If the weather today is anything to go by, the summer is over. With the odd rain shower last week serving as an indicator that the seasons were about to change, we took the sunny forecast for Saturday as a sign that we should cross something off my 13 for 2013 list (which I’m not doing all that well with!).
We chose activity number 2, to dust off our bikes (literally) and cycle along the North Thanet Coastal Trail. It didn’t get off to a great start, having never really cycled on roads before, my nerves (and ideas of road safety) got the better of me. Walking our bikes to the train station meant that we missed our train by a minute. With an hour to wait for the next train, we went for a drink at the Goods Shed which is handily located next to the station.
Once we got back to Margate we were greeted by bright blue skies filled with fluffy white clouds, and a strong sea wind, which my Zumba-tired legs struggled cycling against (honestly who goes for an exercise class before going out cycling??). After I got over the disappointment that I’m not a fitness superstar, and had warmed my muscles up a bit, it was so much fun.
We even braved a couple of quiet roads so I could practise cycling with traffic. My bike’s frame is quite heavy so whilst I’m fine once I get cycling, I’m a bit wobbly when I start moving and or try to let go of the handlebar. It’s going to take a few more practise rides before I can use my bike as a mode of transport instead of a leisure activity, but I’m getting there!
Before we left Thanet, we met up with my parents for a quick drink at a little beach cafe right next to the beach. With the influx of coffee shops over the last decade it’s a nice change of pace when you get to visit a vintage seaside cafe. It made me nostalgic for the summer I spent working in one, spending my days pulling Mr Whippy ice creams, restocking buckets and spades and repeatedly sweeping sand off the lino floors.
There are certain things I have always enjoyed, and know I always will, and among those are kitsch 50s beach cafes and chocolate chip cookies. When anyone says ‘this recipe is the only one I’m going to need to make *insert food here* for the rest of my life’ I am instantly intrigued. Even more so when the *insert food here* is chocolate chip cookies. These cookies are pretty damned amazing, so amazing in fact that it’s going to be down to a bake off test to see how they stack up next to the Cupcakes and Cashmere cookies I made last year.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
from For Me For You
makes 24 5” cookies
240g plain flour
240g strong flour
1 ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp salt
285g unsalted butter softened
285g light brown sugar
225g caster sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
560g good quality dark chocolate
Mix together the flours, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt.
In a separate bowl, mix the butter and the sugars until they are light and fluffy.
Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well between each.
Stir in the vanilla, then add the dry ingredients and mix well.
Add the chocolate at the very end, cover the mixture in clingfilm, and refrigerate for 24-36 hours.
To bake, divide into cookies of a size of your choosing, sprinkle with salt, and place in an oven preheated to 180 C for 15-20 minutes.
Allow to cool on a wire rack (if you can avoid the temptation).
Last weekend the lovely Haj and Becky drove over from Bristol to enjoy the bank holiday weekend with us. We were blessed with a beautifully sunny few days which allowed for lots of meal and drinks in the sunshine.
My favourite part of the weekend, was finally getting to visit Salt. I’ve been excited about it since before it opened but hadn’t found the right opportunity to go. After lazily wandering around some of the prettier parts of the city when we were overcome by the delicious smell of barbecue wafting in the air.
^^ enjoying a quick lunchtime date with Dan at a food stall/too many cocktails – the less said the better!
Following our noses, and with rumbling stomachs, we found strings of wooden cutlery and brightly coloured tables across the pavement outside the restaurant with a grill set up and a little sign offering homemade burgers and fresh fish.
Food was served family style, on a mixture of wooden and vintage tableware. With each bite you could tell that it was prepared by people with a love of high quality uncomplicated food. Even their tomato sauce was homemade.
^^amazing food at Salt
The burgers were delicious, thick, juicy and full of flavour. Served with a generous slice of cheese, and in a fluffy, floury bap, the ingredients were of such a quality that they didn’t need to be dressed with anything else. But for me, my favourite part was the potato croquettes. I’m still dreaming of them. The were ever so soft on the inside, coated in a crispy golden batter and sprinkled with a touch of sea salt flakes. Granted my only other frame of reference are the uniform, chunky frozen croquettes, my aunt served every year at our family Christmas party buffet, but to me, the Salt ones have fast become one of my favourite foods ever.
^^hanging out in the sunshine at Salt/getting a little overly excited about pimms being served in teapots – we came home with 3 of them
Sunshine and barbeques aren’t complete without toasted marshmallows. These cupcakes are the perfect dessert to share with good friends as our summer slowly transitions to autumn. As the evenings become a little cool to sit toasting marshmallows by the dying embers of a barbeque, return inside to cupcakes and warm drinks is a great way to keep the party going.
I’m not sure if Marshmallow fluff has found it’s way into many UK supermarkets yet, but I found it in my local Waitrose in the baking aisle. Full disclosure, I may or may not have eaten the other half of a jar, with a spoon, over an exceptionally short period of time.
makes 12 cupcakes
for the Chocolate Cupcakes
125g butter at room temperature
115g self raising flour
125g brown sugar
30g cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 175C and line the cupcake tin.
Beat all the ingredients together until well blended.
Divide into the cupcake cases and bake in the middle of the oven for 17 minutes until golden brown and an inserted skewer comes out clean.
Leave to cool.
for the Marshmallow Frosting
from Buttercream Chantilly Factory http://buttercreamchantilly.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/pumpkin-cupcakes-with-cinnamon-marshmallow-fluff-frosting-vegan/
60g butter at room temperature
100g (about ½ a jar) marshmallow fluff
190g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 digestive biscuit/graham craker , crushed into crumbs
Beat the butter until light and fluffy then add the marshmallow fluff and vanilla and continue to whisk until smooth and creamy.
On a low speed slowly beat in the icing sugar until well mixed. If using a stand mixer I find covering it with a tea towel helps to reduce mess.
Ice your cupcakes and sprinkle with biscuit/cracker crumbs.
Sorry for the mini blog absence, in the middle of a super hectic week celebrating Dan’s birthday (man, is he spoilt!) I managed to pick up a niggly summer cold. So whilst I wasn’t the one turning a year older, I was feeling my age. At which point I stopped being able to pull a few late nights, still work full time and blog – something had to give!
I think my main problem, and I’m sure I’m not alone, is that when I’m feeling well and refreshed I have no problem eating healthily. In fact hanging out in the kitchen chopping a mountain of salad whilst boiling quinoa and making crispy chilli tofu seems like a fun way to spend the evening.
But the second I start feeling a little ‘under the weather’ all I want is the carby comfort of a takeaway pizza. Not just any pizza, the biggest one, with that special base that is actually two bases with extra sauce in the middle, just to make sure that you get all the calories and fat you possibly can in each bite. On top of a day littered with sweet indulgences, chocolate bars, biscuits and sweet coffees as mood (and energy) boosts.
What makes the whole thing really silly is that I am fully aware that those are the times when I really should be watching what I eat; that by eating healthily I am giving my body it’s best chance at fighting the infection and getting itself back on track quicker.
I made these cookies as a healthy option to my sugary pitfalls, made with banana for potassium, and nuts for energy and extra protein, but the real star of these cookies is the cocoa nibs. They really are a superfood, packed with theobromine for energy (it has a similar, but not as strong, effect to caffeine). They also help the body in the production of serotonin and the release of endorphins which both make you feel happier.
The cookies themselves are sweet and soft, with a satisfying crunch from the added nuts. For the recipe head over to the Daily Quirk.
It may be the battle of the sexes, or maybe I just associate myself with a lot of competitive people. Either way, the majority of our dinner parties end with us all sat around the coffee table, glasses of red wine perched precariously, yelling smack talk at each other over a board game, (Articulate, more often than not).
It might be my selective memory, but the girls are usually victorious. The boys usually start politely, apologising to each other for their poor game play, and congratulating correct answers. An hour later and a bottle of wine or two down and the scene is completely different. Blame is hurled over lost turns, other teams are accused of cheating, and the cards have always been poorly shuffled or rigged somehow.
Sunday night brought a new game to our ever expanding collection, Creationary, basically pictionary with Lego. All Dan kept jokingly asking for for his birthday was Lego, which made this a perfect (albeit early) present for him. In all the excitement of playing with a childhood favourite toy the boys even managed to keep their tempers under control.
This is my go to dish when I am entertaining. No matter how picky the eater this dish always has people reaching for seconds. In the summer I serve it with a simple asian salad I will be sharing later this week, and in the winter it works wonderfully with spicy broccoli and peas.
The aromatic ingredients can be prepared and stored a couple of hours ahead of time (though I’m rarely that organised) and then it’s simply a case of adding each to a wok. The recipe for rice makes the perfect sticky, chinese restaurant rice. It’s easy to eat with chopsticks and has a hint of sweetness that balances the saltiness of the soy sauce.
Pappa Wan’s Simple Soy Glazed Chicken and Sticky Rice
adapted from Gok Cooks Chinese
for the chicken:
3 tbsp groundnut oil
6 chicken thighs
a handful of mushrooms (optional)
2 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped
2cm piece of fresh ginger peeled and chopped
3 spring onions, finely sliced, reserving one for decoration
6 tbsp water
1 tbsp honey
5 tbsp dark soy sauce
½ fresh chilli finely sliced
Heat 2 tbsp spoons of oil in a wok over a high heat.
Add the chicken thighs and mushrooms to the wokand cook until browned on both sides (about 4-5 minutes), then remove and set aside.
Add the remaining oil to the work and when hot add the garlic, ginger and spring onions, fry for 2-3 minutes until softened.
Add the chicken and stir, ensuring that it is well coated in the garlic, ginger and spring onions.
Add the soy sauce and the water and bring to the boil.
Lower the heat and cover with a lid (or foil if you don’t have one), and cook for 5 minutes.
Remove the lid and cook for a further 3-5 minutes until the liquid has reduced.
Brush with honey and sprinkle with chilli and the remaining spring onion and serve.
for the sticky rice:
120g long grain rice
120g jasmine rice
Put the rice into a pan and fill with water, repeatedly rub the rice between your fingers (for about 30 seconds) to wash off the extra starch, discard the water.
Repeat two more times.
Cover the rice with water (about an inch of water above the rice level) and boil on the highest setting, without a lid, until the water has reduced to just bubbling through the rice.
Turn the heat down to the lowest setting, place a lid on the pan and leave on the heat for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes turn the heat off, fluff the rice with a fork and leave to steam dry for a few minutes.
To create a dome of rice, tightly pack the rice into a small bowl (I used a tea cup) pressing down with the back of a spoon to make sure it is pressed together and turn out onto a plate.
Dan and I are coffee date people. Meals out are more social events than romantic ones. Coffee shops are where we go to spend time together. We have a couple of favourites near home, but what I really enjoy is discovering new ones when we travel to different cities.
We visited Tap Coffee, just off Oxford Street, during a recent trip to London. I immediately fell in love with the rustic wood interior mixed with industrial fittings. There’s a cheery atmosphere, with a good sense of humour (we both had a good laugh at the Starbucks mug used to house a toilet brush in the bathroom).
But what will make me go back is the coffee. It was perfectly made, the milk was hot but not scalded and the coffee was rich but not bitter. You won’t get a vat of brown liquid that requires two hands to lift, instead you get is a cup of coffee to savour, with a slice of cake and good conversation.
This cake is aptly titled the ‘Sunday Night Cake’. It is simple, unpretentious and uncomplicated. It meant to be easy, and slightly rustic (meaning it’s not the prettiest cake out there). It’s meant to be shared with friends round a dinner table, over coffee after supper together.
The dessert puts people firmly in two camps. Those who love the topping not the cake and vice versa. Personally I’m in the mousse camp. I found the cake to be heavy, stodgy and a little bland, I would be tempted to use more cinnamon next time. Other people absolutely loved it, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. The sour cream makes it very moist and the hint of cinnamon makes it richer than if you used vanilla instead.
The mousse I just loved. It’s airy and light, it’s rich but not too sweet but full of flavour. I think this would make the perfect frosting for a rich chocolate cake as it would stop it from being overpoweringly saccharine. You could serve it on it’s own as a chocolate mousse. It’s one of those recipes I will be coming back to for years. Not to mention it is so much fun to make! You literally whip the steam right out of it!
Sunday Night Cake
from Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
makes 1 9 inch square cake
for the cake:
1 ¾ cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
10 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into ½ inch pieces
¾ cup granulated sugar (I used caster)
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
for the chocolate frosting:
¾ cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar (again I used caster)
3 ½ tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp cocoa powder
3 ounces good quality dark chocolate, roughly choppped
6 tbsp butter, at room temperature, cut into ½ inch pieces
Preheat the oven to 175C and grease and line a 9 inch square cake pan.
In a bowl sift together the dry cake ingredients.
Cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
Add a tablespoon of the dry ingredients to the sugar and butter, then gradually beat the eggs into the mixture.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet in three parts, alternating with the sour cream and beginning and ending with the flour.
Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown and an inserted skewer comes out clean.
Let the cake cool in the pan for 20 minutes before turning it out onto a cooling rack to cool to room temperature.
To make the frosting, mix the sugar, cornstarch and cocoa in a saucepan.
Add the chopped chocolate and a cup measure of boiling water, let stand for 30 seconds.
Turn the heat on to medium high and using a whisk, beat until the mixture comes together (about 5 minutes) when this starts to happen the mixture will come together quickly.
Remove the pan from the heat and scrape the mixture into a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.
Beat on high (this is the really fun part) until all the steam escapes and the mixture cools to room temperature.
Gradually add the butter and beat for a further 2-3 minutes until the mixture is light and ‘pudding like’ (if you want a lighter texture beat for an extra couple of minutes).
Spread the pudding over the top of the cake, and leave to set in the fridge for 5 minutes.
This cake will keep for up to 3 days if stored in an airtight container in the fridge.