Thursday, 17 May 2012

There's Nothing More Fun Than A Cake Challenge


Ian may not agree with the fun part, but we'll ignore that because he's stuck with me forever and he'll just have to deal with it!

It was our second meeting of our Clandestine Cake Club last night, and the theme was 'Jubilant Jubilee'. I couldn't decide whether to go for something decadent and fit for a queen, or something that looked impressive. I like a good challenge so I decided to go down the impressive looking cake route.

I was inspired by the humble battenberg cake, and was really excited by the idea of having a cake where every slice was a union jack flag. All my friends thought it was a challenge too far (and it nearly was).

I made two tray bake sponges, using a standard mix (the blue 4 eggs, the red only 2). I tried to find dark blue colouring to try and get a truer match to the flag, but I already had the darkest one my shop offered, so I mixed in a tiny bit of black to try and darken it.
You'll see that when you bake a blue cake, instead of going golden, it goes green! 
I tried to cut each length of blue cake into two, on the diagonal, which is not an easy task at all, and was one of the trickiest parts of the cake creation.
Once you cut into the cake, you realise just how blue it is - the green on the outside definitely fools you.
I measured up a bit of red cake to sandwich between the two bits of blue cake that I'd just cut, and was going to join all the bits with buttercream, but this was a fragile job, as every time I tried to spread the buttercream, it tried to pull the cake into bits.
The only way to get it to work was to use my hands, which was a bit weird, and involved a lot of hand washing because buttercream is pretty greasy stuff!
With all four corners of the cake made, it was time for bed, so it all got cling filmed at put in the fridge to harden the buttercream (yes, there's only three bits in this picture but trust me, I did make four!).
Making the cross to go in the middle of the union jack involved a lot of joining of cakes, and it definitely turned a bit jigsaw puzzley, but I was running out of time before cake club, and was a bit panicked so had to hope it would work.
Here's the cake all stacked and assembled - all it needed now was a nice fondant icing blanket to hide some of the joins. 
I cut off a small amount from both ends to give it a clean finish.

The cake was a lot larger than I was expecting it to be, but I achieved my goal of a flag in every slice (even if each slice had to be shared between two people because of the size!). 
I've got ideas for improvement of the process but I'm not sure I'll have much call to make another one!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Blog Break - BGT is to blame!

Sorry for the unexpected blog break last week - I'm afraid my only excuse is that I was sat watching Britains Got Talent - I know it's fun to have a whole week of semi-finals, but I'd really rather it was only on once a week so I can do something else instead of watch it! (The dog was impressive though!)


So... seeing as that's all I've been doing, I don't have anything fun to blog about. Except my wonderful husband bought me a present, and I'm finally jumping on the Nigella bandwagon (my blog friend Lisa raves about Nigella all the time so I'm hoping she's right about her! Talking of Lisa, she's also gone AWOL from the blogisphere so hopefully this mention here might bring her back because I miss her comments!).

This is apparently Nigella's third book - Ian selected it because it had several chapters with recipes to make on lazy weekends - which sounds like the perfect use of weekend to me.

I like order - so if this book works out, I'll probably buy her first and second books so I have the starters of a set, instead of one randomly from the middle - although if any of you think I should shun the order and go for your Nigella favourite, let me know which it is and  I'll consider a departure from my world of OCD.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Pinterest is a Dangerous Thing

I waste a lot of time on pinterest - but it's a great way of bookmarking for me - I can see why I pinned things instantly and I don't have to open lots of bookmarks to find the one I'm looking for. 

I saw this clever way of storing cupcake cases on pinterest and have been wanting to do the same ever since. I saw some similar glass jars on amazon and was trying to work out which size to buy - I asked Ian for his opinion and he asked where I planned on putting this jar. I figured it'd look pretty just on the side but he didn't seem pleased.

So, I decided to do it anyway! But on a trial basis for starters. I've not spent any money on a jar (I found this one in a cupboard - although I don't think it's big enough).  And I'm going to sneak it into the kitchen (although Ian now reads my blog so he might  realise I've done it!).


Do you think it's pretty? Would you allow it to take up some of your kitchen real estate?

Sunday, 29 April 2012

This time last year....


I'd been up for hours making food ready for our Royal Wedding tea party.  I'd been struggling to make trays of uniform looking sandwiches (the bread wasn't square!).  I'd made shortbread myself for the first time, but I'd cheated and bought the scones. I'd made two types of sausage rolls (one with onion, one without).

2011-04-28 22.50.10

I'd spent the evening before making last minute bunting as all our local shops were out - it was simple but effective and added a nice splash of colour to the room. 

2011-04-28 22.50.03

I'd also made little union flags to adorn the cupcakes to make up for not piping the icing in a pretty manner (time was too short and I'd run out of disposal icing bags).

2011-04-27 20.38.12

I'd not made enough flags so used skittles to decorate the remaining cupcakes. I'd also realised that my cupcake holder was too big, as there was only 6 people coming to the tea party yet we had 23 cupcakes!

I'd roped Ian in to help chop fruit for the Pimm's.

We had a nice afternoon in front of the telly watching it all, and even though my friends aren't really very royalist, we enjoyed the day because it was an excuse to get together and drink Pimms!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Golden syrup cake

Considering the amount of golden syrup that went into this cake, it couldn't have turned out bad. But it turned out so much better than I was expecting.

You start out by combining the golden syrup, butter, and sugar over a low heat in a saucepan. It looked like a lot of sugary goodness, and after I'd put it all in the pan it seemed like I'd underestimated the size but there was no going back now because it would take an age to get all the golden syrup back out!

Because the size of the pan, it was pretty hard to mix all the flour in, and I was a bit skeptical with the 300ml of milk the recipe called for because it was already pretty runny, but I trusted that it was correct and ploughed ahead. It doesn't look very appetizing at this stage, but stick with it.

It was nice and easy to transfer to the tin, and I didn't need to spread it out at all because of the consistency of it.  You'll notice that I didn't manage to get all the lumps out because the saucepan was just too full, but this didn't seem to matter.

After I took it out of the oven, I drizzled more golden syrup over the top. I was a bit stingy with this, because I knew how much golden syrup had already gone into the cake, but the effect of the drizzling is totally worth it, so go a little crazy!

The cake  was really moist, and went down well with everyone at work and I'd definitely make it again. I'd imagine it would be good with custard or ice cream when hot too.


Tuesday, 24 April 2012

No TV = Productivity Win!


So, I found some time. I worked out that if I don't put the telly on, then I'm more likely to do something useful. Yesterday evening I tidied the bedroom. Today isn't going so well, but that's because we were late home and then spent too long chatting to the neighbours, so I figured I'd blog and watch telly tonight instead of tidying the next room along. But I already feel happier having achieved something for once after work instead of just flaking in front of the telly.

I love the telly, but I hate the telly too! I really need to manage my telly time better to ensure I have time for other things in my life, but I'm really enjoying working towards my Day Zero list goal of watching a film a week - I've definitely seen some good things since I started that (and some questionable things too!). So, I need to strike a balance really - I might set aside 30mins a night, and then one night a week on top of that for telly time and see how it goes.

What do you do? Do you impose telly time routines on yourself? How much telly time do you have a week?

Monday, 23 April 2012

The Fox, Fair Oak

We had a few days off around Easter and so we decided to go out for dinner somewhere we'd not been before. I'd heard that The Fox in Fair Oak had a good chef - their website boasts that he is 2 rosette standard.

The menu seemed quite limited and Ian wasn't sure what to choose, but we finally came to a decision - Ian chose the layered smoked salmon, crayfish, crab & smoked trout terrine and I went for the Goats Cheese & celeriac mousse with red pepper coulis.  

Ian's starter was nicely presented and seemed well packed with all the layers and he didn't leave any of the terrine itself (the blob of white stuff which we believe to be creme fraiche remained on the plate though).  I don't like smoked salmon but I had a bit of the middle, although Ian had already drenched it in lemon and I'm not keen on that so not sure what I thought of it!

My starter was a bit of an adventurous choice for me as I wasn't sure if I liked celeraic so I figured this was one way to find out. I was expecting it to be mixed in with the goats cheese to make the mousse, but as you can see it was just chunks of it. I did try several pieces because it's not a very strong taste and I couldn't quite work out what I thought of it, but I did end up picking it all out.  I'm not sure I'd go as far as saying it's a mousse though, as it was quite solid - I expect mousses to be more bubbly and light really.

For mains, I was a little worried about going for a cassoulet after the quality of the last one I had, but I figured I'd give it another go. Cassoulet of confit duck, black pudding, pearl barley, carrots and thyme seemed an interesting combo, and I like pearl barley so thought I'd give it a go. Unfortunately, I was again disappointed - by the fact that there were no beans in the cassoulet (and I'm pretty sure that is a required ingredient), by the dryness of the duck, and by the woodiness of the thyme stalks in amongst the pearl barley.  The black pudding was tasty though, but it all got pretty samey after a couple of mouthfuls, and it was hard work really.
Ian went for a safe choice of scampi and chips, and there was plenty of it so he was pleased by that. I'm not sure how you can get scampi and chips wrong so it's hard to be critical of it at all.
For dessert, I went for the apple crumble, and Ian  went for the hazelnut brownie with ice cream. The crumble on my dessert was far too fine, and resembled cous cous - it wasn't unpleasant, but it was really strange for a crumble.  There also wasn't enough ice cream for the size of crumble they gave me, I'd have been a lot happier with a second scoop and a smaller crumble.

Ian's dessert was probably good, it disappeared before I got a chance to try it, and he polished off the other half of mine.
We couldn't fault the service, although we were the only ones in the restaurant for the first two courses, but the food didn't live up to what we'd been expecting.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Week 11 Photo Challenge

Day 66's photo is me documenting how Ian likes his chips. They're very crispy!
Day 66

Day 67 is a photo of the valentines gift that I got from a guy at work - all a bit strange - but I got free play-doh so I'm not complaining (although I forgot how much that stuff smells!!)
Day 67

Day 68 shows what happens when you turn your back on Monkey at work.
Day 68

Do you remember all those receipts I had back in Week X? Well, I decided to overhaul my receipt system, and instead of putting them in boxes and forgetting about them, I'm going to spike them like they do with orders in restaurants and then process them monthly. I looked online to see if I could buy a spike but they were all over £10 and I figured it was an easy system to implement. So now I have a placemat with a cocktail stick attached to it with plasticine. It's not pretty but the receipts hide that, and it's working out much better than my old system.
Day 69

Day 70 I finally made Ian a cherry pie. It didn't go so well - I'll explain more in it's own post later!

Day 70

On day 71 I had to break the news to my team at work that I'd accepted a new job in a different department, and figured the best way to do that was with cake. I always have some bananas on standby, so got up early to make a banana loaf. There is a guy in my team who doesn't like banana loaf though so I cracked out some of the emergency freezer cookies to ensure that he didn't have to face the news of my departure without baked goods to cheer him up!
Day 71

Whilst making my lunch on day 72, I decided that this would make an interesting photo - not sure why! You'll notice there isn't a green pepper - that's because those things suck!
Day 72

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


Where can I find more time? I want to blog but I'm too busy catching up on all the blogs I'm reading! I never seem to have enough time to write a whole post and organise all the pictures for it and link them together - there's a lot of overhead in every post - it's not easy! Plus, if I spend all the time blogging, I don't do anything that I can blog about!

Any ideas how to solve this? Anyone got a time machine?!

P.S. The eagle eyed among you will notice that I made myself a banner and removed the cake from the background. Just to be clear, I did that at the weekend when I was not meant to be anywhere near a computer. Sometimes you accidentally find time, and then regret it!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Week 10 Photo Challenge

Day 59 is joke time. We've been enjoying penguins as snacks at work recently, and the jokes are just as bad as I remember them. See if you can guess the punchline to this one.

Day 59
Day 60 shows my attempt at a new lunch regime. My lunch is on the right - you'll see it's much taller a stack than Ian's - I've got a sandwich, some crudites and some houmous, strawberries, a yoghurt and a banana. I was really chuffed with the houmous - I love the caramelised onion one, but they never have a low fat version of that, so I finally worked out that I could buy the reduced fat one and add my own caramelised onions in - so simple but effective!

Day 60
Day 61 was the first day of March. I'd managed a whole month without takeaway (even the extra leap year day!), and so we celebrated with Dominos. You'll see the big smile on Ian's face - it was a good day!

Day 61
Everytime we go to ikea, I pick up this set of 3 scissors for 99p. Scissors always go walkies in our house, so it's good to have plenty - even if Ian thinks I'm crazy for always buying them!

Day 62
A week after our trip to ikea, and the billy bookcases we bought remain on the floor in our dining room, along with the parcel shelf and head rests for the car!

Day 63
After a bit of nagging, the car parts are back in the car, but the billy bookcases remain unmade. One step at a time I guess!

Day 64
Day 65 brings exciting post to our door (or to the depot where I went to collect it, but that doesn't sound as good). I ordered a personalised address stamp from etsy and it finally arrived all the way from Malaysia. It's got two little owls in the centre of it, and it makes me really happy to send post now!

Day 65

Monday, 9 April 2012

Week 9 Photo Challenge

I'm a bit behind on posting my photos, so behind that it's a little bit of a struggle to remember why I took some of the photos which was totally not the idea of the challenge and I'm feeling very silly for not being better.

Week 9 started with a photo of pancake party aftermath. I'm very good at remembering to take photos after everyone has gone!

Day 52
Day 53 I came downstairs to find Ian had sneakily changed the board after the pancake party. It used to look like this, but I loved the altered version (and it stayed up for a few weeks too!).

Day 53
Day 54 would have been a better photo, but I'd already removed my contact lenses so couldn't see anything to photograph. Instead you've got a picture of my lense, on my finger where I like to put them because it makes my finger all shiny!

Day 54
Day 55's photo is of this annoying wardrobe that I want to get rid of - I'd love a corner wardrobe instead but am struggling to find one that I like (and with a non-ridiculous price tag!).

Day 55
Day 56 I went off to try and capture the moon again - this time along with Venus. When I was unloading the car at my friends house after our ikea trip (not to get a wardrobe), it was much brighter and clearer, but it had moved and so I didn't quite do it justice (venus is the light in the bottom left - not the street lamp though).

Day 56
The next picture comes with a cute warning. It's sooo cute. Unbelievable cute. I'm not lying, you'll make a funny aaaw sound when you see it. Ian wasn't feeling well so I bought him this cute monkey. I've just asked him if he's given the monkey a name. He said no. Then he decided now was the time to name him. He's called him 'penguin'. My husband is special. But anyway, here comes the cute!!

Day 57
The next picture isn't as cute, but is still special. This was part of my present for our six monthiversary. Points for anyone who can guess what animal it's meant to be!

Day 58