Thursday, 30 October 2014

Alphabakes Roundup October 2014 - I


There are certain letters that I know will stump even some of our best Alphabakers, and this month it was one of those letters. With 'i' you could enter anything with a bit of icing on the top but I know many of you want something more challenging than that, and to be honest there aren't a million different things you could make beginning with i! It hasn't been all bad that the roundup is shorter this month as I am still in the middle of decorating and unpacking - the house is looking very good now (I will share before and after photos if anyone is interested!) but I haven't had as much time for blogging.

Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to make something this month and send it in their entry.

First up we have Kim at Cakes from Kim who made these Isle of Man cupcakes. Read her post to see the reason why she bought some Manx-themed cookie cutters; and why she is now being haunted by triskelions. I think the cupcakes look very professional!



 Laura at I'd Much Rather Bake Than sent these chocolate chip iced latte crumble muffins, using a carton of iced coffee she'd been given as a promotion - I love it when random ingredients inspire you to bake! I'll leave Laura to describe the muffins in her own words as her description made my mouth water: "cushiony soft and tender, obligingly moist from the homemade buttermilk and substantial enough to give you the satisfaction of a proper bite of cake each time without being stodgy or weighty. The hit of coffee floats around the whole muffin riding on the wave of creaminess initiated by the iced drink, ricocheting off each little chunk of chocolate and complemented by the crunch of crumble topping".


I made a savoury dish as I was a bit pushed for time this month so I made a dinner that doubled as my Alphabakes entry. It's called Island Chicken, though I'm not sure which island - the recipe calls for marinaded chicken coated in breadcrumbs, accompanied by a sauce made using vinegar, soy sauce, paprika, celery salt, cloves and rosemary. It sounds a bit odd but did taste very good!






Who says it's too cold for ice cream? Not Kate at the Gluten Free Alchemist, who sent us this rhubarb, blueberry and honey ice cream. She used the last of the rhubarb from her own garden and it's a 'no churn' recipe which means it is quick and easy to make. Sounds like my kind of ice cream!


Suelle at Mainly Baking was looking for a traditional recipe from a country beginning with I for her Alphabakes entry, which I think is a really good way to approach it! She came up with these klaicha, which are date-filled pastries from Iraq. She found the soft dough quite difficult to shape but not knowing what these are supposed to look like, I think they are perfectly fine!


My co-host for Alphabakes, Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker, also picked a country as her starting point and made these beautiful Italian espresso cupcakes with hazelnut centre. She used a Giotto - a nutty chocolate similar to Ferrero Rocher - in the centre of each cake as a hidden surprise, as well as one on top for decoration.


My mum Jacqueline stuck to something simple and traditional - iced sponge, which she cut into squares, to go into my dad's lunchbox at work no doubt!


Cushiony soft and tender, obligingly moist from the homemade buttermilk and substantial enough to give you the satisfaction of a proper bite of cake each time without being stodgy or weighty. The hit of coffee floats around the whole muffin riding on the wave of creaminess initiated by the iced drink, ricocheting off each little chunk of chocolate and complemented by the crunch of the crumble topping. - See more at: http://idmuchratherbakethan.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/chocolate-chip-iced-latte-crumble.html#sthash.9WVTX8Tf.dpuf
Cushiony soft and tender, obligingly moist from the homemade buttermilk and substantial enough to give you the satisfaction of a proper bite of cake each time without being stodgy or weighty. The hit of coffee floats around the whole muffin riding on the wave of creaminess initiated by the iced drink, ricocheting off each little chunk of chocolate and complemented by the crunch of the crumble topping - See more at: http://idmuchratherbakethan.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/chocolate-chip-iced-latte-crumble.html#sthash.9WVTX8Tf.dpuf
Alexandra, the Lass in the Apron, has a challenge with her family where they make a recipe from a book, and this time it was CS Lewis' Voyage of the Dawn Treader, from the Chronicles of Narnia series. I don't think there's a lot of food in that particular book which is why Alexandra decided to make strawberry ice cream, even though the fruit is out of season: it looks like it turned out really well!



More ice cream, this time from Sarah at School of Balance. She sent us this 'monkey nut' ice cream, so called because it contains banana, hazelnuts and chocolate. It's vegan so dairy free, which would also be good for lactose intolerant people. This was my first visit to her site, which is full of healthy recipes.


Finally we have these green goo iced buns for Halloween from Vaesther at Bangers and Mash. They are fluffy bread rolls filled with rhubarb jam and covered in black lemon-flavoured icing. They are perfect to make with the kids for a Halloween party!


Thanks to everyone who took part this month as we had yet another difficult letter... let's hope that Ros chooses something easier for November - though it's random so who knows? She will be announcing which letter we are baking with over at The More Than Occasional Baker on Nov 1.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Halloween Candy Corn Rocky Road



Candy Corn is popular in the US at Halloween, but most of the British people I asked had never heard of it. I think I've only come across it because I've been to the States in September a couple of times and the shops are full of candy corn in the run up to Halloween. Candy Corn looks like mini ears of corn and is orange and yellow coloured, made from corn syrup.

My boyfriend's mum went to America in September and brought me back a huge haul of candy and chocolates, including these candy corn M&Ms and a giant packet of candy corn marshmallows. I wanted to use them in baking and one good way to use marshmallows that sprang to mind is rocky road. Normally rocky road uses broken biscuits but I decided the hard candy casing of the M&Ms would give a similar crunch. I used milk chocolate for this as that was all I had, but it was very sweet so I would recommend using plain chocolate instead.



I based my recipe on Nigella's Rocky Road.

You need:
125g butter, softened
300g plain chocolate
3 tbsp. golden syrup
200g candy corn M&Ms, or similar, or broken up biscuits
100g marshmallows

Melt the butter and chocolate in a small pan then stir in the golden syrup and heat gently. Remove about half a cup of the mixture and set aside.


Stir in the M&Ms or biscuits and the marshmallows - chopped with scissors if large.


Line a 9 inch square tin with baking paper and pour in the chocolate mixture. Pour the reserved chocolate mixture over the top and spread roughly.


Chill in the fridge until set which will take at least two hours. When set, slice into squares.

My boyfriend was a very big fan of this but as mentioned I used milk chocolate and found it too sweet to eat more than a tiny bit at a time, which was probably a good thing!


                                                                                             
 I am sending this to Cook Blog Share, hosted by Lucy at SuperGoldenBakes, to share this recipe with other bloggers.


I am also sharing this with Let's Cook for Halloween, hosted by Simply Food.


These rocky road squares cookies are also perfect for the Treat Petite challenge, hosted by Kat at Baking Explorer and Stuart at Cakeyboi, as the theme is trick or treat.


I think these also fit the theme of comfort food, so I'm sending these to the Biscuit Barrel challenge, hosted by Laura at I'd Much Rather Bake Than.




Halloween is the theme for We Should Cocoa, so I am sending this to Hannah at Honey and Dough, who is hosting the challenge on behalf of Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Homemade Scotch Eggs and Electronic Egg Boiler Review



Is it just me, or is it really hard to boil eggs to the exact moment of perfection where the white is solid and the yolk still runny, just right for dipping in soldiers?

Saying that someone can't even boil an egg is a statement of derision, implying that it's the easiest thing in the world. I can only assume when people say that they are talking about hard boiled eggs, which are very easy. But when it comes to soft boiled, I can never remember how many minutes, and even then it depends on the size of the egg, how many you are cooking at once, and how long the water has been boiling for before you put the eggs in (I have a tendency to wander off and let the pan boil for a while). And if you take the eggs straight from the fridge and put them in a pan of boiling water they can crack, which has happened to me more than once. Making an omelette is also supposed to be really easy, but is something I've never actually done before!

So when I was offered an egg boiler to review on behalf of British Lion Eggs, I was intrigued. I'd never come across one of these gadgets before - they are designed to give you the perfect boiled egg every time.

The Severin egg boiler was more compact than I was expecting, and looked like a very cute little gadget. The box didn't contain an instruction leaflet however, so I had to Google what to do and luckily found a PDF of the instruction manual online.



You pour water into the base of the machine, prick the bottom of your eggs with the device included and that's it - you select how hard you want your eggs from a dial and switch it on. I cooked three eggs on the soft boiled setting and if I recall correctly, it took about seven minutes. It uses less energy than boiling a pan of water which is another benefit.



The eggs were perfectly cooked and I decided to use them to make Scotch eggs - something I've never made before and never really liked eating despite them being a regular on picnics and salad dinners as a child. A friend told me that 'picnic eggs' are different to Scotch eggs - the egg in the middle is chopped and mashed up and formed into a ball, which explains of course why these Scotch eggs are smaller than an actual egg. When we were in a restaurant recently a friend ordered a Scotch egg as a starter that had crab if I recall instead of sausage meat (we were in a fish restaurant) and the egg in the middle had a runny yolk. It looked delicious and I've since discovered that getting the outside of the Scotch egg cooked through and the inside of the yolk still runny is considered the holy Grail of Scotch eggs.

I made three large Scotch eggs, quite simply: I squeezed the meat from 9 sausages (I could have gotten away with using less if I had chilled the sausage meat longer then rolled it out). I mixed the sausage meat with some chopped parsley and a little wholegrain mustard and after peeling the eggs, rolled them in flour so the sausagemeat would stick, and shaped the meat around the egg. I then dipped each one in a shallow bowl of first flour, then beaten egg, then breadcrumbs.




I was wondering whether to deep fry or oven bake the Scotch eggs; the former is the standard way and means there is more chance of the egg remaining soft boiled, but the latter is healthier. The decision was made for me when I realised I had run out of cooking oil, as I usually use Fry Light which wouldn't have been suitable for this. I had a little vegetable oil left so I ended up frying the Scotch eggs to brown them then finishing them off in the oven.


They tasted very good - my boyfriend said he didn't like Scotch eggs but really enjoyed these. They made a very nice weekend lunch served simply with some bread and butter and salad. The egg inside was perfectly cooked but the yolk was sadly only ever so slightly runny. I will have to try making these again!


I love eggs for breakfast as well so this morning I used my egg boiler to make soft boiled eggs. I followed the instructions exactly, had the machine on its lowest setting and plunged the egg into cold water as soon as the machine beeped, but the inside of the yolk was barely runny at all. That was very disappointing, but I wonder if it's because I used smaller eggs, or only cooked one egg and if the timer is optimised for cooking more at once. I will have to try this again with larger eggs or perhaps find a way to time the machine myself and turn it off just before the beep says it's ready! Even so, I have a tendency to under boil eggs and when I cut into them, find that not only is the yolk runny but the white is as well, and this egg boiler meant the white was cooked perfectly, even if the yolk was a little overdone for my taste.



The British Lion is the UK's most successful food safety mark with nearly 90% of UK eggs now produced within the Lion scheme. The Lion Code of Practice has effectively eradicated Salmonella in British eggs.

Disclaimer: I was sent the Severin egg boiler to review. I was not required to make positive comments and all opinions are my own.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Meal Planning Monday - Week 44


Monday – at a choir rehearsal so my boyfriend will have dinner at his mum's
Tuesday – out at a colleague’s leaving drinks; my boyfriend will either go to his mum's or have to cook himself.
Wednesday –  pizza: needs to be quick as I have to make a cake for a bake sale tomorrow
Thursday – also need something quick as I will probably be working late: I will have a Weightwatchers ready meal and my boyfriend can have chicken in breadcrumbs from the freezer with chips
Friday – should be home early as I have to go into work very early this morning so I will have time to cook a proper dinner. I think I'll do spaghetti Bolognese.
Saturday – my parents are coming to stay.
Lunch- pumpkin soup
Dinner- with my parents and boyfriend's mum who is vegetarian so I will make two dishes (as the two men won't eat vegetarian meals). First a Winter Crumble from The Creative Vegetarian Cookbook and secondly a savoury chicken and bacon crumble inspired by this recipe. I am also going to make a dessert, of course: I've never made a baked Alaska before but think it might be fun. I found a traditional recipe in James Martin Desserts, but prefer the look of this one I found online.
Sunday lunch- day out with my parents
Dinner – pulled pork in the slow cooker I can put on before we go out
http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1936/chocolate-orange-bombe-alaska-with-hot-chocolate-s

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Restaurant Review: The Diner, Spitalfields

 
Burger joints are two-a-penny in London these days so when my work colleagues decided to go to The Diner in Spitalfields, I thought ‘same old, same old’- that it would do various burgers, milkshakes and perhaps some fried chicken. What I wasn’t expecting was a real American diner experience complete with biscuits & gravy (to those in the UK: these are neither what we think of as biscuits, nor gravy), meat loaf and nine types of fries. Nine!

The menu is certainly extensive. One whole side is drinks – beers, cocktails, milk shakes, etc. I tried a cherry soda which came in a glass bottle; it tasted quite similar to cherryade and wasn’t anywhere near as good as cherry coke. As for the food, there’s a lot more choice than just burgers. There are enough burger variations to give Byron a run for its money, including an ‘arch burger’ referencing the arch in St Louis as it includes St Louis pulled pork; a Mexican burger with chili con carne, a Cuban burger and so on. One of my dining companions ordered the DCB – the Diner Chicken Burger – which contains a buttermilk fried chicken breast, bacon, blue cheese, coleslaw and pickles (£9). There’s also a whole section of extra toppings you can add to your burgter from a fried egg to a pineapple ring to Russian dressing.

But it’s not just burgers – there are hot dogs with different toppings (including cheese, bacon, sour cream and pickles), salads, and a substantial all day breakfast menu offering American favourites like pancakes and maple syrup, breakfast burrito or the brunch burger – a burger, bacon, pancake, fried egg, cheese, syrup and hollandaise sauce (£8.20). I’d like to see that one! There’s a ‘diner baskets’ section with corn dogs, shrimp, tater tots etc (like croquette potatoes) and a ‘blue plate’ section which is their term for specials, which includes things like corned beef hash, steak and eggs and meatloaf.

I’ve heard a lot about meatloaf but had never eaten it before; one of my colleagues had previously tried the meatloaf sandwich and thought it was so good that she wanted it again. It came with fries but I asked if I could swap the standard fries for ‘hanger’ fries – possibly so-called because they are great when you’ve got a hangover? They come with cheese, onion and burger sauce – the latter lends a real zing and is something I’ve never tried with fries before, but will have again. And the cheese was perfect – I normally hate cheesy chips, because they are covered with melted cheddar which then congeals, which means you have mainly dry chips and a few have a piece of cheese stuck to them. But in the Diner, they use what is almost a cheese sauce – not that runny, but it makes the chips more wet and gives good coverage, and the cheese is still a melted consistency when you eat the chips. They were to die for – I could have eaten a whole plate and nothing else, they were so filling.

meatloaf with hanger fries

I really wanted to try the mac and cheese as well so ordered that as a side, even though it was far too much food as I hadn't realised the portions would be so big! It was perfect - the cheesy sauce was still runny despite the baked top. I'd definitely order this again, though for me the fries were the main event, though the meatloaf was also very good. The dessert menu looked great but we didn’t get that far!

mac and cheese
 
I can imagine certain people wouldn’t like this restaurant at all but if you love big portions, proper American diner food and more choices of fries than you can shake a stick at, then this is the place for you.




Saturday, 25 October 2014

Ozeri Bathroom Scales: Review

I like cake, as you may have noticed. I am also trying to lose weight and the two things are probably mutually exclusive. They don't need to be, of course- I can make a cake and take it into work and not have more than one slice, or I can make a batch of cookies for someone as a gift and not even try them myself. I also have loads of Weightwatchers and Slimming World cookery books which means I can find recipes for dinner that are low fat and low calorie. But, I like cake.

So I have to watch my weight and part of that is weighing myself. Did you know that your weight fluctuates throughout the day and you will weigh a different amount in the morning and the evening? So the best thing to do is weight yourself at the same time.

That's not the easiest thing to remember when we have busy lives which is why I love the fact that these bathroom scales from Ozeri have an alarm you can set to go off to remind you to weight yourself! Of course the alarm is optional if you don't want the reminder :-)

I was sent these scales by Ozeri and they look very good in my new bathroom (regular readers will know I have recently moved house). They are a retro design with what looks like a manual needle and scale but in fact there is a digital display that lights up when you step on the scales. You don't need to switch them on or off - they come on when you stand on them.

The scales I had before were similar but needed to 'calibrate' every time they came on, which meant you had to stand on them, or pick up the scales and tip them and put them down again, for them to come on and calibrate, and then you could get back on and weigh yourself. These Ozeri scales work straight away - no need for stepping on twice to calibrate them, and the first reading is the only one you need. Anything that saves me valuable seconds in the morning rush is good in my book!

You can set the display to either kilos or pounds; the only disappointment to me was that the scales don't include a body fat percentage reading, which I have had on scales in the past.

The front of the scales is frosted glass which is good- my old ones were white and over time they did go a bit yellow, which I don't think would happen with these.

The RRP of these scales is £29.99 but Amazon has them at the moment for £19.99 which I feel is good value, as you also get the batteries included.




Disclaimer: I was sent these scales by Ozeri to review. I was not required to make positive comments and all words and opinions are my own.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Pumpkin Spice M&M Halloween Cookies

 
 
Halloween candy is much more prevalent in the US and I received quite a haul of it when my boyfriend’s mum visited the States last month. I didn’t want to just eat the chocolates and sweets and prefer instead to bake with it (though we did already demolish a bag of caramel Hershey’s Kisses!). That has left me needing to do a lot of baking in the run-up to Halloween however!
 
After the success of my Reese’s Pieces cookies I decided to make something similar using these pumpkin spice flavour M&Ms.
 
 
 
They are not strongly flavoured and without reading the packet I wouldn’t have been able to tell the taste was pumpkin – so I decided to boost the flavour of the cookies with some extra canned pumpkin. I found this in the American foods aisle of my local (small) Tesco; you can use it as a pumpkin pie filling or for all sorts of other things.
 
 
 
The cookies are very simple to make, and since I used my American measuring cups I didn’t even need to find a recipe.
 
Makes 10-12 cookies
You need:
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup soft brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup plain flour
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
3 tbsp canned pumpkin puree
½ cup pumpkin spice flavour M&Ms
 
Preheat oven to 175C.
 
Mix the butter, sugar and egg in a bowl then fold in the flour and nutmeg. Mix in the canned pumpkin then stir in the M&Ms.
 
 
  
Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper and place a heaped tablespoon of the mixture on the sheet per cookie. Press down a little to flatten the cookie. In retrospect I would flatten these quite a lot as mine didn't look all that much like cookies!
 
 
 
Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes then allow to cool.
 
 
These cookies were delicious – quite soft with a melt in the mouth texture. The M&Ms are like little hidden surprises, though the overall flavour of the pumpkin in the cookie wasn’t strong at all. Which might be a good thing as I’m not sure how I feel about cookies that taste too much of pumpkin!
 
 


I am sending this to Cook Blog Share, hosted by Lucy at SuperGoldenBakes, to share this recipe with other bloggers.
 
 
I am also sharing this with Let's Cook for Halloween, hosted by Simply Food.
 
 
These cookies are also perfect for the Treat Petite challenge, hosted by Kat at Baking Explorer and Stuart at Cakeyboi, as the theme is trick or treat.



To me, biscuits and cookies are comfort food, so I'm sending these to the Biscuit Barrel challenge, hosted by Laura at I'd Much Rather Bake Than.


The theme for this month's Tea Time Treats is cooking or baking with vegetables, and since there is pumpkin in these cookies I'm sharing this with Karen at Lavender and Lovage and Jane at The Hedgecombers.

 
Halloween is the theme for We Should Cocoa, but the recipe also needs to involve chocolate. Luckily these pumpkin spice M&Ms are chocolate! So I am sending this to Hannah at Honey and Dough, who is hosting the challenge on behalf of Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog.