Thursday, 31 December 2009

Review of 2009

2009, the year I started food blogging. This time last year I just another reader of food blogs and never did I imagine that I would start my own. Then in February I cooked a three course dinner for valentines day and after reading blog posts about the same thing I became inspired to start my own. I have to say I had my doubts about how long I would keep it up and still continue to be amazed by the things I have done cooking wise this year.

Initially I started this blog as a way of recording recipes I would like to cook again but food blogging has done so much more for me than that. I'm a much less fuss eater. I've tried raw fish, an ever increasing variety of vegetables (I was previously a carrots, peas and sweetcorn girl!) and also fish (fish fingers and salmon only this time last year). I got my first kitchenAid, which is still much loved and used. It pushed my bread baking onwards and also inspired me to join the Daring Bakers. Highlights include my first challenge, a Bakewell tart, the Dobos torte and Decembers gingerbread house. At the same time I joined the Daring cooks and a newly formed bread baking group Fresh from the oven. Highlights of the daring cooks challenges this year include Chinese potstickers, sushi and salmon en crute. I started out as a member of Fresh from the oven on their first challenge in June, in August I hosted the challenge of English muffins and took over the running of the group along with Jules of butcher, baker. I also joined the UK Food Bloggers Association and try to be an active member in the forum as much as time allows. And of course my blog reader continued to grow with more and more great blogs.
Another thing I have come to love about food blogging is the social side (you can find me on Twitter here). I have got to know some like minded people via this blog and twitter. Hopefully blogging and tweeting about my love of cooking/baking and sharing my successes (and sometimes failures) in the kitchen will stop me boring my none foodie friends and family! I have read and appreciated all the comments you have given me so thank you all and keep them coming.

Other foodie highlights of 2009 included a trip to the lake district and one to the Anglesey Oyster and welsh food produce festival (I even tried an oyster) where I discovered smoked bread flour. Favorite recipes other than those mentioned above have included authenitc spaghetti carbonara, blueberry crumble muffins and beetroot and spring greens risotto.

So what does 2010 have in store?
In mid December my boyfriend and I got our first DSLR camera (a second hand Canon EOS 400d) as an early Christmas present. I hope that this will start to make a difference to the photos on my blog.I hope to revive and complete my whats in season series which was side tracked due to lack of time. I also plan to continue trying to grow vegetables in our tiny garden. This year produced a bowl of mangetout and 2 courgettes! but I live in hope of producing more.

Bread wise I want to continue to bake the majority of bread we eat and to try lots of recipes and types. First up I plan to attempt sour dough again (you can read a bit about my first attempt at sour dough here) it was an epic failure but it was over a year ago now (pre-blogging) and the memories are fading enough for me to consider trying it again! This time I will be following the recipe from The handmade loaf by Dan Lepard, no doubt a much better recipe than the Jamie Oliver one I tried last time (sorry Jamie I have had great success with all your other recipes but not the sour dough).

I also received some ravioli cutters for Christmas so I'm hoping to experiment with them sometime soon. I didn't have much success with ravioli why I tried earlier this year but I'm hoping another Christmas present I received may help - The Italian cookery course by Katie Caldesi. Talking of cookbooks this year has also seen my collection expand exponentially. I got 3 for my birthday in October, 2 in Borders sale last month and 3 for Christmas alone. Favorites this year include Tender by Nigel Slater, Ottolenghi the cookbook and Larousse Gastronomique. I plan to try new recipes more often (especially from all these new cookbooks) because as I blogged last week I find cooking new recipes inspiring and therapeutic. All too often I fall in to the trap of planning a week of meals and writing a shopping list at the last minute and filling it with the same old meals. I hope to be more organised in 2010.

I plan to continue being a member of the daring bakers and daring cooks as I enjoy the excitment each month of what the next challenge will be and it pushes me to try recipes I wouldn't normally try. I also hope that myself and Jules can build on the success we have these last 6 months running Fresh from the oven.

All thats left is for me to wish everyone a happy and healthy new year!

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Monday, 28 December 2009

Daring bakers - December 2009 - Gingerbread house

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

I've always admired gingerbread houses and even before this challenge was anounced I had contemplated baking one this year. However whether I actually would have found time to if it wasn't for the daring bakers I'm not so sure. I had great fun building my house, even if it was time consuming. When the challenge was announced I was very excited about it and eager to get started but since I wanted to be able to eat the house at christmas I waited until the 23rd to put the house together and decorate it, having pre-made and frozen the gingerbread pieces. I used the recipe given by Y of Lemonpi which came from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice A. Ojakangas. I used this template from Rachel Allen.

I kept it a secret from our families just in case mine turned out a complete distaster but I was very pleased with the result and I think everyone els liked it too. It even survived the journey an hour up the motorway to my boyfriends parents for christmas. We used it as a centre piece for the table on christmas day...and then it was demolished and we enjoyed eating it!

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Fresh from the oven - Stollen

This months Fresh from the oven Challenge was hosted by Jules. Since it was December and everyone was preparing for Christmas she picked a festive challenge - stollen.I've not eaten stollen before, let alone baked it myself and on top of this I'm not much of a marzipan fan. However my boyfriend loves marzipan so I went ahead and completed this months challenge. In the end I really enjoyed the taste of the stollen and had fun baking it. We shared the stollen with my boyfriends family and everyone enjoyed it. I could easily see myself baking stollen again next Christmas.

based on a Simon Rimmer recipe

100ml/3½fl oz warm milk
6g (1 sachet) fast action yeast or 2 tsp dried yeast or 20g fresh yeast
pinch salt
1 tsp caster sugar
225g/8oz plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp ground mixed spice
200g/7oz mixed dried fruit (including glacé cherries)
25g/1oz flaked almonds
50g/2oz unsalted butter
1 free-range egg, beaten
250g/9oz marzipan

To finish
25g/1oz butter, melted
50g/2oz icing sugar

1. Place the milk and yeast into a bowl and mix well. Leave to sit for 5-6 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, sift the salt, sugar, flour and mixed spice into a large bowl. Add the dried fruit, almonds and butter and mix well then stir in the yeasty milk and mix well.

3. Add the egg and stir to form a dough. Knead the dough for 5-6 minutes, then cover and leave to prove for 20 minutes. Uncover the dough and turn out onto a clean, floured work surface. Knock the dough back to reduce the volume, then knead the dough for 3-4 minutes.

4. Push the dough out by hand into a flat oval shape about 23cm x 18cm/9in x 7in. Roll the marzipan into a sausage shape about 6cm/2in shorter than the dough. Place the marzipan into the centre of the dough, then fold over the sides of the dough to seal in the marzipan. Then fold in the ends of the dough to contain the marzipan and help give the dough shape. Place the stollen seal-side down onto a greased baking tray. Cover and place somewhere warm to prove for one hour.

5. Preheat the oven to 180C/365F/Gas 4. Place the stollen on the baking tray into the oven to bake for 40 minutes, or until golden-brown and cooked through.

6. To finish, remove the stollen from the oven, brush with the rum then melted butter and dust liberally with icing sugar immediately. Allow the stollen to cool, then serve in slices.

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Monday, 21 December 2009

Chickpea and chorizo stew

I don't know about you, but one of the things I love most about cooking is that moment when the stress and worries of the day just melt away. Whether it be in the therapeutic stirring of a risotto or just the shear concentration and enjoyment of following a new recipe. For me there is something therapeutic about food and cooking. There's nothing more relaxing than curling up with a new or old favorite cookbook, getting lost in the kitchen in the cooking process and the smells or sitting down with a warming bowl of comfort food.
After repeated talk of chickpea and chorizo stew on twitter I decided it was about time I tried it. I had also just purchased Joanna Weinberg's How to feed your friends with relish, which includes a recipe for this dish. The only down side is that the recipe in the book serves 25! However I discovered that Essex eating has scaled the recipe down on his website to feed 4-6 - find it here. I cooked the recipe tonight after a particularly hectic day at work and was not disappointed. The smells of this stew bubbling away on the stove were divine and the taste was literally bursting with flavours. We have half the recipe in the fridge ready for a quick meal tomorrow night and I have been led to believe that the flavours will improve! If you haven't tried this dish by now (& provided you like chorizo) I urge you to give this recipe ago.

It's night like these that leave me feeling inspired and determined to try new recipes more often. Maybe some time soon I'll scale down the recipe in the same book for cottage pie with chorizo, which feeds 40!

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Thursday, 10 December 2009

Daring cooks - Salmon en Croute

The 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Simone of Junglefrog Cooking. Simone chose Salmon en Croute (or alternative recipes for Beef Wellington or Vegetable en Croute) from Good Food Online.This months Daring cooks challenge struck the balance between keeping up the festive feeling without being another turkey dish! I really enjoyed this challenge and think it would make a perfect boxing day or new years dish.

Mine wasn't the best looking salmon en croute but the salmon was flaky and succulent and the sauce tasted delicious with the fish and the pastry. I will most likely make salmon en croute again possibly with a healthier sauce and filo pastry.

Thank you Simone for a great December challenge.

Salmon en croute:
Mascarpone or creamcheese 5.2 ounces/150 gr
Watercress, rocket (arugula) and spinach - 0.6 cup/4.2 ounces/120 gr
Shortcrust pastry - 17.6 ounces, 500 gr. Use a butter version such as Jus-rol which is frozen or dorset pastry. or... make your own!
Salmon fillet (skinless)- 17.6 ounce/500 gr
egg - 1 medium sized

1.Heat the oven to 200°C/390 F. Put the mascarpone or cream cheese in a food processor with the watercress, spinach and rocket and whizz the lot until you have a creamy green puree. Season well.
2. Roll the pastry out so you can wrap the salmon in it completely (approx. 2-3 mm thick) and lay it on a buttered or oiled baking sheet (it will hang over the edges). Put the salmon in the middle. If it has a thinner tail end, tuck it under. Spoon half of the watercress mixture onto the salmon. Now fold the pastry over into a neat parcel (the join will be at the top, so trim the edge neatly), making sure you don’t have any thick lumps of pastry as these won’t cook through properly. Trim off any excess as you need to. Make 3 neat cuts in the pastry to allow steam to escape and make some decorations with the off-cuts to disguise the join if you like. Brush with the egg glaze.
3. Bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and browned. To test whether the salmon is cooked, push a sharp knife through one of the cuts into the flesh, wait for 3 seconds then test it against the inside of your wrist; if it is hot, the salmon is cooked. Serve with the rest of the watercress puree as a sauce.

Shortcrust pastry
While this is not mandatory to do, I highly recommend making your own shortcrust pastry as it is very simple to do! As mentioned in the notes; please make sure to not add too much water as that is the key to having a successful shortcrust pastry. Watch this video to check the correct consistency of the dough Making shortcrust pastry

450 gr (15.8 ounces or 3.2 cups ) of plain all purpose flour
200 gr ( 7 ounce) cold butter
pinch of salt

Sift the flour into a large bowl, add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. If you have a food processor you can use that as shown in the above video.
Stir in the salt, then add 2-3 tbsp of water and mix to a firm dough. Knead the dough briefly and gently on a floured surface. Wrap in cling film and chill while preparing the filling.

For best results make sure the butter is very cold.

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Christmas baking

The Christmas tree is up, the presents are wrapped and the cards have been sent. Now it's time for me to tell you about some of the festive baking I have been doing this month.

First up there were the Jamie Oliver mince pies (from last years Christmas show, recipe available here). These were incredibly simple to make and a delicious twist on traditional mince pies. We ate a few warm from the oven and the rest are sat in the freezer patiently waiting to be reheated from frozen nearer to Christmas. I followed the main recipe but I used more than 100g of mince meat as it was spread too thinly for my liking.
Next up are these Christmas spiced biscuits from Sainsbury's magazine. The flavours in these biscuits are delicious and quiet frankly I could eat them all year round! I'm sorry to say that there are none left! For that extra festive touch I decorated them with red and green icing.
I have also taken part in this months festive themed Daring cooks and Fresh from the oven challenges. The results of which will be posted on the 14th and 28th respectively. I also aim to find time to bake some extra Christmas treats for my family and also complete the December Daring bakers challenge so keep an eye out for them on here soon.

Spiced Christmas biscuits
Sainsbury's magazine, December 2008

225g soft butter
175g light soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon clear honey
1 large egg
350g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice

  • In a food processor, mix together the butter, brown sugar and honey for a few minutes or so until pale and creamy. Then add the egg and mix again until combined.
  • Sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices and mix until the mixture comes together to form a dough.
  • Turn the mixture out on to a lightly floured surface and knead gently, then divide in two.
  • Roll out each piece of dough between two sheets of baking parchment to about 0.5cm thick and chill for at least one hour until firm.
  • Preheat the oven to 190C, 170C (fan), gas 5.
  • Cut out star shapes using a cutter and place on a baking sheet; repeat until all the dough is used up.
  • Bake in batches for 10-12 minutes until golden, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  • When cold, decorate with icing if desired.
Will keep in an airtight container for up to a week. Can be frozen uniced.

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Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Christmas Hampers

So its December already! Where has this year gone? To get us all in the christmas spirit I have a few festive blog posts for you coming up over the next month and I've even used my limited skills to make the blog a little bit festive.

First up I have been wanting to tell you all about the wonderful Christmas hamper I received from Interflora since it arrived mid November. A couple of weeks before that I was contacted by them to see if I would be interested in them sending me a free hamper (worth £70) to review on my blog. I had no idea that Interflora did hampers (I had always associated them with flowers) and decided to check out their website. The hamper they sent me is just one of a range of Christmas hampers they are selling this Christmas, as well as a range of Christmas flowers.The hamper arrived just after 9am on the day they told me it would be dispatched and was packaged securely. The wicker hamper was enclosed in a tight fitting, smart black cardboard box to prevent movement during transport. All the glass items were wrapped in bubble wrap and surrounded by biodegradable packing material and the items fitted snugly in the hamper so that all items arrived in perfect condition.
The quality of the wicker hamper and its contents were fantastic. The hamper includes a bottle of red and a white wine, Christmas cake, mince pies, Christmas pudding, luxury fruit and nut mix, clotted cream biscuits and fudge, chocolates, a selection of Twinings teas, chocolate chip short bread biscuits, rosemary and thyme biscuits, strawberry jam, cranberry sauce and onion chutney. More than enough to keep us going over the festive season and in to January too!
Overall I would have to say that I would recommend Interflora hampers to anyone looking to send gifts to friends or family that live too far away to personally deliver your gifts. At least there is no chance of delays due to postal strikes!

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