Sunday, November 28, 2010

Birthday Meringue Nests

Yesterday was the birthday celebration of Gray Ellwood and of course I wanted to bake this lovely man a birthday cake.

When I texted Gray with the question "What is your favourite type of cake?", I could not have anticipated his response... Imagine my surprise to receive a text message with the reply: "That is a good question. I quite enjoy a pavlova or a meringue."

As I had never made meringue before, I must admit that I did momentarily curse the name of Gray Ellwood (only very momentarily of course), especially as meringues are so notoriously difficult to make. But actually as soon as I started making them I discovered they are really easy to make and actually super fun. I particularly enjoyed whisking the egg whites until I could hold the bowl above my head. I now can't wait to do them again.

Once I had cooked the meringue nests - which was brilliant because the hour and a quarter that they were in the oven gave me ample time for me to have a bath and get ready to go out, I decided to fill them with some whipped cream, strawberries, a few frozen berries I had in the freezer and some shavings of dark chocolate.

The meringue nests turned out to be a perfect birthday present (if a little random). From the feedback given to me over the course of the evening from Gray and everyone else who had scoffed the meringue nests, I gathered that they were crispy, gooey and chewy all at once, sweet but not too sweet and very moreish.

4 large egg whites
250g golden caster sugar
A punnet of strawberries
A handful of frozen berries
A tub of double cream
Dark chocolate
*You will also need greaseproof paper.

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C. Whisk the egg whites up until they are forming soft peaks and you can confidently hold the bowl above your head without any egg white flying all over you.

Once the eggs have reached this stage, add the caster sugar one dessert spoonful at a time and continue whisking. Line an oven tray with greaseproof paper and spoon the meringue mixture into little pools on the paper. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Lower the temperature of the oven to 11o degrees C and bake for a further hour.

In the meantime, chop up the strawberries and add them to a bowl with the berries. Whip up the cream. Mix with the berries. Once the meringues are out of the oven, crush the tops a little with a spoon and add spoonfuls of the cream and fruit to the meringue nests.

Grate the dark chocolate over the meringue nests to taste and serve. Delightful.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Modern

Last night I was very lucky to have been invited to a meal with my lovely friend Kate and her parents, who were visiting for the weekend.

The restaurant they had chosen was The Modern, a very nice place which had I not been invited to, I would have had no idea existed. It is located on the sixth floor of Manchester's Urbis building and therefore is a perfect spot for lovely panoramic views of the city centre, the Printworks and the big wheel.

On arrival we had a sit and a drink on the sofas of the top floor bar which was a really nice start to the evening. We were then led down to the restaurant via a spiral staircase with dizzying views of the city centre - a really great way to see Manchester at night.

On being given the menus we faced the problem of trying to read the tiny print on the menu in the dim lighting. Eventually we managed to decipher it and it turned out that Kate and I decided to have the exact same meal as eachother. What great taste we have!

For starters we decided to go for the scallops with watercress sauce. Before last night, the only time I had ever had scallops was when I was living in France and bought myself 6 scallops from Auchan supermarket and attempted to cook them for myself for my dinner. I had no idea what I was doing really and the results were not great. So I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy them or not, but as I had heard that The Modern was one of Manchester's top 10 restaurants, I trusted them to do a good job.

I was delighted when a beautifully presented plate of appetising scallops arrived in front of me and definitely did not regret the decision to order them when I tasted them. They were really nicely cooked - slightly crisp on the outside and soft in the middle and I was surprised at how meaty they tasted. They went perfectly with the subtle watercress sauce and I thought the portion size was perfect.

For our mains, Kate and I ordered lemon sole with potatoes and side orders of cumin carrots and herb salad.

The sole and potatoes were really tasty and as the fish was cooked on the bone we spent ages eating it and enjoying every mouthful. The cumin carrots were quite unusual but worked really well and were very moreish. Kate and I were both really glad we had ordered it.

Despite making the responsible decision not to have a dessert, I did have a "hypothetical" look at the dessert menu, and there were some really lovely choices. Kate's dad went for a dark chocolate and malt whisky tart - sort of a chocolate ganache in pastry - which looked absolutely amazing.

I think Kate's parents really enjoyed their dinners too and we all had a really nice time. It was the first time I had met them and I found them really nice, funny and easy to talk to.

I also thought the waiting staff at the restaurant were really attentive, relaxed and friendly and were very willing to join in the banter we were having at the table, and were also very nice and helpful when Kate had a problem with her contact lenses.

I would definitely recommend a visit to The Modern for a special occasion as the food was really good and I felt we were able to relax there. I'm really glad that Kate and her parents invited me as I had a lovely evening and if you are reading thankyou very much, what a wonderful meal!

The Modern on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Children In Need Cake Sale

On Thursday was my school's Children In Need fundraising day. With loads going on including sporting events and a non-uniform day, I jumped at this chance to organise a cake sale.

A few weeks ago I called a meeting for anyone who would be interested in baking cakes or biscuits for the event and was really pleased with the turnout, and that it wasn't only Year 7s who turned up, we had some older ones too! The kids seemed really excited, with some of them even excitedly phoning their grandmas for recipes during the meeting, which made me pleased that some people still enjoy baking as much as I do. The kids were also really good about helping me publicise the event and stick posters around the school.

On the day we had loads more cakes, biscuits and tarts than I had expected, which meant we had enough to sell during break and lunchtime! Some of the kids had really put in a great deal of effort, with one girl even making Pudsey Bear shaped biscuits and decorating them with yellow icing (unfortunately these sold so fast I didn't even get a chance to take a photo!)

During break time we had queues going out of the building and managed to sell £57 worth of cakes in just 15 minutes! At lunch time we managed to flog the rest of the cakes (partly due to the Apprentice-style last minute price drop we did five minutes before the bell) and our money box was looking jam packed full of cash. I can't wait to find out on Monday what the final total was!

Oh and by the way, the berry cupcakes with white chocolate icing that I made were initially slow to sell as they could not compete with the lovely flourescent, glittery cakes some of the other kids had made and I think mine looked a bit too healthy in comparison. However they started to go pretty fast when two year 10 boys bought one each then returned minutes later with their friends saying "Those were WELL nice!" and bought two more each!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Winter Berry Cupcakes with White Chocolate Icing

I am really excited about tomorrow. Tomorrow is the day of the Children in Need charity cake sale at school that I have single handedly organised! On board are a gaggle of keen Year 7s, a few Year 8s and even a couple of Year 9s - all have agreed to bring in home made cakes and biscuits for us to sell at break time outside the Food Technology block. As my contribution to the project I decided to make (slightly more teacher friendly than what I imagine the kids will produce) winter berry cupcakes with white chocolate icing.

When I got home from school today I was absolutely not in the mood to make a batch of cakes, but knew I had to soldier on.

Of course I has forgotten how therapeutic baking is. I baked a batch of lovely cupcakes with wonderful blackcurrant jam brought all the way from Paris running through them. They turned out a really nice shape thanks again to our great muffin tray.

I was planning on doing white chocolate icing with a couple of berries sprinkled on top of each cake for presentation but at the last minute decided to mix the berries right into the icing. The icing ended up looking lovely with ripples of purple, pink and red berry in it.

As I am still following my diet, I remained strong and haven't actually tasted the cakes or the icing, however according to Bailey's expert opinion, they are "8 out of 10, with subtle sweetness and some good bursts of berry".

I really hope that the kids will be willing to pay 25p for a cake and that we raise lots for Children In Need! I hope my first ever Cake Sale experience is a great one!

Recipe (makes 22 little cakes)
110g butter
180g caster sugar
2 large eggs
125g self raising flour
120g plain flour
125ml semi-skimmed milk
3 dessert spoons blackcurrant jam

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Cream the butter and caster sugar together until there are no (or in my lazy case, few) lumps. Add the eggs one at a time and mix.

Combine the flours in a bowl. Add a third of the flour and mix in. Add a third of the milk and mix in. Repeat until all the flour and milk has been added. Add the blackcurrant jam, but do not mix in too much. Add two teaspoons of the mixture into cake cases in a good muffin tray. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes until golden.

For the icing
4 bars of Milky Bar
55g butter
30ml milk
250g icing sugar
Handful of mixed winter berries

Melt the white chocolate in the microwave for 1 minute 20 seconds. Mix the butter, milk and icing sugar in a bowl before adding the white chocolate. Add the berries into the icing and roughly mix in. Ice the cakes as soon as possible. Delicious!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Onion Bhajis

Last night, Bailey and I had planned to have one of our usual midweek curries for dinner. But when I got back from a long day at work (in which I had received an item of good news!) I thought "today is not the day for our ordinary boring midweek curry!" and decided to 'spice' things up a little! So to go with our curry I decided to make a batch of onion bhajis using any suitable ingredients I could find which turned out to be a tin of chickpeas, some potatoes, onions (obviously) and some spices we bought from the curry mile.

I have never made onion bhajis before so it was very much an experiment, and as I am still sticking religiously to Slimming World it was difficult to add as much oil as I would have liked to. I don't know if I have made these at all accurately either!

Actually the bhajis turned out really tasty but I would definitely recommend putting in a considerable amount more oil in them than I did to make them more gooey and moist. Nevertheless, they were really good when dipped yogurt and mint sauce and were the perfect accompaniment to our boring old curry.

3 small potatoes
Half a tin of chickpeas
3 small onions
Madras curry powder
Salt and pepper
1 egg

Preheat the oven at 220 degrees C. Chop the potatoes into smallish cubes and boil. Fry the onions until soft, before adding the potatoes and the chickpeas, drained, to the frying pan. Add large pinches of the spices to the pan and mix in before frying on a low heat for a few more minutes. Mash the contents of the pan until all the potatoes and chickpeas have formed a thick paste.

Season and remove from the heat. Add one egg and beat it into the mixture. When cool enough to touch, roll the mixture into large balls. Spray an oven dish with cooking spray and assemble the bhajis before spraying with more cooking oil.

Cook the bhajis in the hot oven until golden and crispy. Serve with your favourite homemade curry, rice and a yogurt and mint dip.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Butternut Squash Risotto

I love making risotto... but I always do the exact same ones – Jamie Oliver mushroom risotto or Juliana Morris roasted red pepper, basil and goat’s cheese risotto. So today I thought I would make up a new recipe using the butternut squash we had in the cupboard.

As pumpkin and sage seemed to taste so good together when I made pumpkin lasagne the other week, I thought I would give a squash and sage risotto a go. Due to lack of ingredients I was unable to use a lot of the stuff I would normally put in a risotto such as chopped celery (excellent for flavour) and parmesan cheese (gives the ‘sauce’ a really smooth consistency and is really tasty) so I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out.

I started by spraying the squash with cooking spray and roasting with the skin still intact for a few hours while we tidied the house and popped out, but I would recommend peeling the squash first as getting the skin off once it was roasted was quite a nightmare. The risotto was looking really colourful and appetising right up to the point where I added ricotta cheese and it completely lost its lovely orange tinge which was a real shame.

Perhaps next time I could get away with using TWO squashes without spoiling the yummy cheesy flavour. Anyway, apart from looking somewhat like porridge on a plate, the risotto was a success, especially when served alongside a lovely crispy salad with balsamic dressing.

Recipe (serves 4):
1 (or two??) butternut squash
1 onion
3 sage leaves
Half a small bag of Arborio rice
One and a half litres of veggie stock
A tub of ricotta
160g cheese (preferably parmesan but I used low fat cheddar!)
Salt and pepper

Roast the butternut squash at 150 degrees C for several hours until soft. Mash it all up. Fry the onion with the sage leaves. Add the rice and fry with the onions for a few minutes. Add the mashed butternut squash to the mix, season and cook fry for around 5 minutes.

Gradually add the stock until the rice is soft. Add the ricotta and mix. Grate the cheese, add to the pan and mix well. Cook for a further minute. Take off the heat and leave for a good five minutes – longer if you aren’t an impatient greedy pig like me. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.


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