Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Alphabakes Roundup - Z

Z is quite a fun letter for Alphabakes. It’s not as difficult as it first looks and you can be really creative with zebra and even zombies coming into the mix last time. If you take Z to stand for zest, you can make any recipe using lemon, orange, lime – you get the idea.
 
Our first entry this month was this novel take on Eton mess with chocolate and orange, from Dom at Belleau Kitchen. As well as orange zest it uses marmalade and Dom says the sharpness of those flavours cuts beautifully through the sweet chocolate meringue and chocolate cream. It definitely looks good enough to eat!
 
 
 
Ages and ages ago I made a zebra cake but hadn’t gotten around to blogging it. It was actually from a packet cake mix (for shame!) which I wanted to try as it was from America and the Duff Goldman brand (him off Ace of Cakes). The cake was tooth-achingly sweet but this is a useful blog post to explain the technique behind how to make a zebra cake. Plus, it looks cool!

 
 
My mum Jacqueline made her first ever zebra cake as well, using more of a swirling technique; it results in the same effect and her colours - chocolate and vanilla - are rather more realistic than mine!

 
Fiona at Peanut Butter and Spice has sent us this Coconut and Lime Crème Brulee which she has been able to make even though she is lactose-intolerant. This is a lovely summery combination o flavours.

 
Z can stand for zucchini which of course is the American name for courgette (I wonder why it is so different, when we call most things by the same name?). Elizabeth at the Law Students Cookbook made baked zucchini with parsley and oregano, which she said was really easy and tasty. You could have this as a main course or a side dish so it seems very versatile.
 

IMG_9754

 
More zucchini now, this time with cherry tomato in a quiche from Shaheen at Allotment 2 Kitchen. She has grown her own courgettes and these cute little mini quiches would be perfect for a picnic.

 
 
Making another appearance but this time in a sweet dessert, we have chocolate courgette (zucchini) loaf with nutella and cranberries. Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker is my co-host for Alphabakes and great at coming up with new recipes and flavour combinations so I'm sure this cake tastes good! She warns that you do need to squeeze the water out of the courgette though.


I ought to know what Zwetschgendarschi is as I used to live in Germany, but Suelle from Mainly Baking had me stumped! To put it more simply, this is a plum tart. It has a layer of marzipan on top of the dough which sounds good and the yeast dough Suelle used contains less fat than regular pastry.


Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker has got some more courgette to use up, so made these brie, courgette and red pepper muffins. She says these vegetarian ones tasted even better than a version she made with bacon!


I got a spiralizer for my birthday and it's really fun to use - I finally plucked up the courage to try making courgetti or zucchini noodles from a recipe by Deliciously Ella. The sauce is also home made from red pepper and tomato and it tasted much better than I was expecting given I don't actually like courgettes!


Now back to something that doesn't use courgettes - we have lemon zest as the Z ingredient here, in this lemon tiramisu from Jean at Baking in Franglais. It's a refreshing take on an old favourite and would make a lovely dessert for a barbecue.

lemon tiramisu

Laura from I'd Much Rather Bake Than made this chocolate chip yogurt courgette bundt cake and managed to convince her brother and his children that the green flecks were sprinkles! The grated courgette (sorry, I mean sprinkles) make the cake really moist and I would think the chocolate would hide the flavour!

Chocolate Chip Yoghurt Courgette Bundt Cake - with chocolate ganache drizzle

The last time we had this letter for Alphabakes I came across za'atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend, and was wondering if someone would use it this time. Shaheen from Allotment 2 Kitchen has done so, in this oven-baked za'atar tomato and potato frittata. She said it's good for picnics, barbecues and buffets.


Finally another entry from my Alphabakes co-host Ros of the More Than Occasional Baker. She made these zucchini and orange marmalade muffins with cranberry and pecan which she enjoyed for breakfast.


That's an impressive selection of dishes for what is undoubtedly a difficult letter. Thanks to everyone who took part - visit The More Than Occasional Baker on Sept 1st to find out which letter we are baking with next month! Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get ready for my engagement party...

Saturday, 29 August 2015

F1 Foods: Belgium roundup and the next challenge: Italy



The Belgian Grand Prix gave me a great excuse to make a Belgian chocolate cake! Actually I was going to make it anyway and realised afterwards I could enter it into Formula 1 Foods - it was a practice run for making a wedding cake! I'd never made a 12 inch cake before so had no idea how long it would take in the oven so wanted a run through, and that weekend was pretty much the only one I had free before the wedding of Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker, who is getting married in only a short number of weeks! I'm glad I made it when I did as I will now have even less free time.... as I have to start wedding planning myself. I got engaged last weekend!

So here's the chocolate wedding cake I made - you're not going to see it in all it's glory as I don't want anyone to see how it is going to be decorated yet!


Suelle from Mainly Baking made these Belgian-inspired chocolate, peanut and biscuit spread cookie bars which I'm getting hungry just thinking about! She used Speculoos biscuit spread, peanut butter and chopped roasted peanuts. Suelle said she doesn't think they were entirely successful but they look pretty good to me!

 
I've never heard of Carbonnades Flamandes so thanks to Jane from Onions and Paper for introducing me to it. From the name I expected it to be a sweet dish for some reason but it's actually a beef and ale stew - a great idea to use Belgian beer. And just the thing for a cold day which we have unfortunately had rather too many of in August!
 

Funnily enough the final entry was also a Belgian Carbonnade, this time from Elizabeth at the Law Student's Cookbook.  She served it with bread and apple sauce which sounds like a nice combination.

IMG_9791
 
The next Formula 1 Grand Prix is in Italy, over 4-6 September. I'm giving you until Weds 16th to get your Italian recipes in (as I will be away and can't do the roundup any earlier) so that's plenty of time!
 
 

Friday, 28 August 2015

How to have a Vegan Barbecue

A few years ago a friend went to a summer event at the company he worked for at the time where a manager announced the barbecue was ready, allegedly saying: "There are burgers in bread rolls, sausages in bread rolls, and for the vegetarians: bread rolls." I'm sure he was joking but when I invited a vegan friend to a barbecue at my house recently I did have a moment of "aargh, what can I cook?".

So I thought I'd share with you some top tips for hosting a vegan barbecue - vegetarian recipes often seem to include halloumi as it barbecues really well, but that's not much good for vegans.

Firstly, burgers and sausages. Some vegans don't like the texture of meat but for those who do, it's not fair for them to miss out. There are loads of veggie burgers and bangers (sausages) available, but not all of them are vegan.


First of all Quorn - my go-to veggie choice which is great for meat-eaters too as it's low in fat - is not actually vegan as it contains meat. Some other brands of burgers and sausages that are suitable for vegetarians  - and sometimes different products within the same brand can be vegan or not. I'm afraid you're just going to have to read the labels (luckily this info is also provided if you shop online). STOP PRESS I learned recently that Quorn are launching a vegan range later this year which is great news!


Look out for Fry's in Waitrose (all Fry's products are vegan), Grassington's and Goodlife and one that is particularly easy to get hold of is Linda McCartney. But be careful - the sausages are vegan but burgers are not. For my recent barbecue I bought Linda McCartney vegetarian sausages (pack of 6, chilled) and mushroom and spinach burgers (frozen pack of 2) which my friend said were particularly good. Don't forget to either cook these first and put in a low oven wrapped in foil to keep warm or have a separate side of your barbecue for vegetarian/vegan food.

Home-made kebabs are good at barbecues as you can thread whatever you want onto skewers (soak wooden skewers first to stop them from burning). For vegans, you can use any veg that you can cut into chunky pieces, eg courgette, button mushrooms, red, yellow or green pepper, red onions or pieces of new potato. To give my kebabs extra flavour I dipped each veg piece into a little bowl of oil mixed with paprika; this ensures the kebabs get an even coating of oil and don't stick on your grill.



Side dishes: I love potato salad at barbecues and you can easily make it without salad cream or mayonnaise. I mixed oil with Dijon mustard and white wine vinegar to drizzle over some new potatoes which were delicious.

It's nice to have a few dips you can serve with fresh crusty bread; guacamole is made from avocado and works for vegans, and I previously made a white bean dip from a Slimming World recipe which you can spread on bruschetta.

Most barbecues seem to involve a big bowl of pasta salad as it can be made in advance at fairly low cost. Again it's easy to make one that is vegan.

Similar ideas are couscous salad with roasted veg chunks. And of course a big bowl of green salad (just don't add parmesan).




You can also grill lettuce - little gem works best - or artichoke hearts.


Whole flat mushrooms can be grilled and eaten in place of a burger. Grilled corn on the cob are great for barbecues too, as are jacket potatoes and sweet potatoes.

And don't forget dessert! Most fruit barbecues really well - everything from bananas with plain chocolate (if it doesn't contain milk solids it should be vegan, some brands are and some aren't), to grilled peaches or even fruit kebabs. And I have plenty of recipes on my site for vegan cakes and other desserts including cheesecake and pavlova so have a look around my blog!



 

Thursday, 27 August 2015

WIN: Bake In Black Review, Giveaway & Chocolate Cream Marshmallow Pie



It's not often I look at a cookery book and think 'that's genius'. I mean sure, I'm impressed by people who have been able to start a whole new cookery craze or style of eating like Deliciously Ella, but for me to actually flick through the book and smile at each and every recipe is quite unusual.

This week I was sent a recipe book called Bake In Black - Music Inspired Baking. Eve and David O'Sullivan are a food writer and musician who decided to combine their two loves, taking a song or album by a band they love and creating a recipe inspired by it. It's not just a play on words on the title (though the name of the book itself references Amy Winehouse) but they soak up what the music is about and infuse that into the food.

That results in recipes including:
Sex Pistols: God save the cream (angel cake with minted whipped cream, strawberries and blueberries)
Guns 'n' Roses: Sweet tooth o'mine (three-tier honey, molasses and maple cake with cream cheese icing)
Megadeath: Megadeath by Chocolate (chocolate and meringue layer cake)
Deep Purple: Smoke on the Rosewater (gluten free chocolate, almond and beetroot cakes with rosewater icing)
Meatloaf: Battenberg out of hell (chocolate and raspberry Battenberg)
Led Zeppelin: Glazed and confused (lavender-infused ring doughnuts with milk chocolate glaze)
and so on, and so on.

I hadn't heard of a lot of the songs or even some of the bands - this book has more of a heavy metal than a pop slant (but maybe there's an idea for a follow-up).

The book is really well presented with colour pictures for every recipe, and some interesting props in the photos, such as doughnuts resting on a guitar. The instructions are carefully thought through and easy to follow and I think this book would make a great gift for someone who loves music and baking.

I made a recipe from it called Faith No S'More - based on Faith No More of course, but also s'mores which are an American campfire snack. They have given me permission to reproduce the recipe here.

Serves 8
you need:
375g sweet shortcrust pastry
flour for rolling
200g dark chocolate, chopped
100g milk chocolate, chopped
300ml double cream
2 eggs
pinch of salt
small bag of marshmallows

Preheat oven to 180C/375F/Gas 4. Roll out the pastry to 1/2 cm thickness and use to line a 23cm pastry case [I used a loose-bottomed cake tin]. Chill while you make the filling.

 
Put the 2 chopped chocolates in separate bowls then bring the cream to the boil. Once boiling, pour into a measuring jug, then add 200ml cream to the dark chocolate and 100ml to the milk chocolate. Let stand for a minute or so, then stir each chocolate, separately, to combine.


Whisk the eggs into the dark chocolate, then pour into the pastry case. Add blobs of the milk chocolate mixture to the tin, then swirl gently to achieve a marbled effect [I found this quite difficult and ended up just pouring most of the milk chocolate on top of the dark chocolate].


Bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden an the mixture is almost firm. Allow to cool a little then chill in the fridge until set.
 



To make the topping, heat the grill to high, then top the pie with marshmallows so they cover the surface evenly. Put small pieces of foil around the pastry edges to stop them burning then put the pie under the grill and cook until the marshmallows are scorched, campfire style, around 2 minutes [from the picture in the book I thought the marshmallows were supposed to melt which they didn't really do, so I left them under the grill too long and the tops burnt! I managed to lift the burnt parts off and then it did look much better].



This was a gorgeous dessert, really indulgent and the melted marshmallow on top really took it to another level. I think it might actually have been nicer with a biscuit base rather than pastry but my other half very much enjoyed it, helping himself to two slices!




Now that I've whetted your appetite you can enter to win a copy of the book for yourself! UK addresses only though please.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Restaurant Review: YouMeSushi, London

Inviting a vegan friend for sushi may not seem the most sensible idea but it just goes to show that no type of cuisine is totally closed off to someone who doesn’t eat animal products. I was offered a £30 voucher to try YouMeSushi, a delivery chain with five branches around London (soon to be six). They have been around since 2008 as a sushi takeaway and now deliver as well.
We were at my friend’s flat not far from their Gray’s Inn Road branch so we ordered from there. It did involve explaining to three different people about my voucher but this isn’t something that would be an issue for regular orders.
The menu online is divided into different sections by types of sushi eg nigiri (oval shaped rice with a topping), maki roll (roll of rice wrapped in seaweed with a filling) and so on. There was just so much that I didn’t know what to choose, but luckily YouMeSushi is prepared for that and can make life easier by offering selection boxes and platters, from the low-fat ‘detox box’ (£7.95) containing 9 pieces, to the £12 deluxe box, with 14 pieces of four different types, to the 130-piece party box for £99. We ordered the 18-piece YouMe Nigiri box, containing two salmon nigiri, two tuna nigiri, two prawn nigiri, six salmon and avocado uramaki rolls and six tuna maki rolls. These were really good though I think the pieces of tuna could have been a little thicker.
  


We also had two of their hot dishes which came in large plastic bowls that we could eat straight out of. My friend had the vegetable noodle dish with tofu, which came with thich udon noodles, various stir-friend vegetables and teriyaki sauce, and I had the same thing but with prawns. We also asked for some extra teriyaki sauce which came in a big cup with a lid.
I had several large pieces of prawns coated in breadcrumbs, lots of veg, and noodles underneath. I wouldn’t normally have thought to order something like this from a sushi restaurant if it hadn’t been going through the menu to look for non-fish options for my vegan friend, and I really enjoyed it.
There’s a useful guide on their website describing different types of sushi, how to use chopsticks, sushi etiquette (don’t mix your wasabi into your soy and eat each piece in one bite – otherwise it’s a criticism of the chef’s skills!) which is quite fun to read even if you’ve eaten sushi before as you might still learn something. There’s also a blog with interesting articles about Japanese cultural events in London, news stories and helpful articles such as which sauce to choose with your order.
 
Delivery took 45 minutes which was a little surprising given we were only half a mile from the restaurant but I assume everything is freshly prepared – and I’ve had to wait a lot longer than that for takeaway before (2 and a half hours for a little Thai place in Carshalton recently!). The prices include delivery so while some prices may seem a little higher than picking up a packet of sushi in a supermarket, this is restaurant quality and on a par with any other sort of takeaway I’ve had, and something that I would definitely have again.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Summer Strawberry-themed Baby Shower

Having a baby shower is really an American thing but like many US exports, the idea is becoming more and more popular over here. I’ve only been to one before, which was actually combined with the mum-to-be’s birthday; she received a selection of birthday presents which were mainly things she needed for the baby.
 
Then my friend P said she would like to have a small baby shower and we decided to make it the theme of a barbecue I was hosting at my house. I’m going to share with you some ideas for decorations, recipes and games if you want to host a baby shower yourself.
 
For three reasons: because it was summer; since P didn’t know if she was having a boy or a girl; and because I bought some cute strawberry-print tableware from Tiger, I decided to give the baby shower a strawberry theme. There’s also a connection between fruit and the idea of ‘be fruitful and multiply’ I suppose! So you could choose any theme of course, but if you wanted something along the same lines, any fruit would be quite fun for a baby shower I think.

 
I already posted a picture and instructions for a baby shower invitation which you can see here.
 
You don’t need to send out invitations, especially if there are a lot of people coming (stamps are expensive!) so you could email – or make one invitation, take a photo of it, and email that out.
 
I actually started with the decorations to decide the theme but if you didn’t do it that way, now is the time to think about what you want, as you may need time to make or source things.

 
There are loads of partyware websites with baby-themed paper cups, plates and napkins; most of them seem to be pink or blue but there are a few ranges available featuring animals for instance that would work for either gender. However, they tend to be expensive especially if you have to order oneline and pay postage (though do try Ebay) so my advice would be to try the pound shops or places like Tiger, and don’t feel it has to be baby-themed specifically. I bought these paper plates, cups and napkins from Tiger; I also got a tin tray with high sides that is perfect for carrying a round of drinks into the garden and a pretty ceramic strawberry bowl.
 
Also, bear in mind that while paper plates save on the washing up, many people prefer to eat from real plates!



If your party is outdoors like mine – or at least like mine started until it began to rain – you can put up bunting. The Dotcom Gift Shop sells some lovely bunting and I got this for mere pennies in their recent sale. This one you make yourself but it only takes minutes and everything is provided apart from the glue; they also sell lovely ready made packs.
 
I bought this Mum to Be rosette badge from Amazon and thought it was so pretty; if you have time you could make a badge or sash yourself.

 
I also had some pink and blue sweets, in little cardboard trays with the same strawberry design from Tiger. We challenged the father-to-be (who was at the baby shower as well, as my friends had come to stay for the weekend and the baby shower was part of that) to close his eyes and choose a sweet as a silly gender predictor and he chose pink – both times! We joked that the sweets had spoken... but he ended up having a son!


I also bought a baby shower cupcake stand from Amazon, made by the Wilton brand; it’s cardboard so can be flat packed and I can use it again or sell it – at some point I must go through my themed party decorations and get rid of the things I am unlikely to use again! It was very easy to assemble and looked very cute filled with cupcakes. I made pina colada cupcakes and chocolate blueberry cupcakes and added some rice paper baby shower cake toppers which I also bought from Amazon.

 
For the food itself we had a pretty straightforward barbecue; sausages and burgers, marinaded chicken and veggie skewers. The side dishes were a vegetarian pasta salad, potato salad and crusty bread with oil and vinegar to dip.

 
 
For dessert we had the cupcakes; I also served strawberries and cream in my bowl from Tiger, and made a vegan pavlova – there seems to be some debate about whether pregnant women can eat meringue with some websites saying yes and others saying no. I think the point is that you shouldn’t eat uncooked or undercooked eggs when pregnant and sometimes meringues can be a bit undercooked if they are gooey in the middle. So by making a meringue that didn’t use eggs – yes, such a thing is possible – we didn’t have that problem.

 
To drink I had Pimm’s and lemonade, and plenty of wine and beer, but also made some non-alcoholic cocktails and iced tea which were lovely – and in one case in keeping with the strawberry theme!

I also bought this great little chalkboard from Tiger and some chalk markers from Lakeland in the sale, which you can write very easily with and wash off, so I could write up a menu:

 
The father-to-be was very keen to play some games and suggested one where everyone cuts a piece of string from a ball of the length that they think will fit around the mum-to-be’s tummy and whoever has guessed the right length or closest wins. However I think some women are a bit sensitive about their size in pregnancy and even though we weren’t taking actual measurements, the mum-to-be wasn’t so keen on the idea. In any case I couldn’t find a ball of string!
 
Asking guests to share advice for first-time parents from their own experiences of having children is a popular baby shower activity but I would steer well clear of this unless you know that everyone coming has had children. It would be awful to have one person unable to offer advice and feel left out because they haven’t had children if they want children but haven’t had one yet.
 
I’ve heard about other games that involve tasting baby food, or one where the host buys disposable nappies and smears things like nutella on them, for the guests to pass around and smell and guess what it is. That actually sounds pretty gross to me!


I did prepare some games of course which were a lot of fun to play. First, we did ‘pin the dummy on the baby’. I bought a cheap poster of a baby’s face that came with some cut-out dummies and a blindfold; take it in turns to stick the dummy where you think the baby’s mouth is. You can buy games like this on Ebay and Amazon or even make your own. Don’t forget to buy something to give as a prize!
 
I also did a quiz in two parts; the first round gave a list of famous parents and famous children and guests had to pair them up. The second round was celebrity parents and the ‘unusual’ baby names they had chosen; again the idea was to match the correct ones up. I thought it would be a bit of fun but was surprised at how seriously everyone took it – and how much some of them struggled! I don’t buy celebrity magazines but knew who almost all of these people were (I got some of the names by Googling) but a few of my friends were completely stumped by a lot of the celebrities!

You should be able to open and save both games as PDF documents here:


 
 
I made a list and then rearranged them in a different order onto pages which I photocopied and handed out – make sure you keep one copy with the correct answers!
 
We did buy presents for the parents-to-be as well but didn’t go overboard; in my opinion this was a UK-style baby shower and not on quite the same scale as I’ve seen on American TV shows but it was a lot of fun!