Friday, 5 February 2016

Sugar flowers: how to make sweet peas

Following the calla lilies I made in my sugar flowers evening class I want to share with you the next type of flower we made - sweet peas. These are very pretty though fairly small, so would look good with one flower on top of a cupcake or with a spray on top of a larger cake.
Once again you need a dedicated cutter - or can make your own template, but this only cost a few pounds from Amazon.

To start, you need to roll out some flowerpaste so it is very thin and then cut a small teardrop-shaped piece either using a small rose petal cutter or your own template. Use a balling tool to curl the edges by placing the shape on a foam pad and rubbing the tool around the edge, half on the flowerpaste and half on the foam pad.

Take a piece of florist wire - quite thin, so 26 or 28 gauge - and make a small sausage shape from your sugarpaste. Insert the florist wire and then wrap the teardrop shape around it, folding in half. This will form the centre of the flower.

Cut out two pieces of flowerpaste using the sweet pea cutter.

Take the piece with the notch cut out (the top one in the above picture) and spread a little edible glue in the centre. Then, holding the cut out notch at the top line up the notch with the centre of your flower and wrap both side pieces around it, leaving an opening, like you can see below.

Take the other petal and rub the edges with a balling tool as before to curl them. Carefully insert a thin piece of florist wire - 30 gauge is good for this - into the petal. I found it quite hard to do this without the wire poking through - you can try making your flowerpaste petal a little thicker if you are having trouble.

Stand the petal behind the ones you have already made, and bind the two pieces of wire together with florist tape.

 We then made the calyx with a calyx cutter. You either need to roll this out on a board with holes - known as Mexican hat holes - or you can manually pinch together some of the flowerpaste to make the part that sticks up, as you can see here.

Slide the calyx up through the wires and bend the leaves outwards. I think a little bunch of these together could look quite realistic!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Restaurant Review: Crepe Affaire, Islington

Pancakes are great for breakfast - or lunch, or dessert. But particularly if you want something different for breakfast.

I was on business in Islington a little while ago and visiting a supplier but I was a bit early so decided to get some breakfast somewhere nice. I was passing Crepe Affaire and the fast casual appearance appealed to me - it's more like a café than a restaurant but with plenty of tables and waiter service after you've ordered at the counter.

They have sweet and savoury crepes and a separate breakfast section that has other items like porridge and eggs Florentine. But I was there for the pancakes - it had to be savoury rather than sweet at that time of the morning. There were some delicious and quite interesting flavours, on a whole spectrum from ham and cheese through to Mexican chicken with salsa, guacamole, cheddar and chilli sauce. I had one with goat's cheese, apple butter, red onion, spinach and walnuts, which was delicious. The prices are very reasonable with a lot of the pancakes under £5 - definitely somewhere good for breakfast or an inexpensive lunch!

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Less Sinful Chocolate Yule Log or Swss Roll

As a lot of people – myself included – are on a health kick this month, I thought I’d share a recipe for a slightly less sinful chocolate yule log I made to take to a friend’s house at Christmas. It comes from Lorraine Pascale’s book ‘A lighter way to bake’ and the recipe can be found here.
I didn’t feel the need to use the milk in the chocolate ganache; it would have thinned it quite a lot and I was worried it wouldn’t set, though in fact I also forgot to put the icing sugar into the ganache. So mine was just made of chocolate and low far cream cheese, which did taste really nice – like Chocolate Philadelphia if you’ve had that!

Mixing the dry ingredients for the cake

Adding the wet ingredients

Spread onto a Swiss roll tin

Just out of the oven

Spreading the ganache on top

Rolled up and covered with more ganache

I didn’t decorate the yule log as I made it the day before I needed to take it to my friend’s and was worried about any decorations going too soft or sinking in, as Lorraine’s recipe says to serve immediately. But I kept it in the fridge overnight and it was really good even if the presentation doesn't look all that great (it's rustic!).
The coffee in the cake is detectable but not overpowering and it was nice to feel that this dessert wasn’t as calorific as a traditional yule log!

I'm sharing this with Alphabakes, the blog challenge I run with Ros of the More Than Occasional Baker, as the letter I have chosen this month is Y. Strictly speaking this is a Yule log though you could serve it as a Swiss roll any time of year.

I'm also sending this to Love Cake, hosted by JibberJabber UK as her theme, 'a month of cake' will accept any cake entries.


Tuesday, 2 February 2016

USA Travel Review: Chicago Part 2

If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.

The one sight in Chicago that I think is unmissable is the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower. The viewing platform at the top is called Skydeck Chicago and it really is amazing. Once the tallest building in the world, it has now dropped back to 8th place but is still the tallest building in the western hemisphere. The viewing level is 1,353 feet up in the air, and has been open to the public since the 1970s - but more recently, I guess the owners decided they needed to do something else to attract tourists, now there are so many other tall buildings you can go up. So they added a viewing platform on the 103rd floor that juts out from the tower itself, so you are standing over... nothing.

It has a glass floor and glass walls so you are effectively standing in a glass box that extends about 4 feet from the side of the tower. We went there at 10.30am on a weekday - I'd read advice not to go first thing in case there was still early morning fog - and there weren't that many people there at all. What I liked though was that everyone queued for one of the two glass viewing platforms, so each person could have their photo taken standing over nothingness, without strangers being in the shot. So we got some amazing pictures!

It cost $20 each to get in but was well worth it - there is lots of information to read, a full 360 degree of Chicago and maps showing what you are looking at - even for someone who doesn't know the city at all it was really interesting. Chicago is quite a flat city so you can see for miles.

After this we went to Millennium Park - a huge park where various events take place (while we were there we saw a triathlon, and there is an ice rink in winter) and home to some amazing landmarks which also shouldn't be missed. The Field Museum, which I've already written about, is at the far end of the park along with the Shedd aquarium and Adler Planetarium. About half way down the park is the Buckingham Fountain, which we passed in a taxi on our way to the Field museum. You could walk the length of the park but I wouldn't recommend it on a very hot day - it's over a mile from the top of the park to the Field Museum.

At the very top of the park, literally just on the main road (E Randolph St) is the Cloud Gate. This is also known as the 'Bean', a sculpture produced ten years ago by the British Indian artist Anish Kapoor. It's made up of 168 stainless steel plates welded together with no visible seam; it's a smooth, curved bean shape fixed at each end with a gap underneath. It has a distortion effect - a bit like a fairground mirror - and if you stand in front you get some fantastic photos. Try it on all sides - on one side you have a reflection of the park and on another, of skyscrapers. And don't forget to walk underneath and look up for a totally different experience!

The Crown Fountain is also here - a reflecting pool between two towers that have video screens showing the faces of Chicago residents, and every so often water starts spouting out of their mouths. It's a popular meeting spot and great for kids to play in the water!

We managed to completely miss Wrigley Square which is also close by and from the pictures I've seen is worth stopping at.

After seeing so much in one morning we wanted a rest and some lunch, so ate at the nearest place - the Park Grill. It's quite expensive for what it is, but it's clearly a prime tourist spot and you can sit outside, which was lovely on a hot September day. The only slight drawback was the service - we entered, couldn't see an staff so sat down at a table, only to be told by a waiter that we had come in a side entrance (which wasn't clear), and had to go round to the front entrance and wait to be seated. So we did, only to be met by a different waiter who took us to the exact table we had just been sitting at!

The menu was a bit odd, in that I had pulled pork which came on its own without a bun, but with some pieces of toast - which I used to make a sandwich - a giant slice of watermelon and a packet of crisps. The pulled pork was delicious though and the watermelon just the thing for a hot day. My fiancé had a chicken burger which also came with a packet of crisps rather than fries.

I'd done some internet research in advance of our trip and discovered something very interesting - the chocolate brownie was actually invented in Chicago! Some ladies who lunched asked the chef at the Palmer House Hotel to make them something like a cake that could be taken in a packed lunch and eaten without mess. The hotel is quite rightly proud of that little piece of history and sells chocolate brownies that you can eat in or take away - we were directed to the lobby bar, where I purchased three beautifully packaged brownies to go. They even give you a little card with the original recipe - which is absolutely delicious!

After returning to our hotel and a brief rest - when we ate the brownies - my mother-in-law and I decided we wanted to go shopping, while my fiancé decided to stay behind with his book. We took a taxi to the Water Tower Shopping Centre which had a big Macy's - every time she goes to the US, my MIL stocks up on good value children's clothes for her grandchildren. As Macy's had a sale on I bought a few things for friends' children myself, but didn't find any clothes I liked.

I bought some Garretts Popcorn, which Chicago is known for, from a stand in the shopping centre - it was really good - and was glad I asked for a small bag as it was huge! I then browsed around the American Girl shop as I'd heard of it and we have nothing like this in the UK - you can take your doll to the hospital to have a broken arm fixed, to the salon to get its hair cut and even get your doll's ear pierced!

Across the street there is a Hersheys store which is fun to browse and buy gifts though they are quite expensive and if you just want regular Hersheys bars I would get them from a supermarket. They do have the world's largest Hersheys bar, which costs $50 (and wasn't actually as big as I was expecting) and an awesome milk shake and cupcake bar. I bought a Reese's Pieces chocolate brownie (to die for), a Cookies and Cream cupcake and a chocolate cupcake, which the three of us shared between us later - very rich but very good!

 After all that shopping we were too exhausted to go far for dinner. When my mother-in-law stayed at this hotel before, she was on her own so didn’t venture far away for meals, and ate more than once at Bijan’s Bistro across the road. She liked it so suggested we went there together.
The restaurant looked quite high end, with thick table cloths and napkins and a large menu the size of a book; I was expecting it to perhaps be a French restaurant but I would say the food is American with perhaps a French twist. There are dishes like meatloaf, bison burger and macaroni cheese with bacon, but also chicken provencale, herb-roasted trout, and duck a l’orange.

I had trout with roasted potatoes, a sort of hollandaise-like sauce, and mixed peppers and onions which was really nice, and lovely to have something a bit different from the heavier food I'd had. My fiancé had a burger while his mum had a baked brie with a watermelon salad which looked very good. I wasn't going to have dessert after the chocolate brownie and cake I'd already had today but my fiancé and his mum wanted to share a plate of profiteroles so I had a pecan caramel cheesecake which thankfully was quite a small slice!



Monday, 1 February 2016

Alphabakes - February 2016

We are approaching the end of the alphabet once again with only a few letters left we haven’t used in this second round of Alphabakes.
The letter I have chosen this month is one that might prove a little tricky, so it’s worth looking at the entries from when we did this letter last time….
so this month’s letter is Y.
Please add your recipes to the link-up below.

Here’s a reminder of the rules:
1. Post your RECIPE* on your blog and link it to The More than Occasional Baker and Caroline Makes, stating the relevant month's host. If you do not have a blog, email us a picture and a brief description of your entry which we will include in the round-up at the end of the month.

2. You can use your own RECIPE* or someone else's RECIPE*. The recipe can be sweet, savoury or a mixture! Anything goes as long as the random letter is predominantly featured in the recipe as one of the main ingredients or flavours or in the name of the bake itself (i .e . not as a garnish , or using 'flour' for the letter F!) You can also republish old posts/RECIPES* but you must include the information for this challenge as stated in these rules.

3. Add the logo to your post and add 'alphabakes' as a label to your post.

4. Entry is via the linky tool below. Alternatively, you can email your entries to by midnight (GMT) 25th of each month. Please include:
  • Your name (that you want included in the round up or we will use the name of your blog) 
  • Your blog post URL 
  • RECIPE* title 
  • Photo of RECIPE* (to be included in the round up) 
5. You can submit as many entries as you like.

6. You do not have to participate every month to join in.

7. You may submit your entry to other challenges as long as it complies with their rules.

8. If you use twitter, please use the tag #alphabakes and mention @bakingaddict and @Caroline_Makes. We will retweet all those that we see.

9. Have fun! :)

Meal Planning Monday Week 6

Week 2 of following - for convenience more than anything - and I'm already switching it up. I don't like wasting food but a lot of the meals last week meant I've got half-finished ingredients in the fridge, so am going to use them up this week or freeze them if I can.

Breakfasts as before will be porridge, yogurt or eggs.

Lunch: brie and bacon sandwich
Snack: rice cakes with Philadelphia Light (will switch for Ryvita as I have these already)
Dinner: Quorn cheese and broccoli escalope with new potatoes and veg OR might be out for dinner this evenig

Lunch: houmous and salad sandwich on wholemeal bread, yogurt, apple
Snack: I piece of toast with marmalade is the suggested option. My personal trainer would really not be happy with all this bread and not enough protein!
Dinner: quick Thai stir-fry with Quorn chicken-style pieces

Lunch: tuna pasta
snack: carrot sticks and houmous
Dinner (at cake decorating class): ham salad sandwich as yesterday

Lunch: ham and salad sandwich, yogurt, fruit
Snack: Ryvita and low fat spread
dinner: homemade sweet potato lasagne from freezer, veg

Lunch: prawn mayo sandwich on brown bread
Snack: rice cakes with Philadelphia Light
Dinner: burger in a bun with salad

Lunch: bacon sandwich for him, Bachelors pasta or similar for me
Dinner: Old El Paso taco kit - chicken for him, fish for me

Lunch: soup and fresh bread
Dinner: Chicken chasseur with packet mix I thought would be quick but it takes 50 mins to cook - with roast potatoes

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Restaurant Review: The City, City Airport, London

London City airport is a funny place. I just read that it only carries 1.5% of all UK airport passengers – the Green party wants to close it down and build housing on the site.
But you can get from my office to the airport in about half an hour on a good day – making it ultra-convenient for the busy business exec. In fact, opponents to the Greens’ plan speak of the importance of good flight links into London to the UK economy.
The proximity to central London means the airport is restricted to running only certain types of planes; there also isn’t that much space. That’s both a good thing – if you are in a hurry, you don’t have to cross a massive terminal – but also means that there are a lot of people in a very small space, and at peak times it does feel quite overcrowded.
I flew from City to Edinburgh late last year and was going after work so I’d be there for an early start the next day; as I knew I wouldn’t be given anything to eat on the plane, and I arrived at the airport quite early for my flight (not realising how quick the journey time would be) I decided to have dinner at the airport. After security, your only choices are coffee shops: Caffe Nero, Espressamente Illy, Panopolis; packet sandwiches from Boots, or two restaurants: Rhubarb and the City Bar. Rhubarb looked quite upmarket – the airport website says it has “something for everyone: from a quick power breakfast before a fashion show in Paris, to a gourmet dinner at the start of a business tour to Switzerland.” I don’t know how many people fall into those two categories – perhaps at City airport it’s more than you might think – but I decided I would be more at home at the City Bar.
The seats were about as crammed in as the rest of the airport - I was seated at a long bar facing out into the centre of the departure lounge and luckily the seat next to me was empty so I had room for my bags and to eat without bumping elbows. Service was quick which is important when you have a plane to catch!
I wasn't expecting much from the food, thinking it would probably be pretty basic with a high price attached, but I was very pleasantly surprised. I had a salmon, prawn and spinach lasagne, which at £14.95 wasn't cheap but it was delicious - I would definitely eat here again.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Apple and Cheese Potato Cakes

I've been trying to use my Spiralizer once a week as my wedding is now only just over four and a half months away (!) but as I started following this week I'd forgotten I also needed to factor in a spiralized meal - I also forgot to include my Meat Free Monday!

If you have any Spiralizer recipes please add them to the linky below - I will do a roundup of the recipes that were sent in this month further down.

So as it's Spiralizer Saturday I found a recipe from Inspiralized to have for my lunch today. They are quite similar to something I ate a lot in Germany when I lived there nearly 20 years ago - potato cakes or Kartoffelpuffer. I had a go at making these and blogging about it a couple of years ago. That was pre-Spiralizer so the potato was grated; it works very well with a Spiralizer. This recipe has the addition of apple and cheese, which is quite nice.

To make two large potato cakes:

Spiralize one large potato and fry the noodles in a pan for about ten minutes until softened.

Spiralize an apple and grate 75g cheese. In a large bowl, beat one egg, add the apple, cheese and a large pinch of salt. Add the spiralized potatoes to the bowl and mix well.

Shape into two balls, press down in the frying pan and fry for 5 minutes on each side. I served these with a couple of rashers of streaky bacon.

I'm now going to open the #SpiralizerSaturday for a month rather than doing it weekly, for the best spiralizer recipes - send in your ideas for things to make with a spiralizer!

Here's a roundup of the Spiralizer recipes I have made and other people have shared with me during January:

Orange chicken with spiralized sweet potato

Lemon and courgette spaghetti, from Searching for Spice

Lemon and Courgette Spaghetti

Leftover sausage ragu with spiralized butternut squash

Sticky Chinese pork with spiralized carrots

Prawn Mooli Stir-Fry

Apple and cheese potato cakes (see recipe above)