Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Baking bonanza!

I was lucky enough to get one of these amazing giant cupcake pans for Christmas and with exciting dreams of fabulous prettiful cakes here are my baking attempts.  As you will find out the shape of the pan does make it a little bit tricky to get the perfect cake but they were all very much edible and fun to make!

Heres the pan and some pictures of the baking attempts:

All the cakes were made with a basic sponge mix of 2oz each of flour, sugar and butter to every 1 egg.  Plus a little vanilla and baking powder.

Attempt 1

On first go I put cake mix (using 4 eggs) in both halves of the pan and into the oven preheated to 170 C.  After 30 mins the top of the cup cake (cone shaped half of the pan) was over done but the bottom half still wobberly and not set!  (quite a design flaw!) So, I removed from the oven and managed to gently pull out the top half of the cake and let that cool while the bottom half had another 20mins in the oven.   The sponge was really nice inside but as you can see a bit over done around the edges, covered up with some lemon drizzle!

Attempt 2

Longer and lower cooking was my plan for this time in order to achieve a more evenly baked cake.  Made with a mix with 4 eggs, I also decided to allow the bottom half a bit of extra cooking time so just poured mix in that side and after 10mins at 150 C removed it from the oven and poured mix in the top half of the pan.

I wasn’t too hopefully of a good result after this as pouring cake mix into a hot pan doesn’t seem right!  After 30mins the cake had risen well but was still very wobberly and a combination of too low, too long and opening oven door to check = disaster as the bottom half massively sunk! The top half was also not much better once cooled – the heat from the pan left the sponge very cracked and it crumbled very easily.

Never-the-less, with such a lovely golden brown cake, I persevered and once iced with some butter icing it doesn’t look so bad.  The trimed off cake bits tasted pretty good too!

Attempt 3

This time I tried baking each half separately at a hotter temperature in the hope that the cake would cook quicker and not sink, but not burn either! So with a cake mix of 3 eggs for the bottom half the oven was on at 170 C and after 30mins the cake still wasn’t cooked.  After another 20 mins even though the top was still a little soft I didn’t want the edges to burn so out it came.  Then after the pan had cooled I made up another batch of cake mix with 2 eggs for the top half, again at 170 C and this took around 40mins cooking time.

After some butter icing and lemon and orange decorative jellies here’s the finished result:

Yummers! Hope it tastes nice, sadly I won’t get to try it as it’s going to Cranfield for a charity cake sale tomorrow! But all for a good cause – fundraising in aid of our friend running the marathon, you can read more (and help if you can) here.

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I love this time of year simply because there is so much free food around! Here’s a few pictures of the massive marrow, all the preserves and a really tasty Beef Wellington that we cooked up last weekend – it was fantastic and well worth the effort.

I do get quite obsessed with making and preserving when fruits are so abundant.  Mainly because the results taste great, make fantastic Christmas presents and I feel much better that food is not going to waste.

So much so that I even went out with a step ladder the other night to reach the masses of plums from a tree overhanging a public path where I regularly walk the dog.  I’ve had my eye on the deep purple fruits for a few weeks as the ground became more and more sticky and covered with windfall fruit – I couldn’t watch the waste any longer!  There is still plenty of fruit to be had but I’ll need a bigger ladder….

Also around where I live there is also an abundance of brambles with masses of blackberries.  Last weekend I was far from alone with my tupperware, steadily working my way along the branches collecting the deliciously dark berries and avoiding the thorns! Easily within 30mins I had about a kilo of fruit which is plenty for us, so I continued my cooking/preserving obsession by making Blackberry Jam last night.  I got 4 jars full and I’m really pleased with it as it is still sharp but sweet and hasn’t set too hard.

It’s the first time I’ve made Jam on my own (usually me and my mum have a jam making marathon weekend but we haven’t found time yet)  and my cast iron pan isn’t quite deep enough for good Jam Safety Standards!  With barely an inch to spare from the top, the moulten bubbling syrup was quite intimidating and needed a watchful eye throughout the whole process, but I’m pleased that both Plum and Blackberry Jam set quite well and didn’t cause any sticky kitchen disasters!

Anyway, this year I really have gone a bit mad and stored away to mellow in a dark cupboard (so far) are:

14 jars of Spiced Apple and Marrow Chutney,

6 jars of Red Onion and Tomato Chutney (made by H2B),

8 jars of Plum Chutney,

5 jars of Plum Jam and,

3 jars of Blackberry Jam (the forth is already half eaten!) And amazingly all this fruit and veg has been free!

I still have a few kilos of Cooking Apples from a friends trees (and many more apples still to be picked) and there are still plenty of blackberries and plums out there!  Plus I can’t forget all the tomatos I’ve grown that are still green – I think I might try Green Tomato Ketchup…

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After a very unsucessful attempt at growing tomatoes last year (long story short – I misunderstood gardening tips over the phone from my dad and ended up thining out all the actual tomatoe growing trusses rather than extra shoots) I gave it another go this year.  Grown from seeds my little plants enjoyed the early sunshine in May and June, and I had high hopes for a bumper yeild.  I used tomatoe food, religiously watered each plant daily and stepped up the late night slug patrols when the July rains swamped the garden with the slippery beasts.

Now the strange weather of sunshine and showers has really boosted the crop and I’m so chuffed with all the green buds as they begin their transformation into ripe, juicy tomatoes.  I sat out in the garden with Rocky last Saturday and enjoyed the heat of the sun along with the tomatotes, the intense smell off the vines filling the air, watching the colours changing to that deep delicious red.

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Today has been a fab day enjoying the sights of Cambridge with H2B, his mum, sister and cousin visiting from Aus.  As well as a comedy narrated punting tour we wandered the many streets, shops and colleges and had a very yummy lunch at Teri-Aki.   Here’s some pics of the day, including my sushi lunch:

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CIMG3973Here they are! The first ‘crop’ of potatoes from my garden! Very exciting!

Although I don’t have very green fingers, I love the outdoors and if nothing else – have plenty of motivation for growing my own.  Lettuce and rocket are the main growers in the mini greenhouse and I’ve got 4 tomatoe plants on the go (no actual tomatoes yet.)  Apart from Lettuce my main success so far has been 5 weenie, but extremely tasty strawberries.

I don’t have a big garden and it’s all patio so everything is dotted around in pots and tubs.  Many months ago some potatoes we had got left over and started to sprout, so I stuck them in the bottom of a big tub and as the leaves grew up, I kept adding soil to grow the plant right up to the top.  After months of foliage a couple of flowers appeared and then dropped off so I thought it must be time to take a look.  And here are the results! Enough for me and H2B for dinner and lots left for lunch as well! result!

After a quick wash – they came out of the soil practically clean – I boiled them and served just with some butter melted in and a few spring onions sliced on top.  Absolutely declicious!

I’ll definitely be bunging a few more left over spuds in pots next year!

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This Saturday sees the return of a fantastic annual event – ‘Olney 7s’  – at our beloved Olney RFC.  With loads of teams entered and a big turnout expected (especially if the weather stays this good) the Ladies team are planning to quench thirsts, fill appetites and send the crowd wild with our ‘Tea Room’ style baked goods.  Just in case the weather turns nasty we’ll be running round under umbrellas with flasks of hot tea and coffee!

My contribution is going to be two treats which I baked and took into work a few weeks ago for my birthday.  First up in the oven will be ‘Carrott Cake’ (a la Delia Smith) which initially looked a disaster (left out Bicarbonate of soda – oops!) but eventually after a bit longer cooking it did rise up and tasted fantastic.

And followed by Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies which are a little bit of chocolate heaven, rich, dense and all gooey!

As well as all the tasty cakes and treats on offer we’re also going to be selling strawberries and cream to compliment our ‘Team Room’ style stall, fingers crossed that the weather holds out and we have a great sunny day!

I’ll remember to post up pictures of my tasty delights!

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And so, here is the story of one of the very happiest of days. I must warn you, my hubby-to-be has brought tears to the eyes of grown women re-telling our story.

For me, it was a regular Friday at work, busy finishing things for the week and looking forward to dinner out in celebration of 10 years together with my boyfriend. I’d always thought we’d get married at some point, but just not really actually thought it would ever happen. Little did I know of the events that would soon unfold….

A car arrives at work to collect someone. My boss says, pack up your things Mary, that car is for you. Of course I didn’t believe him at first but then realisation set in and off I go. Theres a note with the driver.

“Don’t Panic, Brian knows where to take you. See you soon.”

So, dinner out then? my brain is on overdrive working out what is going on… we’re off to London Brian tells me, and no we’re not picking Stu up on the way. hmmm whats going on, I’m in jeans and trainers and am in no state for anything fancy in London.

I get a text: “how you doing?” …..Well being sneaky and wanting to get my own back for the surprise I reply “busy at work, might be late home. see you soon” Very soon after though I gave in (I couldn’t spoil a perfect plan) and sent an update: “I’m in a car with Brian, whats going on?” The reply: “Enjoy the journey, see you soon”

We arrive in good time at The Raddisson Hotel off Oxford Street. More instructions to call the room and go up to 314. I’m in the lift, putting on some lip balm thinking this is crazy.

And then I get to the door and go in. There he is on one knee. Out pops the question. In floods of tears I manage to blurt out a ‘yes’

It was private, special and totally us. However, what will always stick in my mind is that he had a smart suit on, half an ironed shirt and no shoes or socks. Apparently as I had been taken up in the lift and not the stairs I had arrived at 314 slightly sooner than expected.

Stu tells me later over dinner that he left for work as normal to keep up the surprise, even taking his lunch box (which was empty) with him so I didn’t notice. After parking a little way away and walking the dog, waiting for me to leave for work, he returns home, packs a suitcase and is off to London. Amazingly he packs my favourite dress, a selection of shoes and a matching handbag (nice Radley one) and remembers make-up, hair stuff and a selection of clothes for the next day for me!

Our dinner at Gordon Ramseys at Claridges was totally amazing, not only was the food incredible (I never imagined Cauliflower soup would taste so good) the service was fantastic and made the whole evening really memorable and special. After the taste sensations of 8 courses, including Pigeon, Scallops, Veal and John Dory we were invited into the kitchen before retiring to the lounge for coffee. We met the head chef Tim (no sign of Gordon) and saw where it all happens, an amazing experience that will not be forgotten.

my-ringSo here it is:

The ring we chose together. It took a lot of looking to find the perfect one and it is true, I did get that warm fuzzy feeling as I looked down at the sparkly diamond and thought, this is the one.

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