Wednesday 31 December 2014

Alphabakes roundup - X

Once again we decided to be nice and deliberately choose X as our letter for December, and accept Christmas (Xmas) and otherwise festive entries. Otherwise I doubt there would have been many entries at all!

Our first entry is a great way to use up Christmas leftovers: turkey, cranberry and stilton brunch muffins from Helen at Fuss Free Flavours. I've made savoury muffins before with ham and cheese but it never occurred to me to try turkey - what a good idea!

I wasn't expecting many X entries that weren't Christmas-related but the second entry this month is just that. Kate at the Gluten Free Alchemist has made this raspberry lemon drizzle cake, using xanthan gum as a gluten replacement. Kate made this for a pink-themed bake sale and says the cake is "dense, yet beautifully moist and syrupy. It is sharp and tangy, yet shot through with a wonderful sweetness from the sugar. The crisp coat of the icing contrasts and enhances the softness of the sponge. It is a perfect balance of flavours and textures which leaves you wanting at least another slice."

My Alphabakes co-host, Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker, made this chocolate and fig panforte for her work Christmas lunch even though she doesn't really like figs, which is really very selfless! Sprinkled with icing sugar I think these would go down well as part of a buffet, or an evening treat while you watch a festive film, or even packaged up as an edible gift.

Speaking of edible gifts, I made quite a few things this Christmas which I am going to class as one entry - including this candy cane peppermint bark and these candy cane chocolate hearts. They look very pretty, tasted good and were fun to give out to friends as they left after a weekend visit in December.

Time for a savoury entry - this salmon log is from Alida at My Little Italian Kitchen and it's beautifully decorated. The main ingredients are bread, soft cheese and smoked salmon, so what you might have as a starter on Christmas day or as part of the Boxing day buffet, but I've never seen it presented as attractively as this!

Can you believe I have never eaten a mince pie before? I decided to have a go at making them, using homemade mincemeat as well, and then following a Slimming World recipe for the pastry cases to make them a bit less sinful than normal. But then, I still didn't actually eat one!

 Here's another entry from Kate, aka the Gluten Free Alchemist, and I'm very impressed by her gluten-free gingerbread house. It sounds like she had a lot of fun with her daughter making this and I think the candy cane sleigh is particularly cute!

Karen from Lavender and Lovage sent in these St Lucia Saffron and Cardamom Sweet Buns for St Lucy’s Day. If you're not familiar with St Lucy's Day you'll have to read Karen's post which I found very interesting. The buns look quite festive so I guess I will accept those as a Christmas (Xmas) entry!

Fudge is something that I find very difficult to make and I end up with a sauce more than a solid cube, so I'm very impressed with this Christmas cranberry fudge from Angela at Garden Tea Cakes and Me. She replaced some of the caster sugar with flavoured icing sugar which I think was a really good idea.

Here's my co-host Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker again with an idea I've wanted to try for a while but not gotten around to: stained glass cookies. You cut a hole in the middle of your cookie, melt down some boiled sweets and let them set inside the cookie. And then hang them on your tree!

Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog used a breadmaker for the first time to make this chocolate panettone, which she says was light, buttery and fragrant. It's definitely Christmassy! She was also quite taken with the breadmaker.

These really cute reindeer cupcakes come from Kerene at I Am The Dream Baker. The horns are made from pretzels and the face uses both chocolate and peanut butter buttercream - yum!

Panforte marked the start of Christmas baking for Suelle at Mainly Baking and she found a recipe where she could incorporate both chocolate and figs, and really made the recipe her own. I've never had panforte before but think this looks delicious!

These stollen biscuit bites from Laura at How To Cook Good Food would make brilliant edible gifts. They contain marzipan and are also a good way of using up dried fruit that you might have bought to make your Christmas cake.

 I love this Christmas biscuit tree from Jen at Blue Kitchen Bakes - it must have taken ages! She made a series of star biscuits in varying sizes, decorated them and stacked them to look like a Christmas tree. Doesn't it look great?

Finally we have an entry that is a traditional Christmas cake - from Corina at Searching for Spice. It's a rich fruit cake which she flavoured with cider and decorated with reindeer and Christmas trees. At the time of posting Corina said she hadn't tasted the cake yet but it's the second year she has made it so I'm sure it's good!

We've got two entries now from my mum Jacqueline, first these Christmas shortbread biscuits cut in the shape of stars:

and secondly this strawberry sponge cake, filled and decorated with fresh strawberries. Where's the 'x', you ask? My mum made this for my grandmother who isn't supposed to eat as much sugar any more, so she tracked down some xylitol which is a sugar substitute. I'm sure my grandmother appreciated the effort and having a low-sugar cake that she could eat - and I certainly appreciate the unusual Alphabakes entry!

I also found an unusual ingredient - XO sauce. You can make it from scratch but it uses a lot of hard to find ingredients so I bought a jar from Tesco and used that as an ingredient in my salmon stir-fry. I'd never tried or even heard of XO sauce before but really enjoyed it.

Janine from Cake of the Week sent us this mint chocolate cheesecake. She says she only managed to do half of the Christmas baking that she had planned, but this more than makes up for it! It has a bourbon biscuit base which I've never thought to use for a cheesecake but I think that's a great idea!

Macarons are particularly hard to make so I'm impressed by these French macarons with mint chocolate ganache from Kerene aka The Dream Baker. They look perfect - you would never guess that this is her first time trying the Italian method of making macarons!

 We end on a lovely festive bake from my co-host Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker, who made these cranberry, orange, pecan and white chocolate mini loaves. She says orange is the predominant flavour but you can definitely taste the other ingredients. They look so cute wrapped up with ribbon!

Thanks to everyone who took part in Alphabakes this month - you can find out which letter Ros has chosen for January at The More Than Occasional Baker tomorrow on January 1. Happy new year!

Tuesday 30 December 2014

Stripey Sticker Name Birthday Card

I haven't had time to any crafts for the best part of this year - I put my house on the market in February and we wanted to declutter for the estate agent photographs so all my card making and craft supplies went into storage. I secured a sale on my house quite quickly and we found our dream home almost right away - it was only the second house we looked at! But as regular readers will know, what should have been a straightforward process was held up by our council taking 10 weeks to do the local searches because they were short staffed (they normally take a week to ten days) and our vendors dithering, changing their minds about the place they were buying and 'forgetting' to do any of the necessary paperwork, so in the end we didn't move in until August 28.

We then redecorated the entire house, from getting new wood floors to repainting to buying and building new furniture, so while I have unpacked my craft stuff, I still haven't got time to use any of it! I am very excited though that I have a 'craft room' - a spare room with a futon, desk, and cupboard for my craft supplies, plus a whole wall of bookcases, my dressmaker's dummy and sewing machine. Unfortunately I can't fit all my craft supplies in the cupboard so will have to rationalise them down, or sneak them into the garage and hope my boyfriend doesn't notice!

So while I haven't made any cards in a long time there are still a few I haven't posted on here. This one was very quick to make but I quite like the jazzy style. I used a pre-printed card from a mixed box and some alphabet stickers I got very cheaply from the Works; the pack had letters and numbers so I decided to spell out the recipient's name, the word 'birthday' and his age. It's hardly the most sophisticated looking card but I think it looks quite fun, and this style might be a good idea if you are struggling for ideas for cards for men!

Monday 29 December 2014

Meal Planning Monday 2015 - Week 1

It's not 2015 yet but technically this is classed as week 1 of 2015, so happy new year! I haven't yet finalised my plans (or come up with any viable ideas) for new year's eve at this point in time so I will update that later... we might invite people over on new year's day if everyone already has plans on new year's eve. We're way past wanting to actually go out on new year's eve!

Monday - back at work. Chicken kiev and chips as an alternative to leftovers.

Tuesday - Dinner at my boyfriend's mum's

Wednesday - new year's eve. We're having a quiet night in and I've bought some good quality steak.

Thursday - new year's day. We are inviting my boyfriend's family over and I'm doing a buffet.

Friday - back at work. Either leftovers or stir-fry for me, burger and chips for him.

Saturday- Going to see my sister: we were meant to see her last weekend but she was ill.

Sunday lunch-bacon sandwich for him, mackerel in mustard sauce on toast for me
dinner- Slimming World Lancashire hotpot, but I will have to do it with gammon or chicken for him

Sunday 28 December 2014

Vegan Tiramisu

Tiramisu's main ingredient is mascarpone cheese, so I wouldn't have thought you could make a vegan version - but apparently you can! I wanted a vegan dessert for when I had friends over before Christmas; I made an eggnog cheesecake as well but also needed something suitable for vegans. I recently bought a recipe book called Sweet Vegan by Emily Mainquist, which I've been using quite a lot lately, and was intrigued by the recipe for tiramisu. Instead of sponge fingers you bake a dairy-free cake and instead of mascarpone cheese you use tofu!

I did adapt the recipe slightly; as with other ones I've made from this book it suggests using evaporated cane juice but I used caster sugar instead. I used white wine vinegar instead of cider vinegar as that was all I had, and I left out the marsala - I know it's a traditional part of tiramisu but I thought this dessert might be eaten by a child (but I also made some Frozen cupcakes and in the end she had those instead!). I also used self-raising flour rather than plain flour and baking powder as it was one less thing to do! Finally I found that the quantity of coffee given was far too much - perhaps I didn't soak my sponge as much as I should have, but I only used about a third of the coffee I made up, so I have adjusted the quantity in this recipe below accordingly.

You need:
For the cake:
225g vegan margarine e.g. Pure
225g caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla flavouring
390g self-raising flour
6 tsp egg replacer, whisked with 8 tbsp. warm water
240ml soya milk
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
for the coffee filling:
200ml strong coffee
for the 'cream cheese' filling:
85g vegan margarine e.g Pure
225g soft tofu at room temperature
600g icing sugar
30g plain chocolate, grated (optional)

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease a loaf tin.

Beat the vegan margarine for the cake with the sugar and vanilla extract. Mix the egg replacer with the warm water and combine this in a jug with the soya milk and vinegar.

Alternate adding the wet ingredients and the flour to the cake mixture. Make sure everything is well combined then scrape into the loaf tin and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Allow the cake to cool then turn out onto a wire rack and leave until fully cooled.

Make up the coffee and leave to cool.

To make the filling, beat the vegan margarine, tofu and vanilla extract until smooth. Slowly mix in the icing sugar and mix until well combined.

Slice the cake into three layers and place one layer in the bottom of the loaf tin. Pour over 1/3 of the coffee and when it has soaked in, spoon 1/3 of the tofu mixture on top.

Repeat with the next layer of cake until you have used all the cake, coffee and tofu mixture. Finish the top layer with tofu and sprinkle with a little grated plain vegan chocolate if desired.

Chill in the fridge until firm. Cut into slices to serve.

I really wasn't sure what this was going to taste like given I'd replaced mascarpone cheese with tofu but it was really good - very sweet from all the icing sugar, but actually a lovely creamy dessert that vegans and non-vegans alike enjoyed.

Saturday 27 December 2014

Restaurant Review: The Water Poet, Spitalfields, London

We left it a bit late to book our Christmas lunch and couldn't get a table at the place we wanted, so decided to try the trusty Water Poet  - a pub near the office that is popular with my colleagues.

Luckily they could squeeze us in at the last minute - there were only four of us - but it did mean that we didn't get Christmas crackers at our place settings like most of the other tables had. Nonetheless we had a fun Christmas lunch.

The Water Poet has several connected rooms and an outdoor area and it has a proper restaurant as well. I guess the menu must change fairly regularly; they had a set menu Christmas lunch but their regular day time menu had roast turkey with all the trimmings, which I doubt is on there outside of December! There weren't actually a huge number of choices for meals however - only three starters, a pea and bacon soup, smoked salmon and goat's cheese pie. There were nine main courses to choose from which again isn't a huge number when three of them were vegetarian (and containing things I don't eat) - but there were the standard burger and fish and chips on there, and the others - baked salmon, roast beef - did sound nice. I wanted the roast turkey anyway so I wasn't bothered by the other choices!

The smoked salmon was good and the turkey main course was delicious - at £17.50 a bit more expensive than your typical pub meal but the meat was very good quality, and they were generous with the roast potatoes which is important to me! The stuffing was pretty good too and didn't taste like it was straight out of a packet. I wasn't keen on the cranberry and kumquat relish and would have preferred a more straightforward cranberry sauce, but that's just me.

As with the starters there was only a choice of three desserts and again none really appealed. Christmas pudding and brandy butter would have gone nicely with the turkey but I don't like Christmas pudding! I was going to have the pear syllabub with almond biscuit, but I didn't know what Sussex pond pudding was so we asked the waitress. She said it was a sponge pudding baked around a whole lemon, which sounded really nice. Unfortunately it wasn't actually a sponge cake but a suet pudding, and was served with berries - though there was also the lemon inside. But instead of the light citrusy pudding I was expecting, it was a heavy, stodgy pudding with a berry topping that I didn't actually like. It was a bit disappointing considering it cost £8 but overall I did enjoy the meal, and I'm sure we will be back!

Friday 26 December 2014

Viennese Apple Strudel

When I visited Vienna in November we went to the Schonbrunn Palace. As part of our Winter Pass ticket, we got entry to the Apple Strudel Show: a demonstration of how to make apple strudel with a piece to try.

Apple Strudel is said to originate from Austria and is a Viennese speciality in particular and the oldest known copy of a strudel recipe is a library in Vienna.

The demonstration was entirely in English which was lucky as though I speak German my boyfriend does not. As it was winter there were only a few of us watching; I don't think the other people were English and there were a couple of children who probably wouldn't have understood anything so I think we were quite lucky!

The demonstrator showed us how to make the pastry from scratch and after rolling it out, she used her hands to spread the dough further, much as people do when they are making pizza bases. She even threw the dough into the air and caught it a few times!

She explained that the dough needed to be thin enough that you could read the recipe through it, and proceeded to show us, which was amazing!

The filling was already prepared in a large bowl; she explained that it included apple, raisins, breadcrumbs and sugar, and then we watched as she placed some of the filling along one side of the dough and rolled it up using a tea towel. Part of the reason for this is that you end up with the rolled up strudel sitting on the tea towel, which makes it much easier to lift and transport to your baking tray.

The strudel went in the oven and I was expecting her to do a 'here's one I made earlier' and take the strudel from the previous demonstration out of the oven, but she didn't and the demonstration ended as the strudel went in the oven, so we didn't get to see it when it was cooked. We did get a piece to eat from a strudel which had been made earlier, served cold, which was really delicious.

We were also given a copy of the recipe to take home and since my boyfriend doesn't like apple, I decided I would make an apple strudel to take to his mum's house on Boxing Day as there would be plenty of people there to help eat it. I made the strudel on Christmas Eve as I knew I would be too busy after that!

To make the pastry, you need:
250g flour type 700 - I'd no idea what this was so used plain flour
2g salt
1 egg
100g lukewarm water (note that is grams, not millilitres)
20g oil

Preheat the oven to 190C. Mix all the ingredients and knead until you have a soft dough - I used my Kitchenaid. Form into a ball and "let it rest in vegetable oil for 30 minutes". I wasn't sure if this meant literally put the dough in a bowl of oil as that seemed like a lot of oil, so instead I rubbed oil all over the dough. My dough had been very wet and sticky but surprisingly the oil took away all of the stickiness.

Heat 50g butter in a pan and fry 100g fresh breadcrumbs until they are golden brown.

To make the filling, mix the breadcrumbs with 140g sugar, 10g cinnamon, 170g raisins, 10g lemon juice and about 1 kg peeled and thinly sliced apples, and a shot of rum. I used about half that amount of apples as it looked like an awful lot, and I knew I wouldn't be able to stretch my pastry out as big as the demonstrator so I didn't think I would need quite as much filling! I also left out the rum.

Roll out the dough on a floured tea towel. Use your hands to stretch it as thinly as possible. I wasn't quite throwing mine in the air and catching it like the demonstrator did, but it was a surprisingly pliable dough and easy to stretch.

I even tried the 'can you read the recipe through your dough' trick and I could - I was amazed as I'm not normally very good at making pastry!

Place the filling along one side of the dough, and use the tea towel to help you roll it up

It just fit into my grill pan with the grill part removed - none of my actual baking trays were big enough!

The recipe said to bake in the oven at 190C until golden brown - it didn't actually give a cooking time. I think I baked mine for about 25 minutes but you really do just need to keep an eye on it. Here's what it looks like from the inside: I can't wait to try it later today!

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Chocolate Orange Christmas Trifle

Thinking that I would have too much to do on Christmas day, I decided not to make a dessert and bought the frozen chocolate bar dessert that Heston Blumenthal designed for Waitrose. But at the last minute I found out I was having two extra guests for dinner on Christmas Eve - I had invited one but she hadn't replied, then called me to ask if when she came she could bring someone else - so I thought it would be nice to have something sweet for dessert that day. And I do like making homemade puddings!

A trifle is traditional at Christmas but I detest traditional trifles and I'm pretty sure my boyfriend doesn't like it either, so I started thinking about things we do both like - namely chocolate - and how I could incorporate this into a trifle. I also remembered I'd bought a Terry's chocolate orange when it was on offer at only £1 and put it in the cupboard intending to use it in baking or to decorate a cake. So I came up with this chocolate orange cheesecake: instead of trifle sponges it has a layer of chocolate brownie as the base, then a layer of orange jelly (to which I added some tinned mandarin oranges just to be a little bit traditional), and then a layer of chocolate orange mousse, topped with whipped double cream and decorated with Terry's chocolate orange slices.

Start by making the chocolate brownie base - it's a good idea to make this the day before you want to serve the trifle as the jelly, which goes on top, needs time to set. This is the recipe I used for the chocolate brownie; I found it made about twice the quantity that I needed (I'm not entirely sure of the capacity of my serving dish but I'd estimate about three litres or more) but that was fine because we enjoyed eating the leftover brownie!

Chocolate Brownie Base

The recipe came from BBC Good Food though I altered it slightly to use chocolate containing hazelnuts, which worked really well, and I didn't add the additional chopped milk and white chocolate.

You need:
185g butter
185g dark chocolate
85g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
3 eggs
275g caster sugar

Preheat oven to 175C. Melt the chocolate and half the butter in the microwave.

Sift the flour and cocoa powder into a bowl, beat in the eggs and sugar and then the chocolate, melted butter and the rest of the butter.

Grease and line a square 8 inch cake tin and pour in the mixture. Bake in the preheated oven for about 35 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. I needed to cook mine for a little longer as the mixture was quite deep in the tin. When the brownies were cooked, they were still lovely and fudgy in the middle.

Chocolate Orange Mousse Layer

My recipe was inspired by this one on All Recipes. You need:
4 eggs, separated
250g plain chocolate, melted
juice and grated zest of 1 orange

In a bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks until fluffy then whisk in the melted chocolate. Then whisk in the orange zest and juice. Finally fold in the egg whites and place in the fridge to set.

To assemble the trifle

Break or cut up the chocolate brownie and place the pieces in the bottom of a serving dish. Make up an orange jelly according to the packet instructions and leave in the fridge for an hour or more until the jelly is still runny but just starting to set a little - this will prevent it all from soaking into the chocolate brownies. When you are ready, open a tin of mandarin orange segments and sprinkle over the top of the brownies then pour over the jelly. Leave in the fridge overnight to set.

Spoon the chocolate mousse once it has set on top of the jelly layer.

Whisk some double cream and spoon on the top and decorate with Terry's chocolate orange slices.

This is actually my entry to this month's Food 'n' Flix. Heather at Girlichef has chosen the film A Christmas Story, which is from 1983 and a classic, but I've never heard of it.

The film has several inter-connecting stories but the main one is about a little boy who wants a BB gun from Santa. To be honest I didn't like it that much - it's one of those 'family comedies' where you either need to be a kid or watching with kids to really enjoy it. I also found it quite dated - my idea of a Christmas movie is probably Love Actually and I don't tend to like any of the more schmaltzy older ones. But it seems this film is a staple on TV in America over Christmas and it is the sort of thing that I can imagine families gathered together and watching on Christmas Eve.

So my recipe inspired by the movie was always just going to be something Christmassy, so I am sending Heather my chocolate orange Christmas trifle.