Sunday, July 31, 2011

Amaretto Cupcakes

Last night was my colleague Iain and his lovely fiancée Dani's engagement party. I decided that I would make the Amaretto Cupcakes from my Primrose Bakery book that I have been after making for absolutely ages.

I went to my favourite baking shop in the Arndale Market to get a big cake box that fit 12 large cakes, as well as some edible gold glitter to try and make the cakes look a bit classier than my usual slapdash efforts.

As I was making the cakes for a present and I wanted them to be top notch, I decided from the start to be super organised about getting all my ingredients out ready at the start so I didn't have to scramble around for ingredients halfway through cooking. I almost managed it, but forgot the vanilla essence. No biggie - just the smallest, most difficult thing to find in the whole baking box. Grr. Oh well, it's a mistake I won't make twice.

The cakes actually turned out really nice. The use of the syrup makes the cakes really soft and moist and the Amaretto icing was very yummy and perfect for a wedding-related gift but very sweet indeed. These cakes are not for the faint hearted!

I tried to be super careful and gentle when icing the cakes to try and make sure they came out looking presentable. They were still a bit messy but much neater than usual!


For the cakes:
110g unsalted butter
180g caster sugar
2 large eggs
125g self-raising flour
120g plain flour
125ml semi-skimmed milk
1 teaspoon Amaretto

For the Amaretto syrup:
125g caster sugar
125ml water
1 teaspoon Amaretto

For the icing
115g unsalted butter
60ml semi-skimmed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
500g icing sugar
2 teaspoons Amaretto

Start by making the cakes. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C and prepare your cake tins. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time mixing well.

Sift the two types of flour into a separate bowl.

Also, in a jug mix the milk and amaretto together.

To the original eggs, butter and sugar mix, add one third of the flour and beat. Then add one third of the milk mix and beat. Repeat this process until all the flour and milk is nicely beaten in and you have a smooth mix.

Add your mixture to the cake cases using two teaspoons and put into the oven. Cook the cakes for 25 minutes or until lightly browned and a skewer comes out clean from the middle of them.

While the cakes are cooking in the oven, you can get on with making the amaretto syrup and amaretto icing.

For the syrup, mix the water, amaretto and caster sugar together in a saucepan. Place the pan over the lowest heat until all the sugar has disappeared. You will now have a lovely runny clear syrup.

For the icing, mix together the butter, amaretto, milk, vanilla extract and half of the icing sugar in a bowl.

Beat the mixture until nice and smooth.

Gradually add the rest of the icing sugar until you have a nice thick icing. More amaretto can be added to taste or if the icing is looking too thick. Cover the icing until ready to ice the cakes.

When the cakes have been out of the oven and cooling in their tin for 10 minutes, it is time to add the syrup to the cakes.

With a teaspoon, drizzle the syrup over the cakes until they are fully covered in syrup. If you put too much on and there's a pool of syrup, you can always pour it onto another one of the cakes.

Once all cakes have been syrupped, take them out of the tin to finish cooling. When the cakes are cooled you can ice them using a palette knife. Once the cakes are iced, decorate with edible glitter. I used a (clean) make up brush to apply the glitter which seemed to work quite well - much neater than it would have been had I used my fingers!

So there we go, yet another great recipe from my beloved Primrose - lovely light amaretto cupcakes!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Contact Lounge

Yesterday after a shopping trip to town I thought I would pop over to Bailey's work. As it was his payday he said we should go for lunch. This, to me, seemed like a fabulous idea especially as I was absolutely starving and less than enthused by the Alphabetti Spaghetti on toast I had planned to eat at home.

Bailey suggested we go to Contact Lounge - the bar that is attached to the Contact Theatre. I had never been there before but had heard Bailey's tales of their "best ever chips" and cakes that are baked by Teacup - one of my fave lunch places in Manchester.

It was a bloomin' lovely afternoon so we decided to take a seat at the outside tables. First impression was not great as there was a lot of debris (and a few wasps) on the tables, but fortunately this was swiftly tidied away by a staff member.

A browse of the menu and there were loads of yummy options to choose from. I would definitely love to go there one day after work as they have really exciting sharing options that are a little bit different to the usual nachos / wedges on offer in most pubs. Cheese board with pickles, apple and crackers? Mmmmm! I would definitely go for one of those with my Friday afternoon pint.

I decided to opt for the Feta Risotto with caramelised onions and roasted peppers which sounded awesome. I was particularly in the mood for something carby and salty and this sounded perfect.
Bailey ordered the Cheeseburger, which came with a portion of the famous "amazing chips".

When Bailey went to order the food something I thought was dead cute was the fact that they give you your table number on the back of a Sailor Jerry's playing card. A nice touch!

Once we had ordered, we barely had time to sit back down, get our cutlery and sauces and start one of our usual silly conversations when the food arrived! I was taken aback by this super-speedy service, especially as the menu had warned that there was usually a wait on food due to it being freshly prepared. What a pleasant surprise. I'm not sure if the food always comes out this fast though - we were there at around 2pm which is probably a bit late for the usual lunchtime rush.

Anyway my risotto arrived looking absolutely delicious - a delicate portion with the vibrant colours of cherry tomatoes, caramelised red onions and different coloured peppers. Yum.

It tasted absolutely lovely - the sweetness of the peppers, tomatoes and onions offset by the salty feta and black olives. It tasted light and fresh and I loved every bite. As soon as I finished I was very sad because I wanted to eat another one.

Bailey's burger also arrived looking mouth-wateringly tasty, a crusty ciabatta bun spread with a dill mustard and a huge juicy looking burger, and the chunky chips looked like they were going to live up to expectations.

Bailey loved his burger and said it tasted really fresh with the various salady and pickley bits and the crusty bread. He loved the dill mustard and meat combination and said this gave the burger a "Scandinavian flavour". He also said the chips were the best looking chips he'd had in ages.

I tried one of the chips and, despite having fallen into a delicious coma, do remember saying something like: "That tastes like I've just been propelled into heaven."

Unfortunately Bailey had to get back to work so there was no time for any dawdling around to sample any of the Teacup cakes. Maybe next time!

I would definitely recommend a trip to Contact Lounge because the food was of an excellent standard (the chips are a MUST!), the service was no-nonsense and the price was quite reasonable (£14 for both our meals and two soft drinks). It also seems to be an excellent option for a quick lunch due to the food flying out of the kitchen so fast, although I'm not sure if that would always be the case. I can't wait to go there again!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pasta alla Genovese

The other day, after an exhausting morning of being a lady of leisure and charity shopping in Alderley Edge and Cheadle, I was gasping for a filling, stodgy but summery meal to sort me out for the afternoon of being a lady of leisure.

I decided to whip up a nice batch of Pasta all Genovese - a really tasty, light pasta dish with carrots, green beans, potatoes and a pesto-style sauce.

It's really simple and tasty - anything with double carbs in is fine by me. It is also really easy to make because all you need to do is chuck everything in the same pan of water to cook then stir in your sauce.

The end result of my cooking was an absolutely bulging pan of pasta. I made so much that there was enough for us to keep for the next day. Bailey put the leftovers in an oven dish and topped with cheddar cheese to make a sort of pasta bake which was also really nice.

Recipe (serves 4):

3 large handfuls of fresh basil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
100g parmesan
120 ml cider vinegar
120ml veggie stock
400g dried pasta
2 potatoes
3 carrots
120g of green beans (I used a green beans and sugar snap peas mix pack that I accidentally bought instead of beans)

Bring a large (it has to be large!) pan of salted water to a rolling boil, before adding the pasta and cooking for 8-9 minutes. Meanwhile, peel your potatoes and carrots before cutting them into chunks.

Add the potatoes and carrots to the water with the pasta and cook for two minutes. Meanwhile, cut your green beans (and sugar snap peas if using) into lengths of about half an inch.

Cook the beans in with everything else for a further 4 minutes. Meanwhile, chuck all of the rest of the ingredients into a food processor to make the pesto sauce.

Unfortunately our blender carked it just the day before so I had to try and chop everything up by hand and mix it with a spoon. Bad times. I guess this made it more rustic... Hmm. No, I don't think it did, it just wasn't as tasty! So if you can, do blend it.

Take the pasta and veggies off the heat and drain well. Put the pasta back into the large pan and mix the pesto sauce in before serving with extra parmesan on top.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Summer Lunch: Crab Cakes / Sea Bass with Parsnip Purée

Yesterday lovely Steve and Jeni came over for Sunday lunch round our gaff.

As usual we have been watching quite a lot of Aussie Masterchef (yeah, like, every DAY) and in a recent episode someone produced a delightful looking plate of sea bass served with parsnip purée and parsnip crisps. So we thought we would cook up a nice fishy treat of crab cakes followed by an attempt at a copycat sea bass with some asparagus.

We decided that we would go to the famous Out of the Blue fishmongers in Chorlton to pick up our crab and sea bass. We'd never actually been there before but I had heard amazing things from a colleague and, well, the queues coming out of the door on Saturdays speak for themselves.

Once inside we saw that Out of the Blue not only sells delicious, fresh and reasonably priced fish but all sorts of ingredients for making sushi as well as fresh sushi. It is a really lovely shop as well, with friendly staff who offered excellent service - despite there being a massive queue, we were served quickly by a fishmonger who was helpful but also a massive joker (that's what you want out of a fishmonger really). He was very nice and also offered to pinbone our sea bass fillets before wrapping them up for us. What a gent.

We will definitely be going back there for our fishy treats, maybe even to buy a bulk order of their lovely looking sushi.

Back at home we set about doing the prep for our lunch which in fact took barely any time at all. It was a really easy meal to put together, one of the easiest I have done in ages in fact! The good thing about the crab cakes is that they need preparing in advance (should be about 8 hours of chilling time, they only had about 3 in the end) so we were able to tidy up the house real nice and have a good rest before Jeni and Steve's arrival.

As usual, Bailey was the presentation man and made our meal look dead yummy with his careful plating.

The dinner turned out to be actually quite nice, I was very pleased! The crab cakes had a good flavour although they were a bit too soft I think for my liking - maybe because of the insufficient chilling time. Anyway Steve still said that despite disliking crab usually, he liked our crab cakes (even though he found a bit of shell in his, oops).

Also the sea bass was really lovely, thanks Out of the Blue! We will be back for more of your delicious bass! It went really well with the parsnip purée.

I'm not too sure if asparagus was the best flavour to go with the meal but I do love asparagus and it was nice to have it for a change. Also next time we cook the dish I think we will definitely do a sauce with it. The sauce that was supposed to go with it should have been a mushroomy, garlicky number made using the fish bones. But I'm sure if we asked our friendly fishmonger at Out of the Blue for a few bones he would be happy to oblige. The only other problem was we forgot to make our parsnip crisps which would have added another texture to the dish but tant pis!

Anyway, I really enjoyed cooking for Steve and Jeni and, as most of our friends are full-on veggies or not fishy types, it was nice to have yummy fish for a change. The meal was a success and it filled us up ready for not one but TWO epic games of Scrabble. Scrabulous!

Recipes (serves 4):

For the Crab Cakes:
600g potatoes
350g of crab meat
Handful of fresh dill
Handful of fresh chives
4 tablespoons of mayo
Lemon wedges

Peel and chop the potatoes into chunks before putting them onto boil. Boil until soft before leaving in a collander to dry out well.

Meanwhile, combine the crab, herbs and mayo in a mixing bowl and put into the fridge to keep cool and fresh.

Once the potatoes have drained thoroughly, mash well until creamy and free of lumps. Leave the potatoes to cool completely.

Combine the cooled potato and crab mixture in a bowl before seasoning and forming the mixture into 8 little patties. Transfer to the fridge for, ideally, 8 hours.

Heat up a frying pan and add the crab cakes to cook until crispy on both sides, before transferring the browned crab cakes to a hot oven to finish off.

In the meantime, prepare a nice ramekin of paprika mayonnaise by mixing a couple of good pinches of paprika into some mayo. Add a little bit of rocket and a nice wedge of lemon to a plate, before putting the crab cakes on as well.

Serve with paprika mayonnaise.

For the Sea Bass with Parsnip Purée and Asparagus:
4 sea bass fillets
3 parsnips
60ml of milk
A packet of asparagus
3 garlic cloves

The parsnip purée can be made in advance and reheated which is useful if like us you are entertaining. Start by peeling the parsnips and cutting into chunks.

Boil the parsnip chunks in salted water until soft. Meanwhile, heat up the milk before combining the milk and parsnips together and blending to make a purée.

Next, get two pans on the go and heat up your grill. You'll need to start cooking the asparagus and the fish at pretty much the same time. Put the asparagus in one of the pans with the garlic and some salt.

Cook over a high heat for a few minutes before lowering the heat and covering the asparagus until soft but still with a bite.

Meanwhile, heat up the second pan and start to pan fry the sea bass fillets skin-side down. Once the sea bass starts to go fairly white around the edges, flip the sea bass over being careful not to break the delicate fish. Transfer the sea bass to the hot grill, skin side up. Allow the skin to crisp up a little bit while you plate the rest of the ingredients.

Once the asparagus and parsnip purée are arranged artistically on the plate, place the sea bass fillets on top of the parnsip purée.

Et voila, a lovely summery and super easy to make main course, perfect for a summer lunch.


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