Tuesday 27 October 2015

Listen Very Carefully

Work began on our kitchen yesterday and there is a backdrop of banging, crashing and drilling all accompanied by loud pop radio... Not really conducive to the work I was planning to get done this week. After trying to struggle to think all morning I've given in and have settled down with a cuppa to write out the recipe I promised instead. 

Chocolate and Peanut butter layer cake

This is a cake of three parts... The chocolate sponge, peanut butter frosting and chocolate ganache. I have adapted a chocolate cake recipe from one in Nigella Lawson's book Nigella Bites, mostly because it is so easy and despite the large quantity of sugar it doesn't actually taste too sweet, which is what you need. Of course you can substitute your own favourite chocolate cake recipe and make more than two layers (next time I'm planning three)... But this is what I used. Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients as it really is easy.

Chocolate sponge
400g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
250g golden caster sugar
100g caster sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
150ml creme fraiche
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
175g unsalted butter, melted
125ml vegetable oil
300 ml water

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C (350 deg F, Gas 4) and grease and line two 20 cm sandwich tins. Combine all the dry ingredients by sifting them into a large bowl. In a large jug whisk together the eggs, creme fraiche and vanilla. In another large bowl, or the bowl of a free standing mixer, whisk together the butter, oil and water. Add the dry ingredients to the butter and oil mixture  and whisk in well, finally adding the egg mixture and whisking again until everything is well combined. Divide the mixture between the two tins and bake for 50 to 55 mins or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the tins for 10 mins and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Peanut butter frosting
110g unsalted butter, softened
250g smooth peanut butter
250g icing sugar, sifted
2-3 tablespoons milk

Beat together the butter and peanut butter until well combined. Gradually beat in the sugar with the milk and continue to beat until light and fluffy. Set aside a small amount of the frosting to use as decoration and then use the rest to sandwich the cakes together and to cover the top and sides of the cake.

Chocolate Ganache
70g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) broken into pieces
30g unsalted butter
25 ml double cream

Combine all three ingredients in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until melted and combined. Stir well until smooth and glossy and set aside to cool. Meanwhile put the cake in the fridge to allow the frosting to chill a little. When the ganache has started to thicken, remove the cake from the fridge and pour the ganache into the centre of the cake allowing it to cover the top and drip down the sides. Allow the ganache to set ( you can pop the cake back in the fridge) and then use the reserved frosting to decorate the top, along with some Reese's Pieces peanut butter cups cut in half.

Then all that is left is to eat it... And enjoy. I'm not even going to mention calories.

Well, they have now finished in our kitchen for today... And this is the current state of play. Our fitter is still saying he will be finished by early next week! I'm not convinced and I'm getting baking withdrawal symptoms!

Luckily there is plenty to take our mind off things as the curtain goes up on our play this week. Last night we had a photo call for the local press. Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once... yes, the red head is me!

Thursday 22 October 2015

A New Kitchen

We are about to embark on a major kitchen refit. It is something we have been thinking about for a few years but when push came to shove it felt like such an upheaval... it's a big kitchen, so it will be a big job. And of course there is the cost, on top of three years which has seen more than its fair share of unemployment in this house. Every time we decided it really had to be done, we changed our minds!

On the face of it and looking at these photos it would be easy to think that it is unecessary but one thing after another has broken or gone wrong so with the launch of my new business the time seemed right. We have an integrated fridge that stopped working ages ago, doors have fallen off cupboards and taken half the casing with them so are impossible to put back. Door knobs are missing or mismatched.

The cooker has been a nightmare since day one. The doors don't close properly despite several repairs so the heat escapes and melts the knobs which have been replaced dozens of times. And for the past year I've been down to one oven as the fan oven packed up again, having already had the element replaced once.

But it has served us well for over twenty years, seen four small boys grow up and learn to cook, provided thousands and thousands of meals, been the centre of parties and celebrations and so finally the time was right!
I've spent the past week or so emptying cupboards and sorting stuff out... so much stuff! In my "plastics" cupboard there were 17 lids without containers and two containers without lids... how does that even happen. (We won't mention how often I clear out my cupboards... okay?)

So in one final flourish I made a cake. I have an order for a chocolate and peanut butter birthday cake next month so thought I ought to have a trial run... just in case it was disgusting!

But it has been tasted and consumed and declared a success!

It was my intention to put the recipe up with this post but I've run out of time and there are still a couple more cupboards to empty. I really do not know where I'm going to put all this stuff for the next couple of weeks!

But I will share the recipe in my next post... so please pop back and see me soon.

And I will also come back and tell you how this lot is looking!

The fitter is saying a week to ten days... I'm not holding my breath!

Thursday 15 October 2015

Shades of Gold

My friend Celia keeps a small flock of Ryland sheep.

They are friendly, inquisitive creatures and will come up to the fence if you walk past their field, curious to see you. Celia uses them for both showing and breeding but in the past couple of years she has also had their fleece spun into yarn.

We were chatting about the different weight yarns produced and the possiblity of mixing it with other yarn from different breeds to get different colours and eventually got onto the subject of natural dyes. Now I am no expert by any means but I have had success using onion skins to dye yarn in the past.

I got our local farm shop to save me all their loose onion skins and then I dyed one of the balls of yarn. I did take photos of the process but to be honest, pots of murky looking liquid bubbling away on the stove are not that picturesque! (And not a great advert for my cooking skills!)

But to cut a long story short... this is the result and this is what I have knitted from them.... a pair of very warm and cosy chunky mitts. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get a selfie of your own hand? Let's just say there were several out of focus shots of my thumb!

They really are the most wonderful shade of deep gold. And talking of gold (she says neatly segueing into a completely unrelated subject)... I also picked these fabulous quinces from an absolutely fully laden tree outside the gym that I go to very occasionally. Fortunately for me I decided to go for a swim on Monday!

Much as I enjoyed looking at a bowl full of them just like this, I thought I ought to make something with them. The first small batch I made up into a quince jam, using a recipe from the Honey & Co Baking Book. If you have ever cooked quince you will know that they are rock solid, even when ripe and the job of coring and peeling them was a bit of a faff even though the end result is a lovely dense pink jam. So after my Pilates class on Tuesday I picked some more and turned these into quince jelly, which doesn't require the removal of skin and core... but in the interests of recipe development I had a little play around and came up with a fragrant quince and orange jelly.

I had about 1.5 kg of quinces which I chopped up into small pieces... core, skin, the lot! I then added the juice of one lemon and the juice and rind of one large orange. This was all bubbled together with 1.5 L water until everything was soft and mushy. This was then let to drip through a jelly bag overnight.

I then measured the juice (which wasn't as much as I had hoped so maybe I should have used more water) and added 500g of granulated sugar for every 600 ml of juice. This was then heated slowly to dissolve the juice and then boiled rapidly until it reached setting point. This didn't take very long as the quinces are so full of pectin. I then skimmed off the scum that had formed on the surface, added a few tablespoons of orange liqueur and then potted it into sterilised jars. It made almost three full 1lb jars of wonderful rose gold jelly.

Which goes very nicely with my new golden mitts!
(Did you see what I did there!)

In between knitting and playing around with recipes, I'm still teaching machine embroidery and this week I've been getting ready to go back to Missenden Abbey for the weekend. Looking forward to seeing what my students have produced over the summer. (No pressure if you are reading)
Have a good weekend!

Thursday 8 October 2015

The Year in Books - October

There was very little reading going on around here last month. My Year in Books choice for September was The One Hundred Year Old Man. It started off okay and was completely ridiculous but funny, once or twice in a laugh out loud way (embarassing when you are on the train) but it soon became so unbelievable and so tedious I struggled to keep going. It felt like a single not very good joke - this elderly man climbing out of a window on his 100th birthday and then getting into all sorts of escapades - that was being spun out over 387 pages... far too long and by the time I got to the end it had put me off picking up another book. I just didn't feel like reading anything. Silly ending too!

Then my friend Anne popped The Way We Wore - A Life in Clothes through the letterbox so I thought I might as well read that as anything else. It is an autobiography by Daphne Selfe the 87 year old supermodel who was one of the stars of Fabulous Fashionistas (I've suddenly spotted an age theme to my reading!). To be completely honest the writing wasn't that good and it was rather repetitive but it was interesting from a social history of dress point of view. And she did come acoss as a rather nice lady, if a little naive. At one point during early years she claims that they had to be frugal with their clothes as they were poor... and then almost in the next paragraph tells of sitting at the grand piano in the sitting room and how they could only afford one girl to help around the house!

Another reason for not reading so much this month has been the start of my new venture (Thank you for all the wonderful words of encouragement by the way)... which of course has required much research and reading of cookery books. This is my latest aquistion

Although I think that Patisserie Made Simple is a bit of a misnomer. Nothing simple about it!

When we passed through France on return from our holiday I took many photos of beautiful Patissiers and we sampled the gorgeous Laduree macarons which came in so many delightful colours and flavours

So it seemed like a good idea to perfect my own macaron skills especially as they are often seen decorating the tops of fancy cakes. I have made them before without too much trouble but the first batch I made following Ed Kimber's instructions in the book were useless being all soft and cracked... so they went in the bin. The second batch were marginally better and I managed to take the photo below before most of those went in the bin too! What they lacked in good looks, they made up for in taste but I came to the conclusion that mostly they are too much effort for what you get back in return... and I'm a girl who will happily while away an entire afternoon on fiddly twiddly baking. No more macarons for me... and then I saw these by Hazel from Procastibake and I've changed my mind. I know I will make these!

 Another thing I have been reading is a playscript, as at the end of this month our drama group is putting on 'Allo, 'Allo. I never manage to read many other books when I have lines to learn. I confess I had never seen the TV programme until we got involved with this play and I'm not sure what I feel about it. It is so ridiculous and totally non PC but there are several laugh out loud moments so I'm sure it will be fun. I'm playing the part of Michelle, the resistance leader... Listen very carefully, I shall say zis only once...

And so to my choice of book for October... which is Emma by Alexander McCall Smith. I was almost a week into the month with nothing new to read, despite having many books on shelves and on lists that I would like to read, when Stewart brought this back for me from a recent trip up to Dundee. It is a retelling Jane Austen's classic (which I confess I have never read) and a gentle, easy read in the style of all his previous books. Nothing earth shattering, but enjoyable enough!

Joining in with Laura at Circle of Pine Trees for The Year in Books