Sunday, 30 December 2012

Favourite Meals of 2012

Writing my round up of 2012 brought back fond memories of the places I have been over the past year, so much so it nearly didn't get written at all! I really enjoyed looking at the pictures and remembering how fantastic some of the food was! So... I decided to do my top ten. It turned into three top tens actually...

I have said this before, but I am by no means a restaurant critic. I genuinely go to places in search of nice food and having a good time. I have been lucky enough to go to some amazing places, so all my opinions are based on what I have already eaten... 

Smart Restaurants

Although there are quite diverse entries in this category, I decided to clump them into the 'smart' category as they feel like a treat.
Frantzen/Lindeberg
  1. Frantzén/Lindeberg, Stockholm - For us this restaurant had that 'blow your socks off, gee whizz we were not expecting that' factor. It soared from 57 to 20 in this year's San Pellegrino World's Best Restaurants list after being the 'One to Watch' in 2011. Their Satio Tempestas was a magical menagerie of around 35 different components - mainly vegetables. It was pure witchcraft. They even made me a birthday cake...
  2. The French Laundry, Yountville - It took over 1500 phone calls to get in, but boy was it worth it! The French Laundry was a restaurant we never dared dream of. It was in the middle of nowhere with reservations being about as frequent as rocking horse poo. It was everything I had dreamed of. The only reason it isn't number one is because it lived up to the hype, whereas Frantzén/Lindeberg was a real surprise. My highlight dish was the sensational strawberries and custard.
  3. Le Gavroche, London - We have been planning a trip here for years, but only got round to it in November. Shame on us. The sumptuous dining room is a sign of things to come. Starting with cheese soufflé in cream and ending with calvedos babas and truffles; this was a feast indeed! My favourite course was the stone bass with arabian spices and red rice. Not bad considering I'm not a fan of fish. We also got to meet Michel Roux Jnr too!
  4. Coi, San Francisco - San Francisco is still one of the handful of American cities that has a Michelin Guide. Whilst flicking through, my husband found Coi. Just a few nights before we had been to the French Laundry, so expectations were not particularly high. Wrong! The mixture of chic yet cosy surroundings, friendly staff who loved to chat, and amazingly executed food made this a real dark horse. Dish of the Day? Nasturtiums with peaches and their home made marshmallow.  
  5. é by Jose Andres, Las Vegas - This was a really weird yet wonderful experience! We were two of only eight diners in this secret restaurant at the back of Jaleo in the Cosmopolitan Hotel. After writing an email explaining why we wanted to go, we received a golden ticket for the greatest show in Vegas. All the food was prepared in front of the bench we were sat at. Brilliant. The best spectacle had to be the gold encrusted cotton candy. Cheeky.
  6. Bourbon Steak, San Francisco - Christ Alive. They poach their steaks slowly in butter, then finish them off of the grill. The best steak I have ever eaten bar none. I've eaten steak since and been angry that it wasn't as good. 
  7. Tyddyn Llan, Llandrillo - The best (and largest) Sunday roast I have ever had. Six different appetisers. Six unique sides with the roast. Six rich petit fours. The number of the beast. I am pretty sure they were trying to kill us, but they did not. 
  8. 25 Lusk, San Francisco - On our last night in San Francisco we headed to 25 Lusk. Padded booths with friendly service and complimentary champagne from our hotel concierge made this pretty special. One of our starters reminded us of Satio Tempestas mixed with the heirloom tomato dish we had at The French Laundry. We were tomato obsessed after this!
  9. Bouchon, Las Vegas - Although Bouchon is actually quite relaxed, it feels special because Thomas Keller is behind the venture. We went here for breakfast on our first day in Vegas. Our waiter was chatty and informal whilst maintaining outstanding service worthy of a smart restaurant. Our standout dish was the delicious stack of french toast with apple and cinnamon. 
  10. Sanmini's, Ramsbottom - Although this place has no Michelin star to its name, it feels like a special trip out. The dining room holds about six tables and it is run by an Indian family who are passionate about their cuisine. It is by no means a curry house. They serve fresh South Indian food which you will never find on a normal 'Indian' menu. I could eat a bucket full of their mutton chukka varuval. They do a mean mango lassi too...

Tea Rooms

I love tea rooms. There's something special about a decent brew with some great food then a slab of cake. Perfect.
T & Cake Almondbury
  1. T & Cake, Almondbury - A wonderful mix of savoury starters and mains, with delicious home made cakes. It's probably a good job that it's an hour drive from Bolton, otherwise I'd be in some serious dietry trouble!
  2. Laduree, London - Petit perfection. One of the best cakes I have ever eaten, all served with a touch of elegance.
  3. Vete-Katten, Stockholm - One of the largest selections of cakes I have ever seen. Big tasselled lamp shades and frangipane topped desserts will mean this stays in my memory for a long time yet...
  4. Sugar Junction, Manchester - Food served in heart shaped earthenware bowls, chintzy china and a counter full of home made delights. Love it.
  5. Home Sweet Home, Manchester - The perfect pit stop for a flavoursome brew and a slab of syrup cake. 
  6. Richmond Tea Rooms, Manchester - Step out of the village and into Wonderland. This Alice inspired hidey-hole has some of the best cakes in the city. I raved about their white chocolate and raspberry box for weeks.
  7. Breda Murphy, Whalley - The smart surroundings and well executed food might allow you to believe you are in a fancy restaurant. However, Breda Murphy's is comfortable, friendly and a haven for ladies who lunch (one WAG spotted...).
  8. Chokladkoppen, Stockholm - We went here twice in two days. Massive pastries and bowls full of custard means this one will always score well on my list!
  9. Peggy Porschen, London - This pretty pink shop is an Aladdin's cave of baked goods and amazing brews; notably their gingerbread tea. Wow.
  10. Blue Bottle Coffee, San Francisco - Secret coffees and strange conical flasks made this place a bit mysterious. People queue down the street for this coffee. It's that good...

Out for a Bite to Eat

These are the more informal places that were just magnificent!
Hooters Las Vegas
  1. Hooters, Las Vegas - Oh my word. The only things that are small at Hooters are the hotpants. I'm talking food. The best burger I have ever had. If only I could recreate their cheese and chilli sauce. I could eat it every day of my life.
  2. Roam, San Francisco - We took a bus over to the other side of town to sample their burgers. Laid back perfection with the best chips ever.
  3. Solita, Manchester - They just keep getting better. Their burgers are constantly reinvented and their menu is never dull. About time Manchester got somewhere like this.
  4. BB King's, Las Vegas - Live jazz music and BBQ style food. Brilliant. 
  5. BLT Burger, Las Vegas - Super friendly service mixed with some of the best burgers, fries and shakes in Vegas. Sat in the middle of the Mirage Casino, BLT feels like a little oasis from the scorching heat outside.
  6. Eagle & Child, Ramsbottom - This only opened fairly recently, but we found ourselves there twice in a few weeks. It's better than The Clog and Billycock in its heyday...
  7. Freemasons, Wiswell - Looks like a pub, acts like a restaurant. Comfortable surroundings yet epic desserts, this is like a laid back Northcote.
  8. Lucy's of Ambleside, Ambleside - Another where we found ourselves returning within a month. Lured in by the promise of award winning desserts, we returned in June for Lucy's Up the Duff Pudding Club. Twelve desserts in one night. Fact. 
  9. Dottie's, San Francisco - Pancakes bigger than your head and jugs full of syrup, Dottie's is hailed as the best breakfast in the city. They were not wrong!
  10. Italia, Manchester - Franco and the team welcomed us with open arms to try their authentic Italian cuisine. There is nothing safe about their menu. We left eager to go back...
Other restaurants we enjoyed this year:
We're always on the hunt for recommendations, so please leave a comment if you have one that you think we might enjoy! Thanks x

Saturday, 29 December 2012

2012 was pretty good...

Whilst I've been off work over Christmas, I've been having a think about all the fantastic things that have happened over the past year. My life if completely different to December 2011, and it all started with my husband saying 'you need a hobby'. I collected several.

This time last year I had just perfected my first bundt recipe, after hours of turning the air in our kitchen blue! Not long afterwards, my friend Susan asked me to do a guest post on her blog explaining how to make the perfect bundt cake. Because bundts were not commonplace, I started to get lots of questions. From that came the requests to start my own blog. I had all the excuses ready to go... I was too busy... No-one would read it... I didn't know what to write... I was full of it!

I started Dolly Bakes in January 2012 and went in pursuit of blog-worthy escapades! Some of the things I write about I would have done anyway, but we can no longer go for a meal without me taking pictures first. My husband loves that. Really...

Here's what I've been up to over the past year...

January

This is where it all started. I didn't really make any resolutions, but did decide to stop whinging and do things that made me happy. 

Dolly Bakes Review of 2012 - January

February

Things started to go a bit crackers...
  • The publicity for Bolton Clandestine Cake Club went through the roof! The Bolton News came to my house to do a piece, and not long after I was invited to Media City in Salford to do an interview live on air with Heather Stott. 
  • The Matilda bundt was born.
  • The first ever Bolton Clandestine Cake Club was held on 25th. I didn't die of fear and people had a great time!
  • Our friend Vicki turned the big 3-0! The first in the Horwich Fine Dining Society...
Dolly Bakes Review of 2012 - February

March

March was a month for exploration. I wanted to try new places, so it meant that we didn't end up in the same haunt every weekend. I didn't do too badly considering I was suffering from the devastation of turning 30...
  • I discovered some of Manchester's best tea shops; including Home Sweet Home, Richmond Tea Rooms and Sugar Junction.
  • I was invited onto BBC Radio Manchester again for Retail Therapy, live from Bolton Market.
  • We jetted off to Stockholm for my birthday, which is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. 
  • Frantzen/Lindeberg has got to be one of the standout meals of this year, whilst eating fika in the city's many tea shops was a totally new experience. One of the best trips we have ever taken!
  • I got a baby pink KitchenAid mixer. She is called Petal.
  • My friends Dawn and Lucie both had babies. Sam and April were both present as 'bumps' at our first cake club meeting too!

Dolly Bakes Review of 2012 - March
Dolly Bakes Review of 2012 - March

April

April was a month of firsts really!
  • I met some Twitter friends in person after offering to help them with an Easter fundraiser.
  • My bundts became a little more challenging each time.
  • I set about making cupcakes for boys! Twenty four monsters, every one different.
  • I put Petal to good use by making my first ever batch of hot cross buns. I even made lemon curd to go with them. This time last year I made nothing but muffins...

Dolly Bakes Review of 2012 - April

May

Bolton was gripped by Olympic fever in May, as the torch came through the town. This month can be summed up in one word - cake. I think I baked more in May than I did in any month before! I was really enjoying sharing recipes on my blog, and constantly had an occasion to bake for.
  • I met Stu Francis who was very impressed by my Olympic Stadium bundt!
  • We had an Olympic themed event at work where each team dressed in their chosen country's colours.
  • I made a chocolate chip and toffee pirate ship bundt for Sam. This is one of the most popular recipes on my blog.
  • I discovered Lucy's of Ambleside. God bless Lucy and her outrageous volume of desserts...

Dolly Bakes Review of 2012 - May

June

June was all about spontaneity. I bloody love a good plan, but during the month of June we flew by the seat of our pants and went all over the show! Our September holidays seemed a long way off, so we booked a few days off over the Jubilee to enjoy what the North West had to offer!
  • We had a mean game of crazy golf after a three hour journey to Ambleside...
  • We went back to Lucy's for her Up the Duff Pudding Club, where we ate twelve desserts between two of us. I remember it fondly now, but it did nearly kill me...
  • We had a fabulous meal at the Freemasons in Wiswell. The entire village was decked out in bunting and flags!
  • I started the Calendar Cakes blogger challenge with Laura Loves Cakes.
  • We went to the Edge Street Jubilee street party where I discovered Almost Famous burgers. 
  • Our Jubilee cake club was a bit of a bumper one, with some fantastic royal themed cakes.
  • After years of waiting, we finally went seeing Guns n Roses! My husband has been a fan since he was a child and we only decided on the day that we just had to go!

Dolly Bakes Review of 2012 - June
Dolly Bakes Review of 2012 - June

July

I would describe July as emotional. 
  • My brother got married. We had the most glorious day of sunshine, sandwiched in a fortnight of torrential rain!
  • My friend Dawn and I organised the Horwich Summer Fete in aid of Bolton Neo Natal Unit. We were utterly flabbergasted by the amount of support we received from both people who helped on the day to those who visited. The event raised over £1000.
  • Every man and his dog seemed to be nurturing a Herman the German Friendship Cake.
  • Solita opened in Manchester. Yes, this now feels like a life defining moment...

Dolly Bakes Review of 2012 - July

August

If July was emotional, August can be summed up as 'manic'. Not only was I ridiculously busy, but I had he opportunity to meet two of my heroes; Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. I was on the cusp of 'pant-peeing-excitement'. 
  • I made cream scones and gingersnaps for the Bolton Food Festival 2012 media pack. 
  • We attended the Paul Hollywood Gala Dinner at the Albert Halls.
  • I got to meet and interview Mary and Paul (not to mention Jean Christophe Novelli, James Martin and Michael Caines... )
  • I met some wonderful people at the Food Festival and ate some cracking food...
  • I interviewed the Great British Bake Off's Catherine Dresser.

Dolly Bakes Review of 2012 - August

September

September was the most fantastic month ever. It felt like my feet barely touched the ground! 
  • I joined the Women's Institute.
  • My husband and I both turned 30 in 2012, so we booked the trip of a lifetime to America. We started in Vegas, then drove to San Francisco via Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite National Park and Napa Valley.
  • Our friend Wayne turned 30.
  • We flew into the Grand Canyon in a helicopter via the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead.
  • On the first night we went to a pub that had over 200 beers on tap (only in Vegas)
  • We had the comfiest bed in the world at the Wynn hotel - it also wins best view from a bed too!
  • Getting a golden ticket for at é by José Andrés - we were two of only eight diners in this special restaurant.
  • The most memorable burger was actually at Hooters!
  • Our visit to Happy Burro, a small bar in the middle of nowhere that has handle bars in the toilets...
  • We saw a wolf sitting at the side of the road. Cool as you like.
  • We had to stop the car several times to look in amazement at the 'Bob Ross' type scenery in Yosemite National Park. Truly breathtaking.
  • We saw a baby black bear! A real one!
  • We drove through miles and miles of vineyards in Napa Valley.
  • We ate at the French Laundry, something we thought we would never get the opportunity to do.
  • We queued for nearly an hour to ride a cable car in San Francisco, then walked back down Lombard Street.
  • The best steak I have ever eaten was at Bourbon Steak. It has ruined all future steak eating. 
  • I was in Bundt heaven in Williams Sonoma.
  • We had the best breakfast in the world at Dottie's - worth the wait.
  • Our meal at Coi was a bit of a dark horse! Utterly brilliant. 
  • We went on a tour of the Anchor Brewery. This was recommended by my boss Chris on my last day in work before we left for America. Their passion for beer has given me a keen interest too, despite the fact I hate beer! Luckily my husband loves it.
  • Burgers. Period (see what I did there...?). They do them spectacularly right...
  • I attended a meeting of the cake club organisers in Leeds. Lynn put on a fantastic day for us, and asked me to do a presentation on how to make the perfect bundt cake. I was shaking like a leaf and ridiculously jet lagged but I felt better for it. The group were incredibly supportive of my obsession!
  • A trip to Tyddyn Llan in Wales the week we returned from America, and the biggest Sunday roast you ever shall see...

Dolly Bakes Review of 2012 - September
Dolly Bakes Review of 2012 - September
Dolly Bakes Review of 2012 - September
Dolly Bakes Review of 2012 - SeptemberDolly Bakes Review of 2012 - September

October

Things were a little more relaxed in October, so the things i enjoyed the most included spending time with my friends. 
  • Franco from Italia Manchester kindly invited us to sample their new menu. It was fantastic!
  • Halloween meant scary cakes for our Monster Mash cake club!
  • I finally got to try out some of my new bundt tins

Dolly Bakes Review of 2012 - October

November

November was all about treats!
  • We finally went to Le Gavroche after years of meaning to. We definitely went on the right night, as we had a lovely little chat with Michel Roux Jnr himself!
  • We did a pit stop in the ultimate tea shop; Laduree in Harrods. 
  • We made an evening trip across London to Belgravia to visit the iconic Peggy Porschen shop. 
  • We got a reservation at Dabbous where we saw Monica Galetti and ate a mesmerising apple cake.
  • We ate offal at the new St John restaurant in Chinatown and freaked everyone out with our pictures!
  • Our November cake club theme was 'Wherever I May Roam', so I made a bundt using a tin from San Francisco and beer from Anchor Brewery.

Dolly Bakes Review of 2012 - November

December

The festive period was all about the food, family, friends and good will; just as it should be!
  • Dawn and I held a second fundraiser for Bolton Neo Natal Unit. This time we ran a Christmas Fair. Again we raised over £1000 for the unit with a lot of help from our friends!
  • Christmas cooking! I've been making hams, roasties, gingerbread and apple stuffing and more bundts than is probably advised. 
  • Christmas cake club was an intimate affair with lots of festive goodies.
  • Our friend Kev turned 30, and we had a great night at Sagar's to celebrate. 
  • I came highly commended in Bolton's Best 2012 Awards for my contribution to the promotion of the Bolton Food Festival.
  • My wonderful friend Emma bought me a vintage World War II WI pin; something I will treasure forever.
  • We got to try a two Michelin star mince pie...
  • On New Year's Eve my husband will turn 30. This means he can no longer cling onto his twenties... 

Dolly Bakes Review of 2012 - December
Dolly Bakes Review of 2012 - December
This year has been one of the best of my entire life. Here's to next year!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Love Baking Magazine

Love Baking Magazine
I was recently sent a copy of Love Baking magazine. Although I am a huge fan of food magazines, I rarely buy baking ones as I find there isn't enough variety in them to hold my attention. What drew my eye to this one was the fact it is quarterly, so although you pay a little more for it (The Christmas issue is £7.99) you get more for your money. This issue also came with a free cupcake stand, matching cake wrappers and nutcracker decorations.

The magazine has a good mix of features and projects with some fantastic guest articles, including recipes by Peggy Porschen and Edd Kimber. There was a particularly nice piece in this issue about making your own edible Christmas presents; including what goodies to make but also what to package them in. Genius!
Love Baking Magazine
My picks from this issue are:

  • Peppermint Delight cupcakes topped with candy stripe sweets (above)
  • Berry Red cupcakes made with orange and cranberry sponge (above)
  • Edd Kimber's home made truffles
  • Time for Tea - a guide to some brilliant tea shops (below)
  • Best Buys - the latest baking must haves
  • Iced Treats with stencilled biscuits from Peggy Porschen (above)
  • Edible Christmas Baubles
  • Baker's Bookshelf - we're obviously on the same wavelength... some of my favourites are on here! (below)

Love Baking Magazine
I'll definitely be purchasing this magazine in the future, but this time I will allow myself more time to enjoy the fabulous projects! Love Baking is a great place to look for new recipes or just a little bit of inspiration. It's like the best bits of the food magazines written with bakers in mind. What you won't find is ten tonnes of sugar paste on every page. Because the magazine uses guest writers, there is a real variety of content meaning it kept my attention from cover to cover. Maybe a bundt article is calling...?

Buy the current issue 

Disclaimer: Love Baking sent me a complimentary copy of their Christmas magazine. However, I wrote about it because I genuinely enjoyed reading it and plan to use some of the recipes in the future.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Clandestine Cake Club Bolton - Jingle All the Way!

This was always going to be a bit of a special gathering. I kept this one quite small so I could use one of my favourite cake club venues; we went home to Thyme Deli. This was a members only event and our theme was Jingle All the Way.

Thyme's owner Amanda has been a supporter of our club since day one, and even opened specially for us. I was really eager to have our meeting at Thyme because it's always beautifully decorated during the festive season, and they sell a wonderful array of seasonal foods and kitchen accessories. It was perfect.
Thyme Deli Horwich
Fifteen of us attended the meeting, which felt very small compared to our usual soirees! The cakes came in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and not two were the same. Everyone had different interpretations of our theme; from happy memories to family favourites. A special mention has to go to Heather who made the most amazing stollen. This is particularly outstanding seeing as she has just had an operation to fix her poorly shoulder and because this time last year she didn't bake!

Our cakes included:

  • Ginger Beer House
  • Terry's Chocolate Orange Cake
  • Ferrero Rocher Cake with Nutella Buttercream
  • Chocolate Snowball Cake
  • Almond, Amaretti and Amaretto Cake
  • Stollen Ring
  • Chocolate Mud Christmas Pud
  • Chocolate and Chestnut Truffle Torte
  • Orange and Almond Cake
  • Christmas Chocolate Fruit Cake
  • Gingerbread Loaf with Cream Cheese Frosting
  • Orange and Brandy Winter Berry Cake
  • Chocolate Log
  • Black Forrest Roulade
  • Redcurrent and Tangerine Cake

I will bore you no more... on with the show!
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton - Jingle All the Way!
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton - Jingle All the Way!
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton - Jingle All the Way!
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton - Jingle All the Way!
Thanks to everyone who who took time out of their busy festive schedules to attend, Amanda for being a fantastic host (yet again), and to her boys for doing such a spectacular job of dealing with leftover cake.

If you fancy joining us for January's meeting, please visit the Clandestine Cake Club website and join up. If you're already a member, please email me at dollybakes@gmail.com.

Please leave your comments below... x

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The Parlour, Chorlton

The Parlour, Chorlton
We love a good Sunday Roast. After hearing good things about The Parlour from every direction, we nipped over to Chorlton, lured by the promise of giant Yorkshires and pink beef. 

If you're thinking Chorlton is a bit 'down with the kids', you're not far wrong really! However, it seems to have been infiltrated with enough pleasant folk from afar that it is no longer a hive of hipsters with Tsar Nicholas II or Kaiser Wilhelm II style facial hair. There were a few minor celebrities in there (think Corrie and Shameless) but the vast majority of people were normal folk enjoying a relaxing Sunday afternoon. 

The staff at the Parlour are fantastic. Everyone is really friendly and they have genuine enthusiasm when describing the food. We hadn't planned on having starters, but the chap serving us had such passion for the celeriac and white onion soup that we found we had ordered it plus a ham and apricot terrine before we knew it! 

Both starters were outstanding examples of home cooked food. The terrine came with warm crusty bread and home made piccalilly, and the soup was a generous portion of warmth in a bowl with wholemeal bloomer. The soup was so good I actually stole it off my husband. He ended up finishing my terrine...
The Parlour, Chorlton
After the starters we both realised the error of our ways. We had both eaten big chunks of bread with filling portions of either soup or ham. Put it this way, we were no longer starving. Then the roasts arrived. Hell's teeth! Imagine going to an all you can eat roast buffet and someone well taking the Mick. Think Alan with his big plate. This was a huge pile of meat, veg and carbs. The pictures really do give you no idea of the scale or wonder that was placed before us. 

I have no shame in telling you that we did not finish our mains. Mine looked like a small shrew had given it a go, whereas my husband's was a little less embarrassing. If you're a fan of a roast, here's your place matey!  
The Parlour, Chorlton
The waitress who took our plates was sure that we wouldn't want a dessert menu, although she still asked. She obviously knew nothing of my 'separate cake stomach' super powers. We shared an apple tart with custard. This was supposed to come with ice cream, but I was very much in custard mode (like I hadn't consumed enough calories already...). The filling was light as a feather and it came with a wonderful toffee sauce. 

The only thing I would even contemplate changing would be the dessert menu. I would have liked to see something like a jam roly poly or even Christmas pudding on the menu at this time of year. 

We'll be visiting the Parlour again in the near future...

Please leave your comments below... x

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Saturday, 15 December 2012

Chilli Jam

A Guest Post by Catherine Haslam

Chilli Jam
I met the lovely Catherine Haslam through cake club a few months ago. Although she had only met me once, she was kind enough to help with our Summer Fete in July and offered her services again earlier this month at our Christmas Fair. My friend Dawn and I put the events on to raise funds for Bolton Neo Natal Unit. 

Catherine made this amazing chilli jam for our home made cake stall. It sold like hot cakes, and everyone who has tried it has ranted and raved about just how good this is! It's fiery yet sweet and all kinds of wonderful. I asked her to do a guest post on her wonderful jam, and luckily she agreed! Yay! Massive thanks for this great post!


I've been asked to write a guest blog and I can tell you that I'm thrilled and nervous!  I love a good read of a blog or a browse on twitter but have been a casual observer for some time.  Now I've been asked to get active and write!  Little ol' me?  

I love Baking, always have.  My gran always had boxes and boxes of homemade treats whenever we went to see her, and my mum has always baked too - from all our birthday cakes as kids to prize winning scones at local village fetes.  So I've always had a great interest in baking, and wanted to be able to create moreish morsels for my friends and family to enjoy.  I love to get involved with the local community too and supporting local charities, so after joining the Bolton branch of the Clandestine Cake Club, I volunteered to bake for the Baking for Babies events that Rachel has helped organise recently, and over the summer.

And that's where the blog comes in.  For the Christmas Fair I decided to go for something different.  I knew the stall would be inundated with amazing cakes and biscuits, so offered to make some Chilli Jam instead.  It's a recipe that both my Dad and I use and there's always a jar of it in our houses.  So for those who have tried it and loved it, and those who are intrigued enough to give it a go, here's the recipe...

Ingredients
  • 450g tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 red chillies
  • 1cm piece of fresh ginger
  • 250g granulated sugar
  • 60g balsamic vinegar
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper

Method
  1. Chop & remove the stems from the tomatoes, peel & chop the garlic and ginger, and de-seed and finely chop the chillies.
  2. Put all of the above chopped ingredients into a blender, followed by the rest of the ingredients, and blitz.
  3. Put the blitzed ingredients into a medium/large pan and bring to the boil.
  4. Boil for 25-30 minutes or so, stirring occasionally so the mixture doesn't catch on the bottom of the pan.  It sounds like a long time, but you'll need it.  You won't need to stir as often in the beginning, but as the mixture thickens it's more likely to catch and burn, so you'll find you need to stir more towards the end of the time.
  5. To test if the mixture is ready, remove a small amount with a teaspoon and allow to cool.  It should be quite thick and jam-like!  If it's not ready, boil for another 5 or so minutes.
  6. Once it's cooked, take the pan off the heat and leave the mixture to cool for 20 minutes.
  7. Then you can put the mix in a sterilised glass jar - leave the lid on top but don't close it, and leave the jam to completely cool before sealing the jam.

The jar never gets sealed in our house before I've 'tested' it by spreading some on a chunk of mature cheddar cheese!

I love it on cheese, on crackers, on both.  I also love it on sandwiches with cold meats, and my dad often makes us savoury pancakes and we smear it on those too.  I'm yet to find something I don't like it with - even just off the back of the teaspoon!

It'll keep in the jar for a good couple of months - if it lasts that long.  A batch made with the ingredients above will half fill a tall Kilner jar.  I doubled the recipe and that made half a dozen smaller jam jars of Chilli Jam for the Christmas Fair.  I'll be doing the same again for stocking fillers for some of the family as it's a real winner.

We like it a little spicier and so I tend to buy smaller red chillies, or put 3 in instead of 2.  If you're unsure I would head down to Bolton market and ask.  We always buy our fruit & veg from there- they're always really helpful, and it's great produce.

I hope that's set your taste buds racing and that you'll give it a go.  I'd never made jam or chutney of any sort before I made this, but now it's a regular feature in my kitchen.

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Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Mini Bundt Puds

Mini Bundt Puds
I regularly have too much cake mix to fit in a bundt tin, so these mini bundts are really handy! They only take about 45 minutes to cook and come out looking perfect every time. They are a fantastic alternative to Christmas pud, and even come with a ready made custard trap!

Use any festive recipe in these little tins and serve warm with custard.

Recipes


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Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Spiced Christmas Wreath Bundt

Spiced Christmas Wreath Bundt
After years of pining, I recently joined the Women's Institute. I need to get a few things clear before I continue:

  • They welcomed us with open arms, despite many of them being old enough to be our grandmothers
  • They were very excited about younger ladies joining
  • They are not all superb bakers
  • They don't really make jam
  • They like to make a difference to our community
  • They raise money for charity
  • They are not fascists
  • Yes, we do sing Jerusalem
  • They love a knees up

This month's meeting was a Jacob's Feast. If you've never heard of this notion, it basically means everyone brings some food and we all make pigs of ourselves! Not one to put myself under pressure... I decided to make a cake. For the WI. Of whom I have only been a member for three months. Nutter.

I decided to make a festive wreath cake packed with spices and Christmas cheer! I'm delighted to say that they loved it! You have no idea what the internal sigh of relief was like! Although, one lady did get in trouble for cutting it into lots of slices before they had all had chance to look at it...

Again, this can be made in any standard sized bundt tin.

Ingredients:
  • 250g unsalted butter, softened
  • 650g golden caster sugar
  • 5 medium free range eggs - beaten
  • 250ml milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp lemon extract
  • 400g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 4 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • Icing sugar for dusting

Method:
  1. Grease and flour a standard sized bundt tin (10 inches, 10 cups or 2.4 litres). I used a lovely Nordic Ware festive wreath!
  2. Mix the butter and sugar until it is well combined. It might not look fluffy as there is so much sugar in it. Oops. This does mean it gets a fantastic sugar crust though...
  3. Add the eggs one at a time
  4. Add the extracts to the milk.
  5. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, spices, salt and bicarbonate of soda. 
  6. Fold 1/3 of the dry mix to the main bowl, followed by 1/2 of the liquid. Repeat until all the ingredients are used up.
  7. Give the whole thing a quick whizz until it is all combined.
  8. Pour the mix into the tin and give a sharp whack on the worktop to rid it of bubbles! 
  9. Bake for 1 hour 20 minutes at gas 3/160 C, turning after an hour.
  10. The cake should be shrinking from the sides of the tin, dark brown in appearance and a skewer should come out clean.
  11. Once cooked through leave the cake to cool in the tin fully. I mean fully. It sometimes needs a quick loosen with a knife to ease it out. 
  12. When cooled dust with icing sugar to decorate.

BloggersPlease respect the fact I am sharing my own ideas and recipe. Blood, sweat and many tears have gone into getting this right, so you may enjoy a perfect bundt. If you wish to re-blog a recipe from these variations, please credit my blog and link to this original post rather than pasting the recipe on your own page. 
Please see my Creative Commons Copyright information for more details. Thank you.

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Ginger Beer House

Ginger Beer House

I have been coveting this tin since last Christmas. In 2011 every baker I knew was making a gingerbread house whilst I was lying dormant... planning my gingerbread bundt for 2012! I literally made this cake up as I was making it; constantly testing for flavour and adding odds and sods as they popped into my head. I was like the sorcerer's apprentice (cue the music in your head...)

I wanted my gingerbread house to have a kick to it. Mine was going to be a ginger beer house! This cake is a trilogy of ginger. Ground, fizzy liquid and crystallised come together to make one spicy mother. It produces a beautifully moist cake with cheeky chewy bits and the most wonderful festive aroma. If I could bottle the smell of this baking, I would surely be a millionaire by Christmas 2013!

Although I made my cake in a house tin, you could just as easily made this in any standard bundt tin. You may find that the mixture makes a little too much for a normal sized tin, so the Nordic Ware Anniversary tin is a good alternative as it has a much larger capacity. Alternatively, you can pop excess mix into bun or small novelty tins like I did. I made 3D people using my Nordic Ware gingerbread people tin! Happy accident...

Ingredients
  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 100g of vegetable fat 
  • 650g golden caster sugar
  • 6 medium eggs
  • 450g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 8 tsp ground ginger (use less if you want it a little less spicy...)
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 100g crystallised stem ginger cut into small pieces
  • 250ml ginger beer (alcoholic or non-alcoholic)
  • Icing sugar for decorating

Method
  1. Grease and flour a regular sized bundt tin (2.4l, 10 cup, 10 inch). I used Nordic Ware's Gingerbread House.
  2. Soften the butter and vegetable fat and then cream in the sugar in stages.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time on a slow setting.
  4. Add all the remaining dry ingredients to a large bowl.
  5. Add the stem ginger to the dry ingredients and give it a shake about!
  6. Add the vanilla extract to the ginger beer.
  7. Sift in 1/3 of the dry ingredients, followed by 1/2 of the liquid. Repeat until all the flour and liquid is used up. Fold it in gently... It looks curdled. It is fine... Promise.
  8. Tip: obviously, the stem ginger will not fit through the sieve, but it's now coated in flour to prevent it from sinking. Just pop it in the mix.
  9. Give the whole thing a brief mix on a low speed until combined.
  10. Spoon the mix into the prepared tin, taking care to push the mix into nooks and crannies. 
  11. Give it a whack on the worktop to release bubbles. 
  12. Tip: Be really careful not to overfill, 3/4 max.
  13. Bake at gas 3/160 C for about an hour and 45 minutes. Just turn it after about an hour. The minis took around 45 minutes.
  14. It should be shrinking slightly from the sides of the tin and a skewer should come out clean.
  15. Let it cool in the tin for ten minutes then turn it out. 
  16. Allow to cool fully before dusting with a little icing sugar and dribbling a bit of glace icing for snow. 


BloggersPlease respect the fact I am sharing my own ideas and recipe. Blood, sweat and many tears have gone into getting this right, so you may enjoy a perfect bundt. If you wish to re-blog a recipe from these variations, please credit my blog and link to this original post rather than pasting the recipe on your own page. 
Please see my Creative Commons Copyright information for more details. Thank you.

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Friday, 7 December 2012

Miracle on High Street, Manchester

Miracle on High Street, Manchester
I decided my friend Heather needed a night out. She's been cooped, like a chicken, in a coop for weeks after an operation on her shoulder. Cue one grumpy girl. There was only one thing for it. A trip to Manchestershire for Christmas markets, the purchase of cheese, modelling of ridiculous hats and gluttony at Miracle on High Street. This is the latest pop up from those scamps behind Almost Famous, Socio Rehab, Home Sweet Home and Keko Moku. We had high hopes.
Heather and her hats
We walked through the wardrobe (Socio Rehab...), up some stairs and arrived in Narnia. Ok ok... it wasn't the real Narnia... that's a cupboard at work. It was a room filled with dry ice, Christmas trees and a smily girl waiting to greet us! We were taken through to the next room which opened into a bar, bedecked with festive fun. 

We had a chat with some nice chap behind the bar, who assured us that it wouldn't be considered bad form to order as much as we had planned. He even gave us a lovely sample of mulled cider whilst we considered the menu. We both opted for the Miracle Sandwich (turkey, roast potatoes, cranberry and clementine pork stuffing, shredded brussels sprouts, bacon and spice, pigs in blankets and gravy - not even jesting). As if this isn't enough to kill most people, we both ordered Miracle Fries and more pigs in blankets. We also got full sized mulled ciders. Mwah ha ha!
Miracle on High Street, Manchester
Oh what a mess we made! Despite our best efforts, there is no graceful way of eating this. My advice is to lean over the table unless you want to wear it! The Miracle Sandwich is exactly what it claims to be; a Christmas dinner on a soft bun. It was delirious! I'm considering asking for a bun on Christmas Day. The slightly spiced fries are very similar to those at Almost Famous. Not a bad thing. A mixture of sweet and normal potato with a festive herb and spice seasoning. We may have overdone it with the extra pigs in blankets, although you would never have known it judging from how we left our plates. Warriors. They also make the prettiest cocktails I have ever seen!

I'm not sure how long they are open for, and they were tight-lipped about what it will turn into after the festive period. Make the most of it whilst it's still there. The perfect get away from the mania that is the markets. And they play Elf on a loop...

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Brown Sugar Christmas Ham

Brown Sugar Christmas Ham
Christmas ham has got to be my signature festive dish. I make it every year. If this doesn't warm your cockles and make you want to watch Elf, you're as lost cause! I serve it with apple and gingerbread stuffing, and crispy roasties. I sometimes throw a bit of veg in there too... The best thing about ham? It's well easy. If you can watch a pan, you can make this. Fact.

Ingredients

  • 1 large ham. Note: In the past I have spent a fortune on hams from the butcher and they were great. I have also bought them from Marks and Spencers or the supermarket. They were great too! I usually get one that's about 1.4 kilos (M&S usually have 1/3 off over Christmas). That's enough for four people plus some leftovers. God bless leftovers.
  • 1 litre of apple juice
  • 1 litre of cranberry juice
  • A little warm water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 whole cloves
  • About 100g dark brown sugar for the glaze


Method

  1. Wash your ham in warm water to remove excess salt. It's a myth that you have to soak them overnight. Maybe back in the dark ages, but modern meat production means this is no longer necessary.
  2. Tie it up. Ham has a tendency to separate when cooked if left to its own devices. Do this by tying the string round the edge with the layer of fat and knotting it. Repeat so it has a parallel piece. Then wrap round the other way (see above). Failing this, just make sure it's tied up enough so it can't expand! This is the hardest bit done.
  3. Pop it in a big stockpot or pan. It needs to have a bit of room to manoeuvre!
  4. Pour in the fruit juices and top up with warm water if it doesn't cover the ham.
  5. Add the cinnamon stick and cloves to the juice.
  6. Simmer on a low heat - it should be gently bubbling.
  7. It'll need cooking for 70 minutes per kilo. Balance the lid so that there is a gap between the lid and pan. You'll need to keep a bit of an eye on it. Just adjust the temperature if it starts bubbling too much or too little.
  8. When it's done simmering, preheat the oven to it's maximum temperature.
  9. Remove the ham from the cooking liquor and place in an ovenproof dish. Take off the string and trim off some of the fat if you want to.
  10. Now the fun bit! Dump the sugar on top of the ham then rub it in. Yes, it's a lot of sugar. What's your point? Make sure most of it is on the ham rather than in the dish.
  11. Now bung it in the middle of the hot oven for about 15 minutes. You're looking for little bubbles in the sugar. I turn it half way.
  12. When it's out, cover loosely with foil and let it rest for about 10-15 minutes. 
  13. Carve and pour over some of the sugary juices from the dish.
  14. Stuff your face. Job done.
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