Friday, 17 April 2015

How to make a Sugarpaste Teddy Bear

Making a cake for someone who is expecting or just had a baby is a lovely thing to do – and this teddy cake topper is really easy to make.  

This teddy was the result of a half-day course I took one Saturday at the Sutton College of Learning for Adults. The class was aimed at all levels, though everyone but me was an absolute beginner! Luckily, while I knew the techniques to make sugarpaste animals (you’ll see from this cow and this sheep that it is basically the same approach)
I hadn’t actually made a teddy bear before, so it was quite fun.
I made mine lilac as I thought that was fairly gender neutral, using the lilac Sugarflair paste, while most other people did pink or blue. A light caramel brown would also work nicely with darker brown perhaps on the ears and face.
You can either buy ready-coloured sugarpaste or colour your own (which is more cost-efficient), kneading a few drops of colour into the paste.
To make the teddy bear, take a ball of sugarpaste (also called fondant or roll-out icing) about the size of an egg, and roll in the palms of your hands to make it roughly the same shape as an egg. This is your body.

Take a smaller ball and roll into a circle – this is your head. To fix the head to the body, we used both edible glue and a cocktail stick – insert the stick into the body and if desired paint a little edible glue around it, and place the head on top so it is secure. If you use a cocktail stick you need to make sure the teddy bear isn’t eaten, or that it is dismantled first by someone who knows there is a cocktail stick in it! Personally I prefer to use the slight stickiness of the sugarpaste itself and a little edible glue to stick on parts, and do without cocktail sticks – but if you are worried about transporting it, then perhaps go for the added stability.

Roll two short sausages for the legs, and press one end together so it’s flat, and stick that to the side or underside of the body depending on where you want the legs to be placed.
Do the same with smaller sausages for the arms.

Using a small balling tool make an indentation in each paw. Using a cocktail stick or a cone modelling tool, make some small dots around the larger indentation for the marks on the bear’s paws. You can also flatten a tiny ball of white fondant, add this to the end of the paws and make the marks as described.

Make two small balls, press to flatten and shape so they are broadly triangular – fix to the head with edible glue for the ears. You can use the same small balling tool to make indentations in the ears.
Make a small ball of white fondant, flatten and stick onto the face to make the nose and mouth area. Make a tiny ball from black fondant or use a black edible ink pen to mark on the nose and mouth. You can also use the scallop modelling tool for the mouth.

Finally make two tiny balls from white, flatten them and stick to the head with edible glue for the eyes. Repeat with even tinier pieces of black for the pupils, or use the edible ink pen.

I gave my teddy bear a bow tie made by rolling thin sausages of fondant and shaping. You could also give your bear a hat, or a flower behind one ear, or anything you like!

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Aston Martin Supercar Theme Party

This year my boyfriend’s birthday cake was in the shape of his new car – an Aston Martin – but I didn’t stop there. I decided to throw him a car-themed birthday party and you can do the same for anyone who is crazy about supercars, or cars in general.

As he’s an adult I wanted to steer clear (steer, geddit?!) of a Disney Cars theme, though it easy to pick up all sorts of partyware from many supplies if that is the theme you want. I wanted a more sophisticated supercar or Aston Martin theme.
I found these paper plates featuring a steering wheel and a related range of tableware on a couple of websites but unfortunately they were all out of stock so I ended up not buying any. There were others which might have worked but I felt were more of a Formula 1 theme than supercars.
When I made the birthday cake, I had some batter left over so used it to make cupcakes.

I'm not sure why they came out perfectly flat but that was just what I wanted!

I had ordered some rice paper discs printed with the Aston Martin logo from Ebay and put a circle of icing on each cake and the disc on top. I made the icing silvery-grey by using a little Dr. Oetker black food colouring – it’s hard to get a true black particularly with a liquid, but if what you are after is grey then this is perfect!

I also made some car cookies. CakeMart contacted me recently and offered a selection of products to review and I had a wonderful time browsing their site and making a wish list. They have a massive range of baking and cake decorating supplies and the section on cookie cutters is outstanding. You can buy cutters in shapes I would never have imagined, from the Eiffel Tower to a peace sign to a guitar to the Facebook logo!  I was particularly taken by the cookie cutter in the shape of the head of one Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – I guess you could describe him as the German equivalent of Shakespeare – as I did my university dissertation on him!
That might sound very random but CakeMart is actually a German company, hence the odd Germanic-themed cookie cutter or Gugelhupf cake tin. But I was using the UK version of their site, which has prices in pounds (very good prices too – a high proportion of the cookie cutters are under £3 and there are a lot of great novelty cake tins around the £10 mark) and shipping in the UK is no more than you would pay from a UK –based site – in fact less as you can get free delivery if you spend over £65. Delivery time is 2-5 working days and my parcel arrived very promptly after only two days – the only thing I would mention is that the delivery confirmation I received by email was in German!
While I was browsing the huge range of cookie cutters I found this sports car one which I knew would be perfect for my boyfriend’s birthday:

Staedter is a very well respected German bakeware brand and the cookie cutter was very detailed and sturdy. It is easy to use – I learnt after a couple of attempts not to press right down or the middle sections would cut through the cookie dough. Instead, press almost the whole way and you end up with indentations showing the pattern – which come out perfectly after baking.

I didn’t want to decorate the cookies as the cutter makes them look so good just as they are, so I decided to make the cookies chocolate flavour. I used a basic sugar cookie dough recipe with cocoa powder added, which tasted delicious. I served them with some of the leftover chocolate ganache from the cake for dipping which was very well received as an idea!

So what else did my boyfriend have for his supercar-themed party? I wrapped his presents in Batman paper as I couldn’t find anything car-related and thought that as far as supercars go, the Batmobile is right up there!
I also managed to get him quite a few car-themed presents. His main birthday present was a car photography day at Brooklands, with Jason Dodd. He did this just before his birthday and really enjoyed it – they were a small group so had a lot of one-on-one support and tuition from Jason. The best thing was that my boyfriend was able to bring his own car so got some very professional looking photos of it; there were other cars available for them to photograph as well but I gather his car was the favourite!


I think the supercar theme works really well as a party whether it's for a teenager or an adult and I'm really glad I came across the car cookie cutters as they went perfectly with the cake.

Thanks to CakeMart for the cookie cutter to review. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

F1 Foods: China roundup and the next challenge

China has had a grand prix circuit since 2004 which is longer than I realised - unfortunately last weekend's race doesn't seem to have inspired many people to cook! I made a Chinese meal for dinner -Oriental chicken from the Food Doctor book, which you can see here.

Jane from Onions and Paper used to live in the Far East and says she loved to eat Chilli Prawns. She tried many times to recreate the recipe until she discovered the missing ingredient - you'll have to check out her blog to see what it is!

The Formula 1 season continues straight away with another race this weekend, this time in Bahrain. I have a feeling that this might stump a lot of you as well but it only took me a few minutes on the internet to find a suitable recipe! You can make anything, sweet or savoury, from or inspired by the country or indeed inspired by the grand prix.

Add your entries to the linkup here

Monday, 13 April 2015

Meal Planning Monday 2015 - Week 16

Monday- working from home as I have the dentist at 11.30 which means I might not be able to eat much for lunch!
Dinner- sausage and mash (Quorn or Slimming World sausages for me)
Tuesday lunch- jacket potato with prawns
Dinner- sandwich as I’m starting another term at South Thames college on an evening class in cake decorating
Wednesday lunch- salad
Dinner- Chicken monte carlo from this recipe
Thursday lunch-  salad
Dinner- spaghetti bolognese
Friday lunch- salad
Dinner- salmon and quark sauce and vegetables for me, gammon for him
Saturday- going to Hampshire for a joint birthday celebration for me and a friend – we are having afternoon tea at 3pm so will try to make sure we have a big breakfast/brunch before we leave, and am not sure if/what we are eating in the evening as we are then staying the night at my parents’
Sunday lunch- pub lunch with my family
Dinner – something easy from the freezer or storecupboard depending what time we are home and what we had for lunch

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Aston Martin supercar birthday cake

This year my boyfriend bought himself a new car which for obvious reasons is his pride and joy. So when it came to his birthday I thought he would appreciate the idea of a cake in honour of his car – and it would give me another opportunity to use my airbrush kit.
I’ve made a car cake before which was OK in terms of learning how to carve the cake; it ended up a bit messy as I wasn’t particularly good at covering cakes, and cutting out the shapes for the windscreen etc was a little awkward, but I liked the overall effect. This time I found an excellent tutorial online by Paul Delaney and tried to follow it but I didn’t have quite all the necessary tools or skills, or indeed time! Still, I am quite pleased with how this turned out.
My boyfriend loves chocolate cake and I knew the cake needed to be fairly dense to make it easy to carve, so I found this recipe on Lindy’s Cakes for a chocolate fudge cake and followed the instructions. I had a bit too much batter for the loaf tin so I used the rest to make some cupcakes.

I made the cake in a loaf tin this time – last time I used a round tin, and cut off the sides and placed them on top of the cake to make the body of the car. But my boyfriend has an Aston Martin which is a low, wide car, so I didn’t want to make it in the same way as last time. Instead I made the cake in a loaf tin and when it was cool, I carved the front and back to create the bonnet and boot and a slope up to the roof.

The car also flares out a bit at the headlights so I shaved a little off the sides of the cake so the outer corners were wider. You can see it starting to take shape here.

To cover the cake I made a simple chocolate ganache from plain chocolate and cream, waited until it had cooled and spread it over the car.

I put it in the fridge to set and then covered the cake with rolled-out white fondant. I used white because I was planning to airbrush the cake but if you don’t have an airbrush and don’t want a white car, obviously use coloured fondant at this stage.

I marked out the lines where the windows would go – because the car is black and the windows look black I wasn’t going to do them a different colour.
My airbrush kit is really easy to use – I’ve described how I used it before in this post about my carrot-shaped carrot cake. It allowed me to spray the whole car black leaving a fairly shiny coating; I was also able to build up the colour in areas where I wanted to make the windscreen look darker for instance.

I roughly followed the instructions in the tutorial for making the hub caps. I couldn’t make the wheels the same thickness as it was a relatively small cake – we got about ten slices out of it but I thought if I hollowed out enough space for four wheels there wouldn’t be much cake left! So rather than making the thick black tyre as the tutorial showed, I made it flat. I did make the hub cap element but struggled to cut the star shape neatly as I didn’t have a cutter the right size and it was quite fiddly.

I made the wheel from a mixture of fondant and flower paste, which I only had in white, so I then sprayed the parts that needed to be black with the airbrush. The silver parts were very small and I’m not sure how easy they would have been to airbrush; besides I didn’t have any silver paint for the airbrush. What I did have however was a little bottle of edible silver paint from Cake Mart which was very easy to use and just the right consistency – quite thick and shiny when applied. The only downside is that it doesn’t come with a brush in the bottle and you need to use a small paintbrush, but I guess the plus side is that you get more paint in the bottle that way!

I really liked the effect that I got on the hub cap and think that I will definitely be using this kind of edible paint for other projects. It cost £5 and is available from CakeMart, a brilliant website I discovered recently that has pretty much everything you could ever want for baking and cake decorating.
To finish the car I cut out triangles from the fondant/flower paste mix to make headlights, and painted these silver as well. I also bought an edible ink pen for a few pounds on Amazon and used that to carefully write in the number plate on a strip of fondant/flower paste; I did two for the front and back of the car. I applied the wheels and the other small parts with edible glue. I placed the cake on a board which I had covered with sugarpaste, and presented it to the birthday boy.

I was quite pleased with how this turned out even though it wasn’t anywhere near as good as the one in the online tutorial. The cake tasted really good too – even though it was dense enough to carve it was still really light and fluffy. I didn’t think I could split and fill it so relied on the chocolate ganache around the outside to give it the added flavour and texture and it did work really well.
Thanks to Cake Mart for sending me the metallic silver food paint to review, all opinions are my own.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Food Doctor Oriental Chicken

This weekend's Formula 1 Grand Prix takes place in China so in honour of the event - and for my challenge Formula 1 Foods - I wanted to cook something Chinese. I hadn't used my Food Doctor cookery book in a while so took it from the shelf and found a recipe for Oriental Chicken that looked really healthy and quick enough to make for a weeknight dinner. The recipe does suggest you marinade the chicken for half an hour but I didn't due to lack of time, and it tasted fine. I did have a confession to make though, I only realised at the last minute that I didn't have any lime, so I had to use lemon instead!

To serve 2, you need:
2 chicken breasts
half a fresh red chilli, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
zest and juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp. soy sauce

Preheat the oven to 180C. Mix the marinade ingredients and make some deep cuts in each chicken breast. Place the chicken on a large piece of foil and carefully spoon over the marinade, making sure it gets right into the cuts you have made.

Seal up the foil in a parcel and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Slice the chicken to serve and spoon over a little of the sauce. This is really good served with green veg and rice.

I'm sending this to Formula 1 Foods, the blog challenge I host, as the theme is China.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Packed Lunch Ideas and Lunchbox Reviews

Whether you take a sandwich to work or make a packed lunch for your children I think there are few British people who haven’t made a meal at home and taken it with them to eat later. In the US a packed lunch is traditionally known as a bagged lunch and from what I’ve seen on television, Americans usually put their sandwiches in a brown paper bag. I’m not sure if this is completely accurate; to my mind, a packed lunch in a paper bag would get squashed! Surely American children must use lunchboxes as well – or is this a very British thing?

When I was at primary school, your lunchbox was a huge status symbol. They were square plastic boxes with handles, which fit a plastic flask inside (which came with the box), and were often decorated with the latest cartoon characters. I actually had a metal (tin) one at one point with a garden scene on the front, which I loved – until I was too cool for it any more and wanted a Care Bears one!
As an adult I used a plain Tupperware box with a white lid, and I’m not adverse to keeping plastic takeaway containers and reusing those for sandwiches or taking leftovers to work. But as I take a packed lunch to work almost every day it’s nice to have some better quality, attractive and even fun lunchboxes! I need a few in case one is in the dishwasher or I have something larger than usual, or sometimes I take different elements of a meal which need to be in separate containers.

So it was great when Flamingo Gifts offered to send me a few products from their website to review and as I wanted to test out food, drink and kitchen-related products I chose a couple of lunchboxes.
Flamingo Gifts has a wide range of gifts though – as well as kitchenware and gifts for the baker and cook in your life, there is jewellery, stationery, accessories like bags and purses, baby gifts, homewares like cushions and clocks…. The site is also divided into sections allowing you to browse for ideas for your boyfriend, grandmother, teenage girls and so on. The prices are very reasonable, and at the time of writing, a special deal offering 10% off and 1p first class delivery on all orders. I had great fun browsing the site and making a wish list!

I love Happy Jackson products with their fun and sometimes irreverent slogans. This lunchbox really makes me smile, from the sunny yellow colour with the jazzy band holding it together, to the message “Yay, lunch” – which is pretty much how I feel when it gets to midday!

The elastic band holds the two parts of the lunchbox together securely – though I wouldn’t put a liquid (such as leftovers in a runny sauce) into this in case it seeps out in your bag (if like me you have a long commute in the morning, or you have a child who will be carrying this around all day). There is plenty of space for a sandwich and piece of fruit and a KitKat for instance - or whatever you are having for your lunch.

One word of advice, I wouldn’t put this in the dishwasher; I also have their lunchbox which says “my very healthy snacks” on the front – and when you take the elastic band off you see the words “yeah right”! – and the words partly came off after one wash in the dishwasher.

It is really good value at only £5.94.

The second lunchbox I was sent to review is more of a bento box. I often take lunches into work that require assembly when I get there - for instance things that would go soggy if put together in the morning. I also like to take different salad ingredients and there's something nice about having them all separate rather than tossed together in one box, and this little lunchbox lets you do that.

It's from Ted Baker - also available on Flamingo Gifts - and is bright pink with a little metal bow on the elastic. The RRP is £12.99. It's very clever as the two sections can be carried separately with different contents and when they are empty, one fits inside the other to take up less space in your bag - ingenious!

The boxes are fairly small - it is 8 x 15 x 7cm when expanded - and only 5cm when shut. So this might not be enough for your entire lunch - I prefer to use it as a snack box and put for instance some crudites in one section and these Slimming World beef wraps in the other:

They are very easy to make. Take a slice of cooked beef - the kind you get in packets like ham -and spread with a thin layer of Quark and sprinkle over a dash of lemon juice and some salt. Fill with rocket and other lettuce if desired, roll up, and eat as a wrap.

Finally I selected this farmyard compartment tray - it's aimed at kids but I think it's really cute! The RRP is £9.31 which is a little more expensive but I think families with young children would get a lot of use out of it. The reason I like it is because as I said I sometimes like to have different things for my lunch which are all bite-sized, e.g. a portion of potato salad, some roast chicken slices, some carrot sticks and so on. The compartments are deep enough that you could put a dip in one section and perhaps the carrot sticks in the rectangle next to it. When I have lunch at my desk I eat out of a lunchbox -so it would be nice to  put this out in front of you! It also comes in a floral 'secret garden' design.

What do you take your packed lunch to work in?

Thanks to Flamingo Gifts for sending me the three items to review. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Chef Movie-inspired Cuban Sandwiches

 Have you seen the movie Chef? I was really looking forward to watching it as it tells the story of a high-end restaurant chef who leaves to set up his own food truck. It has an all-star cast of Jon Favreau, Scarlett Johansson, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara (very famous for a show called Modern Family which I've never seen), Dustin Hoffman and Robert Downey Jr.
Food takes centre stage in the film, from the elaborate but slightly dated meals Favreau is made to cook in his restaurant by the proprietor - which leads to a bad review from a leading critic, in particular over his chocolate lava cake, which ultimately leads to him quitting his job - to the food Favreau makes for his son. He takes him to a farmers market, they eat Andouille sausage and talk about beignets and he makes the most amazing grilled cheese sandwiches for his son which I am going to have to try.
When Favreau starts his food truck, his speciality is Cuban sandwiches, or Cubanos. I'd never heard of these and thought it was interesting to see how his sandwiches go viral - having seen much the same with Meatwagon here in London. So while overall I found the film a little cheesy and some of the characters a bit one-dimensional, when it came to this month's Food 'n' Flix challenge - with the movie Chef chosen by Culinary Adventures with Camilla - there was only one thing I was going to make: Cubanos.
 I found the actual recipe from the film on various websites, which I assume were reproduced with permission of the producers, so I am not going to type out the whole recipe again but instead suggest you follow this link (you can find the recipes on other websites as well if you search online). I did it properly, marinading the pork the day before and cooking it in the morning that I was making the sandwich for lunch - I wouldn't normally go to this much effort when making a sandwich!

The marinaded pork, before and after cooking

I used a piece of ready-cooked ham from the deli counter and a French stick (baguette) which I sliced into sections. I added the Swiss cheese, mustard, pickles and ham and pork - I sliced the pork as thinly as I could but it was still quite thick. I think it would have been better done in the slow cooker and then shredded like pulled pork and added to the sandwich. I don't have a Panini press so I was unable to squash down the sandwich properly and toast it on both sides, so I don't think my Cubanos are about to go viral like the ones in Chef - but they still tasted pretty good and it was nice to try something different!

 I am sending this to Food 'n' Flix hosted by Culinary Adventures with Camilla