Monday, October 31, 2016

Spooky Halloween Doughnuts

I wasn't going to do any more Halloween baking this year but saw a video tutorial from Wilton, the US cake decorating brand, on Facebook for doughnuts and realised I had the doughnut tin that they used in the recipe. So I made a quick batch of baked doughnuts - they are quite easy to make as you bake them in the oven, so no hot oil to deal with - and decorated them as spider webs and pumpkins. Easy to do, and fun for the kids to join in with. You can even hand these out to any trick or treaters who come knocking!

I used this recipe from the Wilton website. Translated for UK bakers (we don't have 'cake flour' over here, you need:

2 cups (300g) plain flour
3/4 cup (175g) caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup (175ml) buttermilk
2 tbsp. butter, melted

to decorate:
icing sugar
black and orange food colouring (gel works best)

Preheat oven to 220C. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl and then beat in the buttermilk and butter until you have a thick batter.




To decorate, lay some kitchen towel or newspaper under your cooling rack as the icing will drip through. Mix icing sugar with a few drops of water, adding a few more drops until you have a thick and slightly runny consistency, that drops off the spoon but isn't liquid. Separate into three bowls with two containing more icing than the other - the smallest bowl is the one you will leave white.

Add orange food colouring (I used Wilton gel colour) to one bowl and black to another and beat in. Use a teaspoon to drizzle the orange icing over half the doughnuts. If you like you can add a green stalk for the pumpkin or even edible eyes if you have them or want to make them from fondant!

Cover the remaining doughnuts with black icing. While it is still tacky, spoon the white icing into a piping bag and snip off the end so you have a small opening. Pipe concentric white circles onto the black doughnuts. Take a cocktail stick (toothpick) and drag lines through the icing from the outside to the inside; this will give a spiderweb effect. Leave the icing to set and enjoy!

Grease a doughnut pan with Cake Release or similar and fill the holes until 3/4 full. Bake in the preheated oven for 7-9 minutes until risen and springy. Allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes then cool on a cooling rack.


I'm sending these as a last-minute entry to the Food Calendar challenge hosted by Charlotte's Lively Kitchen.

Meal Planning Monday 2016 - Week 44

I have a whole week off work this week which is great - I had some annual leave to use up and decided to use it to tackle all the big jobs around the house I had been putting off. The aim had originally been to finish the decorating with my husband but he wasn't able to get any time off work, and I don't want to do it on my own - I did enough of the decorating when we moved in as he couldn't get as much time off work then either! I have plenty of things to keep me occupied, from reorganising the kitchen cupboards to trying to finally get the hang of my sewing machine to changing my name on various databases that I started doing after I got married in June, but haven't had time to finish!
It also means I can have a bit more fun in the kitchen, though as my husband will want me to pick him up from the train station after work I can't make anything that will require me standing over the stove for a long time - unless I tell him to get the bus!

Lunch:  mackerel fillets in korma sauce on toast
Dinner: Sonoran chicken pasta (America's Most Wanted Recipes p.205)

Lunch: jacket potato
Dinner: sausage and baked bean pie for him, homemade mac and cheese with chorizo for me

Lunch: pizza toastie
Dinner: Santa Fe chicken (America's Most Wanted Recipes p.10) with mashed potatoes

Lunch: rest of mac and cheese (easy to heat up as the cleaner is here)
Dinner: my husband is out at the cinema. I'll have Shrimp Marinara (America's Most Wanted Recipes p.232) with broccoli bites (p.26)

Lunch: broccoli cheese soup (America's Most Wanted Recipes p228)
Dinner: chicken nuggets (Deceptively Delicious p.76) with chips - well it is Friday!

Lunch: I'm out all day on a course
Dinner: Today is the 6 year anniversary of when my husband and I met! I won't be home that early because of the course so I need a simple dinner -one of his favourite things is steak and chips.

Lunch: baked camembert with fougasse
Dinner: spiced roast lamb chops with roots and alliums (Sophie Grigson's Country Kitchen p.145) with gammon for him as he doesn't eat lamb

This is a blog hop: join in!

The Life in your Years Birthday Card

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Cauliflower Tikka Masala, Diwali and Memories of Gwalior

This weekend is Diwali, the Festival of Light, celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists, so what better time for a vegetable curry recipe?

Diwali celebrates the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil; people clean and decorate their homes, put on new clothes and light lamps and candles both inside and outside their homes, praying to Lakshmi, the goddess of fertility and prosperity. Gifts are exchanged and Indian sweets are eaten - we had some in the office at work for people to try.

The festival has a different origin for other religions, and when I was reading up on it for an article I wrote for the intranet at work, I discovered Sikhs celebrate Diwali as marking the release of the Sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind, from a prison in Gwalior, India. The reason I was so fascinated by this is that I have actually been to Gwalior!


In 2008 I went to the wedding of two friends in Bhopal, India. Both bride and groom lived in the UK but both had families in India so they had a ceremony in England but the wedding itself was in India. A group of my university friends decided to go - I remember doing a lot of the planning, booking train journeys so we could fly into Delhi, visit the Taj Mahal and make our way down the country to where the wedding was taking place. While looking for somewhere to stop on the way we came across Gwalior and spend a day walking around the fort and a night in a hotel there. We had a fantastic time - looking back at the photos now I was struck by the majesty of some of the sights we saw (and then by how different I looked eight years ago!).

This is a Jamie Oliver recipe from the Sunday Times magazine - possibly quite some time ago. I'm not sure as I tore the page out and kept it in my recipe clippings folder. The recipe involves roasting a whole cauliflower but I wanted to make this a quicker, easier recipe so cut the cauliflower into florets. I actually steamed them rather than roasted as well to speed up the process so the flavour of my dish was undoubtedly different to the intended recipe, but I did use the recipe to make the sauce, which involved quite a lot of ingredients and a bit of effort.

This is the version I did with steamed cauliflower rather than the whole roasted one:
To serve 4, you need:
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
3 fresh red chillies
2 thumb-sized pieces of ginger, peeled
2 tbsp. garam masala
1 tbsp. sweet smoked paprika
1 bunch fresh coriander
75g flaked almonds
2 tbsp. tomato puree
groundnut oil
2 onions
400g tin light coconut milk
400g tin tomatoes
1 whole cauliflower

Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry pan then put in a food processor. Trim two of the chillies and add to the food processor with one of the pieces of ginger, the garlic, garam masala, paprika, most of the coriander and almonds. Pulse until you have a smooth paste, add the tomato puree, season and blend again.

Finely slice the remaining ginger with the onion and remaining chilli. Put a casserole pan over a medium heat and add some oil. Fry the ginger, onion and chilli for ten minutes. Spoon in the spice paste, turn down the heat and fry for ten minutes. Meanwhile cut the cauliflower into florets and steam.

Add the coconut milk and tomatoes, bring to the boil then simmer until thickened.

Toast the leftover almonds in a dry pan. Mix the cooked cauliflower with the curry sauce and top with the toasted almonds and rest of the chopped coriander. Serve with rice.

I'm sharing this with the Food Calendar at Charlotte's Lively Kitchen.

How to Carve a Halloween Pumpkin

Before this year, I'd only carved a Halloween pumpkin once before and used a kitchen knife to make very crude triangles for eyes and a nose and some sort of jagged mouth. It really wasn't very good, yet year after year I've been marvelling at my friend Julianne's amazing creations. She carves brilliant designs and has done everything from spooky scenes to cartoon characters to Game of Thrones.

This year I asked her advice and spent a very enjoyable afternoon at her house learning the tricks of pumpkin carving. There are some basic rules or pieces of advice to follow, and after that it's just a case of patience and a steady hand!

The right tools are essential but not expensive. Julianne has invested in a set of proper wood carving tools, as she is now at the stage where she is adding shading to her pumpkin designs, but I used a simple set of pumpkin carving tools that only cost £2 in Sainsbury's (on sale right next to the pumpkins).

You get a scoop, two mini saws (one finer than the other), a cutting wheel and a poking tool. The set also comes with a book of stencils which are a mixture of easy and a bit more complicated (if you want really complex ones or something more topical, look online. Some of the Donald Trump pumpkins I've seen this year are brilliant!).

To start, use a large kitchen knife to cut the lid off the pumpkin. Angle the knife rather than hold it vertically; this will allow the lid to sit better. When you have taken the lid off cut the stringy bits of pumpkin off it.

Use the scoop to remove the seeds and stringy inside of the pumpkin - we ended up with a bowlful. Keep scraping until the inside of the pumpkin is clean - you will need to get your hands right inside the pumpkin as well to get all the stuff out.

We found it easier to do this on the floor, with a plastic sheet (a children's play mat, but you can use anything) to stop the mess getting all over the floor.

When you've done that, choose your stencil and sellotape it on to the pumpkin. Use the poking tool to poke holes where you need to cut (usually the black parts of the stencil).

Remove the stencil, and use the mini saw to cut out the sections you have marked. I was going to start with the largest sections first thinking they would be easiest, but Julianne told me that would weaken the front of the pumpkin and make it much harder to cut the smaller sections. Instead, cut the smaller, more fiddly parts first, and don't push out the sections of pumpkin you have cut. Sometimes they fall out which is fine, but if you leave them in place, it does make it easier to cut the rest of the pumpkin.

When you carve, hold the saw at a straight vertical angle and cut down - this is why we were sitting on the floor as the easiest way is to hold the pumpkin in your lap.

When you have finished, use the poking tool to push out the parts of the pumpkin you have cut and discard (carving pumpkins don't tend to be that good for eating). Put a tealight candle or battery operated candle or even some glowsticks inside the pumpkin to light it up and replace the lid.

I had a lot of fun carving these pumpkins; they are not perfect but for a first time at doing it 'properly' I'm quite pleased!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Rocky Road Halloween Graveyard Cake

If you haven't got much time for Halloween baking but want to make something as a treat, then look no further than this recipe. It would make a great centrepiece for a children's party - and goes down pretty well with adults too!

The recipe comes from the Konditor & Cook recipe book 'Deservedly Legendary Baking'. It's basically a rocky road, arranged to look like a grave site, with some bones and skeleton hands coming out of the grave!

You can find the recipe online here. I left out the glace cherries as I don't like them, and used large marshmallows cut in half rather than mini marshmallows. I didn't bother making the grass around the edge of the grave either.

The recipe states to use white marzipan to make the bones and gravestone but I don't even know where to get white marzipan and didn't have time to try making it myself. Instead I used white fondant.

It was very easy to make the bones - I just rolled some sausage shapes and used my thumb to press in the ends. I used black food colouring and a cocktail stick to write R.I.P. on the gravestone.

I hadn't really thought about the recipe in advance as I'd had an incredibly busy week at work but did manage to make the rocky road on Friday night so it could set overnight in the fridge. When I came to arrange and decorate it on Saturday I realised I should have made the tombstone from rice krispies. You can make a giant rice krispie cake by mixing the cereal with melted butter and melted marshmallows, and pressing it down tightly into a pan. Once it has set you can carve it into different shapes and cover it with fondant; this would be a great way of making an edible tombstone to go at the top of the grave. Of course the fondant I used is edible but I'm not sure I want to eat a giant block of icing!
I'm sharing this with the Food Calendar challenge, hosted by Charlotte's Lively Kitchen.



Friday, October 28, 2016

Another Tattered Lace Pink Shoe Card

I've made other cards with this Tattered Lace shoe die but I particularly like this one because of the background I put it on. It was a free printable featuring pink shoes which I used to cover a white square card blank. I used my Sizzix Big Shot die cutting machine and the Tattered Lace high heel shoe die to cut out a delicate stiletto from pink card, which I stuck onto a square of pink paper and mounted that on the card. I used a silver 'happy birthday' outline sticker along the top, and to make it stand out put a purple border sticker underneath.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Slimming World adapted Cheesy Broccoli and Cauliflower Bake

This broccoli and cauliflower bake can either be served as a side dish or as a main meal; it's a low-fat Slimming World recipe that is pretty filling and can be made in a large casserole dish to feed the whole family.

The recipe uses broccoli but I decided to make this with both broccoli and cauliflower and it worked really well - if you were having this as the main part of your meal, I think just having broccoli on its own would be a bit boring. I don't like cherry tomatoes so instead used tinned tomatoes.

 To serve 4, you need:
250g cauliflower florets
250g broccoli florets
200g cherry tomatoes, halved and quartered, or 200g tin chopped tomatoes
2 eggs, beaten
200g fat-free cottage cheese with onion and chives
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
salt, pepper
4 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
110g reduced fat Cheddar, grated

This recipe has 4 syns per serving if you are following Slimming World's plan.

Preheat oven to 220C. Cook the cauliflower and broccoli in a pan of lightly salted water and drain.

Mix the broccoli, cauliflower, spring onions and tomato in a large ovenproof dish. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs with the cottage cheese and garlic. Season and add the parsley.

Pour over the vegetables and fold together. Sprinkle the cheese on top and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Meal Planning Monday - Week 43

I've had a couple of really busy weeks at work which always plays havoc with my meal plan! So there are a couple of repetitions from last week's plan where they are things I hadn't got around to making.

I'm working late on a project and probably won't be home in time for dinner.

I'm working from home. I had been planning to make mac and cheese but swapped and did that last Saturday as my mother-in-law came around so tonight I will do roast chicken - probably thighs but possibly a whole one.

prawn stirfry with spiralized veg and creamy quark sauce; my husband will either go to his mum's or I can cook him something from the freezer

bubble and squeak patty for me, gammon for him

end of the week treat - something like fish and chips (from the freezer not the chip shop!)

Lunch: beans on toast as we are going to some friends in the afternoon where there will be cake
Dinner: steak and chips perhaps - unless I get time to think of something else

Lunch: beignets
Dinner: TBA. I'm off all next week so will spend a bit more time planning meals from tonight onwards

This is a blog hop - join in!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Hoxton Street Monster Supplies Cookbook Giveaway and Halloween Chocolate Orange Tart

I've got a great giveaway just in time for Halloween where not one, not two, but three of you can win a spooky cookery book full of recipes and ideas for party food for Halloween and any sort of horror-themed party (movie night?) you might want to hold at any time of the year.

The Hoxton Street Monster Supplies Cookbook is worth £13 and is a beautifully illustrated 160 page hardback cookbook with over 70 recipes and humorous advice for entertaining.

Hoxton Street Monster Supplies claims to be London’s "and quite possibly the world’s only purveyor of quality goods for monsters of every kind." All profits go to the Ministry of Stories, a creative writing and mentoring charity for young people which looks absolutely brilliant; I would have loved something like this when I was a kid and am going to look into signing up as a volunteer.

The cookery book says it is a revised edition featuring recipes suitable for humans, but has plenty of advice for what to do if you are inviting the undead to your party - allow extra time for zombies to eat dinner as they tend to be very slow; never seat a cyclops next to a giant spider (cyclops are sensitive about the fact that they only have one eye) and so on.

Recipes are divided into chapters: sweets and pastilles (including crunching bone toffee and fairy brain fudge), biscuits and cookies  (phlegmy dodgers, gingerdead men and toenail macaroons), cakes and bakes (clotted blood cakes, fresh maggot brownies, which I couldn't bring myself to make, and spiced earwax pie, which looked like treacle tart from the recipe), jams and curds (including human snot curd and pickled eyeballs), savoury snacks (chunky vomit dip, small intestine skewers) and potions and poisons (eg satanic smoothie).

The recipe for brain cake, or rather 'braaaiiiinnnn cake', made me laugh - translated for use by zombies. The recipe runs: "Oooooooog. BBBRRRAAAIIINNNNS! Brraaaauuuunnnnns. AAR! Errrrrg" and so on. So I won't be attempting that one.

If you can get past the slight sense of revulsion that I felt when reading the names of some of the recipes (yes I know they are not serious but some are just gross!) and read the introduction to each recipe they are really funny - and I can assure you that the recipes contain perfectly normal ingredients! I think this would go down really well with children in particular so if you fancy being in with a chance to win a copy of the book scroll down to the end.

The giveaway is open to UK addresses only and the books will be sent to the winners directly by the publishers.

I decided to make one recipe from the book so I could review it, and since it was over a week until Halloween and I wasn't about to throw a party I decided to make one of the most normal sounding recipes: Night Terror Torte. This is basically a chocolate and orange tart, using a ready-made sweet shortcrust pastry base.

You slice two oranges and cook them in a sugar syrup (mixture of sugar and water); bake the pastry case blind and then make the filling from ground almonds, butter, sugar and eggs then dark chocolate. Add some of the orange slices which you have chopped while keeping the rest for decoration, and bake the assembled tart in the oven.

scroll down for the giveaway- starting at midnight tonight!
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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Pink Elephant Baby Shower Cake - Almond, Apricot & Mascarpone

My sister is having a baby! I’m really excited that I’m going to have a niece and I expect my parents can’t wait to be grandparents. It’s amazing how many things you need to think about when you are expecting a baby so it’s nice that in the UK we are increasingly adopting the tradition of baby showers. We have always given gifts when babies are born, but I like the American tradition of everyone (well, the women) getting together before the baby is born to shower the mother-to-be with love. It’s also helpful to receive any gifts you might have been given anyway before the baby comes, because otherwise you will probably have bought everything you need by the time it’s born!
It’s also a nice way for the mum-to-be to feel spoiled so I was happy to help organise a baby shower for my sister. It was held at the house of one of her friends, as they all live in the same area whereas I live further away, so the host arranged for everyone to bring something different to the shower, such as food, drink and decorations. I brought a few decorations, some games, and of course the cake!
You can see and download the games I did at a previous baby shower for a friend.
I started thinking about how I would design and decorate the cake before I put any thought into flavour. I wanted the cake to look the part – I had to carry it on a train and it didn’t need to feed hordes of people so much as I loved some of the two and even three-tier cakes I’d seen online, I decided one tier was enough – but I still wanted it to look special.
I also didn’t want to use a design I’d done before – partly as I wanted a new challenge but mainly because as it’s my sister, I thought it needed to be unique.
I’d made cakes with baby shoes, teddy bears and ABC blocks on before, which seemed the most obvious ideas. I browsed online for quite some time to get ideas for other themes – I wanted the cake to have pink elements as my sister is having a girl, but not for the entire cake to be pink. One motif that kept coming up was elephants, and when I found some baby shower napkins with elephants on, I decided this would be perfect. I also had my eye on the Fmm Easy Bunting Cutters, Set of 3
which I’d bought and wanted to try out. Bunting can be used for all sorts of occasions and themes and it reminded me of both garden parties and also the circus, which worked really well with the elephant idea.
 I decided to make the elephant the week before and let the fondant set hard; I knew I wouldn't have much time when I was baking the cake for the baby shower and this would give me extra time to deal with any problems like if the elephant's trunk fell off!

I added a little bit of black food colouring to a ball of white fondant -usually I complain that it's too hard to colour your own black and you have to buy it, as black food colouring only makes the fondant grey. In this case that was exactly what I needed! I had a look at a few pictures of elephants online and moulded the fondant freehand, using a knife to slice into the piece at the bottom to separate it into two legs.

I had these baby girl wafer decorations left from a previous baby shower and didn't want to use them on the cake itself but had an idea after seeing a picture of an elephant holding a balloon - I stuck it onto a cocktail stick and put that in the elephant's trunk.

I then used a small heart cutter to cut out a shape from fondant that I had coloured pink and used this for the elephant ears, and cut the tops off two more hearts for the feet. I made an eye from a tiny ball of white fondant and dipped a cocktail stick into black food colouring to dot on the pupil.

I had a plaque cutter I picked up ages ago like this one:

PME Plain and Fluted Double Sided Oval Cutter, Medium, 50 mm, 2-Inch
that I used to make a plaque from pink fondant and put another 'it's a girl' wafer onto it using edible glue.

I also covered a cake board in white fondant and let it go hard in time for next week.
So on to the cake itself. I wanted something light but not lemon as I've made a lot of lemon cakes before. The Baking Book: The Ultimate Baker's Companion (Good Housekeeping)had a recipe for almond and apricot cake and I decided to do this, but I scaled up the recipe by 50% once I found that the quantities given baked two quite thin layers of cake.

By the time I'd made three and piled the apricot and mascarpone filling in the middle it was quite a tall stack; it would have looked nice just dusted with icing sugar as the recipe suggested, but I decided to cover it in fondant so I could decorate the cake how I wanted.

You can find the full recipe on the Good Housekeeping website.

I spread the apricot compote onto the cake and topped with mascarpone mixed with icing sugar, between each layer

I spread some of the extra around the sides and on the top of the cake

When it came to decorating the cake, I covered the whole cake in white fondant and placed it on the cake board I had previously covered, with a ribbon around the edge. I stuck another piece of ribbon around the bottom of the cake, and mixed up some royal icing which I tinted pink, to pipe strings for the bunting around the cake.

I used the bunting cutter to cut out the shapes - it just gives you a lot of triangles (joined together which you have to separate) but this does mean that they are exactly the same size and shape.

I used a cocktail stick in pink food colouring to make a polka dot pattern on alternate bits of bunting then stuck each piece on to the cake with edible glue. It was hard to make it as neat as I wanted though.

I put the 'it's a girl' plaque onto the front of the cake, and the elephant on top standing on a circle of pink fondant. I switched the ribbon around the cake for a paler one as I thought the other one was too bright.
My sister seemed really pleased with the cake and it tasted absolutely delicious - really light and creamy. The decoration isn't as neat as I would have liked but I do think the elephant on top is quite sweet.