Sunday 30 November 2008

BBC Good Food Show Birmingham

A few weeks ago I got an email from Miele who are sponsoring the BBC Good Food Show asking if I would like to part of a VIP group of bloggers attending the Birmingham show, hmmm hard choice – yes please!

We arranged to meet at the show and I was a little nervous and extremely excited about meeting fellow bloggers and getting to be a VIP for the day. I needn’t have worried, as everyone was so friendly. We were met by Molly, Colin, Juliette and Kaz from Miele.

Including me, there were 7 bloggers in total and it was a fun beginning of “so what’s your blog called? – oh yes I know that one!” as we got to know each other. The other bloggers consisted of:

Nicola from Cherrapeno
Anne from Anne’s Kitchen
Sam from Antics of a Cycling Cook
Becky from Girl Interrupted Eating
Francesca from 101 Things
Joanna from Joanna’s Food

I spent a fun morning exploring the food stands with Sam, Nicola and Anne. The hall was HUGE and there was such a wide variety of food, drink and general cookery items on show, most of which were giving away free samples which we lapped up. My first freebie was a raspberry vodka chocolate, followed by chocolate ice cream from Carte D’or – at only 10:30am in the morning I could tell it was going to be a good day.

There was plenty on offer for all tastes, including a few gluten free stands. I think the quality of these have improved immensely in recent years and I wouldn’t even have known that my bakewell slice sample was gluten free had I not known.

I loved the stand selling Munchy Seeds which are a mix of different seeds with a variety of flavours to be used in baking, on cereal, in salads or just for random munching. I loved the vanilla pumpkin seeds (show in the pic). I was unsure if vanilla and pumpkin would pair together but I loved it and couldn’t resist buying some. If only all shops let you try before you buy.

Liquorice must be the new ‘in thing’ as there were at least 4 or 5 stalls dedicated to it.

There were stalls by famous chefs such as Paul Rankins Irish Soda Breads, a whole assortment of preserved ginger, salad dressings and one healthy eating stand giving away samples of Jazz Apples – hurrah an apple stand :)

You could stop for an antioxidant shot of pomegranate juice before moving onto a whole host of dips and dressing in all colours and flavours imaginable. The wasabi and lime dressing and the Mooli chutney certainly woke your taste buds up.
A yummy range of Gu and Fru puddings or divine chocolate bars. There dark chocolate was especially good.

If in need to a half time break then this stand would certainly oblige. The Lemonade Factory consisted of two guys, one squeezing fresh lemons and the other adding a little sugar and water to make fresh lemonade. The zesty aroma coming from this stand was unbelievable. I didn’t taste any myself but I think it must have been a little sharp for some tastes as some people were coming away with puckered faces but it would certainly cleanse the palate.

It was then time to meet up with Miele and the other bloggers for lunch. As we were VIP’s we got our own little room. When we walked in the starter of prawn salad was already on the tables and I felt a little apprehensive as I’m Vegetarian. I whispered this to one of the waiters and my dish was whipped away and replaced a few minutes later with a wonderful honey grilled pear with a little ball of goat’s cheese on a slice of lightly toasted brioche. I was very impressed and think I ended up with the better deal. The main course was a buffet of salads, tart, meats and potatoes followed by a very pretty caramel milk chocolate orange mousse.

Then who should turn up but James Martin!!! We got to meet him and get a free signed copy of his book. Here we are proudly displaying our treasures.

After lunch we were free to explore again and I came across a stand selling sweet pizzas. The one in the picture is chocolate, marshmallows and honeycomb on a biscuits base. You melt it in the oven until it goes all gooey – a novel idea but a little sickly sounding. There were also more traditional sweets such as toffees and nut brittles on offer.

There was even the 3 wheeled robin reliant that Gordon Ramsay used as a smoker in his latest F-Word series.

In the afternoon we found out Rachel Allen was signing copies of her new book ‘Bake.’ Rachel was lovely and took time to chat to people and pose for photos. I got my own signed copy and she took a blog card off me – so Rachel if you’re reading, I can’t wait to get baking from your book!

We then met up again to watch James Martin give a three course meal cookery demonstration. He was fantastic. It was not so much the food he cooked, but the way he presented it – everyone was in stitches. The demonstration was sponcered by Sainsbury’s so he was meant to be endorsing their produce. For his dessert of puff pastry and raspberry cream stack he took some pre rolled puff pastry out the fridge, he then said : “You can buy this at Sainsburys……but Asda is cheaper.” The lights went out and the big screen went black and everyone laughed. The lights came back on and James then said “and Waitrose is better.” More laughter and darkness.
He then proceeded to ‘borrow’ an old gentlemen’s walking stick to drape his signature spun sugar over, only thing is he walked off with the stick so not sure how the man got it back again. Hopefully they were just going to clean it for him as it was probably sticky. He also said that he’s fed up with people complaining that he never washes his hands when presenting Saturday Kitchen. He let us into a secret that when they bend down and wash their hands under the counter, they are only pretending, as there is nothing there and its just to stop people complaining – naughty naughty.

It was then time to head off home and I was sorry to leave. It was such a fantastic day, thanks Miele, I really enjoyed being treated like a VIP for the day and meeting so many lovely foodies. It was nice to talk to people who didn’t think I was odd for filling half my wardrobe with baking tins that didn’t fit in the kitchen cupboards.

Monday 24 November 2008

Christmas Cake Stage 3 – Feeding the Cake

Just a reminder, don’t forget to feed you Christmas cake. Unwrap it, prick the top with a skewer and drizzle over a few teaspoons of Brandy. Then wrap it back up and keep it in a cool dark place until next week, when it will be time for another feeding.

On another note, the lovely Antonia from Food Glorious Food awarded me the ‘I love your blog’ award. Thanks Antonia it really made me smile.

I now wish to pass it on to Gigi from Gigi Cakes – my long time friend (even though we’ve never actually met) who bakes a whole host tempting treats

Johanna from Green Gourmet Giraffe who proves that Vegetarian food is anything but boring

And The Cake Crusader who bakes delicious cakes and indulgent desserts

Thursday 20 November 2008

The Cake Slice Novembers Cake: Sweet Potato Cake with Orange & Chocolate Frosting

I was very excited when this sweet potato cake was voted as Novembers cake for The Cake Slice. I had never tried baking sweet potato into a cake before and hadn’t even tasted one so I was so intrigued about how it would turn out.

The recipe provided makes a 9inch triple layered cake which I thought was too much for just me and a flatmate and so I halved the recipe and baked it in a swiss roll tin instead. I then cut the cake into three equal sections, sandwiched it together with the orange filling and covered it with the chocolate frosting to create a triple layer oblong cake.

I loved the texture of the sponge. It is very light, springy and studded with tiny air holes. It also has a slight chewiness to it (in the good way), whether this was down to the sweet potato or whisking the egg whites separately to the yolks I’m not sure, but whatever the cause it produced a delicious cake. It was pale golden in colour and lightly speckled with streaks of orange, hints at its secret ingredient. Incidentally, the recipe says to roast the sweet potato for an hour in the oven to make it soft but I was pushed for time and found a quick blast in the microwave to be just as effective.

The cake also used as assortment of spices, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves which complemented the cake perfectly. Other bakers have described it as tasting similar to carrot cake and I totally agree. It’s got the same earthy spiciness, only without the fruits and nuts. I think chopped pecans would be a fantastic addition though. I was a little worried how sweet potato, chocolate, orange and spices would all taste together but I am pleased to say they really do work. It’s the perfect cake for autumn.

Click here to see the other Cake Slice cakes.

Sweet Potato Cake with Orange & Chocolate Frosting
(Recipe from Shy High Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman & Peter Wynne) Makes a 9-inch triple layer cake
2 medium or 1 large sweet potato (pumpkin or butternut squash)
360g cake flour*
3 tsp baking powder
1½ tsp cinnamon
¾ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cloves
5 eggs, separated
450g and a separate 55g caster sugar
125g butter
1½ tsp vanilla
280ml milk

(*The recipe calls for American cake flour and if you only have plain flour on hand, you can use 300g plain flour plus 60g cornflour)

Preheat the oven to 200C.
Prick the sweet potatoes in 2-3 places, place on a small baking dish and bake for 1 hour or until the potatoes are very soft. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.Reduce the oven temperature to 180C.
Butter the bottoms and the sides of the pans and line with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper also.
When the sweet potatoes are cool peel off the skin and remove any dark spots. Cut the potatoes into chunks and puree in a food processors. Puree until smooth. Measure out one cup (210g) of potato puree and set aside.
Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves. Set aside.In the bowl of electric mixer add the egg whites and attach whip attachment. Beat on medium speed until egg whites are frothy. Raise the speed to high and gradually beat in the 55g of sugar. Continue to beat until the egg whites are moderately stiff.
In another large bowl with the paddle attachment, combine the sweet potato, butter, vanilla, and remaining 450g sugar. Beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks one at a time. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl after each egg yolk is added. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients and milk in alternately in 2-3 additions. making sure to begin and end with the dry ingredients.
With a large spatula, fold in one fourth of the egg whites into the batter to lighten. Then fold in the remaining egg whites until no streaks remain. Making sure to not over mix or this will deflate the batter.
Divide the batter among of the three pans.Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cake layers cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Then turn out the cake layers onto a wire rack and cool completely at least 1 hour.
To assemble the cake, place one layer flat side up on to a cake stand. With a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch round tip and filled with chocolate cream cheese icing, pipe border around the edge of the cake.
Fill the center with the orange cream filling smoothing it to the edge of the border. Place the second layer on top and repeat the process. Place the third layer on top and use all the chocolate cream cheese frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake.

Chocolate Cream Frosting
280g cream cheese at room temperature
100g butter at room temperature
450g sifted icing sugar
40g dark chocolate melted and slightly cooled
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar to cream cheese butter mixture. Making sure to scrape down the sides the sides of the bowl. Then beat until light fluffy 2-3 minutes.Measure out one-third of frosting and set aside.Add the melted chocolate to the remaining icing in the bowl and beat until well combined.
Orange Cream Filling
The reserved cream cheese icing from above
2 tablespoons of frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed (or grated zest of one orange)
¼ tsp orange extract
Stir together all the ingredients until well mixed.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Christmas Cake Stage 2 – Baking the Cake

After soaking your fruits overnight it’s time to bake them into a cake. A fruit cake such as this is really fruit held together with cake, rather than a cake containing fruit as it’s very densely fruited. The cake mix itself is still very flavoursome in its own right as it contains mixed spice, black treacle, brown sugar and little nuggets of almonds.

It’s important to line the base and sides of the cake tin with greaseproof paper as this stays on the cake right up until you are ready to ice it, and helps keep it moist. Once you have prepared your cake mix, added your boozy fruits and spooned it into the tin it’s a good idea to create a little hollow or dip in the centre of the cake as this then compensates for the normal doming effect during baking and you should end up with a lovely flat surface on which to decorate later – we don’t want any wastage!

The wonderful rich and spicy aroma given off by the cake permeated throughout the whole flat, making it smell very festive. Once baked, it’s drizzled with a little extra Brandy before being wrapped and stored away to mature for several weeks. All you need to do now is nurture it by ‘feeding it’ once a week with a few extra teaspoons of Brandy – which helps keep it moist and develop in flavour.

Christmas Cake Mix
For an 8inch/20cm round cake
225g plain flour
1 ½ tsp mixed spice
40g ground almonds
40g blanched almonds
165g soft brown sugar
165g butter or margarine
1 tbsp black treacle
3 eggs
1 lemon - zest
(Your pre-soaked mixed fruit)
1 ½ tbsp Brandy

Grease and line bottom and sides of an 8 inch tin with greaseproof paper, allowing the paper to rise a little way above the rim of the tin.
Pre heat the oven to 140oC.
Measure the lemon rind, flour, mixed spice, ground almonds, sugar, butter, treacle and eggs into a very large bowl and mix together. Beat it for 3 minutes until mixture is smooth. (It will be quick stiff)
Roughly chop the blanched almonds and add to the mix along with the soaked fruits. Mix everything together using a spatula, making sure the fruit is evenly distributed.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, pressing down gently and smoothing the surface. Then create a little dip in the middle to compensate for doming in the oven which should result in a flat surface when baked.
Bake the cake for 2 hours and 45 minutes. (After 2 hours you can quickly cover the tin with foil if it is becoming too brown before baking for a further 45 minutes).
Check the cake with a skewer, which should come out clean.
Measure out the ‘feeding’ Brandy into a small bowl and prick the top of the cake all over with the skewer. Evenly drizzle over the Brandy using a teaspoon.
Allow the cake to cool in the tin before removing from the tin but leaving the greaseproof paper on.
Wrap it up well in clingfilm and leave in a cool place to mature for several weeks. Feed once a week with a few more teaspoons of Brandy until required.

Sunday 16 November 2008

Christmas Cake Stage 1 – Preparing the Fruit Base

I’m so excited – it’s time to start preparing the fruit ready for the Christmas cake. Making the Christmas cake each year symbolises to me that the holiday season is nearly here and its time to start thinking about festive food and presents. It may seem early to start thinking about Christmas cakes, but they like to sit tightly wrapped in a cool place for several weeks before eating. A weekly feeding of Brandy keeps it moist and helping it mature into something special.

I know many people who say they don’t like Christmas cake but I’m sure that’s because they have only ever had shop bought cake which can be dense, dry and nothing like a good Christmas fruit cake should be. Make your own and be rewarded with a moist rich, lightly spiced, Brandy infused, plump fruit studded cake that will knock the Christmas stocking off any store bought creation.

To start, you need to soak your fruit base in brandy overnight to become all plump and flavoursome. I prepared mine last night and the aroma of all the sweet fruits, orange zest and brandy is wonderful and unlike no other. It smelt so good that I left the bowl containing the soaking fruits in my bedroom overnight so I could breathe in its Christmassy scents.

Christmas Cake Fruit Base
For an 8inch/20cm round cake
175g raisins
175g sultanas
175g currants
85g dried apricots
100g glace cherries
35g mixed candied peel (or zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon)
2 tbsp Brandy

Weight out the raisins, currants and sultanas into a bowl. Sort through the fruit a handful at a time, removing any stalks still attached to the fruit (these won’t be nice to crunch on).
Cut the apricots into small pieces and same size as the raisins, chop the cherries into quarters and add to the other fruit.
Add the candied peel or if you don’t like candied peel, grate over the zest of an orange and a lemon.
Pour over the Brandy, give everything a stir and then over the bowl with clingfilm and leave for at least 4hours or preferably overnight to allow the fruit to absorb the brandy and plump up.

If you run out of one or more of the fruits dried cranberries, peaches, pears, prunes and dates also work well.
If you don’t want to use Brandy then a spiced fruit tea or apple juice would work just as well.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Sheffield European Market

There was a special market on in Sheffield city centre last weekend, involving lots of food stalls, gifts and garden plants from all over Europe. I didn’t know it was going to be on and it was such a nice surprise to come across when I went out for a walk on Saturday. I spent a happy hour wandering around looking at it all. Unfortunately it was a little wet, but the stands were covered and it didn’t seem to be keeping the people away.

The first foodie stand I came to was this coffee stall. You could buy a cup to drink made with the bean of your choice or buy a bagful of beans to take home with you. The smell wafting out from this stand was incredible. A whole mix of sweet and spicy aromas all mxed with that roasted coffee smell. They were selling some really unusal combinations too, vanilla cuppaccino, coconut rumba, maple, English toffee and …strawberries & cream although how that works in a coffee I do not know!

There were two very friendly guys selling assorted dried sausages and salami including wild boar, venison and duck.

Stands selling fresh French cheeses and olives.

Much to my excitement there was a man selling dainty French Macarons. I have never tried a proper French macaron before and so I bought a couple to try – vanilla and pistachio. The vanilla was lovely, with a thin crisp sugar shell and a soft chewy centre. I saved the pistachio until I got home to take a photo and it was nice but a little disappointing. It didn’t taste any different to the vanilla one and was scarily bright green inside – definitely not natural, but nice all the same.

There was a stand selling the largest slices of cake I have ever seen and absolutely enormous muffins. Check out the side of those rocky road muffins compared to that 11inch choc cake beside it – they’re huge! Enough to feed 2-3 people I should think. I didn’t even know you could get muffins that big.

I really loved these wooden carved garden animals. The ducks in particular are very cute, they all seem to have a different character. These wicker reindeer hiding amongst the plants were very festive too.

There were pizza baguette slices with a variety of toppings to choose from. Paper thin French crepes that were cooked to order and filled with an assortment of fillings. I loved watching these get made, its amazing how thin they can get them with tearing.

Stalls selling selections of dried fruits, nuts and oils.

Anyone for a venison or wild boar burger – too boring? Ok, how about some kangaroo, ostrich or crocodile instead then?

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this – a whole hog roast!

This was my favourite stall, a French patisserie stand selling a large assortment of biscuits, cookies and mini cakes for you to help yourself to pick and mix style.

Some gorgeous looking fruit tartlets and some larger tarts and buttery brioches. I wish I could have eaten everything at that stand!