Saturday, 11 February 2017

let's cook: stollen




We decided to schedule in a festive cooking challenge this Christmas, partly because my mum was stalling with her sushi, and partly because it would be an opportunity for a side by side taste test as we would all be together in the same place.

The one shown on the left above was my stollen, and my mum's is on the right. My mum's definitely looks the most stollen-like.

The recipe I chose was this one, which was described as 'Nigel Slater's version of the perfect Christmas stollen'. I'm not sure where I went wrong, but I would say mine turned out far from perfect.

We hosted Christmas at our house this year, so Ben and I took to the kitchen on Christmas eve for a bit of a cooking session. A good day to bake a traditional German fruit bread too!





The ingredients list for the filling of Nigel Slater's stollen was definitely a winner: cardamoms, cherries, mixed peel, sultanas, ground cinnamon, flaked almonds and marzipan. It smelt delicious when it was all mixed together in a bowl.

Well, apart from the cardamoms, as I accidentally left them in the pestle and mortar and we only discovered them on boxing day - oops! I must have got distracted by the gravy/nut loaf/mushroom stuffing.

However, I think it was the construction where things started to go wrong for me. The filling was rolled up in the centre of the dough, rather than being mixed in, which meant it ended up as sort of filled tube of plain bread, rather than a lovely moist fruit loaf.






My mum seemed to get on better with her recipe. She followed a Delia Smith one she found in a newspaper (it might be this one). Hers had a long stick of marzipan running through the centre of the mixed-fruit dough, possibly more in line with the traditional Stollen.

It looks good!






So, to the judging...

We did the taste testing after a boxing day stroll and were lucky enough to have five judges presiding over this one. 

I think both of ours fell down for being a bit dense and not as moist as they should be. Although they were both a few days old when we did the testing - especially my mum's, who made hers a couple of days before Christmas.

I would be the first to admit mine wasn't a winning bake and was very pleased to receive a collective mark of 6/10 for my loaf. I think it might have been a bit generous actually.

My mum did much better and got a score of 8/10 for her stollen - success! It definitely did look the nicest.





For the next challenge, we've decided on making a quiche.

And we had a couple of new sign-ups to the challenge on boxing day so this one might be more of a group bake-off. Things are going to get competitive!


Sunday, 15 January 2017

let's cook: sushi



It's been a while since I posted about one of our cooking challenges.

It's not because the swiss rolls put us off, although you could understand if they had. In fact I made my sushi way back in July, straight after the disastrous swiss roll, but my mum has been waiting until my brother visited until she made hers. Unsurprisingly, my dad was decided to be a bad choice of judge for this challenge; he doesn't like salmon and he doesn't like sushi.

Here's what we made...



Mine is on the left and my mum's is on the right. My mum made smoked salmon, avocado and chive maki rolls.

I went all out with my sushi and decided to try lots of different types:




Clockwise from top left: Prawn, avocado and carrot hosomaki // Salmon nigiri // Prawn, cucumber, avocado and carrot California rolls // Salmon, cucumber, avocado and carrot futomaki // Salmon hosomaki

I really enjoyed the whole process and love how colourful it all looks as a platter.

I heard from a lot of people that the rice is the key to making great tasting sushi, so I asked my friend Tiago (expert sushi maker) what recipe he follows and he recommended this video, which worked a treat!

Cooking the rice was the longest part of the process, but once it is ready and cooled I was really impressed with how quickly it all came together. And the rolling was much easier than I thought it was going to be; even the California rolls didn't fall apart (thanks to the stickiness of the rice).



Now, to the results...

My brother gave my mum a score of 5/10 - he said rice was the main issue. My mum didn't follow the video recipe I shared with her and said she wasn't very happy with hers at all, hence the single photo of her sushi. I think they look ok though.

Ben, on the other hand was really pleased with his sushi feast and gave me a top score of 10/10, both for taste and appearance. Hooray! I've turned it around since the last challenge.

I will definitely be making sushi again, as it tasted really delicious, and wasn't quite as technically challenging as I thought it would be. A good summers evening spread.




Our next challenge is a festive one: Stollen

We planned this one so that we could make something whilst my mum was waiting for my brother to return, so the cook-off is in fact already complete and I will share the results soon.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Hanover house numbers 51-75

Happy new year!

Here's another set of photos from my house number series to start the year off.



As the numbers get higher, the amount of houses to choose from gets smaller, but I think there are some good finds in this selection. 57 and 74 are my favourites here.

My original goal of getting to 100 in the series by last July was a little optimistic, but I'm confident I can reach 100 this year! My work is moving back to Brighton so the streets of Hanover will be back on my daily walking route.

I'm uploading the photos over on Instagram under #hanoverhousenumbers if you want to see more as I find them.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

let's cook: swiss rolls

I was tempted to change the title of this post to 'let's fail to cook: swiss rolls' as I'm afraid this challenge wasn't our finest hour. We actually completed this bake-off way back in April, but I've been holding off posting about it as it was such a disappointment.

Here goes though...promise not to laugh too much.



All I can say is that swiss rolls are harder than they look.

My effort is shown on the left (no amount of icing sugar can cover up that sorry mess), and my mum's is on the right.

I actually had two attempts here and this is the best of the two, which is really saying something. With my first effort I attempted a cake with no refined sugar but boy was that a mistake. The recipe used stevia as a substitute which I found out after baking has an aftertaste that will make you need to scrub your tongue (I actually had to do this).

Ignoring the taste, my first sponge came out pretty nice and fluffy. It cracked a bit while rolling but wasn't a complete disaster. But of course I had to start again, because of the stevia. I used a more traditional cake recipe for my second attempt, but think I rushed the whisking part and didn't get enough air in the mixture as my cake came out of the oven very flat and rubbery (with a distinct eggy aroma). Awful!

I also failed with my filling as I was aiming for something tropical, yoghurty and light, which instead ended up sloppy, oozy and gross. Oh well! You can't succeed at everything.



My mum's sponge actually looked ok, although she also reported a slightly eggy taste when freshly baked. I think her troubles were caused by baking for slightly too long, leading to this interesting geometric swiss roll.

You can't go wrong with a traditional jam filling though - sometimes it pays to play it safe!

We actually had an extra entry into the challenge this time. My brother Tim decided to take part too, and just look what he came up with:



A rather perfect looking swiss roll, which rather steals the show.

It totally looks the part, although both him and my mum confirmed that it was a bit dense and eggy too. Why are swiss rolls so hard?

And to the results...

Ben was very sweet and tried to give me a score of 2/10 but I've overruled that and awarded myself 0 marks as we had to throw the whole thing in the bin.

If I remember correctly my mum was awarded a 3/10 for her effort, and of course Tim came in first, although still with a fairly low score of 5/10.

I think we'll all have to give them another go one day, once the disappointment has worn off.

Next time we'll be making sushi. I'm looking forward to this one!
We can't do much worse...

Friday, 15 July 2016

I'm back, seedjack.

I've been going through a bit of a creative dry spell lately, with very little time spent making, drawing or crafting outside of work. I'm not sure why, but I think I need to rediscover some creative energy.

The only area where I am finding motivation, and enjoying making things, is in the kitchen. I've been setting time aside most weekends to do a spot of baking and Ben and I have been trying new recipes non-stop during the week. It's been a good time for our tummies!

I thought I'd share a little recipe for something I made at the weekend, as it was a successful baking experiment, inspired by a tasty seedy snack one of my work pals shared with me last week.





Savoury seedjack
(Makes approximately 12)


Ingredients
150g rolled oats
50g mixed seeds (plus extra for sprinkling)
100g grated cheddar cheese
50g mozzarella cheese
1tbsp melted butter
3 eggs
Small bunch of fresh chives (or other herbs)
Salt & pepper


Method
Preheat the oven to 190ÂșC and line a 20 x 20cm baking tin with parchment.

Mix the oats, seeds, cheddar, mozzarella, butter, eggs and herbs in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Put the mix in your lined tin and ensure it is evenly distributed right to the corners. At this stage I sprinkled the top of my mixture with a small handful of linseeds. 

Put in the oven and bake for 25-30 mins, until golden brown on top.

Transfer to a rack to cool, and then slice into flapjack pieces.

So easy! Now enjoy...







They're perfect for a mid-morning work snack. Lovely and cheesy. I think I'm going to make another batch this weekend, with extra seeds.

Let me know if you try this recipe out as I'd love to hear how you get on!


Sunday, 10 April 2016

A week in new recipes

I've started to think much more about the food we eat at home recently and am trying to make a conscious effort to be more healthy and sustainable in our food choices.

On the whole we are already a pretty healthy household - our diet is mostly vegetarian (with the occasional foray into seafood) and we prepare nearly all our meals from scratch - apart from the occasional shop bought pizza! However, I'm a sucker for sweet snacks and want to try and wean myself away from the refined sugar and onto more healthy snacks.

I'm also keen to cut down on both gluten and dairy, both because I think it will probably improve my day-to-day health, and for environmental reasons. I've watched a couple of documentaries about the food industry recently, including Cowspiracy, and it's hard not to want to make a change after listening to some of the facts about how the food we eat impacts the environment.

I've also recently been inspired by Rachel's 365 Recipes project. She cooks delicious and healthy plant-based food and her feed is a feast for the eyes. While I can't commit to trying a new recipe every day like Rachel does, I would love to boost the number of new recipes I try and experiment with using less processed ingredients in our meals.

So...I'm going to try and post a bit more regularly about our food choices and some of the recipes we try in an aim to capture the recipes for future reference, and encourage myself to keep cooking new things and move gradually to a better way of eating.

Here are some of the things we've been eating in the past week or two...

Clockwise from top left: Parmesan, parsley & paprika biscuits // Pea pancakes // Chocolate shortbread // Banana & blueberry bread

Parmesan, Parsley & Paprika biscuits
These were based on the Parmesan biscuits recipe from this book. Although not the healthiest of snacks we needed a savoury snack to counteract the leftover Easter chocolate. I added parsley to the cookie dough, but if making again I'd probably increase the quantities of parsley & paprika for more of a flavour boost.



Pea pancakes with roasted tomatoes, houmous & homemade ketchup
This recipe was very pleasing for me. The pancakes were from a recipe in this allotment cookbook and while we first had these a couple of weeks ago with roasted asparagus & feta there was enough mixture left over to freeze and use another day. Today was that day, and I enjoyed a delicious late brunch in the spring sunshine - the pancakes are delicious, and a great colour too!

Ben made the ketchup from a recipe found in this Hemsley & Hemsley book (a recommendation from Rachel) and it complimented the pancakes really well, especially when topped with lots of roasted seeds.

Chocolate shortbread
Ok, I know I said I was trying to be healthy and eat less sweet snacks, but this shortbread recipe is pretty low on sugar (let's not mention the butter) and I was making them to share with friends. Another one from the Cookie Magic book - it has a great variety of sweet & savoury biscuits!

Hemsley & Hemsley banana bread (with added blueberries)
Another one from The Art of Eating Well - this gluten free loaf uses natural sweeteners (maple syrup) and will make a perfect early morning snack for us to take to work for the next few days. The temptation to reach for shop-bought cereal bars in the morning needs to be curbed.

I really like the texture and taste of this bread, and will definitely be making it again!


Other recipes cooked but lacking photos include:
  • Hemsley & Hemsley Asparagus & Pea Quinoa risotto with mint & parsley oil (turned into Quinoa risotto balls the following day)
  • Hemsley & Hemsley Feta & Black bean burgers (cooked by Ben and served with Courgette Fries & Homemade tomato ketchup)
  • River Cottage quinoa salad with courgettes & onions

I hope to share more soon. I'm enjoying spending my evenings browsing recipe books at the moment. Tonight, we eat macaroni peas!

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

let's cook: ravioli



Three cooking challenges in three months - we're doing really well this year! This one was a tough one too. We set ourselves the challenge of filled pasta, which actually involves a lot more thought than I first imagined.

First we had to decide on the form of pasta and the dough recipe, then we had to think of the filling, and finally decide on a sauce/accompaniment to serve with. A lot of elements to consider.

We both went for ravioli as you can see - mine is pictured on the left above, and my mum's is on the right.

I've broken the process down into stages below with some recipes too if you'd like to try it yourself.


STAGE ONE: THE PASTA

I had never made pasta before (nor had my mum) so this was an exciting one for me. I always had visions of it being really difficult, making a lot of mess and needing a lot of space, but thankfully none of the above turned out to be true!



I didn't want to stick with just plain egg pasta dough so I decided to make two different batches of pasta - one with parsley & one coloured with beetroot - both of which filled me with more pleasure than balls of dough should.

For the parsley pasta I used the "advanced" mixing method of forming the dough directly on work surface by cracking the eggs into a well made in the flour. I felt like a pro! I wasn't quite as adventurous with the beetroot one (mostly because I didn't want to stain the whole kitchen pink) so opted for the food processor approach with that one.

Isn't the colour great? Like pink bubblegum!



The recipes I used were as follows...


Ingredients 

Each of these makes about 450g of pasta.

Parsley pasta 
2 eggs
1⅓ cups 00 pasta flour
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil

Beetroot pasta
2 eggs
1½ cups 00 pasta flour
1 small roasted red beetroot (pureed)
1 tablespoon olive oil


Method (the professional way!)

Place your flour on the work surface and make a well in the centre.

Crack the eggs into the well and add the oil and extras, e.g the herbs.

Using a fork, beat the mixture in the centre, slowly incorporating the flour. If you're like me, you'll find you might get a bit eager with the fork and break through your flour walls so be on the lookout for egg overflow. As more and more of the flour begins to combine with the egg you'll probably want to abandon the fork in favour of using your hands.

Once the mixture is combined into a solid ball knead the dough for about 10 minutes until it becomes stronger and more elastic. When your dough looks smooth and no longer feels sticky, shape it into a ball and cover with a tea towel/clingfilm to keep it moist.

Then let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes.

When you are ready to use your dough, cut it into quarters so you can work on one piece at a time, while keeping the other pieces covered to prevent them drying out.



I actually invested in a pasta machine for this project as I had some vouchers I'd been given for my birthday. Beforehand I thought I'd just make my pasta by hand, but decided to treat myself, and I'm very pleased I did!

Because I made two lots of dough I had enough to make some extras on top of my ravioli so I used my pasta maker to roll out the dough and then cut it into tagliatelle & fettuccine. It worked really well, and was a nice added extra for this challenge! I have frozen some of the fresh pasta to eat at a later date too.



STAGE TWO: FILLING & CONSTRUCTION

Back to the ravioli. The filling I decided to used was taken from this Food 52 recipe and was a combination of parsley, mint, ricotta and goat cheese.

It was just a case of combining all the ingredients in a bowl and then dolloping on the rolled out pasta. I found this whole process very relaxing; rolling out the dough, passing it through the pasta machine until it was thin, and then constructing the ravioli.



I bought myself a round ravioli cutter (I also got a square one for my mum!) so was able to create some nice uniform shapes. They looked really nice I think, and held together well.



STAGE THREE: SERVING SUGGESTIONS

I made my ravioli in the day time while Ben was at work, but couldn't wait to the evening to try them so made myself a small portion of super fresh ones, which I served on a bed of fettuccine with a homemade avocado pesto and load of parmesan. Delicious! And so quick to cook!

It was the first day of the year that it was warm enough for me to eat my lunch in the garden too so that was an added treat.



I think the ravioli was best cooked fresh as I wasn't quite sure how to store them once constructed and put them in the fridge, but after a while I think the filling began to seep into the pasta a bit and they got a little sticky. Perhaps I rolled the pasta thinner than I was meant to?

Anyway, there were still some good (non-sticky) ones left for Ben to try when he got home from work. This batch was a mixture of herb and beetroot ones, and I served them on parsley tagliatelle with sauteed asparagus and walnuts in a lemony buttery sauce, using this recipe from Green Valley Kitchen.

It was a nice feast!


My mum made her batch on Easter Monday and she said that she found it pretty challenging one too - apparently there was flour everywhere!

She opted for an egg pasta dough, but tried two different fillings. One which was spinach based, and the other a ricotta one. With no pasta maker available she rolled out her pasta by hand and thinks she may have left it a little thick as she found the ravioli took a while to cook. Look how neat they are though. Like little pillows.



She served it with a pomodoro sauce, although confessed that it came out looking a bit like chutney, which is a little odd. Good to see a healthy helping of parmesan too though.

Now, on to the scoring...

Ben gave me a very respectable 9/10 with one point being deducted by the disappointment of me having to throw some of the super sticky ravioli pieces into the bin. I definitely think I'll be making pasta again though so I'll try and make it when he's not at work next time so we can both enjoy it super fresh!

My dad gave my mum another high score with 8/10, possibly with a couple of marks being deducted due to the thickness of the pasta. I did have the advantage of having a pasta machine so I would bump that up to a 9 too I think.

Another pretty good round! This challenge is really improving our skills.



My mum has requested an easier challenge next time (not involving dough) so we have opted for swiss rolls or roulades. I've already started pinning some recipe inspiration.

The thought of them is making my mouth water already.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

tweed



My felted tweed cardigan is finally finished. Doesn't it look grand? I really like the contrast trim and it fits really nicely, so a success all round I'd say.

It took me a little longer than my original Christmas deadline, but that is partly because I got caught up knitting a jumper for a small dog so I'll let myself off the hook.

The pattern is from this Rowan Loves brochure which has a few knitting patterns that I really want to make. And they use really nice yarns too!



I actually took the plunge and invested in the Rowan Felted tweed yarn the pattern recommends, rather than taking my usual (thriftier) approach of substituting for different (cheaper) wool.

I think in the past I have doubted my knitting skills a bit more and worried about buying quality yarn and then wasting it by making a badly fitting cardigan I wouldn't wear, but I have confidence in my abilities now so I'm going to try not to hold back.



I also learnt a new skill whilst making this garment, the pick up stitches method for adding on a button band. With previous cardigans I have always knitted the button bands as separate pieces and sewn them on, but am pleased with the pick up and knit method as the end result seems much neater, and it means I can avoid some of the dreaded sewing up.

It's nice to have learnt a new technique too!

The pattern for this cardigan also has a few variations, both in sleeve length and neckline, so I may use it again to make a slightly different version. It's nice when you find a reliable pattern you want to make again and again.

But for now, I'm going to make the most out of this one.



In other news, I've already started on my next knitting project: a chunky knit jumper to keep me warm on spring and summer evenings. I'd forgotten quite how quick knitting with chunky yarn can be and I've already made good progress - the front and back are done, and only took a week each. At this rate, maybe I'll have it finished by the end of March.

Wishful thinking perhaps?

Saturday, 5 March 2016

a brown valentine



I decided to make Ben a little crochet banner for Valentine's day this year, in his favourite colour: brown!

I didn't have a pattern so just sort of made it up as I went. It turned out to be a fairly quick project, which was lucky as I had to make the whole thing in secret one Saturday while Ben was at work.

I used some nice speckled brown wool which I'd originally bought as an alternative option for the bobble hat I made last summer and added a corded edge in cream. Once I'd finished I crocheted around a stick along the top edge to hang the banner.

It ended up looking just as expected, which was a nice surprise.



I debated whether to embroider or add a felted design, but in the end opted to crochet on a heart shape using a series of slip stitches. The end result looked nicely wonky I think.



And Ben said it was lovely so I was very pleased.
In return he made me probably the best card ever. So good!




Monday, 8 February 2016

let's cook: bakewell tarts



Our second cooking challenge of the year is complete! Bakewell tarts was the test this time, and it was like a proper bake-off (in that both of our recipes came from the Great British Bake Off).

I went down the Mr.Kipling route with an iced bakewell tart, and my mum went a bit more rustic, with a scattered almond and icing topping.

I was pretty impressed with how mine turned out actually - I thought it might be a challenge too far to get the pastry, frangipane AND icing to turn out right, but I think I did ok - and I enjoyed making it a lot.



The recipe I used was by GBBO contestent Luis Troyano, and I'm pleased to say my tart looks pretty similar to the photo used on the recipe - a visual success!

I enjoyed working with the sweet shortcrust pastry - I managed to roll it out nice and thin, and ended up with a pretty neat looking tart case after the blind bake.

And I haven't made a frangipane filling before so I wasn't really sure what to expect. When I first added it to the tart case it looked like I hadn't made quite enough (and I actually made a little more than the recipe required) but after baking it had risen quite a bit and I wasn't left with a sunken looking tart like I'd been worrying about.

Here's what it looked like post baking - not too shabby!



I thought the icing might be my downfall so I really concentrated on getting a neat and smooth layer, without getting any crumbs mixed in, which has been an issue in the past. I ended up with a pretty even coverage - right to the edges too!



And the stripes were super easy. I'm pleased it didn't matter that I had slightly wobbly hands at the time.



Pretty!

My mum found her recipe in one of the Bake Off books. She said she struggled a bit with the pastry and she had to do a couple of patch up jobs prior to baking. It looks like she had more than enough frangipane though, as it ended up taller than the pastry.

I quite like her approach to a topping - a scatter of almonds with just a drizzle of icing. A good option for the less sweet-toothed among us as the fully iced tarts are definitely super sweet.



So, how did they taste? 

Overall I found my tart pretty tasty, although admit it was a bit of a sugar overload. I worried at first that I'd spread the jam too thinly on the base, but think it was the right amount in the end - the filling was nice and moist, in contrast to the crisp pastry.

My mum has reported that hers was very tasty too, although she thinks she used too much jam on the base, and she said her pastry was a little uneven. It looks good though!



And the scores...

I made my tart the same weekend as my mum and dad came to visit so for the first time in a while we had the same judge to make a direct comparison.

Both my parents and Ben gave my bakewell tart a 9/10, with my mum and dad deducting a point because of the sweetness, and Ben deducting a point for the lack of cherry on each slice (!) I gave him another slice with a cherry on the following day so he was happy in the end.

My dad, it turns out, is quite a fan of bakewell tarts and was generous with his voting across the board, giving my mum a 9/10 too. However, my mum insisted I reduce this to an 8 as she wasn't pleased with the technical side of her bake.

Personally, I think she should take the high marks while she can, as she never knows what my dad is going to refuse to eat.



On the whole, I think we both did really good this time round.

Next time we'll be making filled pasta - I'm thinking ravioli.
I hope it doesn't matter that we don't have pasta machines...