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Pears, Pastry and Pain

It’s fair to say it’s not been the most successful of weekends. Looking forward to a quiet weekend in preparation for the busy week that lies ahead of me, I was hoping to spend my time quietly baking, watching films and finally having hours of spare time to finish the book Wicked Girls. While I got the baking side of things dealt with, everything else took a back seat when the migraine struck. Oh how I hate those bastards. Anyone who’s been unfortunate to have them knows they are more than mere headache, and in my case they make me feel like my foreheads been clubbed with a baseball bat and then make me feel nauseous without the relief of actually being sick. There goes the reading and film watching! All I could do was lie under the duvet in the dark, sobbing and desperately wanting The Boyfriend back. I’m not ashamed to say that I have a ridiculously low threshold for pain (The Boyfriend still hasn’t forgotten the time I exclaimed that a napkin had hurt my nose – in my defence, it really had) and when faced with proper pain I’m reduced to crying. Such was the extent of the crying that I couldn’t even venture out to the shops to get painkillers thanks to the puffy red eyes and an alcoholic looking nose. Irresistible! I most certainly wouldn’t hold up under torture. Or being threatened with a napkin with scarily pointy corners. Rather heroically though, throughout the pain I still managed to get my baking done even when standing up meant feeling slightly woozy. This migraine wasn’t going to completely ruin my weekend, damn it.

First up was my very first attempt at a savoury tart. I’m not entirely sure what drove me to so desperately want to cook one but I spent plenty of time leafing through my Delicious magazines to find one, and inspired by Great British Bake Off I really wanted to make some pastry. So I made a cheddar, onion and courgette tart with homemade shortcrust pastry. I used to be intimidated by the idea of making my own pastry, but shortcrust is actually very easy, all you need is plenty of flour and then crumble through half the amount of butter to flour and add a few splashes of water. Easy. I’m not really a big fan of courgettes, having only ever eaten them in big, slimy chunks, but this tart contains grated courgette which I’m much more comfortable eating as the texture is so different. While this tart does take a bit of time to make, the oven does most of the work so you just need to be militant about checking it’s progress in the cooker. My verdict on the tart was that while the filling was cheesy and contained plenty of goodness from the veg, I just wasn’t won over by the pastry. Filo, puff, sweet, all pastries I can happily get on board with and eat plenty of, but shortcrust just seems so bland and dry that it feels completely pointless as something to eat. I know the taste comes from the filling and the pastry is there to hold everything together but even so, it’s nothing to get excited about. However, the topping of melted cheese on this tart does go someway to make up for the shortcrust, so don’t let this put you off. I’m hoping this will be tasty cold as part of my lunch throughout the week. If you want to hunt this recipe down you can find it in the August 2010 edition of Delicious.

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Again inspired by Bake Off, I decided to make an upside down cake which was one of the tasks in the competition a few weeks ago. Going with my gorgeous Primrose Bakery book, I made ginger and pear cake which smelt wonderful in the oven. In the book, they say they bring this cake to the bakery counter in the autumn when the nights start drawing in and there’s a chill in the air as its ingredients are just made for chilly nights. You’ve got ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and of course, pears, which I love. This week has definitely seen a shift in the weather, and even though it was actually quite nice yesterday, I wanted to welcome in the autumn by baking this cake. We’ve had such a mediocre summer that I’m actually looking forward to the cold and crispness of autumn and winter. Bring on the jumpers and Ugg boots I say and let’s all hunker down in the kitchen with casseroles and warming roasts. The upside down cake is perfect for cold weather, with the mouth tingling from the ginger and spices, stodgy comfort from the damp cake and then a sweet coating of caramelised pears and stickiness from the melted sugar and better. Bliss. Plus, it means the pears are soft no matter what, which is a blessing as while pears taste gorgeous when just ripe, they have about a day in which they are perfect. If you don’t eat them on that exact day, they will either be too hard or too mushy. Fact, pears are tricky, but I still love them. The most impressive part of me baking this cake is that it doesn’t look all that different to the professional version, which makes me a very happy lady. Especially as while making it I felt like someone was drilling into my head with a Black and Decker. So maybe I wouldn’t hold up under torture, but knocking out a cake and a tart under the circumstances surely makes up for my low pain threshold, right? Luckily right this minute I have Nurofen Express coursing through my veins, a roast chicken in the oven and the Observer Food Monthly to inspire me, so the weekend is finally starting to look right, albeit on the last dregs of it. Happy Sunday everyone!

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Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Baking, Books, Cooking, Food

 

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Monochrome Cupcakes, Thai Noodles

Now that The Boyfriend has been gone for 6 weeks, it appears I’ve gotten into a little routine, which I shall call ‘The Fat Hermit Routine’. Now before you start feeling sorry for me and going ‘awwwww’, I’d like to state that I only go into ‘Fat Hermit’ mode on a Sunday, the rest of my week is completely freestyled (apart from Zumba Tuesdays and Booiaka Fridays anyway. OK, so maybe I AM in a but of a routine…) and I save my sad sap days for Sundays. Fat Hermit Sundays basically involve me not leaving the flat and baking something extremely fattening, but equally delicious. Try and get between me and these Sundays with my oven and mixing bowls and you will meet resistance. Today though, I think I totally deserve my Sunday hermitising, if you will, after attending a gorgeous wedding of a childhood friend which was lovely but after 9 hours in heels me and my feet needed a rest! Rest to me apparently means whipping up a batch of cupcakes. These came from the same book I used for the rhubarb cupcakes, The Primrose Bakery book, and again the cupcakes were immensely successful. They were cookies and cream cupcakes, which are basically chocolate cupcakes covered in vanilla buttercream (the recipe asks for marshmallow icing but this looked like too much work, so I stuck with my old favourite vanilla) with crushed Oreo cookies crumbled on top. They are amazing. The cake itself is ridiculously light and fluffy with a deep chocolate taste, as unlike many cake recipes, this contains real chocolate instead of just cocoa powder. Combine this cake heaven with buttercream nirvana and you’ve reached cupcake bliss. Finished off with crunchy Oreos, yum. Luckily for me, they are very sweet so one is most definitely enough. Although I did eat an absolute truckload of leftover cake mix and icing, as you’ve probably worked out by now restraint and self discipline isn’t my strong point. I’m also immensely pleased with how pretty they look in their simple monochrome presentation, and the little specks of cookie dust and rubble strewn atop the icing. Gorgeous. I’ve turned into a bit of a cupcake fiend lately, the sugar highs seem to be helping with missing The Boyfriend. Some Amazon reviews on this book moan about the high sugar content of the cakes. Christ, if you don’t want to eat lots of sugar then don’t eat cupcakes, idiots. Common sense! I just thank God for my gym membership and eat cupcakes regardless of sugar content.

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Moving on from the cupcakes, on Friday after a Booiaka dance lesson (ladies, I highly recommend, you just dance like Beyonce to 90s RnB for an hour. I say like Beyonce, but the mirrors in the studio have shattered any illusions about my dancing ability. I just don’t look in them anymore) I made Pad Thai noodles from Rick Steins book ‘Far Eastern Odyssey’. Now I’m not a huge fan of Stein, but you can’t argue with how good the food from countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam is. All of the recipes in this book look very very edible, but while it’s commendable that Rick encourages authentic cooking, recipes that are either too long winded or include impossible to find ingredients I’m just not going to cook. For a bowl of noodles, I’m not going to make an Asian stock or tamarind water thank you very much. And I don’t live in a huge city with food markets on every corner, so hunting down rare ingredients just isn’t possible unless I spent a fortune online. However, I decided to overlook this Friday night to finally use the book after 2 years of it gathering dust and made the simplest recipe from it. I’ve avoided Pad Thai in the past as it contains peanuts which I hate, but I realise now that once combined with all the other ingredients they are just a background taste. The noodles were very nice, had a good kick from the sweet chilli sauce and it was super quick to prepare. Prawns are a great option here as they take barely any time to cook at all, but I’m sure you could just as easily add strips of chicken or beef if that’s what your heart desired. I’ve decided that even though I’ve never been before, my heart (or at the very least my palette) belongs to Thailand, I’ve not yet met a Thai dish I didn’t like. Better start saving for a plane ticket! Or at the very least book a table at the delicious Thai restaurant in town once The Boyfriend returns next month.

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Bittersweet Rhubarb Cupcakes

In honour of the Queens Diamond Jubilee this weekend, I decided to put an English spin on the classic American cupcake. Oh alright then, I actually bought a new cookbook last week and was dying to try this recipe. Congrats and all that Lizzie, but my real inspiration was The Primrose Bakery Book by Martha Smith and Lisa Thomas, and what a delightful book it is. I haven’t actually broken the news yet to The Boyfriend that I’ve bought another one (if you’re reading Boyfriend, I’ve got a new cook book. And er, have pre-ordered another one on Amazon) because the normal reaction is something along the lines of ‘oh for gods sake, not another one, I thought we had this under control now’. Like me buying cook books on a regular basis is up there with a drug addict fresh out of The Priory going to their dealer and picking up some crack. Well as Whitney Houston once said, crack is whack, and I’ve not yet seen or heard of a scientific study looking into the damaging effects of cookbooks on lungs. Please do enlighten me if you hear of one.
So as addictions go, I’m playing it safe while he works abroad for weeks on end.
Back to the cookbook: it’s ace. Full of beautiful pictures of cupcakes, layer cakes, breakfast treats and biscuits, it just makes me want to cook everything from it. I managed to settle on the rhubarb cupcakes as this isn’t something you generally see in a cupcake and I love rhubarb and feel it deserves a bit more variety than alway being plonked into a crumble (delicious as it is). The rhubarb is cut into small chunks and is stewed in water, sugar and vanilla until its falling apart, then put into a plain cake mix. The recipe states that it makes 12 cupcakes, but you could easily make about 6 more with the mixture if you wanted to as there is a lot of mix leftover. This is definitely not a criticism, as complaints go its up there with ‘I can’t close my wallet for all the £50 notes in there’. With the excess cake mix I just made bigger cupcakes and then had a grand time licking the bowl afterwards (easily the best bit about baking). Once the cupcakes were cooked and cooled, I iced them with an icing made with rhubarb juice left over from stewing the rhubarb earlier. The juice was a vibrant, pretty pink and once mixed with sugar and butter, was diluted down to the palest baby pink – gorgeous. The verdict? I love ’em. Soft cake with threads of sweet but slightly sour rhubarb, topped with a sticky, rich icing that is almost too sweet until the tang of rhubarb juice comes in, keeping the icing within very acceptable sweetness levels. Loved. Them. And they look absolutely divine, pretty and very girly.

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I also cooked today a scrumptious dinner incorporating 2 recipes from Mexican Food Made Easy by Thomasina Miers. It was grilled chicken with green rice and homemade guacamole, and even though it sounds like a ‘meh’ dish, its actually seriously tasty. I left the chicken plain and decided to let the sides do the talking. The green rice is just so good, I’ve made it a few times before and it tastes so vibrant,but with coriander, onion, garlic and good vegetable stock in it, it would be more surprising if it wasn’t tasty. I could eat this by the bucketload, but I did manage to reign myself in and just have a plateful (I couldn’t find a bucket). The guacamole was also amazing. I know you can get ready made guacamole in the shops, but that wouldn’t jazz up a plain chicken breast like homemade would. Avocados aren’t exactly cheap either, but It’s worth buying them to make this recipe. The guacamole is tangy and spicy and when combined with the rice and chicken really brings the whole thing together to make a ridiculously tasty and fairly healthy dinner. Chicken and rice need never be boring again. It also looks as pretty as the pink cupcakes with the vibrant green of the rice and guacamole, although I don’t think the picture shows this very well. All in all, a very successful day of cooking with some delicious flavours.

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Posted by on June 5, 2012 in Baking, Books, Chicken, Cooking, Food

 

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