Thursday, 30 December 2010

Home-made Christmas Presents.

So, our poor family got a lot of home-made stuff this year.  I was inspired by all the beautiful posts out there from people making their own gifts.

This was my first year doing it so it was fairly basic but I might be able to improve next year.

First, I did chutney.  This was inspired by Mango Cheeks from Allotment 2 Kitchen.  She made lots of lovely looking preserves and pickles this year and I decided I wanted to give it a try.  I chose Delia Smith's spiced plum chutney recipe.  I think this is the same recipe but I used plums instead of damsons.

No idea if this is a success or not yet as we have to wait til March to try it!  Check out the lovely little stickers from Lisa Orgler at The Lunch Box Project.  I have heaps of different ones and they are so cute - I love all her art.

Next, I made some granola using a BBC Good Food recipe which I love.  I love being able to vary every batch to keep it interesting!  I made Christmas Cranberry for my gifts.  And, again, I have used Lisa Orgler's lovely stickers.

I made Nigella's Sweet and Crunchy Nut Bars.  I didn't want to buy Nigella's latest book incase I got it as a Christmas present.  In fact, my Mother-in-law got it so I have read through it and written down a couple of my favourites.  While I was waiting I got the recipe from The Art Of Being Perfect.  This is a fabulous blog for getting baking ideas especially for decorating cupcakes!

I made Christmas tree sugar cookies.  The cookie recipe is a basic one from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook.  If you are looking for a recipe or tips, I recommend Sweetopia.  As you can see, I just did icing squiggles as I am too scared to try decorating them properly with outlining and flooding.  I will try it in 2011, though - this is one of my resolutions.  Ha ha I also made star shaped cookies but chickened out of decorating them nicely (and also ran out of time) so the boys got to eat them as plain biscuits.  Obviously, Sweetopia's creations are amazing and a bit intimidating but I'm going get over the fear and do it sometime this year.  Maybe I can get to a decent enough level by next Christmas that I can include them in the gift hampers then!  There's a goal!

The boys made Rocky Road.  Just melted chocolate with all our favourite stuff in - marshmallows, toffee popcorn, chopped up Snickers bars, Maltesers, etc..  Actually they were a little bit hard so next time we'll add some butter and syrup to soften the chocolate a little.

And, finally, some spicy nuts.  I got the recipe from a little book called Homemade Treats and Gifts by Best Food Fast but there are loads of recipes for these in Blogland and also in Nigella's books.

Sorry to anyone from my family reading this for using your Christmas presents as a blog post!

I'll finish with this rather cheesy picture of us with our new gifts from Santa.

I got these aprons from Not On The High Street.  The boys, however, got homemade aprons from their talented Auntie Lindsay which were quite similar in style with vintage fabric and their initials sewn into the corners.  I will post a photo of them in those when we get back to our baking next week.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Fresh From The Oven 2 - Dec 2010 - Half-An-Hour Scones.

This month Anet from Waiting For Good Dough challenged us to make Cranberry-Oat Sourdough Scones which could be frozen before baking and then baked quickly when needed.  Perfect for when you have guests at Christmas time.  In fact, I baked mine on Christmas morning and they were a lovely breakfast setting us up nicely for the present opening to come!

And sorry for the rubbish photos but it was more important for me to get back through to my children on Christmas morning.

I loved the scones.  They were easy to make, tasted great - I used oatmeal instead of oat flour so they had a lovely wholesome texture as well as having the juicy tang from the cranberries.

I used my cheat's sourdough starter (ie I bought the sour dough starter - very naughty! - see this post.)

I have had two batches of scones now from this recipe and still have about half a dozen in the freezer to be used whenever we need them.  I love the convenience of this recipe!

Here is the link to Fresh From The Oven so you can see the others' versions of this scone and also details incase you wish to join this baking group.

Here is the recipe for the scones which Anet has adapted from original recipes from Wild Yeast and The book Wholegrain Baking by the King Arthur Flour Comapny.

Cranberry-Oat Sourdough Scones
Yield 6-8 large scones

                50 g (or 3/8-1/2 cup) dried cranberries
                87 g (or 3.1 oz) white whole wheat flour
                40 g (or 1.4 oz) oat flour
                17 g (or 6 tsp) nonfat milk powder
                1.5 tsp baking powder
                3/8 tsp baking soda
                5/8 tsp salt
                50 g (or 1/4 cup) sugar
                1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
                113 g (one stick or 4 oz) cold butter
                40 g (or 1.4 oz) rolled oats
                340 g (or 1+1/3 cups) mature 100% sourdough starter
                milk for brushing
                coarse sugar (opt.)

1.              If baking scones now, preheat oven to 400F/205C.
2.              Cover cranberries with warm water and soak for 10 minutes, then drain well.
3.              In the bowl of a food processor, place the flours, milk powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, and lemon zest. Pulse a few times to combine.
4.              Cut the cold butter into 1/2 inch cubes and add to the processor. Pulse several times until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with a few larger (pea-sized) pieces of butter remaining.
5.              Transfer the mixture to a bowl and mix in the oats and drained cranberries lightly with your fingers.
6.              Add the sourdough starter and mix quickly and lightly just until the dry ingredients are incorporated. The dough will be wet and sticky. Do not attempt to make a smooth dough, no kneading needed! Lightness is a virtue! Mixing the dough briefly will avoid developing the gluten which toughens the scone. If the dough is too sticky, wait a minute or two
7.              Turn the dough out onto a well-floured counter and pat into a rectangle about 5x9 inches or a round shape about 7x7 inches, 1 inch thick.
8.              With a dough cutter, divide the dough into desired shapes . . . wedges are easy.
9.              Place scones on ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheet.
10.           At this point the scones can be baked (or frozen***). Brush with milk and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake for about 23 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm. Some recipes have the baked scones as soon as out of the oven covered with a cotton or light kitchen towel to 'breathe', to keep from becoming hard on the surface but not soggy. Wait about 10-15 minutes then serve.

***Freezing instructions
If you want to freeze the scones for later, do not bake --- place cut scones uncovered on parchment paper on flat sheet and put in freezer. Leave until quite frozen about 2 hours. Remove and put in freezer bag or container, label with baking time and temperature, and save for up to three months time.
When desired take out however many frozen scones you need, place on ungreased or parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush with milk and optional sugar. Placing the scones closer together will bake into softer sides, otherwise about 1 inch apart will create crusty sides. Preheat the oven to 400F/205C.
When oven is ready, bake for about 25-28 minutes, watch carefully. do not overbake. Serve warm.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Daring Bakers' Challenge No.2 - Dec 2010 - Stollen.

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie's Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

Look how posh my HUGE stollen was.  It was a wreath shape.  The recipe we were supposed to be following had no marzipan in and it suited the wreath shape.  I couldn't not have marzipan in mine, though.  Marzipan is THE POINT of stollen!!!  Unfortunately, my marzipan oozed out through the cuts to make the wreath shape so it didn't look as tidy as the non-marzipan versions - the original shape is obviously more suited to keeping the marzipan in.  However, my stollen tasted WONDERFUL!  Best stollen I have ever had!  Modest.  Thanks to Penny for a brilliant, festive challenge.

As you can see, I put my marzipan in lots of little strips so that every mouthful had oozy marzipan goodness rather than one bit of marzipan in the middle - perfect.

So, I thought my Dad would love this as much as me and I gave him a half of the wreath.  My husband dropped it off to him in the morning.  I thought I would get a phonecall from him raving about it but heard nothing.  I eventually asked him if he liked it and he replied that it was nice without any real enthusiasm.  Hmmmm, I thought it was fantastic, that's strange.  I soon discovered the story from my Mum.  As my Dad is advancing in years (hope he's not reading this), he somehow got confused and told my Mum that I had given them some streudal.  So, of course, she heated it in the oven and served it with cream.  Naturally enough, they didn't benefit completely from my amazing stollen that I spent hours on.  That's the last stollen he's getting!

And my husband doesn't eat things with dried fruit.  The kids ate it but really the only person who can give an opinion on the stollen is me.  But it WAS wonderful, honest.

Here is the recipe I followed - 

Stollen Wreath
Makes one large wreath or two traditional shaped Stollen loaves. Serves 10-12 people
1⁄4 cup (60ml) lukewarm water (110o F / 43o C) 
2 packages (4 1/2 teaspoons) (22 ml) (14 grams) (1/2 oz) active dry yeast 
1 cup (240 ml) milk 
10 tablespoons (150 ml) (140 grams) unsalted butter (can use salted butter) 
51⁄2 cups (1320 ml) (27 ozs) (770 grams) all-purpose (plain) flour (Measure flour first - then sift- plus extra for dusting) 
1⁄2 cup (120 ml) (115 gms) sugar 
3⁄4 teaspoon (3 3⁄4 ml) (4 1⁄2 grams) salt (if using salted butter there is no need to alter this salt measurement) 
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 grams) cinnamon 
3 large eggs, lightly beaten 
Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange 
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (very good) vanilla extract 
1 teaspoon (5 ml) lemon extract or orange extract 
3⁄4 cup (180 ml) (4 3⁄4 ozs) (135 grams) mixed peel  
1 cup (240 ml) (6 ozs) (170 gms) firmly packed raisins 
3 tablespoons (45ml) rum 
12 red glacĂ© cherries (roughly chopped) for the color and the taste. (optional) 
1 cup (240 ml) (3 1⁄2 ozs) (100 grams) flaked almonds 
Melted unsalted butter for coating the wreath 
Confectioners’ (icing) (powdered) sugar for dusting wreath
Note: If you don’t want to use alcohol, double the lemon or orange extract or you could use the juice from the zested orange.
Soak the raisins
In a small bowl, soak the raisins in the rum (or in the orange juice from the zested orange) and set aside. See Note under raisins.
To make the dough
Pour 1⁄4 cup (60 ml) warm water into a small bowl, sprinkle with yeast and let stand 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve yeast completely.
In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup (240 ml) milk and 10 tablespoons (150 ml) butter over medium - low heat until butter is melted. Let stand until lukewarm, about 5 minutes.
Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and add lemon and vanilla extracts.
In a large mixing bowl (4 qt) (4 liters) (or in the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment), stir together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests.
Then stir in (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) the yeast/water mixture, eggs and the lukewarm milk/butter mixture. This should take about 2 minutes. It should be a soft, but not sticky ball. When the dough comes together, cover the bowl with either plastic or a tea cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.
Add in the mixed peel, soaked fruit and almonds and mix with your hands or on low speed to incorporate. Here is where you can add the cherries if you would like. Be delicate with the cherries or all your dough will turn red!
Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mixing with the dough hook) to distribute the fruit evenly, adding additional flour if needed. The dough should be soft and satiny, tacky but not sticky. Knead for approximately 8 minutes (6 minutes by machine). The full six minutes of kneading is needed to distribute the dried fruit and other ingredients and to make the dough have a reasonable bread-dough consistency. You can tell when the dough is kneaded enough – a few raisins will start to fall off the dough onto the counter because at the beginning of the kneading process the dough is very sticky and the raisins will be held into the dough but when the dough is done it is tacky which isn't enough to bind the outside raisins onto the dough ball.
Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Put it in the fridge overnight. The dough becomes very firm in the fridge (since the butter goes firm) but it does rise slowly... the raw dough can be kept in the refrigerator up to a week and then baked on the day you want.
Shaping the Dough and Baking the Wreath
Let the dough rest for 2 hours after taking out of the fridge in order to warm slightly. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Punch dough down, roll into a rectangle about 16 x 24 inches (40 x 61 cms) and 1⁄4 inch (6 mm) thick.
Starting with a long side, roll up tightly, forming a long, thin cylinder.
Transfer the cylinder roll to the sheet pan. Join the ends together, trying to overlap the layers to make the seam stronger and pinch with your fingers to make it stick, forming a large circle. You can form it around a bowl to keep the shape.
Using kitchen scissors, make cuts along outside of circle, in 2-inch (5 cm) intervals, cutting 2/3 of the way through the dough.
Twist each segment outward, forming a wreath shape. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.
Proof for approximately 2 hours at room temperature, or until about 11⁄2 times its original size. Bake the stollen for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue to bake for 20 to 30 minutes. The bread will bake to a dark mahogany color, should register 190°F/88°C in the center of the loaf, and should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.
Transfer to a cooling rack and brush the top with melted butter while still hot. Immediately tap a layer of powdered sugar over the top through a sieve or sifter. Wait for 1 minute, then tap another layer over the first. The bread should be coated generously with the powdered sugar.
Let cool at least an hour before serving. Coat the stollen in butter and icing sugar three times, since this many coatings helps keeps the stollen fresh - especially if you intend on sending it in the mail as Christmas presents!
When completely cool, store in a plastic bag. Or leave it out uncovered overnight to dry out slightly, German style.
The stollen tastes even better in a couple of days and it toasts superbly.... so delicious with butter and a cup of tea....mmmmm
The more rum and the more coatings of butter and sugar you use the longer it will store. The following is for the recipe as written and uses the 45 mls of rum and two coatings of butter and icing sugar.
Stollen freezes beautifully about 4 months The baked stollen stores well for 2 weeks covered in foil and plastic wrap on the counter at room temperature and One month in the refrigerator well covered with foil and plastic wrap.

Here is the link to The Daring Kitchen incase anyone else wishes to join their baking or cooking challenges.

Here is the link to The Food Blog Diary which lists all the upcoming events and giveaways.

And, finally, here is the link to my own giveaway in which you can win a copy of my favourite cookbook.  This is open until the end of the year and all you have to do is comment to be in with a chance of winning. 

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Breakfast Idea Number 5 - Yoghurt and Granola.

Home- made granola served with banana yoghurt.  I had it with honey yoghurt today.  It is Christmas cranberry granola based on this BBC recipe.
I love this recipe - you can vary it every time and make new and exciting breakfast dishes.

Also, please visit this post and leave a comment to win a copy of Nigel Slater's Appetite.  This is a wonderfully inspiring book for any cook.  This giveaway is part of The Inspiration Chain which is a brilliant idea to get us all sharing our favourite cookbooks and trying something new.

Monday, 20 December 2010

The Cake Slice Bakers - Challenge 3 - Cranberry Cake.

Oh yum, I loved this cake.  It is packed full of fresh, zingy cranberries and topped with an almond streusel.  It was lovely as a dessert with some sing cream. This will be a regular in my baking repertoire from now on.  I'll need to make another soon for my Dad as I think he would really love it too.
I made this for a Christmas party we were having with some of our friends from our NCT antenatal class.  Best class I ever went to as we have made some amazing life-long friends.  

As you can see from the picture, my version is still a bit gooey inside.  It needed a lot longer than the cooking time of 70 minutes.  In fact after 140minutes with the temperature increased after 40 mins, it still wasn't quite cooked properly but we had to leave for the party so I had to take it out.  All the other Cake Slice Bakers seemed to have the same problem so I have amended the recipe in my book to start off at a higher temperature and cook for longer.  I certainly don't mind gooey cake, though, so no hardship.
Here is the link to the Cake Slice Blogroll if you want to have a look at other versions of the cake (with much better photography than mine!).

Cranberry Cake adapted from Cake Keeper Cakes by Lauren Chattman.
Recipe - 

Ingredients - 

For the streusel - 
100g flaked almonds
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp light brown sugar

For the cake - 
228g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs
450g granulated sugar
170g butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
340g fresh cranberries

Method - 

Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/GM2 (I would increase this to GM4 next time).  Grease a 10-inch round springform pan.

Make the streusel - 
Combine the almonds, butter and brown sugar in a medium bowl.  Work the mixture between your fingers to form large crumbs.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Make the cake - 
1. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.  Combine the eggs and granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until the mixture is lightened and increased in volume, about 5 mins.  With the mixer on low, add the butter in a slow stream.  Turn the mixer to medium speed and beat for another 2 mins.  Stir in the vanilla.
2. Gently but thoroughly fold in the flour mixture, a large spoonful at a time.  Stir in the cranberries.

3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.  Sprinkle the streusel over the batter.  Bake the cake until it is golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean, 60-70 mins (may need longer but I have yet to try making it at the higher temperature).
4. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 mins.  Release the sides of the pan and use a large spatula to slide the cake from the pan bottom to a wire rack.  Cool completely, cut into wedges and serve.
5. Store uneaten cake in a cake keeper or wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to 5 days.

And just a few Christmassy photos since this is a festive recipe (I know that's a rubbish excuse!).

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Inspiration Chain - The Wagamama Cookbook.

The Inspiration Chain was started by Chris at Mince and Skirlie.  The idea is for you to pass on a copy of your most inspiring cook book to another blogger and they then pass on a copy of their favourite book and so on.  Chris started by passing on a copy of Ripailles by Stephanie Reynaud to Kate from Domestikated who then passed on a copy of The Wagamama Cookbook to me as a lovely early Christmas pressie.

I let Steve choose anything he wanted for tea and he asked for Chilli Beef Ramen.

Recipe - 
Serves 2.

Ingredients - 
150g beansprouts
250g ramen noodles
350g sirloin steak
a little vegetable oil
a little teriyaki sauce for brushing
1 L chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbsp chilli ramen sauce (see below)
4 spring onions, trimmed and sliced
1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced lengthways
1/2 red onion, peeled and sliced thinly
1 lime, quartered
6 sprigs of coriander

Method - 
1. Blanch the beansprouts in a large pan of boiling water for 10 seconds.  Drain reserving the water, and refresh in cold running water.
2. Cook the noodles in the reserved boiling water for 2-3 minutes until just tender.  Drain thoroughly and refresh under cold running water.
3. Heat a griddle or frying pan over a medium heat for 1-2 mins until hot and almost smoking.  Lightly rub the steak with oil, then cook for 2 mins each side until medium rare. Remove from the griddle, brush with teriyaki sauce and keep warm while it rests for 3-4 minutes.  Slice on the diagonal.
4. Divide the noodles between 2 bowls.  Heat the stock, stir in the chilli ramen sauce then ladle over the noodles.  Top with the beef, beansprouts, spring onions, chilli, red onion, 2 lime quarters and the coriander.

To make the chilli ramen sauce - 
Dissolve 2 scant teaspoons of sugar in 2 tbsp malt vinegar in a small pan over gentle heat.  Allow to coll then add 3 tbsp sweet chilli sauce and 5 tbsp nam pla (fish sauce).

Wow - this was such a quick meal to sling together and it was just what we needed - so filling, satisfying and tasty!  Yum.
I can't wait to explore this book some more.  Japanese is probably my favourite food at the moment so I'm really pleased to receive this especially as my first recipe attempt from it seemed to be so simple and easy.  However, when looking through the drawer for some chopsticks to eat this with, I realised we don't own a single pair! What an omission.  We have a beautiful set of handmade sushi plates and saki cups but no chopsticks.  I think I'll wait until a birthday and ask for a nice set.

So, those who have been following my blog will not be surprised at all by the book I am giving away.
Of course, it's Appetite by Nigel Slater.  Here's a link to my post explaining why it is my favourite cook book.  If you want to win a copy of this book all you have to do is leave a comment on this post and be willing to continue the chain by posting on a copy of the cookbook which has most inspired you.  Unfortunately, it will have to be the paperback version now but it's still a lovely book.
I will choose a winner at random from those who comment by folding pieces of paper and having one of my children draw one - no high tech stuff round here!  The deadline for entering is midnight at the end of 31st December 2010. 

Here is the link to The Inspiration Chain so you can follow its progress.  Thanks Chris - fantastic idea!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

My First Ever Gingerbread House 2010.

I have never made a gingerbread house and it has never occurred to me to do so.  In fact, I don't think I know anyone who has ever made one.  This year, they started to catch my eye and I found myself looking at them on Google Images.  There are some truly amazing gingerbread house photographs on there - the creativity is so inspiring!  So, I decided I would give it a go.

I ordered a book from Amazon - Gingerbread Houses by Christa Currie as the reviews on Amazon suggested it was good for beginners with all the basics to get started.  It is a good book for all the boring details and a great template to make a basic house from which you can then start to add more intricate details as you get more confident.  The book has no photographs however so is not one for flicking through and dreaming or particularly inspiring.

Have to say, this is a time consuming hobby. I would like to maybe start doing one each year.  I did it all myself this year and surprised the kids with it this morning but next year, I think I'll construct the house and then let them decorate and maybe the year after they'll be able to help me at every stage.  Will make a nice family tradition, I think.  

Sorry for the abundance of photos but I just want to record it for myself.  My photography is not great, I'm afraid so it really does look better in real life.  The LED candles inside are the flickering type so you get a really cosy feel from the house.  I am a science person through and through and have never been arty or creative, so I am actually very proud of this house.

A few days ago, I got an early Christmas present in the post from a friend who had seen on facebook that I was struggling with my gingerbread house.  She sent me this book - Gingerbread Architect by Susan Matheson and Lauren Chattman.  Now this IS an inspiring, coffee-table book with amazing photographs.  Love it.  So, next year, I'm maybe going to go for something slightly less traditional.

Steve bought us a kit gingerbread house for the boys to build so we did that yesterday.  It was really easy and no-fuss and they enjoyed doing it.  However, it only kept them occupied for about 10 minutes and I'm not sure we're really going to want to eat that much of it.  It did let them have a wee practice at it before next year's big project - hee hee.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Breakfast Idea Number 4 - Daring Cooks - Poached Eggs.

I am loving doing my challenges.  The Daring Kitchen is one of the most popular challenges for either cooks or bakers.  And, in fact, Shelley of C Mom Cook has included a couple of pictures of my boys in her latest Food Talk article on getting wee ones to help in the kitchen.

Jenn and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chose Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan, and Homemade Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of Trudy of Veggie num num.

I chose to do a version of eggs florentine for this challenge and was really chuffed at how easy it actually is to make a Hollandaise sauce and to poach fairly good looking eggs.  Usually I leave this dish to Steve to make but I guess I have no excuse for doing it myself now.  I LOVE spinach and this makes one of my favourite breakfasts.

Two eggs each for Mummy and Daddy and one each for the kids.  I will definitely be poaching more eggs from now on.  And without using the microwave and the plastic poacher thingy!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Cake Pops 2 - Christmas Trees.

These are my second batch of cake pops from the book by the lovely Bakerella.
I made the pumpkin ones at Halloween and these are in this post.

The Christmas tree ones came out really well.  I was so pleased with them.