Monday, 25 June 2012

Really good fruit scones

Here's a confession - that title is ironic. This blog post is actually about really HORRIBLE fruit scones!

I love scones. I really love scones. Our holiday to Cornwall last year seemed to mainly be about scones - we accidentally ate cream teas almost every day. I love baking them - I love the look of them, the smell of them, the way the crumbly mixture falls through your fingers, and most of all I love their yummy taste. Spread with lashings of jam, and some naughty cream... maybe even clotted cream if you're lucky.

However, despite my excitement at the idea of baking scones, today's efforts were awful.

Baking rule #1: Always pay attention.
Baking rule #2: Make sure you use the right type of flour.

In my excitement and haste, I reached into the cupboard for my self-raising flour. I saw the plain flour, though "no, that's not it..." and reached for the packet of flour above it. La la la, I merrily continued to make the scone mixture, rolled it out, cut the little scones out.... And then, just as I was popping the little buckets of sconey deliciousness on to the baking trays, I realised I had used Strong Bread Flour. Strong Bread Flour!!! For God's sake. It was too late to try to limit the damage by adding any raising agent into the mix.... I had to just stick 'em in the oven and hope for the best, which I knew wouldn't happen.

Out they came 10 minutes later. They looked like little fruity weapons.

They didn't taste very good.

But, with enough jam and clotted cream, anything can be made edible.....

If you'd like to make scones, follow the recipe below, and PLEASE use the right sort of flour - if you do, these turn out lovely!

250g self-raising flour
pinch salt
50g caster sugar
50g marg
1 egg
100ml buttermilk

Sift the flour, salt, and sugar together. Add the butter and rub into the flour using the tips of your fingers - raise your hands up as the crumbs fall through your fingers to get lots of air into it. Mix the egg into the buttermilk, then mix into the butter/flour mixture using a knife. Once it starts to come together, get your hands in and form the mixture into a ball of dough. Roll out on a floured surface and cut out rounds. Bake on baking trays for about 10 minutes until nicely golden.

Serve warm, with jam and cream. Lovely.

But use the RIGHT FLOUR!!!

Meal Planning Monday - some old favourites

Meal Planning Monday - time to get ready for the week ahead with some (hopefully) healthy meals and lots of old favourites.

Monday: Spicy Chicken Couscous - chicken, onion, red pepper, couscous made with chicken stock (made from my own roast chicken), curry paste - tonight, tikka masala - dried apricots, flaked almonds, and coriander. One of my faves, and the OH loves it too. Really quick, easy, and very satisfying.

Tuesday: Lamb Mango & Coconut Pilau from Good Food - fry some chopped lamb with onion and lots of spices - I make up the spices every time depending on my mood. Pop in a casserole dish and top up with lamb stock and coconut milk, pop in the oven for about 30 minutes. Then stir, and add rice, and pop back in the oven with some seasoning. After about 15 - 20 minutes (or when the rice is fluffy and cooked), dish up, and top with sliced mango, flaked almonds, and chopped coriander.

Wednesday: Out at a friend's house so am being cooked for, yay!

Thursday: Cottage pie, with minced beef, peas, and possibly baked beans, but made with sliced new potatoes (does that make it a hot pot?), served with brocolli.

Friday: Risotto made with courgettes, mint, basil, and feta cheese.

Saturday: Beef Stroganoff, with lovely little button mushrooms. But would you believe it, none of my recipe books contain a recipe for this, so I'm going to make it up. It has paprika in it, doesn't it? I'll serve this with Italian potatoes I think, or possibly rice.

Sunday: Roast Chicken with veg and new potatoes. This is what we were meant to have last night, but I forgot to get the chicken out of the freezer, so we ended up at the mother in law's...

I feel so much happier planning the week, knowing exactly what to buy, and knowing it'll save money and be economical too. And it's so good to know you've got a week of healthy, delicious meals all ready and waiting.

Tea Time Treats - Cherry Bakewell Cake

My inaugural entry in Karen's Lavendar & Lovage and What Kate Baked June Tea Time Treats blogerific challenge is: Cherry Bakewell Cake!

This month's challenge was 'berries' and how could I not enter this yummy cake, which I've been using to cheer up and inspire all of my cake-loving friends lately. This weekend I made this cake for a hen party, which included a life drawing class (very fun but very odd...) followed by High Tea. Lots of people make cakes, but most were cupcakes (see this brilliant rant about cupcakes) - but I was very happy to see that most hens went straight for the cake - sharing and enjoying a slice is so much more enjoyable than a cupcake at a party like this I think.

Anyway, back to the berries and cake. Here's the recipe... It makes a very moist, very berry, very morish cake.

200g margarine
200g golden caster sugar
100g ground almonds
100g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp almond essence
4 large eggs

Put everything in a big bowl and mix together (it helps if the marg is nice and soft to start with). Pour into two 20cm cake tins, and bake at 180 degrees (160fan) for about 30 - 35 minutes. The cake will be quite soft and spongy when cooked, but a skewer should come out clean.

I did find the cake very delicate and difficult to handle when getting it out of the tin, and a little did fall off. But it survived. When you're putting the layers together, make sure the one on the top is upside-down, so it's nice and flat to spread the icing on to.

When cool, spread one layer with cherry conserve. Place the second layer on top, and spread over some icing (icing sugar & cooled boiled water - I never measure icing amounts!). It's nice to get the icing to dribble stylishly down the side of the cake - but I'm not great at that sort of thing so it looks a bit lumpy. I think I need to go to a cake decorating course... Finish off with a sprinkling of toasted flaked almonds.

I love the cherries in the cherry conserve. They're so chewy and squidgy, jammy and gooey, and tart while sweet and delicious. I wish I could say I made the jam myself... but unfortunately I didn't.

Perfect with a cup of Earl Grey (or whichever tea you prefer... but not chocolate tea) at tea time.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Anyone for chocolate tea?

I tried some chocolate tea this week.

I wouldn't recommend it.

I understand the pairing of coffee and chocolate - the deep coffee mixing with the sweetness of the chocolate blend deliciously together. But tea? I think someone in the 'ideas' department of the tea company possibly had too much caffeine and convinced themselves it was genius.

In reality, the vanilla smell was so sweet and overpowering that I didn't want to take a sip even. But I took a deep breath and persevered. The tea itself didn't really taste of anything though - not even tea. I couldn't taste chocolate at all. The vanilla smell lasted long after the tea had gone, and not in a pleasant way either.

Lots of things go nicely with tea. Lemon, mint, the subtle flowery nature of Lady and Earl Grey, even the spicey orange in a Christmas blend I have. But not chocolate. If I ever have the urge for chocolate and tea again, it'll be in the way of a cuppa and a chocolate bar - separately.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Chocolate cookies like cake

I just baked some chocolate chip chunk cookies that are more like cake than they are like cookies.

I am confused. I've never really got the hang of making great cookies - I make pretty good raisin and oatmeal ones, and some smashing almond and apricot ones, not to mention really ace ginger biscuits, but choc cookies have always alluded me. I really want that crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, armadillo, kinda feeling. These cookies, while tasty, actually had more of a texture of cake. Thin, squashed cake. Odd. Maybe I didn't bake them for long enough, I don't know, but they certainly weren't right. Frustrating.

Chocolate chip cookies that taste like cake

If you'd like to bake cookies that are more like cake (I'm not sure why you would, but I persevere), follow this...

125g marg
60g caster sugar
40g soft dark brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g plain flour
pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
100g chocolate chunks

Beat marg until soft, add sugar, and beat together until fluffy. Beat the egg with the vanilla, then add to the mixture.
Sift in the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Work in the chocolate.
Place heaped teaspoons of mixture on to prepared baking trays - I made three tray-fulls.
Bake in the oven, preheated to 170 degrees (fan), for about 10 minutes, until golden brown, slightly darker at the edges.

A note at this point: if your trays don't all fit in the oven at once, don't be tempted to rest one on the lip of the other at an angle. This will mean the cookie mixture will slide, and you'll end up with strange-looking cookies...

Strange-looking slidey cookies

As if he was psychic, my boyfriend brought home chocolate chip cookies from the supermarket at the exact time I was taking these out of the oven. He must have had a premonition that mine weren't really going to resemble cookies. But, he ate the all the same.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Meal planning Monday soon comes around

Meal planning Monday comes around once more - it only seems five minutes since the last one...

This week, I've tried to keep things as light and healthy as possible - I always do, but some weeks the plans get forgotten and we end up eating more chips than should be allowed. Also, after overcoming a random and sudden onset allergy, I need to really keep track of what I'm eating to see whether anything triggers a reaction off again.

Monday: Baked salmon with a pesto and breadcrumb crust, served with brocolli and rice
Tuesday: Grilled sausages, with butternut squash quinoa, with onions, dried apricots, pistachios, flaked almonds, and mint, served with yogurt mixed with a little tahini
Wednesday: Chicken and mango salad, with a mango chutney, curry powder, and yogurt dressing
Thursday: Pork meatballs with chilli noodles and hoisin sauce, with pak choi
Friday: Something with pasta and bacon and whatever else I can find in the fridge
Saturday: I'm at a hen do during the day, then we're out at a wedding in the evening, so meals are dependent on others
Sunday: Roast chicken, with roasted new potatoes, citrus roasted carrots, and any other veg I can muster up

Wednesday's meal: curried chicken mango salad, from BBC Good Food

At the moment, it's all making my stomach churn. I haven't quite recovered from the allergic reaction yet, and I think the antihistamines are still making me a bit dozy. I hope my energy and appetite return soon.

What are you cooking this week? Anything delish?

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Go away, allergy

I have an allergy to something.

On Thursday, work laid on drinks and sandwiches at the local pub to welcome us to our new offices. I happily ate a ham sandwich, a crayfish sandwich, and some chips, plus a small glass of orange juice. Very nice it all was.

Two hours later, I went a bit queer, and appeared sunburnt from head to toe. Sickness, headache, fatigue, and constant nausea followed. It's now Saturday and I still feel akin to death.

I went to the dr who said it was definitely an allergic reaction, which I have never experienced before. He is referring me to an allergy clinic to try to identify what caused it, although he didn't seem clear on how easy this would be.

Laying on the sofa, missing a friend's wedding, feeling dreadful, I am hoping that it was something strange in the dressing, and not anything familiar. Allergies can appear out of nowhere, but with cooking (and eating) being such an important part of my life, I don't want something as huge as seafood to suddenly be wiped off my menu.

Or, worst of all, chips.

Monday, 11 June 2012

What a Hen weekend

A non-cakey weekend.... It's been a while since I've had a weekend without baking anything. But I had good reason - I was at a hen do from Friday night until Sunday afternoon. And it was the most hilarious weekend I have ever had.

Friday night was drinks at the Hen's house with a Butler in the Buff - and he was buff! He had the peachiest bottom you ever did see. Every time he turned round I involuntarily said "Oooooh!". Much more tasteful than I expected, just a bit naughty, and completely hilarious.

Saturday was spent recovering from hangovers, and going to a roller disco. I sat this part out, due to extreme fear following a broken wrist ice skating 4 years ago followed by hip surgery 2 years ago - I have no balance, and lots of fear. But I watched and laughed.

Saturday night was trawling the bars of Derby, dressed as animals.... There were 18 of us, all in animal costumes, except for the Hen, who wore a circus tamer outfit. Every so often she shouted "Roll up, roll up!" and we all had to act as our chosen animals. 17 girls crawling on the floors of Derby bars..... I have never laughed so much in my entire life.

Thanks to a brilliant bunch of girls. I've made some great new friends and some excellent memories. I have two favourite new games - Gecko, and Pegging.

There was some cake involved though. The Hen baked a Devil's Food Cake a la me for her sister's birthday on Friday, and on Saturday I had a chocolate muffin in Costas. There's got to be cake in there somehow!

What a weekend.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Diamond Jubilee baking

What a weekend! The weather didn't stop the Diamond Jubilee spirit touching everyone - and what could be more British than a Bank Holiday weekend when it rains anyway. Everyone seemed so excited about celebrating the Queen's 60 years, and everywhere there was a sudden community spirit that we've not seen for years.

A beer festival at the pub next door was full to the rafters with revellers with Union Jack flags, beer, and burgers in their hands. We went to a massive picnic in the park with bands and fireworks, and the cheer that went up when the beacon was lit was huge. The telly has been filled with all sorts of celebrations and I've loved all the pomp and ceremony. The sight of so many Union Jacks throughout London has been wonderful. I don't think I've ever felt so British, or Royalist - and I certainly don't remember anything like this for the Golden Jubilee in 2002. I don't remember much about that at all! (Mind you, I was at university, so I was either buried under a pile of books, or had my head in a pint glass...)

For the weekend's tea parties and picnics, I baked a million sausage rolls, a fruity traybake, and some Jubilee cupcakes.

The fruity traybake was the same recipe as my American flag traybake last week for Cake Club. It's so simple but extremely effective, and everyone is impressed. It's from the latest issue of Good Food Magazine. There's another lovely version over at Laura Loves Cakes (her raspberries look bigger than mine!).

My cupcakes were a lovely velvety chocolate, with buttercream swirled on top. I attempted a red, white, and blue theme, but I'm not great at decorating so they're not as impressive as I imagined. I need to go on a cake decorating course.

What a 60 years the Queen has seen. She reminds me so much of my Nanny, who died last year. She would have loved this Jubilee weekend. God rest Nanny. God save the Queen.

I'm keeping my bunting up for a while yet.