Saturday, December 25, 2010

I cooked...a Christmas Cake!

In our house growing up we always had a Christmas cake. I was always really into baking and at around age 12 my mom let me take over decorating it. The first one I did had these holly and ivy leaves that had painted on gold dust, it was quite amazing.

This year I thought it was time to bring back the tradition, but with a new spin. No fruit cake for a start! Here is a photo of my red velvet cake, filled with white chocolate buttercream frosting and finished with a peppermint marshmallow fondant. I added little baubles to the trees with sparkle decorating gel. The cake came from a box, but I made the frosting and the fondant from scratch.

White Chocolate Buttercream frosting (adapted from

1 cup soft butter
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
6 ounces white chocolate chips, melted and slightly cooled
3 tablespoons heavy cream

Beat the butter and sugar together in the Kitchenaid until fluffy. With the motor running at the lowest speed, slowly pour in the cooled white chocolate. It's important to not let the chocolate cool too much or you'll get white chocolate chunks in your frosting! Then add the cream, and crank the speed up to medium high and let it go for 3-4 minutes.

I filled and covered 2 8 inch round layers with this and had some to spare.

Peppermint Marshmallow Fondant (adapted from

16 oz mini marshmallows
2 tbsp water
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
7 cups sifted powdered sugar
Crisco to coat the Kitchenaid (1-2 tbsp)

Before you start have your Kitchenaid ready to go. Once the marshmallows are melted you have to work pretty fast. You'll need your dough hook attachment for your mixer too btw. Coat the dough hook and the mixer bowl really well with Crisco.

Melt the marshmallows with the water and peppermint extract in the microwave, it should take around a minute but do it in 30 second bursts to be sure, stirring in between each blast. Pour the melted marshmallows into the mixer bowl, and switch on the mixer. Start pouring in the powdered sugar and let it go until it's all mixed in and in a large ball. You may need to mix the last bits in by hand.

The finished fondant should be kept wrapped in airtight plastic, and don't put it in the fridge! Leave it at least overnight before rolling. It's quite a workout rolling this out so leave yourself plenty of time, and you'll want to use some of that leftover cup of powdered sugar on your rolling pin and work surface.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My new favorite brownie recipe!

Yeah that didn't take long. I still love the malted brownies but that malted milk powder is expensive, and these just feel easier. I honestly don't think I'll ever make boxed brownies again.

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 stick unsalted butter
2 eggs
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
Pinch of salt

Melt the butter and chocolate chips in an appropriate sized heatproof bowl - I do this in the microwave in 30 second bursts and mix until melted and smooth.

In your sparkly black Kitchenaid stand mixer (ok I'm the only one with a glittery mixer), mix the eggs and sugar using the which attachment for around 2 minutes on high speed.

Add the cooled chocolate butter, mixing as you add, until incorporated.

Fold in the flour and salt and pour into a 8x8 baking pan. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I cooked...steak and mushroom pie!

This makes a nice change from stew, although it's essentially just stew in some pastry!

I basically made a beef stew for two, using two steaks, an onion, 12 mushrooms, a cup of beef stock and a tablespoon of tomato paste. I cooked it for a couple of hours until the steak was tender, then put it inside some store-bought pastry crust. Brush with some milk, bake until golden. Serve with some nice steamed potatoes and peas. Enjoy!

I cooked...chocolate tart!

This is Tyler Florence's recipe, which can be found on At my first grown up job (working at the British Airways conference center) the pastry chef used to make one of these every week. I was truly addicted to this thing, I would secretly hope that the guests wouldn't ask for it so there would be more for me!

I've tried to recreate the tart a few times in the past but either used the wrong chocolate or bad pastry. This recipe seems to nail it perfectly. Enjoy!

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cold and cut into small chunks
1 large egg, separated
2 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
10 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used chips)
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature

First make the pastry. Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl, then add the butter and rub together to make breadcrumbs. You could also use a pastry blender to do this but I didn't have mine handy and the fingertip method is how we learn to make pastry in good olde Englande. Mix the egg yolk and ice water and add to the crumbs to form a dough. Form it into a disc and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

Once the dough has chilled, roll it out on a floured surface and line your pastry tin, then return it to the refrigerator for a further 15 minutes. I couldn't find my usual tart tin so I used a glass pie plate, but this would look much nicer if you used the correct equipment! The recipe calls for a 9 inch tart tin but you could probably go bigger with the quantity this made.

While the pastry is resting preheat the oven to 350 degrees. After your 15 minutes is up cover the pastry with parchment paper and some baking beans and bake for 30 minutes. Then remove the beans and paper and add a light coat of beaten egg white to the pastry shell, returning to the oven for a final 8 minutes. At this point, you can remove the shell from the oven and reduce the temperature to 325 degrees.

To make the filling, heat the cream and milk until lightly simmering, remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate until melted. Then add the sugar and salt and whisk to incorporate.In a separate bowl beat the eggs, then add to the chocolate mixture, stirring well. The filling can then be poured into the shell, and baked for a final 15 to 20 minutes.

The tart should be cooled completely, and then refrigerated, before serving. I also like to add a good sprinkling of powdered sugar to the top, but by the time I took the above photo the sugar had melted in to the filling! You can also sprinkle with cocoa powder if you prefer. This tart actually does taste good for days, I actually think it tastes better as it gets older!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I cooked...barbecue chicken sliders!

The crockpot has become my new best friend. I'm not ashamed. I think they were essentially invented for people like me, moms who need to do as much as they can in those short periods of free time they get throughout the day.

I had bought pulled barbecue chicken at Trader Joes before but I wanted to try making my own so I would know exactly what's in it. I looked around the internetz a bit and came up with my own version. Again, it makes good use of my staple frozen chicken breasts!

Makes enough for 4-6 sandwiches

2 frozen chicken breasts
1 onion, sliced
1/3 bottle of barbecue sauce - use your favorite but I like the Jack Daniels no 7 sauce
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Mix the onion, barbecue sauce, worcestershire sauce and brown sugar, and use to cover the chicken that you have placed in the crockpot. The chicken should be completely covered, add more sauce if needed. Cook on high for 3-4 hours, until the chicken is cooked.

Remove the chicken and shred using two forks, and return to the pot to toss in the sauce.

I served this on wheat rolls with coleslaw, but we've also had it in quesadillas, with white rice and corn, and with mashed potatoes. It's a very versatile dish!

I cooked...chicken with spinach and mushrooms!

I threw this together on the fly tonight after a rather crazy day, and it turned out really great! I always keep some chicken in my freezer and I've found the best way to cook it is in the crockpot. I also recently discovered minute rice and find it is perfect for this kind of dish.

Serves 2

2 chicken breasts (I put them in frozen)
1 can cream of chicken and mushroom soup
1 glass white wine
8 baby bella mushrooms, sliced
handful of spinach
1 cup minute rice

Put the chicken breasts in the bottom of the crockpot, mix the soup and wine in a separate bowl or jug then cover the chicken. Cook on high for about 2 hours.

Add the mushrooms and cook for another 30 minutes, then add the spinach to the top of the dish and leave to wilt for another 15 minutes.

Remove the chicken and stir in the wilted spinach, then stir in the minute rice and cook for a further 15 minutes.

You can either slice the chicken and return it to the pot or just serve it whole.

I served this with steamed baby carrots as I needed to use them, but it would go really well with either peas or broccoli I think.

I plan to make this a lot in the future. It was really delicious and took very little work.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I cooked...spaghetti bolognese!

This is another Jamie Oliver recipe, this one from Happy Days with the Naked Chef. Again, I've adapted it slightly, to make it budget friendly more than anything.

10 slices pancetta or bacon, sliced
optional - handful of chopped rosemary - if you have it then it's a nice addition
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1lb ground beef
1 wineglass red wine
1 tsp dried oregano
14oz/400g can of chopped tomatoes
8 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, finely chopped
salt and pepper
handful of fresh basil - if you don't have it I've left it out before and it's fine

Fry the pancetta and rosemary in the olive oil until lightly golden, then add the garlic and onion and continue frying until soft. Add the ground beef and brown.

Add the wine and reduce slightly, then add the oregano, chopped tomatoes and sun-dried tomatoes, and season to taste. Remember you have pancetta/bacon in this so you might not need any salt. Bring to a boil.

At this point the Jamie Oliver method calls for a parchment/greaseproof paper cover, and 90 minutes in a 350F/180C oven. I have also put it in the slow cooker, just for convenience. It's up to you. Either way, once it's done add the basil.

Now this is bolognese sauce so you should serve it with spaghetti and a lot of parmesan, but I've also served it with roasted baby potatoes, or just on it's own.

On the herbs - I've often just added a dried italian herb mix instead of the separate rosemary, oregano and basil. It's nicer to add the fresh herbs but they add up.

I cooked...Martha's Malted Brownies!

I came across this recipe on one of my new favorite websites, The recipe is actually from Martha Stewart, one of my tried and trusted sources for baking recipes. As requested, I have included (approximate) weights in grams!

1 cup/225g unsalted butter cut into small pieces
1 cup/125g all-purpose (plain) flour
10 oz/275g semi-sweet (dark) chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used chips)
1 cup/125g malted milk powder (Ovaltine)
1 1/2 cups/300g packed light brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (180 degrees C). Butter and lightly flour a 9x13inch baking pan.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a bowl, I used the microwave but you could do it over a pan of simmering water. Stir to combine and set aside.

Mix the flour and malted milk powder together in a medium bowl and set aside.

Using a stand mixer or electric mixer, whisk together the eggs and sugar for 2 minutes, until thick and fluffy.

Add the melted chocolate and butter mixture and the vanilla extract and whisk for another 30 seconds.

Using a spatula, fold in the flour and malted milk powder.

Pour into the pan and bake for 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Try to resist cutting the brownies until they are fully cooled as it will be a lot easier!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I cooked...mushroom risotto!

This is a great recipe to start off my blog with because I make it a lot. It's adapted from Jamie Oliver's mushroom risotto recipe in the book The Naked Chef, which is one of my most used cookbooks.

I usually make this for the two of us. Realistically you could get four portions out of it if you are serving it with something else, so long as those four people aren't as greedy as us...

10-12 baby bella mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 cup arborio or calrose rice
1 glass white wine
32 oz chicken stock (I prefer Trader Joes Organic Free Range)
1 tbsp butter
a handful of freshly grated parmesan or grana padano

Saute the mushrooms in a medium skillet, in 1 tbsp of the olive oil. Set aside for later.

In the same pan, heat the remaining tbsp of oil and saute the onions until soft. Add the garlic and fry for another minute. Add the rice and cook for a minute, stirring to make sure the rice doesn't burn.

Pour in the wine, and stir again. Once the wine is almost all absorbed, return the mushrooms to the pan and begin adding the stock. Add the stock a ladleful at a time, stirring occasionally. You will need to stay by the pan but you don't need to stir it constantly. Just make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom, and make sure it doesn't get dry. If you use all your stock and the rice isn't finished just add water.

Once the rice is cooked through, add the butter and cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste. Leave to sit for a few minutes before serving.

When it comes to the rice, I use calrose rice which is sushi rice. It is considerably cheaper than arborio rice and works exactly the same in risotto. I buy it in Dominicks, you could probably find it in most supermarkets.

I like to use Trader Joe's stock. I think the quality of the stock you use really makes a difference in the taste of your risotto. If I can't get to TJs I use a product called Better than Bouillon which is a paste you add to water to make stock. It's a pretty good alternative.

And when it comes to cheese - always fresh. Never use that long life stuff you can keep in the cupboard! I buy my grana padano from Costco in a giant wedge and freeze what I'm not using.

Hopefully I have inspired someone to take on the beast that is risotto. It is definitely worth it, I promise!