Monday, 25 May 2009

Cocktail cupcakes

I'm starting to think that this blog really should be called 'Munchkin Messups'. I rarely seem to report on something without going into a digression about how I forgot this or failed to do that, or had to battle with an insubordinate oven. Well this time is no different, and on this occasion the problem was our drinks cabinet. Or, more precisely, the fact that our drinks cabinet is a small and extremely random collection of bottles which live on a wooden box in the living room, and which doesn't include tequila. You know how everyone has a spirit they can't touch because they had an unfortunate incident with it in their late teens? For The Scientist that spirit is tequila, which isn't normally a problem because we are no longer 19, but this weekend it was a problem.

To back up a step, we had been invited to a BBQ party at the house of some very good friends from our university days and I had offered to take some cupcakes. I selected the Mucho Margarita cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, thinking that it would be fun to take a cocktail in cake form. The trouble was that given The Scientist's issues with tequila (the base alcohol for the Margarita cocktail) there was no point investing in a whole bottle, and I just couldn't find a miniature bottle anywhere. Eventually, with no more time for searching, I just used what we had on hand, which in our case, is ALWAYS Tenerifian honey rum, which The Scientist brought back in perhaps unwise quantities after a long research trip out there. I decided that as long as you could taste the alcohol and included a lot of lime, people wouldn't notice the difference. I am sorry to say that I also de-veganised the cupcakes as I was worried that our friends would pick up the distinctive note of soya milk, and so used regular milk and marge [sorry].

The cupcakes were really good - both limey and light, and you could definitely taste that there was alcohol present. The decoration was supposed to be coloured sugar crystals and kosher salt but since I'm trying to get through some of my excessive pantry store of baking goods I used the coloured sprinkles I had on hand, plus the salt. Not quite as authentic, but then I think I threw authenticity out of the window as soon as I opened the rum bottle. I liked the fact that you got the odd tang of salt, although our host did look a little surprised when he got his first salty taste. The cupcakes also travelled well even in a hot car, and just had a brief chill in the fridge when we arrived to firm up the icing again. They disappeared very fast and helped to fuel an exhausting afternoon of sitting on our friends' patio, admiring their vegetable plants (I came home with two more tomato plants so I consider the cupcakes a good investment), laughing at how melty a big black dog can go in the sun, and chatting about all manner of arcane topics.

[Note: In fairness to The Scientist I should probably admit that I couldn't face Baileys for my entire twenties :) ]

Ambiguous Cocktail Cupcakes: based on Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World's Mucho Margarita cupcakes. Cupcake Project's take on the recipe is here. I used a simplified buttercream icing with lime juice.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Dappy Spice's Hasty Fudge Cake

I was catching up on some blog reading yesterday when I came upon Holler's post about an amazing looking chocolate fudge cake. Dense, chocolatey, moist, mmmnnnn - it looked divine. I left her a comment saying that I needed an excuse to make it, and then thought, darn it, it's a Tuesday, that's excuse enough. Besides, we have Eco Bro staying with us this week while he does a course nearby, and brothers-in-law need treats when they're studying hard, don't they?

I went scampering into the kitchen and blithely started weighing out ingredients into a saucepan. Then I realised why some people shouldn't be trusted with either recipes or web space to style themselves as any sort of decent cook at all. I hadn't read the recipe properly and so hadn't realised that it needed chocolate as well as cocoa. And the only chocolate we had was milk which I was worried wouldn't impart the same velvety dark goopy goodness. I added a few tablespoons of cocoa powder and an extra plop of butter to make up for the missing fat in the chocolate and hoped for the best. Then I nearly forgot the caster sugar but luckily remembered just before putting the pan on the ring. I had to laugh as I did it, as the other (equally sumptuous-looking) chocolate cake I had been reading about that evening was Johanna's mapley wattleseed one, where she almost forgot the chocolate chips. I must have imbibed a little of the spirit of both cakes :) I wasn't really sure if my bastardized batter was the right consistency but it tasted ok, so I put it in a heart-shaped tin to make up for the general ineptitude of the baking, and put it in the oven for a nice dessert after dinner. Holler's cake looked perfectly cooked in her picture. Mine decided to play that 'I'm cooked - ha ha, no I'm not, give me MORE oven time' game. I cracked first by which time it was 10 pm and no one really fancied dessert. I swear the cake laughed. Today I put it back in the oven for a while, and eventually we just ate it out of the tin with spoons after a dinner of Veganomicon chickpea burgers and a greens and bulgar pilaf. Not the whole thing, obviously. That would be as crazy as making a cake on a complete whim without having the vital ingredients. It was nice. Luckily.

You may notice that this post is illustrated by an actual bona fide photograph rather than the threatened drawing. Eco Sis has come to the rescue and lent me their old digital camera which I have almost learnt how to use. :) Hmmm, I spy a get-out clause here. Yes, the cake was wonderful in every way and it's just my photography which is dodgy...

I'm not even going to post what I put into my cake. Just go over to Holler's blog and see what it was supposed to be.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

How to do a cricket tea - Part 3: The Cake

Ok, I'm completely embarrassed about recycling the same photo three times now so this will be my last post about the cricket tea :) I'm glad we were on the rota last weekend though as it's tipped it down this time round and I would have been sorely disappointed (not to say rolling in lemons).

As I already mentioned, we decided that we were going to go for a sliced no-bake (the chocolate biscuit cake - so ubiquitous as to not need a recipe though v yum and I'll probably post about it another time if I haven't already), the scones, and one large sponge cake. Initially we thought carrot cake or Victoria sponge, but I've had uncooked-in-the-middle horrors with carrot cakes before, and I thought the Victoria sponge would be too like the scones. In the end I plumped for a lemon sandwich, which is another of The Scientist's favourites. I used a recipe from the Cream Teas and Boundaries book I found on amazon for the cake, but I made two and sandwiched them together with lemon buttercream. Rather than putting more icing on the top I used the 'lemon crunch' which the recipe suggested - just a mix of sugar and lemon juice, painted on to the top of the still-warm top layer.

It was a really easy recipe - bung everything in a bowl, mix up thoroughly and stick in a cake tin. It baked nicely (I covered it towards the end as it was beginning to brown) and - more importantly - baked all the way through. Plus you use both the lemon zest and the juice which I prefer. I made it in a big 22 inch round tin so it stood nice and tall when it was sandwiched together. I was rather proud of how it looked, although it was lighter in colour than the photo makes it look - and also looked more impressive before I sliced it into a zillion thin slices. It was popular with the cricketers which was very pleasing. It was nice and light and moist which is what I'd been aiming for, but the slices were small, so the buttercream didn't wipe you out. The Scientist actually forewent it as he was batting shortly after tea, but I'll happily make it for him another time as it was so easy and tasty.

And so endeth the lesson on cricket teas. I am still camera-less, so unless something happens on that front rather pronto, I'm afraid I'm going to be reduced to drawing my dinner. And you really don't want that.

Crunchy Top Lemon Sandwich Cake (based on one in Cream Teas and Boundaries)
For each cake (make 2)
100g soft margarine
175g caster sugar
175g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 medium eggs
4 tbsp milk
finely grated rind of 1 lemon

Crunchy Topping (just make one quantity to top the upper cake)
Juice of 1 lemon
100g granulated sugar (I used caster)

Lemon buttercream - I didn't write down the quantities but it's just butter, sifted icing sugar and lemon juice

Preheat oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3. Base line a deep round sandwich tin with greaseproof paper [I used a spring-release 22-incher so just sprayed it lightly with oil].

Measure all cake ingredients into a large bowl and beat well for about 2 minutes until smooth and well-blended. Turn the mixture into the tin and level the surface. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the cake springs back lightly when pressed, or when a skewer comes out clean [watch out that the top isn't browning too much, and cover if it is]. Let one cake cool and then turn out, and pain the other one with the topping (below) while it's still warm. When both are cool, sandwich together with lemon buttercream (it will go runny if you do it while the cake is still warm)

Measure lemon and sugar into a bowl and stir until blended. When the top cake comes out of the oven, spread the lemon paste over the top while the cake is still hot. Leave in tin until cold, then turn out.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Cricket tea part 2 - perfect scones

So here, as promised, are the scones we brought to the cricket tea last weekend. Apologies for recycling the same photo. As I've whinged about excessively already, my camera is awol and I'm having to shamefully beg anyone with a photo-taking device to snap things for me :(

Scones were the first thing The Scientist put on the cricket tea wishlist, so I think perhaps they don't feature too frequently. I've made scones before - usually for The Scientist's parents until at last his mum gently let on that she doesn't like scones - but this time I wanted to find a definitive recipe. Something that would become 'my scone' recipe - the one that people make special requests for. This was all inspired by a beautifully fluffy and soft scone we shared in a tea room in Banbury about two years ago. I asked for the recipe but they said they were bought in, and we've never been back to Banbury since to pursue it. I looked at a lot of recipes and they were all broadly similar - some used milk, some buttermilk, some yogurt, but nothing that made me think that these would be The Ones. The most different recipe was Nigella's in How to be a Domestic Goddess, which used plain flour, and a LOT of cream of tartar. She said that this added soft fluffiness, and so in the end that was what swayed me.

Making the scones was completely uneventful (except that I forgot to add the sultanas The Scientist had requested), but the baked scones were absolutely as promised. Dreamily light and soft they delivered everything I had hoped for, and carried their jam topping beautifully. The cricket club captain's one year old daughter was quite a fan, and they got a lot of compliments from the players too (including The Scientist of course). Truly I will never use another scone recipe again. These are The Ones. I might even try them on The Scientist's mum :)

'Lily's scones' from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess
Makes 12 (I made one and a half quantities)

500g flour

1 tsp salt

2 tsp baking soda

4 ½ tsp cream of tartar

125g unsalted butter, diced

300ml milk

Preheat oven to 220°. Sift the dry ingredients together and rub in the butter thoroughly. Add the milk and stir very briefly. Knead lightly together on a floured surface. [It's important not to overwork scone dough] Roll out to approx 3cm thickness and then cut into 12 scones. [I used a cutter a bit smaller than the size Nigella gives - mine was about 5cm across compared to her 6 1/2 and got 18 out of the 1 and a half quantity dough] Bake for 10mins until wonderfully soft but slightly golden. I left ours to cool before cutting them and spreading with jam to transport to the cricket club. I imagine they would be wonderful warm (I have to admit that I tried a couple of tiny bits that 'fell off' while they were still warm so I don't know why I'm pretending I don't know)

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

How to do a cricket tea - Part 1

It's very fashionable to be down on being English at the moment. Our transport system is antiquated and expensive, our weather ranges from rain to weedy sun to - oh, snow at Easter, our politicians are mainly expenses-claiming scumbags, and our social services are being kicked into touch by the Welsh and the Scots (as is our rugby team). And our national dish is an Indian curry which India has politely disowned. But there are some reasons to be proud of being English, and most of them involve endearingly bizarre character traits and habits. And one of those is the pottering amateur.

The English love pottering; they love their sheds; they love tinkering and pursuing random hobbies. Sometimes that produces morris dancing (which I personally love because it's so archaic and jolly) and sometimes it produces the Industrial Revolution. It also promotes a sense of taking part, fair play and derring do, often targeted to sports which we gaily take overseas and then lose at. And one of those is cricket. English weekend cricket is a reason to love living in this country. Drive past any village on a summer weekend and there will be a patch of green with 22 slightly overweight and red-faced gentlemen standing and watching two people heft a wedge of willow at a lethally hard ball. Sometimes they will exclaim and make unfathomable hand gestures. Occasionally one will break into a comedy run, usually thankfully outpaced by the one or two eager fit young bloods on the team. NB The Scientist is one of those young bloods, but he is keen to maintain his ability to run after the ball, and so will hopefully be the country's only sprinting nonagenarian village cricketer one day. Even my sprinting, actually-bothering-to-warm-up, stroke-practising-in-the-kitchen beloved other half, however, has a soft spot for what is the essence of English weekend cricket - the tea.

Our cricket tea (photographed by Paul - thank you!)
From left: be-jammed scones, chocolate biscuit cake (in squares), sliced lemon drizzle sandwich cake, clotted cream (in bowl), sandwiches aplenty, more scone, shameful reconstituted meat products (nothing to do with me), crisps, torso of cricketer eager for his tea.

Cricket teas are legendary. In fact, a search on the Internet revealed that some clubs devote more web space to their teas than they do to their matches. They embody the very niceness of English sporting endeavours (no doubt why we rarely lift a major trophy), what with all their 'no no, after you', cucumber sandwiches, china cups and Battenburg slices. Even the cricket commentators at Lords get cakes sent to them by fans. In essence, cricket would not be cricket without a good tea.

At The Scientist's local club they are very egalitarian about their teas. There is a rota for every home match, and the nominated incumbent of the week goes off and spends their budget on whatever they see fit. Of course, with a keen eye to a baking opportunity I had been eager for The Scientist's number to come up ever since we arrived in Warwickshire, and a couple of weeks ago he came back from nets and casually threw into conversation that he'd been asked to do it a few Sundays hence. I immediately went into planning overdrive. We brainstormed the best cakes he'd come across in all his days of playing village cricket; we compared the overall balance of chocolatey and fruity, slices and individual items, the risk of weighing down the home team as opposed to the visitors depending on who batted first. We made, revised and re-revised the lists.

This is how I like to put it. I think that readers of this blog will already realise that in reality all this meant that I faffed, stressed, read baking books from cover to cover, presented The Scientist with a new set of options on a daily basis, and he said 'whatever you bake will be lovely'. And I mean that in a supportive way.

In the end, we tried to keep it simple. I found some really good tips on quantities in a book I couldn't resist buying from an Amazon seller - Cream Teas and Boundaries: Village Cricket Tea Recipes. We revised these a bit in accordance with The Scientist's own preferences, and so having now executed our tea duties successfully, I thought it might be useful to set out our hints and tips for anyone else asked to provide a cricket tea. After the length of this post, recipes will follow later!

Here is what we made, for two teams and a few associated supporters and scorers:

4 loaves' worth of sliced bread, divided equally into ham, grated cheese and egg mayonnaise sandwiches. Half of the cheese and half of the ham sandwiches had pickle in them. We used two white and two white/wholemeal loaves, and spread them with marge under the fillings. Salad additions are also acceptable, but The Scientist is sick of picking out tomato and cucumber from his sandwiches so we didn't bother. That's the prerogative of the tea-maker :)

One pack of supermarket mini sausage rolls and one of mini cocktail sausages

One large packet of tortilla chips

One large lemon sandwich drizzle cake

One large quantity of chocolate biscuit cake, cut into 24 squares

18 fruit scones, halves and spread with strawberry jam, served with clotted cream

Tea and orange squash.

This quantity worked out fine - we could have got away with only three loaves of bread, but people liked snacking on the leftovers after the match. And another bag of crisps wouldn't have gone amiss. The quantity of cakes worked out perfectly.

Hints and tips
If there is more than one of you making the sandwiches, set up a production line. Ideally employ a friendly graduate of the maths or physical sciences persuasion to work out exactly what quantities you need. Fortunately I have one of those on hand for these eventualities. We both buttered the bread and divided it into equal piles. I pickled the ones that needed pickling, and The Scientist took care of the other fillings.

Put the uncut sandwiches back into the plastic bags the bread came in for ease of carrying, and cut them in situ. This prevents the edges from drying out, and doesn't take too long.

If you can, leave buying the sandwich ingredients until the morning of the match (see above comment on possibility of snow at Easter)

Making some of the baked goods the night before will free all parties up for stress-free sandwiching on the day. I only had one cake tin of the right size for the lemon cake, so I made one layer the night before, and the second the morning of the match. We also made the chocolate biscuit cake the night before and stored it in the fridge. That only left one cake, the icing and butter icing, and the scones to make that morning.

Cut and jammify scones at home, and take them sandwiched back together. They just need separating again to be served.

After all my dithering, it was also interesting to see what went first when the weary teams came to claim their tea. I have to admit (to my chagrin) that the sausage rolls and mini sausages were popular, although they were admittedly placed at the front of the table. The lemon cake took a little while to get going, but then disappeared very fast, and the biscuit cake and scones were particularly praised (how I kvelled). I didn't notice any particular preference for sandwich fillings, though the opposing team had a probably unusual number of non meat-eaters. Happily The Scientist is well used to catering for veggies and so this didn't lead to an unedifying scramble for the egg sandwiches even though we hadn't known in advance.

I would make other cakes next time just for variety, but having one large sliced cake and one tray bake was a good division, and I will never cater another cricket tea without those exact same scones again. They were wonderful. And if you've got this far, you will be rewarded with the recipe next time :) As to the result of the match, I'm afraid we must draw a veil to spare the home team's blushes.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Some random facts

Holler over at Tinned Tomatoes gave me a Preemio Blogger Award - isn't that lovely! Thank you Holler! I have to tell you seven random things to claim it, so here goes (since I am very low on blog worthy photo reserves after leaving my camera in Israel and having such an elderly phone that it only makes calls)

1. I spent this morning helping The Scientist make the tea for his cricket club, and it was one of the most fun Sunday mornings I've had in ages. He calculated the composition of the sandwiches, and took care of the cheese, egg and ham fillings, and I buttered, Branston-ed and made cakes. Photos will follow soon, I hope (courtesy of Paul, whose phone is much more sophisticated than mine)

2. I associate the word 'random' with my university days - I heard it used more frequently in Fresher's week than ever before, I think.

3. I am sitting on the sofa typing this. I am under the spare duvet as it's a bit chilly and it's more environmentally friendly than turning on the heating, and I am covered in cats. They are very cute, but I discovered today that the reason my vegetable and flower seeds aren't germinating is because Mausel thinks that I have cleared the flower bed in order to make her her own bathroom. So it's a good thing for her that she's so cute.

My little sticky fruit trees in bloom!

4. I just learnt to purl, which means I can knit things other than scarves. I was given my first knitting needles at the age of five by my friend Max, but it's taken me until the age of 32 to be able to do anything useful with them (I have to admit that I don't know where those first needles are now).

5. I secretly fancy David Tennant (though Edward from Twilight comes a close second).

6. I can count to seven in Hebrew and I know the word for underpants. It has yet to be of any use in conversation.

7. I am terrible - absolutely terrible - at remembering jokes. I have messed up so many punchlines that my nickname at university was Dappy Spice, and I believed someone recently when they told me that their crisps had been flash-fried in water. What can I say - he had a trustworthy face?

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Veggie kedgeree - from the storecupboard

This is a dish I've had sitting in my recipe folder for about two years. Every time I see it I promote it to the front, but then another veg box arrives, or we go away, or - I don't know - things conspire against it. But eventually I managed to get round to it, and I hope I don't leave it as long for a repeat as it was an easy peasy winner of a dinner. It's storecupboard-tastic, apart from the eggs - and who doesn't have eggs in their fridge? Apart from vegans. And egg haters.

It's a kedgeree dish, which is a British/Indian classic featuring smoked fish - a bastardised Anglo breakfast version of the Indian food our colonial ancestors encountered in their days of painting the world map red. I have never eaten it in its carnivorous guise, although I did like smoked fish in my pre-veggie days (I think I only ate it about twice, and always associate it with a hotel breakfast in Weston-Super-Mare. How weird is that? It sounds like the memory of someone much older than seven which is about how old I must have been). Anyway, it's basically curried rice with eggs and fish, but this version uses lentils instead of fish. I fancied a big chunky type of lentil and so used yellow split peas, but in every other respect I followed the recipe. It's not sophisticated in its spicing and seasoning, but it's tasty nonetheless. The Scientist had also been keen on my description of it, but he went traditional and added some smoked mackerel to his. I thought my Weston-Super-Mare memories would make me tempted until it stunk out the kitchen so comprehensively that I couldn't go in without wrinkling my nose for about a week.

The kedgeree was simple, yet satisfyingly tasty in flavour and texture. I liked the combination of pulses and rice, while the eggs (boiled according to Heidi's foolproof method which I have only fooled up once) give an interesting change to each mouthful. I know, the eggs look huge, but it was just the way I arranged them on the plate. It's also nutritionally pretty good and hardly takes any effort. Go on, don't leave it as long as I did!

Veggie kedgeree (copied from a Slimmer's World cookbook)
Serves 4

1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 tsp mild curry powder
250g basmati rice [I used wholegrain regular rice]
50g red/yellow split lentils
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
650 ml stock
8 eggs
salt and pepper
chopped coriander to garnish if you have more of an eye to presentation than I do

Stir fry the onion in fry light for 2-3 minutes over a high heat then add the curry powder, rice, lentils, bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Stir and fry for 1-2 minutes

Add stock, season well and bring to the boil. Cover tightly, reduce the heat and cook gently for around 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, undisturbed, for 10-12 minutes [I remember worrying that this wouldn't be long enough for long wholegrain rice and I think I cooked it for an extra five minutes just in case. It turned out ok]

Boil the eggs [using Heidi's method if you like your yolks just slightly and deliciously soft]. Shell and halve them. Fluff up the rice and spoon into bowls. Top with the eggs, sprinkle over the chopped coriander and serve.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Thin mints - or mint podgies

So much for returning to regular blogging! I've been in Israel for a week with Munchkin Granny, visiting my Grandma and going to a family Bar Mitzvah. I meant to get a post up before I went but ended up in a mad dash and didn't make it. And now I've gone and left my camera in Israel and have yet to negotiate with one of my lovely uncles what the exchange rate between camera postage and Cadbury's creme eggs is, so I'm going to be going through my backlog of photos for a little while!

Anyway, the trip to Israel was great. Here's a roundup:
Cousin count: 12 (ten mine, two MG's)
Scary encounters with Israeli drivers: don't know, still have my eyes shut
Beds slept in: 5 in 6 nights, if you include the aeroplane seat where I failed to sleep
Mysterious and invisible dense items making MG's suitcase inexplicably heavy: one (large)
Rites of passage observed: one (bravo, Chanan!)
Number of sausages consumed by cousins: disappeared too quickly to count
Vegan brownies made: One Big Pile
National holidays participated in: two - Remembrance Day and Independence Day
Emails from anxious students staring down the barrel of a deadline: many

So all in all, an eventful trip and lovely to see Grandma and all the other lovely relations over there. While there I neither made nor ate thin mints, but I did try out this recipe for them before I left. I haven't been posting about it, but I have continued to bake for my colleagues at work this semester - albeit a bit more sporadically because of other commitments. I can't remember what led me to this recipe on Baking Bites, but I thought they would be elegant and chocolatey and fitting for the closing of the semester. Thin Mints are one of the cookies sold to raise funds by American Girl Scouts, but I was surprised to find that they are boxed brands, not home-made. My only encounter with Girl Scout Cookies was in a Peanuts cartoon but I gather from Nicole's posts that they are a bit of a cultural institution, and she's been trying out some home-made versions.

I read her instructions carefully but I still managed to make them a bit thick. I liked it that the dough was rolled into a log and sliced - less messy than rolling into balls and flattening (although dipping them in chocolate afterwards was satisfyingly messy). But I should have sliced my slices thinner - the resulting biscuits were less dainty elegance and rather more jaw-cracker. In fact, one of my colleague said that she had broken a tooth on one - I hope she was joking! Another time I would cut them thinner and add a bit more mint, but to be honest, I would make a mint-flavoured version of these cookies in preference. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and it was an interesting foray into an American tradition.

Thin mints: recipe here