Monday, 29 November 2010

Tactics for staying warm.

I know that some of you are pretty much snowed in. In fact the pictures and news from my parents have been rather impressive, and so I really shouldn't complain about the weather, but it does rather take the biscuit that we have temperatures of -7C here and no boiler. I've taken to forcing the cats to sleep on me in order to steal their warms. It keeps backfiring though as they are rather adept at stealing mine!

And so I decided that perhaps moving would be a better bet, some preserving, and a spot of decorating, Number 98 style with fan heater and fairy lights! But more about that later because
this morning I realised that I've been rather slack on the blog, I promised cupcakes on Wednesday and all of sudden it's Monday and no cupcakes have emerged. Oops! Sorry about that.

As it happens, last Monday was a most wonderful time. Lady J and I had a hilarious day of butter, batter and banter. I was initially rather worried about teaching someone how to make cupcakes, but as it happens this year I am honoured to be one of the judges for this, and so with the complimentary cupcake kit that happened to arrive that morning we set off attempting to melt butter, chocolate and listen to heavy metal.
Alas, the freezing cold kitchen was not particularly condusive to ganache, but we still managed some very decedent and delicious cupcakes, mixed and decorated entirely by newly qualified cupcake goddess Lady J. I have promised that once the kitchen warms up a bit we'll practice piping, but until then I think we'll cope.
We tested a couple of recipes and I think the following won out for richness, depth and perfect sugar rush!

So here I can finally share it with you, while I shift hundreds of books upstairs...who's idea was it to decorate after all the books were unpacked and on the shelves, and in the same week the plumber is coming to replace the boiler?!

Not for the feint hearted chocolate cupcakes - Makes 6-8 large cupcakes

1 cup plain flour
1 cup caster sugar
1/2 cocao poweder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
4oz softened butter
1/2 buttermilk (Or milk soured with 1 tbsp lemon juice)
1 large egg
1/2 cup of fresh coffee (cooled)

Preheat your oven to 180C and line a cupcake pan with cake cases.

Using an electic mixer (if possible, hand power if not) combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and cinnamon. Blend for 30 seconds and then add the butter and buttermilk and blend to moisten. The up the speed and beat until fluffy.

Whisk the egg and coffee together, and add to the batter in three aditions. Don't forget to scrape down the side of the bowl to catch any unmixed flour.

Pour the batter into the prepared cases, filling aprox. 3/4 full. Bake for 15-20 mins. A toothpick should come out moist but with no uncooked batter attached.

Decorate with your preferred icing, we used a ganache and a buttercream, but I happen to know that cream cheese is superb (if ridiculously indulgent!)

Monday, 22 November 2010

It did it again...

Our boiler is mocking us.

It's broken again, and this time will cost a lot to fix. However, we will have the last laugh, oh yes, because in a week and a half it will be replaced with something not from the stone age, that will work, and be quiet, and small, and pay attention to the new thermostat and be generally lovely.

Until then we will be without hot water or heating. It might be a long ten days.

But that's not a problem, as I am steaming the Christmas puddings and baking up a storm with a friend who doesn't mind knitting and baking in the cold, and delights in sprinkles.

More on that on Wednesday, right now I'm off to huddle in front of the fire and ponder where I put my fingerless gloves...

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Sometimes it needs to be done

I am a great believer of seizing the moment, and basically giving in to your urges. Which is how I happened to making mulled port on a week night. I know it should be a weekend drink. I know it probably ought to be a Christmas drink. I know I should probably be attempting some restraint given it's only the end of my first working day of the week (with four more to go and engineering works promising the week to get much worse...).

And yet, it felt like it should be done. It was the first truly cold day today. With a thick frost and icy puddles accompanying my walk to the station, and with two layers, newly installed heating and numerous trips up flights of stairs failing to keep the cold at bay at work.

So I got into my pyjamas, and followed a whim. A hint of spice here, a dash of brandy there, a squeeze of lemon and a little heat. It was easy, and warming and the perfect thing to accompany a little taster of English cricket before the eagerly awaited Ashes tests begin.

It might not be the thing for every evening, but if you need a little warmth a hint of the festivities to come, crack open the port early and treat yourself. A little one can't hurt.

Mulled Port - Makes two small but potent servings.

200ml port
1/4 tsp mixed spice
5 whole cloves
1/2 cinnamon stick
dash of freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons of brown sugar
1 tbsp of ginger wine
1 tbsp of brandy
squeeze of lemon

Place all the ingredients in a small pan and heat gently, stirring to help the sugar dissolve. keep warm for five minutes to release the spices, but do not get it hot enough to even simmer. Cool slightly and pour into thick glass tumblers. Drink.

I'm sure it would be amazing with a twist of orange and some juice in place of the lemon, I just didn't have any.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Cognitive boilers.

(unimpressed cold cats shot)

Have you ever suspected the cognitive powers of your boiler? Seriously, let's just think about it for a moment. They know. They know that the cruelest point for them to decide to break is during the coldest spell in weeks, when gale force winds can penetrate any tiny cracks and give your toes frostbite and disable your fingers from knitting. And you can almost hear them chuckling as they trip your circuits, meaning the alarm clock doesn't go off so you end up with a cold shower and a mad dash to work an hour and a half late.*

As you can tell it was a good start yesterday! Today I am at home waiting for the emergency plumber to hopefully fix the boiler, identify the burny smell coming from the airing cupboard and make it so I can have a hot bath and not a cold shower.

The saving grace is that the new house has an open fire and there is something rather romantic about sitting in front of a fire with your knitting and a cup of tea and eating fudge.

Oh yes, let's talk about fudge. It's old fashioned, it's full of sugar, fat and is blissfully easy to make, which means in less than an hour you have dangerously moreish little treat that you can munch on all afternoon. I must have known it was going to be "one of those weeks" on Wednesday as I had a desperate urge to make ginger fudge. Not one to ignore my culinary callings I gave in immediately and fished the emergency can of evaporated milk from the back of the cupboard and off I went.
If it's a dull weekend, if you find yourself not wanting to leave the house and needing a little tray of something to keep you company in front of the fire, television or alongside your knitting, whip up some of this and I can promise your partners/family/self won't complain (I hold no responsibility for annoyed dentists however!).

Ginger Fudge - Makes aprox 1.5lbs (one small brownie trays worth)

I should mention that this is also a great Christmas present - yes, we're all trying to ignore that the festive season is fast approaching, but at least now you have one idea!

1lb granulated sugar
2 0z butter
1/4 pint of evaporated milk
1/4 pint whole milk
3 large pieces of stem ginger, copped finely

First, line a small brownie tray with greaseproof paper, the large the tin, the thinner the squares, its up to you as to the exact size you use.

Gently heat the sugar, butter and milks until the sugar dissolves and fat melts. Bring to the boil and boil steadily until the mixture reaches 116C on a sugar thermometer**, stirring occasionally (should take about 5 minutes). Remove from the heat and beat until it looks smooth and slightly grainy, add the ginger and stir through thoroughly. Pour into the tin and once cooled slightly mark into squares. Then place in the fridge to cool completely.

Make a strong cup of tea, and settle in for an afternoon with tray in front of you, no one's judging here.

** if you don't have a sugar thermometer you're looking for "soft ball" stage, which is when a small piece dropped in cold water forms a soft ball. Don't worry if you get it a little hard it will still be delicious, and I have been known to spoon too-soft fudge from a bowl in the fridge!

*the great thing about a horrid start to the day is it totally justifies a ridiculously comedy sounding order at the coffee shop that provided me with a "dessert coffee" as N calls them, which is most definitely the duvet of the hot beverage world, even more so than a hot chocolate. Comforting and yet caffienating, and so restorative. "tall, skinny, double shot, gingerbread latte please, thank you"

Monday, 8 November 2010

A tale of wine and wollmeise

I think I need to come to terms with the fact that I am now well and truly a yarn addict, and knitting obsessive. There was a very enlightening moment which brought this all home to me over the weekend.

I was fortunate enough to get my hands on some highly coveted Wollmeise yarn. Two skeins of a dark green, one variegated red and a mustard yellow. Ever since our visit to Italy I've been desperate to knit myself a shawl in a gorgeous autumnal colour, and mustard has been calling to me (which is very much away from my colour comfort zone).

So there, ready and waiting on my sewing table was a newly wound beautiful skein of Olio Vergine 100% merino sock yarn. It was there as my friend K and I were having a natter with a glass of wine after an evening of food and good company. It was there as a gesticulation sent a wine glass, full of rich red wine, tumbling across the table threatening to stain everything in it's wake.

With lightening reflexes I snatched the newly wound yarn cake up and into my arms out of harms way....completely ignoring the laptop, camera, books and sewing machine that were now wading in wine! Oops!

You know you're a yarn addict, when you will save precious yarn before any and all other expensive objects!

p.s. After some lots of mopping, cotton bud in socket action, and some careful testing all other items on the table seem fine...although perhaps this is the source of my caps lock problem? (I'm writing this on a kindly lent machine which is nowhere near liquid of any form!)

Sunday, 7 November 2010