Category Archives: Uncategorized

Update – no food, but a bit of news

So I’ve been pretty quiet on the posts recently.  I know, and I’m sorry.  It’s not likely to change for a few more weeks, I’m afraid (potentially longer).  I’m going into my company’s year end, and we’re in crazy busy season, and of course, my boss is on holiday…  But I have been cooking a fair bit, and have a few things to post, and the 4th birthday party cake has already been imagined, planned, and is ready to be executed at the proper time (and once I have sufficient space in my fridge).  More to come.  Promise.  For real this time.

So news is, I have a new job – you heard it here first.  Haven’t given notice yet at my previous employer (see note above about boss being on holiday).  I prefer to have a contract in hand before telling people I’m out the door anyway, as this means that the potential new employer can’t then change their mind without legal implications (which has happened to me before – I only need to be burned once, thank you very much).  So exciting things to go forward with, and I’m looking forward to it very much indeed.  Not much more money, but the commute is about 30 minutes less each way, and the working day is 30 minutes shorter, so that’s a win win in my opinion.  And it’s a good company, which does lots of exciting things, and isn’t grinding itself into the ground.  And I’ve kind of wanted to work there for the last 5 years.  Wow.  And I’m going to have to like it, because I’m going to need to be there for the next 5 years at least in order to repair my CV.  Wow.

Happy Friday indeed 🙂

Halloween treats – no tricks allowed

Happy Sunday morning!?

Hopefully your day is going slightly less downhill than mine!

Husband has been in America on a “work” trip (they call them conferences – I’ve seen the pictures – there’s not a lot of working going on…), and gotten snowed in in the freak October Nor’easter.    I would like to say this is the first time such an occasion has presented itself, but he got snowed in in Switzerland just before Christmas last year (we had over a foot of snow over here – and I got to shovel the drive with a 2 year old – three times – and we have a long drive…), and delayed somewhere else also last year.  This is the man who drove to France in his 2-CV (her name is Florence ) during the volcanic ash cloud – for work.  Bless.

This has not stopped the Halloween baking, but has certainly meant that by the end of the day, I’m simply knackered, and dinner has been mostly simple, heat and eat.

We did, however, go all out for pancakes this morning:

It looks like a mix between a cat and a pig – covered in Stawberry spread and raisins (forgot to get grapes this weekend!)

I have to say it was nice having the recipe on hand in the blog from earlier!  No more googling with a desperate toddler who wants to do cooking!

The Halloween treats have been made in stages – given the limited attention span of a 3 year old, and the limited spare time of a mummy with no daddy to take the heat off (or anyone else for that matter).  So it started on Friday whilst the lady was at Kindergarten / nursery.  With the baking.  She doesn’t like to help with some of the baking because mummy is a control freak who doesn’t let her stir all over the counter.

We went for cupcakes (so she could help decorate), and some ogre finger cookies (for another post) – made in tandem, because it’s always best to multi-task, and I do have extra arms (comes with child birth, I think)…

Spooky (ish) Halloween cupcakes (makes 12)

For the cupcakes:

Based on The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook recipe:

  • 120 g plain flour (about 4 ounces)
  • 140 g caster sugar (about 5 ounces)
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 40 g unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 120ml (about 4 ounces again) milk

1.  Melt butter completely in the microwave, leave to cool
2.  mix dry ingredients
3.  add egg to cooled butter and whisk
4.  make a well in the dry ingredients, then add the butter and egg until it looks like a dough

5.  Gradually mix in milk until a batter forms (this keeps the mix from getting lumpy – and I don’t think anyone likes lumpy cupcakes!)

6.  Pour into cupcake tin lined with cupcake cases (like these!!!)

7.  Bake at 170C / 340 F until the cupcakes are lightly browned and firm to the touch (about 20 -25 minutes – mine usually take the former)

8.  Decorate as desired

We did these:

I now need to go and entertain a very kind little girl who has very patiently waited for me to finish…

Severed smushed fingers later.  Promise.

Fingers crossed that our neighbour can take the little one to nursery tomorrow morning (else I will have all the Halloween treats at home, and no one to eat them – the pink cupcakes are for us), and that the airport is fully functioning in whatever part of the US the husband is currently located (we clearly do communication on a totally different level).

Have a great weekend!

g

Weekend eats – it’s all about the family

The Americans have been and gone.  I think we showed them the best time we could, and I know a certain someone who  was particularly pleased to have her Auntie and Uncle about (I think she may have worn them out regularly, but that’s what you do at 3 (and a half)…

It’s been a slightly mad and mushed in weekend (or long weekend, as it started on Thursday).  The jet-lag on their part has been very helpful in accommodating to our schedules!

They arrived on Thursday afternoon, (and I now know that the lay-flat beds in first and business class aren’t as exciting as I thought – I think the perception changes when you’re used to the knees-in-the-seat-in-front-of-you position, but let’s not go there just now…).  And they brought some wonderful things with them!  I have a tin of pumpkin!  I have Extra Dessert Delights gum, I have cinnamon gum, I have mint flavoured oreo-cookies, and an exceptionally exciting Wilton Haunted Gingerbread House kit – (thank you thank you thank you).  And Monkey has a lovely, pink, sparkly, Barbie princess costume for Halloween 🙂

After we picked the little one up from nursery and she got over her shyness and giddiness (she just laughed for a good hour or so), we headed out to our favourite local eatery, Brotherton’s Brasserie (http://www.brotthertonsbrasserie.co.uk), AKA, The Dinner Store (because it is a store that sells dinner), for some wonderful pizza and pasta, although my brother had the guinea fowl (everything is nice there – so love it).   No starters (we usually don’t have room in the tummies for all that), and we were all too tired for pudding on this occasion, but the mains were excellent.  I had the Capricosa pizza, which was loaded with really fresh vegetables, whilst D had a red onion and salami pizza which looked outstanding, SIL had the pasta fruti di mare, which I have had before (she confirmed its lushness), Bro-bro had the guinea fowl with peppercorn sauce, and Monks had her favourite pasta bolognese.  The three adults excluding me had Moretti to drink (as it’s on tap).  No pictures were taken (I find it a bit difficult to pop out a camera at the dinner table when you’re out – at home is one thing, out is another).  But it looked a bit like this:

On the Friday, we had a full day together.  After the happy couple had their hotel breakfast, I went to get them and we went into town for the day.  I was the day’s driver, and only slightly horrified (actually, really, really horrified) to find that parking in the city is now GBP4 for 2 hours, and that 2 hours was the max…  This did not leave much time for much of anything.  We hit a museum, a bit of shopping, and the covered market where fresh dates were purchased (so good), before a quick trip to a pub for a drink (I got to explain the difference between an eating and a drinking pub…), then back towards home before the parking expired and the meter man came to ticket me, for lunch at another local eatery, Hampers (http://www.hampersfoodandwine.co.uk/).  We had taramasalata to start, then SIL had the quiche, bro-bro had the pork-pie ploughman’s, and I had a standard ploughman”s.  All delicious.  We usually go there for the sandwiches, but we were not long before dinner, and honestly, the food was quite filling!

I made dinner at home for us all, and we had cake for pudding (that pumpkin cake), before all separating into our parts, as it were, and calling it a day.

The Saturday resembled the Friday, with a spot more shopping, and we took them to another of our favourite local places, The Crown and Tuns, better known as The Pie Place, (http://www.puddingface.com/).  They pretty much only serve pie (they have 2 or 3 non-pie dishes, but really, why bother?).  We had a turkey, sage and onion stuffing pie, the venison with bacon and shoe-string potato pie, the lamb hot pot pie, and the peppercorn beef pie.  The little one had a bit of our pies, as these are honking big pies.  And D was ever so happy as he convinced bro-bro and SIL to have pudding – I think he has regular dreams of their bread and butter pudding…  It’s a lot of pie, so going that extra way in the stomach stretching department is unusual, but has to be done on occasion.  I should stress that the ability to have both pie and pudding is something that is gained over time, and is best not accomplished at once.

Again, no photos on the day, but it looked a bit like this:

Or at least, it used to…

Today, we’re taking them to a brewery, then Yesterday, we took them for a late Sunday lunch at The White Hart (our posh local eatery- http://www.whitehartwytham.co.uk/find.htm).  We have a tendency to love it there, and hate it at the same time.  We haven’t been in a few years, but alas, it’s still the same.  Excellent food, terribly slow service (we’ve been forgotten before!).  What to do!?  Roast dinners, burger and stuffed aubergine were had by the table, along with two appetizers (baked Camembert, and a pint of prawns – literally – ie, served in a pint glass – clever), and a plate of pasta for the pasta monster (but it had cheese so she wouldn’t eat it).  My only complaints are:
1.  Far too much oil – my salad just had a pool of it sitting in the bottom of the bowl – no vinegar, salt or pepper, just oil, and not particularly flavourful oil… huh.
2.  The streak of hummous on my plate / tile (trying to be ultra-posh, they substituted slate tiles for plates for some dishes – didn’t always work, and so not practical).  If hummous is on a plate, shouldn’t there be something to scoop it up with?  I kept wondering where my veggies or pita had gone to.  Lovely stuff, but missing that bit.

We didn’t stay for pudding – which was just fine and dandy, although when they’re on top form, they do a lovely dessert.  They just weren’t there yesterday.

The bro-bro and wife-wife have now left our not-so-sunny shores for more French climes – and the Alps.  At the very least, they won’t be hungry for a while!

A different kind of pumpkin pie

The Americans came, they saw and they had cake!  All was superb.

Whilst I know it was only by brother and sister-in-law visiting, they still came an awful long way to see me, (even if it was a stop over on the way to Switzerland –  I won’t hold that against them – yet), and that kind of effort deserves at least a similar cake effort.

As I noted earlier, my brother was mightily impressed when I did Beantown Baker’s Red Velvet Cheesecake cake (http://www.beantownbaker.com/2010/12/red-velvet-cheesecake-cake.html), so I wanted to recreate, but add a bit of a spin.  So out went the red velvet to make room for something more autumnal and Halloween-y!  (I love Halloween – more so since I’ve been over in the UK, as they just do it so poorly here – and it could just be sooooo good!).  In came Buttermilk spice cheesecake cake, with a Halloween twist – so here goes:

Buttermilk spice cheesecake cake – adapted from the Beantown Baker (http://www.beantownbaker.com/2010/12/red-velvet-cheesecake-cake.html)

Ingredients:

Cake:
2.5 c all purpose flour
1.5c sugar
1 tsp. baking soda / bicarb.
2Tbsp (or to taste) cinnamon
.5 Tbsp ground ginger
.25 Tbsp mace
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1.5 c vegetable oil
1 c buttermilk
Optional mix of yellow and red food colouring to turn the cake orange (or keep it the warm brown shade if preferred)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp white vinegar

Cheesecake:
575g cream cheese (I always use light, but not ultra light – adds more nutrition and I think the taste is nicer)
0.75 c sugar
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp coarse sea salt
2 eggs
0.5 c sour cream (again, I go for reduced fat here – it’s an indulgent cake, but why can’t it be indulgent and a bit more nutrient dense?)

Frosting:
– 500 g cream cheese (don’t go with light here, unless you want to up the butter content to compensate – you need the fat to make the frosting stiffer)
– 150g butter
– 900 g icing sugar (I’ll need to buy more before I can make my Christmas chocs this year :-()
– food colouring to tint – as desired

Madness:

Cake (make the cake first!):

– oven to 350 F / 170 C
– line two baking tins – I  use spring-form pans
– mix together dry ingredients in one bowl, wet in another (excluding food colouring)
– make a well in the dry ingredients and combine in wet stirring until smooth
– add food colouring to desired colour saturation
– divide batter evenly between the greased and lined cake tins (mine are non-stick – you may want to flour yours)
– bake 30 minutes, rotating half way through, until top feels firm and toothpick test is confirmed
– set to cool
– once cool, remove from tins and wash up tins
– once absolutely cool, wrap in clingfilm / plastic wrap and pop in freezer (this is not a one day bake!)

Cheesecake:
– oven to 160C/ 325F
– get a large roasting tin out which will fit the same pan in which the cake was made inside it
– line the cake tin, then wrap the outside in foil (you’re going to put it in a water bath, so wrap appropriately!)
– Beat cream cheese until it loosens, add sugar, lemon zest and juice, salt, eggs, and lastly, sour cream – beat until well combined)
– pour into prepared cake tin already sitting in roasting pan (or similar)
– pour boiling water in to roasting pan so that it comes to about halfway up cheesecake tin
– Bake 45-50 minutes, until the cheesecake looks set in the centre (it will still be wobbly, but not runny)
– Remove from water, and let cool for 20 minutes before running a knife around the sides of the tin, and releasing sides of springform pan
– let cool completely, then pop it in the fridge for a night’s sleep
– in the morning, or whenever you get a chance the next day, wrap in cling film and put in the freezer, base still attached

Assemble and decorate

– no earlier than the day before you’re ready to serve, get your cakes out of the freezer, remove wrap, and set on a wire rack to defrost
– although I didn’t do it this time, I would certainly go ahead and make your frosting at this point (start by mixing the butter and cream cheese together, then add sugar until the desired consistency is reached, then add colouring if using, adding sugar if it becomes too loose)
– when fully defrosted (important that they defrost all the way or your layers will get mushy when put together), take your cheesecake out of the freezer, unwrap, and start to defrost briefly (about 20-30 minutes)
– lay your bottom layer of cake on a plate, and apply a layer of frosting (didn’t do this, but should have done – would have been really visually fantastic!)
– prepare to detach cheesecake from base of tin – it should still be sufficiently firm to manage some manhandling at this point.
– if the cheesecake has defrosted just enough, you should be able to release it by simply turning it over, running a knife along the edge of the cake and tin base, placing it on top of the bottom layer cake, and pulling slightly – if this doesn’t work, wait a bit longer, or consider getting a hair dryer out to warm the base a bit
– once tin is removed and cheesecake is in place, peel of parchment/ greaseproof paper from base of cheesecake (which has now become the top), and top with another layer of frosting, then second cake
– frost and decorate!

<– there’s a view of the inside (pumpkin brains!) – I’m not genius at cake slicing…

Things I would have done differently:
– the frosting both under and on top of cheesecake – I only put it on top of the cheesecake
– my frosting was too runny – I should have gone full fat / more butter, although I got a smoother finish as I could use it as more of a glaze than a frosting
– put crushed nuts or chocolate sprinkles up the sides – would have looked great, but I am dealing with fussy eaters, and I don’t want to be the only one eating this cake (been there, done that)

What’s sweet and savoury and green all over?

Not a newspaper (gosh how I loved that one when I was little…), but done of the more extravagant week-night meals we’ve had for some time!

This mighty green mix was based on what I had available and needed to use rather than anything planned, and I think it came out quite well as there were no leftovers (always a good sign).  Also, that I was able to do this on a week-night, AFTER putting the little one to bed and a body pump workout made is especially fulfilling!

Sweet and savoury green stir-fry

Ingredients (totally adjustable)

– 250g each mangetout and sugar snap peas
– 4 leeks – trimmed and sliced as thinly as you like
– one large courgette /  zucchini, diced
– soup spoon or to taste of each minced garlic and ginger
– tsp or more (to taste) chili paste
– 1/4 c total tahini and peanut butter (all of one or mix)
– about 2 soup spoons (or more) soy sauce – I use reduced sodium
– zest and juice of one orange
– four egg whites and two yolks (or some other protein source – this was what I had on hand)
– one bunch of soba noodles per person (I did two, but this would easily feed 4)
– oil of choice for frying

Method (in the madness)

  • get a large pot of water boiling for the noodles
  • head up oil in large frying pan or wok (I used a dutch oven)
  • once oil is hot, add garlic, ginger and chilli.  Cook for a few minutes, stirring regularly.  Add tahini, nut butter and orange zest.  Cook a while longer until nut/seed butters start to get melty.
  • Add veg (I pre-cooked mine in the microwave for a few minutes first), cook for as long as you like (depending on preferred textures), stirring frequently
  • Add soy sauce and orange juice and reduce heat, but continue to stir, just less frequently.
  • Whilst the veg is cooking away, crack and stir up your eggs and scramble in a frying pan.  Once they start to set, pop your soba noodles into the boiling water

ultimate multi-tasking!

Love the look of soba noodles boiling away…

  • Once the egg is set, mix in to veg

  • Keep heat on low whilst noodles finish cooking
  • Drain and rinse soba noodles, then serve up!

By the by, the husband came with the complete Le Crueset set – and no, I didn’t just marry him for that, although I won’t say it didn’t factor in to the decision somewhere along the way… (but boy are they heavy!)

Happy Friday!  Americans to entertain 🙂

It’s all about planning

I’m one of those people who believes strongly in the power of planning. That said, life has also taught me the importance of having a plan B (do you hear that Mr Osborne?).

That goes for just about everything – from where I want to be in life and how I want to get there, to the more mundane weekly menu planning.

Today it was about route planning – because pretty much all of the south east of England was in a traffic jam from far too early this morning.  And apart from that being a great way to start the week (how I love to sit in traffic before 6 am!), it did keep me thinking about managing everything, week in and week out.

Now, having a weekly menu plan may be a bit dull, but if you’re away from home for 12 hours a day most days (like me), it’s vital (at least for me). I do try to leave it a bit vague and flexible, but broadly, here it is:

Monday: leftovers
Tuesday: more leftovers
Wednesday: shopping day! Store bought fresh soup and bread
Thursday: evening to myself – stir-fry veg and egg pie
Friday: family dinner – usually some sort of veggie stew – used to be curry, but Monkey can’t take the heat (yet).
Saturday and Sunday : also proper home made meals, depending on what’s available (on sale that week, or growing in the garden), or what needs using. With extra made to provide for those leftovers.

This week, we’re not quite going to plan, as I didn’t make enough over the weekend for two nights of leftovers, and the family arrives on Thursday, so no egg / veg stir fry for me.  Tonight it’s the green thing (to come later), I think.  But that’s a work in progress.  Tomorrow night it’s leftover quorn and veg Lebanese 7 spice stew.  Still have soup for Wednesday though – so the plan is not all lost!

Hope your week gets off to a far more positive start.  It’s story time! (I hope we have Camilla the Cupcake Fairy tonight!)

The Americans are coming!

And that’s a good thing 🙂

My big brother and sister in law are coming for a quick visit next week on their way to Switzerland.  I haven’t seen my brother since their wedding, over two years ago now.  The picture is from our trip over – we stopped in Savannah on the way back to the airport – really great city.  I’m really excited.  And a little apprehensive.  But that’s life!

They’re both huge foodies, so I’ve been racking my brain over where to take them, and what to make them.  We won’t go out for all our meals, because we just can’t afford that.  And it would be a shame not to bake them some sort of treat (they would do it for me anyway!).  So I’ve been thinking of something that will really hit the mark.

For Monkey’s last birthday, alongside the Ben & Holly cake, I made Beantown Baker’s (http://www.beantownbaker.com/2010/12/red-velvet-cheesecake-cake.html) Red Velvet Cheesecake cake – (hers was the first food blog I started visiting, and her cooking is just AMAZING).  I like to make something for the parents as well as the kids, and I just wanted desperately to try it!  I skyped my brother for Monk’s birthday hello, and brought the computer over to the fridge to show him the cake.  His response was along the lines of “Oh, dear G-d, that looks as good as a fried Mars bar.” (Another long story about that one… My brother and I have had some good times!).  So I think I’m going to make something along the same lines.  But I’m thinking cinnamon cake instead of the red velvet, because I love the taste of cinnamon alongside cheesecake.  Won’t necessarily be so visually stunning once cut, but I’ll think about that.

I’ll post the finished product next week (I’m going to make the layers and freeze them this weekend, then assemble when they get here!).  Then the only issue I’ll have is what to do with the leftovers (I ended up eating over half of that red velvet cheesecake cake all by myself because I didn’t have anyone to share with – husband only had one piece, and parents only took a few slices).  I get all anxious and pernickity when it comes to food hygiene and safety, so I’m concerned about bringing the cheesecake bit in to work, but they would eat it – so I’ll have to consider that point as well….

Otherwise, husband has requested a simple sponge (my Englishman has very English tastes – give him fine cuisine, and he wants sausage, mash and sponge…) or lemon cupcakes.  At least he’s buying!

A plus tard!