Wednesday 27 June 2012

Car birthday card for a male friend

Here's a quick birthday card I made for a male friend who likes nice cars.. I used a decoupage kit to cut out a picture of a car and sticky foam pads between the layers. I added a 'happy birthday' sticky ribbon along the bottom of the card and a small piece cut out from it just above.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Book review: Nigella Lawson - Nigella Bites

Book title  Nigella Bites
Author Nigella Lawson
Publisher Chatto and Windus
Price/RRP £20 when first published - currently available from Amazon for £14 (hardback)

Where did I get it? I've had this so long, I can't remember! It came out in 2001, though I didn't get it until a few years later - in 2001 I was at university living in catered halls, and my entire kitchen consisted of one of these, shared between four people.

The blurb on the back With the success of her two bestselling cookery books 'How to Eat' and 'How to be a Domestic Goddess', and her first television series, Nigella has become a household name, symbolising all that is best, most pleasurable and least fussy about the place of good food - both making it and eating it - in our lives.
Now she's back with this ravishing new book to accompany her brand new Channel Four television series, 'Nigella Bites'. Full of mouthwatering recipes, including all those featured in her new television series, 'Nigella Bites' offers some recipes which are exciting twists on old favourites, others which are new and different, and all of them characteristic of Nigella and the ethos of her TV series- uncomplicated, original, fresh and perfect for the way we live today. They're easy to produce after a busy day at the office, fun to linger over at weekends or to make with the kids, delectable to read about, dreamy to look at and delicious to eat.

Overview of book Nigella is the star of this book - it's full of pictures of her cooking and eating food. It would be great for anyone who is a fan of her television work but also of her writing style - each recipe begins with an anecdote or explanation of where she got it or why she loves to cook this particular dish. Nigella's voice really comes through and you feel as if she is there in the kitchen with you.
The book is divided into chapters reflecting different types of food - all day breakfast, comfort food, TV dinners, party girl, rainy days, trashy, legacy, suppertime, slow-cook weekend and templefood (referring to treating your body like a temple). There are a few blank pages for notes at the end of every chapter, which is a good idea.

First recipe in the book Orange breakfast muffins

Last recipe in the book Peaches and blueberries - not so much a recipe as more a description of how to assemble them and why Nigella loves them

Random recipe from the middle of the book Italian sausages with lentils

Quality/number of photographs Every single recipe has a photograph, many of them fullpage, and with the lengthy description this means some recipes take up three whole pages. A lot of the photos show Nigella looking glamorous while she cooks and looking glamorous while she eats.

Number of pages 244, though there are not as many recipes as other books this length, as many of them take up a few pages each. And at £20 it seems perhaps a little expensive for what it is - but as t's Nigella, and we all love her, so that makes it all OK!

Have I made anything from this book? Yes, loads - partly because this was one of the first recipe books I got so I didn't have many others to choose from (and it was before I had regular internet access!) - but also because I love this book, I've kept returning to it. Recipes I've made include Welsh rarebit muffins, Asian spiced kedgeree, pasta with meatballs, ham in Coca Cola (which really is lovely) and the easy sticky toffee pudding, which I've made several times as it's so good (and easy!).

Overall impression in three words comforting, glamorous, uncomplicated

Monday 25 June 2012

Meal Planning Mondays - Week 1

Welcome to a new element of my blog... meal planning Mondays! I'm sure nobody is interested in what I'm eating for dinner, but I've seen this on a few other blogs and it is a good way to get ideas. I'm mainly doing this for myself though.... I used to be really good at meal planning and cooking lovely recipes, but since I've been living on my own, I just can't be bothered any more. Which is a shame as I actually have a much shorter commute (from central London to Surrey, rather than central London to Winchester!) and all my lovely recipe books are just gathering dust. More to the point, I'm trying to follow Slimming World and lose weight, and so far haven't had much success. I lost a few pounds initially, but have put them right back on. And before you all say that it's down to the baking, like most bloggers I'm sure, I don't actually eat all that much of the things I bake.

Admittedly I do over indulge sometimes (like this Valrhona chocolate dessert, but I did let my boyfriend finish mine) but I generally only try to bake for a particular occasion, e.g. someone's birthday, a visit to my parents, food to take and share on a picnic etc. So I'm going to start trying to plan my weekly menu properly, taking into account that I'm supposed to be counting Syns (TM Slimming World) but that I also want to try out some more interesting recipes. And not be in such a last minute panic when my boyfriend is coming over for dinner that I don't know what to cook!

I will try to revisit this post after the end of the week to note whether I actually stuck to the meal plan, and if not why not, and maybe add a photo or two of something particularly interesting. And if hearing what I'm having for lunch and dinner doesn't interest you in the slightest, please just ignore these posts (rather than leave comments saying what a pointless thing it is) - because the idea that this is potentially public, even if nobody actually reads it, will hopefully mean I stick to it a little better!

So here's what I'm planning to eat this week. I've included breakfast as I'm only allowed certain combinations on Slimming World (if a and b choices mean anything to you... if not, the basic idea is that I can't have cereals/bread based products twice in one day, so a sandwich for lunch means no cereal, crumpets, toast etc for breakfast. Sigh. But I'm a busy woman and sometimes that just has to go out of the window!)

Option A choice every day/ most days will be milk in tea and maybe snaffling a couple of Laughing Cow light cheese triangles from the fridge while I'm cooking dinner! I know I will also use endless syns on snacks but at least this meal plan is a start. I find it impossible to plan snacks as I never know how hungry I will be or what I want, but I try my best - my drawer at work is filled with low fat snacks like cereal bars so I won't go to the vending machine. I'm totally rubbish at eating fruit though so will try hard this week (and from now on). I won't bother putting down drinks if it's tea (I usually have one cup a day, with milk from my option a allowance and splenda) and sugar-free squash, which is free. And for the uninitiated, you're supposed to aim for 10-15 syns per day (what a syn is and how it's calculated is a bit complicated - though I find Slimming World better to follow than Weightwatchers, which I've also done in the past).

Breakfast- wholemeal toast with low fat spread or honey (option b choice) plus probably 1 syn for the spread
Lunch- Roast chicken leg with cous cous- 1 syn as it's flavoured cous cous
Dinner- homemade fish pie with salmon and smoked cod, parsley sauce and a mashed potato topping, served with veg - 4 syns for the parsley sauce, everything else is free
Dessert: low fat mango mousse (made with fresh mango and fat free plain yogurt) that ought to be syn-free
Total syns for the day, before snacks: 6

Did I stick to it? Breakfast - yes; 1 syn. Snack - 1 apple (no syns). Lunch - yes, 1 syn- also added some leftover dry roasted potatoes (no syns). Went to the gym for half an hour on my lunchbreak. Afternoon snack - Muller rice. I'm really annoyed about this as I bought a six pack of what I thought was Muller light yogurts (no syns) but as I was going round Tesco in a hurry, didn't notice until today that what I actually bought was Muller rice. 'Can't be much different', I thought, and ate it anyway... then checked on the Slimming World website. 10 syns!! Dammit... anyone want some Muller rice? :-)  Also had a Special K cereal bar - 4 syns. Dinner - had 2 Laughing Cow light cheese triangles when I got home (no syns- option a) and then dinner as planned - 4 syns. Didn't bother making the dessert in the end as I had a headache; really wanted some chocolate as I was a bit upset about something but very proud I managed to resist!
Total syns for the day: 20. Would have been 10 if it weren't for the Muller rice. Still not sure what to do with the rest... wonder if my boyfriend likes them?

Breakfast- wholemeal toast with low fat spread or honey (option b choice) plus probably 1 syn for the spread
Lunch - roast chicken leg with couscous - 1 syn; leftover dry roasted potatoes
Dinner- with my boyfriend - turkey schnitzel with home-made potato wedges. Turkey breasts, dipped in egg then breadcrumbs (4.5 syns for 25g of the breadcrumbs). I think I might add a slice of bacon (no syns if I cut the fat off) and some reduced fat mozzarella (2.5 syns per 25g) before I coat it in breadcrumbs. The wedges are simply potatoes chopped roughly, sprayed in Fry Light (no syns) and sprinkled with paprika or maybe Old Bay seasoning. I'll also serve this with veg, and I plan to make an extra schnitzel to take for my lunch tomorrow.
Dessert: low fat mango mousse for me, and the rather retro butterscotch angel delight I've got in the cupboard that I've been promising my boyfriend he could have. We both loved this when we were kids and haven't had it for years!
Total syns for the day, before snacks: 9

Did I stick to it? Breakfast - yes; 1 syn. Morning snack - 1 apple - no syns. Lunch - yes, 1 syn. Plus Weightwatchers chocolate and vanilla mousse - 5.5 syns. Went to the gym for 30 mins on my lunchbreak. 2 Belvita breakfast biscuits - 6 syns. Boyfriend didn't come for dinner as he was ill so when I got home I made something at a bake sale at work the next day. The smell of the cake sort of put me off cooking anything for dinner, then I decided at about 9pm I was hungry after all... and ate three canned hot dogs sausages. How disgusting is that?! Can't be the only one who eats junk food but they had 10 syns in total and I probably had another 5 syns from licking the mixing bowl while I was baking!
Total syns for the day: 28.5. Started off so well! Will try harder tomorrow.
Slimming World smoked haddock and egg kedgeree (no syns). From "100 extra easy days" p.12
Lunch- Leftover turkey schnitzel from yesterday - should have 7 syns if I measure out the breadcrumbs and cheese - with home made potato salad (free, using fat free natural yogurt, a little salt, garlic, and spring onions).
Dinner- Pasta with tomato sauce from a jar (quick and easy!). I have a Weightwatchers pasta sauce at home that's 6.5 syns for the jar, so I usually use half a jar and top it up with some syn-free passata. I'll resist sprinkling any cheese on top... and cook some broccoli to eat with it. So that should be just over 4 syns for the sauce, and I'll make extra to have tomorrow.
Total syns for the day, before snacks: 12
Did I stick to it?Had bread (option b) and low fat spread (1 syn) for breakfast, as on the past two days, as I had plenty of fresh bread left that would otherwise go stale and also I didn't get around to making the kedgeree last night. Didn't have a morning snack which is unusual for me! Lunch - didn't make the schnitzel so instead made some pasta last night and used up the rest of the hot dogs in it, and grabbed a jar of pasta sauce in the cupboard - though when I looked up the syns, I was a bit shocked and I won't be buying that particular brand again! So all together my pasta lunch was 12.5 syns. Afternoon snack- 2 Belvita breakfast biscuits - 6 syns
Dinner - was hoping I could do the schnitzel planned for yesterday and that my boyfriend would come round but he's  still at home sick and doesn't want me to go round there either :-(  So I had a Dalepak lamb grillsteak from the freezer (3.5 syns) with boiled new potatoes, veg and mint sauce (2 syns). Decided I did fancy a dessert so I made a low fat mango trifle - I will post this as a separate entry. It used mango and fat-free plain yogurt (free), 1 Asda trifle sponge (4 syns) and 1 meringue nest (2.5 syns).

Mango trifle
Total syns for the day: 31.5 Seems like an awful lot given I really didn't snack much today - not anything like as much as I normally do! Lunch was what blew it... and I'm having the same thing for lunch tomorrow! Never mind, won't be buying any more tinned hot dogs for a while!

Slimming World smoked haddock and egg kedgeree (no syns). From "100 extra easy days" p.12
Lunch- leftover pasta from yesterday - 4 syns
Dinner- possibly going out somewhere with my boyfriend (not sure yet)
Total syns for the day, before snacks: 4 plus eating out
Did I stick to it? Breakfast - no, decided to use up the rest of the bread (option b) and low fat spread (1 syn). Morning snack: homemade potato salad with boiled new potatoes, fat-free plain yogurt, pinch of salt and 1 tbsp low fat mayo (1 syn). Lunch: same pasta as yesterday, 12.5 syns. Can't believe I originally budgeted 4 syns for it! Went to the gym on my lunchbreak. Afternoon snack: cereal bar (Tesco chocolate chip chewy bar) - 6 syns. Dinner - my boyfriend was feeling better so came round for dinner :-)  So I made the turkey schnitzel planned for Tuesday and we both loved it. I took a thin turkey escalope (free), dipped it in flour (not sure if I need to count syns for  this - maybe 0.5) then beaten egg then breadcrumbs (4.5 syns). I added a slice of bacon and a slice of mozzarella (2.5 syns) before I coated it in the breadcrumbs, and cooked it in the oven. The cheese melted and it tasted lovely! I did it with home made potato wedges, which were just parboiled potatoes still in their skins then oven cooked, sprinkled with Old Bay seasoning. I didn't do any veg as I've run out!
 I made my boyfriend some butterscotch Angel Delight for dessert, which he really enjoyed - I checked afterwards and there are 14 syns in a packet, though surely it depends whether you make it with skimmed milk or semi-skimmed? I didn't have any, though - instead I had a meringue nest (2.5 syns) with the mango and fat-free yogurt I made yesterday. I also treated myself to a glass of rose wine as it was a lovely sunny evening - I estimate 6 syns for the glass. I did want a second glass, but resisted!
Total syns for the day: 36.5 - quite a lot again, but I feel like I've had quite an indulgent evening meal and it could have been a lot worse if I'd had a ready made cheesy schnitzel, a less healthy dessert and that second glass of wine. So I'm still feeling quite proud of myself!

wholemeal toast with low fat spread or honey (option b choice) plus probably 1 syn for the spread
Lunch- baked potato with cranberry sauce and the rest of the mozzarella. Recipe on Slimming World website gives 2.5 syns for the whole thing, using 57g of mozzarella... but if I have more than that left, I doubt I'll be able to resist using it up so I will allocate 5 syns for this meal.
Dinner- hopefully having my boyfriend over as I need to stay in for an online grocery delivery - ooh, the excitement! Due to the delivery I might not have a huge amount of time to cook, plus it's the end of the week and I'll want something easy... so I'll do a chicken bake using a jar of Tesco Hunter's Chicken sauce I've got in the cupboard. I won't be buying it again though.. I was horrified to find just now it has a whopping 24 syns in the jar! A quarter of the jar will be enough, which makes it 6 syns, and the chicken or turkey will be free. I will serve it with rice and have to admit that rice is the one thing I don't have the patience to cook, so it's Uncle Ben's microwavable pouch every time (have I just lost some followers there...?!). The basmati has 1.5 syns for the 250g pouch so I'll call that 1 syn for the portion. I'll have it with vegetables and think I will treat my boyfriend to some garlic bread with it and maybe some cheese sprinkled over the chicken (on his portion only!).
Total syns for the day, before snacks: 13
Did I stick to it? Breakfast - bowl of Dorset Cereals museli (option b). Morning snack- rest of homemade potato salad - 1 syn. Lunch: didn't have any mozzarella left and was too tired to make myself lunch last night so bought a small pack of sushi from Boots, which I was pleased to find only had 2.5 syns. Also had packet of Skips - 4 syns. Afternoon snack- apple (no syns). Dinner - extra turkey escalope and potato wedges I made yesterday, but it seemed a little dry so I had 1 tbsp of mayo on the side = 8.5 syns. Then also had two glasses of rose wine (12 syns!) and a packet of Discos = 7.5 syns.
Total syns for the day:35.5 And it's weigh-in day tomorrow! Oh well....

wholemeal toast with low fat spread or honey (option b choice) plus probably 1 syn for the spread
Lunch- crab noodles from "100 extra easy days" p36, as I have everything I need for this in the cupboard.
Dinner-  Roast chicken - as I'm getting a grocery delivery the night before, I can get a whole chicken. Not something I do very often as I have to carry my groceries home on the train and only do an online shop once every couple of months. And the leftover roast chicken will be great for next week. And it's syn free! I'll serve it with roast potatoes, vegetables, gravy (count 1 syn for) and I can't have roast chicken without bread sauce - the milk used to make it will come from my option a choice, and there are 3 syns in a half-packet portion. If my boyfriend is here I will also make Yorkshire puddings as he loves those, and it will be hard to resist the temptation of having one! The Slimming World website suggests Yorkshire puddings generally have 3-4 syns each.
Dessert: I was planning to make the peanut butter chocolate tofu mousse I saw on TheMoreThanOccasionalBaker (my friend Ros) 's website, but have discovered that Asda - where I'm getting the grocery delivery from - only has firm tofu and I need the soft kind, so this will have to wait!

crab noodles: simple but delicious. And free!

Did I stick to it? Breakfast - wholemeal toast with a thin scraping of peanut butter, which apparently is a 'good fat' and slow-release energy - but according to Slimming World is still 4 syns. Lunch: crab noodles - see above. Easy to make, delicious and totally syn free! Didn't eat anything in the afternoon even though I was a bit hungry. I started roasting the chicken for dinner but it was such a hot day that I didn't think we would want a full roast (but I needed to cook the chicken anyway as I wanted the leftovers for next week). I gave my boyfriend a few options of what we could have with the chicken instead and he asked for the simple option of chicken and chips. I calculated from the Slimming World website that the McCain 5% chips had 4 syns for the portion - not anywhere near as bad as I expected, and I'm glad I didn't let my boyfriend go to the chip shop like he wanted to! The chicken was free and I had 1 tbsp of low fat mayo which was 1 syn. I didn't have a dessert, but I did have two glasses of rose wine which was 12 points - still, that's the bottle finished now and I won't open another one for a while! (Famous last words...?)
Total syns for the day: 21 but more than half of that was wine! I'm not an alcoholic, I promise!

The best thing about today: I weighed in at Slimming World this morning and lost three pounds, and was Slimmer of the Week - something I haven't achieved before (it's for the person who has lost the most weight that week, who also lost weight the week before) despite going for the past six months. So I'm really pleased to be back on track and hoping that if I carry on meal planning, and sticking to it, I might be able to lose a bit more :-)

Poached eggs with smoked salmon - filling and syn free, as I expect to over indulge today!
Lunch- going to a friend's birthday picnic (if wet, in his house). Planning to bake a few things to take along but won't reveal what just yet as they will make an appearance on this blog at a later date!
Dinner- depends what time I get back from my friend's party and what I've had to eat earlier. Ought to plan something but as a fallback there's always pasta. And bear in mind I could be a little tipsy by this point...!

Did I stick to it? I got up a bit later than usual and was busy doing things round the house in the morning so didn't have any breakfast, then by the time it got to midday I didn't fancy eggs, so had a Mug Shot pasta meal (syn free) and a packet of Discos which I'd forgotten were 7.5 syns, oops! The picnic started at 2 so I decided it was a good idea to eat beforehand then hopefully whatever I eat at the picnic will mean I won't want much dinner. Shame the sun doesn't seem to be out as much as yesterday! I have done some baking for the picnic but will save the photos until I do a proper blog post!
So at the picnic I lost track of what I ate - I was trying, but I didn't know anyone there apart from the host (and a couple of people I knew by name but hadn't really spoken to before) so it was easier to go and get a drink when I was stuck for someone to talk to! So by my reckoning, I had a glass of wine (6 syns), 2 Pimms and lemonade (probably about 5 syns each?), one homemade cake (for arguments's sake I'll go with 6 syns but I have no idea), 2 homemade jaffa cakes (12), a small handful of crisps (6) and three small sausage rolls (about 12 - totally guessing here). I didn't have anything to eat when I got home but I still think I must have had about 60 syns today - and if I hadn't been trying to be a little bit good it probably would have been twice that!

Total syns for the day:
I am adding this post to the Meal Planning Mondays linkup on At Home with Mrs M.

Sunday 24 June 2012

ABC of me

Ros from TheMoreThanOccasionalBaker recently gave me an Awesome Blog Content (ABC) award - thank you! The idea is that you think of something relating to you personally for each letter of the alphabet, and share it with other bloggers. This is quite appropriate given that Ros and I run the Alphabakes challenge!

A - animals. I love all creatures great and small, and after a joke comment from my boyfriend about how many pictures I have of me with animals,I've started a facebook album called "pictures of me with animals". Highlights include me holding a baby crocodile, riding an elephant and playing with lion cubs in Africa.
B - baking, of course! Though my efforts can be a bit hit and miss, I can be quite impatient and I'm sure I have a temperamental oven as well.
C - cats. My little tabby Tilly is the sweetest thing and I love her to bits.
D - diet. Always seem to be on one, officially anyway - hopeless at sticking to them!
E - elephant. I plucked up the courage to ride one while I was in Africa, which was a big deal since I'm terrified of heights. But I was at a point in my life where I decided I needed to "feel the fear and do it anyway!"
F - friends who you can go ages without seeing or talking to, then when you do get to catch up, you pick up just where you left off! Which is also linked to the other F I can't live without - Facebook!
G - Google. Don't know how I managed before we had it!
H- Hobbycraft. Only been there a couple of times as they always seem to be on trading estates, and difficult to get to if you don't drive (which I don't). So when I do get to go, it's like a wonderful mecca of papercraft and cake decorating products!

I - Ian, my wonderful boyfriend who I am planning to spend the rest of my life with. And am currently trying to persuade to move in with me!
J - journalist. What I wanted to be while I was at university and what I did for the first 5 years of my working life, until I became disillusioned and went to be a writer at a financial services firm
K - kindle. I love reading and books - the actual feel and smell of the paper, even. So I wasn't convinced of the merits of the Kindle when it came out... until I got one (thanks, Ian!). I still read physical books but don't know where I'd be without my Kindle on long train journeys or holidays.
L - lists. I love making lists of things to do and crossing items off - partly because I like to be organised, and partly because I'm quite forgetful!
M - money. I like to have it, spend it, and save it. And I like to think I'm quite good with it as I've never been in debt other than my mortgage.
N - Namibia. Last year I went to this amazing, beautiful country with the Bobby Moore Fund and helped renovate a school. It was a fantastic experience and one I will always remember.
O - organised. The day I discovered I could send Outlook calendar invites to my boyfriend and if he accepted them, I would have put something in his diary for him - was a happy day indeed. I'm very organised, possibly to a fault, and don't like not knowing what I'm doing a month from now, let alone a week from now.

P - public transport, which I use more than most people I know. I learnt to drive when I was 18 (I am now 33) and haven't driven since! It's been so long that I'm now terrified of the idea of having to get behind a wheel again, even if I had lessons.

Q - queuing. I'm of the polite British sort that waits patiently in queues without getting annoyed. I recently had a visit from a friend from another country and he definitely didn't share this trait!

R - research. I have to do a lot of this for my job, and have got pretty good at finding things, whether it's what happened in bond markets ten years ago, a discount code for event tickets or the best hotel to stay in on holiday. Not to be confused with Facebook stalking.

S - Surrey, where I now live. I work in central London but like the fact that when I come home, I can get away from the hustle and bustle, and have a house with a garden whereas for the same money in London I'd be living in a shoe box.

T - travel. I was never much of a traveller before - I was 17 the first time I went abroad, and that was to Belgium. Then holidays through my 20s were generally Greek islands and the like. Now I've decided I want to see the world, and am on a mission to visit as many different countries as I can. In the last couple of years countries I have added to my 'where I've been' map include Italy, Russia, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and the Netherlands.

U - untidy. I don't know how I can be so messy when I am also so organised - I think it's because I make so many lists, and organise things into piles, then am too busy or lazy to put them away!

V - vegetables. I'm really fussy when it comes to food and literally only eat a handful of types of vegetable. Which is a handful more than my boyfriend eats!

W -Wilton, where my family is from (in Wiltshire). I have had a penfriend in our twin town of Wilton, Connecticut, since I was 8 years old, and went to visit her for the first time a couple of years ago! My local paper even decided it was newsworthy.

X - my ex (see above). I have to include him on this list as he was such a big part of my life, for such a long time. We met as teenagers, moved in together, bought a house, got a cat, never got married because he always said he didn't believe in marriage... then when I turned 30, he left with no warning. I still don't entirely know why he did that, and after 11 years together it almost killed me, but I do know that I'm better off without him.

Y- yes. Something I say far too often - I can never say no. Whether it's taking on work for a charity I don't have time to do, or having friends to stay when I'm actually quite busy, I'm actually a bit of a pushover.

Zzzzzz - sleep! Something I never seem to get enough of - and I don't even have children! I do have a cat who likes to wake me up for breakfast as soon as it's light, which is about 4.45am at the moment.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

How to make a fondant sheep

Isn't he cute?

I recently took a class to learn how to make some animals from fondant for decorating cakes. It's actually pretty straightforward once you know how!

The main thing you need to know is that all animals/people models are made from three basic shapes - the cone, the ball and the sausage. Once you've made these three basic shapes, you can build up pretty much anything. If you look at the picture above, you can probably break it down in your mind and work out which piece is which shape. Once you bear in mind that the sheep is made out of several pieces, it looks a lot more manageable!

We actually used regular fondant for these animals - I was a little surprised we weren't using Mexican paste or modelling paste but it seemed to work out OK (though several weeks on, the odd tail/ leg did fall off my creations!)

We began by making a cone from white fondant and several little balls - too many to count! Then we made sausage shapes from brown fondant which would form the arms and legs. See, it's easy!

Stick the body cone onto two of the legs and flatten the legs slightly so it sits straight

We used this modelling tool- I don't know what it's called - to make an indentation on the feet. They do look like sheep hooves, don't they?
I also stuck on the arms

Next take all the little white balls and use a dab of water on a paintbrush to stick them all over the sheep's body. It would never have occured to me to make the sheep's wool this way, but I think it looks really good!

I made another brown cone and flattened it slightly in the middle to form the head.Break a cocktail stick in half and use it to secure the head onto the body. Continue covering with 'wool'.

I used another modelling tool with a curved edge to make an indentation for a smile, and also poked small holes for eyes. The ears were small balls of brown fondant flattened then stuck on with a dab of water. I think he looks like a proper sheep, and pretty cute too! Stay tuned for a forthcoming post to see the cake I used this on.....

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Toffee walnut blondies

I wanted to make something for my dad for Father's Day but it had to be suitable for carrying on a train, and also I knew my sister was planning to make a cake (which was delicious, by the way!). I was flicking through a recipe book I got for my birthday in April, Baked in America - there's something about this book that really appeals to me. I came across a recipe for Toffee Walnut Blondies and as I love brownies but haven't made blondies before, I wanted to give these a go.

You start by creaming butter, sugar, instant coffee granules and vanilla flavouring, then add some eggs. 

Melt some white chocolate and add to the mixture

Weighing out flour

The mixture coming together... finally fold in some chopped walnuts and some more chopped white chocolate.

Pour into a pan and bake in the oven for 20-30 mins

I think I left it in slightly too long!

Trim off any slightly burnt edges (ahem) and cut into squares

If you want the full recipe, it's on page 34 of Baked in America by Outsider Tart :-) I promise next time I bake from this book, I'll give you the full recipe (with the publisher's permission of course).

This recipe contains both chocolate and coffee, which is the theme for this month's We Should Cocoa challenge, guest hosted this month by The Kitchenmaid. The challenge is the brainchild of Choclette and Chele.

Monday 18 June 2012

Valrhona chocolate fondant

When I did the chocolate workshop for Valentine's Day, we were told about different types of chocolate, one of which was Valrhona. I'd never tried it, so when I was given a recipe book for Christmas and I spotted a recipe for a Valrhona chocolate fondant dessert, I bookmarked it for later. But the recipe looked pretty complicated so I hadn't gotten around to making it.... Then V came up as the letter for Alphabakes this month and I decided I couldn't put it off any longer!

According to Wikipedia, Valrhona is a French chocolate manufacturer founded in 1922 by a French pastry chef, Albéric Guironnet. It is today one of the leading producers of chocolate in the world and while it is sold to the mass market, the chocolate is commonly used by professional chefs. And it's expensive! These two small bars cost me almost £13 including postage - that's a lot for 140g of chocolate!

The recipe is from Galvin: a cookbook de luxe, by the Michelin-starred chefs Chris and Jeff Galvin, who run restaurants including La Chapelle, Bistro de Luxe and Galvin at Windows. I've never eaten in any of their restaurants but my boyfriend's mum knows them through her job and got me a signed copy of their recipe book for Christmas.

Unfortunately I don't think I've got time to email the publishers to ask for permission to reproduce the whole recipe here in time to enter it in this month's Alphabakes, so I will give a general overview of how I made the dessert. As usual, I altered a few bits anyway, and I didn't bother with the homemade honeycomb that was also part of the recipe, to be served with the chocolate fondant.

To begin, I heated some cream

Then break up a small quantity of the Valrhona chocolate (I actually divided all quantities given by three, as the recipe was to serve six and I only wanted it for two people) and add to some cocoa powder. Pour the heated cream mixture over the top and stir until dissolved.

Line an ice cube tray with clingfilm and pour the chocolate mixture in. Freeze overnight.

This is the interesting part of the chocolate fondant - it's what I would call a reverse fondant! Usually they are served warm with a hot liquid centre, but this dessert is served at room temperature, with a cold liquid centre!

The next day, to make the main part of the dessert - melt the rest of the chocolate in a bain marie

Heat cream and trimoline. I'd never even heard of this and had to Google it; it's a type of inverted sugar used in the baking and confectionery industry to prevent recrystallization of sugar. I couldn't find any websites showing where I could buy this - though admittedly I didn't look all that hard, because I did find a few websites saying I could use honey as a substitute so I decided to do that instead.

Add the cream then cubes of chilled butter to the chocolate mixture

Pour half into two ramekins

Place one (or two, if they are quite small!) of the frozen chocolate cubes in the middle

Pour the rest of the chocolate mixture over the top

Refridgerate - I think the recipe said for about two hours, but I found them very solid so took them out of the fridge at least an hour before we wanted to eat them. I also decorated the top with some Dr Oetker chocolate stars.

And serve! You can just see in this picture when you dig in with a spoon, the fondant is like a thick chocolate truffle texture, and there's a lovely liquid chocolate centre!

 This recipe was a bit of a faff, and I'm glad I didn't try to do the honeycomb at the same time - maybe next time! It tasted absolutely delicious though and was definitely worth the effort. My boyfriend commented that he thought it would taste just as nice using any good quality chocolate like Green & Black's, and that I should make it again but not necessarily go to the lengths (and cost) of ordering the Valrhona. I'd be interested to know if anyone else has tried Valrhona chocolate what they think!

I am entering my Valrhona chocolate fondant in Alphabakes, hosted by Ros from TheMoreThanOccasionalBaker, as this month the letter is V. You've still got until the 25th to enter, then check out my site on July 1st to find out the letter for next month!

 Laura Loves Cakes and Dolly Bakes are hosting a new challenge, Calendar Cakes, and their theme for this month is Euro 2012. As Valrhona chocolate is French, and France is still in Euro 2012 (so I'm told, I'm not a football fan!) then this should qualify as a suitable entry!

I'm updating this to share it with the Classic French challenge, as the theme this month is chocolate fondants. And I don't have the time right now to make one of these again! The challenge is hosted by Claire of Under the Blue Gum Tree on behalf of Jen at Blue Kitchen Bakes.

Saturday 16 June 2012

Vol-au-vents with homemade puff pastry

When I was thinking about ideas for this month's Alphabakes beginning with V, I remembered something I used to love as a child, and haven't come across for years - vol-au-vents! These little pastry cases tended to be eaten in my family around Christmas and I liked them best filled with prawns and seafood sauce. But you can have them with pretty much any filling, savoury or apparently even sweet.

The name vol-au-vent in French means something like "fly with the wind" which apparently alludes to their light and airy nature. They are actually relatively easy to make out of puff pastry, but as I described here, I decided to make it a rather lengthy process and make my own puff pastry from scratch!

To make the pastry cases, I rolled out some of the puff pastry I had made earlier and took two pastry cutters - one larger than the other, as you can see at the bottom of this photo below.

I cut two squares the same size, and used the smaller cutter to cut out the centre of one; the centre piece was to form the lid and the edging section that was left was placed on top of the larger pastry square. The idea is that when these rise, this creates the sides of the vol-au-vent and means that a gap is left in the middle to be filled.

At least that was the plan - the top section didn't rise as much as I'd hoped so there wasn't much of a gap in the middle to fill. When the vol-au-vents are still warm you can press down in the centre to help make more of a hollow.

I decided to make a few more, this time folding the pastry over to make a double thickness when I cut out the top section. The pastry is very stretchy though, so by the time I'd taken it off the cutter and placed it on top of the first pastry square, it got out of shape a bit!
I was quite pleased though that my homemade puff pastry had the same sort of stretchy quality as when I've bought it ready made.

This time it rose slightly better, though I cooked them a little longer than the last batch as well so they came out darker.

I decided to make these as a main course for dinner with my boyfriend, but couldn't decide what to put in them as he's quite fussy. I ended up buying a tub of chicken and ham sandwich filler from Tesco, adding a spoonful to each vol-au-vent and warming them through in the oven. He said they were really nice!

I felt like a different flavour combination so cooked some butternut squash and placed a few cubes in teh vol-au-vent, along with some feta cheese. I then drizzled over some balsamic syrup and placed a basil leaf on top. I served these with homemade chips and it made a really nice dinner!

I am sending these in to Ros at TheMoreThanOccasionalBaker who is hosting Alphabakes this month. You still have until the 25th to get your entries in!

How to make puff pastry

Despite what the title of this post may suggest, this is not an expert definitive guide... I've never attempted to make puff pastry before and was tempted to buy Jus-Rol for the recipe I wanted, but decided to have a go at making it from scratch! Be warned though, it's a long process...

I had a look online for some instructions and basically this is what I did:

170g plain flour
170g butter, slightly softened
150ml cold water
1 tsp lemon juice
pinch of salt

Mix 30g of the butter into the flour and salt to make a breadcrumb like texture. Then stir in the water and lemon juice and mix to form a soft dough

Turn onto a floured surface and knead

Wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for half an hour. This is my kitchen timer :-)

Next, take the softened butter and shape into a rectangle - or more like a line - that's about an inch thick. Roll out the dough into a rectangle that is three times the length, and a bit wider than the butter. Place the butter in the centre of the pastry.

Fold in a third of the pastry from the left to the centre, and a third from the right to the centre.

Roll out again - you can just see the butter merged into the pastry below. Fold in the same way again, turn a quarter turn clockwise and roll out again, and repeat the process.

Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes then repeat the folding and rolling process again twice

Apparently folding the butter into the dough like this creates a thin layer of fat between each layer of pastry; when it is cooked in the oven, the butter melts, boils and creates steam, which makes the layers of pastry rise.

Check out my next post to see what the cooked pastry looks like....