Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Foodie Christmas Gifts and Wish List

Don't want to tempt fate but I'm actually feeling like I might be ahead of the game this year with my Christmas Shopping.  I've still got my trip to Munich next weekend for the Christmas Markets to look forward to and I'm hoping to pick up some goodies for people there, but bar that I'm pretty much done. As always I'm giving, and hoping to receive quite a few foodie related gifts.  Hopefully won't spoil the surprise for anyone by this post but might provide some inspiration.
Zimtsterne
First up the homemade foodie goodies. After tasting them at the Festive Pinnies and Petticoats meet I was inspired to make some Zimtsterne (German Cinamon Stars) as gifts. The instructions say they will last four weeks but at the rate they are disappearing I may have to make another batch for gifting. Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam was made back in August after being inspired by the Great Glenbervie Bake Off and picking Strawberries at Easter Anguston Farm. Christmas fabric and festive labels still to be added.
Strawberry & Rhubarb Jam
The most recent make is Spiced Apple Jelly and I'm happy to oblige in answering a request for the recipe which is a variation of the one found in the WI Book of Jams, Pickles and Chutneys. I've also made a second batch which is Spiced Apple and Chilli Jelly.
Spiced Apple Jelly

SPICED APPLE JELLY
2lb Cooking Apples chopped (no need to core or peel)
2 lemons sliced
1oz Ginger Root chopped
Cinamon Stick
1/2 tsp Cloves
Sugar - 1lb for every pint of juice.

Place everything bar sugar in a large pan with 3 pints of water. Bring to the boil and simmer until apples are very soft.  Anything up to an hour. Strain overnight in a jelly bag. Don't push it through or you will get a cloudy result. Add sugar to the resulting juice, dissolve over a gentle heat and bring to a boil until you reach setting point. For the chilli version I added crushed dried chilli before jarring. Other herbs can also be added.  If you look closely at the finished jars you might spot a sprig of Rosemary.
Those who have been following my adventures in Cheese Making won't be surprised to hear that I'm gifting a couple of Big Cheese Making Kits. I've already given one as a Birthday pressie which went down very well so I'm hoping the Christmas ones will be equally well received. I reckon there will be a few of these under Christmas trees this year. Fab gift for any foodie.
I spotted this Jolly Hot Chcolate Set in John Lewis. Good assortment of flavours plus marshmallows. A nice treat that you wouldn't buy yourself but would hopefully love to receive. There was a fantastic selection of food gifts instore. I love John Lewis at Christmas and their current snowman advert just melts your heart.
Boy is a big Lego fan but unfortunately he won't be finding this in his stocking but a couple of his friends will. Lego lunchbox and Drink Bottle combo. Great fun for packed lunches and seem pretty sturdy and good quality. A few different colour variations available. Even pink to match the gender styreotypical girlie Lego Friends range.
Not sure if the Lakeland sausage kit will produce the great results we got at Andrew Gordon's Sausage Class but I'm sure Boy will love it. They have three different variations. Lincolnshire, Farmhouse and Cumberland. I'll no doubt be reporting back on the success or otherwise of this.

But enough shopping for others. What do I want to find in my own stocking? The latest addition to my list is a bottle of Martin Millers Gin. My favourite new tipple as discovered at G and Teatime. Its the only thing from Iceland I'll be enjoying this Christmas. 
Wouldn't be Christmas without some chocolate but I'll forego the traditional selection box in favour of some Hotel Chocolate Salted Caramels. Or perhaps Gin Truffles. Or Salted Caramel Puddles. Or anything with praline. Or nuts. Or caramel. No white choc though. Their Christmas catalogue is pure chocolate porn. I even quite fancy their Penne Cocoa Pasta to give Nigella's pud a try.
Whilst on the salty sweet theme I discovered some amazing fudge last weekend at Stirling Farmers Market. Ochil Fudge Pantry had a huge selction on sale with samples of all. Totally spoilt for choice. I went for Salted Caramel, Peanut Butter, Toasted Pecan and Irn Bru. The first three were amazingly good. Especially the Salted Caramel which was to die for. Kids loved the Irn Bru. Me less so. Definitely need some more of this as it went too fast. Have discovered that it is stocked locally at Hamerton Store so will be sending husband there with instructions. May also give their Letter to Santa Competition a try. Gotta be in it to win it.
Always good to get a book in your stocking and I've requested two. The Hairy Dieters and Lakeland's How to Make Soft Cheese. If you missed it boy and me went to se Si and Dave on tour recently. Larger than Live. Much hilarity.
Last but not least gift experience vouchers. I'd be happy with some for Nick Nairn Cookshool (although I do still have a quick cook one to use...) but I've also recently spotted a full day breadmaking course at The Breadmaker and a butchery half day at The Store. Food for thought. But I reckon I've been more nice than naughty this year so I hope my luck might just be in.

I'd love to hear about what foodie gifts you are giving and hoping to receive.  Still room on my list to add more and I might need to buy some last minute items if it turns out that I'm not quite as organised as I'd like to think I am...

Friday, 23 November 2012

Gin and Teatime

When a fellow Gin loving friend pointed out to me an offer on Living Social for G & Teatime I wasted no time in signing us both up.  An afternoon of gin, cakes and cocktails.  What could be better? The location was the Upstairs Wine Bar at The Prime Cuts restaurant.  Not somewhere I had been before but I was very pleasantly surprised by what lay at the top of the stairs. Stylish decor, fantastic ambiance, knowledgeable and friendly staff  Stark contrast to the complete lack of kerb appeal and somewhat dubious location. A real hidden gem of a bar.
One everyone had arrived we were taken through to our own private room where heaving tables of loaded cakestands and teapots full of gin punch greeted us. First fascinating fact of the day was that the word Punch comes from the Hindi word panch which means five and the drink should be made from 5 different ingredients. Sour. Sweet. Strong. Weak. Spice. Our gin punch was made as follows

1 of Sour - lemon and lime juice
2 of Sweet - gomme/sugar syrup
3 of Strong - GIN

4 of Weak - apple juice 
5 Spice - star anise
Tasted amazingly good and I loved discovering the history behind the name. Going to try this one at home.

As we sipped our punch our hosts for the afternoon Blair and Claire introduced themselves and explained what was going to be happening.  First up a bit of history about the origins of gin. Initially a herbal medicine the name is derived from the Dutch Jenever. In the first half of the 18th century the Gin Craze flourished in London and a total of 8 Gin Acts were passed by government in an attempt to quell the carnage of the likes of Gin Lane. 

But what makes gin gin? In a word Juniper. This is the key ingredient in any gin but is only one of literally hundreds of other berries, herbs, roots and spices that can be used to give each gin its distinctive flavour.  Collectively these flavourings are known in the trade as botanicals.
Gin Lane
Now to the serious business of tasting. Hayman's 1850 Reserve Gin. Pretty sure I've never drunk straight gin before and the first mouthful was a bit of a shock to the system even after nosing. Following distillation this gin is stored in whisky barrels to give it a mellow and smooth style. The key botanicals are Juniper and Coriander. By the time the second mouthful was swirled around my mouth I was already feeling mellow. Spitoons were issued incase anyone didn't want to finish their sample before moving on to the next. True Aberdeonians had no requirement for them.
Next on the menu was G'Vine. This is a French Gin distilled from grapes which is unusual as most gin is made from grain spirit. Lots of tasters really liked this one but it didn't really do anything for me. Plenty of botanicals. Green grape flowers, juniper, ginger, liquorice, cassia bark, cardamom, coriander, cubeb berries, nutmeg and lime. 
Tanquery London Dry Gin was the only one of the four which I had tasted before but again never straight. Four botanicals - Juniper, Coriander, Angelica and Liquorish.  Last but not least Martin Millers. This was probably my favourite. Or perhaps by the forth glass anything could have been my favourite. Amazing story behind it and a huge carbon footprint in front of it. Three gents got together to discuss just how good a gin they could make with no practical, fiscal or geographical restrictions.The botanicals of choice are orange and lemon peel, coriander, liquorise, cinnamon, cassia, nutmeg, angelica and orris root.  It then goes on a journey. 3000 mile round trip to Iceland. There the purest, softest glacial waters are added to reach bottling strength. This one is going on my Christmas list.
Basil, Grapefruit, Lime, Coriander, Lemon
At last it was time for some tonic with our gin and the option to add our own exclusive mix of botanicals to create the perfect G & T. But there's another vital ingredient  Ice. Lots and lots of it. Up until now I would have made the mistake of only adding a couple of cubes for fear of dilution. In fact the opposite is true. The more ice you add the less dilution. Took me a while to get my head around it.  Next it was time for slapping our botanicals.  No, not a euphemism, but the act of smacking your basil or corriander leaves on the palm of you hand to release the flavours. I chose grapefruit and basil for mine and it was surprisingly nice.  The basil really added something special to the mix.
G&T with Grapefruit and Basil
To round off the afternoon it was Martini time. A classic combination of gin and vermouth served with a twist of lemon. Whilst 007 may like his shaken not stirred traditionalists may not agree with him. Another top tip is to run the lemon zest around both the rim and the stem of the cocktail glass to deposit some of the oil and fragrance.
Martini Time
90 minutes had passed in a flash.  A thoroughly enjoyable and informative experience. We headed back through to upstairs wine bar with the intention of sampling one of the recomended gins. The Botanist. Alas the rest of the tasting class had got there before us so we had a long wait to be served. In the interim I spotted an amazing looking cocktail being made. Hugo Martin. Elderflower syrup, mint leaves and prosecco. Three of my favourite ingredients swayed me off the course of further gin.  Amazing cocktail which I will be attempting to recreate at home. K stayed on track and had a Botanist and Tonic.
Hugo Martin
If gin is not your tipple of choice then all is not lost as the Drinking Class Family also do a range of other tasting events covering Whisky, Rum, Tequila and Absainthe. Meantime their gin logo has been stored away in my memory banks in the unlikely event that I ever decide to get a tattoo. What better than Mother's Ruin permanently inked on my arm.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

I know, I know, its only November but already I've been getting festive in the kitchen. In addition to the Pinnies and Petticoats Christmas Party I've been baking for a Marie Cure Christmas Trading and Coffee Morning and the School Christmas Fair. First up Festive Shortbread using my Grandma Monearn's recipe. Works a treat every time and is really effective with Christmas cutters.  It also gave me the chance to use my new Tala Flour Sifter which I bought with some birthday vouchers and love. Retro and useful.

I've previously posted the shortbread recipe when I made it for a Marie Curie Blooming Great Tea Party. But its worth repeating:

GRANDMA MONEARN'S SHORTBREAD 
12 oz plain flour 
8 oz butter (room temp) 
4 oz caster sugar 
2 oz cornflour 

Put everything in a food processor and blitz until it comes together. Roll out on a floured surface and cut into shapes. Transfer on to a baking tray and prick with a fork. Cook for 30 minutes at 150 degrees. Cool on a wire rack and sprinkle with caster sugar.

Next up a cheeky no bake donation for the School Christmas Fair. Rudolph Candy Canes. So simple but really effective. Candy Canes from Poundland and Googly eyes, pipecleaners and pom poms from Hobbycraft. Top tip. Glue the candy canes together first. Hot glue gun works best.
Also for the school fair I did Mincemeat Muffins. I'm a big mince pie fan at Christmas time and these are a nice alternative and much quicker and easier to make. I've tweaked the recipe over the years and here's how I make them.

MINCEMEAT MUFFINS
8 oz plain flour
2 oz rolled oats
1/2 tsp Bicab of Soda
2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp salt
2oz caster sugar
1 egg
250ml milk
90ml veg/corn oil
1 jar mincemeat (411g)

Sift together all dry ingredients in one bowl.  In another combine all wet ingredients. Pour wet into dry and mix.  Spoon into muffin cases and bake at 200C for 20 minutes until tops are lightly browned. Sieve icing sugar over the top. I posted a photo of these on my Facebook Page and got a great suggestion as to how they could be made even better. Brandy Buttercream on the top.  I am so going to try this.
Husband made two batches of Banana and Choc Chip Muffins but alas no photographic evidence. If truth be told he is a better muffin maker than me. Lots of lovely cakes and bakes on the Cake and Candy stall at the school fair but my absolute favourite was these cute wee marshmallow snowmen. Two marshmallows on a cocktail stick topped with a rolo hat, a stsrawberry lace scarf and black icing face. They sold out really quickly as did my reindeer candy canes.  Guess I'm going to have to make some more as I've already had comments from friends hoping that they'll be getting one for Christmas. Whether they do or not may depend upon if they've been naughty or nice.
Next up is a Christmas Gift. Spiced Apple Jelly. This is so good with so many things. In particular roast pork, cold cuts, sandwiches and cheese. I made it last year and had requests for more so happy to oblige. The spice comes from fresh ginger, cinnamon and cloves.  These are cooked with the apples, lemon and water before the whole lot is drained overnight through a jeely bag.  I set mine up rather precariously on a broom handle balanced between two chairs.  The important thing with jelly is to let it drain under its own steam and not try and force it through or you will get a cloudy liquid.
Once strained the resulting liquid is boiled up with sugar till setting point is reached. Then its jarred, sealed and topped off with some festive fabric. That's a couple more pressies scored off Santa's list. If only some of what boy and girl have put on their extensive lists could be created in the kitchen. Anyone have recipes they can share for for Heelys, Barbie Hair Artist or a Nerf Strike Alpha Trooper?

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Festive Pinnies and Petticoats

First Christmas Party of the season and it involved a lot of cake.  Not the best when you have to squeeze into the required sparkly frock or festive jumper. But this wasn't just any Christmas party it was the Pinnies and Petticoats Aberdeen Baking Club Party. The regular Wednesday night meet had been changed to a Friday to allow for a few sneaky tipples and the promise of late night dancing round tupperware boxes.

Christmas is definitely one of the biggest opportunities on the baking calendar so the choice of what to make was phenomenal. I browsed my cookery books and scoured Pinterest for inspiration and after much swithering opted for Gingerbread Men. With a twist. The idea was very simple in theory. Use a gingerbread cutter upside down and it becomes a reindeer. However when I actually looked at my existing selection of gingerbread cutters it became apparent that it needed a specific physique of man to work. Cue a quick trip to Lakeland for a Gingerbread Boy Cutter Kit.
The recipe I used was from Mary Berry's Baking Bible but I added a touch more ginger than she states as I like my men spicy. They needed a wee bit of fiddling once cut. A knife in the crotch and legs pulled apart formed perfect antlers. Once baked and cooled it was time to ice and decorate. The problem with only needing red skittles for their noses was what to do with the rest of the family sized pack. On this occasion I ate too many and felt slightly sick but Skittles Vodka was suggested as an alternative which I must investigate further.
Reindeer's made but I still had a hankering for something savoury. Not strictly baking but I decided to do some Penguin canapes with a festive touch of a Tomberry Santa hat. Even more fiddly than the original versions but looked great. 
Yet again there was a fantastic turnout of bakers and an even more amazing spread of cakes and bakes. Not sure if I managed to photograph them all. I certainly didn't manage to taste them all on the night but packed two layers to take home in my tupperware. Lets kick off with the savouries.  
Christmas Dinner Swirls
Blue Cheese and Oat Biscuits
Tom's Christmas Dinner Swirls were so good. Turkey, cranberry, stuffing and pastry perfection. They were gone in a flash. Lou from Please Do Not Feed The Animals was a wee bit disappointed in her bake but I though they were great and devoured way more than my share of her Dan Lepards Blue Cheese and Oat Biscuits. They would be amazing with Port and Stilton.
Olive and Parmesan Pinwheels
Mini Cheese Scones, Chilli Jam, Parmesan & Chilli Biscuits
When I spotted the pinwheels I assumed they were sweet cinnamon danish pastries but when the label went up I was thrilled to discover that they were Olive and Parmesan. Very moreish. Karen put up a "warning hot!!!" sign alongside her Parmesan and Chilli Biscuits and it was certainly needed. Her Mini Cheese Scones (cut with the aid of a shot glass) were fab with the chilli jam and would be even better warm.
Strawberry Chocolate Santa Cupcakes
Christmas Spice Cheesecake
Marzipan and Raisin Twist
Chocolate Reindeer Cupcakes
And so to the sweet treats. A huge selection of festive inspired creations including all the traditional flavours and symbols of Christmas. I think this month's star bakers award has to go jointly to Coleen's Christmas pudding two ways - Mini Christmas Pudding bon bons and Chocolate Macarons with Grand Marnier ganache filling and Shona's Gingerbread House. We were particularly impressed with her icing writing skills and she confessed she had served her time in Thorntons piping names on Easter Eggs.
Due to my upcoming trip to Munich for the Christmas Markets I was excited to see some German Christmas Bakery on offer with a traditional Stollen and bite sized Orange, Cranberry and Pistachio Stollen Squares. There were also some amazing Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Stars) and some Soft Liebukuchen Hearts.  I'm definitely going to give the stars a go and I'm intrigued by the method of making them.
Yet again our American bakers came up trumps with some fantastic offerings including peanut butter, pumpkin, candy canes and Hershey kisses.  I am a sucker for all things peanut butter and the pumpkin cupcakes were to die for.
Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies
Pumpkin Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting
Candy Cane Peppermint Bark
The next meet is scheduled to take place on Wednesday 16th January and the theme is "Baby Shower" in celebration of founder member Emma who is due to give birth on 14th February.  Lets hope her bun stays firmly in the oven until then.
If you missed them I blogged about the inaugural Pinnies and Petticoats here and our second meet which was Halloween themed here. For event details and updates like the Pinnies and Petticoats Facebook page

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Hairy Bikers Larger Than Live

I was gutted when I discovered that The Hairy Bikers were doing a gig in Aberdeen but it was already sold out. Fortuitously due to popular demand they added an extra performance. However it was at the rather strange time of 4.00pm on a Monday afternoon and I wasn't sure which of my foodie friends would be able to come with me. However the perfect candidate was staring me in the face, quite literally. 10 year old Boy. Problem was I wasn't sure if the show would be suitable for small humans. So I tweeted @HairyBikers to ask and Dave replied saying "its naughty but not rude". Much excitment when I told boy we were going to see two of his favourite TV foodie heros live onstage. Evenmoreso when I said were were in the third row from the front. 
Before going to the show I decided that boy and myself had best do a bit of swotting. As much like Ant and Dec and Dick and Dom I wasn't 100% convinced that I knew who was Si and who was Dave. Armed with our definitive who's who guide (Dave has the glasses and is slightly more folically challenged) we headed to the gig. No sooner were we in the door than I was persuaded to part with £5 for a tour brochure with "10 free recipes". If that doesn't contravene the trades description act I don't know what does. 
The lights dimmed, smoke machines went into overdrive and the bikers arrived onstage in their motorised thrones to the soundtrack of The Proclaimers 500 miles. Pretty much from there on in it became obvious that the show was as much about comedy as it was about cookery. A mixture of live action and video clips followed including singing, dancing, cross dressing and escapology. Boy appeared to be the youngest member of the audience and Dave did apologise to him personally if he learnt any new words from naughty Uncle Si's potty mouth.
At last the stage was transformed into a kitchen and it was time for some cooking. Dave diligently washed his hands on a regular basis but I never spotted Kingy at the sink. First up a non diet starter of deep fried Spring Onion Pakora followed by a Hairy Dieters version of Chicken Jalfrezi. Two audience members were invited up for their supper whilst the rest of us savoured the wafting smells and viewed the action on the big screen.
Next up was game show time with two lucky ladies from the audience chosen to compete in what turned out to be a game of strip wheel of fortune. The girls left with cookery books, goodie bags and signed wooden spoons whilst the boys were left naked.  All done in the best possible taste.
More fun and frolics in the second half where we learnt that dog tastes like a cross between pork and duck and its not a great idea to take pot luck on a menu in foreign parts. A couple of competition winners took to the stage as dinner guests and were served a warm salad of duck, pancetta and black pudding followed by pan fried salmon, courgette ribbons, deep fried potatoes and highly carolific dill hollandaise.  We also learned that they have a new book "Great Curries" in the offing for early next year.
I should probably confess to not actually owning any Hairy Bikers cookery books. Whilst I really enjoy their TV shows its the banter, people they meet and places they go that interest me as much as what they actually cook. However their most recent volume The Hairy Dieters is at the top of my Christmas list. Their own weight loss journey inspirational and as a foodie who has battled with conflicts between weight and love of food it hit a cord with me. I've already made a couple of dishes utilising the How to Love Food and Loose Weight recipes available online. 
The Sweet and Sour Chicken was amazingly good. There's no way you would guess it was a diet version. The Egg, Bacon and Asparagus flan was a great idea too and you could adapt the lighter filo pastry crust with other fillings. My effort did however suffer from the dreaded soggy bottom.  Better a soggy one than a fat one.
After two and a half hours which seemed to fly past our grand afternoon out with the hilarious biker boys was over. There's much less of them than there used to be but still tremendous value for money and highly recommended. Even if my 10 free recipes did cost me 50p each. As an Aberdonian I'll be getting my money's worth though as their Croque Monsieur and Apricot Tarte Tatin is on next weeks meal plan.