All 7 entries tagged Being Honest

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April 30, 2013

Iced buns and some news: I handed in my notice

I've moved on from Warwick and hence onto courgettesandlimes.com. It should automatically redirect you shortly to the new site.


iced buns 1

I've handed in my notice at work.

In about 4 months time, I will be stepping onto a plane and waving good bye to the UK. Because... because (wait for it...) I am moving to Cambodia to join my friends Simon and Becci who lead a church in Phnom Penh. I haven't got a job lined up for me, nor do I know exactly what I'll be doing when I arrive, past the first couple of days of getting over jet lag. I imagine that my initial months will be spent learning Khmer language and culture. But, it's all guess work if I'm honest.

iced buns 2


It's both exciting and terrifying.

I don't think that I've talked about this on the blogosphere before and that makes me feel somewhat dishonest with you. I'm sorry. So, let me give you a bit of context. Ever since I was young, I have wanted to live and work in another culture, specifically doing something that would help people have a better life and give hope. My earliest, serious career ambition was to live and work with street kids in a peruvian shanty town. I think that I was about 9 or 10 at the time and I definitely had some jacked up, romanticised ideas on poverty and 'doing good'.

I'm 31 now and from what I know, romantic is definitely not the adjective to describe poverty or that kind of work. I'm expecting it will be uncomfortable as I adjust to a new climate and culture, confusing to be illiterate in a new language, hard work and lonely being so far away from my family and friends.

So, how come I'm upping sticks and moving to the other side of the world? Besides, what difference can one person affect?

Well, I know that one person can make all the difference. And that childhood dream never died, nor did I want it to. Instead, in all the intervening years, it's been a real trusting game to wait for the right moment and opportunity.

About this time last year, I was sitting in a house, built on stilts over the sewers in Phnom Penh, thinking that sewage really did smell like durian. Between the floorboards, I could see faded, old rubbish lying a couple of feet below me. There were all these rustling sounds that kept distracting me from the conversation and I was trying really hard to curb my imagination as to what those sounds could be.

I think this was day 3 of a 10 day trip I was making with a team from my church, visiting Simon and Becci's church. We had brilliant fun with them and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even if the airline did lose my luggage for 24 hours and I got really bad diarrhoea for 4 of those days. I never imagined that I'd be joining Simon and Becci in Cambodia. In fact, I distinctly remember the thought passing through my head, 'I really admire what Simon and Becci are doing, but there is no way that I could do that or move out here'.

Ha! God definitely has a sense of humour. Unbeknownst to me, Simon and Becci were thinking the exact opposite.

making coconut milkoverladen motoCambodia team 2012

So, towards the end of 2012, they sprung it on me, out of the blue. A couple of months later, I told them yes and now I'm finally telling you. And to balance out my earlier apprehensions, let me tell you some of what I am looking forward to:

  • Learning a new language and culture
  • Being part of Liberty Family Church, Phnom Penh
  • Making new friends
  • South East Asian food - this is going to be one culinary adventure!
  • Riding a moto
  • Having lots of fun
  • Travelling around the region
  • Blue skies and the sun

And the time just seems to be right.

Which brings me neatly (!!!) to the subject of iced buns. No, honestly it does. Remember how I spoke about trusting and waiting for the right time and how it can be a bit emotional, earlier on? Well, that's kind of how it feels baking with yeast and bread: you can't rush the time the dough takes to rise on that first prove; you have to trust that the yeast will work and nothing beats the thrill of seeing your dough doubled in size. I could continue the analogy but suffice to say, there's quite of bit of emotion and waiting involved!

iced buns attempt no. 1

Attempt no. 1: glazed cream buns

This is a brilliant recipe that I'd wanted to make from the Great British Bake Off Series 2and I finally got round to trying it out 2 weeks ago. The first time, I stuck to the recipe (except I added too much water to the icing by mistake so ended up with glazed buns) and baked them into 12 buns, which I shared with my triathlon club. However, they were pretty big portion sizes and the cream was a bit bland, if I'm honest, not that they complained! So, the second time, I made them into 24 'mini' iced buns, coloured the icing and added vanilla extract to the cream. They weren't that mini, as you can see. Being somewhat unpracticed in the skill of whipping cream, I overwhipped the double cream on this second occasion and had to use my palette knife as a makeshift cream shovel! Not as pretty as my first attempt but that's alright when it's homebaking. I can't imagine Paul or Mary raving about my presentation but the buns still tasted great and looked pretty. I took them to a charity clothes swap that my friend was organising and the buns were all polished off.

So, here is my iced buns recipe, adapted slightly from Paul Hollywood's iced fingers recipe.

Ingredients for the dough

  • 500g strong white flour
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 40g unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 14g fast action yeast
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 150ml whole milk
  • 140ml water

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas mark 7 and line two baking trays with baking paper.

2. Scald the milk in a small pan, by heating it up until it is just about to boil, and leave it to one side to cool down. I find that doing this creates a softer dough. Alternatively, use the microwave to heat up the milk until it is neither hot nor cold. I added in the cold water to bring down the temperature even more.


iced bun dough 1iced bun dough 2
iced bun dough 3iced bun dough 4

3. If you're doing it by hand, then measure out the flour in a large bowl, mix in the yeast, then add the sugar and the salt, rub in the butter and finally add in the eggs, milk and water. I use a scraper at this point to combine the ingredients, but you can use just your hands. It'll make a wet dough but don't be scared by it. The wetness of the dough should ensure that it's soft texture. Turn it out onto your work surface and knead. If you're like me and a bit slow at kneading, it'll take about 15-20 minutes. Of course, you could use a machine fitted with a dough hook. In which case, put all ingredients for the dough into a large bowl, ensuring that the yeast and salt are added to opposite sides of the bowl. Mix on a slow speed until it all combines and then move it onto a medium-high speed for about 10-15 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.

3. Pour a little bit of vegetable oil into the bowl and lightly cover the dough with oil. This helps the dough not to stick as it rises. Cover the bowl with cling film or a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place for at least 1 hour and doubled in size

4. Turn the dough out of the bowl and knock out the air by pressing your fingers over the dough. I like to strengthen the dough at this stage. Shape into a vague rectangle. Take hold of a longer side, fold one third towards the centre and press down with your thumbs or the heel of your hand. Fold the other third towards the centre and press down. Finally fold it in half lengthways, press down and roll it out a bit with your hands. The dough should feel stronger.

shaping rolls 1shaping rolls 2

shaping rolls 3shaping rolls 4

shaping rolls 5shaping rolls 6

5. Divide the dough into half, then half again, so that you have 4 sections. Work with one section at a time and cover the others with a tea towel or cling film so that they don't dry out. Divide each section into 6 equal-ish pieces. Each piece will probably with between 35-40g. Shape these into rolls, using exactly the same steps as before when strengthening the dough. Place them onto the baking tray, leaving about 1cm of space between them so that they can double in size in the second prove. Cover with a tea towel for about 30-40 minutes.

buns ready to prove
baked buns


6. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Check after 8 minutes and lower the temperature by 20C if they look like they're browning too much. Then set them aside to cool on a wire rack. When the buns are completely cool, start on the icing.

Ingredients for the icing

  • 200g icing sugar
  • 5 tsp cold water
  • food colouring and edible decorations, such as chocolate curls, coloured sprinkles etc. (optional)

Method

1. You can just ice the buns and not fill them, if you want to. However, if you'd like to fill them with cream then use a bread knife to slice the buns in half horizontally, leaving one long edge intact. Do this step now, otherwise the icing transfers onto your hands and they get sticky holding the already iced buns.

2. Measure out icing sugar into a medium sized bowl. Add in the water, one teaspoon at a time until it becomes a thick paste. You want the mixture to be thick enough to stick onto the buns. I coloured half of my icing pink, just for fun, using a cocktail stick dipped into a tiny bit of red colour paste.


icing consistencydipping buns into icingsmoothing icing

3. Dip the top of the buns into the icing, smooth out with your finger and set them to dry on a wire rack. The icing may drip down the sides of the bun a bit, but that's okay. Sprinkle on some decorations if you'd like. I used strawberry curls, white chocolate stars and sugar butterflies.

Ingredients for the filling

  • 300ml double cream or whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 5 tbsp jam - I used raspberry, Paul suggests strawberry, but you could use any flavour that takes your fancy

Method

1. Lightly whip up the cream with the vanilla extract in a medium sized bowl until it thickens but is pipeable. Fill a piping bag fitted with a small star nozzle.

filling

2. Spoon the jam into another piping bag and snip off a very small opening.

3. Pipe a generous amount of cream, followed by a thin line of jam into the middle of each finger. Gently fold the top of the bun down.

Et voila - iced buns! Enjoy.

iced buns 3



February 25, 2012

Martha Stewart's Strawberry Cupcakes with the fabulous Strawberry Meringue Buttercream Frosting!!!

To be honest, I would never have made the strawberry meringue buttercream that makes this cupcake if it wasn't for the beautiful photo in Martha Stewart's cupcake's book. I mean, the very name, Strawberry Meringue Buttercream sounds pretentious, preposterous and... p,p,p... what other word am I looking for that starts with 'p'?. Come on, be honest. How many of you had heard of meringue in a buttercream before?

martha stewart cupcakesmartha stewart strawberry cupcake

Having said all that, I did make them, meringue buttercream frosting and all! Do you remember that last year I listed a fair number of things that stop me from trying new recipes... Well, dear reader, I tackled three just here:

  • a new/complicated technique
  • not being put off by a bit of baking equipment that I don't have
  • and getting over my dislike of frosting

Having made the recipe and tasted it (so delicious!), please don't get put off making both parts of this recipe. Particularly the pretentiously, preposterous (I'm joking now) strawberry meringue buttercream. This buttercream is YUM!

There were four noteworthy moments that I'd like to share:

I borrowed a Kenwood Mixer, which we nicknamed "Kenny", and duly fell in love with it. I must confess that after the first time that I used the Kenwood, I sent a text message to Sarah, his owner, which stated "Kenny is a dream!" Kenny definitely made the experience a much easier and better one. But, as I have to remind myself now, if you don't have an equivalent, then use the electric mixer.

You'll want to use a big bowl to make the cake mixture. A glance of some of the ingredients list gives it away: 2¾ cups of flour. 2 sticks of butter.

Martha says that this makes 36 american sized cupcakes. I read in the Hummingbird bakery book that UK muffin tins are the same size as US cupcake tins. More cross-pond confusion. So, I duly baked these in a UK muffin tin, and excitedly found some pretty pink muffin cases to bake them in. In the end I made 42, but it could be that I underfilled the cases a little bit.

I still don't quite get what the UK substitute is for US all-purpose flour. The baking forums are ambivalent on this. Martha's recipe explicitly states that the ¼ cup of cake flour shouldn't be self-raising flour. By that instruction, I deduced (rightly or wrongly) that I shouldn't use self raising flour for the all-purpose flour bit. Unfortunately, at that point in my 6 hour cupcake bake-athon, I realised that I didn't have enough plain flour. And then my kitchen scales started playing up. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I used mix of plain and self-raising flour (ratio unknown), and substituted the cake flour for cornflour. Martha - I deduced by cakeflour that you wanted a flour that would create a lighter texture to it.

So, Martha. My question to you: did I commit a great baking sin?

strawberry cupcake mix 2strawberry cupcake mixstrawberry cupcake mix 3

Looking at these photos now, I'm thinking that the strawberries have a very similar appearance to pomegranates. Hmm.... I wonder whether... Next time I bake this, I'm going to try it with pomegranates. I'll let you know how I get on.

Anyway, back to Martha Stewart's Strawberry Cupcakes, adapted by moi. And I converted the recipe into grams for my UK readers.

Ingredients for the Strawberry Cupcakes

  • 340g self-raising flour
  • 35g cornflour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 225g butter, softened and cubed
  • 375g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs + 1 egg white
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups finely chopped strawberries - about 20 strawberries.

Method

1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180C/350F. Line the muffin tin with paper cases.

2. Measure out the dry ingredients and sift together into a medium sized bowl. That's the self raising flour, cornflour, baking powder and salt. You don't have to sift, but the sifting helps it to be a lighter cake.

3. Cream the butter and sugar together until light in colour and fluffy in texture. This normally takes between 5-7 minutes with an electric whisk. If you're using a mixer then use the beater attachment.

I think this is the moment I fell in love (again!) with the Kenwood mixer because I could just leave it to work its magic whilst I read the instructions again and got the eggs, vanilla, measured out the flour...

4. Add the vanilla extract at this point (one of my variations to Martha Stewart. I think that it helps to mix the flavour in evenly into the mixture). Then add in the eggs on a slow speed, one egg at a time with a tablespoon of the flour mixture, to prevent the mixture from curdling.

5. Now mix in the remainder of the flour mixture into the wet batter. Then pour in the milk and continue to mix well.

6. Finally add the chopped strawberries and mix the cake batter with a spatula or a wooden spoon.

Using a tablespoon, dollop out the cake mix into the prepared muffin cases. For each of the muffin cases, I estimated 2 dollops of the tablespoon worked well.

Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, turning the baking tins once in the baking, so that the cupakes have an even bake. Test them with a tester/sharp knife and if it comes out clean, they are ready. Let the baked cakes cool in the muffin tray for 5 minutes and then cool completely on a wire rack.

uniced cakesiced cakes

So, by the time I got to make the Strawberry Meringue Buttercream, half of the strawberry cupcakes had been used up at the cupcake workshop. As I read Martha Stewart's recipe on the meringue buttercream frosting, I just couldn't quite convince myself to use her method. She pretty much mixes all the ingredients together, heats it and mixes it, and somehow that didn't suit the perfectionist in me. So, I searched through Ruth Clemens' Pink Whisk blog and found a meringue buttercream recipe that I could adapt. I think there's also an element of me believing Ruth's blog to be more honest over Martha's book.

Besides, Ruth sold it to me, "This post also includes the recipe for the absolute best cupcake topping in the world – meringue buttercream frosting – I can eat this straight off the spoon! It’s definitely worth the effort and once you’ve tried it you’ll never go back to ‘normal’ buttercream!"

Okay, Ruth. Let's give it a go and see whether it's worth the effort.

It is. I don't normally like buttercream frosting because it's too rich and sweet, but I make an exception for this one. The addition of the meringue means that it feels much lighter and airier to eat. Also on the decorating front - it holds it's shape really well. Once again, probably because of the meringue.

So, here's my version of delicious Strawberry Meringue Buttercream, adapted from the Pink Whisk. From another of Ruth's posts, I'd seen that she'd used Two Chicks liquid egg whites and approved. So, I decided to save myself the worry of wondering what to do with leftover egg yolks, and searched the aisles in Sainsburys to purchase some liquid egg whites.

Oh, and I also bought myself a sugar thermometer especially for the task too. That's one way of tackling the issue of not having a piece of baking equipment.

Ingredients for Strawberry Meringue Buttercream

  • 5 large egg whites (I did indeed find and use Two Chicks liquid egg whites)
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 100ml water
  • 500g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tbsp strawberry jam
  • 1tsp vanilla extract

Method

Top tip: This is much easier to do with a stand mixer. K-mix, Kitchenaid's were made for these jobs. As a non-owner, I borrowed my friend's Kenwood, I have much K-envy. So, if you have one, please make this just so that I know that they are being utilised for what they were created for!

1. Whisk the egg whites in a big bowl until they are soft peaks (foamy but don't hold their shape). Keep whisking, this time adding in 50g of sugar, a spoonful at a time. Continue whisking until they form firm peaks (they don't lost their shape when you take the whisk out).

2. Leave to one side. In a small saucepan, gently heat up the water and the 250g caster sugar so that the caster sugar melts into a syrup. Once the sugar has melted, put the heat up to full and boil it up th 121C.

Ruth said that it would take 10 minutes. I took about 20 minutes, but wondering whether I either have a faulty thermometer or did something wrong. Anyway, 20 minutes later, it had almost reached 118C and I decided that was good enough for me. Didn't seem to affect it too much this time.

3. Start whisking the egg whites again at a low speed. Slowly, slowly pour in the sugar syrup into the egg whites. Keep whisking for another 8-10 minutes, until the meringue mixture cools. I had a break at this point to allow the bowl to cool down a bit.

4. When the bowl is cool to touch, it's time to add the butter. This is a slow process and be patient with it. Basically you have to add the butter to the egg whites in small pieces. If you have a mixer - keep it on the whisk attachment. I didn't weigh this out, but I estimate that I pretty much added between 10-20g each time. Let one piece of butter be incorporated fully, before adding the next. The mixture does look like it's going a bit wrong because it becomes liquidy. But don't worry, that's normal.

5. Finally(!), when all the butter is added, (if you want/need to, use the paddle attachment on a slow speed to ensure that the butter is all fully mixed in). Then swap in the whisk attachment to whisk the mixture so that it has the consistency and appearance of whipped cream.

meringue buttercreambuttercream piping bag remnants

6. Add the flavouring at this point. I separated my meringue buttercream frosting into two batches and added 1tsp vanilla extract into one and 1tbsp of strawberry (and the tiniest smidgen of red gel food colouring) to the other.

7. Fill those piping bags and away we go :)

strawberry cupcakes and meringue buttercream frosting 2strawberry cupcakes and meringue buttercream frosting

IPHONE FALLS HEADLONG INTO FROSTING

UM! So yes, as I was taking photos, my Iphone slipped out of it's case and crashed into the decorated cakes. Naturally(!), I ran to grab my camera, so that I could capture a shot of that moment.

when the iphone fell into the buttercream

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to interview the said IPhone at the time, and take a shot at what it had to say about all of this because some cupcake had got in the way.

picking iphone up

:-) The salvaged cupcakes!

rescued cakes


January 13, 2012

My 30 for 30


birthday cake

Happy Birthday.

I turned 30 today yesterday.

(It was today when I started writing this entry.)

For a few months now, I've been putting together a list of 30 things that I can do when I'm 30. When I was putting the list together, I invited my friends and family to contribute their ideas to the list. I had one rule: in the spirit of openness, I couldn't say "No" to any of their suggestions until my power of veto kicked in on my birthday. I had about 50 items that I've whittled down. Thank you for all your ideas.

The items on the list can be modified, as long as it keeps within the spirit of it. E.g. I'm scared of heights and the deep sea, so item #20 is doing something that I'm scared to do.

So here's my list of 30 for 30:

  1. Go on a helicopter ride.
  2. Give money away towards something GREAT.
  3. Learn a new language to hold a simple 10 minute conversation with a native speaker.
  4. Learn to dance - ballroom, latin etc.
  5. Go to a ball.
  6. Learn how to make tasty Vietnamese cuisine.
  7. Run a cupcake workshop.
  8. Take a photo that captures the moment/day/theme, every day for a year.
  9. Watch Monty Python's Life of Brian.
  10. Eat at a Michelin starred restaurant.
  11. Watch a Shakespearean play at the Globe Theatre in London.
  12. Go to a friend's wedding in a foreign country.
  13. Drive 2.5 hours to Huddersfield for dinner with my sister and her husband. That's where they live.
  14. Go to the Opera. As in properly going to an Opera House and seeing an opera. Failing that, go to a musical in London.
  15. Start reading the Bible in chronological order.
  16. Visit somewhere that is mentioned in the Bible.
  17. Swim in open water.
  18. Do an adventurous water based activity, such as coasteering, canyoning etc.
  19. Enter a TV show.
  20. Wing walking or sky-diving or learning to scuba-dive (or at least have planned a scuba diving holiday by the end of the year).
  21. Do a tough-girl/wolf run sort of obstacle run thing.
  22. Go to a classical concert an international sporting event.
  23. Be part of a play reading.
  24. Create a scrapbook of 30 for 30.
  25. Bake macarons.
  26. Learn how to solve the Rubrik's cube.
  27. Learn the words of Auld Lang Syne.
  28. Do a Freedom in Christ, or similar, course.
  29. Go on the eurostar, or go and see the northern lights in the artic circle.
  30. Fly business class.

(At some point in January, Stefan pointed out that I had only had 29 things on the list. So, I've been excitedly waiting for a happy happenstance. Flying business class on Singapore Airlines is exactly that!)

Oh, and I'm not planning on doing any of these by myself. "So, diaries people!"


October 11, 2011

And finally I baked… Dorie Greenspan's Banana Bundt Cake


Dorie Greenspan
Saturday, Week 1:

I've indulged myself with a lie-in this morning and at midday, I'm lounging in my pj's with my dressing gown wrapped around me for warmth on this rather chilly October day. I have a to-do list as long as my arm, and I should have been out and about at least an hour ago... However, yesterday my legs were shaking as I got out of bed. The fresh intake of students, the start of the academic year, all that energy and effort, lack of sleep, adrenalin are taking their toll on me. Somewhat sheepishly, I also admit that some of it is my own fault for staying up and baking a cake.

I confess that I am a baking addict. When I have been putting off baking for some time, there comes a point when I just have to bake something. The urge starts in my stomach and emanates out to the rest of my limbs. My fingers drum nervously on the desk, my legs crisscross, and I keep fidgeting in my seat. I am physically twitching to just get on and bake something. I don't get this about cooking food. This is purely related to baking, baking, baking. And so this is how I realised that I am a baking addict.

Earlier this week, 4 sad, brown bananas on top of my fridge kept asking me to bake them in Dorie Greenspan's Banana Bundt Cake. (I've been wanting to bake this cake since I saw it here as a Secret Agent Cakein Ari's blog six months ago.)

"No brown bananas," I said, "I don't have time to do anything about you now."

"But you must, you must." They sang back, "In a day, we will be too far gone for even a cake to rescue us."

So, I made a date with them for Wednesday evening. Which is how, after walking around my block and talking about freshers stuff with students, at 11pm on Wednesday evening, I eventually started baking Dorie Greenspan's Banana Bundt Cake (from Baking: From My Home to Yours).

By the way, I noticed that every blog post about this cake only uses cup measures, which rather irritates me as a UK baker, used to measuring things out in grams or ounzes. So, I've measured it out in grammes in this version of the recipe. Instead of plain flour, I substituted self-raising flour for all-purpose flour. I know that all-purpose flour is the US equivalent of plain flour. However, I read on some forum that the results are better with self-raising when baking cakes.

Ingredients

  • 4 very ripe bananas, mashed up in a bowl
  • 225g butter, cubed and softened
  • 300g golden caster sugar (I decided on golden caster sugar for a richer flavour, but 3/4 of the specified amount.)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 450g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 225ml sour cream or yoghurt (in the absence of sour cream, but wanting the richness, I had some leftover double cream which I mixed with yoghurt)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 and generously grease a 12 cup/23-25cm bundt tin. I used a pampered chef oil spray to coat it liberally with oil.

2. Mash up the bananas in a bowl and put them to one side. In another bowl, sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt.

3. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter for about 5 minutes, until the colour is pale and it looks fluffy. Then add the sugar and cream again for a few minutes. I used my Sainsbury Basic electric mixer but I had total KitchenAid Mixer envy because it would have come into its element with this cake. Indeed, Dorie recommends using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.

four sad bananasbanana bundt cake batter


4. Add in the vanilla extract. One by one, add in the eggs and give it a good whizz with the mixer after each egg. Add in the bananas. Give it another whizz with the mixer.

5. Next, add in half of the dry ingredients (flour, salt and bicarb of soda) and mix well. Then pour in the sour cream or yoghurt and mix it in. Finally, beat in the remainder of the dry ingredients and finish it off with a good whizz with the mixer to make sure that everything is beaten in.

6. Pour the cake batter into the bundt tin and spread it out evenly on top. Firmly bang it on a work surface to release any trapped air bubbles.


banana bundt cake batter poured inbanana bundt cake batter 1banana bundt cake in the tinbanana bundt cake and tin


7. Bake in the oven for 65-75 minutes, or until the cake tester comes out clean. However, check on it around the 35 minute mark and cover with foil if it looks like it is browning too quickly on top, so that the bottom doesn't burn.

8. Let it cool in the bundt tin for 10 minutes, then carefully invert it onto a wirerack to reveal a beautifully turned out bundt cake and allow it to cool completely.

I made the suggested lemon drizzle icingwhich perfectly complements the cake and is simple to make.

Ingredients

  • 150g icing sugar, sifted
  • lemon juice. Start with 2 teaspoons. I ended up using juice of half a lemon.

Method

1. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl. Add in the lemon juice, starting with 2 teaspoons. Mix. Keep adding the lemon juice, one teaspoon at a time, until the icing reaches the consistency you desire for a drizzle.

2. Drizzle the icing over the cake. Ta Da.

banana bundt cake

my sliver of bundt cake for breakfast

The verdict? Oh, I need to be careful to make sure that I hold myself back and don't come across as OTT at this point because this cake tastes even better than the reviews promised it would be.

Can a cake be described as soft and velvety? Because that's how I would describe the texture of this cake. Each mouthful is an utter joy and delight to eat. The flavour is rich and deep. The lemon drizzle lends a subtle sharpness to the richness of the cake. My colleagues had some the next day and they loved it.

Top Tip: I'll let you into a secret. This is one of those cakes that gets even better if you leave it a day (at least!) if you can resist it. I dare you. Sure, the icing will become more opaque over time, but you can store it in an airtight container for at least a week. The flavours mature and become even softer. MMmmmmmm.....


July 04, 2011

Post–Marathon Fatigue and Blood tests

blood test

On one of my longer training runs before my marathon, I had started mentally compiling a list of things that I was looking forward to doing once I had run the darn thing!

  1. Give blood - I really like giving blood but had once naively made the mistake, giving blood 4 days (4 DAYS!!!!) before running a half-marathon. Of course, I didn't think that I was being stupid at the time. The guidance said that you shouldn't give blood then do intense exercise in the 24 hours following, so I thought that it would be fine. Are you laughing/rolling your eyes at me? If not, then how about when I tell you that... I almost fell asleep at mile 7. Honestly honestly. I closed my eyes to sleep, while I was running.
  2. Eat icecream
  3. Learn to longboard
  4. Go snowboarding in Tamworth snowdome
  5. Take up surfing again
  6. Go on holiday to Morocco
  7. Not having to be so strict about my diet
  8. Think about doing a triathlon
  9. ...

I like having things to look forward to. Besides, I'd read somewhere that a post marathon slump is common after running your first marathon. I empathised. I used to get the blues after coming back from a short term missions trip. The anticipation as everything gears up around this BIG experience, which is in itself pretty intense. And following that, there's a nothingness... a vacuum. I'd keep asking, What's the point?

So, I'm trying out an idea that scheduling things to look forward to once it's over is KEY to combatting the slump. Even if it is lying in front of the TV for a few days.

I've done everything on the list, apart from 1 and 5. (Surfing is in the pipeline for September.)

I gave blood today... for a blood test. It really doesn't count. Turns out that my 'I can't be bothered' fatigue may be related to a low iron count or something, as a result of the marathon. One of my friends from the triathlon club suggested that I could be anaemic, which could explain why I am so weary all the time. At that point, I felt pretty happy to accept her explanation. Although, now, the more I consider that I might be anaemic, I'm not sure that I want to be dependent on iron supplements my whole life. Ay-yah, needless worry!

So, I toddle off the the GP to talk about this and my poorly ankle. She's quite thorough and asks me about my general wellbeing, my periods and do I take naps during the day?

'Well, I'd like to', I reply, 'But it's a bit difficult because I'm at work.'

She surmises that I probably just need to rest more. And it's obvious she's not into running because she suggests that I leave bigger gaps (like I don't already!) between each run. However, she still prints off the form which I need to take with me to have the blood test done. I wonder, when the results come back, it will be her proof that she's right. In one sense, that would be really nice. When I'm at the pharmacy, I feel really honoured because they squeeze me in without an appointment. 'We're here to help,' she explains, as I show my appreciation. What I didn't realise was that there'd be three vials of my blood taken. The blood person in the pharmacy explains to that each vial would check things like my glucose levels, blood count, iron levels... and everything else. Is this what my car, Haribo, feels like when he goes in for his MOT? I have a little chuckle to myself that I'm trying to empathise with a car!

The results are back in 48 hours. Three days from now, my GP can either confirm her opinion about self-diagnosing patients who exercise excessively, or something else. As I've said already, it would be really nice if she's right... but only if my energy picks up.


June 19, 2011

A Blogger Missing in Action

Sorry. It has been months since I last blogged a recipe. The thing is, I've not stopped cooking or baking and I still enjoy trying new recipes and flavours. So, what's my excuse? Um, time and motivation. Oh gosh was that too blunt? Perhaps I should soften that by saying that the marathon training also changed my tastebuds? (It really did.) But, I'll be honest with you. Really I stopped blogging because I've lacked time and motivation.

I had too many moments thinking, 'does anyone read this blog anyway? and 'is it worth it?'.

Do all bloggers get that?

I think, for me, part of it is because I can't see the immediate, face-to-face feedback, or people don't leave comments. It makes it a bit harder to keep pushing yourself when you can't be bothered to anyway. Some recent visitors left comments and that's helping me out of that state of inertia.

And the time? After the end of a busy term, the students left halls and I immediately flew off to Chambery to experience a week of snowboarding. When I came back with a very bruised bottom, it was April. And not only did April feel like it had crept up on me but it also felt like it just tiptoed past me too, unplanned.

Then with three weeks to go, I started panicking about running a marathon.

My pre-marathon jitters transferred over to my food. I was worried that I'd 'hit the wall' once I got to mile 20 because I hadn't fed myself properly. So, when my sister and brother-in-law came to stay, I asked my sister to make up some wholemeal pizza dough as an acknowledgement to my panic. We set out to make three different kinds of pizza toppings: courgettes with parma ham, mozzarella and basil, yellow cherry tomato sauce. The gender stereotype hit us in a funny moment in the supermarket, when Ola picked up the one packet of parma ham and very seriously asked 'are we sure that there is enough meat going on these pizza?' I made up a special sloppy joe style pizza just for him with minced beef, fresh chillis, onions and cayenne pepper. His favourite meat dish, however, was when I made Nigella's buttermilk chicken from the Nigella Express cookbook for a Royal Wedding party. Ee-Reh had already made it before the week was out, when they returned home.

May had some awesome food moments. My mum cooked me her korean chicken casserole on the weekend of my marathon. However, May was really chocka, so no blogging from me.

I ran my first ever marathon at the start of May. I didn't hit the wall and ran it all in 4 hours, 17 minutes and 47 seconds! My empty stomach woke me up at 2am the morning after and I finished off my mum's casserole and gleefully indulged in a Magnum. I think that I deserved it.

stratfordmarathon

My mum had a major operation in the middle of May so I spent a week in Aberdeen looking after my mum. There's not a photo to illustrate this one, more for your benefit :-)

Then, just as the ash cloud was descending upon the British Isles, once again, I flew out to Morocco to visit a friend of mine in Casablanca. There, I learned how to prepare sardines for cooking, and went to the market to buy a few spices.

everydaylifeinthemedinaspiceshopping

And then... it was June.


February 22, 2011

What gets in our way between the recipes in the cookbook and making them?

recipescookbooks

I don't know about you, but I have cookbooks that I have yet to make a recipe from after years of having them. Don't get me wrong. I love receiving the books as presents: I pore over the pages of recipes and I'd like to make something. But then I seem to put the book away on my bookshelf, with a rather wistful sigh.

I was thinking about what gets in the way between the recipe in the book and the making of it? We salivate over the food photos and we love to 'oooh' and 'aaaahhh' over recipes in a magazine. But what is it that stops us from making the dish? Is it the long list of ingredients? The lack of self-confidence that one could make it look as good as the one in the photo? The assumptions that are in the methods section, such 'whip the eggs until they form soft peaks' - what do soft peaks look like, before they're stiff?

I'm sure that we can identify deeper reasons within ourselves. When I give some of my issues a wee bit longer thought time, I can easily trace their origins back to my parent's cooking habits or my fear of failure... and that's only two of a long list. I could go on. So, without further ado, here is my list of things that act as a barrier between the recipe in the book and the making of it. The list is not finite by any means:

  • a long list of ingredients
  • an unfamiliar ingredient
  • a piece of cookware/bakeware that I haven't got
  • too many steps in the method section
  • patronising language
  • rubbish index
  • complicated techniques
  • the lack of occasion
  • lenghty preparation or cooking times
  • using yeast
  • no photo of the finished dish
  • too much of something that I don't like, such as cream or cheese, or .... as the americans call it, 'frosting'

This next reason, however, is the primary one for why I don't make a recipe:

I can't be bothered to.

I think that it looks pretty good in the photo and I'd try eating it in a restaurant. But I can't be bothered with the effort of trying out a new recipe. Reading a step, doing it, re-reading it to check that I've not missed something etc., requires a lot of mental energy. I don't think that I'm alone in not wanting to try out a recipe because I think it is going to be tricky and complex. And then on top of that, there's nothing more disappointing than putting a lot of effort into a dish and it tasting... alright... but not awesome. I've had plenty of those experiences before. So, I'd prefer to potter around inside my comfort zone and serve up dishes that I know are tasty.

But then, how do we expand our repertoire as cooks, bakers, chefs, if we aren't trying new techniques? How do we become adventurous in our cooking, if we don't experiment with new ingredients? How can we just gaze on cookbooks that groan heavily on our bookshelves, when there are so many new dishes hidden in them?

Therefore, I made a new year's resolution to try 12 recipes this year that you can't describe as 'simple and easy'. Recipes that I'd class as complex or tricky, but will force me to face up to and press on, past the mental obstacles between the paper and the plate. This is my way of pushing myself to attempt recipes that I would previously look at and dismiss as way too difficult for me. Or to put it simply. Get over the faff and effort.

Why 12? Well, there are 12 months in the year and I thought that I could make a recipe that stretched me each month, so that it was a continuous thing. But it's only a number and what's in a number? What's more significant is that I want it to be a lasting change in attitude, so that I am more adventurous with my cooking and bother with all the faff and effort.

Which also means one more thing. Because there is one thing that moves me to cook and bake and create. Much more than a new cookbook or a new year's resolution. Being with people who love food and use recipes and cookbooks. I'm always inspired by these people.


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