To diet or not to diet, that is the question…

Now I’m sure the word ‘diet’ is the last thing you want to hear from a food blog more used to creating calories than cutting them but I figured this post would be as good as any to get me back blogging. I’ve been away from my blog for a while now as work commitments seemed to take up most of my time but after New Year I vowed to get back on it! Despite my good intentions, I also realised I’d put on a few pounds so baking cupcakes every week probably wasn’t a great idea, there’s only so many carrot cakes I can give away to friends and family! With this in mind I kept cooking but instead of fudge cake it was stir fry and instead of chocolate cookies it was mango, yoghurt and almonds!

I’m not going to lie. It’s nowhere near as fun to eat a rice cake as an actual cake. In fact, it’s worse. Much worse. So I’ve been brightening up my lunches at work with yummy fresh dishes that are filling, don’t taste like cardboard and are hopefully the envy of a few people hovering around the office kitchen! Hehe. With this in mind here are a few snapshots of the things I’ve been making along with a promise to get back blogging but maybe with my usual cake recipes mixed in with a few more savoury ones! (A girl can get sick of buttercream after all!……well, almost!)

20140316-184026.jpg

20140316-184009.jpg

20140316-184039.jpg

20140316-184056.jpg


Jam: Round 1!

P1030236

For Christmas my friend bought me a jam making kit and up until two weeks ago I was yet to get around to using it! With so much end of summer fruit on offer I decided to give it a whirl and my first go was to be a traditional strawberry jam! While the kit I have is from Kilner and contains a funnel, jars, labels etc there is nothing to stop you using the contents of your own kitchen cupboards! You will need a solid, thick based pan to make the jam in. Don’t use a non stick pan because it will get ruined! You will also need some sterilised jars! You can re use old jam jars and sterilise them with boiling water or in a dishwasher. You can then dry them in the microwave so as not to contaminate them with damp dishcloths!

Aside from all the equipment the jam is actually quite easy to make! I used a Delia Smith recipe and made 3 medium jars. Before you start cooking the jam you will need to chill a small plate in the fridge or freezer. You will see why soon! So! Here’s how to do it…

Ingredients

450g Jam Sugar

650-700g Strawberries

Juice of 1 Lemon

Method

1. To begin the jam making you will need to clean and dry your strawberries and remove the stalk. Make sure you dry them! Extra moisture is a no no!

2. To prepare your pan you need to grease the base with a tiny bit of butter to stop the sugar burning then layer the fruit, sugar, fruit, sugar in the pan evenly. Delia Smith recommends leaving the fruit overnight to allow the sugar to draw out the moisture. This keeps the fruit more solid when the jam is made. I included the step but left the pan for only a few hours. I also kept my strawberries whole but if you wanted you could cut them in half which would give you a smoother jam.

P1030220 P1030224

3. After the fruit has rested you can begin to heat the jam!!! Place the jam on a low to moderate heat to just melt the sugar and release some of the fruit’s juices. Try not to stir the jam too much as it will break up the fruit.

4. When the sugar has dissolved add the lemon juice (make sure there are no pips!). Next turn up the heat and get the jam really bubbling! (See below) When it’s really bubbling. Time it for 8 minutes!

P1030226 P1030227

5. After the 8 minutes remove the jam from the heat and get your chilled plate! Spoon a little jam onto the plate and push it with your finger. If the jam is done you will see the surface wrinkle! If it doesn’t wrinkle heat the jam for another 3-4 minutes then repeat the process and look for the wrinkles! You can do this a few times until the jam is set!

P1030228 P1030229

6. When you have removed the jam from the heat add a knob of butter and mix to disperse the scum from the jam. As the jam cools another ‘scum’ of bubbles will form on the top of the pan. To keep this to a minimum when the jam is slightly cooled fill the jars to prevent a large scum form forming. Leave the lids off and allow the jam to cool fully.

P1030230 P1030231

7. As a final step when the jam is completely cooled use either wax discs or 2 layers of cling film cut the size to seal the top surface of the jam. Then pop on the lids and label! The jam should keep for a few months in a cupboard but once open keep in the fridge!

P1030232


Breakfast Muffins! (P.S. They’re low fat!)

On my quest to find the best muffins I tried my first ever (cringe) ‘low fat’ bake! Now when I say low fat, I’m not suggesting you scrap your 5-a-day and have 5 muffins instead but these are a great alternative to cereal in the morning and brilliant if you would rather eat later or take breakfast to work with you! They contain honey rather than sugar and are sweetened with fruit! The nuts and oats add an amazing crunch!

P1030186

This recipe makes 12 muffins and the method is super simple! It came from my Good Food magazine which I recently subscribed to!

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggs
  • 150ml pot natural low-fat yogurt
  • 50ml rapeseed or vegetable oil
  • 100g apple sauce or puréed apples
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 4 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g wholemeal flour
  • 50g rolled oats, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • 1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1½ tsp cinnamon
  • 100g blueberries
  • 2 tbsp mixed seeds, I bought mine from Sainsbury’s and you can buy them in bags mixed!
  • P1030176 P1030177

    Method

    1. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Line a 12-hole muffin tray with 12 large muffin cases.

    2. In a jug, mix the eggs, yogurt, oil, apple sauce, banana, honey and vanilla. (It will look disgusting, don’t panic!)

    3. Tip the remaining ingredients, except the seeds, into a large bowl, add a pinch of salt and mix to combine.

    P1030178 P1030179

    4. Next, pour the wet ingredients into the dry, mix briefly until you have an even batter, don’t over mix as this will make the muffins heavy. All you want is for the ingredients to be evenly mixed, no clumps of flour etc.

    5. Spoon the batter between the cases. Sprinkle the muffins with the extra oats and the seeds.

    P1030180 P1030181 

    6.Bake for 25-30 mins until golden and well risen, and a skewer inserted to the centre of a muffin comes out clean. Remove from the oven, transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool. Store in a sealed container for up to 3 days!

    P1030183


    Blueberry Muffin…Success!

    After my horrendous blueberry muffin fail a few weeks ago I’ve been really trying to improve my muffin making skills! I found a whole ream of recipes on the internet and I looked through all of them comparing and contrasting techniques to try to find the optimum recipe. This recipe I found really does work but the muffins are quite sweet and more of a sponge cake type texture. I’m still chasing a recipe that will give me Starbucks style amazing muffins but I’m yet to find it! I will keep trying though and if I find a better one I’ll be sharing it!

    P1030171

    The bets part of this recipe has to be the crumble or streusel topping! Made similar to a traditional crumble the topping is sprinkled over the cake mix and becomes crunchy and crispy on the surface of the muffins!

    If you would like to give these muffins a try here is the link to the recipe! I would just like to add that this recipe makes 6-9 muffins depending on the sizes of your muffin tins! Mine are more of a cupcake size so it made 8 muffins. If you have very large tins you will probably only make 6!

    P1030160  P1030162  P1030164 P1030165

    The texture of the recipe is very thin and almost batter like. Don’t be concerned this is how the mixture should be!

    To create the crumble topping I halved the mixture on the recipe as many people had mentioned it makes too much mix! I agree as even half was still too much!

    To speed this up you could make the crumble topping in a food processor. This cuts the butter with the sugar and the flour a lot faster than using a fork or your fingers. You’re looking for a texture similar to sand or gravel. Then sprinkle this over the filled cake cases.

    P1030166 P1030167

    While the texture and flavour of these muffins is great I still don’t feel that I’ve found the ultimate recipe. I know everyone’s tastes are different but for me I prefer a more dry muffin that is slightly less sweet. I would also like the topping to be more crisp and crunchy! I’m going to try and tweak this recipe and read a few more to really find an ultimate muffin recipe which I’m hoping I will post soon. I know I sound a bit muffin obsessed but I’m really enjoying making them and I hope I can find one that really works! If anyone has any great muffin tips please let me know I’d really appreciate it!

    P1030168 P1030169


    Birthday Cake! Another attempt…

    Recently it was my friends 21st birthday and not knowing what to get I decided to bake a cake! I’m not brilliant at decorating celebration cakes but I am trying to improve! To make this recipe I used my Ultimate Chocolate Cake recipe.

    image[1] (2)  

    The fudge icing for this recipe contains butter and when warm it is quite pliable. The butter can slightly separate from the icing but this allows you to spread the icing smoothly without a knife sticking to the top! This is how I achieved the smooth finish on the top of the cake! As I put the fudge icing in the centre of the cake as well I didn’t have enough to cover the sides so I whipped up a batch of chocolate buttercream (butter, icing sugar, cocoa powder) and using a large star nozzle, piped individual stars all over the exterior of the cake. I then used writing icing to pipe the ‘21’ onto the cake and decorated the cake with Dr Oetker chocolate stars which I think look quite effective! I know the cake isn’t a show stopper but I can only realistically use more simple techniques to decorate until I improve my skills! If anyone else has any simple techniques for decorating cakes please let me know!

    image (2)image[2] (2)


    Hot Cross Buns, a perfect Easter bake!

    When Easter comes around I’m forever buying Hot Cross Buns for breakfast! Toasted with lashings of butter they’re one of my absolute favourites even though I’m not too keen on dried fruit! For anyone who doesn’t know, Hot Cross Buns are made from a bread dough spiced with cinnamon and mixed with dried fruit and candied peel. They are topped with a flour and water cross. Despite the fact that they pre-date Christianity they are now traditionally eaten during Lent and on Good Friday as a symbol of the crucifixion. They can be eaten plain but I recommend toasting them and adding butter!

    P1020380

    This recipe is slightly adapted from a Good Food recipe and includes a spiced butter which is optional! The recipe makes 12 decent sized buns and is remarkably easy to make! Give it a go!

    Ingredients

    300ml of Whole Milk (I used semi-skimmed though and it still worked!)

    zest of 1 orange

    50g of Butter (Cubed)

    500g Strong White Bread Flour (plus 140g for the crosses)

    2 tsp cinnamon

    1/2 tsp of Mixed Spice

    85g Golden Caster Sugar

    7g Sachet of Fast Action Yeast

    1 Large Egg Beaten

    1 Egg for glazing

    Spray Oil for greasing

    100g Dried Mixed Fruit (I also added a handful of candied peel!)

    Spiced Butter Ingredients

    200g Salter Butter (softened)

    1.5 tsp of Cinnamon

    1/2 tsp of Ground Ginger

    4 Tbsp of Clear Honey

    Method

    1. To start we’re going to make the dough! Warm the milk in a pan with the orange zest until steaming. Remove from the heat and add the butter swirling until it melts. Leave the mixture to cool to about body temperature (slightly warm).

    P1020365P1020362

    2. Next, mix the flour, spiced , sugar, yeast and 1tsp of salt in a bowl. Pour in the milk mixture and the beaten egg and mix with a wooden spoon until it clumps together.

    P1020363 P1020367

    3. Generously flour your work surface and tip the mixture onto it. The mixture is very wet and I floured my hand to help me knead it. Knead the dough until its smooth and elastic. If you have a mixer with a dough hook feel free to use that. If you’re not great at kneading don’t panic just do your best stretching and folding the dough!

    4. Oil a clean bowl. Spray oil is my choice but you can use sunflower oil or veg oil. Place the dough into it and cover loosely with cling film. Leave in a warm place for 2 hours until it double (see below).

    P1020368 P1020369

    5. Next dust your largest baking tray with flour. Tip the dough back onto your floured work surface and knock the air out by kneading again for about a minute. Add the dried fruit and peel if using and knead into the dough. Break the mix into 12 even sized balls and place, spaced apart on the floured tray.

    P1020370 P1020371  

    6. Spray a large piece of cling film with oil. Loosely place over the buns and leave for an hour somewhere warm until doubled in size (see below).

    7. Heat the oven to 180C (160C Fan or Gas mark 4). Brush the buns with beaten egg after they have risen. Mix the remaining flour with water to make a thick paste and place in a piping bag with a small nozzle. Pipe crosses over the buns.

    P1020374 P1020375

    8. Bake the buns for 25-30 minutes until golden and cooked through (tapping the underside of the buns they should sound hollow!) Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

    P1020376P1020377    

    9. To make the spiced butter simply blend all the ingredients together with a whisk. Use this to spread over the warm or toasted hot cross buns! These buns can keep well for up to three days as the toasting brings them back to life but alternatively you can keep them in the freezer for up to three months! Enjoy! Its so worth the try!

    P1020382  P1020384


    Cookies and Cream Cheesecake Bites…

    P1020336

    After doing quite a bit of baking recently I felt like making something different and I spotted this cheesecake recipe online. I was a little dubious after the numerous fails I’ve had with American recipes in the past but this one was a great success! It can be found on ‘Brandy’s Baking Blog’ by following this link! While you can make these in a rectangular try and cut them into ‘bites’ it would also make a great round cheesecake to serve as a desert at a party!

    P1020328 P1020329

    The ingredients are quite minimal and all in all the recipe is very simple to make! I used slightly less Oreo’s than stated in the recipe as they’re not the cheapest thing to buy! I used two standard sized packets (300g in total) for the entire cheesecake using just over one packet for the base and the rest for the topping. To help you on your way I have converted the ingredients list for you!

    Ingredients

    For the crust

    450g Oreo cookies
    75g unsalted butter, melted
    For the filling
    675g cream cheese, at room temperature
    150g granulated white sugar
    175ml sour cream or creme fraiche
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    3 large eggs, at room temperature

    P1020330 P1020332 P1020334P1020335  

    When it comes to baking this cheesecake follow the recipe! When it says leave it wobbly in the centre don’t panic as this will continue cooking once removed from the oven. I slightly overcooked mine as it cracked in the middle but it made no difference to the taste and it was still amazing to eat! When it comes to removing it from the tin make sure it has firmed fully in the fridge and remember to cut right through he base! Good luck! It really is a recipe worth trying!