Sunday 31 May 2015

F1 Foods: Monaco round-up and Canadian challenge

Last weekend's Grand Prix in Monaco inspired me to make a dish called chicken Monte Carlo, even though I didn't have all the ingredients I needed - it still tasted really nice!

There were a couple of other entries for my Formula 1 Foods challenge; Suelle at Mainly Baking made this aniseed and orange frangipane jalousie. She's been a great contributor to this challenge and did a lot of research into potential bakes, and came across something called a fougasse. Suelle used that as inspiration and made a frangipane-filled pastry which looks great.

Fougasse was also the idea hit upon by Jane at Onions and Paper who has also been a very welcome regular contributor to this challenge! She made this with almonds and fennel, and couldn't find a recipe so devised her own. She said the flavours made a gorgeous combination.

The next Grand Prix takes place in Montreal, Canada, from June 5-7. I'd love to see your Canadian recipes whether they are sweet or savoury; please add them to the link up by Wednesday 10 June.

Saturday 30 May 2015

Eggs in Bacon Cups for a quirky cooked breakfast

If you're bored of having your eggs the same way at breakfast why not try these cute eggs in bacon cups? They are pretty quick to make and are a bit different!
Preheat the oven to 180C. You need one rasher of bacon per egg. Spray a muffin pan with Fry Light and place a strip of bacon around the inside of each muffin hole. Snip off a little piece of bacon and put on the bottom.

Crack an egg into each muffin hole

Bake in the oven for ten minutes and that's it!

Serve as part of your fried breakfast or on their own

Friday 29 May 2015

Red Pepper Houmous

Red pepper houmous is really easy to make and a nice change from the plain variety. Making your own houmous also means it can be low in fat and salt and generally quite healthy. It's really good to take to a barbecue or if you are having lunch al fresco at home.

You need:
410g tin of chickpeas
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 roasted red peppers from a jar - in brine is healthier than in oil
squeeze of lemon juice
2 tbsp. olive oil

Put the chickpeas and garlic in a food processor with some salt and pepper, then pulse. Add the peppers, lemon juice and oil and pulse until you have a smooth paste. Spoon into a bowl and serve with crudites or breadsticks.

Thursday 28 May 2015

Restaurant Review - Van of Death, Cambridge

Life, or Death? No, not a threat, or a philosophical conundrum - but a late night kebab choice for the students of Cambridge.

When I went back for a college reunion recently, we had a lavish dinner but I couldn't not go to the Van of Death - and I couldn't miss telling you about it. Like many things in Cambridge, the Van of Death - or VoD as it is affectionately known - officially has another name: Uncle Frank's. But this is common - the nightclub we went to was known as Cindy's, and appears to still be called Cindy's by students now, even though the name had changed to something else (Fifth Avenue) even by the time I started university in 1998, and I think it's now called Ballare.

So Uncle Frank's will always be the Van of Death to  us. Situated on the left hand side of the market square if you are facing King's, there is also a similar van on the other side of the square - known as the Van of Life. There were various myths and legends as to how the name came about, but none of my friends really know.

The thing was, you were loyal to one or the other. My group of friends were always for the VoD - disparaging remarks would jokingly be made about people who went to Life and vice versa, a bit like how Oxford and Cambridge students tease each other. To be honest I doubt the food was much different, and late at night on the way home from Cindy's nobody really cared. Did we only go to the VoD because it was fractionally (that is, a matter of yards) closer to our college? I don't know. What I do know is that we looked very fondly upon the men who worked in the van (I think one of them may have been the eponymous Frank) and his clarion call of "chilli sauce?"

If you're ever in Cambridge late at night, there's nothing like a trip to the VoD.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

Birdcage Birthday Cake

Birdcages are a common theme at weddings and recently they have become popular as birthday cakes as well. I went to a wedding a few years ago of a couple whose surname is Bird, and they had a birdcage on each table – which I actually sourced for them – filled with flowers and decorated with little birds. I was given one of them to keep afterwards and replaced the flowers with dried ones, and I have it on display in my bedroom.
I’ve noticed a few birdcage cakes on the internet and thought they were really pretty and when I was sent a pair of bird cookie cutters to review by Cake Mart, I thought this was the perfect opportunity. I also used another item they sent me for review which was not exactly the purpose it was meant for, but it worked really well!

The cake itself didn't quite turn out as I'd hoped; despite making sure that my cakes all looked even, when I covered it with the fondant it looked a bit lumpy. I'm not sure how else I could have done this on this scale - if it was a smaller cake I could have left out the buttercream in between the layers, and made one or two large sponges and carved it. Maybe the way to do this is to make a mini birdcage cake!

I used the same lemon cake recipe that I made for this cake so I'm not going to repeat it here, as there are several steps to assembling the cake. Here's the cake, or part of it at least - I doubled the quantities in the recipe.

The top of the cake needs to be a dome and I would normally bake another cake in a hemisphere tin but I had some offcuts of cake left over from another recipe. I treated it like a giant cake pop, turning the cake into crumbs and mixing with buttercream until I had the consistency of a pliable dough, which I then shaped into a dome.

As you can see, the cakes look very neat when stacked together (other than the top), so I don't know what happened when I covered them with fondant! I think actually looking at the picture on the right, one of the layers shifted due to the buttercream.

I covered the whole stack of cake with ready-made fondant which I had coloured light blue with some Sugarflair gel colour. You can also buy a pre-coloured pack but that way is more expensive.

Looking at pictures of bird cages online I saw they had wide bands horizontally around the top and bottom and then thinner rungs (or wires) running vertically. I knew that I couldn't do this freehand, so had the idea of using this pastry lattice cutter that I was sent by a German company called Cake Mart - they also have a UK site. This allowed me to cut very thin strips which I separated with a knife. It worked really well and it's nice to know products can have multi uses!

For the wider strips I used a fondant ribbon cutter from Cake Boss that my boyfriend gave me for Christmas. It's a great little set that comes in a metal tin, consisting of a roller with a handle, and various wheels that give you different width and style ribbons, such as straight or wavy.


Cake Mart also sent me these bird cookie cutters, which come in a pretty box and would make a lovely gift. They are big enough to use for cookies but also small enough that you could use them for fondant in cake decorating projects, as I've done here. They are robust and comfortable to use.

I used a litte water to stick the bands around the top and bottom of the cake and stuck the smaller strips vertically around the sides. I made some very quick hand-rolled roses and stuck them down one of the cage rungs.

Here is one of the birds which I cut out using the cutters from the same pink fondant as the roses as I didn't want to introduce too many colours.

Another bird which I placed on top of the cage

I also made a handle for the top. Here is the finished cake - definitely not one of my best and it looks a bit messu which is largely down to the uneven cake and fondant covering. Next time I think I would make a smaller cake and carve it rather than stacking several layers together. You get the general idea of a birdcage cake though and it did taste good! I took this into work for my birthday.
I'm sharing this with Love Cake, hosted by Ness at JibberJabber UK; her theme this month is 'colour me pretty'.

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Italian Stuffed Peppers


We had my boyfriend's family over for his birthday in April and he wanted a buffet meal that people could help themselves to and eat while standing up. His mum does great buffets on Boxing Day with the same dishes every year - quiche, cocktail sausages, pate etc - and so I wanted to do something a bit different. I had the idea of an Italian themed buffet which worked really well, as I could buy a lot of things ready made and could prepare some other things in advance. One thing I made was these Italian stuffed peppers.

They are very easy to make and don't take long; you can do them while you've got the oven on for something else and then serve them either hot or cold which makes them ideal for buffets. They are also a good substantial vegetarian option.

To begin, slice some red peppers in half and remove the seeds. Turn the peppers so the cut side is facing down and place on a piece of baking foil. Roast in the oven at about 180C for about 15-20 minutes until the skins are just starting to char.

I used Uncle Ben's microwave risotto rice which is brilliant - you add water to the pouch and microwave it for two minutes and have a lovely risotto. As these were for vegetarians I used the tomato and herb flavour, and added some chopped onion to the rice mixture.
Spoon the rice into the pepper halves, and dot with cubes of mozzarella.

Return to the oven or grill to heat through just before serving (though you could also serve these cold later) so that the cheese melts. I thought these were delicious!

I'm sharing these with the Family Foodies challenge, hosted by Vanesther at Bangers & Mash, as the theme this month is Italian food. These are fairly child-friendly to make (you could let your children add the filling to the peppers) and also to eat - it's a good way to introduce them to peppers.

I'm also entering this in the Extra Veg challenge, which is hosted this month by Kate at Veggie Desserts on behalf of Helen at Fuss Free Flavours and  Michelle at Utterly Scrummy.

Monday 25 May 2015

Meal Planning Monday 2015 - Week 22

Monday – bank holiday
Lunch: bacon sandwich
Dinner: roast chicken breasts with poutine followed by Deliciously Ella's chocolate mousse if I can sneak that one past my boyfriend!
Lunch: bulgar wheat, apricot and chickpea salad
Dinner: fish and vegetables for me, gammon steak for him
Lunch: salad
Dinner: I want to try out my new spiralizer and am going to make this sweet potato pasta, and my boyfriend can have normal spaghetti and meatballs.
Lunch: out with a colleague
Dinner: honey soy salmon for me, sausage and mash for him
Lunch: salad or sandwich
Dinner: end-of-week treat: burger and chips
Lunch: baked potato with spicy chickpeas with tomato dressing
Out for afternoon tea
Dinner: probably won’t want much but my boyfriend will (as it’s a ladies afternoon tea) so he can have a pizza from the freezer
Lunch: Out – we’re taking part in the London to Brighton rally
Dinner: something quick from the freezer as we may be back late

Sunday 24 May 2015

Deliciously Ella: Fennel, quinoa and broad bean summer salad

It's been a lovely bank holiday weekend and we've been to a barbecue today for my boyfriend's mum's 60th. It was hosted by her other son so I wasn't needed to provide the food (and didn't get to make the cake unfortunately!) but I did want to help out if I could. I was asked to make some sort of cous cous salad - since the other bases were already covered - and immediately thought of Deliciously Ella.

Have you come across Ella Woodward yet? Her cookbook was the fastest selling debut ever - though Ella had already become something of a celebrity through her blog, Deliciously Ella. The recipes are all extremely healthy, as Ella changed her way of eating after being diagnosed with a rare illness. I'd seen some of her recipes online and they appealed to me, so for my birthday I asked for - and got - a spiralizer and a copy of her recipe book.

The recipe I chose for my salad dish is available online here. It actually uses quinoa, though I found that the quantity wasn't really enough so added couscous as well (after all I was asked to make a cous cous dish!). It involves a whole host of other vegetables, including avocado which I have never cooked with before, and I thought that since my boyfriend's mum is a vegetarian she might enjoy it. It's certainly a very colourful, summery salad, and far more substantial and interesting than a bowl full of lettuce, tomato and cucumber!

Preparing the fennel mixing with the marinade

Cooking the quinoa

Red pepper and avocado

Adding the sweetcorn and broad beans

With the cous cous and quinoa, the fennel and the marinade some extra lemon juice and seasoning

I'm sharing this with Alphabakes, the blog challenge I co-host with Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker, as the letter she has chosen this month is Q.

I'm also sending this to the Food Year Linkup, hosted by My Recipe Book, as it's National Vegetarian Week and also this is perfect for BBQ season.

Food Year Linkup May15
 This recipe is ideal for No Croutons Required, the salads and soups blog challenge run by Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes and Lisa at Lisa's Kitchen.

Saturday 23 May 2015

Chicken Monte Carlo


This weekend is the Monaco Grand Prix in Monte Carlo and so I've made a recipe called Chicken Monte Carlo. I found it online but couldn't find any explanation of why the dish has that name so I don't know if it has anything to do with Monte Carlo itself but the name alone means it fits with my Formula 1 Foods challenge!
I found several recipes for Chicken Monte Carlo online which were all slightly different and as I wasn't sure which to use, I picked different elements of each. They all seemed to use broccoli  which I always have in the house so was very surprised to find when I started cooking that I had run out! I decided to make the dish anyway and use leeks instead so this ended up being a fairly random recipe but it did actually taste very nice.
This recipe is the closest one to how I made it but I was surprised at the amount of mayonnaise it called for and used far less, and I didn't use any stuffing. I had to use leeks instead of broccoli and Red Leicester cheese instead of Cheddar!



I served this with mashed potato and some more veg; it tasted nice even though it was quite different from the original recipe - but as I was about to go on holiday and made this just before I went away, so I could post the recipe this weekend, I didn't have any time to do anything else!

I'm sharing this with Formula 1 Foods, the blog challenge I started in honour of the F1 Grand Prix.