Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Pimms Creams

A few days ago I bought Jo Pratt's new book In The Mood For Entertaining. This is a lovely looking book and the photos are gorgeous. There are so many recipes that I have ear marked to try. Although the book is about food for entertaining, a lot of the recipes look quite quick and simple to make and I will be making them just for my husband and I. There are some great menu ideas too and the midweek recipes look great for any time.

I was given a bottle of Pimms a couple of weeks ago. To me it really is a summer time drink and something to enjoy in the garden on a glorious afternoon. Sadly the weather hasn't been great and there have been few opportunities to enjoy Pimms in my garden so far this year. I don't tend to make desserts very often during the week. We tend to only have them at the weekend or if people are coming over for dinner. I thought I would break that trend and make a quick dessert to enjoy after dinner. As I was browsing through this book I came across a recipe for Pimms and strawberry creams. The picture made me drool and the recipe sounded delicious. As I have the Pimms in the cupboard I decided to give it a try. It also gave me a chance to use my new sundae glasses.

This recipe was so quick and easy to make and I'll definately be doing it again. I also think it would be nice with raspberries too. They were delicious and the Pimms was a lovely touch to the dessert. We both enjoyed them immensly and I'd definately recommend them.

Pimms and Strawberry Creams
Serves 4

  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 50ml Pimms
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 275ml double cream
  • 250g strawberries
  • 200ml strawberry sauce
  • 3 individual meringues
  • mint to garnish

Following the recipe in the book I decided to make my own strawberry sauce. This was really quick and easy to do but if you prefer you can buy ready made strawberry sauce. To make the sauce put 200g of strawberries into a blender or food processer. Add 50g of caster sugar and blend to a smooth puree. I made the sauce first.

Then in a large bowl stir the caster sugar into the Pimms until it has dissolved. Add the orange zest and cream and whisk until it just holds it shape. Take four glass dishes and randomly layer up the strawberries, Pimms cream, meringue and sauce to create a ripple effect. Garnish with the mint.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Foodie Fuel

About fives months ago I took up running as a way to help me get a bit fitter. My husband is a keen runner and has run several marathons and for a long time he has encouraged me to have a go. So I donned a pair of trainers and went for my first run at the end of March. I found it extremely hard to start with and struggled to even get to the end of the road. I began my running with a combination of running and walking and gradually I was able to increase the time I was running for. Within about 6 weeks I was able to run for half an hour which I was really pleased with.

I then decided to join my husbands running club as they had just set up a group for beginners. So along I went and was extremely nervous and worried that I wouldn't be able to keep up. I have found it absolutely brilliant and in the three months that I have been going, I have really improved. Two weeks ago I managed to do a ten mile run. I was so pleased with myself as a few months ago I could never have imagined running so far.

I have picked up a lot of hints and tips from my fellow runners. One of the biggest topics we seem to discuss is what to eat prior to a race or a long run. I haven't been running all that long and so for me there is still a lot of trial and error. I have learnt not to drink orange juice before I go running though as it makes me a feel a little queasy. According to my fellow runners and advice I have found on the Runners World website, pasta is one of the best things to eat before a run. The slow release of carbohydrate is an excellent source of energy.

As I am now running more often and longer distances I have been trying out lots of different pasta recipes to give me some energy. The other day I was in a local book shop and picked up the Cook Yourself Thin Quick and Easy book. I often don't get home till quite late and this book looked as though it was full of quick and easy recipes that could be made in a few minutes. I'm really impressed with it and have made lots of the dishes already. The book is just as it says on the cover and is full of quick and simple recipes that are very healthy.

Orecchiette all Pugliese

This is a great healthy pasta dish that I made the other day. It originates from Puglia in Southern Italy. Traditionally the Italians make this dish with a type of brocolli called rapini. It is difficult to find in the UK but sprouting brocolli makes a great substitute.

This recipe serves 2, takes 5 minutes to prepare and about 15 minutes to cook.
  • 200g sprouting brocolli chopped into 2cm pieces

  • 125g orechiette pasta

  • extra virgin olive oil spray

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

  • 1 mild red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

  • salt and pepper

Boil the brocolli in salted water for about 3 minutes until it is just yielding. Drain and then refresh in cold water and set aside to dry.

Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions until al dente.

Heat a spritz of olive oil in a non stick frying pan. Add the garlic and the chilli. When the garlic is just staring to colour, add the brocolli. Saute for about five minutes until cooked. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the brocolli mixture to the cooked and drained pasta. Spritz once again with olive oil, stir together and serve.

This was a lovely dish and we'll definately be having it again. Another tip I've picked up from my running buddies is to take a few Jelly Babies sweets with you. If you are running out of energy near the end of your run they give you a little boost.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Happy Birthday Dad

Its my Dad's birthday today and I have spent this morning making him a birthday cake. I made my Dad's favourite cake which is a vanilla sponge and sandwiched 2 together with vanilla buttercream. I then used fondant icing to cover the cake and coloured some more icing a pale blue colour. With this I cut out some little blue star shapes and stuck them on the cake and then cut some ribbons from the icing.
I then cut into the top of the icing and carefull rolled back the ends. I completed the cake by winding some silver wire round a pencil to twist it and then stuck stars onto the end. These wires are inserted into a special holder that is popped into the middle of the cake. It looks like the stars are exploding out of the cake like a firework. As a finishing touch I filled the middle of the cake with edible silver balls.
I am keeping my fingers crossed that the cake will survive the journey later.
Happy birthday Dad.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Doggy Cupcakes

I have been very lax with my blog over recent weeks. I don't really have any excuses at all but life seems to have been very hectic over the past few weeks. I have been trying lots of new recipes and do my best to remember to photograph the finished results so hopefully I will have a bit more time now to post them here.

I got lots of book tokens for my birthday back in February and I just had to spend them on a new cook book or three. I was browsing the shelves in my local book shop and came across the book called Hello Cupcake The picture on the cover really caught my eye and after a quick flick through it went in my basket. When I got home I settled down on the sofa for a proper read and there are so many wonderful ideas in the book. There is an amazing idea for a tower of cupcakes like a circus complete with clowns, lions and elephants which I would love to try. In the end I settled on attempting to make some little doggy cupcakes. For my first attempt I think they came out pretty well and I was quite impressed with them. My little nephew thought they were amazing which was high praise indeed.

There are some recipes in the book but it is more focused on ideas for decorating the cakes. The book is an American book and some of the ingredients they suggest may be a bit difficult to find but I think that it would be quite easy to find substitutes for most things.

This is the list of ingredients that is listed in the book for these cakes. This is to make 6 cakes.
  • 6 standard cupcakes
  • 6 mini cupcakes
  • 1 can vanilla frosting
  • brown, black and yellow food colouring
  • 1 cup of dark chocolate frosting
  • 12 mini marshmallows
  • 1 tablespoon pink decorating sugar
  • 12 dark chocolate covered sunflower seeds
  • 4 cinnamon red hots
  • licorice laces

This is what I used instead which I found worked really well:

  • 6 standard cupcakes
  • 6 mini cupcakes
  • butter icing coloured cream, grey and a yellowy golden colour
  • mini marshmallows
  • a small amount of fondant icing coloured black Break off tiny pieces and roll into balls to make the eyes and nose tip.
  • pink caster sugar - this is made by placing some caster sugar in a small freezer bag and adding a tiny amount of pink food colouring. Rub the bag between you hands to colour the sugar.
  • a small amount of fondant icing coloured pink. Roll this out and cut out small tongue shapes for the cakes.

In order to ice the cakes you will need disposable icing bags. If you don't have these then you can use freezer/ziplock bags. If you use these instead then you will need to reinforce on corner of the bag with several layers of sticky tape. I had disposable icing bags so used this. You will need one for each colour. If you just want to make cakes of one colour then this will save on the bags.

Spoon the butter icing into the icing bag. Pinch the corner flat and the cut a small M shap in the corner. First make the head. Pipe a small dot of icing just below the middle of a small cupcake. Place a marshmallow pointed side up onto the frosting to make the muzzle. Pipe 2 small dots on opposite sides near the top of the cake. Cut a mashmallow in half and dip the cut side in the pink caster sugar. Attach to the top of the cake to make the ears. Pipe several lines of frosting to cover the rest of the marshmallows to make fluffy ears. Then starting at one ear, pipe 1.5cm strokes of icing around the edge of the cupcake and around up to the other ear, pulling the frosing away from the centre. Next start at the top of the head and pipe tufts of icing between the ears. Then cover the marshmallow nose by starting at the top of the nose and covering the sides. Pipe smaller lines on the front of the marshmallow to cover the nose. When this is done attach two small black balls of fondant icing to make the eyes and another one on the end of the nose. Then attach a pink fondant tongue under the nose.

To make the body of the dog, take a standard cupcake and icing of the same colour as the head. Start piping about 1.5 cm in from the edge of the cake and pull out to the edge. Work aound the whole of the cake. Continue building rows on the icing until the whole cake is covered. Turn the decorated head on its side and place on the body.


Saturday, 4 April 2009

Puff Pastry

Just the other day I took a trip to my local butcher where I bought some sausagemeat as I was planning on making some sausage rolls. My husband Paul really likes them so I thought I'd make some for him to be able to take to work for his lunch. I often make pastry for both savoury and sweet dishes but I have never before made puff pastry. I always thought it sounded far too complicated and so I normally cheat and buy the ready made kind.

No I am not going to post about making sausage rolls with bought puff pastry. I have recently purchased Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cookery Course and as I was flicking through it I found a recipe for puff pastry. After reading the recipe several times I thought I would be adventurous and give it a try. I did buy some ready made puff pastry as a back up just in case.

I found that the pastry wasn't actually that difficult to make although it did take a little time. It was more than worth the effort though as it tasted amazing and so much better than the stuff you can buy in the supermarket. I will definately be making this again so that pack I bought will be languishing in my freezer for a long time to come.

In the book Darina says it is essential to use butter rather than margarine to make this and apparently puff pastry should have 729 layers. I'm not sure if mine had quite that many but it was lovely. I used my pastry to make sausage rolls and I also had enough to top a chicken and bacon pie.

This recipe makes about 1.25kg

  • 450g chilled strong flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 300-350ml cold water
  • squeeze lemon juice (optional)
  • 450g butter, firm but pliable

Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl and mix to a firm dough with ate and a squeeze of lemon juice. This dough is called detrempe. Cover with greaseproof paper or cling film and rest for 30 minutes in the fridge.

Roll the detrempe into a square about 1cm thick. Unwrap the butter and shape into a slab roughly 2cm thick. If the butter is very hard, beat it (still in the wrapper) with a rolling pin until it is pliable but not sticky. Place in the centre of the dough and fold the dough over the edges of the butter to make a neat parcel.

If you have a marble slab then do use that but if not then just use your work top. Make sure your work surface is well floured, then flatten the dough with a rolling pin and continue to roll out into a rectangle about 45cm long and 15cm wide. Fold neatly into three and align the sides as accurately as possible. Seal the edges buy pressing with a rolling pin.

Give the dough a one quarter turn. It shoudl not be on your pastry bench as though it was a book with the ends facing north/south. Roll out again, fold in three and seal the edges with the rolling pin. Cover with cling film or greaseproof paper and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

The pastry has now had 2 rolls or turns. Repeat the process another 2 times, giving the pastry 6 rolls altogether with a 30 minute rest in the fridge between every 2 rolls. Chill for at least 30 minutes before using.

Note: Each time you roll the pastry place in on the worktop with the ends north/south as if it were a book. In hot weather it may be necessary to chill the pastry for slightly longer between rollings.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Lamb Shanks

My local butcher is wonderful and I get all of our meat there. He is always happy to offer advice and always has such a fabulous selection. He sells amazing sausages that are my husbands favourite. When I visited the other day I noticed that he had some lamb shanks. I have had these on several occasions when I have been out but have never cooked them myself. Along with lots of other goodies I decided to buy a couple.

So when I get home I had a good look through my cookery books so that I could decide on the best way to cook these. My butcher recommended long slow cooking and I found lots of wonderful recipes. In the end I decided to use some ideas from a recipe in one of my books but I made some changes.

I cooked my lamb shanks for about three hours and they were divine. I served them with buttery mashed potato. They were a real hit and I'll definately get them again.

This recipe serves 2.

  • 2 lamb shanks
  • olive oil
  • 1 leek chopped
  • 1 stick celery chopped
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 4-5 garlic cloves unpeeled
  • 1 carrot roughly sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 200ml red wine
  • 300ml chicken stock

Take a large casserole dish place on the hob over a high heat. Pour in enough olive oil to fill the casserole dish so it is about 1cm deep. When hot add the lamb shanks and turn them occasionally until they are browned.

Once the lamb shanks are nicely browned remove them from the casserole and place on a warmed plate. Add the leek, celery, onion, carrot and garlic to the casserole dish. Stir them together and then add the bay leaf, thyme and rosemary.

Once the vegetables are lightly browned place the lamb shanks back into the pot so that it rests on top of the vegetables.

Pour in the red wine and the chicken stock and bring to the boil.

Place the lid on the casserole dish and place in an oven that has been preheated to gas mark 2/ 150C. Cook slowly for about 3 hours or longer if you want. Before serving remove the herbs. Once ready lift the lamb shanks from the dish and place on warmed plates. Serve with the vegetables and the red wine sauce from the casserole dish.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Floral Cupcakes

I have recently become a Pampered Chef consultant which I am really enjoying. I get to meet lots of people that love to cook and I get to use some fantastic equipment. I will do a separate post all about my new job but for now I will just say that I am loving it.

As part of my kit I got a floral shaped silocone cupcake mould. I have had it for a few weeks now and have been debating what to make in it. I did think about making a frozen dessert but in the end I decided to make some cupcakes. I was a bit apprehenisve about getting them out of the mould but they popped out so easily and look so pretty.

This recipe is quick and simple to make so is perfect for when you fancy cake but don't have much time. If you don't have a silicone mould then you can use this recipe to make normal cupcakes in cases.

I was really pleased with how these turned out and I will definately be using this cupcake mould to make lots more pretty cakes.

This recipe makes 12 cupcakes.

Sunflower oil for spraying
1 lemon
1 orange
155g softened butter
155g light brown sugar
2 eggs beaten
155g self raising flour
half teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons milk
60g caster sugar
Icing sugar to decorate

Preheat the oven to 180C / Gas 4.
Spray the cupcake pan with sunflower oil.
Zest the lemon and orange.
Cream together the butter and sugar until light anf fluffy.
Gradually beat in eggs and then stir in lemon and orange zest.
Fold in the flour and baking powder and then gently stir in the milk.
Place a level scoop in each well of the pan dividing mixture evenly. Bake for15-18 minutes. Remove the cakes from the oven.
Sqeeze the juice from the lemon and orange. Combine the 2 juices and stir in the caster sugar. Poor the sugar juice mixture over the hot cakes and allow to cool completely.

Carefully remove cakes from mould. Sprinkle with icing sugar.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Oven Baked Lamb Chops

Britsh sheep have an ability to thrive on fairly marginal land. They are therefore much less likely to be subjected to intensive farming. Lamb is a distinctive and flavoursome meat. There are some regional variations in taste and flavour which is the result of different breads and the variable quality and character of the grazing land.

Just the other day I bought some lamb chops from my local butcher. I was assured by him that these sheep were locally reared and had spent their days running about on a Dorset hillside. Once I got them home I had to decide how to cook and serve them. Normally I just grill them but I fancied something a bit different. I spent a good couple of hours flicking through my cookery books and in the end I decided to oven bake them.

I hadn't cooked lamb chops like this before but they were truly delicious and I will definately be doing them this way again. I made an onion and rosemary sauce to go with them and served my lamb with some buttery new potatoes and steamed vegetables. It was so easy to just pop the chops in the oven. While they were baking I made the sauce and cooked the potatoes and vegetables.

This recipe serves 2.

4 lamb chops (or more if you fancy it)
1 small onion peeled and chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 6, 200C.
Firstly place the lamb chops in a shallow roasting tin and pop the chopped onion around them. Season with salt and paper and then place on a high shelf in the oven to bake. I like my lamb a little pink so cooked them for about 30 minutes. If you like yours more well done then increase the cooking time.

While the lamb chops are baking you can whip up the sauce easily. For that you will need:

1 small onion peeled and finely chopped
1 rounded teaspoon of rosemary leaves
15g butter
15g plain flour
85ml milk
85ml vegetable stock
1 tablespoon double cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter and sweat the onions over a gentle heat for five minutes. Meanwhile bruise the rosemary leaves in a pestle and mortar to release their oil and then chop them finely. Add them to the onion and cook gently uncovered for about 15 minutes. Now using a wooden spoon stir in the flour until smooth. Gradually stir in the milk followed by the stock and stir vigorously with a balloon whisk. Season with salt and pepper and then simmer for 2 minutes. Then remove from the heat and liquidise in the pan with a stick blender. If you don't have one then pour the sauce into a conventional blender and liquidise. Then stir in the cream.

Once cooked remove the chops from the oven. The onion will have roasted and caramelised too which is lovely so dish these up along with the chops. Serve the chops with with the sauce poured over and enjoy.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

A Cake Full of Truffles

I have had a heart shaped cake tin languishing in my cupboard for months and I thought that Valentines day was the perfect time to dust it off and use it. We don't normally celebrate Valentines but I thought I would bake a cake for my husband. After consultanting my cookery books I decided to try and create a chocolate box full of truffles. I was quite pleased with the end result and my husband was very impressed although a little guilty that he didn't get me anything. Ah well it is my birthday soon so maybe he will make up for it then.

So on to the cake. I decided to make a chocolate cake and used a recipe from my Divine Chocolate book. All of the recipes that I have tried from this book have been wonderful. I really do like this book but then I love anything to do with chocolate.

While the cake was baking and then cooling I started to make the chocolate truffles. These are so easy to make yet totally delicious. I have made them several times and they make a wonderful gift too. I decided to flavour these truffles with some Baileys Irish Cream but they are still delicious without this. I had to go back and finish the truffles later as you do need to let the mixture set for several hours.

The truffle recipe

275g dark chocolate broken into piece
250ml double cream
50g unsalted butter at room temperature
3-4 tablespoons Baileys Irish Cream according to taste

1. Place the chocolate in a large bowl. Bring the cream to the boil and pour it over the chocolate. Stir gently until the chocolate has melted, trying not to create bubbles. Leave to cool for 2 mins. 2. Add the butter in two stages, stiring gently. Once the butter is incorporated, the ganache should be smooth and glossy with no oil slick on the surface. Set the truffle mixture in the fridge for a minimum of 3 hours or overnight.
3. Remove the ganache from the fridge about 15 mins before you want to make the truffles, depending on room temperature. Put the cocoa in a bowl. Ensure your hands are cold and dry, then dust them with cocoa.
4. Take spoonfuls of the ganache mixture (use a teaspoon or tablespoon depending on how large you like your truffles) and roll the mixture into a ball in your cocoa-dusted hands. I decided to coat some of my truffles in melted chocolate and some in cocoa. For the cocoa dusted ones, drop each shaped truffle into the bowl of cocoa, turn it around and then toss it between your palms to remove any excess powder. Please each individual truffle in a mini petit four case. For the other truffles melt some chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. I did some white chocolate and some milk chocolate. Leave the melted chocolate to cool. Once cooled dip the truffles in the chocolate and place on baking paper to set. Once set put each truffle into a mini petit four case.

Once the cake is cool, slice it into two with a sharp knife. Make some chocolate ganache by melting 100g of dark chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Once it has melted whisk in 175ml double cream until it is smooth. Leave to cool and then spread some chocolate ganache on one half of the cake and then sandwich the two halfs back together again. Use the rest of the chocolate ganache to ice the top and sides of the cake.

Then draw an outline of the cake tin onto some baking parchment and cut it out. You will need red fondant icing for the next part. I cheated and bought mine from my local cake shop but you can colour it yourself with food colouring. Roll out the icing and then place your baking parchment heart on the top. Use a cocktail stick to mark the heart onto the icing. Cut out the heart shape and place on the top of your cake.

Roll out some more red fondant into a long strip. Cut the edges so they are straight and make sure that the strip is slightly wider than the height of the cake. Carefully wrap the strip of fondant around the cake. I rolled out my fondant a little thin so I would recomment that you keep this quite thick so that it doesn't bend over where it is higher than the cake.

Then all you need to do is fill the top of the cake with your truffles.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Tea Cosies for Breast Cancer

No you aren't seeing things. These ladies are wearing tea cosies on their heads. These lovely ladies are from the Exeter branch of the Country Woman's Association in New South Wales, Australia. They are doing something amazing in order to raise money for women with breast cancer. The idea is to knit or create wild and wonderful tea cosies which will be auctioned or sold for this very worthwhile charity.

If you would like more information or would like to create a cosy of your own then have a look at their website for some more information. You can find the link here

So come on everyone, knit or make a wild, whacky and wonderful tea cosy for a very good cause. I will be having a go although I have never knitted anything before.