Shall we put the heating on?

So the summer over and the evenings are cooler and darker. It is the time for comfort food. It seems that my signature dish for this time of the year is shepherds pie. It is something we ate by the dish load when we were younger. I now just make up my own recipe and add whatever is in the cupboards and fridge. Today I found a some beef (so perhaps it should be strictly called Cottage pie), celery and mushrooms. There was a bottle of red wine that got added to the mix as well as onions, garlic, salt, pepper and nutmeg. My husband bought some carrots home so I sliced those into the pan.

The top is decorated by swirling a fork in the mash potato.

The finished product was heavenly as it came out of the oven. It was of course ever so tasty and very comforting.

Birthday cake

 

My lovely little niece turned one year this month. It has been an amazing year for her parents and wider family, watching her grow from a tiny little bundle to a sparky little girl who keeps us on our toes and reminds us just what life is all about. My sister gave me the honour of making the birthday cake. Yes. No pressure there.

However I think I rose to the challenge. My best friend told me that the best type of cake to make was a vanilla sponge. So I found a recipe online and adapted it in my usual fashion. I then had to decide what type of cake to make. All I knew was that it was going to be Panda themed.

So this was cake number one…

I liked it. It also tasted quite nice. I cut it up and my husband took it to work and shared it with his work colleagues. They also agreed that it tasted very nice.

So then I got to work on cake number two. I decided this time I would challenge myself to making small pandas out of icing pasta. 10 YouTube videos later – voila…

YouTube was also my tutor in the art of putting fondant icing onto a cake.



I was doing this late into the evening the day before the party but I was having an absolute blast! I managed to finish before midnight and get some semblance of sleep before driving down to the party venue.

Here is the finished product, a labour of love but well worth it!

INGREDIENTS

220g butter, softened
200g light muscovado sugar
4 medium eggs
220g organic wholemeal self-raising flour
seeds of ½ vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
¼ tsp baking powder
7 tbsp plum conserve
FOR THE BUTTERCREAM
90g butter, softened
180g golden icing sugar
seeds of ½ vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract

INSTRUCTIONS

1 Preheat the oven to 180C (fan 160C/350F/gas 4) and get the centre shelf at the ready. Line the cake tins with baking parchment.

2 Cream together the butter and the sugar in a large bowl. Add two of the eggs to the butter mixture with half the flour and beat together until just combined. Then add the remaining eggs and the rest of the flour along with the vanilla, lemon zest and baking powder.

3 Divide the mixture between the lined cake tins and bake on the centre shelf of the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the cakes have shrunk slightly from the sides of the tin, are springy to the touch and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Once the cakes are baked, remove them from the oven and leave them to cool completely in the tins.

4 While the cakes are cooling, make the buttercream. Cream together the butter, icing sugar and vanilla in a bowl until light and fluffy. Once the cakes are cooled down completely, place one of the layers on a plate and spread over the buttercream. Spoon the plum conserve over the top of the buttercream and gently place the other cake layer on top.

 

Pineapple, cucumber and celery juice

This bank holiday weekend has been amazing in terms of the weather, sun sun sun and more sun. Three days of pure bliss. What has been not so amazing is that I have spent most of it driving (~500 miles in two days), sorting through ‘things’ and making multiple journeys to the recycling centre. I am officially exhausted and do not feel at all rested. However, I have nobody to blame but myself.

So, moving on from that and back to food. I have decided to start making and drinking vegetable juices. I did start this last year during a time when I was trying to alter my lifestyle and eating habits. It worked, in that one of my aims, was to lose some weight, I reached my goal and just had a healthy approach to food and my body.

Hot Cross Bun Loaf

Week three of my new job and the packed lunches are still going strong. The dessert side of things still needs working on, I did not manage to make anymore scones in the week. This Sunday I decided to use my library of cooking books for inspiration. The first one that caught my eye was a Mary Berry recipe. No it is not Easter but I’ve never made hot cross buns before so I looked forward to the challenge.

The process was interesting…

I did not quite manage to get the dough to rise.

 

However the result was rather nice.

 

Ingredients
50g butter
115g sultanas
50g dried cranberries
450g strong white flour
7g sachet easy-blend dried yeast
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
50g light muscovado sugar
150ml almond milk
1 large eat, beaten
sunflower oil, for greasing

For the crosses and glaze
2 tbsp plain flour
2 tsp granulated sugar

Method
1. Melt the butter and let it cool. Mix the sultanas and cranberries in a large bowl and set aside. Combine the strong white flour, yeast, salt, spices, and sugar in a separate large bowl. Heat the milk with 5 tablespoons of water until hand-warm. Make a dip in the flour mixture and pour in the cooled butter and beaten egg. Add the warm milk and water in a starry stream, while mixing everything together with a round-bladed knife. Gather the dough into a ball.

2. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 – 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Lay the dough on top of the dried fruit mix in the bowl and knead together to combine. To finish working in the fruit, tip the dough onto the work surface again and knead for 1 – 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a round and place it in a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. Lightly grease the loaf tin and line the bottom with baking parchment.

3. Tip the risen dough out onto the work surface and knead it just 3 or 4 times. Divide the dough out onto the work surface and knead it just 3 or 4 times. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Shape each one into an oval. Place each piece in the tin in a line. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave in a warm place to rise for about 50 minutes to 1 hour or until the dough reaches about 5 cm (2 in) above the top of the tin. Preheat the oven to 230oC.

4. For the crosses, make a small piping bag out of parchment. Mix the plain flour with 4 1/2 teaspoons of cold water in a small bowl to make a smooth paste, then spoon it into the piping bag. When the dough has risen, pipe a cross on top of each piece.

5. Bake for 5 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 220oC and bake for a further 15 minutes, covering the top loosely with foil when the top is golden brown. Bake for 5 – 10 minutes more. The loaf is done when it feels firm.

6. Make the glaze: mix the granulated sugar with 1 teaspoon of cold water. Loosen the sides of the loaf with a small, round-bladed knife, then turn out of the tin. Peel off the baking parchment and place the loaf on a wire rack. Brush the glaze over the top of the loaf while it is still warm. Slice when the loaf is cold.