Monday 31 March 2014

Meal Planning Monday 2014 - week 14

A busy week and one that I know is going to be terrible on the diet front! We have a double celebration for my boyfriend's birthday and I'm off to Paris for work for two days (I love my job!). As well as meals out the office is just a few doors down from Laduree, home of the most amazing macarons!

breakfast yogurt
lunch chicken sandwich
Dinner prawn linguine for me, chicken fajitas for the other half

Breakfast yogurt
Lunch baked potato with prawns
Dinner takeaway for my boyfriend's birthday followed by chocolate cake

Breakfast either toast at home or I will take a cereal bar with me as I'm off to Paris
Lunch probably a sandwich on the Eurostar
Dinner in a Parisian restaurant

Breakfast at a breakfast briefing so whatever is provided
Lunch probably a sandwich or in a cafe on the way back to the gare du nord
Dinner back home but later than usual so I will want something quick for dinner and will probably have pasta if my boyfriend has already eaten or something from the freezer with chips if he hasn't eaten by the time I get home (he doesn't really like pasta in its own)

Breakfast yogurt
Lunch ryvita with cream cheese
Dinner spaghetti bolognese

Breakfast yogurt
Lunch soup and fresh bread
Dinner out at the cinema for my boyfriend's birthday and he wants to eat at Nando's

Brunch bacon sandwich for him, tuna melt bagel for me
Afternoon having my boyfriend's family over for his birthday so I'm making another chocolate cake and serving some snack food
Dinner will depend what we ate in the afternoon, we could just have something like beans on toast for dinner

Sunday 30 March 2014

Alphabakes - The First Season (Looking Back)

Just over two years ago, Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker and I came up with the idea of Alphabakes. We enjoyed entering different blog challenges and wanted to start one of our own. The idea was born over dinner one night where we excitedly came up with the concept and the name - that we would choose a different letter of the alphabet each month, in a random order, and ask bloggers to make a recipe beginning with that letter or using a main ingredient beginning with that letter. And so Alphabakes was born!


We were thrilled by how many people got on board with the idea and sent us entries month after month - sometimes we had as many as 60. Putting together the round-ups is always quite time consuming, particularly because we both have busy full time jobs, but it's definitely worthwhile. We love to see what ideas people come up with - I've definitely come across many new recipes and even some new ingredients I haven't heard of before! You even did us both proud when we had some particularly difficult letters like Z.

We've now come to the end of the alphabet with U being the last letter - we started with L, for anyone who can remember that far back! Well, we have some good news for all you keen Alphabakers - we're starting again! I'm sure there are some people who haven't taken part every month, or only came across Alphabakes when we were half way through the alphabet; equally I know it's hard to choose just one (or two, or three) recipes to make and there were plenty of others that you could have made when we had that particular letter. So on April 1 we will begin season 2 of Alphabakes - again selecting the letters in a random order. Of course, it will be a little easier this time around; if you can't think of something beginning with that letter, just have a look at the round-up that we posted the first time around. Of course, if you took part last time, you might want to challenge yourself to make something more unusual -or try out one of the recipes from another blogger that we included in the roundup. Of course, we're not going to make it quite that easy for you to start with, and we have a little surprise up our sleeves for April... watch this space!

I thought it would be fun to look back over some of my favourite entries from the first "season" of Alphabakes. These are just some of my personal highlights - it's very hard to choose favourites as there were so many great entries. But here are a few I thought I would share with you, looking back:

A - April 2013
We had a good selection of ingredients and bakes beginning with A; for instance these Chocolate Cupcakes with Avocado Frosting from Elizabeth at Elizabeth's Kitchen. We also had quite a few savoury bakes.

 B - April 2012
We had almost 50 entries this month with a few bread entries as well as cakes. I sent in quite a few entries myself including some bacon brownies which are best never mentioned again.... on the other hand these mini banoffee pies by Sarah from Maison Cupcake look delightful.

C- October 2013
We had to wait a long time for this popular letter to come up which gave you plenty of time to think of ingredients other than chocolate! We had chai, cherries, crepes, coffee, cinnamon and these Candy Corn Pumpkin Blondies by Stuart from Cakeyboi.

D- January 2013
This month introduced me to a new ingredient I hadn't heard of before, dukkah. And if you're ever wondering what you can do with dates, look no further than the round-up here. One entry that stands out for me this month was Kit from i-Lost in Austen with this beautiful hazelnut dacquoise with chestnut cream.

 E- February 2013
I needn't have been worried that people would use e for eggs in a cake, as we had much more imaginative recipes and ingredients. I was particularly proud of my  Elvis Cupcakes - banana, peanut butter and bacon, apparently Elvis's favourite sandwich filling. Not everyone was keen on the caramelized bacon though!


F- July 2013
We have been very lucky with Alphabakes to have been able to work with some great companies and brands and are very grateful to the friendly PRs who have provided prizes for the occasional challenge. This month was one such challenge when we were able to offer a prize. For F, I tackled the notoriously difficult fraisier, which turned out a lot better than I expected, while Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker made a fig, yogurt and walnut cake, with pomegranate and pistachio.


 G- August 2013
As expected there were a lot of ginger entries but quite a few interesting and unusual recipes too. I am always impressed with everyone's creativity and this month is no different. Alphabakes isn't always about cakes; we often have savoury entries and this month even had jam -

wild strawberry, rose and purple gooseberry jam from Dom from Belleau Kitchen. 

H- May 2012
This was one of the earliest letters we had, and entries ranged from hazelnuts to Hellmann's mayonnaise to homemade honeycomb to handbag cakes! Check out this beautiful Okinawan Sweet Potato Haupia Pie by Kit from i-Lost In Austen

I- March 2013
We actively discouraged entries using icing for the letter I this month which made it harder for some people, but we still had plenty of great ideas, and a fabulous prize from Dr. oetker. However we had to make an exception and allow icing as the key word after we saw this fondant decorated cake by Elizabeth from Elizabeth's Kitchen. 
  J- November 2012
For the first time we seemed to have some of you stumped… or maybe you were busy in the run-up to Christmas, I know I was. We didn’t have quite as many Alphabakes entries this month but we still had some great entries. I also want to give a hat tip to both of our mothers - especially as it's Mothers Day today. They have been among the biggest supporters of Alphabakes - my mum has taken part every single month apart from this one, as she made her U entry long ago then accidentally deleted the photo before the challenge came up with that letter! Neither of our mums have blogs, so they email us photos of what they have made, and Ros and I love to be able to showcase their skills. After all, our mums were the ones who taught us how to bake! This month is a good example: Ros's mum made this raspberry jam tart and my mum made a jam and coconut sponge. 

K - May 2013
Not that I want to keep showing off what Ros and I made, but I'm particularly proud of our creations this month. I used Kit Kats to make this pigs in mud cake, and it's the most popular post of all time on my blog, with about five times as many hits as the second most popular post. Ros's Kinder Bueno cupcakes are also a 'must try' and look beautiful (and probably taste even better!).

L- Feb 2012
This is where it all started! L was the first letter for the Alphabakes challenge and we weren't sure how many people would take part, and if we would have anything other than lemon entries... we needn't have worried! There were 33 entries- not bad for a brand-new blog challenge - and lots of lovely lemon but some other more unusual entries too.

Laura at lauralovescakes made a stunning Lychee, Rose and Raspberry mousse cake. A true labour of love which took several hours to make but I'm sure that you will agree that it's worth it!

M- March 2012
A nice easy letter with a myriad of possibilities...far too many for me to mention so you will just have to revisit the roundup. What do you think of these Mint mojito cupcakes from Olivia from Liv a Little Bakery ?

N- October 2012
The weather getting colder was just right for this round-up full of nuts and nutella; there was some fruit as well and quite a few Nanaimo bars - I thought I was being original but several other people had the same idea! These ones are from Helene from I Cook with Butter.
026 (Copy) 

 O- November 2013
As well as orange, there were quite a few entries with Oreos - my favourite biscuit, which works really well in cakes and cheesecake. And an introduction to something new, gulab jamun  in this white chocolate, orange and gulab jamun cheesecake from Chintal of Chinskitchen. Gulab jamun are deep fried balls made from milk solids that are soaked in a sugar syrup flavoured with cardamom and rosewater or saffron before frying. Chintal’s cheesecake recipe also uses cardamom powder for extra flavouring and the finished result looks very pretty.


P - September 2012
 A wonderful prize from Charbonnel et Walker made this one of our most popular challenges, so it took a long time to do the round-up! This Raspberry Margarita Polenta cake was sent in by Becks aka LilMsSquirrel of the 366 Recipe Challenge. Polenta is a great ingredient for baking as it makes the cakes gluten free; in this case Becks added lime juice and tequila to give it a bit of a kick. I’d love to try this!

Q- September 2013
A much harder letter this time but another chocolate giveaway, provided in this case by Hotel Chocolat. We had Queen of Puddings and quiche, quince and quark, among others. Mel atSharky Oven Gloves made a Silverbeet (Swiss chard) and Feta Quiche.
 Silverbeet & feta quiche 2

R- June 2013
We had some nice seasonal ingredients like rhubarb and raspberries, and these Rose Lemonade Scones from Karen from Lavender and Lovage. The scones are made with Rose Lemonade, flour, salt, sugar, creme fraiche and milk. If you can't source rose lemonade, you can use regular lemonade and add some rose water or essence.

S - December 2012
This seems such a long time ago now! There were several festive takes on the letter S including spices, snowballs, and this Santa bread from Vivian Pang Kitchen.

 T - August 2012
A nice easy letter with lots of entries, including treacle, toffee apple, tiramisu and trifle. Becky from Mintcustard sent in these chocolate tiffin biscuits that her mum used to make to keep them happy! 
 U - March 2014
This was the last letter we had, and it wasn't easy - unsurprisingly there were an awful lot of upside down cakes, but using all kinds of ingredients and they all looked great. There were also a few more unusual entries like my Umbongo cake! Check out these  Upside Down Toffee Apple Squares by Suelle from Mainly Baking. It contains apples, hazelnuts and mixed spice and looks really light and moist. 
V- June 2012
A Victoria sponge is arguably the most classic kind of cake there is, and vanilla is one of the most traditional flavours, so it's not surprising that both of those came up a fair bit this month. We also had quite a few Viennese fingers and whirls, and these  White Russian Cupcakes from PiggyBakes which contain Vodka and Kahlua.

W - July 2012
Walnuts and white chocolate were some of the most popular ingredients this month but one of the entries that really stands out were the two simply amazing wedding cakes by Nom from the Nom Bakery; here's one of the ones she made:

X - December 2013
We decided to make things a little bit easier for you as we knew this would be the most difficult letter, so deliberately waited until December to choose X, so we could accept Xmas entries. It's impossible to pick a favourite but something about the photograph here appeals to me; Kate from Veggie Desserts has made these Mince Pies with Spinach Pastry.

Y -January 2014
Most people seemed to find this a lot easier than X the previous month; yogurt featured in a lot of entries; among the non-yogurt related entries was this by Jean from Baking in Franglais with a Yorkshire Curd Tart with cranberries.

Z - February 2014
We had lots of zucchini entries, unsurprisingly, quite a lot of zest, some zebra cakes and a zombie graveyard. Kate, aka the Gluten Free Alchemist, made this zesty drizzled lemon cake with roasted strawberry cream cheese frosting.

It's been brilliant fun running Alphabakes with Ros over the last 26 months and I'm looking forward to the next 26, and I hope you are all looking forward to taking part!

Saturday 29 March 2014

Restaurant review: Wagamama

Restaurant name: Wagamama
Location: Mansion House, London
Description: Casual Japanese-style dining. You sit on long benches - often sharing tables with strangers - and have a paper placemat on which the waiter scribbles the number of your order. Dishes range from huge bowls of soup and noodles to salads and bento boxes; there's also a nice range of fresh juices to drink.
Reason for visit: Lunch with work colleagues when our manager came over from America - he likes this kind of food and it was a chain he had never been to before. It's also quite cheap and quick.
I ate: Chicken katsu curry - chicken goujons in breadcrumbs with a spicy curry sauce and a mound of rice, £9.50. I had a very nice fresh juice with it from the seasonal menu that was printed on my paper placemat.
My companions ate: Kare lomen - ramen noodles with chicken - £10.25 and wagamama pad thai with chicken and prawns, £9.75.

The food was: Very good; Wagamama is a successful and popular chain and with good reason. The portions are large and filling but this never seems like 'heavy' food. My only complaint is that I find it impossible to eat any of the soup-based noodle dishes (which are full of broth) without sloshing it all down myself, which is why I often tend to stick to things like the chicken katsu curry!
The atmosphere/service was: Very low key and casual, and the service is fast. They let you know that they will bring dishes when they are ready - so you have side dishes rather than starters - but it meant that most of our group had finished their main courses before one of our friends received hers. We pointed that out to the waiter who apologised, but there was no reason given for the delay to her meal, which was the same kind of food that everyone else was eating. I also noticed when we left that there was quite a queue outside, but a lot of empty seats inside, which I didn't understand.
Price range/value for money: It seemed a little more expensive than I remember, but I hadn't been to a Wagamama for years and I expect prices are lower outside of central London. Even so, the portions are large and the prices are good value. Green tea is free of charge which makes a nice change from water and can keep the cost of a meal very low.
Would I recommend it? Yes, it's a good place for lunch or a quick dinner, with plenty of healthy options and it's not very expensive.

Friday 28 March 2014

Atelier des Chefs - Cook, Eat and Run

I enjoy cookery lessons and had a great time when I went to the Atelier des Chefs near St Paul's for my boyfriend's birthday; we had a private lesson making burgers and potato wedges. I worked near to the venue so when I knew I was leaving my job back in February, I decided to go there one last time. As well as 60 and 90 minute evening courses, they run a lunchtime session called "cook, eat and run". The idea is that you spend thirty minutes learning to prepare a dish, then you can either sit down and eat it or take it back to the office with you - so the whole thing fits neatly into a lunchbreak (as long as you work nearby!). Best of all, the whole thing - the lesson, and the meal that you get to eat - only costs £15.

The classes each focus on cooking one dish, so I had a look at the calendar and chose a date that suited me but also a meal that I liked the sound of. I chose a French dish of chicken with tarragon and creme fraiche.

When I arrived, there was only one other person there and we were waiting for one more. While we were waiting, the chef asked if we fancied making a chocolate brownie dessert, so of course we said yes! He had some melted chocolate and we whipped it up with the other ingredients and he poured the mixture into a tin which went into the oven, and that was that.

When the third person had arrived, we started the lesson. We each had a space on the workstation with bowls of ingredients, including mushrooms and fresh tarragon. The mushrooms had to be washed and sliced, the tarragon chopped and some onion chopped as well.

We tossed the chicken pieces in some oil - these big tongs were a particularly good tool for the job and I bought myself some similar ones afterwards.

The chicken is then griddled at a high temperature until it is cooked

We had some sliced potatoes which had been parboiled; these were added to a large frying pan along with the chicken, the onion, the creme fraiche and finally the tarragon.

It was a simple recipe but really very tasty. We served our own portions and sat down to eat.

The chef then took the chocolate brownies out of the oven, which he had made in a muffin tin. The brownies were chewy on the outside and almost runny on the inside - more like a chocolate fondant than a brownie. Absolutely delicious!

We were charged extra for the drinks we had with the meal and I didn't realise we were also going to be charged for the dessert as well; I thought we had been allowed to make it as a bonus to kill time while we were waiting for someone to turn up. On the other hand I didn't really mind paying a few pounds for such a delicious dessert! The class is extremely good value, at only £15 for the lesson and the food - you would pay at least that for the food alone in a pub or cafe as it was really good quality. I no longer work so close to the Atelier des Chefs location but I'm really not that far away so I hope to go again at some point. I highly recommend it if you are looking for a cookery course in London.

Thursday 27 March 2014

Leaving Cake - Finding Nemo/ So Long And Thanks For All The Fish

finding nemo cake

This blog post will tell you how to make fondant fish, and how to make a chocolate barrel or fence cake with Kit Kats.

I recently left my job to join another company and knew that I had to make a showstopper of a cake for my last day at work. I was known for making elaborate and imaginative cakes, and was asked to help run the charity bake sales, so when it got closer to my last day at the firm, several people were asking what kind of cake I would make! The most popular cake I had made before was this pigs in mud cake; I made it for a bake sale but by the time the cake trolley made it to the 6th floor there was none of this particular cake left, and several disappointed people who had heard from their friends on other floors that they must try it! So I have had a few requests to make it again, but didn't want to make exactly the same cake a second time. I started thinking about how I could decorate it as my leaving cake and thought of a famous line from the Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams- "So long and thanks for all the fish". I wanted to make a fence or barrel effect out of KitKats as before and thought that fish in a barrel would work (no suggestion of my job being particularly easy, if you also know that quotation!). I decided I could make white chocolate ganache instead of plain chocolate to go on top, and colour it blue to look like water.

To start with I made the fish a few days in advance. I'm going to show you how I made the fondant fish. To start with, I had a look through my box of food colours - this box came from Boots with some toiletries at Christmas but it's perfect for my bottles and tubes of food colouring!

To begin I decided to make a clown fish like the one in Finding Nemo. Here's what you need to do: coloured some white fondant with orange gel colour and make a ball.  Roll it between your hands to elongate the shape so it is thicker at one end than the other, then pinch the end between your fingers to make a flat shape.

I have a set of modelling tools which are great when you are making things like this. There's one that has an end that looks like a fluted shell:

Press this into the end of the fish to give a fin effect.

Roll some thin sausage shapes from white fondant and stick around the fish to make stripes.

Make a short thick sausage shape and use your finger to squash at both ends to make a sort of bow shape, and stick this on top of the fish to make a fin. Make two thick semi circles and stick these on each side. I used the same modelling tool to make indentations.

's another tool which is perfect for making a smiley mouth!

Press into the fish's face to make a mouth, then roll two small balls of white fondant and two tiny balls of black fondant (you can also use piping icing or an edible ink pen) for the eyes.

I wanted to make a fish's tail so it would look like one was diving under the water. This is what you do: Colour some white fondant - in this case I went for a paler orange. Roll a thick ball and cut in half with a knife; this will be the end of the fish's body (left). Roll out a thick circle and use a heart-shaped cutter to cut a piece out then slice the bottom of the heart shape off with a knife. Stick this onto the body, using some edible glue if necessary.

To make the next fish, an angel fish, I added some Dr. Oetker gel colour to some white fondant. In the past I've been quite disappointed with supermarket food colouring and I never use liquid food colouring any more. Dr. Oetker has a range of gel colours that are not as strongly pigmented as the professional brands like Wilton or Sugarflair, but they are inexpensive and easily available in supermarkets. I decided to use the violet Dr. Oetker colour for this fish as I wanted a relatively pale lilac, but for a stronger, more vibrant colour I would always use Sugarflair.

To make this fish, roll a large ball and slightly pinch at one end. Make a short sausage and use your thumb to press into both ends to flatten them; then use the same tool as before to add the markings. Fix the tail onto the body, using edible glue if necessary.

Make a fin in the same way to go on top of the fish and flatten two small balls for the fins at the side. Use the same tool as before to make the mouth, and roll tiny balls of white and black fondant to make the eyes.

Finally I coloured a small piece of fondant with Wilton black gel colour and shaped it into a triangle to look like a shark's fin. And now your fish are ready to go on the cake!

For the cake I chose a recipe from the Good Housekeeping Baking Book for an Easter Chocolate Fudge Cake, though I didn't use the recipe given for the icing or decoration. I doubled the recipe but made the cake in two separate tins rather than slice a large cake through the middle.

For each cake, you need (so double this to make both layers):
175g butter
150g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
150g light brown sugar
3 eggs
250ml sour cream
1 tsp vanilla flavouring

For the filling:
about 100ml double cream
100g plain chocolate
100g softened butter
200g icing sugar
blue food colouring
about 40-42 Kit Kat fingers
and of course your fondant fish!
Preheat oven to 180C. Mix the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

Beat the butter and sugar together in a separate bowl.

Beat in the eggs, and then the flour and cocoa mixture. Then beat in the sour cream and vanilla.

Grease and line an 8 inch loose-bottomed cake tin; I sprayed mine with PME cake release.

Spoon the mixture into the tin and bake for about 45 minutes. If you have two tins of the same size you can bake both cakes at once, but I did it separately.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin

Then turn onto a baking rack to cool.

I made a chocolate ganache by melting the chocolate and cream together; it doesn't take long to thicken and set.

I spread this between the two cakes and spread a little of the ganache on the top and around the sides too. I took the Kit Kats out of their packets and stuck them one by one around the side of the cake.

I love the way this looks!

I decided to make some white chocolate ganache which I coloured aqua with food colouring, but the white chocolate just wouldn't set and my ganache was still very runny. I spooned it on top but a few minutes later it started to seep out between the Kit Kats - so I wouldn't recommend doing it this way!

Instead I decided to make some buttercream which I also coloured, though it looks quite pale in this photo as I was using the camera flash. Spooning the buttercream on in a fairly haphazard manner looked a lot like waves on the ocean.

Finally place your fish on top.

kit kat cake

fishpond cake

This was very popular with my work colleagues and I know they are all going to miss my baking! 
So long, and thanks for all the fish!

I'm sharing this with Tea Time Treats, the blog challenge hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and Janie of the Hedgecombers, as their theme this month is chocolate.

I am also sending this to Love Cake, hosted by Jibber Jabber, as the theme is "baking with passion". Everyone I worked with knows I have a passion for baking and this cake was a real labour of love as the fondant fish did take quite a long time!