Friday, 26 September 2008

It's almost time...

...for the Jammin' Jelly Exchange!

Why have I been absent since I got back from Italy? Why have I not been tempting you and making you insanely
jealous with pictures of all the amazingly tasty things we sampled? Because I have been preparing myself for Monday when I shall finally make it to the post office with my little package of jam to be sent across the world. It's all very exciting, but also very daunting indeed. I am somewhat of a novice in this trade and having seen some of the recent preserves on show I am more than a little worried that my contribution will be less than adequate. However, I am soldiering on, albeit loudly and rantily as my Mum will attest!

Once it's all ready and packaged I shall finally post some pictures of the process, it's been an interesting and innovative one I can tell you!

Until then another taster of the delights of Italy:

Florence: torta limone, and tiramisu, accompanied by a glass of white wine and beer. Delicious.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Buona sera!

We're back. It was the most wonderful holiday, but we've become rather soppy and there was a certain degree of impatience and hysteria to get back to see Sniff last night. A delayed flight and the slow train back to didn't help either. But we arrived home to a cat that was very pleased to see us, or was he pleased to see the kilogram of Pecorino stashed in my suitcase?! Hmm.

There is so much to tell and show, and right now I have no idea where to start. We ate amazing food, saw stunning scenery (and some impressive rain and fog too!) and generally had a brilliant trip. We managed to cram in so much, and still it felt like a relaxing break. We started in Turin, then spent almost a week in the lakes, then sped down the autostrade to Tuscany before ending in Bologna - apporopriately nick-named "the fat one" because it's the food capital of the country apparently.

So yes, there are many many tales to tell and pictures to share. However, before I do there are other matters at hand. I am in the middle of making my first batch of jelly! No, not the wiggly gelatin-based dessert, but the (hopefully) clear version of jam. It smells amazing, but it's taking forever to strain through the muslin and I am an impatient jelly maker. I have been very good though, I have resisted the urge to squeeze the bag, and besides some pacing and willing I have left well alone and shall do overnight in the hope that tomorrow will yield beautiful jars of clear but tasty jelly that will be whisked across the world as part of the second Jammin' jelly exchange as organised by Molly of Blatter-Splattered.

Until I have photos from that, and have organised my mind post-Italy I shall bid you ciao with this photo from our last night in Bologna, and incidentally the night I had the best pasta in the world: tortelloni stuffed with pumpkin. It was out of this world.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Out of Office Autoreply

We're off on holiday tomorrow! Whoo! A well-earned break and a frantic attempt to catch some late summer sunshine and relax before the onlslaught of the depths of grey that is the British winter.

I'm sorry I don't have a recipe, or even a picture of food to share before I go. I've been a little distracted. So much so that today I baked N's shoes. Oh yes. I did. I won't elaborate, it's too embarrassing,

Instead I shall leave you with a picture of Sniff, who I am hoping will still be speaking to us when we get back, although I doubt it.


Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Blueberry bliss

Last week N and I made a list of all the sweet things I'd baked or cooked and blogged and tried to decide which of them were so good we'd choose to have them again. The results were rather shocking, with only about four or five things making the grade out of over fifty!
This was not because the other things were bad, but because they were "alright" rather than really tasty. I did however find it slightly depressing because although my baking adventures are just that, adventures, rather than just making the things I know to be great and work, I was rather hoping that more of my results would have turned out to be so impressive that we'd be spoilt for choice when making things again. Then again N did point out that I am my own worst critic and loads more things on the list probably would have made the grade for other people.

The good thing about the list though was that it upped the stakes! Now I'd really have to find things to make that were new, different and so fantastic that we'd want them all the time. It seemed like an impossible task based on the previous results. How little I knew of what was to come!

In order to use up a couple of punnets of blueberries in the fridge I decided to make the blueberry crumb bars I'd seen on Smitten Kitchen a while ago. I had never intended for it to take me this long to get around to making them, but work and lack of berries got in my way.

Oh why did I let them? These bars are amazing. I'd make them again in a shot. Not too sweet, packed with fruit with the most deliciously tempting crumble on top. Perfect for a dessert with whipped cream, or breakfast with a coffee, or as an afternoon snack, or anytime really!

I will be making these again, and again, and again! Oh yes. It makes me so pleased that I froze all those boxes of blueberries ready for when they wouldn't be in season. I know now exactly what they'll be used for this winter.

If you have blueberries, or can get some of them before the season finally disappears make these, you won't regret it. I also think you'd be able to do it with raspberries or blackberries, but I haven't had a chance to try it yet.
I'm afraid that once again I won't be posting the recipe because I used the same one as on Smitten Kitchen, and it's my favourite food blog and I think you should go there and look at the recipe and her gorgeous pictures. This is the second one of her recipes I have tried and it's the second one of her recipes which without a doubt makes the uber list of "make it again" recipes. I think that says it all.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Preparations/ Preparazioni

I am currently preparing myself on two fronts: firstly, for the oncoming autumn, it's late harvest of luscious vegetables slowly giving way to the onslaught of months and months of root vegetables; secondly, for our holiday to Italy!

Why I am I preparing for the autumn first? Because, if you hadn't noticed from previous posts, it's here already. Meteorologically the season of autumn officially started on September first. In my opinion it star
ted long before that, because despite the odd glimpse of sunshine it has felt distinctly autumnal for at least a couple of weeks now. Tonight is no exception, it's blustery and chilly and when we went for a walk earlier the streets were strewn with damp brown leaves.

I usually like autumn. I like autumn fruits and being able to wear jackets again, and the promise of showing off my scarf and glove collection. Thing is, I've been showing off my scarves all summer because it hasn't been warm enough not too. Autumn, I like you, but please leave me alone with summer for a few more weeks?

Which bring me to the second piece of preparation. We're off to Italy next week for a well deserved holiday. I think N deserves it more than me, but I'll cope with a rest, I'm a troupe
r. We have been craving a trip to Italy for a long time now, and having decided long ago that the summer was set to be yet another wash out we booked the flights and next week we shall be on our way. Hopefully with some sunshine to ease our vitamin deprived skin and lots of delicious food and wine to ease our deprived stomachs.

Okay, you could never describe the stomachs in this house as deprived (even Sniff is getting a bit thicker round the middle these days!), but if you ask me you can never ever have too much Italian food. So yesterday I set about making a roasted vegetable lasagna. A meal that I feel bridges the gap between the end of the summer and the beginning of autumn: lots of fresh vegetables from harvest time, roasted to concentrate their goodness, and then baked to provide a hearty meal.

I used Delia Smith's recipe from her vegetarian colle
ction and tweeked it slightly to fit what I had on hand. I had to use plain lasagna sheets as I didn't have spinach ones, and instead added a layer of fresh spinach. I also did have tomatoes to add to the roast vegetables and so added an extra red pepper. In hindsight I think the dish would have benefited from the presence of tomatoes and I next time I make it (and I will because I love lasagna) I will add a layer of tomato sauce. I think a tomato sauce - rather than just some roasted tomatoes - would help cut through the creaminess of the bechamel sauce, as I found it a bit much. On the whole though it was a good dish, and with some adaptations to personal taste has the makings of a great dish to warm you up on a cold autumnal day.

I'm afraid I can't be bothered to type out the recipe right now. Shocking I know, but it's late and I want to read my book, the recipe is long, and it's in the other room. Plus, I want to wait until I have ch
anged and adapted it and tried it again with tomato sauce included and a slightly different version of the bechamel. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it! I promise next time I make this, and get it right, I will post the full recipe, including my tweaks.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Not quite a caramel cupcake

I might have been a little rash this weekend when offering to make caremel cupcakes for N. I was sure I had a great recipe stashed away and all the ingredients. I was mistaken, no recipe, no frosting ingredients and in the end no inspiration.

It took me all day to figure out what to make, and when I finally did it was late, I was lacking ingredients and quite frankly couldn't be bothered. So I went for the fall-back option. A batch of caramely ba-cookies. I would have made the white chocolate and macadamia nut ones again (definitely the favourite in Our Lovely Flat (tm), but no-where round here seems to stock macadamia nuts. Instead I decided to use the base batter and add some golden syrup and fudge pieces to it in the hopes of producing a chunky chewy cookie with a nice caramel flavour.

Whilst doing all of this I managed to pursuade N into the kitchen. I was very impressed by his ea
gerness because the cricket as on the TV (yes, we finally cut the damn tree down and have TV signal again...too late to watch the Tour de France but just in time for the final cricket one day matches and of course, the premier league football. Hurrah!). Rather than baking wih me N very kindly took some pictures of me whilst making the cookies, so for once you'll have insight into just how messy I manage to be and how little space I allow myself to work in.The cookies didn't take long to come together, and although I baked them for slightly too long (forgetting that the ones I'd made previously had been much larger) they still came out chewy with only a slight crisp at the edge. N was impressed with them, and like the caramel flavour, but I'm not a big fan to be honest. They are "alright" but nothing more if you ask me, mostly because I want a big chunky cookie, and these are more a chewey biscuit because the fudge pieces aren't large enough to provide hunks in the batter.

Not a disaster by any means (I wrapped three for N's lunch today and he's not complaining) but I think they need some tweaking and next time I think I'll just make vanilla cupcakes and whack a hunk of fudge on top, or give in to normal chocolate chip ba-cookies!

Caramel ba-cookie biscuits.

1 1/4 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
1/2 light muscovado sugar
1/4 granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp golden syrup
1 cup bake-stable fudge pieces

Preheat Oven to 180C and line two baking sheets.

Combine the flour, baking soda and salt and set aside. In a large bowl cream the butter and sugars until creamy and light. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well combined, then stir in the golden syrup. Add flour mixture, stir until just blended. Stir in the fudge pieces. Chill the dough for half and hour (to firm it up enough to form into balls)

Place walnut-sized pieces of dough on lined baking sheets. Bake for 10-15 mins.

ED's Note: In the process of writing out the recipe I have realised why my cookies turned out more like biscuits. I mis-read the ingredients and used baking powder rather than soda. Oops! No such a domestic goddess afterall! In which case they might turn out much nicer if you actually follow the recipe correctly!