Friday, November 30, 2012

Happy Friday!


When I looked out of the window this morning the grass was covered in frost and the sky was clear and pink! I love this bright Winter weather but WOW is it cold outside!

I thought I would share with you, on this frosty Friday, my favourite method of cooking squash! I love squash in all it's many, knobbly varieties. Tis' the season for it and it will no doubt brighten up my dining table many times over the next few weeks. This method works with any old squash - grab yourself a gourd and go!

Step 1: Wash the squash and slice into either quarters (in which case you can use it a bit like a baked potato and top with some nice green lentils cooked with tomato's or maybe a butterbean goulash) or long strips, about 1 inch wide (which looks pretty and works well for salads).

Step 2: Drizzle the squash with olive oil and sprinkle over a generous amount of sea salt and a good few grinds of black pepper. Bake in the oven at around 200c for about 30 mins - until the squash is very nearly soft all the way through.

Step 3: Crush a couple of cloves of garlic in a small bowl and add one or two chopped chillies (depending on how hot you like your heat). Take the squash out of the oven and brush the garlic chili mixture all over it. Pop back in the oven and lower the heat to around 160c for the last 10 minutes. If the squash is already cooked to perfection you can just turn the oven off for the last part!

Enjoy! What are your favourite Winter warmers? Any crock pot / slow cooker recipes that would be just perfect at this time of year?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christmas Hamper Project # 2: Home Made Mincemeat


Much like the Candied Peel I made a couple of weeks ago, the benefit of making this Christmas essential at home is that you can make as much as you like and control exactly what you put into it! More booze? Why yes! No suet? If you say so! This year I've made a big batch to keep for myself (which will be turned into delicious mince pies a little closer to the day) and some dainty little jars to go into the hampers - perfect for when a group of Christmas well-wishes call in unexpectedly.

You need to make this mincemeat a few weeks in advance to allow the flavours to mature and mellow - go on, get on it this weekend! It's well worth the effort - who wouldn't be cheered by finding a jar of spicy, fruity, sweet deliciousness in their stocking on Christmas day?









 The recipe...

230g Fat - If I was making this all for myself I would firstly be completely out of control greedy and secondly, use beef suet. For this batch however I decided to listen to the needs of my friends (and my arteries) and used coconut butter instead. You could also use vegetable suet which is probably the easiest to get hold of out of the three.

450g Cooking apples (I used big Bramleys)
340g Raisins
230g Currants
230g Sultanas
300g Candied peel (I used my home made orange, lemon, lime and pink grapefruit peel)
150g Slivered almonds
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
340g Dark brown sugar
2 heaped teaspoons mixed ground spice
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
7 tbl spoons brandy

Mix all the ingredients in a heat proof bowl and stir well. Cover and leave overnight to allow the delicious flavours to combine. The following day stir the ingredients well and cover with foil. Place in a very cool oven (around 100c or less) for three hours. Remove from the oven and leave to cool - stirring occasionally until all the ingredients are coated in the melted fat. Pack into cold sterilised jars, making sure there are no air bubbles. Cover with waxed disks and seal with lids.



I like to top my mince pies with a little star of pastry rather than a full on lid (less pastry, more filling and it looks pretty) so I decided to attach a small star shaped pastry cutter to the trimming on my finished jars. Don't they look sweet! Now I'll put these beauties away in the cupboard to sleep for the next few weeks - maybe we'll have a mince pie masterclass in a few weeks time!




P.S I printed my labels using this great, free PDF.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Chloe Bakes: The Christmas Cake



I love the tradition of having a rich fruit cake at Christmas. When I cut into it on Christmas day it will seem like an effort of will to make myself eat a slice - in between the Christmas pudding and the cheese and the mince pies and the Turkish delight. Come mid January though, when all the festive feasting is over, I know I'll reach for the tin hungrily and greedily when I come in from work soaking wet and it will be a comfort. This last Sunday was Stir Up Sunday - the traditional day to make the Christmas pudding. I picked this day to bake the Christmas cake and it was lovely to think of all the cosy kitchens up and down the country breaking out the brandy and spices together!


A good Christmas cake to me should be absolutely jam packed with dried fruit - this is what makes it so robust and hearty. You could eat a slice of this before going out for a brisk stomp in the woods and it would give you all the energy you need. Unlike the more sugary cakes which have to be carefully timed if you're to avoid that inevitable sugar crash that follows...





  

So this time last year I made a cake using a Rachel Allen recipe from the book 'Bake'. I was so pleased with it that I decided to make it again but this time (emboldened by last years success) tweak the recipe slightly to suit my need for greed when it comes to dried fruit and spices. Well, all the brandy that I used to soak the fruits must have gone to my head because I got so bold and fearless with my spices and quantities of candied peel that I'm actually going to wait to try it before I blog my version of the recipe, just to make sure I got it right! I'll keep you posted on the cakes progress over the coming weeks (you're welcome) whilst I feed it with brandy and might have to swallow my pride on Christmas day if my mother deems it not up to scratch!






I'm quietly confident though - look at it all snuggled in it's tin....sleep well my beauty!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Happy Weekend!

Happy Weekend! I think Saturday morning might be the new Friday night? Today I got up at 7.30am, got the grocery shopping done and dusted, cooked breakfast for two of my very best girlfriends, went for a rainy walk in the woods, rewarded myself with a visit to Garson's Farm Festive Farm Shop, and dropped by my Mum's house on the way home for tea and cheesecake, all before 4.00pm. I feel rather smug.


Tonight I'm heading up to Hackney Wick to check out the craft beer and pizza at the Crate Brewery (which funnily enough is spitting distance from the flat/squat/creative warehouse space that I lived in when I started this blog way back when). The Crate Brewery was founded by Hackney Wick locals and the interior is decked out in materials reclaimed from the Wick. Their website (which you can visit here) has loads of info and a good vibe and I'm really looking forward to it - I'll be sure to try every beer and everyone's pizza and report back.

Tonight is also the last chance to catch The Fish Tales of Alaska at The Yard Theatre. If you're quick you can book tickets and come along too! Here's a little taste of what it's about from The Yard Theatre's website...

In 40 years there may be no more fish. What will the fishermen do then? Tell tales.

Tales of 1,700 foot waves, month-long storms, and sea creatures the size of luxury cruise liners.
Whether they are stories of fact or fantasy will no longer matter.

In a climate that is rapidly changing, The Fish Tales of Alaska explores the love story that is our volatile relationship with the sea.

With a mesmerising original score, together with beautiful visuals,this multidisciplinary performance is created by T.U.C.

The Fish Tales Of Alaska - Read the review on Londoneer.

The show also features the brilliant Goodbye Leopold - if you haven't heard their ethereal voices before take a peek at their myspace here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Stick a fork in it...


...because it's finished! After nearly one year and one month of on and off knitting I am now in possession of two sleeves, a front and a back to my latest jumper!

I absolutely love Rowan yarns and working with the British Sheep Breeds DK yarn was a real treat. This might not be everyone's cup of tea but because the yarn is un-dyed it smells really 'sheepy' which I love. It's all that lovely, natural lanolin in the yarn that's going to keep me toasty warm this Winter - just as soon as I've blocked the pieces and sewn up the seams!

The process of blocking hand knit pieces is magical to behold - you start off with lumpy, bumpy shapes that curl up at the edges and overnight they become smooth, flat pieces of fabric. If you fancy a trip down memory lane you can read my first blog post about this jumper way back in September 2011 here (hey I guess I did manage to finish it before November....just not the November of that year!). I also blogged about it whilst Ciaran and I were in the Yorkshire Dales in August here. The pattern is vintage and is called 'his and hers' - maybe I'll knit a matching one for Ciaran too ;)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A blustery walk....











Don't let the blue sky fool you it was cold when we went for a little walk around our new neighbourhood on Sunday! It was also a year to the day we got engaged! I think this is my favourite time of year.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Chloe Bakes: Declan's Birthday Cake


I’m so excited to share this cake I made a couple of weeks ago for Declan’s 30th Birthday! These photographs were taken by the super talented Hannah Couper. You can see more of Hannah’s brilliant photography (including some more pics from the party) on her blog here.


This cake was such a pleasure to bake! Declan is a dude who likes his food so I wanted the cake to be over-the-top decadent and indulgent. For the sponge I used this double chocolate cake recipe from the SmittenKitchen (I baked this same cake for my little sister Florence’s Birthday way back in April and from everyone’s reaction I knew I was onto a winner!). The recipe combines a deliciously moist, dark chocolate sponge with a thick creamy chocolate ganache icing. What takes this cake to the next level and puts it on a pedestal above all other chocolate cakes is the fruity jam that lies between each layer. This cuts right through the richness of the chocolate and provides a welcome and unexpected burst of flavor. When I baked Flo’s cake it was a hot day in late Spring and I used my home made strawberry jam to spread in between each layer along with sliced fresh strawberries. This time round I wanted something a little more Autumnal so I chose a delicious maraschino cherry jam to provide a welcome burst of tart, juicy flavor.


I made two tiers of the double chocolate sponge and sliced each one into three layers, spreading the cherry jam and dark chocolate ganache in between. To finish it off I covered the entire cake in delicious ganache and stuck a layer of wafer cigars around the bottom (like a little fortress). I chose Autumnal fruits: figs, red grapes, cape gooseberries and the tail end of the summer strawberries and raspberries and went beserk, covering the whole cake in fruit until you could hardly see the icing! I topped it off with a few Ferrero Rochers – the ambassador would have been proud.

Twitter users! Remember you can follow me @chloe_bakes for baking updates and @clobbles for general chit chat!

Monday, November 12, 2012

At the weekend...


Here's a little snapshot of what life has been like this past week. We're well and truly settled into our new flat now and I'm enjoying unpacking our books and photographs and finding a place for everything bit by bit.

Toby is lord of the manor once more - we actually bought this cat pheromone diffuser and installed it in the flat a few days before we moved in. I was sceptical at first but I think it's really helped chill him out. He's usually a little flighty and jumpy but from the second day onwards he's been lounging about on the dining table and even tolerated a cuddle last nigh!

Last weekend I baked an enormous cake for Declan's 30th Birthday - it was a two tiered double chocolate, fruit and Ferrero Rocher topped extravaganza! I'll post some more photographs later in the week.

This weekend went to see a fantastic play at the Soho Theatre called The Kingdom - a wonderfully dark and sinister story told by three Irishmen digging a road. It was pretty heavy going so to cheer ourselves up afterwards we went to one of my favourite restaurants Burger & Lobster where we ate...lobsters! (Who chooses a burger over a lobster - seriously!)

I'm loving life outside of the city centre - we're surrounded by beautiful mature trees which are fast turning orange and loosing their leaves. Toby sits at the window and his little ears prick up whenever a new leaf falls!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Christmas Hamper Project # 1: Candied Peel


Candied peel is a store cupboard essential for this time of year - we've got the Christmas cake coming up, mince pies, possibly a Christmas pudding as well as all manner of fruity cakes and buns in between that will require this versatile ingredient. You can buy it in the supermarket but why not make it yourself? Make it bigger and better!


I like to make my own candied peel because I can choose the very best organic sugar and fruit, I can make a big batch to last the Winter and it looks pretty in a preserving jar on the shelf. When you open the jar the sweet citrus aroma will knock your socks off!. It can also very easily be turned into a delicious and special sweetmeat! Nearer Christmas I'll be creating chocolate dipped peel as an item for the Christmas hampers. This is a great thing to have on standby over the festive period to take as a little present if you find youselves invited to any last minute festive gatherings!

To make one big batch - approx 1kg (halve the recipe for a smaller 500g yeild): Recipe from Waitrose.com

4 lemons
4 oranges
2 pink grapefruit
4 limes
1,200g caster sugar (plus more for coating)

1) Scrub the fruit thoroughly. Slice off the top and bottom of each fruit then cut the peel in wide strips, from top to bottom, making sure that the pith remains attached to the skin. It will make the peel far more succulent once candied. Place each variety of peel in a separate pan, fill with cold water and boil until soft. Depending on your fruit, this can take up to 90 minutes. Keep the water replenished with a freshly boiled kettle.

2) Drain and place all the peel in one saucepan. Cover with cold water, bring up to the boil and cook for a further 20 minutes before draining.

3) Meanwhile dissolve the granulated sugar in 300ml water in a large thick-bottomed saucepan over a low heat. Bring up to the boil and gently stir in the peel. Reduce the heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the peel has absorbed virtually all the syrup. You should allow 2 hours 45 minutes for this.

4) Lightly oil a grill rack and line it with greaseproof paper. Arrange the peel in a single layer on the rack to enable it to dry. If possible, put in a warm place, like an airing cupboard. Allow 3 to 4 days to dry, turning over twice during this time, to allow both sides to dry. It is very sticky. Once it its dry, store in an airtight jar. Snip into smaller pieces as and when you need it.

After the peel had dried for a few days I dipped mine in caster sugar to make it look pretty!





I found that the lime peel was much tougher than the rest and needed a little more boiling to soften the skin. The grapefruit peel is super moist and succulent! Even through all that sugar you can still taste some of the bitterness - delicious! The orange and lemon peel taste beautiful on their own - it almost seems a shame to bake them into a cake!

Next I'll be using the candied peel to make some lovely mincemeat - both for the store cupboard and for the hampers, enjoy!