Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Baking instead of applying for jobs

I hate going through the rigmarole of applying for graduate jobs. Bloody baby boomers had it easy and now they're intent on making their children's generation as difficult and miserable as possible. So what better way to make yourself feel that you're doing something productive whilst simultaneously putting off what you should actually be doing than a spot of baking?
Case in point- Snowy Mountain Cupcakes, which are chocolate sour cream cake topped with pillowy, silky marshmallowy icing.

These are from Cupcakes! By Elinor Klivans which is a book I've had for ages but I've yet to bake from, until today. It's an american book so everything is measured in cups and sticks which is probably why the cake didn't turn out quite how I expected (I don't trust cups and sticks of things, I need grams!!), the cakes sunk quite dramatically once out of the oven. Fortunately I had a lot of batter left over, so I put some more in the oven this time filling the paper cases to the very top and baking them for more than the 20 minutes recommended. It didn't matter too much, as icing hides all sins and they do look quite heavenly.

I'll share the recipe later as it's quite lengthy (and lengthy, complex recipes are the best when you're putting off something you dread doing). In the meantime, make like myself and drift away from the worries of the world by gazing at the silken points of the icing on these cakes.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Sunday Brunch in the garden with Jack

Ahh Sunday morning, get up, do nothing for 3 hours then decide you're hungry and in the mood for pancakes. Leisurely whip up pancakes-drench in maple syrup, caramelise some apple slices to go with the pancakes, boil up a pot of a coffee and then transport yourself into the sunshine in the garden to be joined by Jack.


Jack is a cat we've been semi-looking after for a while now. We noticed him hanging around more in the autumn last year. He looked in a bit of a sorry state as his long fur was quite matted and he was rather thin, but he seemed bright and friendly enough. We tried to give him some of the food that our own cat eats but no matter what it was he didn't seem interested. We kept an eye on him, we weren't, and still aren't sure if he belongs to anyone. We called the RSPCA to ask for advice who told us there wasn't any room for him at the local shelter where we adopted our cat (Poppy) so they couldn't help us, but if he appeared and we could keep him in we could call out a collection officer and if one was available they could come out. Unfortunately by this time Jack was only appearing in the small hours of the morning, so frustrated by the RSPCA we've tried to look after him. We took him to a vet that didn't need an appointment and got most of his matted fur shaved off and got him checked over. The vet wasn't able to give any medication/vaccination as we had stated that he wasn't our cat, merely a stray we were concerned about. Anyway, that's roughly Jack's story. Some days he'll turn up serveral times and some days we won't see him at all. I worry that he's either a stray that's just about coping with being semi-feral, or if he's some old person's cat who can't look after him properly, or worse he's just neglected. He's decided he likes Go-Cat so that's what he's fed on mainly, and he now lets himself in at 4/5am through the catflap to help himself. We can't get him to stay of his own accord so I think we're going to have to keep him in a room until he realises that he can live here. Our own cat Poppy is an anti-social little bugger and hisses at him if he gets too close, but she's learning to accept him and we love him to bits. I just pray I'm not robbing someone of their pet, but if I am they should take better care of him.

Jack's sad story aside, if you would like to make your own American style pancakes and eat them lazily with a fork in a sunny garden or in front of a window, then here's the recipe:

225g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 tsp sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
30g butter, melted and cooled (I leave this out when I can't be bothered with it)
250-300ml milk
butter, for frying
Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl, mix the wet ingredients in a separate bowl and then combine the two with a whisk.

Drop ladlefuls into a hot, buttery frying pan, turn and when golden brown and serve with whatever you want.

Monday, 19 July 2010

A short post about the veg plot

Down at the bottom of the garden, among the birds and the bees...

...there's a lot of dried out peas, because the silly temperatures whilst we were away killed them! Nevermind, I shall save them for seeds for next year.
The garden did go a bit bananas whilst we were on holiday and I'm sure it was twice the size when we came back. I love growing my own veg, not because I revel in escaping into my 'Good Life' life, although that is part of it, more I find growing veg wonderfully aesthetically pleasing. A lawn is so boring by comparison. We pulled up a few of the carrots, a turnip and picked a courgette which I gently cooked in some butter for a couple of minutes. Beautifully sweet and tender, it tasted like summer on a plate.
Anyway, the garden was so beautiful in the afternoon sunshine I had to take some photos and share them. I'm mulling over the idea of doing some baking today. I really shouldn't because I'm trying to lose weight, but I've got some gooseberries in the fridge that really are crying out to be baked.

Scarlet flowers on the runner beans

The veg plot in all its glory.

Courgette flowers curled up in the shade of their own leaves.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Back to the grind

Well, we're back after 6.5 glorious days holidaying on the Isle of Man; spent too much, ate too much, drank too much and just generally had a wonderful time relaxing and enjoying the Island. Enjoyed some very expensive and very lovely wine with Mr. Tarts' mother and ate some very wonderful meals. I don't photograph meals in restaurants as I think that's a bit bum to say the least, so you'll just have to take my word for it. This year's Manx restaurant winner for me was easily The Highlander Steakhouse in Greeba, probably the best steak I've ever had in a restaurant, with smokey BBQ ribs for a starter that could be eaten with a knife and fork as the meat just fell off the bones, and all rounded off with a wonderful sticky toffee pudding.
After a bit of hunting, we managed to track down the very popular manx Loaghtan (pronounced loch-tonne) lamb at Radcliffe Butchers in Castletown, and bought half a fillet so that we could sample it. I slow roasted it for about 3/4 hours, necessary as loaghtan is very lean, with some rosemary. We ate it with some crusty bread and it was incredibly tasty. It's very strong tasting, verging on gamey and was a delight. As soon as my bank balance recovers I intend to order a whole leg to roast and have a proper feast on this breed of lamb that nearly became extinct. Radcliffe butchers also stock an amazing range of their own handmade sausages in interesting flavours of which we tried three: cheese and oregano, honey and wholegrain mustard and apple and smoked bacon, all very delicious. Word to the wise, the sausages were HUGE, and you only need one. We were greedy and ate two each and felt like pigs after. I really wish I'd taken a pic of the butcher's window.
A field of Loaghtans at Cregneash
A Loaghtan giving me the ol' evil eye
A pair of very cute Loaghtan lambs in Cregneash.
As usual, we've come back with a hoard of things, which this year includes a selection of paintings/framed maps/engravings, 2 fridge magnets, 1 ashtray, a large bundt tin, a pretty pie dish, 2 mugs, a bag of manx soda bread flour, manx rapeseed oil, a vintage jelly mould, a jar of quince and rosemary jelly and yes, a cuddly toy. A Brucey Bonus is yours if you can guess which animal said cuddly toy is of. Please send your entries to the comments section.

Other than that, there was a lot of taking in lovely sights, driving around the island and enjoying the divine Davisons ice cream in Peel harbour (below).

Other assorted holiday pics:

Greedy donkeys at the island's Home of Rest for Old Horses

The view out of the cafe at Niarbyl

Dramatic scenery down at the Sound.

And finally a pic of Cregneash, a beautful little hamlet that's lost in time, really.

Of course the worst part of a lovely holiday is returning from it. Patience is key, as eventually Mr Tarts and myself will be buying a one way ticket.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Away for a week

Off on holiday for a few days, back to Mr. Tart's homeland, where the cat's have no need for tails and the drivers have no need of a speed limit.

Well, there's ongoing debate about the latter. But the former is a sure thing.
Exhibit A-
The Isle of Man is becoming a bit of a food lover's paradise. For one thing, for all food produced on the island, it is illegal to add anything artificial to it. The island is also famous for Queenies- small scallops local to the sea around the island, prized for their sweet flavour and Loaghtan (meaning Brown Mr. Tart's has just informed me) lamb, which is naturally very lean and delicious, even if the breed does look like the devil incarnate.

They scare the bejeezus out of me...

Anyway, back in a few days, and I shall share all adventures had on the island and the tale of the double cherry semifreddo that's currently setting in my freezer.

Elderflower Bundt and Cupcakes

Elderflower cordial seems to be a rather fashionable drink nowadays and you can even buy elderflower liquer, which I've yet to find in a supermarket. Indeed when I made the trip to Sainsbury's to buy elderflower cordial, they didn't even have the normal bottles of Bottlegreen elderflower cordial, forcing me to buy a smaller, pricier bottle instead. No matter, lifes to short to worry about every pound, and thrown in as a bonus I discovered a bottle of elderflower and strawberry cordial, which is quite possibly the nectar of the gods. But why settle for just drinking this wonderfully delicate and floral syrup, when you can combine it with cake?! No one need settle, for I have the answer in the form of elderflower and strawberry and elderflower cupcakes. I'm sure you could make these with any good quality cordial and I've got a morello cherry cordial I'm keen to try at some point.
I recently purchased and silicone mini bundt pan, which is why bundt cakes are thrown in here. I just wanted to try it out and the result was so pretty, I'm glad I did. Anyway, here's the recipe so you too can have lovely, delicate and summery cakes to scarf down.

Elderflower (and Strawberry and Elderflower) Cupcakes/bundts
Makes 24 small fairy cakes or 12 large cupcakes
140g butter at room temperature
140g caster sugar
3 eggs
4 tbsp elderflower cordial (or other flavours should you wish)
600g icing sugar
Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Preheat the over to 190 degrees and line the cake tin(s) with paper cases (or butter the bundt tin)
Cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well. Beat in the flour and add half of your chosen cordial and mix well until smooth. Pour into the cake cases and bake for 12-15 min for fairy cakes 15-20 for larger cakes, until slightly golden and springy to the touch. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

To make the icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and add the remainder of the cordial and lemon juice. If you wish you could add some appropraite soft fruit into the icing -chop it fairly finely and then use a spoon/fork to press the fruit against the side of the bowl to break it up. Drizzle over the cooled cakes and decorate as you please.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

TSR Bakers' 1st Monthly Bake- Black Magic Cake

Chocolate cake and I have always had an unhappy relationship. I'd like to think I'm a fairly accomplished baker, but a good chocolate cake has always alluded me. Photos in cookbooks always show a dense, fudgey cake, glistening and beautiful, but when I make it, it looks like a brick and makes you cough dust.
Therefore, considering my record, Black Magic cake may indeed be magical. Dense, moist and wonderful, I highly recommend it. Even before icing it looked amazing.

Frost it with whatever you wish, but to me, a glossy cake like this deserves ganache. To make ganache heat 200ml of cream and 220g of chocolate, I used half milk and half dark to make a semi-sweet ganache.

Decorated with some sugarpaste stars and you have a magic cake.

Recipe can be found here: http://www.mybakingaddiction.com/black-magic-cake/

Go see the other TSR Bakers' blogs here: Dulwich Munchies, Cakecuccino, The White Cat Baker and Internet Gems.

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