Archive | March, 2013

First ever nomination : The Liebster Award

28 Mar

I’m so excited to have received a nomination from amazing Amy at ‘Pass the mixing bowl‘. It’s nice to know that my little blog gets read from time to time. From reading Amy’s blog, I understand that this award is for blogs with under 200 followers. A bit of a boost I suppose, to give people a bit of impetus to keep going!

I’m a bit new to this, but it looks like there are some rules:

The Rules of the Award:

1. Post eleven facts about yourself.
2. Answer the questions the tagger has set for you and create eleven questions for people you’ve nominated.
3. Choose eleven people (with fewer than 200 followers) to give this award to and link them in your post.
4. Go to their page and tell them.
5. Remember, no tag backs.

So here goes!

Eleven facts about me:

1. I’m a medical student.
2. I grew up in Taiwan and Holland, and came over to the UK to study when I turned 18.
3. I love fitness…
4. …but I love cake and food so much that you can’t often really tell.
5. My first degree was in Neuroscience, and I’m a bit of a geek.
6. I’d love to live in Australia at some point. Sunshine!
7. I recently started PoleFit (not the stripping kind, the fitness kind!) and it’s a LOT of fun!
8. I’ve jumped out of a plane by myself.
9. I find baking relaxing.
10. I worry too much what other people think.
11. Espresso martinis = bliss!

Answers to Amy’s questions:

  1. How many hours sleep do you get, on average, each night? seven-eight
  2. Savoury breakfast, or sweet? savoury; poached eggs any day!
  3. Where would you like to be at this specific moment in time? on a beach somewhere hot
  4. Current profession? medical student
  5. Pastry, cake or biscuit – which would you prefer to eat now? cake!!!
  6. What would you like to have achieved by the end of the year? pass my medical exams and go on holiday
  7. What would you consider to be your comfort food? ben and jerry’s cookie dough ice cream
  8. If you could have 5 people, dead or alive, at your dinner table, who would they be? mother teresa, stephen fry, jessica ennis, michel roux junior, albert einstein 
  9. Dinners or puddings? ooo, that’s difficult. Dinners.  
  10. Favourite place you’ve ever been to? Thailand.
  11. What would you say was your favourite dinner? Thai food.

Questions for my nominees to answer:

1. What’s your fondest memory?
2. What’s your favourite flavour ice cream?
3. If you could be anything in the world what would it be?
4. If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
5. What is the most difficult thing you have ever cooked/baked?
6. What has been your proudest moment?
7. Summer, winter, autumn or spring?
8. Beach, adventure, snow or cultural holiday?
9. What’s the most interesting place that you’ve ever been to?
10. White, milk or dark chocolate?
11. What would you cook if money and time were no object?

My nominees (I appreciate that some of these blogs have over 200 followers…but I love reading them and I haven’t yet quite worked out how to find new blogs…!!)

1. The Earnest Baker

2. Emily Clarke Food

3. The Cooking Chook

4. The Dessert Spoon

5. Handmade or the Highway

6. Leagrizel26

7. Cook With Molly

8. Chez Catey Lou

9. Emily Cooks Vegan

10. Bakingblonde’s Weblog

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Button cupcakes

28 Mar

So…the reason we were going a bit button-happy with the old fondant was because my lovely housemate Hannah had a bit of a bake off at work, and the theme was ‘collections’. I’m sure a lot of you all have that little box under the stairs with random odd buttons which don’t really match anything, big ones, small ones, that odd cracked one which is still there because, well, it just belongs in the button box. No? Just me? I used to love rummaging through my mum’s button box. The lovely noise that the buttons make when they clip against one another, and the wonderful feel of the cool little shapes when you trickle your fingers through them…(simple things!).

Anyway! So buttons were to be the ‘collection’ item, and we tried to recreate some of that magic of the button box with fondant. The cupcake recipe was a straightforward chocolate sponge from the hummingbird bakery cookbook, with a vanilla frosting (which I can wholeheartedly recommend after Hannah left me one this morning…..I was going to be good and only have a little nibble and a healthy breakfast, and save the rest until later, but it was so good, it lasted all of about five minutes. Whoops!).

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It is such a simple idea but is so colourful and pretty (and tasty!). It turns a very simple cupcake into something much more fun and creative. Yum!

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Battenburg

25 Mar

My goodness, I can’t believe I overlooked posting this recipe! A couple of months ago Pat challenged me to make something a bit different, and as I’d always wanted to try out a battenburg I thought I’d give it a go. It really isn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, although my mathematical measurements weren’t entirely accurate after a glass or two of wine (*ahem*), so my trusty (very-good-with-problem-solving) housemate was on hand to make sure I measured out the right size of marzipan. Ha!

I used a standard square cake tin and made a divider using silver foil and greaseproof paper, with a little butter on the bottom to make sure it stuck. Take a bit of time getting this perfect, and it’ll make measuring out the cake that much easier later! You can pretty much use any standard sponge recipe, and add a few drops of pink food colouring to half of it.

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Recipe

  • 175g butter or margarine
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 175g SR flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • A few drops pink food colouring
  • 6-7 tbsp apricot jam
  • 500g marzipan

Preheat the oven to 180C (fan), and grease the square tin. Cut a strip of silver foil the same length as the tin, and fold it to make a vertical fold (check out my ‘how to prep a Christmas pudding’ pictures to get an idea) which stands up in the tin to divide it into two equal parts (make sure it’s as high as the tin edges!). Continue to line the rest of the tin with greaseproof paper.

Cream the butter and sugar with an electric whisk, then add the eggs one at a time with the vanilla essence. Fold in the sifted flour, and then place half the batter in one side of the prepared tin. Add a few drops of food colouring to the other half of the batter – it doesn’t need to be hugely dark, as the baking process will bring out the colour (and too much colouring will give your sponge a dodgy aftertaste). Place the pink batter into the other half of the tin, and bake in the preheated oven for around 20-25 minutes. Keep an eye on them; they want to be spongy and light, not dry! Turn them out to cool on a wire rack.

Now for the fun part!

If the sponges are a bit dome shaped, I can’t recommend the use of a cake leveller enough. They are so easy to use and they ensure that the cakes are exactly the same height! If not, a sharp knife will do, just to make sure they’re pretty symmetrical. Divide each sponge rectangle into two equal long pieces. If you’re a bit of a perfectionist like me, you can get a ruler out just to make sure they’re all the same length/width.

Warm your jam in the microwave for a bit until it is nice and runny and sticky, and stick the four sponges together.

Roll out your marzipan (you can use a bit of icing sugar to make sure it doesn’t stick) into a rectangle, making sure that it will be long enough to go round the WHOLE cake. It doesn’t need to cover the ends. I ended up rolling mine quite thinly as Pat doesn’t like marzipan too much (and, err…I had nibbled through quite a bit of it by the time it came to assembly…).

Brush some of the left over jam onto the centre of the marzipan, and place your assembled sponge onto the jam. Continue to brush all of the sides of the cake with the jam, then carefully bring the marzipan up the sides of the cake, pressing gently to ensure it sticks, and make a join in the centre of the cake. Carefully flip the cake over so that the join is on the bottom. To tidy things up (aka have an excuse to sample the cake, obviously), trim off a slice from each end. You can crimp the sides a little by pinching between a thumb and finger to make it a little prettier.

Voila. Beautiful, impressive baking, which really isn’t too difficult – and is a lot of fun to make!

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Tarte tartin

17 Mar

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I’ve never had a tarte tartin before, but after watching one of my pudding-making-idols, Michel Roux Jr, make it look so easy I thought I’d give it a go. With limited ingredients it was a perfect option to take and make fresh at my sister’s place for a quick sweet treat after a wonderful dinner with friends.

On the one hand I’m a little confuzzled because I read quite a few recipes before embarking on this new bake-a-sode, and some use short crust pastry while others use puff pastry. I am not fond of soggy pastry and prefer it relatively crisp, but this method creates so much delicious syrupy sauce that the pastry doesn’t really stand a chance once you’ve flipped it over! I’m not sure whether short crust pastry might be a better option? Any tarte tartin making regulars who could offer some advice?

On the other hand, it’s apples, sugar, butter and pastry – what’s not to love?!

From a health perspective, err…I’ve got nothing. I’m not sure it needs the additional butter (I hear the Frenchies gasp at such a suggestion), OR the additional sugar (as the apples are quite sweet already), and omitting them would seriously reduce the calories! Will try it out next time.

Recipe (serves 6)
6 cox apples, peeled, cored and sliced relatively thinly
110g caster sugar
110g unsalted butter
500g ready made puff pastry (was pushed for time!)
Single cream, to serve

Put about 2/3 of the sugar into a oven proof frying pan (about 20cm is good) over a low/medium flame and allow to caramelise. Don’t stir but do to tip and turn the pan sometimes to make sure it’s not burning. You want a nice golden colour – too brown is not a good sign!

Take off the heat and arrange the apples on the bottom of the pan. A bit of overlap is fine.

Stick in the oven at 250C for ten minutes until the apples have softened and released some juice, then take out of the oven and turn the temperature down to 220C.

Scatter over the rest of the sugar and dot the butter in places over the top. Roll out about 3/4 of your pastry into a circle big enough to fit over the pan, and tuck the edges down into the pan using a wooden spoon – the pan and caramel will be super hot, no burned fingertips please!

Plonk back in the oven for twenty minutes until the pastry is puffed up and golden, then put a large serving plate over the top of the pan and carefully flip over to serve, along with a drizzle of cream.

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Seared Duck with Smoky Savoy Cabbage

13 Mar

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I cooked up a bit of an indulgent treat for a special occasion for myself and Pat. After the delicious scallops, I chose to try cooking duck again! Last time I wasn’t overly taken with the recipe I used, but this one from Good Food (original recipe here) had good reviews, and was one of the slightly healthier recipes available so I thought I’d give it a go.

Although being a slightly more of a fatty meat than other meats like chicken (but surprisingly not by much at all if you don’t eat the skin), duck is an excellent source of iron, protein and B vitamins. Importantly, most B vitamins can only be obtained from the diet, so duck is a great idea to make sure your stores are well-plenished. My advice? Don’t eat the skin, and you’ll be grand!

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Bizarrely I seem to have come this far in life without cooking cabbage! Cabbage is a fabulously nutritious vegetable: high in antioxidants, full of anti-inflammatory properties annnnnd even has cancer fighting properties. Savoy cabbage is wonderful – smoky flavours made ever more tasty with the somewhat mischievous addition of some smoked bacon, and ridiculously easy to prepare.

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The dish turned out beautifully, and with a little artistic flair I managed to plate it up looking as though it was something actually quite impressive (*smug face* *sigh of relief*). It was made all the easier because it essentially used only one pan, cutting down on the washing up (because let’s be honest, who likes washing up?!). The cooking times are really accurate, and I only made a couple of little tweaks to try and reduce the amount of rendered fat that I was cooking things in.

This is a great option if you’re looking for something a bit special, and a bit different to something you’d eat everyday. I like to prepare everything in advance and have everything ready to cook for when we’ve finished the starter.

Recipe (serves 2)

2 duck breasts
1 tsp cracked black pepper
600g cooked new potatoes , thickly sliced
Handful flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
6 rashers smoked streaky bacon, chopped
1 Savoy cabbage, cored and finely sliced
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil

– Lightly score the skin of the duck breasts diagonally, then rub in the cracked pepper peppercorns and a pinch or two of of salt.

– Gently heat a non stick pan over a low/medium flame and place the duck breasts, skin-side down, in a large non-stick frying pan. Leave it for 15 mins until golden brown and it has released a good deal of fat, then flip over onto the flesh side for 5 mins.

– Remove the duck from the pan and place on a preheated plate, cover with foil to keep warm, then turn up the heat. Add the potatoes to the pan, and fry until brown and crispy. Scatter over the parsley and garlic, then take out with a slotted spoon and place into a bowl lined with kitchen paper (to remove excess fat) and season with salt.

– Pour off some of the juices/fat into a little jug at this stage, to make the sauce later (alternatively, you could use just 1-2 tbsp duck fat for the sauce, and substitute with olive oil). If you prefer, pour it all off, wipe it with some kitchen paper and add a little butter to the pan. Fry the bacon until crisp, then add the cabbage. Cook for 1 min, add a splash of water, then cook for another 2 mins, until the cabbage is wilted.

– While the cabbage is cooking, mix any of the juices you put to one side from the duck with the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Slice the duck and arrange onto your preheated plates, pile a load of cabbage on one side, and a heap of potatoes on the other. Drizzle over your dressing and serve alongside a scrummy red wine. Delicious, impressive, and pretty straightforward!

Brew Lab, Edinburgh

6 Mar

So as you know from my last post I spent a sneaky last minute weekend in Edinburgh. Pat has been working up there so I felt it only fitting to go up and pay a visit! Edinburgh is a beautiful city and we crammed a lot into such a short time – staying true to ourselves, most of it revolved around food, drink and coffee!! (Hard sessions in the gym this week to make up for it…)

One of the places which we were recommended to pay a visit to was Brew Lab, South College Street. It’s a lovely coffee shop just off the main street, close to the university and surgical museum (which much to my disappointment was closed when we were there – it looks really quite cool!)

Brew Lab looks pretty modern from the outside, but inside it retains some of its old brickwork charm. The first thing you see are the amazing looking pastries and cakes (which I somehow spectacularly managed to refrain from gobbling up), and then the smiley faces behind the counter. It’s all set up a little like a chemistry lab (in the loosest sense of the word) – all coffee making paraphernalia is on show (featuring a very high tech looking kettle type thing built into the counter) and the coffee types are arranged on the wall as though they are part of the periodic table. Appealed to my scientific side, of course! We went relatively early on a Sunday and the atmosphere was really laid back. It’s very spacious inside, with a large table in the centre of the place, perfect for friendly get togethers, and more private, intimate tables spotted around with comfy sofas, partially hidden by walls and corners. There were a few people dotted around the place but it was really quite quiet, just the ticket for a Sunday morning coffee and a relaxed lazy read of one of the many Sunday papers available (for those of you that don’t know, reading more of the news and learning more about the world in general was one of my New Years’ Resolutions…so the paper has become a bit of an old, comforting friend!).

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The coffee beans seemed to be mainly from Has Bean (they seem to be doing pretty well for themselves as suppliers! Unsurprising to me as my brief encounters with them have been more than enjoyable – the team there are just incredible), although there were a couple of other suppliers which I noticed. I chose a skinny latte and Pat had a filter coffee. My latte was made beautifully, and the flavour was quite mild and nutty, with hints of gentle vanilla. I think I would have preferred this particular one as a flat white (after a particularly strong flat white elsewhere the day before I had decided to go for something a little less intense!). Pat’s filter was a great flavour – again quite mild and mellow but lovely and nutty, with subtle deep dark fruit tones. Perhaps this choice of beans was in fact, a little too mild for our tastes. His only gripe with his filter was that it was served in a small metal jug on the side – which although aesthetically pleasing, meant that the coffee dropped its temperature pretty quickly. He is someone who normally drinks his coffee brewed at temperatures below boiling (~95C, the proper way!), but even this was a little too lukewarm for him!

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Overall the place is well worth a visit; it’s great for intimate coffee dates yet accommodates for larger friendly get togethers too. The coffee is high quality, and the baristas are lovely too! If you fancy buying any of those crazy high tech aeropress coffee making madness things, they’re on offer as well. A coffee will set you back anything from around £2.00 – £3.00 (I’m still getting my head around the steep speciality coffee prices, but I guess you get what you pay for). As prices go in Edinburgh I can’t really compare, but it’s comparable with the London prices, and the coffee is high quality. A fine coffee drinking establishment! And the cakes look amazing too….

They’ve got a fantastic and informative website which you can check out here: www.brewlabcoffee.co.uk

Easy squeazy lemon cheesecake

5 Mar

I’m so sorry…again, it has been much too long since I have written up some tasty culinary delight. Life has been crazy! Finished up my geriatrics placement (which I loved) and I’m now back at University. I also spent a wonderful last minute weekend up in Edinburgh which was so much fun, but a little over-indulgent! I did however walk up Arthur’s seat, so in my mind that walking cancelled out some of the delicious food, wine, cocktails, coffees and pastries (some reviews to follow).

This one is an absolute failsafe which I think I learned how to make at school when I was about 14 years old, and everyone seems to enjoy. I’ve experimented with it once or twice over the years, and the worst that has happened was that it went a little bit runny on an occasion that I only used two lemons. The trick is to make sure you have big fat juicy lemons; the acidic juice reacts with the fats and proteins in the condensed milk/cream cheese to apparently form a bit of a mesh which holds any liquid in a gelatinous suspension (again, science is cool!).

It’s particularly good when you know that you’re going to have a super busy week, a mid week dinner party and you have about 15 minutes to whip up a delicious pud. I’m not going to pretend that there are any health benefits to this…there are not, however it is one of the healthier recipes that I’ve found for cheesecake!

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Recipe (serves 6-8)

  • 10 digestive biscuits, bashed up to make nice crumbs
  • 50g unsalted butter, melted
  • 25g demerara sugar
  • 1 can condensed milk (397g)
  • 150ml single or double cream
  • 175g low fat cream cheese
  • 3 big fat chubby juicy lemons, washed

To make the base:

Once the butter is melted, mix the bashed up biscuit crumbs and sugar into it until well coated. Use this to form a nice base in a non stick cake tin (an 8ish inch tin is probably a good size). With the back of a metal spoon smooth the base and squash it together a bit so that it is nicely packed into place. Place in the fridge until you need it.

To make the filling:

Finely grate the rind of all lemons into a large bowl. Add the cream cheese, condensed milk and cream and whisk it up with an electric hand whisk until nice and smooth.

Juice the lemons into a small jug or mug and make sure there are no pips hiding. Slowly add the lemon juice in little bits at a time to the cheesy mixture, whisking after each addition. The filling will thicken up as you add the lemon juice. Give it a good old whisk (a little trick I use if I think my lemons are a bit ‘unjuicy’ is to have some bottled lemon juice handy and add a couple of tablespoons of that to the mix).

After having an obligatory little taste of the (now very delicious) filling, pour it over the refrigerated base (leaving a tiny bit at the bottom of the bowl) and leave to chill in the fridge overnight.

Now, get yourself a spoon and some of the left over digestive biscuits, and enjoy the little bit that you’ve left at the bottom of the bowl. NOM! Just a quick note too – I’ve found that some cake tins allow some of the yummy sugary lemony goo to leak out a tiny bit (it by no means affects anything to do with the cheesecake outcome, but does leave a bit of a mess), so it’s worth sticking the cake tin on a plate in the fridge just to be on the safe side!