Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013's Most Viewed Posts

So basically it seems that despite 400+ blog posts since starting in January 2009, there are only a handful that anyone is interested in - and that despite all my best efforts to make tasty, healthy, delicious and imaginative food, what people really like it…. drumroll please…. pretty cakes! No surprises there I don't suppose. Most of them were not 2013 recipes, but what the heck - I shall perpetuate their popularity a little further by posting them again here today.

So… pretty cakes it is (mainly). Maybe tomorrow I'll post another roundup, of my 10 personal favourites.

Starting off in 10th place with a mere 122 views this year is my Daring Bakers Hidden Veggies Roundup.

Next in 9th we have Savoury Cheese Flapjacks with 145 views.

In 8th place is a very cute and very delicious Golden Syrup and Chocolate Snow Dragon Cake, with 149 views.

In 7th place - a Chocolate Wedding Cake middle tier extravaganza with 155 views.

Moving on the 6th place, my final conquering of French Macarons earned me 188 post views.

Kicking off the top 5 are homemade Fondant Fancies - Mr Kipling eat your heart out! (217 views)

In 4th, with 238 views, the bottom tier of the same wedding cake as the 7th and 1st place tiers - this time a Lemon and Almond Cake with White Chocolate Buttercream Roses

Into the top 3, and in bronze medal position, with 298 views, The Anti-Cheesecake - a delicious dairy free cheesecake surprise.

Silver medal position, and second place with 308 views goes to the Biszkopt z Galaretka (or Polish Jelly Cake).

And finally in first place, yet another wedding cake tier, this time Fruitcake with Orange Marzipan, Royal Icing and Chocolate Roses - and 368 views.

In actual fact, by far and a way the most visited page is unsurprisingly my homepage with over 5.5k views, which is a little more respectable than the individual post totals - phew.

With that I shall bid you all farewell until 2014 - I hope there aren't too many sore heads tomorrow morning.

It's been a very handmade Christmas

Amongst the Christmas gifts that we have given and received this year, there have been some beautiful handmade goodies (both edible and non-edible). I thought they warranted a quick roundup, to show off everyone's handiwork!

Mini-marshmallow snowmen faces ready to be drowned in hot chocolate 
Sock monster babies
A slouchy grown-up sock monkey
A pink 'Katie Morag' jumper
A beautiful blue beaded scarf
Don't ask (it's Mr E lying on the felted recycled jumper cushion he made me)
Golden Graham S'mores mix
Macarons - I have to confess that there were a) 5 in the bag and b) they were unbroken when they were gifted… I dropped them, then we are some!
Dairy free chocolate hazelnut fudge
Smiley gingerbread people
Spice rubs
"Merry Berry Surprise"
A drinks can votive
Gin :-)
Thanks to everyone that knitted, baked, bottled etc.

Our gifts to lots of people were a plethora of jams, jellies, chutneys and marmalades - pretty much all of which I forgot to take pictures of whilst making them - there's a missed blogging opportunity or ten!

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Random Recipes #35… My Mum's Kitchen Cupboard

Yet another last minute Random Recipes post. Thankfully this time no last minute cooking was required!

The theme for Random Recipes #35, hosted and masterminded as ever by Belleau Kitchen, was dare to bare - of the larder rather than body variety you'll all be relieved to hear.

However… I forgot to take any pictures of my own larder, before heading down to spend a few post-Christmas days with family, so instead, I give you all a last minute virtual tour of my Mum's larder. The chaos of mine shall remain hidden for another day.

Top shelf…. extra strong wholemeal bread flour, then some icing sugar sandwiched between LOTS of oatmeal (well we are Scottish after all!).
Next shelf down - jams, chutneys (a fair few homemade from a variety of grown up children and friends - myself included), some soya custard, manuka honey and real butter.
Next shelf down - dried fruit, nuts and seeds galore (by the look of it another half-pack of icing sugar too. Clearly stockpiling icing sugar is a family trait - I think I have 3 boxes in my cupboard).
Bottom shelf - muddy allotment potatoes, cartons of juice, some vintage rice crispies that Mini-M hasn't noticed are possibly slightly stale, and some free-from strawberry macaroon slices.
In the door there's an assortment of spices, vinegars, oils and sauces, plus a bit tub of muesli just out of the shot.

Indeed one of the bottles on the top shelf is some rosehip syrup which I used today to make some cake with - however since I've not taken a picture of it yet, that'll have to wait until another post - if it's any good.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas Decoration Survey

A quick blog post, whilst I should probably be doing other more festive things! Or useful thing. Or a combination of both.

Holidays are finally here - woop. I finished today at lunchtime, and then went to the nursery carol concert in the afternoon. I was expecting total carnage but to be honest, I think the kids were better behaved than the parents! (Collectively, rather than us specifically…)

Yesterday evening seemed to be a rare lull in the current wet and windy weather, so we took the opportunity to have a post tea walk - complete with clipboard - to undertake a survey of the Christmas decorations in our neighbourhood.

Survey sheet - filled in and back home and warm
Mini-M's not one for aimless walking for the sake of having a walk, but if you give her a purpose she'll go much further than without. In order to achieve our purpose - of getting her nicely tired out for bed and out of the tea-time strop - I'd drawn a few pictures for her to spot. So cue 30 mins of us pretty much snooping in our neighbour's living room windows.

Pencil - check. Clipboard - check. Ready to go out
We had to encourage her at one point to fill in her clipboard not quite so directly in front of someone's patio doors as to disturb their TV watching, since they were in their living room with curtains open - great for decoration spotting, but also probably slightly puzzling for them, wondering what on earth the 3 year old with the clipboard was doing outside.

She also now thinks that (and I quote) "the real Santa" lives in the next block along, in a disabled access flat on the ground floor in Leith, quite possibly on benefits - austerity measures are clearly kicking in!

Some on-street surveying
Anyway, if anyone else has small children to entertain over the festivities, I thoroughly recommend letting their inner bureaucrat out, arming with them clipboard, pencil and setting them off to catalogue something.

My only advice is that if you're doing Christmas decorations like us, I'd probably add Santa - a fairly major omission on my part!

And the scores - Christmas trees beat penguins 14:2

Sunday, 15 December 2013

A super-value feast

15th December. Just writing the date has made me realise that I've still got rather a lot of Christmas cards to write and post, not to mention a birthday present, then some Christmas gifts to finish making.
So obviously I'm making great inroads into those tasks to night by blogging instead. 10 points to me for time management!

Anyway, I'm taking part in The Buyagift £3 Challenge. It is a campaign set up between Buyagift.co.uk and The Trussell Trust who run food banks around the UK. The challenge set was to create a meal for two for £3 or less.

Food is a basic necessity, and the Trussel Trust provide emergency food for people in need via food banks. In the UK their food bank network fed 355,000 in the six months from April to September, and the number of people having to turn to their food banks is increasing as more people in the UK struggle on low incomes, face redundancy or other financial crises.

In the online world of food blogs, it's easy to get distracted by ever more fancy ingredients, techniques, etiquette, photography etc etc etc. Which is all lovely, but food doesn't have to be fancy. I performs a vital function of keeping us going, and it should provide us with most of the vitamins and good things we need to stay healthy. It is sociable, it is fun and it is relaxing. But all of these things can also be done on a budget.

The challenge specified that the meal had to be at least 1 course, but I decided to see if I could make three, and stick within the price range. So I went on a super-value spree at the supermarket to see what I could find, and what I could make with it. I'm really proud of what I've created - I've tried to use the ingredients as ingeniously as I could to make a little stretch as far as possible.

Oil, herbs and spices were 'free'

Starter: Spiced Pea Fritters with Caramelised Onions (serves 2) - £0.38
  • 1x 300g tin mushy peas (£0.15)
  • 100g SR flour (£0.03 proportionally from a 1.5kg bag at £0.45)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 150ml water
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 onion (£0.15)
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 6 tbsp value ketchup (£0.05 proportionally from a 550g bottle at £0.28)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Open the tin of peas. Drain if there is any excess liquid.
Mix the cumin and garam masala into the peas.
Place tablespoons of the mixture onto a plate and stick in the freezer to firm up.
In the meantime, finely slice the onion.
Heat the oil in a small frying pan and fry for about 5 mins, then add the ketchup and cook over a low heat for about 40 mins. Increase the heat for the last few minutes, stirring constantly, to help the sugars to caramelise. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Mix together the flour and salt, and whisk in the water. Leave the batter to rest for 10 mins.
Heat oil in a small saucepan or deep fryer until a cube of bread quickly floats to the surface and turns golden in a few minutes.
Take the pea fritters from the freezer.
Dunk in the batter, then fry in batches, for a few minutes at time until the batter is golden, then drain on kitchen paper.
Serve with the caramelised onions.
After cooling, you can re-bottle the frying oil for re-use.

Main Course: Tuna Carbonara (serves 2) - £1.31
  • 1x 500g tub value Natural Yoghurt (£0.45)
  • 180g value Spaghetti (£0.07 proportionally from a 500g pack at £0.20)
  • 185g tin value Tuna flakes (£0.49)
  • 1 egg yolk (1 value egg at £0.15, but save the white for the pudding)
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 small onion (£0.10)
  • Pinch chilli powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tbsp oil
The day before you want to make the dish, take the yoghurt and strain through a cheesecloth, or clean tea towel in a sieve to make a yoghurt cream cheese.
Put the pasta on to boil in salted water.
Finely chop the onion and fry in the oil in a small pan. Once the onion is soft, after 2-3 minutes, add the drained tuna and pinch of chilli, and cook for a few more minutes.
Beat together the egg yolk and strained yoghurt (the thick yoghurt cream cheese, not the drained whey).
Once the pasta is cooked, drain, then quickly return to the hot pan, add the egg yoghurt mixture and tuna.
Stirring constantly, cook over a low heat until the yolk is cooked and the sauce thickens slightly.
Add salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with a little more chilli if you like.

Pudding: Baked Apple Snow (serves 2) - (£0.38)
  • 2 eating apples (I used Cox) (£0.33 from a pack of six at £1)
  • 1 egg white (saved from the carbonara above)
  • 50g granulated sugar (£0.04 from a 1kg bag at £0.88)
  • pinch ground cloves
Preheat the oven to 200C (180C fan)
Peel, core and roughly chop the apples.
Cook with a splash of water in the microwave to soften.
Put into a small ovenproof serving dish (or individual ramekins if you want) and sprinkle over a pinch of ground cloves.
Whisk the eggs until almost at the soft peak stage, then add the sugar and continue to whisk until stiff peaks are formed.
Top the cooked apples with the egg mixture, then bake for around 30 minutes until risen and golden brown on top.
Enjoy immediately.

So there you have it - three courses for £2.07 so well under budget, but certainly not lacking in substance or taste.

You can see my entry amongst all the others at the competition Facebook page here.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Advent Challenge 2013 - Toddler Crafts

We've been trying to join in the Advent Challenge being run by Faye Brown Designs. For each day in December, there's a festive theme and everyone is invited to do something creative with that for inspiration.

Unsurprisingly, many of your contributions have been toddler-centric, and Mini-M is a prolific maker! We've been joining in via Twitter, but I thought a little round up here of some of the things we've made so far might raise a few festive smiles - from the grandparents at least!

A monochrome robin
Family star snowflake cutting - and some playmobil badgers and cauliflowers (?!) joining in the fun
Gingerbread of all kinds 
Our favourite Christmas song… Rudolph the rainbow-nosed quite probably inbred reindeer (and the alien reindeer cousins)
Snowmen footprints. The one on the left has 5 belts and 1 smile in case you were wondering.
Clothes peg angels
The makings of an elf army
Our family favourite Christmas words
A winter scene!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Fudgy Fruitcake - gluten, wheat, dairy, egg and refined sugar free!

But what is in it then? This is a questions I'm fairly frequently asked at work when I bring in cake and say "It's gluten and dairy free". The answer to that is in general lots of lovely fruit and nuts - and this cake is no exception to that rule. In fact, it takes it one step further, and is also free from egg (making it vegan) and with not added refined sugar. However, some magical fruit alchemy goes on so that somehow it really does taste like cake. If a piece of this doesn't count as one of your five a day, then I don't know what does!

I developed this Fudgy Fruitcake as a recipe for Natural Balance Foods - who make the very delicious nakd bars and nakd infused raisins that I have used here.

Fudgy Fruit Cake (makes 1x 8in square cake)
  • 250g pitted dates
  • 6 tbsp fresh orange juice
  • 1 large (or 2 small) ripe bananas
  • 25g ground flaxseed
  • 3 tbsp cold water
  • 12 dried apricots
  • 2x 30g bags Nakd cherry infused raisins
  • 2x 30g bags Nakd orange infused raisins
  • 75g Nakd cocoa delight bites
  • 4 tbsp brown rice flour
Grease a 8 inch square cake tin and preheat the oven to 160C (150C fan)
Roughly chop the dates and make sure there are no stones.
Put them into a medium saucepan along with the orange juice and simmer over a low heat for around 15 minutes until the dates are soft and starting to break down.
In a small bowl, whisk the cold water and flaxseed together and allow to rest for 15 minutes during which time it will develop into a jelly-like consistency.
Break the banana into chunks, add to the pan and use a potato masher to mash until there are no big lumps of either date or banana left.
Quarter the apricots and half the Nakd cocoa bites, then add to the date and banana mixture along with the infused raisins and the soaked flaxseeds.
Mix well, then finally stir in the rice flour and pour into the prepared tin and spread out to the corners - it will be thick and sticky.
Bake for around 45 minutes, until the top is no longer sticky and the cake feels firm.
Allow to cool in the tin for 10 mins, then turn out onto a cooling rack.

This is lovely cold - great for mid-morning snack (which I have to confess is often consumed at about 9:30am, since the day generally starts much earlier that I'd really like at 6am!). It is also very lovely hot with custard of your choice - it could easily pass off as a quick and healthy Christmas pud.

As sticky and fudgy as it looks - but even tastier
It's a flexible recipe too - don't mess with the banana, dates and flax-seed, but beyond that, any liquid, dried fruit or flour would work, so you can tailor your fruit cake to suit your exact tastes. Some extra nuts wouldn't go a miss either!

I had to include a photo of the kitchen I baked this in - holiday rentals rule!
And if you want to see more of my cooking adventures, head to the nakd website where each month the team will upload one of my scrummy vegan-friendly recipes :-) There's a new one coming soon

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

3 Minute Mulled Plums

Jings - we're into double figures of December already, and my last post was 9 days ago, about dumped mattresses which really doesn't seem particularly festive…

Time to remedy that, and quickly! In three minutes to be precise.

Mulled Plums - wintry, warm and delicious, and ready in 3 minutes. What's not to like! It's also a great way to use up those supermarket plums that never ripen. My plum culprits were I believe of the Angeleno variety - presumably favoured by supermarkets because they are completely immune to temperature, bruising, handling, stacking, storage and are pretty much indestructible - and unfortunately often fairly tasteless.

3 Minute Mulled Plums (serves 3 to go along with yoghurt or custard)
  • 2 or 3 hard plums, depending on size
  • 1 tbsp runny honey
  • 1 tbsp Ribena or other fruit cordial
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
Wash the plums then halve them and remove the stones, then quarter each half.
Put in a microwavable bowl with all the other ingredients.
Give them a quick stir, then cover and microwave for a minute and half.
Stir again, then pop them back in for another minute and a half.
If you like, decant to a bowl that they did not boil over in before serving, for a more sophisticated look...

Sunday, 1 December 2013

What started as a walk to feed the ducks...

What started as a walk to feed the ducks this morning very quickly turned into a catalogue of all the dumped rubbish in our neighbourhood. It's not the most salubrious of locations, and there's usually a mattress, door, bed frame or TV lying about somewhere, but it was slightly ridiculous today.

Bed bases and mattress at the top of Cromwell Place
Maybe I've missed out on the memo, and the point of St Andrews day (which was yesterday) is not in fact to celebrate the Patron Saint of Scotland, but instead to chuck your unwanted furniture out in the street.

Abandoned TV at the top of Couper Street. I suppose we should be thankful the screen hasn't been smashed everywhere yet...
It resulted in some interesting discussions with Mini-M, applying her 3 year old logic to things, and wanting to find out who the 'bad people' were. There was also a run through of all her friends and family, whilst she questioned me on whether they correctly disposed of their rubbish.

About 20 yards further on in Couper Street - a chair - perhaps to sit in whilst watching the TV above?
She seemed very impressed when I told her that not only did Grandad A take his broken things to the dump, he sometimes came home with other interesting things that he had found there.

And on the other size of Couper Street, 2 more bed bases
Anyway, I digress. It's a shame that a few folk can have such a significant and quick negative impact on an area.

Couper Street again - this dining table was abandoned at the side of Coburg Street in the middle of last week  - it's not travelled far...
Usually I limit my posts to cakes and crafts and other such frivolities, however I couldn't help myself but vent a little bit of my frustration today.

Yet another (and recently added) bike in the Water of Leith just upstream of the Sandport Place bridge
In the absence of having a van to pick it all up ourselves and take it to the dump, I'm reporting it all on www.fixmystreet.com where I've had some success in the past at notifying dumped furniture and overflowing bins. And I'm fervently hoping this isn't a trend that is going to continue.

One we missed at the start of our walk - an electric fire again on Couper Street
This one was taken earlier in the week - this decomposing mattress has been sitting in the street now for about a fortnight

Cromwell Place


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