Happy New Year! I hope that 2017 brings you luck, health and happiness. 2016 was a mixed year for a lot of people and I just hope this year doesn’t continue in the same way. I feel a different person to the one I was at the beginning of 2016 and now I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I will be going back to Slimming World after not being able to make recent group meetings as well as trying to breathe life into this blog. It’s been a bit neglected recently. This I would love to change.
Every New Year’s Day in the past we have usually eaten a big lunch at home and then gone out for a walk afterwards. I tend to bake a pie and serve it with lots of vegetables and gravy. This year things were different. My son had been out at a party and got back in the afternoon from his friends’ house. My daughter was working from lunchtime until the evening. Our family New Years’ Day lunch ended up being a quiet tea time instead.
I chose to bake a Steak and Mushroom Pie this time as I had some braising steak in the freezer. It was a cinch to make as I made a cheat’s shortcut. Not with the shortcrust pastry- that was homemade but with the pie filling. I love Gordon Rhodes’ Gourmet Sauce Mixes and buy them regularly from my local farm shop. I used their Slow Comfortable Stew mix with braising steak, a large onion, a tin of chopped tomatoes and a little water. Cooked for about 6 hours on a low heat in my slow cooker, it made the beef melt in the mouth and taste deliciously tender. I can’t bear tough beef. The sauce mix also suggests adding in chopped potato and carrot but I didn’t do this seeing as I wanted to serve these with the pie. Instead, nearer the end of the cooking time I put 250g of halved mushrooms into the slow cooker to soften for the last half hour.
The shortcrust pastry was made with 175g cold butter cut into cubes, 350g of plain flout and ice cold water to mix. There was plenty of pastry dough left over so I gathered it into a ball, wrapped it in cling film and put it in the freezer for another time. I bet I’ll forget about it, go to the freezer in a few week’s time and think “What the hell is this?”
As it was New Year’s Day I found my large number cookie cutters and cut out 2017 to stick on the top. Mr SmartCookieSam said it looked too nice to cut up.
Not a scrap left of the pie. I’m beginning to feel like who ate all the pies here after all I’ve eaten. But I won’t give up baking, I’ll just have to keep myself away from it!
I’m so excited that The Great British Bake Off is back. What do you think of it so far? In the first couple of episodes I spend most of the time getting confused as you begin to find out who’s who. I get muddled up with what each contestant bakes to begin with but after this week’s programme I felt ravenous. I’d already had my dinner but all I could think about was eating a great big piece of drizzle cake, followed by some Jaffa cakes and finished off with a slice of a mirrored chocolate cake! Much too tempting and as someone who really struggles with dieting, it’s going to be hard not to succumb!
Anyway, Bake Off mania started the day before the first episode came out in SmartCookieSam’s house. My copy of the brand new Bake Off book arrived. The book to accompany this series is called Perfect Cakes and Bakes to Make At Home. I wasn’t disappointed and this year the book wasn’t too heavily bread and yeast bakes biased as last year’s one was. I was impressed with the layout and the introduction featuring all the bakers too. The recipes in this year’s book are also ones which I can see myself baking so I think I’ll be having a go at a few over the next few weeks- watch this space!
It didn’t take me long to plan out what my first bake from the book would be. Week 1’s Technical Bake was for Jaffa Cakes. Not only that but it was the theme for this week’s #GBBOTwitterBakelalong. This was perfect as they’re my son’s favourites as well. He has always loved Jaffa Cakes and once came home from school at Christmas with one of those giant metre long packets. His mate had bought him it as a Christmas present. We were allowed to have some but I think it was me who gave him the taste for them! When I was pregnant with him, I loved eating Jaffa cakes. Then again I had a craving for mushy peas when I was expecting my daughter and she hates them!
The thing is though, when you have a much loved shop bought biscuit or cake, you never know what a homemade version will turn out like. I never forget my one and only time trying to make chocolate teacakes and faffing about with making homemade marshmallow! I’ve never made them since, only bought Tunnocks instead! The same applies to Jaffa cakes, could I make them taste like McVities ones and would they be too much faff?
Last Saturday afternoon was typical August Bank Holiday weather. I’d done my cleaning and was about to go outside to start hoovering out my car. It’s in a terrible state as my dog sat on the back seat after a muddy walk and I’d forgotten to take a towel with me. But just as I was about to get the Hoover out, it started raining. Secretly I thought this was great as I could do some baking.
Baking the Jaffa Cakes didn’t take that long even though it was broken down into stages. Once the jelly was setting in the fridge I got on with the sponge bases. These are a fat less whisked sponge mixture, where you whisked sugar and eggs together for five minutes and then some self raising flour was folded in. To bake the sponges I used a shallow 12 hole tart or mince pie tin which was greased before with Wilton Cake Release. The sponges didn’t take much baking, only 9 minutes. I took them out when the sponges sprung back when I touched them.
After a few minutes the sponges were ready to come out of the tin. This is where I always panic as I didn’t want anything sticking. Thankfully apart from one cake which was a bit on the small side, they came out ok. By the way, the recipe says that there is more than enough mixture and when spooning it into the tin, you only need to fill it three quarters full! There was a bit left over but I wouldn’t have had enough chocolate to cover any extras.
I left the sponges to cool down but as it was a day when I was trying to catch up on everything I was desperate to get on with the next stage. I poked the jelly setting in the fridge and it seemed alright. So I thought I’d try and cut out the jelly circles. The recipe says you are meant to turn out the whole jelly rectangle onto a piece of baking paper and cut circles out of it. I was rushing so much that I realised the jelly wasn’t properly set and it slid out onto the baking paper in a massive orange blob! So there was one thing for it, I had to pile teaspoonfuls of orange jelly on top of the sponges, not neat little circles!
I then melted some dark chocolate and spooned it on top of the jelly blobbed sponges. Of course this wasn’t going to be a neat job with the mess I’d made with the jelly! The jelly began to move about as I spread the chocolate on. As for doing the criss-cross pattern on top of the Jaffa Cakes- forget it!
Would I bake the Jaffa Cakes again? They tasted wonderful and not as sweet as the shop bought ones. They were quite faffy to make though but I might try again when I’m not rushing things.
I get itchy hands when I haven’t baked for a few days. It’s been a mad few days in SmartCookieSam land. I had a really busy week doing a teaching assignment in a nursery, then that very weekend I went down with a chest infection. Before I started feeling really rough, I did manage to bake my son’s 16th birthday cake. After that, it all went downhill. I had three days in bed either coughing my guts up or dozing off to sleep. I had to cancel two days pre-booked supply work in schools I go to regularly. I only worked last Friday in the end and felt completely useless. Baking was the last thing on my mind, in fact it was even a struggle to muster up the energy to make myself a cup of tea!
By yesterday, though, apart from the odd coughing fit I have got back to my normal self. I’m still feeling very tired and have been trying to take it easy but I really wanted to bake something quick and simple. To me, muffins fit the bill there, they take no time at all to make and don’t need much mixing. You just throw all the ingredients together and hey presto in about half an hour you have a gorgeous smell wafting out of your kitchen.
I chose to adapt a Mary Berry muffin recipe which is in her Cookery Course book. Her original recipe is for Blueberry Muffins, which I love but I wanted to use chocolate chunks in mine. I grated some orange zest and used a pot of natural yoghurt, as well as 5 tablespoonfuls of milk. These muffins are also baked using melted butter, instead of oil. As for muffin cases, I used brown tulip shaped ones but it really doesn’t matter what you use.
This is how the muffins were made: first I beat two large eggs together, then added caster sugar, milk, natural yoghurt, vanilla extract and the grated orange zest to a large bowl. All of these were stirred up gently so they were just combined, not beaten. To this, I sifted in self raising flour and baking powder. This needed to be folded into the wet mixture, and then finally in went a whole packet of dark chocolate chunks. The batter was then divided equally among 12 muffin cases and put into a pre-heated oven. The muffins came out well risen after about 25 minutes baking time with a wonderful aroma permeating the whole of the house. I put them onto a wire rack and let them cool down.
It was gorgeous BBQ weather yesterday and not really the right time for eating warm muffins straight from the oven. To be honest, it was the last thing I wanted to eat, even though I could eat cake all day and every day normally! The muffins ended up in a box and ready to go into the freezer for a day when cake would hit the spot. I forgot to put them in the freezer and found hubby eating one when he came back in from work. He said they were lovely as they weren’t too overpoweringly sweet like you can find with some shop bought muffins.
Last week I was getting over a nasty chest infection and didn’t have much energy. I spent about 9 consecutive nights sleeping on the sofa as it was the only place where I could sleep propped up on the sofa. I still didn’t sleep very well though and my back was in agony. I had to take time off work which I don’t like doing. So the last two weeks I just wasn’t myself!
Thankfully I’ve been able to recover with it being the Easter holidays and have been back in the kitchen. My son is currently working on a media studies film project and has had friends over to help him with filming. My daughter has been on hand to help out with the make up and special effects and good old mum here has been the transport and the catering manager!
Last Friday it had been a horrible day for filming. So when they finished after filming in the mud and the rain, I thought they deserved a chocolatey treat. But what could I give them?
In the end I found the perfect recipe to adapt in Mary Berry’s latest book “Foolproof Cooking”. I’ve had the book since it first came out but not made anything from it. The recipe is called “Bonfire Chocolate Traybake” and it looked perfect for feeding a crowd. Although being April it’s the wrong time of year for Bonfire Night but as Mary says in the recipe introduction: “Being a traybake it cuts into squares and is so perfect for packing into a box and sharing with family and friends at an event such as Bonfire Night,” Mary’s recipe was also plain and didn’t need any decorating or icing. I chose to add icing on mine, though.
The traybake was very simple to put together. I used my trusty Alan Silverwood traybake tin which was simply greased with Cake Release. I didn’t need any baking parchment to line the tin.
Mary’s original recipe uses dark chocolate but I used two 100g bars of Lindt Salted Caramel chocolate which I melted along with some butter. When this was done, I weighed out some caster sugar and mixed this in with the melted chocolate mixture. This was then left to cool down then I added three eggs one at a time into the bowl. Afterwards it was time to add the dry ingredients. To keep the cake moist the cake is flavoured with ground almonds which are added at the same time as self raising flour and baking powder. I could imagine the addition of ground almonds would also give a lovely flavour, as well as helping the cake to keep longer.
A very quick mixture to make up and one which didn’t have a list as long as your arm of ingredients. Before long it was ready to be spooned into the tin and baked. It didn’t take long to bake at all, only about 25-30 minutes.
The traybake smelled heavenly when it came out of the oven. I know Mary Berry said the recipe didn’t need icing but I wanted to give it a finishing touch. So as the cake was cooling I made up a chocolate icing using a bar of melted plain chocolate and melted butter. This was quite runny on its own so I chose to add some icing sugar to thicken it up a bit. I had stocked up on some of my favourite Sugar and Crumbs Salted Caramel Icing Sugar so I added 60g or 4 tbsp of it to the mix. It thickened up beautifully and spread well onto the top of the traybake. I cut the traybake up into portions and then to finish, sprinkled it with some gold sugar crystals I had in my baking cupboard.
When my son and his friends finished their filming, they were tired and hungry so a chocolate traybake square hit the spot for them. As the traybake kept well it got eaten over the next few days bit by bit.
A wonderful recipe that could be adapted and not just for any time of the year. I would love to try this with different chocolate flavours. I bet a mint or a chocolate orange one would be delicious.
Over the past few Saturdays we’ve been so busy with one thing and another I thought it would be nice if we could all sit down together as a family for our lunch. It’s always a quick snacky lunch on a Saturday as we’re so busy doing jobs and going here, there and everywhere. But it wasn’t meant to be. My son went out with his mates round town, my daughter went off with her Dad on another errand and I was left at home alone. Was I enjoying the quiet freedom of being at home by myself? Well at least I got the bathrooms cleaned and the hoovering done.
I’d planned to cook the Brunch Burritos from John Whaite Bakes At Home for our lunch. I don’t think I’ve ever had brunch in my life. Maybe before I had children I would have a late breakfast at the weekend over the Sunday papers. Now when people are eating brunch, I’m eating lunch as I’ve got up so early! The recipe serves one person but I’d quadrupled the quantities when doing my shopping. So at least I could work out how to cook it for one person and what a delicious and filling meal it was!
Here’s how to make the Brunch Burrito:
I was so impressed with the burrito, it was tasty and filling. So a couple of days later on the Monday night I cooked four of them for us for our tea to use up the remaining ingredients. I’m so glad I did as even my fussy son enjoyed it. My hubby asked if I could grate cheese over it next time or add some sour cream.
Thankyou once again to John Whaite for such a delicious and speedy recipe, not just for brunch but for lunch and dinner too!