Tuesday, 14 April 2009

An Egg-cellent Easter

After weeks of anticipation and preparation, Easter Weekend finally arrived. I have always loved this time of year, but since moving to England and marrying a Catholic Pole, Easter has become an even more momentous occasion in my annual calender.

In Poland, Passover and Easter Sunday are celebrated to the same extent as Christmas and food plays a major role in this celebration. This year I wanted to incorporate some of the Polish traditions into our weekend, and prepare some of the traditional dishes. Boiled eggs, symbolising the Resurrection, are a main ingredient in many of these dishes and feature predominantly on the menu. Although I am not a great fan of boiled eggs, I have to say that they just taste different on Easter and that even I can eat my fair share of them. One of my favourite Polish dishes is a vegetable salad, which is usually served on special occasions. This is made by simply dicing equal amounts of boiled potatoes, carrots, parsnips and eggs, mixing this with a peeled and diced apple, a can of sweetcorn kernels, a cup of green peas and a few sliced pickled cucumbers and generously covering everything in a mayonnaise and mustard dressing. It's quite a bit of work to prepare, but is well worth the effort and it can be served during breakfast, lunch and dinner (and believe me, you can eat that much of it).

Easter Sunday is the main event, and we got the day started with a traditional breakfast of sliced cured meats, boiled eggs, horse radish and apple salad, slices of cheese and the vegetable salad. When we returned from Mass, I immediately went back to the kitchen to get the pot-roasted pork joint in the oven to slowly braise for a couple of hours. While I had some time on my hands waiting for the meat to cook, I got a bit carried away with decorating the table with brightly coloured, cheery flowers, both real and origami, all to brighten up the grey London day. When the meat was wonderfully tender and juicy, I got my boiled potato wedges into hot oil in the oven to roast, sliced and peeled the butternut squash to bake in lightly caramelised butter, spooned my home-made pickled beetroot into a bowl and put the crackling onto the top shelf to crisp up. To finish off this wonderful feast I had brought along a selection of the chocolate truffles and macaroons from my new job.

As with all good things in life, the weekend came to an end and the last of the leftovers were turned into sandwiches for lunch. But we all had a happy Easter and I hope you all had a good one too!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Pink, Yellow, Purple, Blue, Icing I'm in Love with You

There have been some exciting new developments in the life of this Rambling Chef lately. Today I will be entering a completely different level in my cooking and baking obsession, as I start my new job working for a lovely little company that makes chocolates, cookies, brownies and ice creams. I am going to be in the heat of their kitchen, helping to create some of their amazing chocolate treats! Words cannot even begin to describe all of the emotions that have been coursing through me for the past few days, and I'm finding it difficult to contain my excitement as I ready myself for my first day.

I had to curb my enthusiasm slightly though, as I had another task at hand over the weekend. Following the success of my Red Nose Day cupcakes, my old office asked me last week to bake them another batch of goodies for their Easter Bake Sale to raise some money for their chosen charity, the NSPCC. Jumping at the opportunity to bake Easter treats on a large scale, I immediately agreed to their requests of Banana Breads, Bunny Cakes and pretty Royal Iced Sugar Cookies.

Never having worked with Royal Icing before, I turned to the experts on Cake Decorating on the Internet, and watched some amazing instructional videos on this amazing art using this wonderful icing. After a couple of hours of watching in awe, I felt inspired and confident enough to have a go myself. So, on Sunday I turned my kitchen into a one-woman production line once more, and worked my much loved mixer and less loved oven to their limits. Searching through my extensive cookie cutter collection (which takes up an entire drawer in my kitchen and covers all important holidays and events that occur throughout the year), I found all of my cutest Easter cutters for the task at hand. After several hours of rolling out and cutting the dough and baking sheet after sheet of golden-brown cookies, I started mixing up the fluffy, brilliantly white icing. Dividing the icing into little airtight containers, I mixed them each one respectively into pastel-toned pink, yellow, purple, green and blue and filled my pastry bags to start the fun.

Letting my imagination run wild, I spent many happy hours decorating bunnies, chicks, ducks, eggs, butterflies, flowers, leaves and umbrellas in all of their colourful glory, growing ever more in love with working with this amazing icing. After I packed up each cookie in its own cellophane wrapper and looked at the basket full of Easter splendour, I could not wait for my next decorating project.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Almond Passions

For reasons unknown, the one product that I associate with Easter more than any other is Marzipan. The golden yellow colour, the sweet almond smell and the soft texture of this wonderful paste, make it a dream to work with and a pleasure to eat. With a bit of imagination, some food colourings and a few kitchen tools, you can mould and shape it to create amazing edible decorations for your cakes and bakes. Rolled into little balls and dipped in melted chocolate, it makes for a great snack. Grated finely and folded through eggy cake batter, it gives an amazing richness and aroma to the baked cake.

I could give pages more examples on how versatile this product is, but the one use that marzipan is perhaps best known for is to cover cakes, something that has been practised by artisan bakers for many years. The main reason for this is to stop air from reaching the cake, and therefore protect it from drying out and going bad. As an added bonus, it also gives your finished cake a delicious, sweet, almond taste.

As I am still in the throws of my Easter baking mania, I decided to bake a chocolate-almond cake for the boys at my husband's workshop yesterday. This cake is usually baked in round tins and then filled, iced and covered with a cocoa buttercream. However, knowing that the cake would be transported in a plastic container in a backpack on a motorcycle, I thought it best to bake it in a rectangular pan so that it could be cut up into individual little cakes. So, after creaming the butter and sugar, adding the eggs, ground almonds and golden syrup and folding in the sifted flour and cocoa powder, I spooned the mixture into my silicone brownie pan. Once baked, I turned out the beautifully risen cake to cool on a wire rack, before trimming the edges and cutting it into squares. Lastly, to make sure that it exuded Easter goodness and charm, I decided to wrap each little cake in bright yellow marzipan blanket.

Obviously I had to try one of the squares myself, to make sure that they pass quality control, before packaging them up. I am glad to say that they passed with flying colours.