Saturday, 28 February 2015

Pear Upside-down Cake from Hummingbird Bakery: Life is Sweet

Life is Sweet is the fourth book by Tarek Malouf, founder of The Hummingbird Bakery.  The Hummingbird Bakery was instrumental in popularising the sort of high quality bakes, loved by Americans, first  to London through the bakeries and then to the rest of the UK, through the books.  I already have a baking book from The Hummingbird Bakery, Cake Days,  but I am particularly pleased with this one, let me tell you a little about it.

Life is Sweet is organised into 10  chapters

Cakes, simple and more complex includes Gooey Butter Cake, 7Up Pound Cake, Molasses Pecan Crumb Cake, Chocolate Bundt Cake, Tunnel of Fudge Cake and Upside Down Pear Cake

Cupcakes both familiar and unusual including Banana Foster Cupcakes, Tomato Soup Cupcakes, Toasted Marshmallow Cupcakes, Honey Cornbread Cupcakes and Mint Julep Cupcakes.

Layer Cakes includes an indulgent Peanut Butter and Jelly Cake, Gingerbread Icebox Cake, Alabama Little Layer Cake, Red Velvet Crepe Cake and Appalachian Stack Cake.

Pies is full of very American Pies including, Lemon Chiffon Pie, Deep-fried Apple Pies, Blueberry Cream Cheese Pie, Vinegar Pie and New Orleans Prune Pie.

Cookies and Candies provides bite sized treats such as Soft Molasses Cookies, Black Pepper Cookies (on my list), Vanilla filled Chocolate Cookies, Lemon Drops, Turtle Cookies and Creamy Pecan Pralines.

Traybakes are one of my favourite bakes, how about Coconut Dream Bars, Red Velvet Brownies, Blackberry Limeade Bars and Texas Tassie Bars.

Pancakes are so easy to make and these lovely flavours are very tempting Black Bottom Pancakes, Pumpkin Pancakes, Cinnamon Pancake Cake and Sally Lunn French Toast.

Top your pies and pancakes with some lovely Ice Cream, Grasshopper Ice Cream, Earl Grey Tea and Chocolate Ice Cream, Fresh Peach Ice Cream and Lemon Custard Ice Cream.

Puddings to delight your sweet tooth include Praline Bread Pudding with Pecan Caramel Sauce, Brownie Pudding and White Chocolate Bread Pudding.

The final chapter features Bread and Savouries, Skillet Cornbread, Crawfish Pie, Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Loaf and Graham Crackers.

The book finishes up with some Baking Essentials about Ingredients, Equipment, Methods and Techniques.

Who is it for?
Pretty much anyone who likes baking and is looking for some different ideas to try.  It's not aimed at beginner bakers, but if you follow the instructions there is no reason why a novice could not achieve good results.

A wide range of different bakes, each on a little out of the ordinary.  Good photographs which let you see what you are aiming for.
I can't really think of any cons with this book, it is full of such good things.

The Verdict
I really was beginning to think I had enough baking books, that they were just full of the same sort of recipes, but this one really does have some exciting bakes in it, ones that I really want to bake.  So I give a hearty thumbs up to Life is Sweet and would urge you to go out and buy it.

I decided to make the Pear Upside Down Cake, the cake is a soft gingerbread with works so well with the caramelised pears, it works well as a cake and as a dessert.

Upside-Down Pear Cake
Makes one 23 x 32 cm (9 x 13 in) cake, to slice as desired

For the caramelised pears
6 large, ripe pears, peeled, cored ad quartered lengthways
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
40g (1 1/2 oz) unsalted butter
80g (3 oz) caster sugar
130ml (4 1/2 fl oz) Kentucky bourbon or whisky

For Cake
195g (7oz) plain flour
1 1/2 tbsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
160g (5 1/2 oz) unsalted butter
75g (2 1/2 oz) dark muscovado sugar
4 large eggs
170g (6 oz) pure cane molasses, such as Meridian
3 tbsp boiling water
1 q/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1. Preheat the oven to 175C (350C), Gas mark 4. Line the tin with non-stick baking parchment.
2. To make the caramelised pears, mix the pears with the lemon juice.  In a large frying pan, melt the butter and sprinkle with half the caster sugar. Put the pear quarters into the pan.  Cook for about 5 minutes until brown on one side.  Turn and cook for a further 5 minutes until the other side is brown.  With a slotted spoon, carefully remove the pear quarters and set aside to cool slightly.
3. Add the bourbon and the rest of the caster sugar to the pan and cook and stir frequently for about 5 minutes until the mixture becomes syrupy.  Pour this syrup into the baking tin and tip the tin to spread evenly over the bottom of the tin.
4. Start to arrange the pears from one corner so that they cover the bottom of the tin and are facing the same direction. Set aside.
5. To make the cake, sift together the flour, spices and salt in a bowl.
6. Using a freestanding electric mixer with paddle attachment or hand-held electric whisk, cream the butter and sugar together for around 5 minutes on a medium-high speed until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time on a lower speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.  Only beat until just Incorporated.  Add the molasses and beat for a few moments longer to mix.
7. In a small bowl, add the boiling water to the bicarbonate of soda and set aside.  Add half the flour mixture to the creamed mixture on low speed.  then add the water and bicarbonate of soda and the rest of the flour mixture and mix until well Incorporated  It will look like the mixture has split, but that i correct.
8. Scrape the mixture into the tin on top of the arranged pears and bake for 25 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 165C (325F) Gas mark 3 and bake for 10-15 minutes longer.  The top should bounce bake when lightly touched.  Cool in the tin for 1 hour, then run a knife around the edges of the cake. Place a tray over the top of the tin and carefully(but quickly) turn upside down.

The resulting cake is rich and treacley but not too dense, the pears  add a lovely texture to the cake and are not too sweet.  A really delightful bake and I was thrilled with comments that my version looks just like the one in the book.

The Hummingbird Bakery - Life is Sweet
100 original recipes for happy home baking
Published by 4th Estate,  Harper Collins
RRP £20

I have one copy of Life is Sweet to giveaway, you can enter by following the instructions on the Rafflecopter Widget below (UK only)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Join me for Celery Soup and a Spring Four Course Dinner

I've been shopping at Aldi again, picking up some great deals on spring produce and making them into an amazing four course dinner for you.

The Soup Course
Let's start with some delicious Celery Soup, I found this lovely recipe for dairy-free Cream of Celery Soup on Pinterest, it comes from the very talented Erren's Kitchen and uses potato as a thickener.

The Fish Course
A very simple four ingredient Smoked Mackerel Pate  is whizzed up quickly in the food processor and is very moreish.  I've served it with large slices of toast but it would be ideal on cocktail oatcakes or thin slices of french bread at a more refined dinner party.

The Main Course (Entree)
Pot Roasted Scotch Beef with Roast Potatoes, Yorkshire puddings and Spring Greens. The beef was cooked in the Slow Cooker doused with a bottle of dark beer and enough stock to cover three-quarters of the meat, then cooked on low for 8-10 hours.  Once cooked, I reduced the cooking liquor by half , by boiling it on the stove to make an intense and delicious gravy.

Okay, so pears are hardly 'spring' produce but I couldn't resist these pears, they looked so good and when I peeled and quartered them to make the Pear Upside Down Cake, they were indeed perfect and perfectly ripe. I'll be posting the recipe for the cake very soon, it comes from the latest book Hummingbird Bakery - Life is Sweet which I'll also be reviewing.

Aldi Shopping List
Celery - 65p
Maris Piper Potatoes - 2.5kg  - £1.89
Smoked Mackerel Fillets - £1.59
Silverside Scotch Beef Joint - £8.10
Spring Greens - 59p
'Specially Selected' Yorkshire Puddings - 99p
'Best in Season' Pears - £1.29

Many thanks to Aldi for providing me with vouchers to purchase the ingredients for these recipes. I was not paid and all opinions are my own.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Cake, Snacks and Slow Cooker Liners on my Kitchen Table

It's always exciting when a parcel arrives and, as a food blogger, I receive quite a few packages full of delights.  This month I have three very different products to share with you.

I've had cakes through the post in the past which tasted manufactured rather than homemade.  I was interested to see whether the cakes from Sendmecakes would live up to their description as homemade.  The slim box dropped through the letterbox and when I opened it, I couldn't believe how many slices of cake were packed in there.  Each slice is individually wrapped in cellophane and tied only with a piece of raffia which opens easily when you pull at the bow.

The cakes have no fondant icing, no butercream and no 'fake food' ingredients.  They stay moist for days (recommended to be kept in a cool place and eaten within 5 days of dispatch) and each one contains fruit or veg, herbs and spices and only natural extracts.

There is a full list of Varieties and Ingredients, my box contained the following:

Apricot Bakewell Sandwich - probably my favourite slice, so moist and tasty
Lemon and Stawberry Jam Sandwich - a traditional Victoria Sandwich with a real home made taste.
Kent Apple Cake - there were a couple of slices of this cake as it's one of the signature bakes.  It's a lovely homely cake.
Treacle Toffee Drizzle - that's the slice pictured above (half a slice on the plate), sweet crunchy toffee topping, soft sweet cake.
Original Brownie - dense brownie with a true chocolate taste
Apricot Slice - oaty, apricot traybake
Super Seed Flapjack - probably my least favourite, just too many seeds but oh so good for you.

I cannot recommend these cakes highly enough.  You could certainly pass them off as your own, they taste home made.  A box of these cake slices would be an ideal gift for Mothers Day, a birthday, New Home or Get Well Soon.

The Ultimate Bake Box costs £22.00 including UK postage 
A Gluten Free Slice Box costs £22.00 including UK postage
100% Cake Box costs £20.00 including UK postage
Kent Bramley Apple Cake costs £17.00 including UK postage

Rating 10/10

Slow Cooker Liners

Slow Cooker Liners are something I had read about in US Slow Cooker cookbooks and online recipe sites, but I had never seen them in the UK.  I actually spotted these on Twitter and have been sent a sample pack of 4 liners for review.

I've been asked what the point is of Slow Cooker Liners and I can see where people are coming from with this, it's really not so difficult to clean your slow cooker as most models have removable crocks or non-stick metal pots.  There are, however some instances when I would welcome not cleaning out the pot after making a particularly messy or sticky recipe which requires soaking and scrubbing.  In addition, the liners claim to keep your Slow Cooker like new, reduce wear and tear and lock in flavour.

I would also recommend them for making Double Dinners, where you cook two separate dishes at the same time/  I couldn't get the liners at the time, so used roasting bags. 

I made Dhruv Baker's 'Yellow Curry' from his book Spice.  It's loaded with turmeric which is notorious for staining everything.  The liner worked perfectly, they are BPA free food grade plastic so the dinner had no plastic taste and the CrockPot only needed a little bit of a wipe round.

I wouldn't use the liners every time but it would certainly be worth having a pack in the cupboard for particular dishes, double dinners and when you just can't face the washing up!

Slow Cooker Liners - £1.39 pack of 4
Rating 7/10

Snack Attack!

Sunbites, the extraordinarily tasty multigrain snack from Walkers, announces the arrival of three new products set to tantalise our taste buds. The new scrumptious additions include Crispy Crackers, Pitta Bakes and Crackers & Dip.

  • The oven-baked Crispy Crackers and Pitta Bakes are made with multigrains and contain 30% less fat than regular crisps.
  • There are four new flavours of Crispy Crackers: Cream Cheese and Chive, Sun Ripened Sweet Chilli, Lightly Salted and Oven Roasted Onion and Rosemary. Being more of a 'lightly salted' sort of girl, I just loved the Crispy Crackers, the taste of the grains really came through.  A 24g bag of Crispy Crackers contains 110 calories and a multi-pack of 6 packs costs around £1.26 - £1.89
  • Sunbites Pitta Bakes are available in Vintage Cheddar and Caramelised Onion, Roasted Red Pepper and Chilli and Oven Roasted Onion and Rosemary flavours. I also tried the Roasted Red Pepper and Chilli Pitta Bakes, they were crisp with a real blast of flavour, the bags are a nice size for children and each bag contains 111 calories a multi-pack of 6 packs costs around £1.26 - £1.89
  • There is also the new Sunbites Crackers and Dip packs a tasty snack to add a moment of pleasure to your day. Flavours come in Caramelised Red Onion Chutney with Lightly Salted Crackers and Sundried Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Salsa with Lightly Salted Crackers. The Caramelised Onion dip is a generous portion and designed to serve two with a small pack of Crispy Crackers.  I think you would probably need two bags of crackers to really enjoy all the dip, but you could use any leftover dip with burgers or on sandwiches.  The Crackers and Dip pack costs around  £1.00 - £1.89
Rating: 9/10

I hope you enjoyed reading about these products, let me know what you think if you have tried them or plan to try any of them as a result of these reviews.

I received these products for review, I was not paid and all opinions are my own. 

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Smoked Mackerel Pate

It has been some time since I made Smoked Mackerel Pate, I can't imagine why as we all love it. Usually I make it with cream cheese but today I went for a lighter version and it was very good, served on toast with a little side salad.

The smoked mackerel  and the lemons came from Aldi, who have a great range of produce.  The Smoked Mackerel is Scottish fish from the North East Atlantic and cost only £1.59 for 200g.

Smoked Mackerel Pate
serves 3-4

200g Smoked Mackerel, skin removed
2 tbsp 0% fat Greek Yogurt
1 tsp Creamed Horseradish
Juice of half a lemon

Place all the ingredients into a food processor and process until smooth.

That's it, so simple but packed full of flavour. 

I served the Smoked Mackerel Pate on toast, but it would be equally good on oatcakes, a crusty baguette or even as a topping for a baked potato.

I am entering this dish for Tea Time Treats, as this month the theme is ' Toast, on Toast or Toasties'.  Tea Time Treats is the Linky Party for tasty tea time treats which is run in alternate months by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and Janie at The Hedgecombers.

I'm also adding the Smoked Mackerel Pate to the Credit Crunch Munch Linky as it was a very thrifty dish with the mackerel only costing £1.59, half a lemon only 12p and the yogurt and horseradish would also cost only pennies. Credit Crunch Munch is the frugal food recipe sharing challenge developed by Helen over at Fuss Free Flavours and Camilla over at Fab Food 4 All  This month is is hosted by Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary 

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Duck and Plum Salad for Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year falls on the 19th of February this year, we leave behind the Year of the Horse and welcome the Year of the Goat.  Duck is often featured in Chinese recipes and I would often choose it if I was eating out, however it's a meat I cook only occasionally.

This salad was so delicious, the tender roasted duck and juicy plums contrasting with the savoury vermicelli noodles and peppery rocket.  All of the ingredients are available at Marks and Spencer, who provided also provided me with the recipe.

This  would make a great dinner party meal as you can roast the duck and plums earlier in the day then you only have to assemble the salad before serving.  

Duck Breast with Plum Salad
Ready in 30 minutes, Serves 4

· 2 tbsp olive oil
· 4 duck breasts, skin removed
· 8 plums, halved and stoned
· 1 star anise
· 3 tbsp port
· 2 tbsp soy sauce
· 125g rice noodles
· Thumb-sized piece root ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks
· ½ x 25g pack fresh coriander, leaves only
· ½ x 25g pack fresh mint, roughly chopped
· 4 handfuls rocket leaves

1. Heat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius / 375 degrees Fahrenheit / gas 5 (170 degrees Celsius for fan ovens). In a small, ovenproof frying pan, heat 1tbsp of the oil. Season the duck breasts and fry for 2 – 3 minutes each side, until starting to brown. Transfer to the oven for a further 15 minutes, then remove and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, sit the plums, cut side-up, in a small roasting tin with the star anise. Drizzle over the port and soy sauce. Roast for 10 – 15 minutes, adding a splash of water to the tin if it becomes dry. Set aside.

3. Cook the noodles according to packet instructions, then drain and refresh under cold water. Heat the remaining oil in a small frying pan and fry the ginger for 2 minutes, until golden. Drain on kitchen paper.

4. Toss the noodles with the herbs and rocket. Divide among 4 serving plates and add the plums. Slice the duck breasts and arrange on top with the fried ginger, then spoon over any pan juices from the plums.

Per serving
334 calories, 14.9 fat (3.5g saturated), 196g carbohydrates, 11.7g sugar, 2.9g fibre, 28.6g protein, 1.52g salt

I received the ingredients for this recipe from Marks and Spencer, I was not paid and all opinions are my own.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Cinnamon Spice Pancakes with Cinnamon Poached Plums

Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day or Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday 17th March this year.   Whatever you call it, it's a great excuse to make pancakes.  I'm definitely a fan of the fat pancake (very much a Scottish tradition) rather than the thin crepe style pancakes.

These Cinnamon Spice Pancakes have a lovely sweet cinnamon flavour and make a perfect base for the poached plums, soaking up the lovely juices, a little topping of cream or thick yogurt counteracts the acidity of the fruit.

Cinnamon Spice Pancakes
makes 8-10 pancakes

1 cup plain flour
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed (light brown may be substituted)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch salt, optional and to taste
1/2 cup semi-skimmed milk
1/4 cup 0% Greek Yogurt
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons Golden Syrup
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1. In a large mixing bowl or jug add all the ingredients and whisk until just combined.  The batter will be thick.
2. Pre-heat the  (flat) griddle or frying pan over a medium heat and wipe with oil or butter.
3. Using a 1/4 cup measure or a large serving spoon, pour the batter onto the warm griddle or frying pan.
4. Cook for about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes, until the bubbles form on the surface and start to pop.  Flip them over and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
5. Once the pancakes are cooked place them on a cooling tray lined with a clean tea towel, covering the pancakes with the tea towel to keep them warm. 
6. Repeat until you have used all the batter, keeping the pan lightly oiled and clean between pancakes. 

Cinnamon Poached Plums
serves 4

4 plums, stoned and quartered
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick 
50 ml water

1. Heat the oven to 180C.
2. Put the plums, sugar, cinnamon stick and water into an ovenproof dish with a lid
3. Poach the plums in the oven for 20-25 minutes until soft.
4. Remove from the oven and leave to cool to room temperature.

Place a pancake on a plate or in a bowl, spoon over the poached plums and juice, top with whipped cream or thick yogurt. 

Here are some other pancake recipes you might like:

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Sweet Potato,Ginger and Lemongrass Muffins

I was challenged by Knorr to come up with a creative recipe using their Knorr Flavour Pots which have just won Product of the Year.  You may have seen my Butternut Chicken Thai-Style which used the  Ginger and Lemongrass Flavour Pot and the Garlic Flavour Pot and the Lentil and Vegetable Soup which used the Garden Herbs Flavour Pot.

Knorr Flavour Pots have just collected first prize in the Sauce and Seasoning category for this year’s Product of the Year awards. Knorr Flavour Pots allow you to easily infuse your cooking with the flavour of fresh herbs and spices but with the handy convenience of dried. The range features nine different tantalising flavours, including Mixed Herbs, Three Peppercorn, Curry, Garlic, Mixed Chillies, Garden Herbs, Ginger & Lemongrass, Paprika, and Mexican.  In order to inspire some creative recipes Knorr sent me a box full of vegetables, tins and packets.

Amongst the vegetables was a nice big sweet potato, you can see it at the front, it nearly went into the chicken dish, but then I suddenly thought that it would be interesting to see if the Ginger and Lemongrass Flavour Pot would work in a sweet potato muffin, I got quite excited by the idea.

The ingredients of the Ginger and Lemongrass Flavour Pot are water, ginger spirit vinegar, glucose syrup, green pepper, salt, palm oil, garlic, sugar, basil, citrus fibre, cayenne pepper, coriander leaves, cardamom, onion powder, Kaffir lime leaves, aniseed, gelling agent (xanthan gum), natural lemongrass flavouring, natural chili flavouring.  A few things in there that wouldn't normally be in a sweet muffin, but I thought I'd have a go anyway.

Sweet Potato, Ginger and Lemongrass Muffins
makes 12

150g plain flour
150g wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 Knorr Ginger and Lemongrass Flavour Pot
450g  Sweet Potato (cooked and mashed)
125g soft light brown sugar
2 eggs
250ml orange juice
1 medium carrot, grated

1.Preheat the oven to 200C, grease a muffin tin  or line with papers.
2. In a medium bowl combine the plain flour, wholemeal flower, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.
3. In a large bowl mash sweet potatoes.  Add brown sugar, eggs, orange juice carrot and the contents of the Ginger and Lemongrass Flavour Pot, mix together until well blended.
4. Add flour mixture to the wet ingredients, stirring until just combined and blended, don't over mix.
5. Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin tin, filling the cups to the top.  Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

You can leave the muffins plain or make a water icing with icing sugar and lemon juice and drizzle over the top. 

The Sweet Potato, Ginger and Lemongrass Muffins were absolutely delicious and, unlike many muffins, they actually got better the next day!  There was no hint of savoury flavour and the flavours of lemongrass and ginger came through really well and the sweet potato kept them really moist and moreish.  I didn't intend for them to Valentine's Day Muffins, but they would make a very fine treat for anyone who likes a touch of spice.

Love is in the Air is the theme for Treat Petite this month, the blog event run each month by Cakeyboi and The Baking Explorer, hosted this month by The Baking Explorer

Over at Bangers and Mash Towers, Vanesther is sitting in the Temple, well sort of, she is looking for entries to The Spice Trail that fit the bill of 'Temple Food', spicy foods that are good for you, but also comforting.  I think these Sweet Potato, Ginger and Lemongrass Muffins definitely qualify as Temple Food.

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