Valentine’s Day by the River

Recipes

Doing something special and romantic for Valentine’s Day can be a tricky business. Going out for dinner is the obvious choice but restaurants get so busy on the 14th that it’s unlikely to be a very intimate experience. I remember taking telephone bookings when I worked in French Living. The set menus were always carefully developed by the chefs and the waiters would arrange the whole dining area into a sea of tables for two, but I never liked having to tell customers that; yes, they could have a table at 7.30pm but we would need that table back again by 9pm. It seemed so sad to cut their evening short, but the demand was so great there was nothing else to be done.

So, let’s say eating out is off the agenda, what about eating in? It’s cosy, it could be cheaper than a restaurant and the menu can be whatever your imagination and culinary skill will allow! If you do choose to stay in and can’t decide what to make I’ve written a three course Valentine’s Day menu for Great British Chefs so do have a butchers by clicking here.

But, if spending more than 20 minutes in the kitchen fills you with dread or there are simply too many distractions at home, like pets, kids or a half painted living room then there is a third option – Cooking without a Kitchen!

This Valentine’s Day (which for the purposes of my own publishing deadlines actually took place on Sunday the 3rd of February) was spent on the south bank of the River Thames, just round the corner from the Golden Hinde and Southwark Cathedral. We unpacked a small shopping bag of goodies and prepared the meal then and there. We didn’t have a table but the wall worked fine and the views over London were just as good as any fancy restaurant. There was no rush because no one needed the space before or after us and there were hardly any distractions, oh except one guy who tried to sell us pebbles he’d found in the river but that was quite funny.

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Mint Tea Couscous with Artichokes & Prosciutto

Ingredients

1 small bag of pea shoots

1 small bag of couscous

1 punnet or jar of chargrilled artichokes in olive oil (from the deli or similar)

4 slices of prosciutto

1 takeaway cup of peppermint tea (buy this from a coffee shop as near to your picnic spot as possible so it stays hot)

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Equipment

2 plastic, wooden or paper plates

1 plastic bowl

1 plastic measuring cup (can be any travel cup or mug really)

Mini salt and pepper shaker (optional but nice)

2 plastic spoons, or forks (or sporks!)

Method

1) Using the measuring cup put 1 cup of couscous into the plastic bowl. Measure out about 1 and a half cups of the hot mint tea and pour over the couscous. Cover the bowl with one of the plates and leave to sit for about 5-6 minutes to let the couscous absorb the tea.

2) Sip the rest of the mint tea while you wait.

3) When the couscous is ready, fluff it up by breaking up the clumps of grains with a fork and mix in some of the oil from the artichokes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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4) Pile the pea shoots onto each of the plates, then add the couscous. Top with the artichokes and the slices of proscuitto and serve to your loved one.

rich

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Happy Valentine’s Day xxx

I’d love to hear your Valentine’s Day stories or recipes. Do get in touch via the comments box below, say hi on my Facebook page or get tweeting x

Twelfth Night

Events, Recipes

twelfth-night-poster

In case you don’t know my fella is actor Richard Kiess…although this month he’s been out so much I’m finding it difficult to remember what he looks like. By day he’s rehearsing for a show that’s going to Edinburgh this summer and by night he’s performing in Twelfth Night at the Lion & Unicorn. When we do see each other I get to help him with his lines (which is tremendous fun, especially when I get to do silly voices) and he has become an intrepid and knowledgable tester of my recipes…even if it means sitting outside in the freezing cold to eat a plastic plateful of artichokes (sneak peek to next week’s post!).

I know I’m biased but this Made in Chelsea inspired performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is well worth a look (plug plug!) plus it’s great because each time he’s in something I get to meet the cast and go to the after show parties! It’s a very cool job but it’s full-on…this leads me seamlessly into a recipe for cereal bars! Richard assures me cereal is great at any time of day and I was interested to discover that actors consume lots of energy bars and sports drinks – not surprising having seen how physically demanding some roles can be.

Packed full of oats, very dark chocolate, pine nuts and dried cherries I hoped this homemade snack would at least make a change from boost bars & mountain dew.

Twelfth Night Bars

twelfth night bars

Ingredients

100g of oats

75g dried cherries

50g of pine nuts (toasted in a dry pan)

50g walnuts

1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

100g fair trade dark chocolate (70-80% cocoa), roughly chopped

100g golden syrup

10og butter

100g light brown sugar

Method

1) Line a loaf tin with grease-proof paper.

2) Put the oats, cherries, toasted pine nuts, walnuts and cinnamon in a large heat-proof bowl and mix together.

3) In a saucepan heat the golden syrup, butter and sugar over a medium heat until the butter has melted, the sugar has dissolved and it’s starting to simmer.

4) Quickly pour the melted syrup mixture over the oats and nuts etc. and stir well. Throw in the chopped chocolate last and briefly mix it in (don’t stir too long otherwise the chocolate will totally melt and you want a few chunks in the finished bars).

4) Tip everything into the prepared tin and press the mixture down using the back of a metal spoon so that it gets into all the corners and is level on the top.

5) Leave to set for 2 hours or overnight and then slice into bars (makes about 12).

6) Wrap them up in foil and tissue paper and hand them out to hungry actors 🙂

foil & tissue paper

All wrapped up

Rich very kindly took a few snaps on his phone of the cast and crew backstage munching on the cereal bars…or posing with them…perhaps a bit of both!
the cast

Twelfth Night is on at the Lion & Unicorn until the 23rd of February but tickets are selling out so if you can’t get a seat there then they’re doing some extra nights at Canada Water Culture Space from the 26th of February – 1st of March 2013

x

Parsnips & Pancakes

Recipes

Shrove Tuesday (or Pancake Day) has in recent years, become a bit of a non-event for me. I like the idea of the tradition of using up the rich foods before the fast of Lent, but I don’t think that eggs, milk and flour count as luxury goods anymore and neither do I observe Lent. I tend to only realise that it’s just around the corner when stocks of long-life lemon juice are suddenly piled up in the supermarkets.

Instead of remembering on the day, grabbing the ingredients on the way home to then serve with half a jar of nutella and a banana (I’m hoping it’s not just me who has done this) why not make a bit of a fuss about it this year and throw a pancake party? Christmas was ages ago and January is a depressing heap of crash diets, pricey gym membership and tax returns so I think we all need a lift, even on a week night! Get your most enthusiastic pals round a table, compare notes on the progress of your New Years resolutions (or lack thereof) and share a stack of pancakes.

Pancakes can easily fall into the category of rice, pasta and bread as they go with pretty much anything so can be served as a starter, main or dessert (or all three!) This is my recipe for a main course dish, I think it would be great for an informal dinner party where everyone mucks in, heaping their plates with the filling and spooning over the gooey melted cheese.

Savoury Pancake with Parsnips & Camembert

Savoury Pancakes with pan-fried Parsnips, Black Onion Seeds and Baked Camembert

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

50g plain flour

50g wholemeal plain flour

30g butter (melted)

300ml of milk

2 eggs

4-5 parsnips, peeled and diced

1 tablespoon of black onion seeds

olive oil

nutmeg

chives

50g walnuts, toasted

1 whole camembert

1 garlic clove, peeled and quartered

vegetable oil

1) Start by making the pancake batter. Place the flours in a mixing bowl and in a large jug mix the eggs, milk and melted butter. Pour the wet ingredients onto the flour whisking all the time until smooth. Pour the batter back into the jug and pop in the fridge to rest for 10 minutes or until you’re ready.

2) Next open up the camembert cheese, remove any of the plastic packaging and pop it back in its wooden box (leave the lid off) push the garlic pieces into the cheese and drizzle the top with 1 teaspoon of olive oil.

Camembert before baking

3) Bake in the oven at 200°c for 10 minutes or until the cheese is gooey in the middle. Set aside.

Camembert after baking

4) In a pan heat a good glug of olive oil and add the parsnips turning only occasionally. You want to get them lovely and golden brown on the outside so it’s a good idea to cook them in batches. Add a pinch of ground nutmeg and the onion seeds. Mix well and cook for another 30-60seconds to warm up the spices. Season with salt and pepper, tip them into an oven proof dish and set aside.

Parsnips

5) Now it’s time to cook the pancakes. Put just about a teaspoon of vegetable oil in a non stick pan over a medium-high heat. Pour in enough batter to create a thin covering over the whole surface of the pan. Allow to cook until the top of the pancake has set and a quick peek using a spatula shows that golden brown patches are forming on the underside. Flip the pancake over and finish cooking the other side. Slide the pancake onto a large tray or oven proof dish and put into the oven at 50°c to keep warm. Repeat until all the batter is used up.

6) Put the camembert and parsnips into the oven with the pancakes to keep warm.

7) Toast a good handful of walnuts in a dry pan ready for the garnish.

8) To put the dish together lay a pancake on each plate, add a spoonful of the parsnips, a few snipped chives and a sprinkling of walnuts. Fold the sides in to make a square and then spoon over some runny camembert cheese and season with freshly ground black pepper.

Serve with your favourite salad leaves dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice and a splash of olive oil.

Pancake Party 2013

Happy Pancake Day!

x

Pancake Day is on Tuesday 12th of February 2013

Totally Tasteful

Events, Recipes

Paul Merrett at Totally TastefulOn Tuesday I attended the latest cookery masterclass (courtesy of Total Greek Yoghurt) at the very shiny cookery school L’atelier des Chefs, hosted by Chef Paul Merrett.
Earlier that same day I was at a conference so, (laden with laptop, overnight bag etc.) my plan was to split from the conference early, jump on a train home, dump work stuff, pick up my camera and put a brush through my hair to be back in town for the cookery class at half six! All went swimmingly with my plan, until our lift to Stratford-Upon-Avon station had to make what felt like an action movie style u-turn because the hotel receptionist hadn’t given us the best directions.

My colleague (and fellow conference escapees) made it to our train with moments to spare and swiftly our conversation turned from corporate to cookery. Then I think somewhere between Leamington Spa and Marylebone Raymond Blanc gets on the train and sits behind us. RAYMOND BLANC!!!! The guy next to him boldly blagged a handshake but I remained silently in my seat. I love Raymond Blanc’s cookery shows, they’re always full of wonderful recipes and tonnes of boyish enthusiasm…however, I didn’t think he’d have appreciated me introducing myself in the confined space of the train carriage. Maybe I’m just a wuss but what could I have said? – “hello Raymond Blanc, that’s right I know your full name because I have seen you on TV. I’m Miriam Nice, I hope you have a lovely time cooking things. I cook things too.” – Just awful. I’d die.

Train journey (and major over-thinking) done, bags deposited and camera obtained I arrived at L’atelier des Chefs and was handed a well needed glass of champagne.

Paul kicked off the cookery lesson by showing us how to prep a squid (which I am ashamed to say I had never done before).

SquidI’ve drawn out the key points from memory so do say if you have any top tips:

Squid prep
Phil, Laura, Yuri

We then had to get into teams to cook our meal. I was paired with a marvellous trio of bloggers; Phil, Laura and Yuri (pictured above) to make a starter of Squid & Chorizo with Chickpea Puree and Coriander Yoghurt

Squid and Chorizo on Chickpea Puree with Coriander Yoghurt

…followed by Herb Crusted Lamb with Baba Ganouche & Sweet Potato Salad

Herb Crusted Lamb with Baba Ganouche & Sweet Potato Salad

and a Rhubarb & Greek Yoghurt Syllabub for dessert:

Rhubarb and Greek Yoghurt Sylabub

The meal was Totally delicious (sorry, couldn’t resist) and as one of our team members was vegetarian we not only had enormous portions of lamb but a big slab of frittata too (thanks Phil!). Then, if we weren’t quite full enough, out came the greek yoghurt goodie bags of plain yoghurt and fruity split pots – that sorts breakfast for the rest of the week 🙂

These recipes and hundreds more can be found on Total Greek Yoghurt’s “Total Eating” pages at https://www.totalgreekyoghurt.com/total-eating

x

p.s The photographer (www.satureyes.com) asked me to pose for this one…

Photo by 'Satureyes'

Photo by ‘Satureyes’

Loads more photos from the event can be seen here on Total’s facebook page.

Homemade Burgers

Recipes

In a change to my planned blog post this week about Soup; here are two recipes for Homemade Burgers! This comes in reaction to the news that the DNA from pigs and horses has been found in supermarket beef burgers in the UK and Ireland – eek!

I’m not going to dwell on this too much but the label should tell you what the product contains. I would (and have) tried many different foods but I was always knew what I was eating before hand (except the first time I had calamari, I thought they were onion rings and got a bit of a chewy surprise!).

Moving on; firstly the beef burgers. This recipe is super easy so do have a bash.

beef burger

Beef Burgers

Serves 2

Ingredients

250g of lean steak mince

olive oil

salt & pepper

Method

1) Squish the mince together with your hands and then squash them into either 2 large burgers or 4 small ones.

2) Season the burgers both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper

3) Fry in olive oil over a high heat (turning frequently) until they start to caramelise on the outside.

4) Take the pan off the heat and cover with either a lid or tin foil. Allow them to rest for a good 5 minutes or so.

5) Serve in burger buns, with or without cheese, sauces and salad. We had dijon mustard, cheese, cherry tomatoes and rocket.

If you’re vegetarian or are generally feeling a bit squeamish about the whole thing – try these veggie burgers, which pretty much contain everything except meat!

veggie burger

Veggie Burgers

Serves 4

Ingredients

200g of potatoes

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely grated

1 small turnip, finely grated

40g cheese, grated

1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

1 egg

handful of frozen peas

large pinch of chopped fresh parsley

50g breadcrumbs

vegetable oil

salt & pepper

Method

1) Peel the potatoes and boil for 15-20 minutes.

2) While the potatoes are cooking, gently fry the onion in a tablespoon of oil until soft and translucent. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the grated carrot and turnip to soften in the residual heat.

3) Once the potatoes are cooked, drain them and mash.

4) Put the onion and vegetable mixture in a large bowl and add the mashed potato, nutmeg, parsley, cheese, egg, and frozen peas then season well with salt and pepper. Mix everything in thoroughly.

5) Tip the breadcrumbs into a shallow bowl or dish. Divide the burger mixture into 4 portions and shape into patties. If the mixture is too wet either add a little flour or drop spoonfuls of the mixture into the bowl of breadcrumbs and turn them in the crumbs to coat them using a spoon. They will be much easier to shape and fry once coated.

6) Shallow fry in vegetable oil until golden brown. Serve in buns with trimmings – we had rocket and mustard mayonnaise in ours.

Experiment with different vegetables in these burgers – they’re also great for using up leftover mash and other cooked veggies.

x

“Puttin’ on the Ritz”

Recipes

Last week it was my Mum’s Birthday. Normally it’s quite tricky to think of nice things to do – my Mum is a very busy lady and doesn’t really like a lot of fuss; a spa day or manicure would actually be her worst nightmare.

In December I was hooked on watching “Inside Claridges” on BBC2 but there was no time to pop back to London let alone book a table anywhere. Instead I spied a jolly looking tea set in the dresser and decided to make a swish afternoon tea for her at home.

Mum's Birthday Tea

Mum’s Birthday Tea

Designing the menu didn’t take too long. She much prefers classic, simple flavours so I went with cheese & tomato and cucumber & cream cheese sandwiches. But, just for good measure I cut the crusts off and made them lengthways like they do at those fancy hotels – well that’s what I think it said in the documentary and in this lovely little book on Afternoon Tea from the Ritz.

Sarnies

She also likes a cake called “Morning Buns” which they only make at Jarrold‘s restaurant but I didn’t have the required 6 hours for the round trip to Norwich either and I suspect the recipe is a closely guarded secret! In their place I made some rock cakes from a Dan Lepard recipe and they turned out brilliantly and very close to what I wanted (I used 160g of sultanas and a dash of vanilla extract in my batch).

Rock Cakes

For a splash of colour I made some mini fruit tarts. I only had about an hour to make everything (so whipping up a batch of Crème Pâtissière was not an option). Instead I made a little bit of vanilla butter cream to put into the bottom of the tart shells – just enough to prevent the fruit from falling out! There wasn’t quite enough time to sieve the apricot jam or wash up the pastry brush after the egg washing either so I just encouraged the warmed, lumpy jam to vaguely cover the fruit with a teaspoon (ssshhh, I hope there are no Roux brothers reading this!). I think I got away with it, they tasted lovely and took a fraction of the time of the real thing:

Fresh Fruit TartsFruit Tarts

Makes 12

150g plain flour

75g of unsalted butter, diced

1 egg beaten

1 teaspoon of caster sugar

2-3 drops of vanilla extract

cold water to bind

For the buttercream:

50g of unsalted butter at room temperature

icing sugar to taste

2-3 drops of vanilla extract

For the topping:

1 tablespoon of apricot jam

2 kiwi fruits

handful of grapes (or any berry fruit you prefer)

1) Place the flour and the butter in a bowl and rub together with your finger tips until the mixture looks like fresh breadcrumbs and the butter is evenly distributed.

2) Stir in the sugar, vanilla and half of the beaten egg.

3) Slowly, adding a little at a time, pour in some cold water. Mix until the dough comes together.

4) Wrap the pastry in cling film and place in the fridge until you are ready to use it and to allow it to rest a little.

5) Dust the work surface with flour and then roll out the dough to about 5mm thickness and cut into circles using a fluted cutter.

6) When all the tart cases are ready for baking brush them with the remaining egg wash and bake at 150-170°C for 15-20minutes or until lightly golden.

7) Place them on a wire rack to cool while you make the butter cream and slice the fresh fruit.

8) Mix the butter with a fork as you add dessertspoonfuls of icing sugar (I used about 2) and beat well after each addition until smooth. Taste it to check it is sweet enough and then mix in the vanilla extract.

9) When the pastry shells are cool place a small amount of the butter cream (about 1/2 a teaspoonful) into each one and then top with the sliced fruits.

10) Gently warm the jam (and sieve it if you have time) and brush the jam over the fruit to glaze.

11) Serve immediately

Fruit Tarts

Finally; the Birthday cake. Mum and Dad are still swamped in festive leftovers, there’s over half a Christmas cake still knocking around so I thought making a whole sponge cake would be decidedly unhelpful at this point. Instead I made individual muffin sized sponges, flavoured with caraway seeds and topped with lemon icing. A single candle in each one signified the celebration.

Seed Cake Birthday Cake!

Everything was washed down with lashings of tea from a proper pot and afterwards we escaped to St. Mary Mead by watching Miss Marple DVDs… but now I’m thinking we should have been watching Jeeves and Wooster instead – check this out Mum you’ll love it:


Happy New Year!

Recipes

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Happy New Year!

Have you recovered? Are the resolutions in full swing? What are they? I’ve gone for the following challenging three:

• learn French
• get fit
• blog once a week

Stop laughing please, I am fully aware that they sound almost impossible, but what else am I going to do in 2013?
Last year had so much hype and press (with all those Jubilympics) that 2013 has turned up as a bit of a surprise; so some tough resolutions is surely the least we can do.

So far I haven’t made a start on the first 2 (excuse alert) as my French language CDs and jogging bottoms are in London and I am in Nottinghamshire until the weekend. I have, however made a start on the final resolution; to blog once a week and in a wild, yet rare display of organisation I have planned a whole year of weekly blog posts and this is the first one!
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This little blue book is full of blog post themes and their deadline, with a small space underneath for notes. The themes you can look forward to this year (you lucky things!) include “Breakfasts” in March, “Melons” in August and “Bay Leaves” in November!

After my resolutions were committed to paper it was time to revel in the last few hours of 2012.
It all started out very sensibly, Richard and I had a lovely dinner at our friend Tom’s house. Tom made the main course; a Jamie Oliver menu of rack of lamb, hummus, flat breads, couscous and harissa yoghurt.

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In return we brought a Delia Smith style crumble with some festive trimmings. I love crumble but sometimes serving it with a sea of custard or a slab of ice cream isn’t snazzy enough for a dinner party, and anyway, why should the turkey get all the fuss?

Trimmings for Apple Crumble:

1) Berry Cream:
Gently heat the contents of a 300g punnet of frozen mixed berries with 2 tablespoons of water until simmering. Pass the fruit through a sieve and leave to cool. Whip 300ml of double cream and fold in the fruit purée. Sweeten to taste with a little icing sugar and refrigerate until needed.

2) Whisky and Ginger Jellies:
Put 3 leaves of gelatine into a bowl of cold water to soften. Mix together 300ml of Whisky and Ginger Beer (the ratio is up to you). Put a little of the cocktail into a saucepan with the gelatine and heat (stirring continuously) until dissolved. Add the rest of the whisky and ginger to the gelatine mixture, stir and pour into a shallow dish. Leave to set in the fridge and then cut into squares.

3) White Chocolate Florentines:
Line a baking tray with foil and set aside. Melt 100g of white chocolate and drop small spoonfuls of it onto the foil and spread out a little to form small discs. Before it sets top each one with a few nuts or pieces of dried fruit. Leave somewhere cool and dry to set hard before peeling them from the foil to serve.

All the trimmings can be made the night before or if you feel like rushing around the kitchen like headless chickens (as we did) you can make everything whilst the crumble cooks and cools.

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After our huge dinner we still had time to join a party and bungle the lyrics of Auld Lang Syne at the top of our merry voices!

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Getting Festive

Recipes

It’s the first weekend in December so I have been given permission to put up the decorations!

I’ve been itching to get the baubles and crepe paper out ever since I spied a thrifty Christmas tree alternative out the window, in the form of a rather enthusiastic shoot on the bay tree in the front garden. It’s the perfect Christmas tree shape (in my eyes anyway) and I thought if we lopped it off our housemates might think we’ve been busy doing some really helpful garden pruning (two birds, one stone – hurrah!) ..and bay smells great, triple win!

Christmas Tree

Bay Christmas Tree

I decided that putting up the tree (albeit a few hacked off branches set in a tin filled with plaster of paris) should be celebrated with a festive treat. I often turn to Great British Chefs when I want inspiration for a special meal. Their recipes are easy to follow and their website and apps have some wonderful foodie photography.

For a festive lunch for us hard working streamer-hangers; I whipped this up from their Christmas collection:

Salad of smoked trout with horseradish crème fraîche by Geoffrey Smeddle

Photo 02-12-2012 19 37 26

Ingredients

  • 8 small smoked trout fillets
  • 4 tbsp of crème fraîche
  • 1 tbsp of horseradish cream
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 pinch of paprika
  • 200g of mixed salad leaves
  • 1 cooked beetroot, sliced
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
  • olive oil

1. Ensure the trout fillets are trimmed and cleaned
and the skin is removed. Check for small pin
bones, removing them with tweezers

2. Place the fillets on a plate, cover with cling film and refrigerate until later

3. Stir the horseradish cream into the crème fraîche, adding paprika and lemon juice to taste

4. Arrange slices of the beetroot in the middle of the plate

5. Arrange the smoked trout fillets on serving
dishes. Dress the leaves with some olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice

6. Arrange the leaves beside the fish fillets and spoon on a generous dollop of the horseradish crème fraîche, either on the fish itself or just to one side

7. Serve with a wedge of lemon on the side to squeeze over the fish, and eat at once

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I’ve tried this recipe with hot smoked salmon and the combination is still fantastic. The crème fraîche with horseradish is wonderful with smoked fish and I stained the lemon juice and olive oil dressing with beetroot to adorn the plate as much as the tree!

x

 

Say it with Cake

Recipes

First, an apology. I promised a fellow Platter user that I would post my Avocado & hazelnut cakes recipe following this picture but I completely forgot! Sorry.

Chocolate, Avocado & Hazelnut

Chocolate, Avocado & Hazelnut Cakes

Follow Delia Smith’s all-in-on sponge recipe but replace butter for the same weight of avocado (which you blend to a smooth purée) and a heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder. Spoon into bun cases and bake for 15 – 20 minutes.
The quenelle-like piles of icing are made from ground hazelnuts, a tablespoon of cocoa powder and it’s sweetened with a tablespoon of golden syrup and about 20g of butter….or you could just use nutella!

This week has seen much more cake than a few chocolate buns. Right now it appears to be everyone’s birthday! Ok, well not quite everyone but 3 very lovely ladies I know.

Cinnamon Buns

First it was Ruth’s turn (who I met through Richard when they performed together last year in Othello at the Rose on Bankside) and a surprise brunch birthday party. I knew there was going to be a birthday cake there but I still felt I should bring something to the table. In times of brunch, bread based products are always a winner and if a culinary question is ever bread related I expect Dan Lepard will have the right answer. So, I made his Cinnamon Buns and they turned out wonderfully- thanks Dan!!

Cinnamon Buns

Have a go at them too, I highly recommend it: Dan Lepard’s Cinnamon Buns Recipe

Set Design Cake

That same day, straight from the surprise brunch we hopped over the Thames to see Rhodora (my stylist!) and celebrate her birthday too. She’s all about the stage management right now, so it was obvious to us that she needed to have a set design cake!

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Photo 25-11-2012 16 15 04The base is chocolate fudge cake (recipe from Victoria Glass) and then the icing is Mary Berry’s Sacher Torte topping (including the apricot jam) . The flats were made from chocolate and chocolate fingers and the backdrop and proscenium arch are made from the ginger bread husbands recipe in this book from the Ritz Hotel.

 

Stained glass using boiled sweets
Photo 25-11-2012 16 57 39

Word of warning; if you want to make the cinnamon buns and the theatre cake one evening, just so you know, start early. We didn’t get to work until go 10pm so it was getting on for 2:30am when we finally hit the hay.


Colouring-in Party

No time to rest, the next day was Helen’s birthday! Helen is an animation director, so a slice of sponge cake and a DVD just wouldn’t do. So I made her a woodland colouring in party! First I decorated our living room using tissue paper and branches from the garden. I made some cardboard owls and then I painted trees onto disposable paper tablecloths with black poster paint and stuck them on the walls.

trees

silver birch tree

Next I drew some woodland creatures onto white plates using these pens which become dishwasher safe if baked at 170C. Hurrah. For dinner I poached chicken, mashed potato and steamed some cauliflower so that the meal would be comprised of white food. I did this so that she could colour in her meal with a palette of sauces.

Photo 26-11-2012 20 33 23Photo 26-11-2012 20 01 41Photo 26-11-2012 19 24 45

It sort of worked and tasted pretty jolly, even if it looked a little bizarre! The sauces I made were (clockwise from top to bottom) Beetroot & Cream Cheese Purée, Roasted Red Pepper Pesto, Spiced Carrot Purée, Saffron Mayonnaise, Salsa Verde and Black Olive Tapenade.

I felt she hadn’t worked quite hard enough for her meal so she had to colour in the leaves on her birthday cake too!

Helen in icing mode

Finished Cake

Happy Birthday Everyone!

Me & Helen, and some Owls!

Trick or Treat?

Recipes

I felt strangely obliged to bake the treats for the trick or treaters this year instead of just picking up a pack of something at the shops. This was in part, due to the fact that I felt as a food writer I should make everything myself (one of many self inflicted pressures) but also the guilt I still feel for the year I completely forgot about it and had to resort to giving the kids unripe plums from the fruit bowl whilst fiercely crossing my fingers that the front of our house would escape a thorough egging!

The recipe I chose was this one for Sugar Cookies. It’s a great, basic biscuit recipe that makes a really large quantity from just 1 egg. The biscuits can be flavoured with nuts, fruit or chocolate chips before baking if you like and if you cut them out with fancy cookie cutters they hold their shape really well. Be warned, they are incredibly sweet so make sure you’ve got loads of people round to share them with.

Sugar Cookies

200 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
400 g plain flour

280 g caster sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
a pinch of salt
½ teaspoon cream of tartar

1) Rub the flour and the butter together with your fingers until it all looks like fresh breadcrumbs.

2) Mix the egg and the sugar together in another in a bowl with a fork and when it is really well combined add it to the flour mixture.

3) Add all the other ingredients and knead together with your hands to form a smooth dough.

4) Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin until it is about ½ a centimetre thick. Cut into shapes.

5) Place your biscuits on a baking sheet lined with a piece of greaseproof paper/baking parchment and bake at 150° C for about 15 minutes (until they are lightly golden at the edges – keep an eye on them).

6) Let them cool in the tin for a few minutes before carefully transferring them to a wire rack.

7) Decorate with icing or sandwich together with butter-cream.

I decorated mine with plain and coloured icing then topped with spooky decorations. To make the spiders and creepy crawlies pipe small “v’s” onto a piece of tin foil using melted chocolate to make the legs and leave to set hard. Ice the biscuits and set aside until almost dry. Top with a jelly sweet for insects or a chocolate for spiders and carefully peel the chocolate legs off the tin foil and stick into the biscuit.

It felt like a continuous stream of knocks and shouts all evening. After a rough count up I think gave out about 50 biscuits (which I had not anticipated) so I had to keep running to the kitchen to ice and decorate more to satisfy the seemingly ravenous ghouls and ghosts at the door. I finally collapsed on the sofa with a glass of wine at about 9 o’clock and considered possible holiday destinations for next Hallowe’en!