Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Ina Garten: Highly annoying yet incredibly infectious



I only discovered Ina Garten on UKTV Food, where The Barefoot Contessa is aired in the UK. First, I was like 'Who is this? A fat, American version of Nigella Lawson?'. Then she became incredibly annoying. Every episode was 'So, I'm having some friends over so I'm going to cook this delicious cake/pot roast/soup'. And it was different friends in each episode! Okay, maybe she does have a lot of friends and I shouldn't be so cynical, but there was something fishy about this to me...


But I kept on watching. Even with her ridiculous stories about table settings (including one episode where she goes out into the show in her garden and finds a snow covered branch to use as a table setting, or where she dangles dried oranges off branches in a vase to complement the food...the list is endless) I couldn't stop watching. Me and Scott would mock her and her silly foodie ways, yet I think she was brainwashing us. Maybe I am secretly enjoying it. Maybe I will buy one of her books cos she does make darn good cakes...

P.S. Apparently she is 60!!!! No way!

Monday, 25 August 2008

Cherry cake and Ginger Beer

I recently bought this book in Borders as I stumbled upon it by accident. Okay, by accident, I mean it was the featured 'Cookery book of the month' or something and the cover enticed me. Then I started to read the introduction and as soon as I read the line 'This book is a result of shared, twin passions: books and foods, reading and eating' I was sold! I don't really talk about books much here, but obviously as an English Literature student they are a rather big part of my life and a major passion. Cooking has only recently become such an obsession, but this book seemed perfect for me.

It goes through foods featured in children's literature, mainly pre-1960 children's literature, like Enid Blyton, EB White and CS Lewis and then Jane Brocket has re-created these in her own recipes. I haven't tried any of the recipes yet, but I spent the first evening I got it absorbing the whole nostalgia of the book and craving lashings of ginger beer and cake for supper. Jane describes the events in the book perfectly, it can be read simply as a novel for pleasure rather than a cookery book really. It really made me want to revisit children's classics, especially my favourite children's book ever, Charlotte's Web, and also The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe.

My little wolf

The past week has had quite a few dog related shows on. Well, except for the obvious Dog Whisperer and dog rescue type stuff on Animal Planet like I like to watch. First, last monday, there was a programme on bbc 1 called Pedigree Dogs Exposed. It was about how many pedigree dogs suffer from painful genetic diseases because of the way humans breed them so unnaturally. There is also a news article about it here. The case of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels was one of the most disturbing.

Firstly they are at very high risk of heart disease because of their inbred ancestry. They think this is because one male stud with a heart disease was seen as 'the best' and probably shown in lots of shows and then sired lots of puppies who then developed the same problems.The most disturbing problem is syringomyelia, which is because the dogs have been bred to have small skulls, yet their brains are too big for their heads. On the documentary there was footage of some KC's with this problem and it was so sad to watch. It affects their nervous system and causes immense pain for them.

On the programme, there was an interview with a woman whose dog had just won Best In Show in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel annual show, and he had syringomyelia. The breeder was aware of this and how it is passed on automatically to the puppies of any dog with it, yet had bred 24 litters from her dog since he was diagnosed with it. It shocked me so much how she could knowingly breed dogs that would die in pain in such a horrible way.

Breeders no longer breed for the healthiest or best hunter, but simply for the best looking dogs, the ones who comply to the 'breed standards'. Personally, I think the idea of breed standards can be a bit ridiculous really. Pepe is a Yorkshire Terrier yet he is nowhere near the breed standard. He is too big, too grey, his ears are too floppy and his snout isn't long enough. Yet he is still the perfect yorkie to me.

I have been calling him affectionately 'my little wolf' since watching 'Martin Clunes: A man and his dogs' last night. The programme went back to the origins of dogs and reminded us all that we are sharing our homes with wild dogs. He went searching for wolves in America and then found wild dingoes in Australia. The cutest were the Jack Russels who were stil being used as ratters. They went chasing after the rats and killed them and shook them, just like Pepe does with his toys! Apparently terriers are bred killers and will kill anything infront of them, even if they're not hungry. I don't think Pepe is a true terrier then, he has had close encounters with frogs and birds and stuff but has never killed anything!


Apple and blackberry pie! I made this on Saturday and it has been sitting in the fridge waiting to be eaten today. The pie crust has slightly come away at the edges because we didn't seal them properly and I'm not sure how soggy the apples have gone, but I'm sure it will be tasty with lots of custard on it! I shall report back on how it tastes and also with a recipe.

Friday, 22 August 2008


I went blackberry picking today, Pepe and Scott helped me too. I'm going to make an apple and blackberry pie for dinner on the bank holiday.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Fur coat dreams


Last night I spent a girly night in catching up with Emma before we go to Scotland and we watched Sex And The City (which seems like what every girly night has to involve lately). I was obviously heavily influenced by Carrie's fabulous fur coat as I had dreams of it last night. I think maybe it is because I have been searching for a decent winter coat lately and this just exudes total glamour. It would be so dificult to pull off here though without looking like a Bet Lynch wannabe. So, the search for a winter coat continues...

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Trip to Ikea!


I love late night trips to Ikea. Scott's brother has been doing his room up and we had to return to change a wardrobe door, which always gives us lots of amusement trying to squeeze things in the car to avoid paying the quite extortionate delivery charges for a quick trip down the M62. I took my camera and took photos of things I rather liked so I can remember then for when I return with more money. 



This cake stand is definitely on my wishlist. Infact, I don't know why I didn't buy it because I will use it so much! It costs £9.99 and has a beautiful pattern on the plate. The dome will be very useful too for storing cake in but the stand could also work as cute candle plate. I need this for a tea party!

 
I loved these fake flowers too, even if they did remind me of my Nana. It looked like a mini florist in Ikea and a few fake flowers could really cheer up my room I think. I like having flowers in my room but at about £5 a pop for a bunch a week and the fact that I always forget to top up their water, fake flowers could possibly be a better option for me. Of course, I would still get real flowers as a treat, especially fresias because I love their smell.  
  
Finally, I spotted this really good bedspread in the kids section! It really reminded me of the Cath Kidston alphabet bedding that I posted about a few weeks ago, but obviously cheaper. However, Ikea only does bedspreads in a set so I couldn't just get the pillow case and I think the Cath Kidston one would be better quality. Both are for kids, but the Cath Kidston one can be more adult too I think, when put with the right kind of decor.

Bakewell tart

The past week has been hard due to practically being in charge in work and thrown right in at the deep end and not having much time to rest at all. By Sunday, my google reader was going beserk because it had so many unread posts on it! I have a few hundred photos to upload off my camera still from various things and also 2 holidays to pack for and soon, a rabbit to look after for my sister! Phew! I am looking forward to going back to Uni if only for the slight rest I shall get.

Anyway, I baked a bakewell tart over a week ago now and still haven't shared the recipe. It was delicious, I plan on baking it again but alas, haven't had the time.

We had it with our sunday dinner, drizzled in warm custard. The weather has been so miserable and cold, we were in need of some nice, warm pudding more suited to winter really. It's quite apt that it was from a cookbook entitled 'Comfort Food' really. The almond flavour was just strong enough and was really lovely with the gooey jam. Yum. I want another piece now.


Ingredients

For pastry

225g plain flour
75g icing sugar
130g butter, diced
1 egg, beaten
a pinch of salt

For pie filling

A good few tablespoons of strawberry jam
2 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
115g caster sugar
115g butter, melted
50g ground almonds
A few drops of almond essence


Method

1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 5. To make the pastry, sift together the flour and icing sugar in a bowl. Add the butter and rub together until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Add the egg and salt, then mix until it forms a smooth dough.

2. Knead the dough lightly on a floured surface and form a flattish circle, then wrap with clingfilm and chill in the fridge for about 10-15 minutes.

3. Roll out the dough until big enough to fit a 22cm pie dish and then place in the dish, chilling for another 10 minutes.

4. Place some baking parchment over the top of the pastry case and tip in some baking beans. (I used dried white kidney beans for this!). Place in the oven them remove after 10 minutes.

5. Make the filling for the tart. Whisk the eggs, egg yolks and sugar together until the mixture is thick and pale. This should take about 5 minutes with an electric whisk, maybe longer by hand.

6. Gently stir in the melted butter, ground almonds and almond essence into the pie filling. Spread a generous layer of jam on the pie base, then pour the almond filling ontop.

7. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the filling is set and slightly golden. Enjoy warm with custard!

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Blackberry crumble bars


I've been slacking with updating here and have TWO recipes to share with you! First, I made these blackberry crumble bars last week and they were so delicious. I made them to use up my bumper harvest of wild blackberries and saw the recipe on Smitten Kitchen. I highly recommend visiting Smitten Kitchen, the chocolate and peanut butter cake that she posted yesterday is on my 'to bake' list, it looks so amazing and decadent!

Anyway, back to these bars. The original recipe used blueberries, but they are pretty expensive over here (as are blackberries actually...if you buy them!) so I decided to use blackberries instead and make it a bit more English! The lemon in the fruit and the crumble part really cut through the sweetness and tartness of the blackberries perfectly.

The recipe is available here and is really simple. The biscuit base and crumble topping are the same mixture, only the base is pressed down while the topping is sprinkled. I tried them hot straight from the oven, cool after being in the fridge and warm with custard on them, and my favourite way to eat them has to be fresh, hot from the oven! The recipe said it yielded 36 small rectangles but I only got 12 squares, I guess I'm a bit over-generous in my portions!

Monday, 11 August 2008

Blossom tea


Last week I went into the Chinese supermarket in Liverpool and bought some blossom tea. Or flowering tea, or blooming tea, whatever it wants to be called! The package called it 'Artistic tea' which is a fair description I suppose. Whittards sell blooming teas, yet their prices are rather extortionate! £12 for 50g! I got mine for £5.50 and got 125g, but I suppose if there isn't a Chinese supermarket nearby Whittards is more accessible.

I love the Chinese supermarket, it's always quite daunting and like being on holiday in a foreign supermarket. It's like stepping into another world! I want to go back and take photos.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

A new member of our family...

Will be arriving on the 8th September! We have called her Nina and I am so excited to be bringing her home next month. I hope that her and Pepe become cute siblings.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Wild blackberries


Wild blackberries are in season here and there are lots of them now growing wild on bushes near where we always walk Pepe, near some farmers fields. Last week my Mum went picking some and we gobbled them all down so quickly. Free yummy food!! In this 'credit crunch', free food is something very special, especially when soft fruit is so expensive in the supermarket. Over the weekend my Mum & Dad went blackberry picking and brought home 4lbs 7oz of blackberries! All free! When in the supermarket, we looked at how much blackberries were. £1.99 for 150g, so we had picked about £13 worth of blackberries, for free!

I decided to make some jam with some of the blackberries and oh my. It is so delicious. I think it's even nicer than the strawberry and raspberry jam I made a few weeks ago.


I used the same recipe that I did last time. The blackberries stayed together a bit more so the jam was lumpier but I like a lumpy jam personally. They are so delicious. We still have 2 huge punnets of blackberries left in our fridge so I'm going to make these from Smitten Kitchen but obviously use blackberries instead of blueberries. They will be so delicious. And in a few weeks, there will be even more blackberries to go and pick! I might make a lovely autumnal blackberry and apple pie, even though it is only August.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Say 'hello' to this little guy! I haven't named him yet, but he is so cute. I got him from Etsy seller Blue Canary Vintage and he has been keeping me company on my cardigan since I got him.

This little guy is also very adorable and may be looking at me for a new home...how can I resist?!

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Yummy carrot cake


I was bored on Friday night so of course I decided to bake. I settled ona carrot cake because you really cannot beat a nice, lightly spiced carrot cake. Usual recipes have a cream cheese frosting but this recipe from the Asda magazine used a buttercream frosting which I personally prefer. Cream cheese frosting can be hard to get right and can either be really sweet or really cheesy. The original recipe was for a pumpkin cake but as pumpkin is now out of season I thought I could just as easily do it with carrots. The carrots aren't grated, but pureed, so it makes the cake very moist and lovely. It's also a good way to disguise the carrots if people say they won't like it because they don't like carrots!

You need 300g carrot puree, which was about 4 or 5 medium carrots chopped up, boiled until ready to mash and then pureed. Then you just follow the recipe, courtesy of Asda

  • 300g plain flour
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • ½tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼tsp grated nutmeg
  • ¼tsp ground cloves
  • 125g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
  • 275g soft brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 300g pumpkin purée
  • 75g currants (optional, I omitted them)
  • 75g walnut pieces, chopped (optional again, but I like nuts in carrot cake. I also sprinkled some ontop instead of orange zest)
  • 3tbsp full-fat milk (I totally missed this out by accident but the cake turned out perfect anyway)

For the icing:
  • 100g butter, softened
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 2tbsp orange juice
  • grated zest of 1 small orange
Method

1. Preheat oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4. Grease the bases of two 20cm round, shallow cake tins, and line with baking paper. Sift together flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and spices.

2. Beat butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding 1 tablespoon of flour mixture with the second egg.

3. Fold in remaining flour mix, pumpkin purée, currants and walnuts. Put into cake tins and bake for 40 minutes.

4. Cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then turn out to finish cooling on a wire rack.

5. To make the icing, beat butter, icing sugar, orange juice and most of zest together until fluffy. Use to sandwich cakes together and spread on top. Sprinkle with the rest of the zest.


Friday, 1 August 2008

I have fallen in love with this Cath Kidston pillow case:


I think it would look really nice with white sheets! It's from the new Cath Kids range, which is suppose to be for children but I'm already coveting lots of it.

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