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27 Jan 2009

Fudgy chocolate cupcakes

It's been a month since Christmas and the looming presence of a gigantic bag of sweets is still hanging over us. No matter how much I eat, give away or bake into cakes, the bag just isn't getting any smaller. I believe the bottom is actually an undiscovered void, a tear in the space time continuum leading into an alternative universe containing nothing but candy! I may well alert this to the attention of Stephen Hawking, I'm sure he'd be veeery interested. But, as grand as this may sound, you don't half get sick of curly wurlys and milky ways fast!

In an effort to get rid of a small portion of this never ending confectionery I decided to make some fudgy cupcakes. Not only do I rid myself of that huge hamper of fudge, but I delight some friends in the process. Nobody is more welcome in a home than the person clutching a tin of freshly baked cupcakes. In fact, I had to abandon the tin as everyone refused to let me leave till every last cake was gone. Poor tin.

I adapted a recipe I found on Waitrose.com, I increased the amount of syrup in the cakes and whipped up a simple chocolate icing to mix things up a little.

Fudgy chocolate cupcakes:

100g soft butter
100g light brown soft sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp vanilla extract
25g golden syrup
100g self raising flour, sifted
2 medium eggs, beaten

Chocolate icing:

125g good quality dark chocolate
25g golden syrup
35g unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C. Place paper cake cases in a 12-hole bun tin. Beat the butter and sugar together with an electric whisk or wooden spoon for 2-3 minutes until pale and creamy. Beat in the ginger, vanilla and golden syrup until combined.


Gradually add a little flour and some of the egg, beating well after each addition. Repeat until all the flour and egg has been added. Spoon into the paper cases and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden and well risen. Place on a wire rack to cool.


Make the icing just before you are ready to ice the cakes. Melt the butter and chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water (making sure the bowl doesn't come into contact with the water). Once melted stir in the golden syrup and leave to harden slightly, making it easier to work with. Spread the icing over the cakes and decorate with chunks of fudge, or crystallised stem ginger.


25 Jan 2009

Obsessed with beets

I actually think I'm obsessed with beetroot! I eat it morning noon and night, pickled, boiled or mixed in cake, I love it! Imagine my delight when, a few month ago, the lovely Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall featured a recipe for beetroot brownies on his show River Cottage Autumn. I'd already accustomed myself to the beetroot chocolate relationship so it didn't come as much of a surprise to see the two living in such close proximity, but Hugh's recipe was so much simpler than the beetroot cake I usually make. I had to try it!

Not only was this incarnation much easier to produce but it was so much tastier too. I had to bake my brownies for a bit longer than Hugh recommends as the tray I used was slightly smaller than the one in the recipe but they were so moist and, well, I can't even describe the taste, you'll just have to try them for yourself. Trust me, you won't be sorry.

They were so tasty, I even had to half a square with my cat, Marmalade. By the look on his face, I think he enjoyed it :)

You can find the recipe for Chocolate Beetroot Brownies here.

23 Jan 2009

Midweek fun

What a hectic few days we've had up here in good old Newcastle, all thanks to a tiny beast named Muffin!

There's one thing in domestic life that I just can't stand doing, washing, there's something about the washing machine that just makes me irate. I hate it so much, so much so I've actually made a deal with Kris wherein he commands authority over all things laundry and is exempt from any kind of bathroom cleanage, that's how much I despise it. I'd rather have my hand half way down a toilet than deal with soggy clothes! So, a few days ago, Kris was dealing with the ever mounting pile of dirty clothes while I sat, tea in hand, watching Come Dine With Me, lovely! All was fine and dandy till in walked lady Muffin with a washing tablet bag in her greedy mouth. You see, Muffin was purchased from a lady who I believe was experiencing her first day on Earth! The poor beggar was fed upon open packets of ham/chicken/whatever else was lying around from being a tiny kitten, so now she assumes everything left upon the floor is fair game. Anyway, at first I laughed 'Oh how cute' I exclaimed while watching her trot across the floor with the tiny bag in tow, till she dropped it and started gnawing upon the tightening string. I leapt up to retrieve the bag but it was too late, she'd already nommed off a good few inches of it and a little of the rubber stopper as desert! Now, I've had cats my whole life and I know they usually bounce back from the stupid little things they do, so I tapped her bot and sent her to the water dish to try and flush the daft get out.

A couple of days passed and everything was normal, cats kicking hell out of each other at all hours of the day and night, just another day in Bittern Close. This continued until yesterday when we noticed Muffin struggling to, how do we say, relieve herself. Our minds instantly flashed back to the string and a horror story our friend had told us about the time her cat ate a bobble and got it wrapped around it's intestines. Oh no!! A few furious google searches tell me what I already know, get the cat to the vet ASAP! Of course, I start crying and following her around making sure she doesn't just drop where she stands while I wait for Kris to return from work. May I add that Muffin was perfectly fine through all of this, she just lacked to ability to poop, no sickness, no lethargy, no anorexia, I'm just a massive panic junky! Eventually, Kris arrives home and we bundle the little terror to the vets, me full of tears, Kris worrying his head off, Muffin absolutely fine. An hour later and £30 down the vet tells us the cat has absolutely nothing wrong with her and there was no need for my huge over reaction. Phew. If this is what I'm like with the cats, what am I going to be like when I have kids. Dear lord!

After our little ordeal the last thing I wanted was to be cooking up a big, complicated meal so threw together an improv chicken chow mien using random stuff I had in the kitchen. Perfect end to a perfect day.


Chicken Chow Mein:

2 chicken breasts, cooked and shreaded
2 carrots thinly sliced (I grated mine)
1 bag of beansprouts
handful of mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
knob of ginger
pinch of thai five spice
glug of dark soy sauce
glug of rapeseed oil
a bag of fresh egg noodles

Fry the ginger and onions in the oil till soft

Add the rest of the veg, garlic and five spice, stir and fry for another few minutes.

Add the cooked chicken and noodles and fry till the noodles are heated through.

Remove from heat and add soy sauce to taste.

20 Jan 2009

No such thing as too far

Is 100 miles too far to drive for tea and scones? Is an hour too long to spend in the car just for the purpose of purchasing fancy cakes? Kris believes it is, I on the other hand, would gladly travel three times the distance for something special on my plate.

Harrogate is around 100 miles from us, and an hour or so drive which normally wouldn't matter but other than pretty views the village doesn't really offer much else in the name of activities. Because of this, my bi-monthly requests to be taken to Betty's Tea Rooms is usually answered with a resounding 'No!' Luckily for me (but unluckily for him), the drummer in my lovely fiancee's band has just made the move back to the land of the parents after graduating university. Where do his parents live? That's right, Harrogate. So now, every time the poor soul ventures back up to my neck of the woods, which is quite often, I request he comes bearing a different cake from good old Betty's.


The marzipan cauliflowers are my very favorite.

17 Jan 2009

Whiskers on kittens...

Certainly are one of my favorite things.

Marmalade McTiddlesworth

Muffin McTiddlesworth

Sure, they're A LOT bigger now, but this pair of terrors can elevate my mood instantly with a simple twitch of their cheeks. Without them I don't know what I would do. It's funny how animals can develop their own little personality, each totally different from the other. Marmalade is my tiny prince, spoilt, fussy and stubborn. Want a big cuddle? Well, you're looking at the wrong cat..unless he wants one, of course. Muffin on the other hand is a cuddly, loving little monster. Probably the most ungraceful cat I have ever met, but boy is she adorable. Put them together, however, and you have a kitty whirlwind of naughtiness. But it's a whirlwind I couldn't live without.

Another of my favorite things is banana bread. Oh, how I love banana bread, the taste, the smell, the way it looks, all sultry sitting there in its tin. And luckily for me, I always have a few over ripe bananas knocking around my kitchen. Add chocolate and I'm yours forever, this cake is like a giant moist hug every morning and it only gets better with age. I often make a loaf at the beginning of the week and see how long it can last for a beautiful breakfast time treat.




Chocolate Banana Bread, adapted from Olive Magazine:

Ingredients:

100g plain chocolate
150g unsalted butter
175g golden caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
175g self raising flour
1 level tsp baking powder
25g cocoa powder
2 ripe bananas, mashed (I used 3 small bananas)

Recipe:

Heat the oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Butter and line the base of a 1kg loaf tin with baking parchment. Melt the chocolate either in the microwave or in a small glass bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir until smooth and remove from the heat.

Cream together the softened butter and caster sugar until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the egg, beating well between each addition. Sift together the flour, baking powder and cocoa and fold in using a large metal spoon. Add the mashed banana and chocolate and mix well.

Pour mixture into lined tin and bake for about 1 hour or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a rack, then wrap in baking parchment or foil.


The original recipe calls for 2 smaller loaf tins and to bake them for 45 minutes. I only have a larger tin so I increased the baking time by 15 minutes which seemed to work perfectly. Just make sure you keep and eye on it after the 45 minutes are up. You can find the original recipe here, on
BBC Good Food.

14 Jan 2009

Brrrrrr



I'm sure you're all very aware of the Geordie stereotype? Those of you who've ever read an issue of Viz will know what I'm talking about. Nighttime rolls around, the pubs begin to fill and thousands of coat-less and, when a lady, tight-less people emerge upon the streets in the depths of Winter, ring a bell? Well, I'm sorry to say that the majority of the time, it's true! There's nothing more sobering than driving through the centre of Newcastle on a Friday night witnessing gaggles of Bigg Market girls in dresses small enough to be my dish cloth in the middle of bloody January. Compare that to little me, snug as a bug under many layers of winter woollies (2 pares of 100 denier tights, thicker than the average pare of trousers. Oh yes!). Madness, utter madness! I'm all for looking pretty, but I'm a firm believer in comfort over fashion....at least at this time of year ;)

As cold as it is, winter is my very favorite time of year, if only for the big stodgy meals you allow yourself to gouge upon. Beef, pastry, potato, massive loaves of sourdough bread...bring it on, all of it, at once! I find myself, all through the British Summertime (what little of it we get up here), wishing the leaves would hurry themselves up and change from green to yellow, all the while pacifying myself on boring sandwiches and dull salads. But, as soon as the very first leaf flutters gently to the floor, the rolling pin is out, the potato masher is liberated and I'm ready to tackle the mountains of winter veg coming my way. I'm all about the comfort food and I live by the moto, bigger is always better, especially when it comes to food!

This January has been the coldest month so far and has left me craving one thing, pie! A steak and ale pie to be precise. I was originally going to use Newcastle Brown Ale as the base but Kris was adamant that Brown gives you a horribly bad tummy if consumed warm. I later discovered that Brown Ale is beautiful in pies and the bad tummy only occurs if drinking it below the recommended temperature, or if the lil star on the bottle hasn't yet turned blue.

I used the recipe from an episode of Jamie at Home I found on the Sky+

Jamie's Steak and Ale Pie:

3 onions
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 handful of rosemary
3 cloves of garlic
2 carrots
800g Stewing steak, diced
1 pint of Guinness (I used locally produced ale)
1 heaped tablespoon of flour
300ml vegetable stock (I found this to be too much so I only used about 150g of it)
500g puff pastry
100g cheddar cheese (I used mature)
1 egg


Peal and slice the carrots and put them aside for later.
Chop the onions and fry them in a large pan with the olive oil.
Finely chop the rosemary and crush the garlic. Add these to the onions.
Add the carrots, beef, ale and flour to the pan.
Add salt and pepper then pour over the stock, but only add enough so that the meat is not quite covered.
Put on the lid on and put into the oven for 2 hours.
Grate the cheese and after the 2 hours take the pan out of the oven and stir in the grated cheese.
Roll out a third of the puff pastry and use it to line a pie dish.
Pour in the mixture. You can also add a bit of extra cheese on the top.
Roll out the remaining puff pastry for the lid. Carefully score it and brush with the beaten egg before putting on the pie.
Put back in the oven for another 40 mins, or until golden and bubbling.

12 Jan 2009

Birthday partys aren't just for kids

I love Birthdays, any Birthdays. I get far too excited, even more so than the Birthday boy or girl. It's sad really, but I believe that celebrating this day is a big deal and everyone should have a big birthday blow out, even if I have to do it myself!

Saturday marked the 24th Birthday of one of our very best friends, being a big grumpy bugger he decided he didn't really want to do anything for the big day. This simply would not do! At the very last minute I rallied together the troops, stocked my almost bare cupboards and donned my apron ready to cook up a Birthday Banquet. Usually I feel bad about the amount of time I spent surfing around baking blogs, but right there in the moment I thanked my dissertation procrastination as over the week prior to the party I'd discovered a few brilliant recipes I was dying to try out. First of all is the beautiful Rolo Cupcakes I discovered on a blog called Hannah's Country Kitchen. I had a lot of Christmas confectionery to use up and these little pockets of heaven seemed like the perfect candidates to use some of it up. Needless to say they went down a treat, you must make these cakes!!

Next up came the actual Birthday cake. I choose the beetroot cake as the birthday boy mocked my attempt at spiced pumpkin brownies a few month ago and I wanted to show him that vegetables were actually very comfortable in cake. Although, I didn't tell him it was beetrooty till after he ate his slice (and was already pretty squiffy). I really enjoy the taste of this cake, the beetroot takes on a sweet flavour, not unlike cherries, but it's rather temperamental. Every time I've baked this fudgy wonder it's never been just right. Either that little bit over done, or just too squidgy in the middle. One day I'll perfect you, oh beetroot cake!


A few weeks ago, at a friends house I was given a tasty treat made by said friends mum. She named it a Ham Horn. It was basically ham wrapped in puff pastry, delicious but missing something. That something was cheese. As if by magic, I came across this recipe on A Pot of Tea and a Biscuit, exactly the thing I was dreaming of. I actually believe Sylvie of said blog is a mind reader, and for that I thank her, with all of my heart. I omitted the leeks as I didn't have any handy but even without these roll ups were fantastic, and super simple to make. I think they were the star of the show as they disappeared in seconds.


I really, really have a strong hatred of frozen breaded chicken products. I find them foul (no pun intended) and the idea of emulsified chicken horrifies me to my very bones. That said, I know things like Bernard Mathews Chicken produce usually goes down well at parties but I couldn't bring myself to buy any. How happy I was when I came across the recipe for these home made versions of the factory produced rubbish. Thank you Delicious Magazine.com. Here's the recipe with my alterations:

Ingredients:

Oil for greasing
3 free range chicken breasts

3 tbsp tomato ketchup, plus extra for dipping
1 tbsp of hot chilli powder
1 bag of low salt tortilla chips
a glug of sweet chilli sauce

Method:

Preheat the oven to 190C and oil a baking tray.

Slice the chicken into thin strips.

Put the ketchup into a bowl with the chilli powder then add the chicken and mix to evenly coat.

Crush the crisps into small pieces and tip onto a large plate.

Dip the chicken strips into the crisps to coat then place on a baking tray.

Roast for 10-12 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the coating is golden. Serve with ketchup mixed with sweet chilli sauce for dipping.



Last but not least is one of my favourite party snacks, sweet chilli bangers from the Good Food magazine. I adore these sausages, I could honestly have them every day if they didn't cause so much of a mess. Really, if you decide you want to try this recipe out, I advise you to stock up on disposable roasting trays. I had to leave my dish to soak over night and most of the following day, nightmare.

Ingredients:

12 large sausages
4 tbsp tomato ketchup
2 tbsp clear honey
2 tbsp mild chilli powder (I used hot, I like a bit of spice)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 tsp dried oregano or 2tsp fresh

Method:

Heat oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7. Arrange the sausages in a roasting tin in a single layer and bake for 10 mins. Meanwhile, mix together all the other ingredients with seasoning and 1 tbsp water.

Pour the ketchup mixture over the sausages and mix well. Bake for 30 mins more until the sausages are golden.

5 Jan 2009

Yummy yummy, that's a pizza pie

First and foremost, happy new year! I hope you all had a wonderful time surrounded by the people you love! I know I did. Kris and I spent our New Year up in chilly Edinburgh with some very good friends watching fireworks, drinking champagne from a paper cup and having as much fun as a bunch of twentysomethings playing in a play park could have. Nobody, I'm sure, had a better New Year than us.

Not only did our gracious hosts put a roof over our heads but they went out of their way to feed us up on some great food, some of which was home made pizza. I've tried pizza before, a long time a go, and it was a disaster. Bland bland bland, I feel so sorry for the poor people too polite to tell me I'd made a dreadful meal. But after sampling how delicious home made pizza could be, and how simple the lovely Caitlin made it look I was determined to redeem myself.

Not only was it simple and really easy to prepare, but I had a lot of fun doing it. Until my first pizza deceived me. It looked wonderful in the oven, cooking away, toasting the cheese to a beautiful golden brown. Boy, this is a breeze I thought, I should have thought of doing this sooner....uh ohhh! The pizza came out of the oven and refused to let go of its cozy stone. I actually think the two became one. For no amount of trying, I could not get this pizza off the stone. Ready to throw in the towel and phone the ever reliable take away, Kris insisted on calling the pro cooks up in Scotland to see if there was a trick we were missing. There was, apparently you have to coat the surface of the pizza stone in a thick layer of flour to prevent sticking. Bah, nowhere on the box told of this so I assume (and hope, so don't feel like so much of a dufus) they also learned the hard way. By this time, the stone was far from rescue, so I took note of their tips for next time and threw the rest of the prepared pizzas on baking trays and sent them into the oven.

I'm sure, if I used the stone, the pizzas would have been a little crispier but boy were they good just as they were. By the time I finished the last offering there was only scraps of crust left, good job I hid my very own caramelised onion and goat cheese pizza till last, mwahaha. All in all, after what I thought was to be the end of my pizza making career, I think I did good. Im proud of my little mis-shapen babies.

You can find pizza dough recipes all over the Internet, mine was taken from Jamie's Italy (linked here from his website) and included a combination of pepperoni, paprika salami, parma ham, red and green chilli's, chili oil, caramelised onion and goat cheese.

In a vain effort to drag more readers to my little blog (one of my new year resolutions is to become a more active blogger) I will be submitting my pizzas to Yeastspotting.

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