Friday, 30 April 2010

Happy May Day!

English asparagus, jersey royal new potatoes, mint, salt marsh samphire and early summer cherries, picnics, evening's pottering in the garden or chilling out down the allotment, sunshine and flowers .... just some of the joys of May!

Happy May Day everyone. X

A Stack of Chocolate Brownies with flowers and butterflies

Hot off the press .... Completed just five minutes ago, here is my latest creation. It is for a lovely little girl called Emilia who is going to be a very grown up '4' tomorrow. Her mum wanted a cake that tasted delicious and was easy to serve at the party and Emilia's wish was for a cake with flowers and butterflies. I'm delivering the cake this evening, so here's hoping it's fits the requirements of both mother and daughter.
Happy Birthday Emilia! X

The Birthday Party - Part II (The Cakes)

With Lily's birthday falling mid-week and her party taking place on the weekend, it seemed this birthday called for two birthday cakes. The resulting cakes came about from my not wanting to bake two sponge cakes (we'd be eating it morning, noon and night for the following week!) and Lily request for a princess cake. Now for those who are familiar with my baking, you will know that I favour natural decorations of seasonal flowers, herbs and fruits. I certainly am not comfortable with an icing bag!

After much research on the web for a 'princess cake', decided to try my hand at a cake that is made up of a Barbie style doll with a 'cake' skirt. Despite looking quite complicated it wasn't too difficult. I used a basic vanilla sponge recipe and made a baked a sponge in a traditional sandwich cake tin. Then I made a dome shaped sponge by doubling the sponge recipe and baking it (for longer) in a oven proof pudding bowl of the same diameter to the cake tins.

When cooked and cooled I cut a hole for the doll to sit in using a circular cutter. Then I sliced the dome cake horizontally into three and then starting with the two sandwich tin sponges built up the skirt, sandwiching the layers together with a little strawberry jam. Once the skirt is assembled you wrap the doll's body in cling film and plunge her into her vanilla sponge skirt.

Depending on the height of your sponge skirt you might have to temporarily remove the dolls legs (you can prop her up on an egg cup or two if need be). Once you are happy with the positioning whip up a large bowl of butter icing coloured to your liking and cover the skirt. A good tip is top do what is called a 'crumb' layer first. To get a smooth finish on your crumb layer hold each end of a strip of paper between your thumb and forefinger and drag it up the skirt. Then pop the cake in the fridge for 20 mins to 'set' your icing. Then repeat with a top layer of icing and use a platte knife to create a draped fabric effect. Then use a piping bag to ice over the cling film wrapped torso and finally decorate to your hearts desire with sugar hearts and stars. I finished the cake off with two sparkler candles as wands in each hand.

The added bonus is that the birthday girl, get to keep the doll (fully clothed and with legs back in tact, I hasten to add!).

For Lily's actual birthday I decided to make a Birthday cake that would double up as a dessert to follow her requested 'pizza' dinner. Nanny and Grandad came for her birthday so there were four adults and two children - although this cake could have almost stretched to that number again.

This was my first ever Ice Cream Cake. It is a bit of a cheat and very simple to make. Using a loose bottom cake tin make a 'cheesecake' biscuit base using crushed biscuits such as digestives and melted butter. After greasing your tin press the biscuit base in the base of the tin and place it in the fridge for 20 mins or so to set and harden. Next you need two 500ml tubs of your favourite shop bought ice cream. I used a chocolate ice cream and a cookies n' cream ice cream. Take your first tub out of the freezer and allow it to soften slightly. Decant it into a bowl and give it a bit of a mix with a wooden spoon. Spread the ice cream out over your biscuit base making sure it completely covers it. Level the top and cover with cling film, pressing it down into the to the tin so that it rests of the surface of the ice cream. Freeze until hard (overnight is ideal), then repeat the process with your second choice of ice cream. You could then leave your ice cream cake as is, but I decided to finish it off with a thin ganache layer (a melted chocolate and cream mix) which again I froze to set. Once ready to serve the cake needs to defrost a little. It's a bit trial and error, but 30 mins in the fridge should do it. Run a sharp knife around the inside edge of the tin to help ease the cake out on to a stand or plate. I then decorated mine with white chocolate sticks, fresh strawberries and blueberries and of course and candle!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Other Rooms & the Birthday Party

Anyone who makes a regular visit to my blog may have noticed the slight change in the title of my blog. Previously just 'Louise's Kitchen' I have now extended the title to include '.... and other rooms'. My reason for that was so that I could, when the mood takes me, move out of the kitchen to share other 'doings' with you that share the common theme of 'homemade'.

I've always loved making things ... as a child I would avidly watch Blue Peter and try my hand at making the various craft projects with empty washing up bottles, wire coat hangers and double sided sticky tape. After a few false starts to my career (such as working for a bank), I got myself a place at Art College and studied Fashion Promotion for three years. I gained myself a good degree, but some how the 'creativeness' slipped away and although I've since worked in creative industries, I've worked with creatives rather than being creative myself ... my standards aren't professional enough by any means. But now, with this so called 'homemade revival', my rather cobbled together efforts have a place.

My creations do tend to stay close to home and make their appearances at those special occasions such as Christmas time and birthday's. My latest creative outburst was for Lily's birthday last month.

As a busy mum of two, my time is stretched at best. Any chance to relax is oh so rare, so why is it I regularly steer away from the ‘easy options’ in life. I wonder if it is a deep scar from years ago when my school reports were frequently summed up with quotes such as ‘ nice girl, could try harder’. Lily recently celebrated her 5th birthday. She was very keen to have a party so I decided to hold one. Despite the chaos of hosting a child’s party at home, I am holding out from having to hire an expensive and dreary hall for as long as I can. I set the guest limit [12 including Lily] and Lily set the theme [Princesses].

At this point most sane mothers would text those lucky enough to be worthy of one of the 12 places, or maybe pop into town to buy some party invitation – I’m sure Lily would have loved the Disney Princess invites I saw and turned a blind eye to. But I decided to hand make them. And I didn’t stop there I made the party bags too, plus giant tissue paper pom poms [Lily isn't keen on balloons]. I decorated the room with the Poms and then gave one each to the children to take home with them.

My starting point for both the invitations and the party bags was a letter writing set, some fabric scraps and an old magazine all from one of my favourite stores Cath Kidston. I felt that the nostalgic pretty prints lend themselves well for a 5 year old’s party of carefree fun, games, dancing and cake.

The invitations were great fun. A selection of pretty papers, glue, alphabet stamps and some crimping scissors were all that were needed. I then followed the pretty floral theme through to the party bags. I simply purchased some cheap Calico fabric which I cut using crimping scissor [resulting in no need to hem] into long rectangles. Then using my floral fabric [and for the two boys that attended the party, blue spot fabric], I cut small rectangular patches and sewed them on. Finally, I them folded them in half and using my sowing machine stitched up each side. Once filled with goodies I fasten them with ribbon.

For the contents, I stuck to a bit of a nostalgic theme – focusing on little bits and pieces with a nod to yesteryear. Sweet treats are a must for any party bag and with Lily’s birthday falling in the Easter season a foil covered chocolate egg is a must. Then I made up small bags of retro biscuits fastened with a pretty ribbon. For girls I did hair slides. I replaced the cards that they originally came on with pretty cards I made using a fabric print from a magazine as a backdrop. The boys had a toy car.

Then I bought some nasturtium flower seeds and divided them up into tiny brown envelopes, I wrote some simple instructions on the back and using some printed paper and the alphabet stamp decorated the front of the little pouches.

I've Arthur's (1st) birthday next month and I telling myself to stick to the basics. It's actually quite difficult, but at one a piece of chocolate cake is probably all he requires of a party. Well, we shall see .....

Friday, 16 April 2010

Brown Bread Ice-Cream

This recipe is fantastic. If you balk at the idea of ‘brown bread’ ice cream, I urge you to give it a try … I promise you’ll be converted. The bread in question is made into breadcrumbs and toasted with brown sugar giving the ice-cream a deep fudgy caramel taste which is so moorish. The other great thing about this recipe is you need no special kit to make it, just a hand whisk and a lidded tupperware type box. Enjoy!

Louise x

Louise’s Brown Bread Ice-Cream

Serves 6.
85g/3oz brown breadcrumbs
85g/3oz soft dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, separated
Half a tablespoon of dark rum [optional]
300ml / Half a pint of double cream
85g/3oz sifted icing sugar

1. Mix the breadcrumbs with the brown sugar and pop under a moderate grill for 8 – 10 mins. You need to keep a watchful eye on this and stir it frequently. You want the breadcrumbs and sugar to caramelise, not burn. Once cool break up with a fork.

2. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Mix the egg yolks with rum, if using, and fold into the egg white mixture.

3. Whisk the cream and icing sugar together in another bowl until floppy. Then fold this into your egg mixture along with the breadcrumbs.

4. Pour into a shallow freezer container and freeze for 4 hrs. When ready to serve, allow it to soften slightly before scooping out.

Roasted Pepper, Onion & Garlic Soup

After a few weeks of zero activity on the blog front, I am posting a couple of recipes for you from My Kitchen. Both were a result of needing to knock up a quick lunch that satisfied on every level. The weather was deceptively cold, but full of promise with bright sunshine. Hence a combo of a bowl of rich soup and a [smaller bowl] of ice cream was on the menu. Both of these recipes were made from what I had in the kitchen cupboards, fridge and freezer. Often the best dishes are those that are cobbled together on a whim. Below is my recipe for the soup, tune in right after for my brown bread [yep you heard right] ice cream recipe!

Happy Cooking,

Louise x

Roasted Pepper, Garlic and Onion Soup

5 – 6 Pepper [red, yellow or orange]
3 – 4 Cloves of Garlic [adjust to your own taste]
Fresh Thyme [you can other herbs such as parsley, basil and sage or dried herbs if you don't have fresh to hand]
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
A splash of balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar
Olive Oil
Vegetable Stock

This really is a make-it-up-as-you-go-along recipe, so quantities and ingredients are but a rough guide – follow your instincts!

1. Preheat your oven to 200C. Remove the plinth and seeds from the peppers and chop into large pieces and place in a large roasting tray. Add to this a roughly chopped onion and 3 – 4 unpeeled garlic cloves. Add your herbs and then drizzle with enough olive oil to coat the vegetables.

2. Place this in the oven for 25 – 35 minutes. Check on your vegetables a few times whilst they are roasting, they will benefit from a gentle stir every now and then. You want to cook them until they are soft and just starting to char in places. Squeeze your roasted garlic cloves into your vegetables and discard the papery casing.

3. Next add the contents of your roasting tray, including and juices, to a large saucepan, add your tinned tomatoes and cover with vegetable stock.

4. Blitz with a blending stick or in batches in a blender. Add more or less stock depending on how thick you’d like you finished soup to be. Heat through and then serve, garnishing with a teaspoon of cream and a drizzle of olive oil if desired.