Friday, 24 April 2015

Slimming World Asparagus and Red Pepper Muffins

Now that the weather is getting nicer our thoughts are turning to al fresco eating. Whether it's a picnic in the park with your friends, high tea at the garden table with the family or even just taking your packed lunch outside the office to eat on a bench, you are going to need recipes which are easy to
throw together in a hurry, can be packed up and eaten cold - preferably without the need for cutlery!

These asparagus and red pepper 'muffins' are low calorie and fat free; they aren't muffins in the usual sense as there is no cake - instead the filling is made from egg. The recipe comes from Slimming World so it is great for anyone following a heathy eating plan. The colours are really vibrant which is another reason I like this recipe.

To make a dozen, you need:
Spray oil such as Fry Light
200g asparagus tips
1 jar roasted red peppers in brine, drained and chopped
6 eggs
2 cloves garlic, crushed
small handful fresh chopped herbs eg tarragon, parsley
salt, pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C. Blanch the asparagus in boiling water for two minutes then chop

Mix in a bowl with the chopped red pepper

Line a muffin tray with paper cupcake cases and spray the inside of each one with Fry Light. Place a spoonful of the asparagus and red pepper mixture into each one.

Beat the eggs in a bowl with the garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. Pour into each muffin case, being careful not to fill too much. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes until risen.

Allow to cool before removing from the tin

These can be served warm or cold; just peel off the paper cases and enjoy.

These will keep for a few days in the fridge in a sealed container so you can make them at the weekend to take into work or make them a day or two before your picnic.

I'm sending this to Eat Your Greens, hosted by Shaheen at Allotment2Kitchen, as it contains a green vegetable.

These are also a good way to get some extra veg into your diet so I am sending this recipe to the Extra Veg challenge hosted this month by Jo's Kitchen on behalf of Helen at Fuss Free Flavours and Michelle at Utterly Scrummy.

The theme for this month's Treat Petite is hello spring, and I think these muffins are perfect for spring. The challenge is hosted by Stuart at Cakeyboi and Kat at the Baking Explorer.

Asparagus is now in season so I'm also sending this to Simple and In Season, hosted by Helen at Fuss Free Flavours on behalf of Ren Behan.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Restaurant Review: Giraffe Kiosk, King's Cross

Opinions on the Giraffe restaurant chain seem to be divided – the fact that it is usually full of families with children seems to put a lot of people off – but I really like it. So one day when I was travelling to London’s King’s Cross station for a morning meeting, and arrived so early I decided I had time to get breakfast (having skipped it at home as I was in a rush to leave) I was pleased when I spied a Giraffe Kiosk.

This is the chain’s “grab and go” service, and so far they only have one, at King’s Cross. It is takeaway but importantly there are a few tables outside and some stools along the window inside, which means if you do have a little more time – or want to eat something that’s difficult to eat with one hand while walking along – this is perfect. At the same time it’s quicker than going into a cafĂ©.
The kiosk offers continental breakfast favourites like croissants, plus porridge, muesli pots, breakfast burritos (as well as a lot of lunch choices like wraps, salads and sandwiches) – and my favourite breakfast, a sausage sandwich. This is what I ordered  and it was a little different to the usual, as it came with Panini-style bread that had been grilled and squashed flat with the sausages inside. In retrospect that is actually quite a good idea as it’s much easier to eat while walking – which I imagine most people do rather than sit at one of the tables.

It was a bit disappointing that the sandwich only had one and a half sausages inside (which had been cut in half) which I didn't think was particularly good value for money for £4.75. This isn't a bad place though and I will definitely be on the lookout to see if any more of these Kiosks open in other locations.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Best-Ever Lemon Cake for a Baby Shower

This is a perfect cake for someone going on maternity leave or who has just had a baby – a deliciously light, zingy lemon cake decorated with a teddy bear and a bow.
I made this for the lovely lady I sit next to at work for her last day before maternity leave. I’ve made a couple of cakes for baby showers before and

didn’t want to do exactly the same thing again, but it’s hard to think of something completely different (and I flatly refuse to make one of those baby bump cakes where the cake is the woman’s stomach!). Luckily I had been on a half-day cake decorating course not long before, where we had made a fondant teddy and a bow. I made them in lilac, a gender neutral colour, which was good because my colleague doesn’t know whether she will be having a boy or girl.
I had found out by a not-particularly-subtle line of questioning a few weeks before that her favourite flavour cake was lemon so that’s what I decided to make. I wasn’t overly impressed with some of the lemon cakes I’ve made in the past – they were good, but not as moist and light as I would have liked, so I decided to try something different.
I came across this recipe from the wonderful Richard Burr, a runner up on the last Great British Bake Off. I didn’t have time to make a triple-layer cake so changed the quantities, and I knew I wanted to decorate it differently, and I also made a different filling, so really it isn’t his recipe at all (his is for a lemon and raspberry cake ) – I just used it as a starting point. So I think I can safely say that this is my own recipe. It was probably the nicest lemon cake I’ve ever eaten, so I am calling this the
Best-Ever Lemon Cake – an original recipe by Caroline Makes
Double these quantities for a bigger cake – this made two thin layers each about 2cm high.
175g butter, softened
175g caster sugar
3 eggs
175g self-raising flour
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
For the filling:
250g butter, softened
500g icing sugar, sifted
3 tbsp lemon curd
Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease (and also line, if desired) a loose-bottomed 20cm round cake tin.
Cream the butter and the sugar then whisk in the eggs. Fold in the flour, then the lemon zest and juice.
Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 20-25 minutes until cooked (test the middle with a skewer). Allow to cool in the tin and then turn out onto a wire rack.
When the cake is cool, carefully slice through the middle so you have two layers. As mentioned before, these will be quite thin –once the cake is covered in fondant it adds height but if you’re not going to do that and want to ice the top, you may want to double the quantities of this recipe to make a deeper cake (which will need a longer cooking time).
To make the filling, carefully cream the butter with a little of the icing sugar, adding more icing sugar as you continue to mix. When you have used all the icing sugar add the lemon curd and stir in. Use to fill the cake; I also used a little as a crumb coating for the sides and top as I was covering it in fondant.

I rolled out the fondant and covered the cake, then simply placed the teddy bear and bow I had already made on top. I also had a few flowers I had made for another project and didn’t use which I brushed with lilac lustre dust and added these to the cake as well.

I actually had to make the cake two days in advance as I was out in the evenings and wanted the cake for a particular day when my colleague was departing for maternity leave. I wrapped the cake in foil and placed it in a cake tin and it tasted perfect even three days later when there were a few slices of the cake left. I highly recommend this lovely set of cake tins from Flamingo Gifts – they come as a set of three of varying sizes, which of course fit inside each other for convenient storage. The RRP is £25 which I think is reasonable for a set of three – the largest tin is very roomy and the middle tin will also comfortably fit a cake, while you could use the smallest tin for biscuits. I love the fun animal designs which are also available on other products in the range like egg cups and coasters.
Everyone at work thought the cake looked very pretty and it tasted wonderful so I will be bookmarking this recipe to make again!

I'm sharing my baby shower cake with Alphabakes, the blog challenge I co-host with Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker, as the letter I have chosen is B.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Formula 1 Foods: Bahrain round-up and the next challenge

Last weekend's Grand Prix took place in Bahrain which was a hard one for many of us in food terms. The idea of the challenge is to make something from or inspired by the host country of each Formula 1 race and I'd never eaten let alone made anything from Bahrain before. So it was funny that of the three entries I had this month, two of us made the same dish!

Suelle at Mainly Baking made this Middle Eastern date cake, which uses rose water, cardamom, saffron and sesame seeds to give a moist and fragrant cake.

I made chicken machboos, which is a type of curry using a blend of Arabic spices - which naturally I didn't have so I mixed my own. I didn't follow the recipe exactly, as I never cook rice from scratch, but it turned out pretty well!

Jane at Onions and Paper also made chicken machboos and commented on the length of the recipe and list of ingredients; she didn't take as many shortcuts as I did and I have to say I think her dish looks a lot better than mine!

The next Formula 1 Grand Prix takes place over May 8-10 in Spain so add your Spanish-inspired recipes to the link up below! You've got a bit longer this time so I hope I get plenty of entries!

Monday, 20 April 2015

Meal Planning Monday 2015 - Week 17

I’ve decided to stop following Slimming World specifically as I have been struggling with their plan and instead ‘eat clean’ and follow my personal trainer’s diet advice. It seems to be working as I lost three pounds last week!
This week will be hard though as I have a lot of meals out, and I mean a lot – a combination of a work colleague visiting from another office, my birthday and a party for friends who are moving abroad. I just have to make sensible choices and not snack in between.
Lunch- jacket potato with prawns
Dinner- sandwich at cake decorating course
Lunch- sandwich – needs to be very quick as I only have 10 mins
Dinner – the Other Half is out so I will have a pork casserole I made ahead and froze
Lunch- probably out with colleagues as we are off site
Dinner: restaurant with a friend
Lunch – restaurant with work colleagues
Dinner- sausage and mash with Quorn or Slimming World sausages for me
Lunch- salad
Dinner- At a Mexican restaurant for my birthday (which is next week)
Brunch- at a friend’s to meet their new baby/ wish them farewell as they are moving abroad
Dinner- homemade burger and Slimming World chips
Lunch- bacon sandwich for him; mackerel in mustard sauce on toast for me
Dinner- roast chicken

Sunday, 19 April 2015

How to make a pretty bow to go on a cake

A bow is a great way to finish off a cake, whether it’s for a birthday, Christening or anything else, and it is very easy to make. It helps to have a couple of specific pieces of equipment but you don’t need to buy them if you don’t want to.
A while ago I took a Saturday course at the Sutton College of Learning for Adults, which was described as a class in making sugarpaste figures. First we made this teddy bear which was good, though the skills involved were quite basic and I had done this sort of thing before. Then we moved onto making a bow – not a figure, in my book, but it was something I hadn’t done before – and then finally, very simple and easy roses, which I have done at least three times before. I was quite disappointed because several people who I asked agreed that sugarpaste figures should mean people, or possibly animals – but certainly not bows and roses!
Still, so that I got something out of the day I thought I would share with you the technique to make this pretty bow. We made it purely from sugarpaste (also called fondant, or roll-out icing) but you could also use flowerpaste for a thinner, stiffer bow.
I coloured my sugarpaste with a little lilac colouring, and kneaded it in. You can also buy ready made colours.
Knead until pliable, break off a large ball and roll out into a long rectangle. Using either a knife and something with a straight edge to follow, or a cutting wheel, cut out two long strips.

We used a stitching tool to mark a stitch pattern along both edges of each strip; you could also prick the fondant with a cocktail stick but this would take quite a while (or leave it plain).
Roll up two pieces of baking paper so you have tubes. Take one of your strips of fondant and lay it out in front of you horizontally. Take one end and bring it to the middle, leaving a large loop. Insert the rolled up paper so it keeps the shape of the loop supported. Do the same with the other side, and use a little edible glue to stick both pieces of ribbon in the middle.

Take the other fondant strip and cut in half, then cut a small triangle out of each end so you have two points. When the other part of the bow is dry, place it on top of the two tails and arrange at whatever angle you wish. When you are happy with it, stick together with edible glue.

Leave to harden and then place on top of your cake. I will show you what I did with mine soon!


Saturday, 18 April 2015

Chicken Machboos

This weekend's Formula 1 Grand Prix is in Bahrain which was never going to be easy in terms of thinking of something to cook for my blog challenge Formula 1 Foods. I turned to the internet to search for recipes and one in particular kept coming up - a type of curry, usually with chicken, called machboos. Apparently it's the national dish of Bahrain and is a spiced chicken and rice dish with a blend of Arabic spices. It's similar to an Indian biriyani.

I found many recipes for this which were all slightly different and ended up choosing different elements of each; for instance my boyfriend doesn't eat chicken thighs or legs so I used breast; I didn't have any of the specific spice blend so mixed together what I had that went into it, and I have to admit making a big change that probably changed this dish quite a lot - rather than cooking the rice together with the chicken I used microwavable rice and added it afterwards. That is probably sacrilege but I didn't have much time (not getting home from work until 7pm and that's if the trains are running on time, which usually they are not) and I am hopeless at cooking rice from scratch!

So the recipe I used, pieced together from various others, was:
to serve 2:
1 onion, chopped
1 glove garlic, crushed
2 chicken breasts, diced
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp turmeric
squeeze of lemon juice
1 tbsp. oil
200ml chicken stock
200g tinned tomatoes

Fry the chopped onion and garlic in the oil in a large pan then add the spices.

Add the chicken and fry until cooked through.

Add the tomatoes, stock and lemon juice and cook until the sauce has reduced by half.

Serve with rice

I'm sending this to Formula 1 Foods, the blog challenge I host - you've still got a few days to add any Bahrain or Formula 1 inspired recipes!

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.