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Baking Up A Taste Of The Tropics

This weekend I finally got the opportunity to get in touch with my inner domestic goddess after a month of slumming it in the slow cooker and microwave. The urge to bake just got too strong so I was lucky to be able to pop out and borrow someone’s oven to scratch the itch and get something warm and comforting on the kitchen counter. There’s nothing like a bit of baking to counteract the stress of a busy week and to take your mind off of missing someone, which was the excuse I gave myself when I decided to bake two treats instead of one. Sometimes, you’ve just got to let yourself go. In truth, I have been working out hard most mornings and walked three miles yesterday while waiting for the car to be MOT’ed, so my greed has been well earned. Before I get to the joy of baking though I feel I must tell you about last nights dinner, mellow meatballs from Nigella Express. You’ve more than likely already got this book as it sold by the truckload when it was released a few years ago, and if you haven’t I strongly suggest you pick up a copy as it is quite simply indispensable. In my kitchen anyway. My copy is looking pretty sorry for itself, covered in food splats, its pages stuck together and spine close to falling apart – all signs of a much loved and reliable cookbook. Some of my favourite recipes from this include chicken schnitzel, flourless brownies, Mexican scrambled eggs, ragu and yesterday’s dinner. I adapted the recipe slightly to suit cooking in the slow cooker, so if you do the same then only put half the amount of stock specified so that you don’t end up with a watery dinner. The meatballs are cooked in a sauce made up of red curry paste, coconut milk, tomatoes and spices, alongside some chickpeas, sweet potatoes and butternut squash. It’s delicious. Spicy but not overly so, sweet, thick and with the goodness of sweet potato, squash and chickpeas. You needn’t make your own meatballs it you don’t have the time or inclination, but as I’ve said before (and it bears saying again what with the recent horse meat scandal) please buy the best meat you can afford so you know what you’re eating. I went for Tesco Finest Aberdeen Angus meatballs which might sound poncy but I only ate a quarter of the meatballs last night and the rest is in the freezer, so I’ve got 3 good quality dinners for the price of one pack of meat. So long as you are happy with the quality of what you’re eating, that’s all that matters. I know this photo doesn’t show the meatballs all that flatteringly, but take my word for it, they’re tasty.

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On to the baking! Flicking through Saved By Cake by Marian Keyes, my eyes were caught on the word ‘orgasmic’, as I’m sure yours would be too. Marian claims that her coconut milk cake elicited texts from friends raving about what an orgasmic tasting cake this is, so with such an appealing description what sort of woman would I be to not bake it? Word of advice for you though if you intend on making this cake or for that matter anything with coconut milk in it. Please do not buy coconut milk from the aisle in the supermarket where you’ll find all the big brand names for world foods, such as Blue Dragon, Old El Paso, Dolmio and the like. Buy it from this aisle and you’ll pay almost £2 for a 400ml can. Buy it from the aisle with all the Polish/Jamaican/Indian products that are typically covered in a foreign language and you’ll pay at the most 99p for the same size tin. There’s often an offer of two for £1 on these tins too. I don’t know what kinda swiz Blue Dragon and Amoy are trying to pull, the swines, but two quid for a tin of milky white liquid is excessive and if you need several tins for the week then its cheaper to get a Thai takeaway than it is to cook a simple curry. It might seem like a big rant over a saving of £1 but the big brands know most people don’t walk down the ‘ethnic’ aisle and charge double for the exact same product. And it really is the exact same product, there is no difference in quality or taste whatsoever. Don’t give them the satisfaction, go down the next aisle along and pick up a tin from a smaller producer that charges fairly. Look for Island Sun (green & white tins) or Dunns River (orange tin) and stick the middle finger up at the big brands. If you don’t shop at Tesco much then you’ll probably struggle finding these tins anywhere else other than Oriental supermarkets, but maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough. Waitrose naturally don’t stock them at all you’ll be surprised to hear. Anyway, that’s the pain dealt with, lets move onto pleasure. The cake doesn’t look like anything special to be honest, its very modest looking with its plain vanilla appearance. But vanilla can be surprisingly decadent and naughty, plus we all know not to judge anything on its appearance. The cooked cake is poked several times then is covered with the warmed, sugary coconut milk and left to soak up the milk overnight. Upon eating, the cake is very heavy from all the liquid but exceptionally moist. I’ve a feeling if you squeezed it the cake would ooze syrup from being completely saturated. While not entirely orgasmic, it is a very very good cake, filled to the brim with coconut which reminded me of a holiday in Cuba, and in the end leaving the eater very satisfied. I tried very hard to avoid any sexual innuendo with the write up of this orgasmic cake but to be honest it was just too easy. Sorry.

I also made a rather large batch of cookies from a much neglected cookbook, The Golden Book Of Chocolate. The Boyfriend bought me this several years ago from a fabulous shop we found in Notting Hill called Books For Cooks. Well you know me, I wasn’t going to walk right past that shop! If you are ever in the area and in the market for a new cookbook, don’t log on to Amazon and go here instead, it’s a great shop. I only wish I lived a little nearer London, purely so I could hang out in this shop on a regular basis. The cookbook itself has not seen any kitchen action for a long time which probably comes as a shock considering my love for chocolate and baking, but there are a lot of typos and ingredients missing which is a big mistake to make when it comes to publishing a cookbook. It’s a massive book though and covers a wide spectrum of chocolate based foods, even covering savoury dishes which I’ve not been brave enough to tackle. And it’s pages are gold. What more could you possibly want from a cookbook aside from accuracy and the correct list of ingredients? I mock, but in actual fact the chocolate and banana chip cookies I made from this book were sublime and not a typo in sight on the page. They were a cinch to make, and the banana flavour came from a mashed up banana and some dried banana chips. I buy bananas every week and come the end of the week I’ve maybe eaten one and the rest are all black and mushy. I know this will be the case and yet every week I can’t help but put another bunch of bananas in my trolley, convinced that this week I will eat all of them. Never mind, there are plenty of recipes that begin with ‘take one overripe banana…’
I hadn’t realised when I started making them that I would be left with 36 cookies but that indeed was the case. Unfortunately for me these cookies are right up my street, with melted choc chips, the crunch of banana chips and a super soft, almost cake like texture that makes them very easy to eat. I hate really crunchy cookies and usually this is what I end up baking, so to have a perfect cookie emerge from the oven was a dream come true. It also takes me straight across the pond to my favourite holidays in Florida with each bite, making them even more desirable. Luckily, The Boyfriend and I have a new baby niece, and if there’s one thing new parents need its sugar, right? I will be handing these over to someone who surely needs them more than I do, before I give myself full on diabetes by the time the week is out. I’m not a fan of peanut butter myself, but I can imagine this could be incorporated into the recipe somewhere somehow if you are suitably nuts about the stuff. The raw cookie dough would also make for a perfect home made cookie dough ice cream, I can see this stuff going beautifully with either vanilla, chocolate or banana ice cream. But it really is just perfect as a cookie, and something I will be whipping up as soon as possible for The Boyfriend once he’s home.

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For The Love Of Chocolate

I’ve made no secret of my pure, unadulterated love for chocolate. It’s been 26 years but my love for the brown stuff shows no sign of abating, and nor would I want it to. Unluckily for me though, this week chocolate has not loved me. I don’t know what I’ve said or what I’ve done, but clearly I’ve pissed the chocolate gods off in some way, shape or form; what else could explain the disasters that have befallen me this week? Before I tell you of the heartbreak and distress that I have suffered, I should probably start with the more savoury stuff. Some of my lovely workmates came over for dinner earlier on in the week (this blog entry features these cheeky scamps heavily I’m afraid!) and rather than stressing myself out by cooking something time consuming or complicated I decided to take advice from my all time favourite, Nigella Lawson, and make a simple tray bake. It was Spanish chicken from Kitchen, and the only effort required of me was to chop up some chorizo, red onions and sweet red peppers and chuck them in a roasting tray with some chicken thighs, olive oil, new potatoes, oregano and orange zest. Minimum effort, maximum taste. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again, you can always rely on Nigella. I was worried the dish might be a little dry but the amount of spicy paprika oil provided by the chorizo was enough to prevent any dryness and gave everything shed loads of flavour. Plus the skin on the thighs was nice and crispy due to the high oven temperature, perfect. The dish even introduced one of the girls to the delights of chorizo, so as well as feeding I like to think I’m also educating! This yummy main was followed by chocolate lava cakes with a salted caramel centre (this sounds so much sexier in French- moulleux au chocolat coeur fondant caramel sale – swoon) which came from The Little Paris Kitchen. Then things started going wrong. If only I was capable of following instructions To.The.Letter. Being the maverick that I am though, I fobbed off her advice to fill up the ramekins with the cake mix and then pipe salted caramel into the centre of the uncooked mix, and instead filled the ramekins up by a third with cake mix, dolloped some caramel on top, then topped with some more mix. A silly, silly mistake. After baking until juuuuuuust right (thank you Goldilocks), I attempted to get the fondants out of the ramekins. Instead of cakes with an oozy caramel centre, I ended up with a thin layer of chocolate cake covered in salted caramel and the rest of the cakes stuck in the ramekin. Oh sure, they came out eventually with a little prodding and poking, but the effect of cutting into the cake and a soft, oozing centre flowing out was lost. Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry would be less than complimentary. Luckily for me, my workmates are not Paul and Mary, so I may have gotten away with it, but Masterchef it ain’t. When the entire structure of a pudding collapses, you know you should have just manned up and tried to get to grips with a piping bag instead of taking the easy way out. They looked a mess, so no photo this time. Despite this disaster, the ladies seemed o enjoy it, and that’s the good thing about friends, they don’t judge you on your ability to hold a chocolate fondant together. That’s one of the positive sides of having a boyfriend who works away for long periods of time: you find out who your real friends are and which ones make an effort to talk, meet up, send texts, or just get me so trollied that I can barely even remember my own name or that my boyfriend is on the other side of the world.

Onto my second chocolate disaster. Once again, this was for one of my lovely workmates whose birthday it is on Monday, so what with it being a big birthday I decided to bake a cake for her. I do feel for my workmates, I’m regularly bringing in various baked goods to force feed them with, whether they regard themselves lucky or unlucky over this is hard to say as they may well be very good liars. Until they say stop, I’m going to keep bringing them in. This cake was Coca Cola cake from Marian Keyes lovely book Saved By Cake, and was chosen because the birthday girl is a coke fanatic. It’s hard to put down in words how much she loves the stuff, I’m not even sure I can fully comprehend her love for it, but I imagine it’s similar to my overwhelming love for chocolate. This is a cake that would be absolutely perfect for kids what with it containing coke, chocolate, mini marshmallows and topped with fizzy cola bottles (not such a perfect cake for the parents though I guess, what with toddlers likely to still be screaming and rolling around the floor from an intense sugar high at midnight) but is just as enjoyable for childless adults. The cake itself was lovely, damp with a gooey stickiness from the melted marshmallows, strong cocoa flavours and a hint of the fizzy stuff (you must go for the full fat coke, Diet would simply be wrong and pointless when you look at all the other ingredients). The icing though, was another story completely. Made up of butter, coke, cocoa powder and icing sugar, I just could not get it to thicken and set. It didn’t help that I had exactly the amount of icing sugar stated in the recipe, so adding a bit more to thicken the runny sauce was out of my hands. I was covered in flour and chocolate so a trip to the shop was out of the question, I just had to pour it over the stacked cake and pray it all went OK. It did not go OK. While some of the icing stayed put on the cake, the majority ran off the cake and gathered in a pool on my cake stand (which in actual fact was the lid from a Celebrations tub), which ended up looking like a very big boat in a small, muddy puddle. Again, my presentation skills need some serious improvement. Fizzy cola bottles saved the day though and I arranged these as prettily as my unartistic hands could manage. This morning upon waking I was in a foul mood, and on asking myself why I realised it was because of the failed icing and the cake looking a mess. I invest way too much emotion into my baking. Either that or life’s so great right now that bad icing is the only cloud on my horizon. But I think it’s the first one. In the end it didn’t matter too much as Cokehead seemed to really enjoy it and with lit candles and a sparkler the pool of icing didn’t seem so bad. Its the thought that counts, right? In baking, mistakes are easily made and I need to learn to not be so ridiculously hard on myself and just enjoy doing it, then subsequently eating it.

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Vive la France!

Time for a quick hop across the Channel to France for today’s cooking task. Without even realising that it was Bastille Day today until about 10 minutes ago, I’d decided to make macarons and even wore this snazzy, on-theme tee. –

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Therefore proving that I am indeed psychic, nothing at all to do with watching Ratatouille or the last episode of Sex and the City to get my Paris fix. That is all purely coincidental. I adore Paris, and even though there is a touch of hostility between the ‘Frogs Legs’ and ‘Le Rosbifs’, I secretly (until now that is) love the French. Yes, on our first trip to Paris we experienced some seriously rude waiters and had many French people cut us up in queues, but this is part of the English person in Paris package deal right? They just do what they want, don’t give a toss and their food is outstanding. They’ve given us baguettes, croissants, duck confit, creme brulee, tart tatin, moules mariniere, to name but a few, so how can I stay angry at them? Plus Paris is beautiful, so if I have to put up with a bit of rudeness then fair deal. If it bothers you, fear not for when the French are in the UK, we give them a dose of their own medicine. While queuing at a petrol garage, a French man tried to cut in at the front of the queue, and there was uproar. Good old Brits, we put up with a lot of crap at times (Cameron, Osbourne, I’m talking about you), but mess with our queues and you’re for it. Suffice to say, Frenchie shuffled to the back of the queue looking thoroughly ashamed of himself (quite right too). Anyway, it’s a happy accident that I chose to make macarons on Bastille Day, and justifies the need to bake should The Boyfriend go “tut tut, more baking eh?”.

The recipe came from Marian Keyes book Saved By Cake, which is a delightful and cheery cookbook, which is a testament to her writing skills as she touches on depression and suicidal thoughts quite a lot in the intro. Don’t let this put you off, the recipes are great and covered in glitter, which definitely brightens my mood on a bad day. These macarons are different and incorporate the ingredients of the Italian dessert tiramisu, so the filling is made with mascarpone, coffee and Marsala wine. I’ve always thought its the case that when you enjoy sweet things that have coffee and/or wine in them, it means you’re grown up and sophisticated. Ergo, I must be a proper adult and sophisticated too. Don’t hate me, I didn’t make up the rules. Oh wait, that’s right, I just did. In reality, I’m far from sophisticated (I spilt coffee all down my nice French t shirt while making these. Proof if any were needed that I am not sophisticated) and have liked coffee chocolates and cakes since childhood. The macarons (or macaroons depending on how authentic you want to sound) are a piece of cake to make, and the mascarpone filling goes a lovely latte colour once the coffee and wine are mixed in. Once assembled they don’t look like the picture perfect ones you see in patisserie windows, but unless you’re planning on selling them to Laduree or Harrods, there really is no need to worry about symmetry. Marian calls them ‘bockety’ and I think this is the perfect description of mine. To be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure I actually like macarons. I’ve only ever eaten home made ones, so maybe it’s just my cooking, but I find them too chewy and bitter. My teeth actually hurt after eating them, and I then ask myself why I didn’t just make some cupcakes instead. These macarons do really taste like tiramisu, and are a real grown up treat, but it makes me crave the pillowy softness of an actual tiramisu instead. No disrespect to Marian though, I imagine for fans of macarons these are a delight, but I think when it ones to a sweet treat, I’m more of a softy than a crunchy. Think cakes, crumbles drowning in custard, tiramisu and you are speaking my language! I’ll leave the crunchy macarons to the sophisticated French, who have done a great service to the world of good food. For this, Happy Bastille Day, and Vive la France!

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Posted by on July 14, 2012 in Baking, Books, Cooking, Food, French

 

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Red Velvet Cupcake Swirls

I promised I’d cook from my new Marian Keyes cookbook, and who am I to break a promise? Yes, I made Red Velvet Cupcake Swirls from her book, and I can now see why baking helped her out of a depression as they were pretty, pretty, pretty good and certainly cheered me up. There was an obscene amount of cocoa powder in these innocent looking little beauties, and with a sweet cream cheese mix swirled into the cake mix these are definitely an indulgent treat, but well worth it. If you need a chocolate hit then these will give you several. They were also ridiculously easy to make so for minimal effort you get pretty delicious little cupcakes. They look quite plain, but because the cream cheese is swirled into the mix, you don’t need to put the frosting on top of them. That would be cream cheese overkill (yes there is such a thing), and as someone who’s been through such a tragic event, I can tell you that you can indeed have too much of a good thing. All I’ll say is that if you are ever at Universal Islands of Adventure in Florida and get a red velvet cupcake from Snookers and Snookers, Sweet Candy Cookers, you too will know what cream cheese overkill is like. Top tip, also don’t eat it and then go on The Hulk as you will regret this. I make these mistakes so you don’t have to.

I took these cupcakes into work for our team meeting, which was really just a front for the more important issue of The Bake-Off. A friend had decided to go head to head with me with her ‘healthy’ lemon drizzle cake so the competition was intense. Everyone loves lemon drizzle cake and chocolate cupcakes so the heat was on! Unfortunately we will never know for sure as people were far too diplomatic to pick a winner, but they were both delicious so we’ll call this one a draw (grudgingly). Next time I will be triumphant!

 

All in all, a definite improvement on the pineapple cupcakes I made a few weeks ago, which had left me lamenting that I’d never be able to knock up a decent cupcake. Now there is light at the end of the tunnel! A great first recipe to try from Saved by Cake.

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2012 in Baking, Books, Cooking

 

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Repenting for the weekend…

Unfortunately not much cooking has been going on in the Cookbook Neglectors kitchen this week. Having eaten a lot of rich food over the weekend it felt right to spend a few days eating healthily, and lets face it, no one wants to read (or write) a blog about grilled chicken and veg. I only cook and eat these delicious yet unhealthy meals for your reading entertainment you know, not because I’m greedy OK?  Glad we got that all straightened out! The only problem with me resisting the temptation of eating food is that I then struggle to resist the temptation of buying books about food. Which is what part of this challenge was about, getting the best out of the cookbooks I already had and curbing my addiction to buying the damn things. But in my defence, out of all the addictions I could have, this is probably the least damaging. I also spent one evening this week making a wish list on Amazon, and the whole thing was just a list of cookbooks, how ridiculous is that?  Anyway, when you see a cookbook by your favourite author (Marian Keyes), about your favourite thing (baking) and its bright pink, you become powerless to resist. I mean look at it, could you turn this down?  Exactly, and if you could turn this down, you’re a stronger person then I will ever be. Anyway, I’m a big fan of Marian Keyes writing. While her fiction books may be ‘chick-lit’, they are nothing like the fluffy, predictable boy meets girl nonsense that’s given chick lit a bad name. Marian covers topics ranging from addiction, depression, marital breakdown and death, yet the writing is imbued with this fantastic sense of humour that has had me laughing like a mad woman in public (note: the writing is also at times heartbreaking so you may find yourself laughing and then crying in short succession. It’s not a good look on the bus). I was really surprised when I saw she’d written a cookbook, and even more surprised to find out that baking is what has helped her recover from what sounds like a horrendous depressive episode. In her own words, “To be perfectly blunt about it, my choice sometimes is: I can kill myself or I can make a dozen cupcakes. Right so, I’ll do the cupcakes and I can kill myself tomorrow”. It’s deep stuff, but I applaud her bravery in telling the world about what she is going through, especially as people suffering with mental health problems are so easily stigmatised. Its not a depressing cookbook though, far from it. The recipes are stuffed with her trademark humour and it almost feels like a friend has written the recipes down for you (example, on brownies: “FYI, and this can be our little secret, the square in the middle will be the most delicious of them all. I’m only saying, for when you’re dishing them out, if you wanted to single someone out for a treat – and who’s to say it can’t be you? – then the middle one is the very, very best”). When you read these quotes – or indeed her books – you must, absolutely must, read them with an Irish accent in your head otherwise the charm won’t fully be there. You have been warned! Food snobs may turn their nose up at cheesecakes and tarts being covered in edible glitter, but Marians recipes look beautiful covered in the stuff and I know I won’t be able to resist pimping my cakes when I cook from this book. It may not be sophisticated but you’re not  trying to get a Michelin star so just relax and have fun with it, it’s only baking.

 

There are a lot of amazing looking recipes in this book, and they are all easily achievable and look stunning. If you want to get into baking and /or want some more unusual treats (Snickers cheesecake/tiramisu macaroons anyone?) then this is a great place to start. And if I’ve not convinced you of her genius writing yet, pick up a copy of ‘Anyone Out There’ or ‘Brightest Star In The Sky’ and then tell me she’s not amazing. I’ll be cooking from  ‘Saved By Cake’ at the weekend so I will update you on it then.

 

While I’m here, I would also like to make an apology to the Mexican Vanilla Cheesecake from the last blog entry. After leaving it in the fridge overnight and then taking it to work, something magical happened to the cheesecake and it became much more to my taste and more dense, like an actual cheesecake! It seems I lack patience which clearly is an attribute needed when dealing with such things. Lesson learned, I must try and restrain myself next time I make a cheesecake and leave it for 24 hours before eating. I can tell you now that it won’t be easy, but for the sake of taste and decency I will have to try!

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 29, 2012 in Baking, Books, Cooking

 

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