime zest.

I’m really proud of this cake. It has a lovely fresh flavour and really does remind me of holidays – hence the name! I’d be thrilled if some of you reading this give this bake a try. If you do, please send me some photos and let me know how you got on. When I first devised the recipe I sent a copy of it to Nigella Lawson who, I’m pleased to say, was very complimentary about it. The recipe ended up on her website although it’s had a few tweaks since then.

As we battle through this typical British summer of snow, hail, sleet, rain and gail-force winds we should all remember the wise words of a certain Mr. Worzel Gummidge and indulge in a cup o’ tea an’ a slice o’ cake. Enjoy.

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Bed, Breakfast & Beyond.

For those who like that sort of thing,” said Miss Brodie in her best Edinburgh voice, “That is the sort of thing they like.” – Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Contemporary guest house, 94DR, located on Edinburgh’s Dalkeith Road is, indeed, the sort of thing I like.

Remember when guest houses or B&Bs meant polyester sheets and breakfasts containing eggs that looked as though they’d been lurking around all morning? They were run by Mrs So-and-So who would have clocked your ring finger status as soon as your toe was on her much-patterned carpet, and invariably had monikers such as Dunroamin’, (Duncarin’ more like). I’m perhaps being a little unfair. There is, I’m sure, some really good B&Bs of the traditional kind out there.

Today’s traveller, though, has higher expectations. We’re looking for a spot of luxury when we’re away, or at the very least to stay somewhere that’s as good as our own homes. The quality of the breakfast served is of the upmost importance as is the decor and finishings in the room we’ll be sleeping in. Service should be friendly and welcoming, kind of pally whilst still being made to feel a bit special. Not everyone wants the anonymity, or indeed expense, of a large, chain hotel and these requirements have seen the rise of the boutique guest house and small hotel.

We were travelling down to Edinburgh to attend the Innis & Gunn Beer Tasting Dinner at The Bonham. As it was an evening event, and one that involved booze, we decided to stay over for the night. There were no rooms available at The Bonham so I decided to book us in to 94DR. I’d come across the place before and fancied staying. It looked like our sort of place.

94DR, which holds a Scottish Tourist Board 5 Star Gold Award, is run by a fabulous couple called Paul Lightfoot and John MacEwan, (not forgetting their black Labradoodle Molli who is too gorgeous, and well-behaved, for words!) Paul and John are from a marketing and hospitality background and wanted to create the sort of environment and service that they would expect from a guest house. The result is a beautifully designed 6 3/4 roomed, (the 3/4 is a wee room for the nippers), home from home.

Quality, humour, sincerity and relaxation are 94DR’s watchwords and I would say this is pretty spot on. Both my initial telephone call and the welcome we got on our arrival were extremely warm and friendly. Without sounding completely cliched, it was like arriving at the home of an old friend.

We’d booked in to the Bowmore room, (all the rooms are named after whisky), which had a big bay window looking out on to Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Craggs. The view also meant we were facing out on to the main road but traffic noise was minimal. The Bowmore is a large room, beautifully decorated in greys and creams with a gorgeous old fireplace and rather nice chandelier I quite fancied trying to fit in my suitcase. The en suite bathroom has a Victorian roll-top bath, underfloor heating and has White Company toiletries supplied. Our bed was already occupied when we arrived…by a very cute teddy bear who I’m sure I heard saying, “Please take me home…”!

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I was absolutely delighted to see a couple of Tunnock’s Teacakes had been supplied instead of the usual depressing variety pack of biscuits. The only negative was that the coffee supplied in the rooms was Nescafe. I hate Nescafe instant coffee and I just won’t drink it. However, I’m absolutely sure that if I’d asked for a cup of ‘proper’ coffee or a different brand of instant I’d have got it. As it was, we were rushing back out again so I didn’t really have time for a coffee anyway.

One of the great things that 94DR has, which we took advantage of when we got back from our dinner, is an honesty bar. The bar is part of a comfy, cosy lounge, decorated in the same contemporary style as the bedrooms. The bar was really well stocked and the prices were amazingly reasonable. There were a large number of books on offer as well as some magazines and there also appeared to be a couple of iPads for guest use.

I’m a terrible sleeper but the superkingsize bed was really comfy and I got a good sleep and was ready for my breakfast the following morning despite the beers the night before!

Ah, the breakfast. What can I say? It’s one of the very best I’ve tasted, perhaps helped by the fact that Paul is a trained chef. We were served in the orangery which looked out on to the lovely garden. The room was decorated to the same high standard as the rest of the house and was filled with some stylish and unique touches such as the funky cow milk jugs I’m sure I’ve spotted on notonthehighstreet.com and cups and saucers from a range I’ve been coveting for a long time from Harvey Nichols, (I’m sure they were the pasta girl ones). The kitchen was annexed off from the main room which gave the sense of an open kitchen which added to the friendly, ‘we’re at our pals’ house’ feeling. The mix of guests were a young couple from Germany, a family flat hunting for their university-bound daughter, a couple that looked as though they were there on business, and us. A fairly wide range of people I’d say. John chatted to everyone in the room while Paul got on with the important job of making the food.

Right, the food. These guys care about food. That is really evident. The starters were a choice of a summer cup (granola with natural yogurt, honey and new season strawberries) or porridge with cream and honey. We both opted for the summer cup and it was so delicious I can’t even tell you. The specials of the day were ‘All the Benedicts’ and you could have classic eggs Benedict, Florentine with spinach or Royale with smoked salmon. I swithered over the classic but in the end greed took over and we both ordered the Scottish breakfast: bacon, sausage, tomato, black pudding, haggis and a choice of eggs. We both opted for scrambled, (honestly, we don’t normally order the same things!) I’m pretty fussy about scrambled eggs. I like them to be loose and creamy. I know it’s not easy to make them that way. Without asking though, that’s exactly what I got. Proper scrambled eggs. In my opinion. Toast made with seeded bread, fresh orange juice and really good coffee, (definitely not Nescafe instant), accompanied all this. It was a fantastic breakfast cooked to a really high standard with not a bit of grease on the plate. Health food then surely?

Seriously, this was one of the best breakfasts I’ve had away from home and I’ve stayed in some pretty nice hotels over the years. It’s clear Paul and John are really passionate about food and take absolute pride in providing their guests with a great meal. They also run a twice monthly Supper Club at 94DR under the name ‘Under The Table‘, and I really, really want to go to one of those.

If you’re planning a trip to Edinburgh please have a look at 94DR. Based in the Southside they’re about a 10 minute walk into town and really close to all the usual amenities and attractions. It looks like they book up quickly though so I’d get in there fast! Rooms are £80 – 150 per night depending on time of year, length of stay, etc. You can also rent out the whole place for house parties which Paul and John will cater for. How much do I want to do that?!

I was quite sad to check out and would have happily stayed another night. The handful of Cadbury’s Eclairs Paul gave us on the way out the door sweetened the moment though.

*I would like to clarify I have not been paid in any way for this review. I paid for my stay and all the opinions given are my own.*

A Beer With Your Breakfast?

During breakfast we got talking to John about our previous night’s dinner with Innis & Gunn. John asked us if we were tasters. “No. Just drinkers.”, I replied. He then returned with a bottle of beer for us and said he wanted to give us this but would we be kind enough to let him know what we thought of it. Seemed like a fair deal to me.

The beer was Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Engineer’s Reserve. The Harviestoun brewery is in Alva, Clackmannanshire. I think John said he was doing some marketing work on the beer so was keen to hear people’s opinions.

When we got home that evening we decided to give the beer a whirl and I made a proper, old school Ploughman’s to go with it. John had said he thought it might go well with blue cheese.

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The cheeses we had this with were Blackstick’s Blue, Caboc and a strong Scottish Cheddar. We also had the usual Ploughman’s bits and bobs along with it.

The beer smelled really earthy and treacly. Not dissimilar to a stout. It also tasted treacly and a bit chocolatey as well with a wee bit of smokiness. I need to reiterate here that I’m no beer aficionado and this is purely my opinion. I tried the beer with the Blackstick’s Blue and it was fantastic. It’s quite a salty cheese and the earthy sweetness of the beer went really well with that saltiness.

I’m not sure this is a beer I’d pair with, say, beef, but I’d absolutely drink this again with cheese. The beer’s flavour stood up really well against strong cheeses and pickles and even though it was really dark and earthy it was surprisingly easy to drink.

This is a beer I hadn’t come across before but I’ll definitely be looking out for it in the future. I was just disappointed we only had one bottle of it!

Thank you so much John for your kind gift. It was a great way to finish off our wee boozy trip to Edinburgh.

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Annie Get Your (Innis &) Gun(n)

beer (noun): an alcoholic drink made from yeast-fermented malt flavoured with hops.

Old English beor, of West Germanic origin, based on monastic Latin biber ‘a drink’, from Latin bibere ‘to drink’; related to Dutch bier and German Bier.

I’m no beer aficionado. It’s not something I drink a lot of. An Efes or a Kingfisher is probably as exotic as I get. Certainly pairing beer with food isn’t something I’d ever thought of beyond knowing that a beer with a curry is a match made in heaven. So when I got the chance to go to a beer tasting dinner at The Bonham in Edinburgh courtesy of 5pm.co.uk, (the online booking service for restaurants and health & beauty salons), I was delighted and more than a little intrigued.

The dinner had been organised by Edinburgh brewery Innis & Gunn as part of their 10th birthday celebrations. The story of how Innis & Gunn came to be is pretty fascinating. In 2002 a whisky distiller had approached the brewery’s now Master Brewer, Dougal, saying they were looking to season their oak casks with the character of a full-flavoured beer. Other brewers had been approached but all previous attempts failed. This time, success. After 30 days the beer was literally poured down the sink and the barrels were given back to the distillers and filled with the whisky. Now, some enterprising soul at the distillery happened to taste the beer and discovered that it actually tasted pretty good. Legend has it the beer was then being sold on the Black Market, out of the back of vans, under the counter at local pubs, and the like. Cut to some months later, the distillery contacted Dougal to let him know the beer was getting as good reviews as the whisky. Turns out the oak had transformed the beer into something quite delicious and unique. Innis & Gunn was born and the rest, as they, say, is history.

Back to the dinner. Bobert and I arrived at The Bonham not really knowing what to expect. Would we be in a room full of CAMRA members who would immediately suss out we were far from being experts and quickly show us the door? Tentatively we joined the group in the hotel’s library and were given a bottle of Innis & Gunn Original as a pre dinner aperitif. Very nice. Good start. Looking round the group it seemed to be a pretty mixed bag of both ages and sexes. Listening in to the conversation it seemed there were a couple of ‘experts’ but on the whole the chat wasn’t purely beer-based and we didn’t stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.

We were then called through to dinner. There were about 20 of us including 2 representatives from the brewery. Interestingly, both women. We were given a potted history of the brewery and an explanation on how the evening would proceed. Basically the chef had paired each of the 3 courses with a particular Innis & Gunn beer and we were encouraged to first taste the beer without food, then with the food to see if we could taste any difference. I should point out at this stage that I chose not to take photographs of the food so you’ll have to rely on my descriptions of what it was like.

Starter: Summer Isle smoked salmon with haddock Scotch egg and horseradish cream. Served with Innis & Gunn Seasonal Edition Scottish Pale Ale. First taste of the beer was really pleasant and I thought it tasted quite citrusy. Now I’m not a fan of smoked salmon, or any salmon for that matter. I find it tastes fatty and I’d much rather have trout. However, this was pretty good. The salmon was sliced very thinly, which is my preference, and was dotted with the horseradish cream. I have to say I couldn’t actually taste any horseradish. The star of the show, however, was the Scotch egg. It was delicious. The yolk of the quail’s egg was still slightly runny, the breadcrumbs were crisp and the addition of haddock and herbs instead of the usual meat was fantastic. When I drank the beer with the fish I was amazed. It totally changed the flavour. What had been a fairly sharp beer now tasted much sweeter. The citrusy note was still there though. A great start.

Main: 35 days aged sirloin steak with roasted shallot puree, beer pickled onions and hand cut chips. Served with Innis & Gunn Oak Rum Finish. This was the course I was really looking forward to. I love steak but I’m also really fussy about how it’s cooked. My preference is medium verging on rare. I’d noticed that there were no steak knives on the table and we hadn’t been asked how we wanted our steak cooked. This time the beer was a deep red colour that smelled sort of sweet and spicy. There was an almost treacly taste to it, you got the hint of rum and it was certainly heavier than the Pale Ale. Very nice though. The steaks looked really good when they arrived. The beer pickled onion was, in fact, a ring as opposed to a whole onion which had a small serving of Bernaise sauce in the centre, (bizarrely not mentioned on the menu). We needn’t have worried about the lack of steak knives as the meat cut like butter and was perfectly pink inside. You could tell it was an aged piece of meat as the taste was fantastic. Properly dark and meaty. Unfortunately one of the other diners appeared to be having trouble cutting through his with a standard knife but he seemed to be the only one of us having any problems. The shallot puree was served with pieces of crispy shallot on top and was delicious. The chips were cooked and seasoned to perfection. I couldn’t taste beer in the pickled onion but that was maybe due to the addition of the sauce. Regardless, it was really tasty. There wasn’t as much of a taste change with this beer when drinking it with food. I would say in this instance the flavours were complemented as opposed to enhanced. It was a really good match though. I would have always thought about drinking red wine with beef but the beer was equally as good, if not better. This particular beer would be fantastic used in a beef and ale pie. Something I’ll definitely be trying.

Sweet: Dark chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream. Served with Melville’s Raspberry Craft Lager. I’m not much of a pudding person and I don’t like ice cream but I do like the combination of dark chocolate and raspberries so I was happy to give this a try. Melville’s is Innis & Gunn’s sister company which produces fruit lagers. I love raspberry beer and normally have the Bacchus Framboise beer. The Melville’s was less sweet than others I’ve tried but had a lovely, fruity flavour. Pure raspberries are used in this beer and the ratio is 80% beer to 20% raspberries. This was definitely my favourite of the evening. The chocolate fondant… Well, when you put your spoon into a chocolate fondant the centre should ooze out into a pool of loveliness. Unfortunately in this instance the centre had gone a bit fudgy and didn’t ooze at all. It also had that grainy texture you get when you burn chocolate when you’re trying to melt it. Not good. The bit of sponge I ate with the beer did taste good but you can’t really go wrong putting chocolate and raspberries together. This was definitely a great alternative to a dessert wine. The ice cream was flecked with vanilla seeds and the little bit I tried wasn’t unpleasant. As someone who doesn’t like ice cream even I could tell this was a good one. Luckily one of the other diners didn’t seem to mind that the fondant was overcooked and happily polished off my leftovers.

We rounded off the night with more beer chat, no coffee I’m afraid, and left clutching our Innis & Gunn beer glasses. On the whole the food at The Bonham was fantastic. I’ll happily overlook a bad pudding when I get a perfect steak. It was a really interesting event and I’m completely converted to drinking beer with food. I don’t think I’ll ever spend the night in a pub just drinking beer but, strangely, having it with food made it go down much easier. I’ve always found beer too gassy and filling before. I didn’t think it would work with food for me. I was absolutely wrong. I strongly recommend you have a look on the Innis & Gunn website and try and sample some of their beers. You won’t find them being sold out the back of a van nowadays but their legitimacy in no way detracts from how fantastic their beers are. Bottoms up!

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