Saturday, 31 January 2009

Let's take a break(fast) shall we?

Nicole is right, I just can't seem to be stop putting things in jars. I think N was beginning to think he'd never get a cake or cookie again, but yesterday I decided it was time to put a stop to the preserving madness, pause, take stock and make some breakfast.

N and I have been discussing how I should go back to some of the recipes that were either a great success, or needed some adjustment, and make them again or have another go. With the weekend looming, and finally a lie-in, I decided it was time to get the flour out again and actually bake.

Remember these?

They were so delicious and I am ashamed to say that they only got made on two occasions. Only two. A total travesty. So I decided it was time to revisit them, and also to see if I could successfully veganise them.

We're having a brief spell without dairy at the moment, a mixture of health stuff and a response to our total cheese binge over Christmas. We're doing pretty well so far, we've been without cheese since the first week of January (the longest I've ever managed it, and given my obsession with cheese on toast it's been tough), and the past few weeks (post-river cottage) we've managed to cut out everything else. However I refuse to go without my baked treats so I'm expanding my skills a bit to include vegan versions of things. It's pretty handy considering one of my close friends is vegan. It means that not only do I have some experience of this kind of thing, but I will be able to make her more treats in the future as I expand my repertoire. I was really pleased with the outcome of the cinnamon rolls. I think you'd have a hard time telling that they're vegan, the only slight difference is that you don't get the slight buttery flavour in the dough and the filling, but this didn't stop me from polishing off two this morning for breakfast, so I doubt anyone's really going to notice.

Here is my recipe for a batch of about 12 rolls. I was halving my original recipe, which is why some of the measurements might seem a bit weird.

Vegan Cinnamon Rolls


1 1/8 tsp active yeast
1/2 c. warm milk
1/4 c. granulated sugar
half of 1/3 c. vegan margarine, melted
1 pinch salt
20g egg replacer (+ 55ml water)
2 c. all-purpose flour


1/2 c. muscovado sugar
1 1/4 TBS. cinnamon
half of 1/3 c. vegan margarine, melted

Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk in a large bowl. Add the the sugar, margarine, salt & egg replacer powder and water and combine well. Add flour and mix until the dough forms.
Knead the dough into a ball and leave in the bowl, covered with a tea towel, somewhere warm to rise for an hour, or until doubled in size.

When doubled in size turn out onto a floured surface and roll the dough flat until it is a large rectangle. It should be about ¼ inch thick.

Preheat oven to 200C

Mix the muscovado sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Spread the melted margarine evenly over the surface of the dough, and then sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar evenly over the top.

Roll the dough from the long side down to the bottom edge as if making a swiss roll or roulade.

Cut the rolled dough into 1 ¾ inch slices and put, evenly spaced, on a lightly greased baking pan. Let the rolls rise again until doubled in size (about 30 min.). Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden on top. (mine took about 20 mins.)

I make mine the day before and then re-heat in a 160C oven until just warm, about 5-7 mins. I also glazed mine this morning with a bit of lemon icing. I juiced half a lemon and then added enough icing sugar to get a slightly thickened syrup, I then drizzled it over the warm rolls and immediately scoffed two with my coffee. That's what weekends are about.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Pickle those onions, girl!

I've made a new deal with myself. No more squandering mornings with aimless pottering, making excuses for why I can't possibly get on with my work yet. From now on, I shall have to reach my target word count before I start doing any baking, preserving or pottering, not after.

Okay, so who knows how long this new regime will actually last, but today it worked out very well indeed. I worked all morning, reached the word count and headed to the kitchen to celebrate.

I wasn't reaching for a glass of wine, not that early in the day! Instead I was reaching for my pan of vinegar and my dish of onions. Pickling may seem like a strange celebration to some, but to me it made total sense and was exactly what I wanted to spend my free-time doing. My hard-earned time no less.

At the farmer's market this weekend we spotted punnets of shallots for a quid and I couldn't resist buying two in order to try out the pickled onion recipe I'd found in Pam Corbin's book. I prepared them yesterday by blanching to remove the skins and then covering in salt to get rid of as much water in them as possible. I also prepared some vinegar by adding spices, bringing to the boil and then removing from the heat. I left both the onions and the vinegar overnight, and they lay there on the kitchen counter this morning tempting me.

I was very good, I held out and only finished them once I'd done my work. Talk about will power. I rinsed the onions in very cold water and strained the vinegar. I then packed the onions as tightly as possible in sterilised jars, covered them with the spiced vinegar and sealed the tops with vinegar proof lids.

Apparently they need to mature for about eight weeks - now that's what I call deferred gratification - but you can bet the minute that time is over we'll be down the chip shop for a newspaper wrapped bundle of chips to have with them. I know they'll got well with a ploughman's too, but my childhood memories are of fish and chips and pickled onions on a Friday night, so the first outing of the onions has to be with chips!

Here's my adaptation of the recipe. I found that I needed more vinegar than it called for, I think because rather than making one 900g jar, I made several smaller. I also changed the spices to suit my own tastes, and left out the sugar because I like a sharp pickle. If you want sweet ones add 150g of sugar or honey when you boil the vinegar.

Spiced Pickled onions - makes about five 1/2lb jars, or one large 900g one.

1kg small onions or shallots
50g fine salt
700ml vinegar - I used a mix of cider, malt and white wine to get a mix that wasn't too strong, but will retain its bite.
20g root ginger, bashed slightly and chopped into quarters
2tsp allspice berries
1 cinnamon stick (I used a large piece of bark)
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 small dried chili
bay leaves - one per jar

Top and tail the onions, cover in boiling water for 20 seconds, then plunge in cold water. Slip of their skins, places them in a shallow dish and cover with the salt. Cover and leave overnight.

Place all the spices, except the bay leaves, in the vinegar mix and bring up to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to steep overnight.

The next day: strain the vinegar, wash the onions thoroughly in very cold water and drain, then pack into sterilised jars. Cover completely with vinegar and seal. Leave for 6-8 weeks to mature.

Obviously, I have no idea how these taste yet, but the smell was amazing (if you like pickled onions and spices of course, which I do) so I think they're going to be good. I will update in March!

Monday, 26 January 2009

She's an 1850s throwback

There is (was?) a British comedy quiz show called Shooting Stars hosted by Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer and often starring Mark Lemmarr. Why do I bring up yet another obscure television reference? Because today when someone commented that I was like something out of the Victorian era, all I could think of was the catchphrase from Shooting Stars that they used to describe Lemmarr; "he's a 1950s throwback."

Apparently I'm an 1850s throwback due to my obsession with writing letters, knitting, preserving, sewing and other such things. I think the comment was meant as a compliment, and even if it wasn't I certainly took it as one. I love writing letters (know me for a length of time and you will eventually be inundated by my postcards), now that I know I can make preserves I am revelling in it. I am also proud of my new-found knitting skills and will happy sit on the bus knitting row after row of N's long overdue scarf without shame. Also, I had promised I would finish the scarf over the weekend, it completely slipped my mind.

Things are slipping my mind quite a lot at the moment. I think the smell of boiling oranges is getting to my brain
and in my marma-lady haze I keep forgetting things. I have such a back-log of stuff to post, stuff that is pre-River Cottage and pre-brownie. So pre-brownie in fact that I fear it will get lost in the depths of the hard drive forever.

I have a soup recipe, which was "quite good," (probably not worth posting in hindsight - or foresight actually since I haven't actually written about it), a recipe that came in a jar(!), and some tasters of the big project I talked about, all floundering. They will come (some of them) I promise. I also have all sorts of preserves to talk about, and even more oranges arriving on Wednesday (so many in fact that Abel and Cole rang me to check they had the number of kilos right and that I hadn't pressed the button by mistake!) Oh yes, bring on the marmalade production!

In the meantime I shall leave you with pictures of the orangettes I am in the process of making. I decided to have a go with Seville oranges because I thought the bitterness might balance the sweetness of them being candied. They're still not quite dry yet, so I haven't gotten around to coating them in chocolate, but I snuck a tiny piece that was aching to be eaten and to me they were good. They've got the bitter tang that I love about Sevilles, and yet they are sweet too.
I think they will definitely benefit from being dressed in chocolate. I plan to do them in very dark chocolate to compliment the orange without the cloying nature of milk. I have to say that oddly I think white chocolate might work well too. I know that sounds contradictory, but I think the creaminess will slightly subdue the tang, and so make them a little more delicate for those who don't adore the sharpness quite as much as me.

Speaking of which, I have lemongettes on the way too. I know they ought to be lemonettes, but N likes the "gettes" part and it's stuck!

Oh, before I go, some more housekeeping: I've finally fixed the comments. Apparently I'd left the old private settings on that stopped some comments. It should allow all comments now (although they are still moderated).
Anybody out there want to say hello? Well now you can!

Saturday, 24 January 2009

I am the marma-lady

TA DA! Yes, that is what it looks like, it's a litre of marmalade!

I've been a little maramalade-herical here the last few days. In fact I've been like that for most of the week. I lea
rnt about how to make it on Monday, spent the whole day thinking about ideas for recipes on Tuesday, then my oranges arrived on Wednesday. I couldn't wait to start trying to make my very own marmalade, and I'm impressed that I got any work done at all on Wednesday. But I'm trying to get my will-power and acceptance of deferred gratification back, so work I did. All the while of course I had oranges boiling away in the background, filling the flat with the slightly bitter and heady smell of Sevilles.

I adore Seville orange marmalade. It is something that reminds me of my childhood and the way I used to have it on bread with peanut butter. Trust me, it's the most perfect combination; the slightly salty yet creamy peanut butter with the sweet and yet bitter marmalade. Gets me every time, and the first thing I did when we got back from River Cottage was whack on a slice of toast, and crack open my jar of River Cottage marmalade to try with peanut butter. It was delicious, very like the Duerrs marmalade my father always buys.

So that became my goal, to produce a marmalade that was not entirely quite unlike Duerrs or River Cottage. I wanted a really chunky, bitter yet sweet marmalade, with, of course, a nice hint of whiskey!

I decided to use the whole fruit method as this is supposed to produce a very traditional dark bitter marmalade. I boiled the fruit whole, kept and measured the cooking water, chopped the now soft oranges, weighed sugar, juiced lemons and it all went in the pan.

As usual everything was going perfectly to plan until it came to the setting point. I don't know why, but this has come to instill fear in my heart. I think because I over-set my first jam to such an extent that it became like cheese - "cham" - and then failed to get the following jelly experiment to set, I have grown to dread the time when it comes to test for set.

I tried using a thermometer, because I'm told and I read that this is a sure-fire way. The boiling mixture should hit the right temperature and Voila! it should set. Nope. Not in this flat. I tried the saucer test, and have had real problems there too. I drip some on a cold saucer and put it back in the fridge, test a few minutes
later, no set. I pour the mix into jars anyway because it had hit temperature a while ago, cham.

You can see my issues. But I was determined this time that I was going to be fine. No more fear, no more nervousness. I'd seen it done, I'd heard it from the experts, and I love marmalade. Success for destined and sure-fire.

Hahahahaha! No it wasn't! I boil, I get it up to temperature, and test on a saucer. No set. I re-boil to temperature, place on a saucer. No set. I re-boiled to temperature, test on a saucer. Set! Hurrah for the wrinkle. I take it off the heat, stir slightly and leave for 15 minutes to cool slightly so I get an even distribution of peel in the jars. I stir in the whiskey, then I pot it.
No set. I kid you not. Hours later, still like syrup. Disaster.

My response? A while ago I might have burst into tears, and I still very nearly did. I felt so bad that N had bought me the wonderful preserving course for my birthday and I still couldn't do it. Fortunately he was very supportive and pointed out that he chose the present because of the enjoyment I would get from it, not necessarily because he expected me to churn out preserves. Plus, he thought it looked fine. Now I just felt bad generally because I hadn't managed to succeed at something I really, really, really want to get right.

What did I do? I sent emails and I waited. Then on Thursday I had a wonderful phone call from a jam expert, a very reassuring, helpful, full of rescue tips, phone call. I was dually reassured, and back on the wagon!

Apparently really chunky marmalade can take days to properly set and I shouldn't despair. Also, I could re-boil, there's no harm in doing it again. Stirring in the whiskey adds liquid and so affects set, if I want a heavy set then leave boiling for even longer so it will have a stronger set before the alcohol loosens it up. Add more lemon juice to chunky just to be sure. Don't worry it makes a lovely sponge pudding and you can always try again.

Armed with this new wisdom I decided to leave my batch well alone. I should be patient and trust it to do the right thing. Two days later, it did! It is a hard-ish set in the fridge, and softer set out of it, with a lovely bitter bite and hint of peat-y whiskey.

Whoo! I can do it. I can make marmalade. Good marmalade too.

I was so pleased that I immediately started plotting the next batch. Today's was a slightly different ratio of sugars (I upped the brown to make it darker) and I let it boil for a lot longer. It still took an age to get to the setting point, but I feel loads more confident about it. We have a small sample in the fridge for toast tomorrow, and more oranges arriving next week! Eek, I'd better order some more jars...

Friday, 23 January 2009

WARNING: Highly addictive content

There's quite the backlog of post building up in my head as there's been a flurry of activity in the North London Kitchen since we returned from Dorset. It's resulted in sticky floors, sticky slippers, a tonne of washing up and some interesting phone calls (not all of which were to my Mum).

However, when I assessed which of the recent projects was in most urgent need of being posted, it wasn't anything from this week at all. Now, I've warned you, the following is highly addictive. If, like me, you have no will power, make at your peril, they will vanish, leaving a trail of gooey devestation in their wake.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, the Ultimate Rocky Road Brownie Recipe.

Oh yes, it is good enough to warrant the use of "ultimate" in the title. I know, because I've had them. They may not look that special, or
pretty, but it's what's inside that counts.

I am very careful not to make these too often. They are a special occasion brownie, packed with far too much deliciousness and gooey stuff and bits of niceness. They are not a grab-on-the-go type, but a savouring-in-front-of-Match-of-the-Day-after-a-hard-night's-drive-across-the-west-of-England-to-your-hotel type brownie. Which is exactly why I made them last Friday ready for our River Cottage Road Trip. The time I made them before that was for a 26 hour, three changes, haven't seen my boyfriend in three months, flight across to Peru when N was away two years ago. As you can tell, these are very special indeed.

I can't remember where I found the recipe, but it was years ago, I think when I was still in college. I think I was reading something at the time that mentioned them and I decided I wanted to have a go. Problem was, I didn't have a recipe. Back then there wasn't a barrage of food blogs I could turn to, but a little hunting and careful search engine usage produced a recipe. I still have that original print out, typed in courior new and cut out to a size just big enough to fit into my recipe scrap book. It is America, as it should be, and so uses cup measures. I'd never come across this back in the day, so actually used a cup. How quaint!

I've adapted and changed and tweaked over the years and every time I think I've got it perfect, then I change something the next time and it's even better. This is one of the things that makes it the "ultimate" rocky road. It can be whatever you want. I didn't used to be a fan of nuts in brownies, so have used everything from chopped biscuit to maraschino cherries (which are now a staple in my final version) in their place, this time I used some macadamia and it came out great. Next time, whenever it may be I will probably try toasted pecans to get some caramel flavour in there.

Oh, and while I remember, they're a great way to use up gritty marshmallows!

The Ultimate Rocky Road Brownie: Makes, well it depends, the original recipe says 12, this time I cut it into 8, but they were pretty large and we ate half one each to make them last longer!

Also, the original recipe calls for a 9" by 13" pan, which I still don't own. I used a 7" by 10" (I think), basically any brownie sized pan will do, they will just be thicker or thinner. Keep an eye on the baking time though, you want them gooey not charcol!

1 1/4 cups caster sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
4 squares dark chocolate melted
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/4 cup plain flour

1/2 milk/dark chocolate chip or chunks

1/2 white chocolate chips or chunks (or nuts or dried fruit, or chopped biscuit or...)

1 cup maraschino cherries (I prefer these to glace as they are moist and include alcohol!)

marshmallows (gritty or otherwise)

Heat oven to 180C and line your brownie pan with parchment (I've found the hard way that this is the best way to ensure easy release of your baked brownie goodness). Cream together the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the eggs and mix until thick and lemon coloured. Mix in the melted chocolate and vanilla. Add the cocoa and flour and mix until well combined. Stir in the chips and bits.

Lay the marshmallows (as many as you want, but don't have them touching - I used 12 large) in the pan with space between them. Allow a 1" border from the side of the pan if possible. Spoon the batter over the marshmallows so they're all covered and then pour any excess into the middle of the pan (it will spread as it bakes).

Bake until a toothpick comes out moist from chocolate, but not batter. Aprox 25-30 minutes.
Cool in the pan and the lift out and cut. Chill to solidify slightly if needs be, but indulge at room temperature.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

This weather is not conducive to work

It's wet, and grey and cold, and did I mention wet and cold? It's pretty wet too.

This does not make me want to sit at my computer writing thousands of words, it makes me want to sit on the bed with some knitting, or a book, or at the table building dinosaurs (long story), or at the counter with a spatula and apron on (although after last night's marmalade and chutney exploits I did have my doubts about wanting to enter the kitchen at all for a little while. Fortunately the mess wasn't as bad as I thought, and the floor only a little sticky when I got up this morning...)

Sniff's got the right idea. He's spent the day moving from his radiator bed, to the sofa, back to the bed, outside to chase off another cat, hastily returning to guard the sofa once more.

I want to be doing that. I want to be making labels for my chutney, knitting rows for N's scarf, which came on leaps and bounds over the weekend, but has stalled since. I want to be churning out batches of warming lemony cake to bring some sunshine.

But no, I shall be mostly writing about the apocalypse.

How apt.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Sun, sea, Sevilles and snow!

At the end of October N started looking a little concerned and sheepish. A bit like Sniff does when he thinks he's done something cute, but worries that we might not think it quite so nice (like when he sleeps on N's clothes to show his affection, spreading his allergen-laden fur all over the things N might want to wear). In November the frequency of this look increased until N finally confessed that he'd already bought my birthday present and wasn't sure if I'd like it. I assured him it would be wonderful, that he always got me brilliant things, and didn't think much more about it.

Then, as my birthday crept nearer I become more intrigued, and finally on the day I was very nervously presented with an envelope. I was, by now, completely stumped. I ripped it open and eagerly pulled out the A4 sheets of paper neatly folded inside.

"Hello from River Cottage HQ! We are delighted that you are going to join us for Preserved - Winter on Monday 19th of January"

I couldn't believe it. I was going to River Cottage, and I was going to learn all about jams, and chutney, cordials, jellies, bottling and everything. I can't remember if I actually jumped up and down, but that's how I felt. Talk about best birthday present EVER!

So yes, yesterday I was off in the depths of the south-west watching Pam "the jam" Corbin and Liz "the pickle" Neville make all sorts of delicious smelling preserves, being fed delicious locally produced food and generally being rather smug. Oh and watching the snow. Yes, that's right, true to form, once again we brought the bad weather with us. I mean, I know it's January, but I didn't expect to get caught between a yurt and a barn with a steaming cup of coffee in a blizzard!
There is so much to tell about the day. Not only did I learn loads, but I met some amazing people, all of whom share the same passion for food as me. I can't tell you how comforting it is to sit in a room full of people who don't think its that weird to constantly talk about food, and who don't think dreams of self-sufficiency and owning bakeries is pure madness! I am hoping I didn't bore them to death too much and that perhaps they will pop in here. It'd be good to know how they're getting on with the preserving too.

I don't want to ramble on here about it all, as it would take forever, and I am still trying to take stock myself. As you can probably imagine poor N had three and a half hours in the car on the drive home listening to my "and then they did this...," "then I got to eat this...," "then so-and-so told me about this..." I think that drive must have felt a lot longer for him, and yet he never once tried to stop me and even encouraged me. I did mention he's wonderful, right? However, I will share some photos of the day, and hopefully as I make some preserves over the next few days and weeks I can remember to tell the odd anecdote here and there.

I will say however, that I had a totally amazing and inspiring time. I am itching to get going and waiting a whole day for my Seville oranges to arrive is seeming like forever! I may well have to raid the freezer fruit stash just so I can have a go at something later!

Having taken the weekend for the trip I should also mention that we got to see some of that bit of the world. Very nice indeed, and Lyme Regis offered us up not only a beautiful walk along the coast in sunshine that made it almost too warm for coats, and many bookshops to browse, but also a bakery/coffee shop that was filled with books about architecture and cookery. Could there be a more perfect venue for us to have a mid-morning caffeine top-up?
Like I said, inspiration everywhere.

Thank you N for the best birthday ever, and thank you to the people I met and all those at River Cottage HQ who made the day so magical.

Hmmm....I wonder when I can pursude N to take me to visit again?

p.s. photo disclaimer - sorry there aren't more and better, but I am still wading through them trying to pick the best and many from the actual demonstrations were taken hastily and through a mirror so aren't the best anyway. Scenic seaside shots to come! I liked the above because of the "builders" option in the teas!

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Housekeeping - going live!

When I was a kid there was a programme on Saturday mornings called "Going Live." It featured Phillip Schofield and Gordon the Gopher. I didn't like the music they showed, or the people they interviewed much, in fact I don't actually remember being that fond of anything about it. Except the bits with Phillip and Gordon. Weird, but true. Then again I always did have a thing for strange stuffed animal TV presenters, Roland Rat was a big role model at one point - I was young, alright.

Anyway, that all came to mind because today I am going live! Yep, I have finally been persuaded to put this little corner of the interweb filled with my experiments and musings out into the public domain. It's possible I will have a dramatic change of heart and disappear into the abyss of private blogging once more, but for now let's give it a shot.

So I've done a tonne of editing, deleted some posts (which is why my 200th post is no longer at number 200, grr) and removed some typing errors and now I'm ready to share with the rest of the food blogging community. I've had so much pleasure and fun reading the blogs of now-favourtie foodies, and gotten so much from the experience. Now, hopefully I can put a little something back and begin to share my stuff too.

So yes, let's go...

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Finished, finally.

Ta da!

I've finally finished my leg-warmers. I started these the week before Christmas and finished them last night. Rather longer than I had anticipated, but I think part of that is because I kept getting distracted by things like KitchenAid mixers and sewing machines! (and I haven't used the latter nearly as much as I would like because of having to get back to work. Boo.)

I have to say I am rather pleased with them. They were done partly to practice changing colours (I only got it wrong once, where I changed before a purl row so it showed the other colour) and to get the ribbing right, which I did. They are almost perfect. Very annoyingly I ran out of the green six rows early and so just resorted to using grey for a few extra rows. Oh well, it won't be too noticable.

They were also made because my trusty pink and black leg-warmers are finally wearing out, and are more holes than not! They are also rather thin and so more leg-accessories than actual warmers. These new ones are not only homemade, but are part merino wool so should be toasty warm. Mmmm, warm ankles again, hurrah!

Next? A red and white striped Arsenal scarf for N and some black and white leg-warmers for K. I am also hoping to tackle a hat pattern soon. Nothing too difficult, just some decreasing, but it's not something I've tried before and I am desperate to move on to something a bit more difficult than tubes to see if I can actually manage it!

p.s. More baking coming soon, and some changes and news too. Watch this space...

Friday, 9 January 2009

From a North London Kitchen, home of gritty realism

We have some special hot chocolate that we want to get through in the next couple of weeks, and what with the Alaskan marshmallows having been gobbled up, what better excuse could there be for jumping on the bandwagon and trying to make them myself. I don't have anything as exotic as princess emulsion, but I do have a nice bottle of Madagascan vanilla extract which I thought would be perfect.

I found a recipe from Baking Bites, and off I went. I decided to halve the recipe as i
t was supposed to make 36 large marshmallows, and there's no way we could get through all those. It was an easy recipe to divide and I thought that all would be well.
It definitely started off well, a small amount of liquid in my mixer very soon became a balloony fluff of bright white mallow. I couldn't believe how quickly it happened, and how impressive it was. Then, in my awe I lost sight of what I was doing. I forgot that when you halve ingredients you also need to adjust things like cooking time. The full recipe said whisk on high speed for 12 minutes, and I did just that...except I probably should have only whisked for six.

As I said though, I was so impressed by the results that it totally slipped my mind! After twelve minutes I dutifully oiled everything in sight - cling film-lined baking tin, spatula, hands, second spatula! - as instructed, but still the mixture stuck everywhere! It's sooooo sticky, I can't stress that enough, it stuck to every unoiled surface, and quite a few of the oiled ones. But eventually I managed to get it in the pan, spread it a bit and left it to set in the fridge.
A few hours later I cut it into small cubes and tossed the marshmallow in equal portions of icing sugar and corn starch. Voila! Homemade marshmallows!

I couldn't wait for N to get back from football so we could try them. I was so certain everything had gone perfectly.
Que N's return, the kettle on, hot chocolate made, marshmallows dunked and the revelation. Hmm.....kind of gritty. Wait, what? Gritty? Yep, that's right, they were somehow fluffy, whilst being every so slightly gritty. I presume because either the sugar didn't melt properly, or I over-whisked the mix. The flavour is lovely, but the additional texture not so much. I was pondering whether I could pass this off as a new fad in marshmallow making, but nah, I have to hold my hand up and admit that my marshmallows are a bit gritty!

And we have a load of them! It's not that they're unpleasant, the flavour is lovely and the initial fluffiness very nice and in fact since we both like them to melt into our drinks any residual grit disappears, so its not a problem. Except we don't actually drink that much hot chocolate. Anyone out there fancy some slightly interestingly textured homemade vanilla marshmallows? They're light and won't cost much to post!

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Better late than never; or, amazing post spoilt us at Christmas

Long ago, in a time far far away - December that is - I signed up to take part in a Christmas cookie and ornament exchange. Having had so much fun sending my jam across the world I just couldn't resist. Plus, this is something I could already do. No more crying over boiling fruit and setting points, just good ole' fashioned cookies and some nice ornaments.

I sent mine off with great excitement, having been a bit carried away and packed not only two types of cookie (cranberry and white chocolate biscotti, and gingerbread) and technically two types of decoration (the gingerbread was also designed for hanging on the tree), but a mini-Christmas pudding and some sneaky spiced apple caramels.

Then I did what I did when I made the jam, I forgot that in the whole point of "exchange" is that you get something too! So off we went to France the weekend before Christmas and I completely forgot about it.

We got back late after a delayed flight and a drive. I staggered through the door with our bags and there waiting was a suspiciously large box with "perishable" and "US Postal Service" all over it. Cookies!

I couldn't wait to get it open, and there was barely enough time to give the cat a quick hug before I was eagerly tearing past the sellotape. I had to giggle when I opened the card, it was from Nicole, the women I had sent the jam to! Luck of the draw meant that this time she randomly got me, talk about fortuitous. She'd been very naughty too and totally spoilt us, it wasn't just cookies and ornaments that awaited us, but some delicious coffee, chai chocolates, marshmallows and blondies! Isn't that just amazing?! And all in the most beautiful and yet practical festive packaging.

It was as if she'd read my mind too, the ornaments were the adorable handmade birds seen here perched in our Christmas tree (just at the weekend in France I had commented to N that I wanted to get some fabric handmade ornaments to start a collection for our Christmasses), and a moose! I am more than a little fond of moose, some might say obsessed, and this relaxed fellow was the perfect addition to the growing collection of mooses in our flat (and was quickly made at home with fellow mooses on the tree).

The other element of mind reading came in the form of the cookies. Meyer lemon butter cookies to be exact. Lemon is one of my all-time favourite flavours, and I have been jealously admiring all the Meyer lemon recipes on Nicole's blog (and others) and so to have a little package of this special lemon-y goodness arrive on my door couldn't have been more perfect. They are were so delicious. I said she should rename them Meyer melting moments as they were melt-in-your-mouth cookies with a delicious creamy yet citrusy flavour. Although I loved the spiced indulgence of the persimmon blondies she sent, the lemon cookies were my favourite. (I should add that the blondies were gobbled up so quickly that I didn't get a chance to take a picture! But you can seem them here... and she's right, they are really good!)

The final part of the package, the princess marshmallows (explanation of the name here), were another aptly coincidental gift and so I waited to try them until Christmas eve. Why? Because in the tradition of having something small to open and indulge in on Christmas eve I had bought N some posh proper hot chocolate from a special local chocolatier. How pleased I was to unwrap the final box from our parcel and discover marshmallows! The perfect accompaniment. The chocolate was spiced and I thought the princess flavour would compliment it really well. It did. We managed to be restrained and only have two marshmallows each so we could have them in the next batch of hot chocolate. It was hard though, those fluffy delights kept melting away and making me want more!

A massive, massive thank you to Nicole for sending such lovely things (and being so patient with me for not posting until now), it was the most wonderful surprise. Also a huge thanks to Molly for organising the event. I just don't know how she manages the logistics of things like this, especially not so close to Christmas, I aspire to that level of organisation. I can't wait for the next event, oh please let there be one!

Friday, 2 January 2009

Start as you mean to go on

I decided to start 2009 as I mean to go on, with an adventure and of course, using the Kitchenaid! I still can't believe it's mine, and that I'll be able to use it whenever I want, I keep scanning recipes for ones that use the magic phrase "with an electric mixer"! There is of course no urgency, it's not going anywhere and I'll have plenty of time to use the attachements, and hopefully add more.

However, it
only seemed right that the first thing I made in 2009 used my beautiful new machine, and that it used it for something that I couldn't have done as well by hand. So I decided to go all out and try making macarons. I've been coveting their pretty little sandwich shapes ever since a friend shared one with me in a French Patisserie when I first moved to London. Then I discovered the world of food blogging and the delightful Tartelette, and my eyes were filled with images of these dainty sweets and their flavour combination potential.

They are a meringue and almond base, cooked and filled with buttercream, ganache, or whatever you fancy. You can also add other nuts to the base and colours and all sorts.

Having read lots about them, and discovered a basic
recipe in Ottolenghi's book I knew this would be the thing to do in the mixer for the first time. It would be perfect for whipping the egg whites and sugar, and I could even do the ganache and buttercream in them.

Off I went! It was very exciting. I whipped, folded and then piped onto baking sheets. I then added a swirl of red food colouring - I was going for a red and white, Arsenal/Christmas feel - and then baked them.

Mostly they turned out alright. Not perfection, but pretty good for a first bash I thought. I left them to cool and made a quick white chocolate ganache and a plain buttercream filling, both coloured with red food colouring. Then I delicately filled and sandwiched them.

Having scoffed the last of the mince pies last night, in a noble effort to finish them up before they went off we didn't have space to try the macrons, so we were naughty and had once each for breakfast with our coffee. Oh yes, a healthy start to the new year! I always thought that was a rubbish resolution anyway because I was bound to break it within seconds!
I was very pleased with the outcome, they may not have all turned out perfectly, but they had a crisp outside, slightly chewy middle and then the cream of the filling. I can't wait to try them again, this time with more complex flavours, hopefully the salted peanut caramel ones in Ottolenghi's book.

I'm afraid I won't post the recipe as I just used the base from Ottolenghi with no adaptations - I'm not that confident yet! But hopefully it won't be long before I am playing with flavours.

More Kitchenaid adventures to come, including my first dough hook experiements! Did I mention I love it already?