Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Not Long Now...

Can you believe it!!! There's only four more sleeps until Christmas :)
I can hardly believe how quickly this year has gone by. It feels like just a few weeks ago that we brought our little boy home from hospital, scared silly with the prospect of having to take care of this tiny little baby. In reality it has been nearly seven months already and he's really not that little any more. Having T around has made Christmas feel like a really big event this year and I am planning on making everything that extra bit more special. But before I start making things for us, I have to make things for others, after all, that is what Christmas is all about.

I love the idea of baking and making sweet things for friends instead of buying something and have done just that again this year. Once a week I meet with a lovely group of mums for lunch and a chat while our little ones entertain each other. Today was our last meeting for the year and I wanted to give them something small to say thank you for keeping me sane with some adult conversation and letting me know I'm not the only one struggling with sleepless nights. Little star shaped cookies, studded with bright red cranberries and spiced with cinnamon seemed to me like just the treat. Add to this little milk chocolate lollipops sprinkled with chopped nuts and a few more cranberries and you have Christmas ready to be wrapped up in a bow. Last minute shopping and family visits meant that a few mums missed out on their gifts, but luckily nothing was wasted :)

For the next few days I will rarely be leaving my kitchen, making more edible gifts, preparing a traditional Polish Wigilia dinner and of course roasting the bird, making the trimmings and lastly getting those Yorkshire puds into the oven.

I wish you all a wonderful and happy Christmas and all the best for the New Year!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Winter Wonderland

Winter is well and truly here. All the trees are bare, arctic winds are blowing around every corner and colds and flues are making the rounds in one and all. Warming stews and soups are our dinner time staples and Vitamin C rich fruits and veggies are being eaten in massive amounts. I'm constantly looking for the sunniest spot in our flat for me and little T to sit and I have even dusted off my crochet needles to make us each a cosy blanket to snuggle up under.

I have also been keeping the oven running with lots of pre-Christmas baking. Spiced apple cake, sticky toffee pudding, cranberry and coconut cookies and a dark chocolate and orange loaf have all come out of the kitchen this month and have all disappeared into our greedy tummies. But nothing says Christmas baking like a batch of Ginger Harrys and that's exactly what I made yesterday afternoon. With the tree decorated and all lit up, mesmerising little T for a while, I got my tin of cookie cutters out, whipped up the royal icing and soon had a small army of men and even some trees ready for munching as the evening closed in. 

If you are feeling the Christmas spirit and want to get the oven on to keep the winter out, go and make your own little gingerbread men, trees or even stars!

  • 100g butter
  • 3 tbsp golden syrup
  • 350g self-raising flour
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
Melt the butter and golden syrup together in a saucepan on a gentle heat and set aside to slightly cool. Mix together the flour, ginger and sugar in a large mixing bowl, making a well in the centre and pour in the melted butter and syrup. Lightly mix and then add in the egg, then get stuck in with your (clean) hands. Knead the mix until it comes together and is smooth. Wrap in some cling-film and put into the fridge for 15-20 minutes to firm up.
Preheat your oven to 180°C and lightly grease a couple of cookie sheets. Take your dough out of the fridge and give it another good knead until it feels slightly more elastic. Roll it out on a clean, flat surface to about 6mm thick. You can either use cookie cutters or your own templates and a sharp knife to cut out your cookies. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 8-10 minutes, until they are lightly golden. Leave on the sheet for a couple of minutes to firm up and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely before decorating with royal icing.

Have Fun!!!!!!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

For Goodness Sake!

Even though I watch a lot of cooking shows, there are very few "celebrity chefs" that I find truly inspiring and mostly watch their shows for its entertainment value. There is one exception to the rule for me though and that is High Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage. His enthusiasm for food absolutely bubbles over and always leaves me feeling like I should run into my kitchen to make something right this minute! Unfortunately he has been getting a lot of stick for his new show focusing on vegetables and has angered many a vegetarian by how he has tackled the subject. However, for me as a lover of meat, it has been a joy to watch and has made me really think about the amount of meat I eat every week.

I'll be first to admit that when I plan a meal, I almost always think of a meat ingredient first and view the vegetables as companion dishes. I very rarely put the veg in the starring role and this I have now come to realise is a real shame.Determined to put this right, I decided about a month ago that from now on I will prepare a minimum of two meals a week that are completely meat free. Not only is this good for our health and the planet, but it really pushes me to think so much more imaginatively when cooking. So far, I'm loving it.

From the usual suspects like Leak and Potato Soup to the more adventurous Chick-Pea and Tomato Curry, we have had some lovely veggie meals and last night was another meat free dinner. As the first real chills of winter were creeping into our flat last night, I was more than up for a steaming bowl of something loaded with carbs. What better than roasted butternut squash and sweet potato risotto! Sticky, creamy and chewy rice, turned bright orange with chunks of oven-roasted squash and sweet potato, elevated to dizzying heights with plenty of lemon zest and juice, this is a meal that would keep even the most hardened of carnivores happy.

Luckily, I made more than enough and have some left-overs for lunch today and while tucking into my bowlful, I am already contemplating our next vegetable starring dinner.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Waste Not, Want Not

Bananas, you either hate them or love them. Luckily everyone in my home loves them, even Little T has had a taste or two and enjoyed it thoroughly. I buy them almost religiously and you will always find a few yellow bananas in my fruit bowl. Sometimes though, we're just not quick enough to eat them all before they start to go black and then I just can't bring myself to eat them any more. Don't fear though, I will under no circumstances ever throw an over ripe banana away!!!! If there's anything that I love more than eating a fresh, just ripe banana, then it's sinking my teeth into a freshly baked, still slightly warm banana muffin.

Happily, this morning I came to find that this weeks bananas had gone to the wrong side of sweet and I was very pleased with the prospect of baking some muffins! But these aren't just your ordinary, run of the mill muffins, these are choc-chip & banana muffins. Sweet and crunchy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside speckled with tiny drops of milk chocolate and with the flavour of banana giving you a great big hug, these are just the thing to put a smile on your face.

I'm afraid that I have already eaten most of mine, so don't have any going spare, but that's all the more reason to go and bake your own!

Choc-chip & Banana Muffins:

  • 280g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 0.5 tsp salt
  • 55g soft light brown sugar
  • 55g granulated white sugar
  • 3 large, very ripe bananas
  • 1 egg, beaten with a fork
  • 75ml milk
  • 85g butter, melted
  • 70g milk choc-chips
Preheat your oven to 200°C and prepare your muffin tin with paper cases.
In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir in the choc-chips. 
In another bowl, mash the bananas thoroughly with a fork, you don't want any large chunks. Stir in the sugar, egg, milk and cooled butter. 
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour all of the wet ingredients into this. Using a large metal spoon, quickly mix everything together. Don't over-mix it, but just make sure that there are no lumps of dry ingredients left in the batter.
Spoon the mix into your muffin tin, making sure to not over-fill them. 
Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the tops are browned and spring back when lightly pressed with a finger.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Christmas, Already?!?!

I realised with a massive shock this morning that there are only 65 days until Christmas!!!! I am a real sucker for this lovely Holiday and get completely sucked in by the twinkle lights, strands of tinsel, jingle bells and classic Christmas songs. As you can imagine, I also go absolutely crazy in my kitchen and always make hampers filled with all sorts of lovely home-made goodies to give to friends and work colleagues as presents. I bake oven loads of spiced cookies, make trays full of chocolate truffles and caramel candies, bottles full of dried fruit chutneys and then there's Christmas Lunch of course. I get all excited just thinking about it!!!

Amazingly enough, my Christmas baking already starts in October, with a traditional fruit cake. You have to bake it well in advance as it has to be matured to make it extra special and ever so delicious come Christmas. Having left it ever so slightly late this year and therefore having no time to spare, I got my chopped dates, sultanas, raisins and apricots soaking in brandy last night, ready to bake my cake this morning. It is a wonderfully luxurious cake, filled to the brim with dried fruits, nuts and glazed cherries and made intensely dark and rich with molasses and sticky brown sugar and then slowly fed with a bottle brandy over the next 9 weeks.

My cake is now snugly wrapped up in thick layers of parchment paper, mellowing out in a dark cupboard and waiting for it's next brushing of brandy. When our tree is up and decorated, my house is filled with the smells of cinnamon and mixed spice and Frank Sinatra is singing Let It Snow on our radio, I will cover the cake with golden marzipan, royal icing and let it sit proud in the middle of the Festive table. I can hardly wait :)

Monday, 17 October 2011

Don't Beet around the Bush

I wasn't going to say anything, but it was my birthday last Tuesday. I was supposed to celebrate the day with my family in the gloriously sunny South African bush. Unfortunately, due to issues with my passport, this did not happen and instead I spent the day in grey old London. Don't get me wrong, most of the time I'm happy to be here, but my heart was set on going Home. I did however decide not to wallow in self pity and feel sorry for myself (for too long), and instead baked something delectable and chocolatey to cheer myself up.

One of my favourite cakes to eat at my favourite little bakery is a beetroot chocolate cake. It is no ordinary chocolate cake as it is as soft and airy as a cloud, flecked with tiny little gems of crystallised beetroot and decorated with generous swirls of silky smooth, dark chocolate ganache. Luckily I had beets in my fridge and was feeling a little adventurous, so I was more than willing to try and bake my own, with a little help from my old friend, Google :)

Apart from my red stained fingers, the cake was a complete success. It's light and fluffy and crumbles softly into your mouth and leaves you with that sweet, earthy after taste that only beetroot can offer. But most importantly off all it made me forget that I was terribly home-sick for a moment or two!

So, if you are in need of a chocolate cure for heart-ache, home-sickness or just simply the Monday Blues, then go and make this cake right now!! As for me, I have eaten all of mine and have to admit that I am still longing to be in my gorgeous South Africa. Therefore I won't give you pictures of the cake that made me forget it for a while, but will instead give you a picture that reminds me of the place I will always call Home :)

Friday, 7 October 2011

Use Your Nut

For a while now, I have been interested in flourless baking. I have no medical reason to omit gluten or wheat from my diet, but am just simply mesmerised by the vast array of nut, rice and grain flours available on the supermarket shelves. So, when I stumbled upon this Lemon Polenta cake from Nigella, I just had to try it out for myself.

I have baked her traditional lemon drizzle cake more times than I can actually remember and have adapted it using all types of citrus fruit and incorporating it in some delicious desserts. I was therefore very curious how substituting the flour with ground almonds and polenta will change this firm favourite of mine, and got to baking it as soon as it was nap time for a certain someone :)

It felt a bit strange not adding flour to the cake and for the life of me, I could not imagine that this was going to work. How wrong was I? The cake came out beautifully risen, golden brown and as light as a feather. With my first bite, I knew that there is no going back to the traditional recipe. It's moist, intensely lemony and has the most incredible texture, it just melts in your mouth! Topped with gorgeous, dark purple Turkish figs and huge dollops of Crème fraiche it truly is Heaven on a plate.

This may have been my first, rather safe adventure into the wonderful world of flourless baking, but I will be heading to the supermarket very soon to try out Buckweat flour, Gram flour, Brown Rice flour, Xantham Gum, Rye grain, Spelt grain, kibbled wheat... I could go on, but I have to run before the shops close!!!!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Looks who's back!

So, I don't know if I'm breaking the rules here by coming back to a blog after such a long time of nothingness. If I am, let me say, I'm sorry. If I'm not, let me say, I'm back!!!!

Big changes have happened in my life in the past year and a half, I have gone back to working 9-5 in an office and a few months ago, I became mummy to a gorgeous, cheeky little baby boy. I have welcomed these changes, but they have unfortunately meant that I have had very little time for being creative in the kitchen and keeping up with this blog. However, now that my life has settled back into some sort of normal, I have taken my kitchen by storm again and I hope to share some of my creations with you once again. To give you a taster, I recently baked a deliciously moist and dense sour-cream chocolate cake, topped with my first attempt at making sugarpaste roses. I adapted my favourite cheesecake recipe to make a massive batch of mini cheesecakes to take with me when I went to husband's work to introduce them to our little guy.

I also baked several batches of flapjacks, choc-chip and oatmeal cookies and dulce de leche filled banana muffins, I just didn't take pictures of them before they vanished into hungry tummies. I also took on the challenge to bake a traditional Polish Sernik Wiedenski (Vienna cheesecake), which involves milling a boiled potato with sweet, white cheese (specially purchased at out local Polish deli) and then mixed with crazy amounts of eggs, sugar, flour and vanilla and baked to create a crumbly and fluffy cheesecake. Again, no pictures of this one, sorry!

Now that I'm back in the wonderland that is my kitchen, there will be no stopping me and I can hardly wait to share what I'll be baking next!
See you soon...