Saturday, 28 February 2015

Cat and Mouse

Every morning there is a mad moment when the Dust Bunny has a wild burst of activity, usually it involves one of the dining chairs and his favourite mouse.



It only lasts for a minute or two but it sounds like he is pulling down the house. I know it's about to begin when I see this face, the 'I am temporarily possessed by a wild demon' face.



Poor mouse is always oblivious to imminent attack even though it happens nearly every day.  I suppose it's the result of having a brain filled with cotton wool.


The attack is vicious; kicking, biting, sharp teeth gnashing and gnawing mousie's tail. 


Suddenly it stops.  A sort of truce breaks out.  Cat and mouse share a cuddle and a snooze, all aggression is forgotten.


But I can't help but think someone is making strategic plans for the next game of cat and mouse. 

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Zeppelin on Xylophones!

When I saw this I knew I had to share it with you.  Remember these kids are only 7-14 years old!   I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


Rock On!  

Monday, 23 February 2015

Vanilla Cake with Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting

I've been doing some research on cake recipes that don't use butter.  I mean, what if one day you find you need emergency cake and don't have enough butter?  We must have a contingency plan, or in this case, contingency cake.



Fear not, I've got a special Vanilla Cake recipe for just such an emergency. 

VANILLA CAKE made with canola oil

1 1/4 cups plain flour
1 cup (caster) sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
two eggs - room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons canola oil (sunflower or corn oil will work, too)

Heat the oven to 350F/180C.  Grease and flour a 9 inch round cake pan. Place a circle of baking paper in the bottom of the tin so the cake comes out easily.

Place the sugar and oil in a large mixing bowl and beat until they are well combined.  Add the eggs and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.  Beat in the salt, baking powder, and vanilla.  Mix in the milk and gradually add the flour mixing until all the ingredients are combined.  Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the cake is a light golden colour and well risen.   Remove the cake from the tin, take off the baking paper circle, and place the cake on a wire rack to cool COMPLETELY before frosting.



So, if you don't have enough butter to make the cake, you probably are running low on icing sugar, too.   We can cope with that.  Here is a delicious frosting recipe that doesn't use icing sugar at all!  

COOKED CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

2 Tablespoons plain flour
1/2 cup milk 
1/2 cup (caster or granulated) sugar
4 ounces cream cheese*
4 ounces butter or margarine - slightly softened*
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Place the flour and sugar in a small saucepan and stir well to combine. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly to make sure there are no lumps of flour.  Place the saucepan over a low heat and bring up to the boil.  Stir this mixture continuously until it is cooked and very thick.  Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and refrigerate for about an hour.

When the flour mixture is completely cooled, place it in a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer for a minute or two.  Gradually add the cream cheese and soft butter a spoonful at a time.  Add the vanilla essence and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.  

Chill the frosting while you prepare the cake.  I sliced my cake in half to make two layers because I was taking the cake to my Mum-n-Law's house for afternoon tea.  A filled cake is much easier to transport so I used the frosting to make a 'cake sandwich' and didn't frost the top of the cake.  


I like to store all cakes made with cream cheese frosting in the refrigerator. Be sure to place your cake in an airtight container to keep it moist and fresh.  I even wrap mine in plastic wrap before putting it in a plastic cake box. 

*If you prefer, you can omit the butter in the frosting recipe and use 8 ounces of cream cheese. 

Fat-Free Creamy Soup

As you know, I don't do 'DIET' but sometimes, after a particularly naughty weekend, I find I don't want anymore rich food.  This is a quick soup I made for my lunch today that doesn't contain any fat, cream, or butter but it still has a rich creamy texture.  



The magic ingredient is potato.... here's how I make it:

Peel and cut into smallish pieces:

2 carrots
1 large potato
1 onion

Place the vegetables into a sauce pan with 1 good quality stock cube and enough water to cover the vegetables.  

Add any herbs you like.  I used...

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Pinch of dried thyme

Cover the pan and cook over a low heat until the vegetables are very tender.  If you like to add a little heat to your soup, add 1 teaspoon HOME MADE CHILI SEASONING

Remove the saucepan from the heat and puree the vegetables and stock together until smooth and creamy.  I use a stick blender for this but you can always use a food processor.  Return the soup to the heat and bring it back up to a simmer before serving.  That's it, creamy, fat free and not naughty at all!

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Volcano Cake

They always say never drive drunk.  My new motto is 'Never bake when distracted'.   I have no idea what I was thinking about when I made this cake.  I did everything wrong!



I put the flour in the batter at the wrong time.  I used the wrong size pan.  I am not sure if I pre-heated the oven so it had to be baked for ages. And this is what happened.



I baked a volcano!  I feel very lucky it turned into a cake at all.



I've done some serious trimming, made some decadent frosting, and crossed my fingers hoping that it will all be fine in the end.  I'll keep you posted.


Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Pancake Day - Part 2

I know a lot of my readers prefer to weigh ingredients rather than use American cup measurements so here is the recipe for Fluffy Pancakes in grams and litres.


FLUFFY PANCAKES

200 grams plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 Tablespoons caster sugar
1 Tablespoon light brown sugar
pinch salt
1 egg
200 ml milk
30 grams melted butter 

I've got an idea...
CLICK HERE to see the original recipe from Baking Bar.


Have a delicious Pancake Day!  

Pancake Day!

Today is Shrove Tuesday,  Mardi Gras, or as most of us say, Pancake Day!   It was always a big day when I was a kid growing up in a tiny town in the middle of America. The local Lions Club usually had a big Pancake Day Dinner to raise money for charity and everyone would show up.  It was one of the biggest social events of the year. 



As I said, it was a VERY small town and a long time ago.  Now, living in Britain, I find that Pancake Day is still a big deal.  Most people continue to honour the tradition of making pancakes. Instead of the the fat, fluffy version we have in the States, crepes seem to be the pancake of choice.  There are lots of topping options but most people simply squeeze over a few drops of lemon juice and sprinkle them with sugar before eating them.  


Americans may think flapjacks (not even the same thing in the UK) are our invention but I am sure we nicked the idea from the Scottish immigrants. There are loads of old recipes for drop scones and Scotch Pancakes that look exactly like our maple syrup soaked griddle cakes.  



That's the great thing about food, it is a historical link to our homelands and ancient traditions which we share with people all over the world...without even knowing it.   The American Diner is the new big thing here in Britain.  They are popping up like mushrooms all over the place.  I must say I am tempted to visit one and order a 'Short Stack' just to see what they bring out. 



AMERICAN DINER LINGO:


Short Stack = Two Pancakes
Stack of Cakes = Three Pancakes



Monday, 9 February 2015

The Accountant's Helper

Some tasks require complete concentration and attention to detail, preparing tax returns for example.  It takes every little grey cell I have just to read and make sense of the manuals.   I was doing just that this morning ...well trying to do that this morning, when there was an almighty kerfuffle under my chair!


Some one was going mad under there... kicking, wriggling, and squirming.  How are you suppose to work with all this carrying on?


No, this photo isn't the wrong way around, this is the Dust Bunny going bonkers! When I put my hand down to stop him, he attacked me...in the nicest possible way, of course. 


When I scolded him, he hid his face... well he thought he was hidden.  


Finally, after about five minutes of madness, he just collapsed... all wriggled out.  He slept the rest of the day and I continued with the accounting.  I think I need a different assistant!  

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Belated Birthday Cake

I tried to resist the temptation to bake a cake for my birthday but I could only hold out one day. So this is my Belated Birthday Cake, a classic Devil's Food Cake with Caramel Icing.


Devil's Food Cake

1/2 cup butter - room temperature
3/4 cup (caster) sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup strong coffee - room temperature
1 teaspoon white vinegar

Heat the oven to 350F/180C.  Prepare two 8 inch round cake pans by greasing them then dusting them with flour.  Place a circle of baking paper in the bottom of each tin. 

Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and whisk until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, beat until well combined.  

In another bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda.  Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the creamed butter and mix to combine.  Add 1/2 of the coffee and mix.  Continue alternating dry ingredients with coffee, mixing after each addition.  Do not over beat or your cake will be tough. Finally, stir in the vinegar. Divide the batter evenly between the two cake tins and bake for about 25-30 minutes.  

Check the cakes at 20 minutes, you don't want to over bake them.  When baked, turn the cakes out on a wire rack and remove the baking paper.  Leave the cakes to cool completely before frosting.


Traditionally, Devil's Food Cake is served with chocolate frosting but I prefer this simple cooked Caramel Frosting.  

Caramel Frosting

1/2 cup soft light brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
2 1/2 tablespoons milk 
1 cup icing sugar

Place the light brown sugar, butter, and milk into a small sauce pan.  Place the pan over a medium heat, stirring until the butter melts.  Allow this mixture to boil for two minutes then remove it from the heat and leave it to cool.  Add the icing sugar to the cooled caramel mixture and beat until fluffy.  

Use half the caramel frosting to 'sandwich' the cakes together and the other half to top the cake.... candles are optional!    


Saturday, 7 February 2015

The DIY Birthday Cake

Some people are unlucky in love, some unlucky with money.  I have a birthday cake jinx.  It all started when I was six.  While Mom was making my birthday cake she became distracted and forgot to put in the baking soda.  When the cake came out of the oven it resemble a kitchen cleaning sponge in size, density, and texture.  I was six, it was cake, and smothered in two inches of frosting it was good to me.  



When I was seven, Mom accidentally slammed the oven door while my birthday cake was baking.  Seven candles perched precariously on top of a cake that rose from the serving plate at a jaunty 45 degree angle. Mom tried to level the cake with additional frosting which meant my slice of cake had three inches of gooey butter cream. I was seven and in a sugar induced euphoria I was, over course, delighted.


When my eighth birthday rolled around, Mom was determined to produce a faultless birthday cake.  It was chocolate and vanilla marble cake with fluffy vanilla icing.  The cake stood moist and tall topped with great swirls of butter cream. It was the most perfect cake she had ever made.  She wanted to surprise me so she placed it somewhere she knew I'd never see it, on the landing of the stairs which lead to the back door.  

My Dad was the Superintendent of a railroad.  Our house ran like clockwork, everything timed to the precise minute so Mom knew he wouldn't be home until 5 o'clock in the evening... EXCEPT for that day... he was home early.   He drove directly to the garage, parked the car, and in his usual brisk manner,  strode through the back door onto the stair landing and into my beautiful birthday cake!

Swear words ensued, including the query of who would be dumb enough to leave a cake directly in front of the back door.   Mom hotly replied that he should slow down and watch where he was putting his big feet.  I, as any eight year old girl would do, giggled and giggled and pointed and giggled.  

Now, pride is a sin that runs in our family, neither of my parents were going to tolerate being humiliated by an 8 year old kid.  My Dad gave me that stony stare that always stopped me in my tracks.  My Mom, who had become slightly puce in colour, rounded on me and pronounce these words as if they were a fairytale curse, 'The next time you want a birthday cake you can make it yourself!'  The moral of this story....don't laugh when your Dad steps on your birthday cake! 




And that is why, from the age of nine to this very day, all my birthday cakes have been 'Do It Yourself'!  

Friday, 6 February 2015

River Cottage Sardine Bake

Now don't freak out...the recipe I am about to share with you contains sardines. I can feel you freaking.  Yes, sardines, those cartoon character fishes that are all packed into the can as tightly as possible and then pull the tin can top up over themselves like a quilt to make a bed.  



OK, I may have watched too many old cartoons as a kid.  To be honest, I didn't think I liked sardines either.  I'd never tried them, but I was pretty sure I didn't like them.  This is the problem, we decide we don't like things before we even give them a chance. 



Fortunately, Andy likes sardines.  Andy likes all sorts of canned fish, it's a British thing I think. When we saw Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall make this Sardine Bake on a River Cottage program Andy said 'We've got to try that.'



So we did... and we LOVE it!   There is something I must tell you before I go any further.  This isn't the prettiest dish you will ever make.  Actually, it's rather bland looking, but it really is VERY tasty.  On the plus side, it only requires simple store cupboard ingredients and it's very economical to make.  Here is how to do it:

20 grams butter
1 small onion- peeled and finely sliced
2 -3 potatoes- peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
salt and pepper to taste
120 gram tin of sardines in oil- drained
milk - about 3 ounces 

Fry the onions in the butter over a low heat.  You want them to become translucent rather than brown.  Add the potato matchsticks, season with salt and pepper,  and cook for a few minutes, until the potatoes begin to soften.

Butter a baking dish and pour in half of the potato-onion mixture, top this with the sardines.  Put the remaining potato mix over the sardine layer and pour in a few splashes of milk.  Cover the baking dish with foil and bake at 190C/375F for 20 to 25 minutes.  The potatoes should be tender.  Remove the foil and bake for about 10 minutes or until the potatoes begin to turn golden.  Serve hot with good bread and salty butter.  



That's it...easy.  So don't freak out and give sardines a chance.  

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Snickerdoodles

I've collected about four difference recipes for Snickerdoodles so I thought it was about time to bake them!


Each recipe is very similar to the next so I just picked the one that made the smallest batch of cookies.  I jot recipes down in my diary when I have a little space left.  This recipe was written on the page for January 12th. Doesn't look like much was happening that day.



Let me translate that scrawled recipe for you...

SNICKERDOODLES

1/2 cup butter - room temperature
1/2 cup (caster) sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Using the paddle attachment of the mixer, or a lot of effort with a wooden spoon, cream together the butter and sugars until they are light and fluffy.  Add the egg and beat to incorporate.  Stir in the salt, baking soda, vanilla, and cream of tartar.  Finally, add the flour and stir to combine. Place the dough into the refrigerator to chill and firm up a bit. 

Heat the oven to 325F/160C.  Mix together 1/4 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon and set to one side.  Prepare the cookie sheets by lining them with a piece of baking paper.


When the dough has firmed up a bit and the oven is hot, you can begin to form the snickerdoodle cookies.  Take a small scoopful or a tablespoon of dough and drop it into the bowl of cinnamon-sugar.  Roll the dough to cover it completely then place the dough ball on the baking sheet.  Leave about two inches between each cookie to give them room to spread while baking.


Bake the Snickerdoodles for about 10-12 minutes.  These are a soft cookie, so don't over bake them.  Leave the cookies on the baking sheet to cool and firm up a bit before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.




By now you will have realized that you have some of the cinnamon-sugar mixture left over.  This is a good thing, just sift it to remove any bits of cookie dough and place it in a screw top jar.  You can use this cinnamon-sugar on your oats in the morning or make cinnamon toast by sprinkling it over a hot piece of buttered toast.  Use it to make cinnamon rolls or cinnamon scones. 


Don't forget to store your Snickerdoodles in an airtight container so they stay as soft and delicious as the day you baked them. 

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Cottage Loaf Part II

For years I have been trying to bake a beautiful cottage loaf.  I bake bread all the time so making the dough is not a problem.  I just can't seem to get the loaf to look right.  This doesn't stop me trying.  In a triumph of hope over experience, I gave it another go this afternoon.  This was the result....


It's still not 'knobby' enough but it's my best go yet.  It's that little bun part at the top that causes me grief.


I either get it too big or too small, too flat or too round.  Sometimes it stays put on top of the loaf.  Other times it wanders off to one side or the other.   Today the knobbly bit seemed to be fairly well behaved and stayed attached.


Then you have to face the terror of slashing.   One wrong move and you can deflate all that fluffy dough.  It's too scary!   Anyway, I decided to be brave and just go for it.  And you know what....


It didn't come out half bad!  OK, it's not picture perfect but at least it doesn't look like the Leaning Tower of Bread.   Fancy having a go?  CLICK HERE FOR THE RECIPE  Don't worry if you have problems with the knobbly bits.  You can do as I do and eat the evidence!