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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Ring in the New

Farewell 2013
What a whirl-wind these last two months have been.
The preparation for the Christmas period this year has been full-on, and I've loved every minute of it.
In the past, this time of year has always seemed to be fraught with last minute panic and running out of time.
I don't think this year has been all that different but my method of coping seems to have been better.
Whether that is something that comes with time (or indeed age) and experience, I don't know.
Or perhaps just learning to enjoy the moment for what it is,
instead of worrying about the expectations we build ourselves up to.
Our Christmas cake has been well and truly tucked into, and final batch of mince pies are cooling on the rack
(my last baking fix of 2013).
I think I need to abstain from eating in January.
My tummy cannot face any more food.
I baked quite a few fruit cakes this year, and had great fun decorating them.
The cakes that were made as gifts were given a cheeky Santa face,
a mixture of fondant and royal icing.
and then wrapped up ready for delivery.
We are sitting quietly at home this evening, waiting to see in the
New Year,
Cheese and wine just about to be set upon.
So I shall wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year,
and I'll look forward to seeing you in 2014.
I hope it's a good year for you.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

We're Going On An Adventure

Good Food Show
Scotland 2013
Once a year Mr. B. gives me a 'pass out', and very kindly agrees to be
'in charge' for one entire day back at HQ. He really is so kind.
So this year my annual road trip was to be off up the road to Glasgow for the BBC Good Food Show.
My road trip companion was with the lovely Sheena, my very good friend that I work with.
These trips seem to be becoming a regular event, and I have to confess, I love them.
We were both Good Food Show virgins, so we really didn't know quite what to expect.
I have to say we were not disappointed.
An early start to catch the 7.30 a.m. train from Newcastle Central station was the beginning of our adventure.
We arrived at the SECC around 11.00 a.m. and the short walk from the railway station was under a covered walkway, which was just as well because guess what?
Yep, it was raining!
The arena was a pleasure to be in. It was light and airy and the facilities were very good.
Plenty of loo's, and very clean and well maintained, several ATMs, etc.
We were given complimentary show guides, which detailed all of the exhibitors and their contact details.
You could leave your belongings in a cloak room should you wish, and there were also really good sized bags to purchase, or even a wheelie shopping bag.
My goodness, they had thought of everything to help make your visit as easy as possible.
Sheena and I really didn't know where to start,
so we decided to 'do a circuit' and then make up our minds on what wares we wanted to take home with us.
This lasted for all of about 3 minutes !
The first stall we found was the Wee Pie Company.
I bought a hand raised pork pie, which is one of Mr. B's favourites, and he has confirmed it was indeed
Sheena tried the steak pie and crust dunking sauce, and her hubby echoed a similar opinion..
Next up, and possibly my personal favourite purchase of the day was from the Truckle Cheese Company
We tried a sample of the mature cheddar cheese, with onion marmalade, and oh my word, we had never tasted anything quite like it.
Divine !
I must say all the stall holders were very kind and only to happy to let everyone sample their wares.
Sheena at the Gruyere stand

Enjoying Belgian chocolate ice cream
There was indeed a plethora of fantastic foodie stalls to visit, along with kitchen gadgets, knives, oak furniture and then there was Mr. Torode.
The huge screen above the main stage
Sheena had bought us tickets to watch John Torode give a cookery demonstration
( a special birthday present for me )
and the chance to sit three rows from the front, slap bang in the centre of the row right in front of him,
was the bestest treat of my day.
(Thanks again Sheena).
He prepared two prawn based dishes - a Thai curry type dish and deep fried prawns in a prawn cracker crumb.
The smells wafting their way to our twitching nostrils was mouth watering, and had it not been for the abundance of  food and drink samples we had enjoyed throughout the day I just might have had to put my hand up and ask for a little taste.
Phwoah, it smelled scrumptious.
John was quite charming. Laughing and joking with the huge audience that was watching very intently.
He had us in the palm of his hand.

There was also a small stage set up for Q&A's with a variety of special guests,
such as James Morton, Natalie Coleman, Tom Kitchin
 and Ade Edmondson, to name but a few.
These seats were free but you had to nab them while you could
So suffice to say, Sheena and I had a wonderful adventure, and should you ever think about a trip to any of the Good Food shows in future my advice to you would be "go for it".
You really will have a day to remember.
Until next time, enjoy your day.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Cloud Babies Come to Stay

Little B's Birthday
It has been a fun packed (and very busy) time recently.
Little B was two last week, and we had a wonderful birthday tea party to celebrate his special day.
Family members came to see us and we had a lovely Sunday afternoon.
Little B is very fond of the Cbeebies show Cloud Babies, so it seemed very fitting to use this as the theme for his birthday cake.
I used a basic sponge recipe, filled with vanilla buttercream and then decorated with coloured fondant.
The characters on top of the cake were the plastic figurines you can buy from the show,
which Little B was desperate to get his little fingers on,
but I managed to keep him away from them  at least until the candles had been blown out.
He thoroughly enjoyed his special day.
I watched his little face light up with every birthday present he was given, and the excitement grew as the day progressed.
There was a little tinge of sadness for me,
as I felt the last few days of his 'baby years' slipping away,
but every day with this little chap is always a pleasure,
and I feel so lucky to have both of my 'little B's' with me.
I made this sweater especially for today
I have a new post to follow shortly about my recent adventures to the Good Food Show.
It was a great day out and John  Torode  was very entertaining.
Until next time,enjoy your day.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Bramble Forgaging Fun

Bramble Jelly

The Summer has been beautiful, but sadly it is drawing to a close.
These last few wonderfully warm and sunny days have been a treat, but I must confess, I do enjoy Autumn too.
Those fresh, crisp mornings as we leave the house for work and school.
The newly spun cobwebs that twinkle with the morning dew upon them, and the huge spiders that are trying to sneak into the warmth of indoors,
and of course, the bountiful finds of Autumn fruit too.

I have a small blackberry bush which I planted a couple of years ago and this year has produced quite a decent little crop of fruit.

We also spent a fun afternoon foraging for wild blackberries, and a friend gave me a bag full of some extra brambles and cooking apples.

So, I sat and pondered what I could do with these little black jewels that gleamed at me from the bowl
and jam sprang to mind.

This is such a simple recipe to make and the wonderfully sweet, deep crimson reward is well worth the effort.

You will need :

1.3kg / 3 lb blackberries, washed
2 large cooking apples, washed, cored and diced
450ml / 3/4 pint water
1 lemon, juice only
preserving or granulated sugar
2-3 tbsp creme de cassis
sterilised jam jars and pot covers

1. Prepare a jelly bag or tea towel by boiling in water for 2-3 minutes. Wring well and leave to cool.
Arrange the jelly bag on a stand or an up-turned stool with a large bowl beneath, ready to drip through.

2 Place the blackberries, apple, water and lemon juice into a preserving pan, or large heavy bottomed saucepan.
3. Bring to the boil, then simmer over a low heat for 20-25 minutes, or until the fruit is completely soft.

4. Tip the soft fruit and juice into the jelly bag and leave to drip for around 8 hours or until all the juice has drained.
I tend to leave mine overnight.
 Take care here as the fruit and juice is very hot and will splash.

5. Prepare the jam jars by washing in hot soapy water and leaving to dry in a just warm oven.
I set mine to around 90c for 10-15 minutes.
6. Measure the juice.
For every 100ml you will need 75g of sugar.

Put the wonderfully thick, gloopy purple juice and sugar into the clean preserving pan, heat over a low heat until all the sugar has dissolved, and add the creme de casiss.
Bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until setting point is reached.
I look for a rolling boil on the liquid and then start timing the mixture.
This indicates that you have reached the optimum temperature for the setting point to eventually be achieved.

To check for setting point, pop a saucer into the fridge and allow it to cool.
Drop a small blob of the jam mixture onto the cooled plate and wait about 30 seconds.
Next gently push the jam with your fingertip.
If it crinkles up, you can see it has set.
If the  jam is still quite liquid you need to keep boiling, etc.
7. Skim away any scum from the top of the jelly and fill the jam jars up to the brim.
Cover, seal and label.
This is the really fun bit - you can get some amazing fabrics to make covers, pretty ribbons and you can get very creative with the labels.

I found these labels which are free to download.

Store in a cool, dark place, and this will keep for approx. 6 months.

I have made quite a few jars of this black nectar.
I have some of it ear marked as gifts for lovely people, and the rest we shall scoff on scones or toast.

I hope you get the opportunity to try this recipe with your foraging finds
and until next time, enjoy your day.

Friday, 20 September 2013

I'm so 'egg'cited

Egg Custard

It's back!
 The Great British Bake Off has made a very welcome return to our screens, and as I am sure you all are,
we are glued to our screens on Tuesday evening.
Miss B. is even allowed a late night pass (and on a school night too) to sit with us and enjoy watching this years amazing contestants bake their little hearts out.

Inspired by the egg custard in last weeks show, I decided I should give it a whirl.
The somewhat disastrous results for most of the GBBO bakers made me wonder just what was so difficult about the recipe.
I have to confess it wasn't all that bad, but in fairness I was standing with full instructions in front of me,
 in the safety of my own little kitchen,
and Paul and Mary were not present - more's the pity.

I follow original GBBO winner, Edd Kimber's blog - details to the right here, and by an amazing coincidence, he posted his own recipe for egg custard just last week.
What's not to like about the convenience of that?
It's a bit of an 'egg hungry' recipe, but the whites can be frozen until a later date, or like me, I whipped up an orange curd roulade to feed the 'hive'.

I have detailed the recipe below but you can also check out Edd's recipe here if you would like to. His blog is very good and he has included a video of himself making up the recipe too.
(A little bit too high tech for this little Busy Bee .)

 You will need :

 For the Pastry -
225g plain flour
150g unsalted butter
50g caster sugar
pinch of salt
1 large egg

For the custard filling -
350ml single cream
100ml whole milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
8 large egg yolks
100g caster sugar
1 nutmeg

1. Lightly grease a 9 inch loose bottom tart tin.

2. To make the pastry, I made use of my lovely Magimix food processor but you can make this by hand if you wish to.
Rub the butter and flour together until it resembles bread crumbs, add the sugar and salt and stir to combine.
Make a small well in the centre of the mix and add the egg.
Stir with a knife to bring the mixture together, and then knead by hand until you have a nice smooth mix.
Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for around 30 minutes to firm up.

3. Roll out the pastry to allow a couple of inches overhand around the tart tin,
I recently bought this fantastic rolling pin which is a monstrous 50cm long.
It is made from beechwood and feels a very substantial piece of kit when you are using it.

Gently lift the rolled out pastry into the tart tin and carefully press into the base.
Pop the tin back into the fridge for a further 30 minutes, to help the pastry keep it's shape whilst baking.

4. Pre heat the oven to 180c

5. Remove the tart from the fridge and line with parchment paper, filling it with baking beans.
Bake in the pre heated oven for approx. 20 minutes.
Remove the tart from the oven and carefully remove the parchment and baking beans.
Place the tart back in the oven for about 5 minutes to dry out the base.
Once the tart has baked, this is Edd's brilliant tip to help prevent the base going soggy once filled with the custard.

6. Take an extra egg yolk and using a pastry brush, coat the entire inside of the tart.
Place this back in the oven for 5 minutes to dry out.

7. Turn the oven down to 130c and make the custard.
Place the cream and milk into a heavy bottom saucepan and set over a medium heat .
Add the vanilla extract and bring the cream to a simmer.

8. Place the egg yolks into a bowl and whisk together.

9. Pour the hot cream over the yolks, whisking continuously.
Yes I'm kneeling on the floor to take this picture
10. Leaving the tart in the oven, pour in the custard and very carefully slide back in to bake.
The tart will be completely filled and it's very easy to spill everywhere when trying to lift from the kitchen bench back into the oven.

11. carefully grate the nutmeg over the top of the tart to suit your taste.

12. Bake for around 30-40 minutes or until set around the outside, but still with a little wobble in the middle.

It's all about the wobble.

Allow the tart to cool completely before trimming off the excess pastry and removing from the tin.

I hope you enjoy the rest of GBBO.
I wonder who will win?
Until next time, enjoy your day.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Hot Diggerty Dawg


This Summer has brought us some wonderful weather, and it's been just to darn hot to spend time baking in the kitchen.
I've managed to bake a few odd treats but my attention has been drawn to matters of a more crafty nature.
I wanted to share my latest project with you all -
a lovely little chap I've nick named Diggerty.
He is a gift for a dear friend, who adores knitted animals.
It was originally intended to be her birthday gift, but alas time was not on my side and the date passed before I could get him completed.
However, he has been lovingly sewn up and the final ribbon was tied around his neck this afternoon.
I have become very fond of him, whilst he has sat in my work basket in various stages of unsewn pieces.
I'm sure he will be equally loved in his new home.
I have a few things I'm working on at the moment, all of which I try and snatch a little time to work on -
and I will be sure to share them with you soon.
Until next time, enjoy your day.


Monday, 12 August 2013

The Italian Job

The Summer school holidays are well in swing, and after a wonderful two week break in the South East of England and the Cotswolds, it's been back to earth with a huge B-U-M-P.
The past week has been very busy.
Work has been 'chocca', which is the usual pattern in the school holidays, and home life seems to have been consumed with laundry chores.
I am sure there is twice as much washing and ironing than we actually took away with us.
I think I have finally caught up with the back log, and so my attentions have turned back to the kitchen.
There was a distinct lack of baked treats in the cupboards due to being away, and even Mr. B asked where the brownies were.
So, Saturday morning was committed to replenishing the stocks.
Miss. B has just about eaten us out of house and home this week, and her passing comment as wandering through the kitchen on Saturday was,
"mmm, something smells nice mammy. How long is it going to take?"
So the tins have been filled with brownies, cookies and treats, and the baking balance has once again been restored.
I also wanted to try something new, so when I came across a pack of Italian sponge fingers last week I decided an attempt at Tiramisu would be a good idea.
Mr. B and I have always enjoyed this Italian favourite whenever we have eaten out, so trying to reproduce it seemed like the ideal choice.
It has been a dessert that I have worried a little about tackling, but it's actually not as bad as I imagined.
I think the hardest part was waiting a good few hours for it to set.
You will need :


1 heaped tsp instant coffee granules
125ml boiling water
3 tbsp. brandy - you could also use amaretto here, but seeing as how we've drunk all of ours, brandy was the other option (hic)
2 eggs
65g caster sugar
250g full fat mascarpone cheese
300ml double cream, whipped until thick
1 packet of trifle sponges
dark and white chocolate to decorate

1. line a bowl of your choice with cling film to allow you to lift the finished tiramisu out of the bowl.
You can also use individual serving bowls should you wish, in which case there is no need to line these.


2. Dissolve the coffee in the boiling water and mix in the brandy.
Pour into a shallow bowl so you can dip the sponge fingers.

3. Combine the eggs and caster sugar and whisk together until thick and light.
The mixture should leave a ribbon-like trail on the surface.

4. Put the mascarpone into a separate bowl and mix in a little of the egg mixture.
Fold in the rest of the egg mix and then fold in the double cream.

5. Take the sponge finger and dip for just a few seconds into the coffee mixture.
Be sure to dip the sugary side in and then place 'face up' in the bowl.
Repeat until you have completed the first layer.

These remind me of fish fingers
Dollop half the cream mixture onto the sponge layer and spread out evenly.

Repeat with the remaining sponges and the final layer of cream.

6. Decorate the top with the dark and white chocolate.
I grated mine.
Cover and chill for at least five hours.

This is quite a rich dessert as you can imagine, so you will only need to cut into smallish pieces if you are not using individual serving bowls.
Enjoy your day.