Saturday 30 April 2016

Alphabakes Roundup April 2016 - T

We didn’t have many entries for this month’s Alphabakes, but I’m certainly not complaining as wedding planning hasn’t left me much time! I have been baking a bit this month though as several people have had birthdays (myself included!). The letter we were using this month was T.
I took part in a chocolate truffle-making workshop with Farfetch a few weeks ago which was good fun (and the cocktails they made us were to die for), so I decided to share the result with this challenge. You can see my truffles and how I made them here.
The second entry into this month’s Alphabakes challenge was also one from me. My fiancé loves chocolate so I made him an indulgent chocolate birthday cake, filled and covered with chocolate ganache, and decorated with Cadbury Twirl Bites (which was my letter T). The cake contained some unusual ingredients – Coca Cola and melted marshmallows – and it tasted amazing!
 My mum Jacqueline made a tangerine pound cake, which she says is like an orange drizzle cake, with grated tangerine rind in the cake mix, and a drizzle of butter ,sugar,brandy and tangerine juice on top, which soaks into the cake.

Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker is my co-host for Alphabakes; she made these Toffee Crisp cookies baking one of my favourite chocolate bars into a cookie, and says they were so good she had to make two batches as they disappeared so quickly!
This Darjeeling pecan tea loaf comes from Shaheen at Allotment 2 Kitchen. She initially chose the recipe to use up some marmalade and substituted a different type of tea; she says the result is 'subtly scented'.
I’ve only used tahini when making houmous before so was interested to see this recipe for a date and tahini slice from Suelle at Mainly Baking. She says the slice was pleasant to eat, and the flavours of dates, coconut and sesame seeds blended together well, but the amount of ground ginger used was hardly noticeable, and it might have worked better as a cookie. Still looks good to me!

These mini Toad in the Holes are gluten free – Kate at the Gluten Free Alchemist used sorghum, tapioca and corn flours, which she said are easy to source. She also points out that gluten-free sausages tend to have a higher meat content!
Another savoury dish now from Charlottes Lively Kitchen – wild mushroom and garlic tagliatelle. It’s really quick to make so great for a mid-week dinner and under 250 calories per serving.
Gennaro Contaldo's delicious recipe for tagliatelle with a quick and easy wild mushroom and garlic sauce. Ready in just 15 minutes so perfect for a quick mid-week dinner and under 250 calories a serving.
Finally we have these unusual purple matcha nanaimo bars from Stuart at Cakeyboi. Matcha is a type of tea which is where the letter T comes in. Nanaimo bars have a biscuit base, covered with coconut, cocoa and nuts with a custard filling; Stuart added the matcha into the custard which he says imparted a delicate tea flavour to the mix.

Thanks to everyone who entered; Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker is hosting our final alphabet letter in May - can you remember what it is?

Thursday 28 April 2016

Waitrose 1 launch - new premium food range

Waitrose already provides posh food for the masses and has now gone one step further with the launch of its own premium range, Waitrose 1.

I was invited to the launch event which was a great opportunity to try the foods and speak to some of the product developers and specialists.

Held on the second floor of London’s Oxo tower with amazing views as the sun set over the Thames, my expectations were high. I’d been told it was a drop-in event, so I went after work, and assumed that since I wasn’t being asked to go at a particular time there wouldn’t be a presentation as such. Instead, I found a room showcasing different products on ‘stations’ – first I came to the dessert and cocktail bar (actually, first I was offered a glass of champagne by a waiter proffering a tray) and had a chat with a friendly PR about the amazing cakes. My eye was particularly drawn to a dessert called a 'chocolate and orange wave', which comes in a chilled pack of two.
I didn’t get to try this one but the rhubarb and custard flavour was available for testing. I’m not keen on rhubarb but the filling – a mousse-like texture – was so creamy that I was converted.

I moved on to the pizza station and watched a few people having a go at making pizza bases, and spoke to a Waitrose representative about their new range of pizzas. They use a sourdough base, which some pizza restaurants use like Franco Manca in London; you can get sourdough bases in supermarkets as well, usually in their premium ranges.
The new Waitrose pizzas come in three sizes and the toppings on offer will change seasonally; one they are launching now is the wood-fired spicy sausage and broccoli pizza (£4.79). I'd be quite tempted to try that one. 
Moving on to the cheese stand I tried several varieties, including a Belgian beer cheese. The beer is added to the vat as the cheese is made. I don't like beer but thought it was delicious and the cheese had a nice texture - slightly rubbery which I actually quite like rather than a crumbly cheese!
I also tried some of the Le Cret Gruyere, made in a Swiss village, which was also really good.
I also tried burrata, an Italian cheese made from shredded mozzarella, mixed with cream, and formed into a ball again. I’d never had it before and it was so creamy that I don’t think I could eat much in one go.

Alongside the cheese I tried some bread, and was told that flavoured breads do sell very well. I’m not sure how popular their latest one will be – it tasted very good, but not everyone would want to try bread containing cauliflower! A cauliflower cheese mixture is baked into the bread; the cauli gives the bread a different texture – more open with holes. The cheese flavour came through strongly and occasionally I could tell I was eating a piece of cauliflower!
I spotted someone carving an Iberio ham and had a very interesting conversation about the provenance and process. It's cured for a minimum of two years and hand carved, which is why it costs £9.99 for a 75g packet - good for a posh dinner party perhaps!

Finally I stopped at the chocolate stand and initially tried to resist, as I’m supposed to be on a sugar-free diet, but just couldn’t. Waitrose has a new range of salted caramels, showcasing four different salts with very different flavour profiles, so of course I had to try all four and compare. They were amazing, and if anyone wants to give me a box of these I can put aside my no sugar diet for one day! (In actual fact I’m meant to be sugar free 5 days out of 7 and can have two days off, according to the practitioner I’m currently seeing).
There was also a range of dessert truffles in pretty pastel colours and I decided I couldn’t possibly try all of them as I’d had too much chocolate already, which was a shame as they sounded intriguing – I’ve never had a sticky toffee pudding or pineapple upside down cake chocolate truffle before! I did try one, the jaffa cake truffle. I was expecting a fairly standard smooth truffle in a chocolate orange flavour, but what I found was a little centre of orange in the middle of the truffle, in a jelly-consistency that did remind me of jaffa cakes. I’ll definitely look out for these ones coming into the shops too!
The products are premium prices so for most people – even most people who already shop at Waitrose – I think these would be a special treat, for a dinner party, special occasion or just a nice way to treat yourself, rather than part of the weekly grocery shop, but I can imagine them selling really well.


Wednesday 27 April 2016

Sugar-Free Coconut Milk Pancakes

My last-ditch attempt to lose weight before my wedding involves cutting out as much sugar as possible. A friend who has done this, and seen great results, recommended a book called I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson.  Sarah cut sugar out of her diet and says she has seen improvements in her weight, energy, skin and so on, and has published a book that is part explanation, part cookbook.

I liked the sound of these 'coconut fluff' coconut milk pancakes so I made them one day recently for lunch, and served them with stewed apple.

You need:
2 eggs, whisked
400ml can coconut milk
2 tbsp coconut oil, melted, plus extra for frying
30g coconut flour
100g buckwheat flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
50g shredded coconut

The coconut flour was expensive (£5 for a bag in Sainsbury's) but I plan to find lots of other recipes I can use it in.

These are easy to make: beat the eggs with the coconut milk and the oil, then fold in the other ingredients. I found the mixture thickened quickly, as the coconut soaked up the liquid, so added some milk. I'd recommend not leaving the mixture to stand and making the pancakes immediately.

Heat a little coconut oil in a frying pan and spoon or pour in enough of the mixture to fill the pan with a thin layer of pancake mixture. Cook until you can see the consistency has changed and the pancake has firmed enough to turn - you can either use a fish slice utensil or toss the pancake in the pan! Put to one side and cover with foil to keep warm and repeat.

I served these with stewed apple but all sorts of toppings would work. They tasted really good.

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Review: Afternoon tea at Claridge's


I was very lucky recently to be treated to afternoon tea at Claridge’s as a pre-wedding family get-together: along with the Ritz, perhaps the most quintessential London hotel afternoon tea.

It was a surprise organised by my future mother-in-law: I knew we were going for afternoon tea, but not where. My parents were staying over the Easter weekend so my mum came while my fiancé entertained my dad; my sister came up by train for the day and we were also joined by my fiance’s aunt, cousin and sister-in-law (and briefly by his brother at the end as he was meeting his wife there for drinks!).

As we pulled up in the car just outside Claridges I was thrilled – I’d never been there before but always wanted to. We were a little early so sat in the bar enjoying a non-alcoholic cocktail – I was a bit shocked at the price of the alcoholic cocktails around the £20 mark and decided it wasn’t worth it!

Afternoon tea is held in the art deco foyer (though by foyer I would normally understand lobby, this was a room just off the lobby), Claridge’s china is a distinctive striped pale green and white so it’s not chintzy at all. The service was of course impeccable – I wouldn’t have expected any less.

We had a specially themed Easter afternoon tea – Claridge’s holds a few of these throughout the year, around events like Wimbledon and the Chelsea Flower Show. They don’t go for tacky themes but instead classic English events. What really surprised me though was the price: classic afternoon tea is £58, which is quite steep compared to other hotels (even more than the Ritz), or with a glass of champagne it’s £68. The special seasonal afternoon tea is £82 per person (with a 12.5% service charge added to your bill). That really has to be a one-off treat!

We started by selecting our teas; I’m not that adventurous and figured that if Claridge’s had a specially selected blend, they had put enough thought into it and I should trust their selection. I was also too busy talking to people and taking photos to read the extensive tea menu properly!

The traditional sandwiches arrived first with a mixture of fillings, including chicken and truffle mayonnaise, smoked salmon, ham and mustard, egg and watercress and cucumber (apparently with buttermilk and chamomile, but I didn't try this one). There was an additional treat nestling next to the sandwiches, which looked like a small biscuit -a Parmesan sable with cheddar, apple and walnut. The chicken sandwiches were probably my favourite, and we were offered a refill but I was already worried I wouldn’t be able to manage everything else!

As well as scones with jam and cream we had small hot cross buns. I'm not normally a fan of hot cross buns but these were very good and my mum was very impressed. I realised afterwards though that this was pretty much the only concession to Easter in the whole afternoon tea - Claridge's is too classy to do gimmicky desserts but it would have been nice to have something a bit Easter themed among the sweets and pastries!

For dessert we had four small morsels each, and of course I did try them all. The 'temptation', with chocolate sponge and dark chocolate ganache was rich but delicious, and the rhubarb and custard surprisingly good as I don't like rhubarb. It consisted of a layer of ginger and pistachio jaconde, a layer of vanilla custard and a layer of rhubarb jelly.

The Dulcey chocolate choux had a coffee sable and Maldon sea salt caramel- I was in heaven.

Finally the macaron, not in flavours I'm normally that keen on - blood orange and grapefruit marmalade - but it was excellent.

At the end, we were given a small simnel cake in a Claridge's box to take home, which luckily lasts a couple of months as I haven't actually tried mine yet!

What surprised me and I suppose slightly disappointed me was that the traditional afternoon tea is £58, or £68 with a glass of champagne, and the Easter themed tea with champagne is £82. As far as I can tell, the food is the same other than the hot cross buns and the simnel cake to take home, meaning you pay an extra £14 for those two things, which seems quite a lot. I'd be interested to see what they do for the other themed afternoon teas, such as Wimbledon (perhaps just an extra course of strawberries and cream) and the Chelsea Flower Show - edible flowers perhaps?

Overall afternoon tea at Claridge's is an amazing experience, and since it was also my 'hen do', one that I won't forget.

Monday 25 April 2016

Meal Planning Monday Week 18 2016

Sunday 24 April 2016

Restaurant review: Peanut Butter Burger at Hache, Shoreditch

If someone offers you peanut butter on a burger…. Just say no. Peanut butter on its own I can take or leave. Peanut butter with chocolate is one of the best pairings since the two Ronnies (RIP Corbett). But peanut butter on a burger is just a bit wrong.
Strong words indeed from someone who has put bacon on cupcakes, made pizza from sweet potato and stuck a can of ginger ale up a chicken’s nether regions (a dead one, of course).
It was my fiance’s birthday and he wanted to have a takeaway with his family rather than go out to dinner after work in London so I suggested we go out for lunch, since we work fairly close by each other. I knew he’d like a burger so looked on Google to see if there was anywhere new in the area, and as we’d never been to Hache before – and they got very good reviews, including being voted the best burgers in London by the Huffington Post, I decided to book a table there.
The décor and ambience was more like a pub – we sat at a small table in the window near the well-stocked bar. I’d spent some time perusing the menu in advance and even looked up the peanut butter burger on the internet, and found a few blogs where people raved about it. I was tempted by the rosemary lamb burger with mint yogurt, or the steak Bavarian, a burger with smoked Bavarian cheese and caramelised onions, and also quite curious about the steak reblochon, a burger topped with reblochon cheese and red onion chutney. My fiancé, predictable as ever, had the steak Canadian – basically a burger with cheese and bacon.

I decided to be brave and experiment (telling myself since it was only lunch, I wouldn’t mind as much if I didn’t like it) and ordered the steak Louisiana (£8.95): a burger topped with American crunchy peanut butter and mature cheddar cheese. I went to Louisiana last year and didn’t come across any burgers with peanut butter in!
I had a choice of ciabatta or brioche bun and went for the latter, which was a mistake –the consistency of the peanut butter made the roll fall apart pretty quickly and I ended up holding chunks that were breaking off, getting the peanut butter all over my fingers. Unfortunately I thought the peanut butter totally dominated the burger- I could barely tell there was any cheese in it and couldn’t really taste the meat either, just peanut butter. I wonder if this burger would have been better with just a smear of peanut butter – the waitress said the flavour combination was her favourite – but I just wasn’t sold. Next time, I’ll just stick to a regular cheeseburger.

Saturday 23 April 2016

Bacon and Cheddar Scrolls

I've started doing my shopping in Sainsbury's a lot more - there's a large store only a few minutes' drive from my house, but as I'm still a relative novice when it comes to driving, I only go first thing or I struggle to get into the spaces in their car park! I recently picked up a copy of Sainsbury's magazine at the till and found lots of recipes inside that I wanted to make. As my fiancé loves bacon and would eat a bacon sandwich for lunch every Saturday and Sunday every week if he could, I get rather bored of it (so he gets a bacon sandwich every few weeks). As soon as I saw this recipe for 'bacon and cheddar scrolls' I knew it would be a winner with both of us as it was something different but still within the bacon category!

This recipe makes quite a few (I can't remember exactly how many) so to serve two people I would halve the quantity.

400g wholemeal bread flour
100g white bread flour
7g yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
50g melted butter
1 tbsp light brown sugar
300 ml lukewarm water

For the filling:
4tbso grainy mustard
8 cooked rashers streaky bacon, crumbled or sliced
100g grated mature Cheddar cheese
3 spring onions, trimmed and sliced

In a large bowl, mix the flour and yeast. In another bowl,  mix the melted butter, water and sugar. Fold in the flour.

Knead for ten minutes if doing by hand; otherwise about five minutes in a stand-mixer (I was very glad of my Kitchenaid at this point!). Grease a large bowl and put the ball of dough inside. Cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for about two hours to prove until doubled in size.

Roll out the dough into a rectangle on a lightly-floured surface and spread with the filling.

Roll up from the long edge like a Swiss roll and slice into rounds.

Lay each slice on its side on a greased and lined baking tray, cover with a clean tea towel and leave in a warm place to prove until doubled in size. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 200 C and bake the rolls for 20-25 minutes. Best served warm as part of a breakfast or brunch, but you could also leave these to go cold and take them on a picnic.

I'm sending this to Bready Steady Go, hosted by Lucy at BakingQueen74.

Friday 22 April 2016

Coconut Dacquoise with Chocolate Ganache Filling

I attempted to make my own mayonnaise recently and it was a disaster - I tried once before and both times I haven't been able to get the mixture to thicken. Does anyone have any advice?

Since I'd used egg yolks for this recipe - three, as the recipe said two and it wouldn't thicken so I added another, which helped a little but not enough - I also had three egg whites to use up. I thought about making meringue but didn't want anything that sugary, and I'd just seen something on television where a chef was making a dacquoise - a cake made with layers of almond and hazelnut meringue.

I had some dessicated coconut I'd bought for another recipe and wondered if I could make the same sort of nutty meringue bake. Turns out you can!

I based my recipe on the coconut dacquoise element of this recipe, but changed it slightly to use coconut flour instead of almond meal (I assume by 'meal' you could use ground almonds). I also halved the quantities, and found it made seven.

Coconut flour is produced from dried coconuts; it's gluten-free and a protein-rich alternative to ordinary flour. Coconut flour also has fibre and fat (as coconuts contain fat) which makes it very filling - I bought it for a recipe I was making from a book called I Quit Sugar. I found lots of other interesting facts about coconut flour on the Nourished Kitchen website including a warning that you can't just substitute it for plain flour in baking. It can also go a bit clumpy which I discovered making this recipe, but it worked well otherwise in this mixture - I just might think twice before using it in a cake.

I toasted the coconut in the oven for a few minutes to start, and allowed it to cool.

Then for the dacquoise I whisked the egg whites and added the sugar, then folded in the dessicated coconut, coconut flour and icing sugar.

I piped circles out onto an oven tray -I realised I'd run out of baking paper so had to line it with foil.

Bake for 8-10 minutes then allow to cool.

For the filling I brought some cream to a simmer then added some chocolate and stirred until melted, then put into the fridge until set. I sandwiched the dacquoise together with the chocolate - even though my fiancé doesn't like coconut he did enjoy these!

I'm sharing this with Perfecting Patisserie, hosted by Lucy at BakingQueen74.