Thursday, 14 May 2015

Daring Cooks' May 2015 Challenge - Turkish Delight

Brinkmanship. Starting your Daring Cooks challenge with 3hrs to go until the posting deadline. Certainly not a triumph of forward planning!

Almost at the magic 127C
However, I did, and it's done (sort of). Technically it's not finished but in project management speak I'm classing it as "substantially complete".

Blog-checking lines:  For the Month of May, Rachael from Pizzarossa challenged us to make candy but not just any candy!
She challenged us to make Turkish Delight, or Lokum.

So I'd better up-front with my confession - I hate Turkish delight. That might have something to do with my slowness in getting around to tackling the challenge - that and a crazy busy time at work.

Cherries and pistachios to add some texture and flavour
And before anyone suggests it, my hatred was not because I'd not tried "real" Turkish delight. Yup - tried it, in Istanbul, still hated it. Admittedly marginally less than the Fry's variety, however still at the bottom of my confectionery ranking.

Cornstarch gloop
However, Mr E loves Turkish delight - so I'm hoping that he'll take this offering into his work and dispatch with it.

I ended up making 2 batches - the first one turned out OK in the end, but the sugar caramelised too much before I added the cornstarch, so it was golden. I didn't add the fruit I'd been planning, in case it was a burnt disaster, but instead  mixed in half a teaspoon of cola flavour, which I thought might complement the caramel under tones.

Caramel cola - will it set… yes!
The second batch I switched to a smaller pan, which seemed to make the difference - I added pistachios, glade cherries and a couple of drops each of rosewater and vanilla.

Batch 2 underway - just like very sweet wallpaper paste
Keep your fingers crossed that it sets / cuts tomorrow!

If nothing else, I achieved a good cherry / pistachio distribution!
Thanks for pushing me out of my comfort (and taste) zone ;o)

PS - it's dairy free and vegan - and the recipe here on the Daring Kitchen website is very thorough and easy to follow

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Daring Cooks Challenge April 2015: Homemade Spice Blends

Daring Cooks posting time.
On time! 10 points to me :-)

Minus 9 points for lack of culinary imagination on my part, and using a homemade spice blend… made by someone else!

Work is crazy busy. Life is crazy busy. There's not a surplus of time for cooking, blogging, etc. but I'm determined to still squeeze it in when and where I can.

The Daring Cooks challenge this month is to make homemade spice blends and use them in a recipe.

Blog-checking linesFor the month of April, Sawsan from Chef in disguise challenged us to spice things up by making our own spice blends from scratch

My very lovely sister L made us some spice mixes for Christmas, and I thought I'd showcase one of those here, in the absence of my own blend.

She made us a spice blend for fish, combining turmeric, saffron, garlic, pepper and paprika. And cute labels! She ground the spices up in a coffee grinder before packaging them up into little jars for giving.

I took her instruction to heart and added a generous pinch of sea salt, then used 2 tsp of spice rub to coat the top of 2 salmon fillets. I left them to marinade for 15 minutes, then cooked them super simply - on a plate, covered in cling-film and poached in the microwave for a few minutes.

We had it for lunch - with chopped tomatoes, ketchup and oatcakes for Mini-M and for the grown ups, served on top of a salad of tomatoes and avocado. Delicious!

So there you have it. Minimal cooking but it's the taking part that counts…. or something! I'll finish with a promise to do better next month.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Cakes for a good cause

Since my hot date tonight is of the water bottle and lemsip variety, I thought I'd use the opportunity to post a roundup of the cakes I've made so far since volunteering with Free Cakes for Kids.

They are a community based charity which provides free birthday cakes, baked and decorated by volunteers, to children and families that would otherwise be unlikely to have one.

Having a special birthday cake is undeniably one of the lovely simple pleasures of childhood. It's just so exciting - choosing the cake you want, dropping some stupendously unsubtle hints, and the final surprise of seeing what it looks like in all it's iced glory.

The sad fact is that there are a great many children in the UK whose birthdays won't be celebrated with cake, or indeed really celebrated at all. This could be for a whole host of reasons, including financial, health, housing or many other issues. That's where Free Cakes for Kids comes in. It works with local organisations all over the UK, and accepts referrals for cakes, which are then allocated to volunteered bakers to supply.

To each individual volunteer baker, the cost is small, the effort rewarding and collectively the organisation provides hundreds if not thousands of cakes to children all around the country each year.

I've been baking with my local branch for several months now, so I thought I'd post a few photos of my creations!

Monsters High

Music and Singing

Not a birthday but a good luck cake for a work placement abroad

Woodland fairy
It's lovely to feel you are doing something that brings a burst of fun and excitement into the difficult lives that many children end up leading. So if you're looking for an excuse to get stuck in with the fondant and food colouring on a semi-regular basis, then I thoroughly recommend checking out your nearest group on the website and getting in touch.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Daring Bakers' March 2015 Challenge: Tarte Tatin

I'm on time with this blog post (or at least in the correct 24hr time period, once time zones etc are considered). Yep, it's the 27th so it's the posting day for the Daring Bakers' March challenge.

For the March Daring bakers' challenge, Korena from Korena in the Kitchen taught us that some treats are best enjoyed upside down. She challenged us to make a tarte tatin from scratch.

Mini-M was my official kitchen helper for this challenge. She made the pastry herself.*

*(well, that's what she'd probably like you to think. In the name of making sure there was actually pastry mix left in the bowl after rubbing in the fat and flour, I stepped in to intervene…)

She also chose the filling: figs, apple and cashew nuts. Slightly unconventional but still delicious.

In order to make the pastry dairy free, I used a mixture of coconut oil and DF margarine. I'd have used all coconut oil, however the jar was emptier than I thought. I also chucked in a handful of chia seeds to give the pastry some added crunch.

Ready to flip...
Sigh of relief - still in one piece and ready to serve
We made the pastry and put in in the fridge to chill, then life got in the way a little, as often happens, so I chucked it in the freezer, and I can also report that it froze and defrosted really well. A good tip!

Here's our recipe…

Dairy Free Figgy Tarte Tatin (Serves 8)

For the pastry:

  • 125g plain flour
  • 60g coconut oil (chill until solid if you live somewhere warm  - no problems here in Scotland!)
  • 60g DF margarine
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 60ml iced water

Sieve the flour into a bowl. Chop the coconut oil and margarine into cubes, then use 2 knives (or one of those fancy pastry gadgets) to but the fat into the flour. Once you're down to small pieces, use your hands to give a last rub in - you want there still to be pea-sized pieces of fat remaining. If you're working with coconut oil or DF margarine and you start rubbing it from the start, it will get very sticky as they often melt more easily.
Stir in the chia seeds.
Add the iced water and mix in with a knife.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a couple of times to combine, then wrap and chill for an hour in the fridge (or freeze until you need it). Take it out of the fridge 15 mins before you want to start making the dessert (and longer if it's frozen). It's also unsweetened so would work just as well in a savoury topped pie.

For the fruit:

  • 8 small fresh figs
  • 2 eating apples
  • handful unsalted cashew nuts
  • 50g coconut oil
  • 150g caster sugar
  • pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 190C (180C fan).
In an oven proof iron skillet, slowly melt the sugar and coconut oil. They won't seem to combine properly, like butter and sugar would, but don't worry - it'll all come OK in the end.
At the same time, top and tail your figs and chop. We were aiming for quarters, but 4yr old knife skills meant a slightly more haphazard effect.
Peel and thinly slice the apples
Allow the mixture to bubble over a medium heat for a minute or so to start to caramelise. Keep an eye so that it doesn't catch. Coconut oil can often cause the sugar to crystallise, and go crunchy - again don't worry!
One it is starting to just take a very pale colour, add the salt, nuts and fruit (both figs and apples) and give it a stir around to coat. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for a couple of minutes.
Roll out the pastry into a circle that is slightly larger than your pan, and carefully place it on top of the bubbling fruity mixture, and tuck in the sides.
Cut holes in the top to let steam escape, and bake for around 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is bubbling around the edges.
Cool a little before inverting carefully (I made Mr E do this). Enjoy!

Chief fig chopper/squasher (it's a fine line to tread…)

Crispy pastry, gooey topping

Monday, 16 March 2015

Daring Cooks March 2015 - Perfect, Personal Porridge

Porridge! (or proodgie if you type really badly like I just did…)

We eat it a lot for breakfast, which is why I chose it as the recipe for the Daring Cooks challenge I hosted last month.

I'm technically late to my own party, as the completed challenge reveal date was the 14th. A recurring theme on this blog.

Blog checking lines:
For the March Daring Cooks’ challenge, Ruth from Makey Cakey invited us to start the day with something filling, warm and nutritious. We got to experiment with different techniques and flavorings to create our own perfect personal porridge.

So what did I make as my porridge-y offering? Here are a whole bunch of porridge pics. I can think of another alliterative 'p-word' to describe them in jest, however I'm not going to type it, for fear of who/what Google might direct to my site as a result!

Porridge in the pan...
Porridge and black coffee - sets you up for the day
Mini-M loves porridge 
Aun unusual multi-porridge combo!
Porridge with dried mango and raisins (chosen by Mini-M the executive chef)
Porridge pick'n'mix for Mini-M who didn't want to mix them in the same bowl (see previous photo!)

Baked porridge with cocoa, almonds, apple and raisin

Rye porridge with cranberries 
Barley porridge with coconut milk
And my favourite - probably the baked chocolate porridge, not least for the nostalgia value. It reminded me of my student days when for some unknown and unusual reason, the girls in my first flat would often make chocolate Bailey's porridge as an evening treat - or indeed as dinner before a night out on the town!

(It goes without saying all of these porridges were dairy free. It works with pretty much any liquid and any flaked grain. The ultimate versatile recipe)

Friday, 16 January 2015

Happy New Year - It's Store Cupboard January!

Hello hello hello.
Happy New Year and all that!

I do have some lovely recipes up my sleeve, waiting to be blogged when I get a chance, however I'm starting the year off with a photo roundup. This January chez Makey-Cakey we've been working through the larder and freezer, and only buying fresh fruit / veg / milk / eggs / eggs.

We need to defrost our freezer, which means we need to work our way through the contents, and whilst we're at it decided there were a fair few open packets, jars and slightly vintage tins that could probably do with being used up.

Ultimately, we're making slow but steady inroads, and having reached halfway through the month, we've not had to eat too many weird combinations.

We decided we should still allow ourselves to buy fruit, veg, milk etc - had it just been Mr E and myself we might have decided to embrace the lentils and split peas for breakfast, however I'm not sure inflicting that on Mini-M would have been a winner.

So, here's a run down of the meals we've had so far, and the store cupboard ingredients that went into them: #storecupboardjanuary!

Christmas Dinner Pie (from the freezer) and carrots
Chicken stir fry: (noodles and bamboo shoots from cupboard, pineapple and chicken from freezer)
That staple - pasta with pesto (both store cupboard) and tomatoes
Spinach and sausage risotto (rice from cupboard, wine and Polish sausage from freezer) 
Boxing day veggie soup (from freezer)  cornbread crumble (polenta from cupboard) and frozen fish fingers
Chicken, pesto and beetroot parcels (filo and chicken from freezer, pesto from cupboard) 
Spare ribs with cornbread (ribs from freezer, polenta and marinade ingredients from cupboard)
Brown rice and quinoa with corned beef and cucumber (rice, quinoa and corned beef from cupboard) 
Maple bean, lentil and nut loaf (refried beans and red lentils, maple and balsamic from cupboard)
Venison Lasagne: (pasta, jar sauce and oat cream from cupboard and venison burgers from freezer) 
Beetroot risotto: (white wine from freezer, risotto rice from cupboard)
Pasta and jar sauce! (Both storecupboard)
Polish bulghur (from store cupboard) with ham and crispy fried onions (also from cupboard) 
Corned beef and pepper hash (corned beef and marinated peppers from cupboard)
Pitta pizza - frozen chicken and jar pesto from cupboard
Since all of the photos have been taken on my phone, they are pretty awful! Particularly because at tea time, in Scotland, in January there is no daylight. In fact it has already been dark for a good couple of hours by 6pm. But, you know, I'm classing this as a public service, so you can all look at this motley selection and feel smug that you've been eating much prettier food for the first half of January, and secretly pity us as we pass the halfway point, having already used up most of the "good stuff" (aka risotto rice, lentils and pesto) in the cupboard!!! Who knows what random concoctions like ahead between now and February...

Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Daring Bakers' December 2014 Challenge

Oh goodness. Somehow it seems I've not written a blog post since October. And Christmas has somehow come and gone too! 2014 has hurtled past at an alarming rate.

And it is indeed Daring Bakers' posting time again.

This is possibly the most pathetic DB post I've done in a long time. In an attempt to be lenient on myself, I'm giving myself quite a few points for effort. I baked my challenge recipe almost as soon as it was released way back at the start of December. I took a photo of it too… and then it went downhill.

Can I find the photo - nope! Can I find the scrap of paper that I jotted down my modifications on - nope!

So we have a challenge post with neither a photo or a recipe - and for that I apologise profusely!

"For the month of December, Andrea from 4pure took us on a trip to the Netherlands. She challenged us to take our tastebuds on a joyride through the land of sugar and spice by baking three different types of Dutch sweet bread."

Of the three recipes given in the challenge, I chose to make the first recipe: 'Peperkoek' cake, as it didn't need any modification to make it dairy-free.

It called for 1 tbps cane sugar syrup, and I wasn't sure what that was, so I used treacle - given the spices involved and the dark colour of the cake, it seemed the right sort of thing - admittedly unlikely to be 100% authentic. I was also a bit scant in my spice mix, and went without cardamom, coriander and anise as I didn't have them in the spice rack. I did have cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, white pepper, mace and ginger and I chucked in a pinch of allspice too.

I also had no whole-wheat flour - so I used 200g plain white and 50g rye.

The cake smelled fantastic whilst cooking and infused the house with the scent of Christmas which was a lovely way to start off December.
It tasted pretty good too, and was very easy - yum - I'm glad to be able to add this one to my baking repertoire :-)

So my personal challenge for January is to go for the triple - bake, photograph and blog… wish me luck!

And so - to finish off, I shall leave you with a picture of my sous-chef Mini-M preparing another festive treat… magic reindeer food on Christmas Eve (aka carrots, glitter and crushed cereal!).

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