Spaghetti Carbonara- Midweek Meal. 

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I’m all on for a quick mid week meal. As with any working parent, the last thing you want is to have to make something complicated and time consuming when you’re exhausted after a long day.  I’m very lucky in that when I have full time work placements in my role as a supply teacher, Mr SmartCookieSam is great at cooking and having dinner on the table.  But even then there are times when he’s late himself or away working. Or there are days when I’m not working myself. On working days I love meals like Spaghetti Carbonara as it’s quick to make and everyone in our house likes it.  I know it’s one of my son’s girlfriend’s favourites as well.

I’ve tried lots of different carbonara recipes but it was the first time I tried Mary Berry’s version in her “Cooks The Perfect Step By Step” book. Her “My New Spaghetti Carbonara” had added mushrooms and bacon to it, as well as garlic. So it wasn’t an authentic Carbonara, but it still tasted amazing.

While my spaghetti was cooking in my large saucepan, I fried a packet of bacon lardons in their own fat.  Once these had started to cook and crisp up, I removed the bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon and added a tablespoonful of olive oil to the pan.  Then I fried two crushed cloves of garlic and some quartered closed cup mushrooms.  (Mary suggested chestnut mushrooms, but I don’t like them!) These were then cooked for about 3-4 minutes.

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When the pasta was nearly ready, I combined  2 large beaten eggs and some parmesan cheese, along with  4 tablespoonfuls of double cream in a measuring jug. The pasta was then drained and added to the frying pan with the mushrooms, garlic and the bacon all at once. At the last minute I tipped in the egg mixture, taking the pan away from the heat so that the eggs didn’t become scrambled.

The result was delicious and made four very generous servings of Carbonara.  The whole thing only took about 20 minutes to make from preparation to putting on the table.  Quicker than ordering a takeaway around where I live!

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Love Sam xx

Pistachio, White Chocolate, Cranberry and Lemon Biscotti inspired by the Great British Bake Off.

This is a blogpost I’ve been meaning to write for ages now. Before I went away on holiday for a week I enjoyed watching the second week of The Great British Bake Off, which was biscuit week.  For the contestants’ Signature Bake they were asked to bake biscotti.  This is not easy, to get delicious flavours, the right amount of crunch and to make sure that each biscotti was exactly the same size.. well all I can say is I’m glad I wasn’t trying it out in the Bake Off tent.

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My take on biscotti adapted from the Hazelnut and Orange Biscotti recipe adapted from the latest Great British Bake Off book.

I do love having a go at baking biscotti though.  I hadn’t baked any for ages although it tends to be something I make for foodie presents at Christmas.  I had to use ingredients in my baking cupboard rather than relying on one of the recipes for biscotti in the latest Great British Bake Off book “The Great British Bake Off Celebrations”.  There is a delicious sounding recipe for Orange and Hazelnut Biscotti in the book. Now as I didn’t have any oranges or hazelnuts in, that was going to die a death.  Instead I went for pistachio and cranberries and because I always think white chocolate goes well with cranberries, I used some white chocolate chunks as well.

This was the first thing I’d baked in a couple of weeks, what with our holiday and getting back into the swing of things.  Hubby had gone away overnight and I was at home doing jobs with the kids.  I knew that biscotti wouldn’t take me that long to bake but then realised that I should have waited to start baking. We were meant to be staying in catching up on jobs but I ended up having to nip out.  So, as usual my baking session ended up being rushed.

Plain flour, caster sugar and baking powder was first put together into a big mixing bowl and combined. After this was done I added beaten eggs and finally the dried fruit, chcoolate, pistachios and grated lemon zest were mixed in.  All formed into a huge ball of dough which was then split into two and rolled into two long logs.  These logs were then baked on a greased baking sheet.  They really expanded in the oven and thankfully didn’t stick together in one huge lump! Unfortunately I started to cut the biscotti up a bit too early, still a bit too soft  and warm and this made them a bit difficult to cut up.  Eventually I managed to get the separate biscotti pieces, I lost count of how many I cut up but they they did end up more or less the right size.  Back into the oven they went to bake separately and to crisp up.

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These biscotti didn’t last very long in our house.

It took all of my willpower not to scoff one but when my husband got in from work, I caved in.  My husband said he would have one with a cup of tea as it was going to be a while before our tea was ready.  That was it, he was eating one so I had to join in. In fact he had two!  They were delicious and I loved the flavour combination.

I enjoyed baking biscotti again and hope it won’t be too long before I can bake some more.  I put all the leftover ones into a tin but because they were so moreish they didn’t last very long!

Happy Baking.

Love Sam xx

Cooking The Books February 2014- Italian Biscuits from How To Be A Domestic Goddess.

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Italian Biscuits- cherry topped swirls of lemon flavoured shortbread. Featured in the biscuit chapter of Nigella’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess.

Last week I baked for a tea party at the school where I work as a teaching assistant.  My friend and work colleague was retiring from her post and we held a special party for her in the afternoon.  The children had made sandwiches and decorated cupcakes and I decided to bake some biscuits along with the large celebration cake.  As I looked through the biscuit chapter of How To Be A Domestic Goddess I wanted to choose something which wasn’t too overpowering and would be fairly simple to bake.  This was to be my Biscuit chapter recipe for my Cooking The Books challenge this month.

In the recipe introduction Nigella says “This is a rather sweeping description of those shortbready swirls punctuated by glace cherries that  you see everywhere in Italy, mostly sold by weight.” I saw some of these pretty biscuits for sale when my hubby and I went to the Italian Lakes nearly two years ago.  I didn’t buy any as I don’t tend to crave biscuits and sweet things (only maybe ice cream) on holiday in warmer climates.  But I did think they looked rather pretty, they reminded me of a cross between melting moments and Viennese Whirls! 

So here is how I made them:

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I washed roughly about 20 glace cherries. Nigella says to use natural coloured ones. I had the bright red ones as I couldn’t find any in the supermarket at the time.
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Then I creamed some butter and sugar together until it was light and fluffy. I used the hand mixer though it would have done my bingo wings some good if I’d got the wooden spoon out!
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After this I beat in a large egg and grated in some lemon zest.
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Now for the flour, salt and baking powder.

At this point I felt the dough was a bit stiff to pipe with and I wondered how on earth I would get it through the piping nozzle.I managed after a little bit of wrestling with the bag though.  What did surprise me was how the recipe said it made 40 cookies, I couldn’t even get 20 out of the dough.  I tried piping small but maybe it was due to the mixture being a bit stiff and me being over generous with the sizes.

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The dough was put into a large piping bag fitted with a star nozzle.
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The piped swirls on the prepared baking sheets.
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The finishing touch! Half a cherry is added to each biscuit.
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All ready and waiting in the tin to be taken along to the tea party.

I was impressed with the overall flavour and appearance of the biscuits. I sneaked one at the tea party even though I’m meant to be dieting. You could taste the lemon flavour without it overpowering the flavour.  They were a winner at the tea party and I’m definitely going to make them again.  They would make lovely gifts wrapped up in a cellophane bag tied with pretty ribbon for birthdays or Christmas.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Chocolate Amaretto Cake from The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook

Last Monday was the Harrogate Clandestine Cake Club event which was held at The Mitre Inn in Knaresborough.  I had chosen the theme of Boozy Cakes as we were going to be in a pub in the middle of Knaresborough next to the station.  This, funnily enough didn’t bode well with my Sober For October challenge with Macmillan though.  Having said that, there was only two tablespoons of alcohol in the whole of my cake.

I had had a very busy weekend, the Saturday was spent in Liverpool with my Mum and my daughter and my mum was with us the whole weekend.  By the time I got to Sunday night I was feeling dreadful.  I had started off with a sore throat that morning and it had developed into a tickly, niggly cough.  I thought, that was all I needed with a busy week at work and cake club the following day as well as two other nights out!

So, by the time I got round to baking my offering it was about two o’clock on the Monday afternoon, four hours before it was going to be served at the Cake Club. After a lot of chopping and changing I eventually chose to bake a cake that I had really enjoyed eating a slice of at a previous Clandestine Cake Club event where Lynn Hill (The Clandestine Cake Club’s founder) had baked the cake. It is the Dark Chocolate and Amaretto Cake which is featured in The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook.  Mine turned out totally different to the way Lynn had made it and how it looked like in the book.  I was in a right old rush as I made the cake!

Here’s what happened:

First I melted some butter and put it aside.
First I melted some butter and put it aside.  Putting it aside meant I clean forgot about it! More of that later!
In a large bowl I put in flour, baking powder and ground almonds.
In a large bowl I put in flour, baking powder and ground almonds.
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Mixing baking powder with vanilla extract.

Carmela Hayes’ recipe in the Clandestine Cake Club cookbook calls for “pane degli angeli” which is a special Italian vanilla flavoured raising agent.  If you are unable to get hold of this, you can substitute 1 teaspoon of baking powder mixed in with vanilla extract instead.  I had to do this as I didn’t have chance to look for the pane degli angeli anywhere.

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A whole packet of these delicious Amaretti biscuits were crushed in my food processor.
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Everything is combined together, even the chocolate (which was Green and Blacks 70% cocoa solids)

I got to this stage and thought, this mixture is a bit stiff!  Is it meant to be like that?  It seemed to stick to the wooden spoon and I tried my hardest to tip it into my greased cake tin and spread it evenly.  Never mind, I thought. Let’s hope it’s ok once it’s in the oven.  Off it popped into the oven.  It was then when I saw it!  The bowl of melted butter was still on the side by the microwave!  I’d completely forgotten about it!  I quickly whipped the cake out of the oven, tipped the mixture back into a clean mixing bowl with the melted butter and stirred it in.  I then re-greased the tin as fast as I could and popped the cake back into the oven, while saying a huge prayer.

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The finished Dark Chocolate Amaretto Cake.

When the cake came out of the oven about an hour later it didn’t look very appealing.  The chocolate had melted in to the mixture instead of staying in chunks as it had on the picture.  I had also forgotten to switch my timer on and didn’t note the time it went in the oven as I was rushing.  I just did it on guesswork with a large skewer! To be honest I wasn’t impressed with my effort and I really felt disappointed in myself that I didn’t take more care.  I had no time to make another cake as I had to walk our dog and prepare some dinner for my family before I went out to Cake Club.

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The cake cut up at the Cake Club event.

At Cake Club I took a small piece and so did everyone else. As I cut into the cake it began to crumble whereas the other two cakes there cut perfectly. I was really embarrassed and even though it wasn’t being judged and it isn’t a competition I felt ashamed of it.  The other members still ate it out of kindness though!  I felt the cake was a little bit dry but it had a lovely crunchy effect.  I will definitely make it again when I have more time so I can get the recipe right!  Serves me right for rushing.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx