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30 Dec 2008

Gone in a flash

Well well well, it's all over and done with for another year. Two month worth of heart attack inducing stress leading up to the big day then poof, it's finished. Exhausted and a few pounds heavier we ask ourselves, is it really worth all the hassle? Deep down, we all know the answer.....of course it is!!

For those of us in our mid twenties Christmas never really offers much of a problem, at least, it doesn't for me. I'm a firm believer that my mothers Christmas lunch is the best in the world and all gatherings should be held around her tree rather than my own. Here mother, take my share of the burden as well as your own, I insist. So really, the most stressful part of my day turns out to be drying my hair in an overly warm house. But this year I felt jealous. I sat by and watched my mother dive around the kitchen like a woman possessed in total envy. I wanted those to be my carrots, my sprouts, my damn turkey! Next year, I'll claim the whole damned holiday and mum can be the one to sit back an relax. It's only fair. But, pushing my green eyed monster aside, it really was a wonderful Christmas. I couldn't have wished it any better. Family, friends and good food; what more can a girl ask for? One thing, that's for sure...

And I got it! The thing I've been lusting over since I was old enough to venture into a department store unsupervised, a lime green Kitchenaid mixer. Swoon! It's my new favorite toy in the world, and to make things even better, I got a free accessory pack worth £140. Thank you Santa (or dad, whichever you prefer).



I love you Kitchenaid! Next on the list, a Smeg fridge :D

I was itching to take it out on a test drive that very day but alas, it wasn't to be. The days following Christmas were hectic. Family to visit, friends to enjoy and a lot of wine to drink. But today, life calmed and I could get my fingers stuck straight in, hurray! Kris' mum bought me a darling book called Easy Baking (my love of all things kitchen is well documented among my peers) full of really easy sweet treats for a fast paced life. And since during this festive season my life has been far from the chilled affair it usually is, I thought it perfect for my first Kitchenaid adventure. Chocolate chunk cookies, yum!

Now, as much as I love the city of Newcastle, it's not a great night out destination, especially on New Years Eve. I've had nothing but bad experiences and I vowed this year would be different. No parties full of people I hardly know with the promise of sleeping on a lumpy couch looming over my celebrations and no over priced, over filled club pumping out music I despise. This year will be spent way ooop north in Edinburgh with some dear friends and a nice bottle of gin. That's my kind of night. You'll probably be wondering why I've started waffling on about NYE, well I'm getting to that. I have two cats, Marmalade and Muffin whom I love like children....probably a little bit more than children if I'm honest. And, as much as I adore my little terrors, they kind of hinder any out of town plans, so I've had to lure my little brother into cat sitting with the promise of vodka and home baked goodies. Which is where my cookies come in.



I do hope they'll do. I've yet to try one as the very thought of anything chocolaty has me running for the cheese counter of my local supermarket. Keep your smarties away from me, thank you very much...for the time being. The recipe called for 100g of white chocolate and 50g of Brazil nuts but my younger sibling would vomit at the very taste of a nut continuing cookie so I changed it to fit what I had in the cupboard, 50g of white chocolate chunks, 50g of plain chocolate chips and 50g of dried cranberries. Kris tells me it works very well, I certainly hope so.

One thing, my cookies never seem to spread much during baking but stay as quite chubby rounds. I'm not sure why this is, maybe I'm not flattening them enough before baking, or maybe the oven isn't hot enough. I just don't understand.....

The recipe, should you like to recreate....

115g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
115g soft light brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
250g self raising flour
pinch of salt
125g white chocolate, chopped
50g brazil nuts, chopped
(substitute the filling, I did)

Preheat the oven to 190C, reduce for fan, and grease several baking sheets.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Gradually add the egg to the creamed mixture (I remembered this time, haha), beating well after each addition.

Sift the flour and salt into the creamed mixture and blend well. Stir in the chopped chocolate and nuts.

Place heaped teaspoons of the mixture on the prepared baking sheets, spacing well to allow for spreading during cooking. Bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until just golden brown.

Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and leave to cool.

17 Dec 2008

Remember remember the fifth of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot!

I'm very aware than bonfire night is far from over and most people are too worried about Christmas to even think of the fifth of November. Not me, I finished all of my Christmas shopping a month ago, with the exception of my dads which I bought today. An MP3 player I'm planning on filling with pretty songs, to further his musical education...awwwwh! And, since most of my uni work is now behind me (hurrah) I can finally catch up on some well deserved blogging.

Bonfire Night in Newcastle usually involves a group of people huddled round a spindly rocket desperately trying to light the fuse despite the biting wind and icy rain. And this year was no different. I guess you could go to a professional display, but I believe Bonfire Night without a glass of mulled wine is a sin and I wasn't about to trail all the way to the local park, soaking wet, for the pleasure of a few fancy explosions in the sky! No way, no how. So, being a natural hostess, don't scoff, I decided to buy a pack of sparklers and hold a wee gathering. Upon sending invitations, by text of course, to my nearest and dearest it was brought to my attention that my 'party' was to fall on the birthday of a dear friend. I'm horrible with dates, the only birthdays I can actually remember is my own and my mothers. So of course, this called for a birthday cake.



Stick a few sparklers in the top and I think it tops even the biggest of bonfires. I mean, how many bonfires have a red velvet cake center? None, that's how many! The cake was a roaring success, cream cheese frosting with mint match makers surrounding a beautifully soft cake. Sadly, I enjoyed a little too much of the high life and had to retire to bed before the cake was cut. This seems to be happening more and more in my old age, eeep. But from the mountain of text messages on my phone the following morning, it was a hit.

Recipe taken from Anne Bell's Gorgeous Cakes:

For the cake:
120g unsalted butter
300g golden caster sugar
2 large eggs (free range, think of the chickens)
300g plain flour
230g buttermilk (for love nor money I could not find buttermilk in my local supermarket, so I went with extra special, Channel Island full cream milk. I seemed to work fine)
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp good quality vanilla extract
20g cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 tsp red food colouring
1tbsp white wine vinegar
1tbsp bicarbonate of soda

For the frosting:
180g unsalted butter
150g icing sugar, sifted
450g full-fat cream or curd cheese
1tsp good quality vanilla extract
2 x 150g boxes of matchmakers (I used mint)
Cocoa for dusting

Recipe:

Preheat the oven to 170C fan/190C normal. Butter two, three is you have them, 20cm sandwich or deep cake tins with a removable base and line with baking paper. Cream the butter and sugar in a food processor till really light and fluffy, Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl with each addition. Now add the flour in three goes, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour. Add the salt, vanilla extract and cocoa powder. Add the food colouring with the tip of a knife until the mixture is a dramatic dusky red.

Mix the vinegar and bicarb together (it should fizz, fun!), and add to the batter. Divide the mixture between the three tins or, if using two put a third into each tin and bake the final cake while the other two are cooling. Bake the cakes for 20-25 minutes until they are shrinking away from the sides and firm when pressed in the centre. Leave to cool for ten minutes then turn out onto a wire rack, remove the paper and cool the right way up.

To make the frosting, cream the butter and icing sugar together in a food processor (I did this by hand) then blend with the cream cheese and vanilla extract. Transfer to a bowl.

Sack the three sponges on top of each other. With a bread knife carve the stack into a cone, starting about an inch from the centre, to make the shape of a tall bonfire (it says in the book that trimmings can be saved for a trifle, but I just ate them as a pre party snack). Separate out the layers and spread 2-3 tbsp of frosting over the base layer using a palette knife, top with the middle layer and smooth over 1 1/2 tbsp and top with the final layer. Coat the sides of the cone in the remaining frosting then stack the matchmakers upwards around the outside, braking them in half towards the end to fill in the gaps. Dust the whole cake in cocoa powder and place on a cake stand. Cover with clingfilm and chill for one hour. If chilling any longer than this remove the cake 30 minutes before you intend to serve it.

The cake keeps well for several days.

16 Dec 2008

Tartaholic

Having a boyfriend who isn't really the biggest fan of fruit means I'm always trying out new ways of incorporating it into my baking, combining them with his favorite ingredients so he'll ignore the 'horrible texture of the flesh' and eat it all up! This Chocolate, Almond and Pear tart has been on my to do list for a while so I set about it!

Now, I've made this tart twice as the first attempt didn't really turn out too well. Through no fault of my own, may I add....well, maybe it was a little my fault. The recipe doesn't call for blind baking the case so when the whole thing goes into the oven, the base doesn't actually cook through leaving a big soggy ring in the middle, yack. Also (this is the part that is just down to my own stupidity) once you cream the butter and sugar the recipe calls for you to just add the eggs. Silly me, didn't stop to think and just dumped them straight into the buttery mixture. Needless to say, it curdled more than I've ever seen anything curdle before, and no amount of me furiously adding flour could fix it. So there I was, trying to cover up my lumpy brown mixture with slices of tinned pear. Sure, it tasted fine, but all I could think of was the little curdled lumps. This simply wouldn't do!


The second attempt proved much more successful. I baked the tart blind for 20 minutes with foil and dried pulses then for another 5 minutes without to colour the base. I reduced the final cooking time by about ten minutes to compensate, basically I just kept an eye on it till the filling was risen and darker in colour. Also, I substituted the tinned pear for fresh, which I don't think worked as well. Maybe next time I'll try poaching them in an amaretto mixture.


I'm still not totally happy but Kris has begged me to leave it alone for the time being. Poor lamb is all peared out! I'd defiantly recommend making this tart, if only for the smell! It fills the whole house with the wonderful aroma of almond, which I just find divine.

Here's the recipe:

For the pastry:

100g plain flour
25g ground almonds
60g margarine, plus extra for greasing
approx 3tbs water

For the filling:

50g butter (I used unsalted)
50g caster Sugar
2 eggs, beaten
100g ground almonds
2tbs cocoa powder
a few drops of almond extract
400g tinned pear halves in natural juice, drained

Preheat the oven to 200C and lightly grease a 20cm tart tn.

Sift the flour and ground almonds together in a bowl then rub in the margarine with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the water, a little at a time till the dough starts to come together. Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the freezer for 10 minutes. Roll out pastry to about 5mm and use to line your tart tin, prick the base with a fork and chill again.

(this is where I opted to bake the base blind, but you can go with your instincts)

To make the filling, beat the butter and sugar together till light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs (GRADUALLY!! haha) then fold in the ground almonds, cocoa powder and almond extract. Spread the mixture in the pastry case. Thinly slice the pears and arrange on top of the tart, pressing down lightly. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the filling has risen. Allow to cool before transferring to a plate or tray.

14 Dec 2008

The Omnivore's Hundred

I've seen this list make an appearance on a tonne of blogs so I've decided to try my hand, if only to see what I should really try :)

Here’s what I want you to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros (I had to google this and I'm desperate to give it a try, yum)
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh Wild Berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea (One of my very favorite things! My most recent was in Betties of Harrogate)
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O (at age 15, never again)
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme Original Glazed Donut
50. Sea Urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (I have never actually eaten a Big Mac, I have a bit of a fear of mayonnaise)
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. (Something I will do, soon with some luck. My dad keeps threatening to try one at Gordan Ramsays)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

13 Dec 2008

AWOL

So sorry about my blogging absence, I've been a busy bee this December. I spent the first week in Prague and developed a huge crush on the Trdlnk cake (have I spelled that right...hmmm) Which is a yeast based cake, wound around a long pole and roasted over hot coals. I actually think I came home a stone heavier!

If any of you bakers out there in cyberspace have developed any easy way of making this cake I'd love to hear from you! Like really, I think I'm suffering withdrawals.

Anyway, I digress. I came home, slightly fatter, to a mountain of university work I've since been plowing through! Oh the joy.

I promise I'll have an entry up in the next few days...a decent one I mean :)

Katie xo

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