Monday, 30 April 2012

Foodie Penpals April Reveal

If you follow me on Twitter you may know that some days I'm on there no stop. Just tweeting away about anything and everything.  And then other days I'm not on there at all. With an eight month old and a full time day job, finding time to tweet can be hard!  One of my favourite things about Twitter is that I get to know so many wonderful people - both bloggers and readers that I wouldn't have ever interacted with otherwise.  

About six weeks ago I came across a tweet from Carol Anne aka @ThisIsRockSalt talking about Foodie Penpals.  I was intrigued.... I'd had a penpal when I was younger and loved writing letters to her, and sending and receiving packages.  It's always nice to receive packages in the mail rather than the boring bills and junk you normally get.  I immediately tweeted her back, and just like that I had signed up to become a Foodie Penpal.


Let me give you a bit of background info - Foodie Penpals was started last year by American food blogger The Lean Green Bean.  Since then Foodie Penpals has grown from about 30 participants in the US and Canada, to over 600 participants in the US, Canada, the UK and Europe.  Carol Anne from the blog This Is Rock Salt now organises the UK & European side of Foodie Penpals.  So what is a Foodie Penpal you ask??  Well, let me tell you!  Basically, bloggers (and readers if they wish) are matched up together each month.  At the beginning of the month everyone is notified as to who they are matched up with (it's someone different each month), and then they're responsible for putting together a little foodie package for them.  How fun!

My first Foodie Penpal package was sent to me by Jules at Good Gobble Blog.  I had never "met" Jules before (ie: in person, twitter, or the general blogosphere), so before she put together my package we sent a few emails back and forth so she could get a feel of what types of things she might want to send me.  I told her that I liked "snacky" type things and things that I could use in my baking.  


Jules put together a fantastic package for me, and I was so excited when it arrived.  The first thing she included were some Caramel Callets from Slattery's Parissiery and Chocolatier in Manchester.  I first read about Slattery's on Jule's blog post here when I had just found out that she would be my foodie penpal. This place looks seriously amazing!  You've got to check out the Chocolate Challenge dessert that her friend Doyle ordered!! OMG! Seriously drool worthy.  I have to go to this place when I'm in Manchester.  Actually - I have to go to Manchester just so I can go to this place!   I sampled a few of the Caramel Callets and they are delicious.  I'm still not too sure what I'm going to make with them, but when I do you can be sure to read about it here!

Jules also sent me shortbread mix in a jar.  All I have to do is add butter to the mixture and bake.  Simple!  I had planned on baking the shortbread on Saturday, but I was starting to come down with a cold and couldn't muster up the energy to even attempt to bake anything. Next weekend!

She also included some sweet plantain chips - something I'd never had before, but were a favourite snack of hers while she travelled through Peru.  She just happened to find them here in the UK!  Jules recommended eating them with a salsa recipe that she included on the back of the package, but my husband and I just snacked on them straight outta the bag.  Yum!


Jules was also kind enough to make some things for me to snack on.  She made individual rocky road bars fully loaded with chocolate and marshmallows and as well as some delicious walnut free granola (I'm allergic to walnuts).  The rocky road bars were absolutely delicious and the fact that they were individually wrapped meant they were the perfect thing to throw in my lunch bag for an afternoon snack at work.  The granola was also just as delicious.  I've been munching on it by the handful rather than eating it with milk because I rarely have milk in my fridge unless I'm baking with it.  I haven't been online much in the past few weeks, so I've not really been able to catch up on my blog reading.  I've just noticed that Jules has posted the recipes for the rocky road bars and the granola, so if you'd like the recipes please check them out on her blog.  I also must apologise for the complete lack of photos in this post - my camera was on the wrong setting and pretty much all of them turned out blurry except for a few.  **Smacks head!  Doh!**  I did manage to take a picture of a rocky road bar with my iPhone before I gobbled it all up!  You can also see more pictures of the rocky road bars and granola on her blog.


My Foodie Penpal for this month was Helen from Aardvark Cakes.  I have to be honest and say that I was a little intimidated at the fact Helen was my foodie penpal.  After all, she runs her own cake decorating business so she's bound to either have everything or seen it before.  I had recently made a trip back home to Canada and the US just after I signed up for Foodie Penpals, so I bought a bunch of different things specifically for my future FP's.  Whenever I go on holiday, and even when I'm shopping here at home I'm always on the lookout for different foodie things that I don't see every day and can't buy regularly.  I picked out a few things for Helen that I thought she might like, so hopefully she enjoyed them!  


I sent her a cute box of Lemon Whoopie Pie Mix, some buttery microwave popcorn (one of my favourite snacks from back home - traditionally popcorn here in the UK is either salty or sweet - not buttery), some maple flavouring for cakes and icing, a little packet of powdered cinnamon bun icing flavouring that I came across while in the US, and a Coffee Crisp Easter Egg - coffee crisp is a Canadian chocolate bar that as far as I know isn't sold outside of Canada.  

Hopefully Helen liked my foodie penpal package as much as I liked the one Jules sent me.  If you'd like to become a foodie penpal you can sign up and find more information about it here if you're in the UK & Europe, or here is your in the US & Canada.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

London Cake International Show

On Saturday I went to the Cake International Cake and Decorating show in London.   I had always wanted to attend the Cake International show, but until this year it had only ever been on up in Birmingham so I never got a chance to go.  I went down purely as a shopper & decorating enthusiast - not as a blogger.  I was not equipped with my camera, and I never intended to write this post.  It wasn't until I was "tweeting to the outside from the inside" that I decided a recap of the show might be in order. 

The show was absolutely amazing, and I'm so glad I went.  If you're a fan of cake decorating in any form there was something here for you.  I cannot believe how crazy busy it got in the afternoon, so my advice to anyone going today or to the one up in Birmingham in November is get there EARLY.  I don't mean camp outside over night early, but just get there when the doors open early.  The crowds were manageable first thing in the morning, but by noon they were almost unbearable.  I got to the show at 9:30 when the doors opened and left at 1:45 and I still didn't see everything. There was demonstrations, mini workshops, cake decorators signing their books, live competitions, and then there were the sales stalls..... oh the sales stalls!  

If you've ever wanted a specific shade of lustre dust or holographic glitter this was your place.  I  ended up taking a zillion pictures on my iPhone (sorry for the poor quality!), so I'll post them here and let them speak for themselves.  


 Cute little cupcake cases

 How do you decide on a glitter or dust??

Can I tempt you with some sprinkles? 

Cake balls made super easy! Make up to 28 at a time!

Mini wedding cakes inside push pop containers - too cute!


Gorgeous Cake by Zoe Clark 

 Look at that piping!


There were some absolutely AMAZING contest cakes. ** I must apologise for the influx of "man themed" cakes - I was sending pictures of them to my husband who was at home watching our son Jayden.



This one was made of chocolate!! 


The detail on this cake was incredible.  No wonder it won 1st place in its category.

This Samurai cake was massive! 

Nintendo anyone? 

Strangely, this Gremlins cake was probably one of my favourite out of all the cakes at the event. The attention to detail was absolutely amazing.  From glass like eyes, to Gizmo's finger nails and even the torn edge of the paper note - complete with "water spill". This cake definitely deserved it's Gold award.





And finally after over 4 hours of hard core cake decoration shopping, I came away a very happy camper!


Did you go to the show?  If so, what did you think about it, and what did you buy???



Saturday, 14 April 2012

Coconut Ice


My how time flies!  It seems like just yesterday that I was eight months pregnant and in the kitchen whipping up numerous batches of blue treats for my baby shower.  I know I've told you several times either here, on twitter or on facebook that I'd share the recipes with you, but it's now eight months later and I realise that I've not shared any of them with you!

Well let me put a stop to that right now!  

The first baby blue treat I made for my baby shower was Coconut Ice which is a retro UK sweet that's traditionally pink, not blue.  I'd never even tried it before, but I loved the way it looked when I first saw it on Pinterest.  

The other thing I loved about this Coconut Ice was just how easy it was to make - it only has 4 ingredients!  Oh so simple!

Coconut Ice is a sweet and chewy coconut square that lasts a week or so when stored in the fridge.  I've been told by several friends that this recipe tastes just like the real stuff they remember from their childhood.



Coconut Ice 

Ingredients:

3 1/2 cups (560g) Icing Sugar  
2 1/2 cups (200g) Shredded (Desiccated) Coconut  
395g Can Sweetened Condensed Milk  
1 tsp Vanilla Extract  
Food colouring (traditionally pink, but you can use any colour you feel like)  

Instructions:

1. Line the base and sides of a deep (4cm+) 19cm square dish with plastic cling wrap  
2. Sift the icing sugar into large bowl. Stir in the coconut, condensed milk and vanilla extract.
3. Press half the mixture firmly into the base of the pan.  Work the food colouring into the remaining mixture, kneading well in order to distribute the colour.  Press the coloured layer evenly over the white layer.  
4. Refrigerate for 3 hours or until firm.  Remove the coconut ice from tray, peel away the cling wrap, and cut into squares.  The coconut ice will keep for a week if stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.



And if your wondering about the cute little stuffed dog in the pictures, it was one of several that my husbands cousin made to help decorate the baby shower.  I think they were Kath Kidston designs that she got from a craft magazine.  Pretty cute huh?

Friday, 6 April 2012

Making Your Own Easter Chocolates

A couple of weeks ago while I was away on holiday introducing my 7 month old son to his grandparents in Canada, the lovely folks over at Lakeland contacted me to see if I'd like to try some of their new Easter chocolate making supplies.  Heck yeah!  I love making my own chocolate, and used to do it all of the time back in Canada.  In fact, one of the places on my "to go list" while I was back home was my local cake and chocolate supply store so I could pick up some chocolate making supplies.  So you know what that means - obviously the people at Lakeland are mind readers!  


What a nice surprise it was coming home to a big box full of chocolate making goodies!  There were several different chocolate moulds - little ducks (complete with bow ties), bunny pops, bunnies, ducks and eggs, and an extra large egg mould.  There was also a chocolate melting pot, some cute little treat boxes and a super helpful silicone spatula with a built in thermometer - intended for chocolate making, but I think it would be perfect for custard type recipes.  I didn't even know such a thing existed! 



There was so many fun goodies to play with, it was hard to decide what to make first.  I settled on the little ducks so that I could play around with the coloured Wilton candy melts that I had accumulated over the past few months.

The green duck mould is a Lakeland exclusive.  The ducks themselves were quite a bit larger than the ones in the mixed Easter shape mould (containing bunnies, ducks and eggs) by Silkomat.  The design of Lakeland's green duck mould gives a more childish feel to the characters compared to the Silkomat mould.  It also provides a bit more depth to the ducks as well, which means that you can have some real fun decorating the chocolates using different colours of candy melts like I did.  



I often use little brushes to paint the coloured chocolates into my moulds, but I couldn't find any laying around so instead I just used some toothpicks to "paint" the small areas with the coloured candy melts and this seemed to work just fine.  I used some regular chocolate in the red melting pot to fill the bunny and smaller duck moulds.  It was really quite useful, although a bit small so I would have to refill it numerous times if I used it for some of the larger chocolates.


Both of these moulds had a nice smooth silicone finish on the inside which allowed for the chocolates to come away effortlessly, and also provided a smooth and shiny finish.



I packed the ducks and bunnies into the little treat boxes that Lakeland sent so I could give them for the kids at the BBQ we're going to on the weekend.  Each treat box holds about 3 of the larger ducks, or 5 of the smaller bunnies.


As for the bunny pop mould....  Well to be honest the design kind of creeped me out a bit with it's squiggly mouth, so I changed the mouth design using some melted chocolate into something a little less off putting.   I was also surprised to discover that the mould was made of metal.  I've never seen a chocolate mould like this one before - it was almost like a teeny tiny non-stick baking pan of mini bunny heads (I forgot to take a picture of this).  I made half of the bunnies using plain white chocolate melts and the other half using a combination of white melts and confetti melts. When it came time to remove the bunnies from the moulds, they didn't come out nearly as easily as the ones from the silicone moulds.  In fact, out of the 6 bunnies I made only 3 came out in tact as the top layer of the other 3 stuck to the mould.  If the mould was made of silicone or clear plastic it would have been flexible enough to twist and release the bunny pops.  Oh well, the kids that I'm giving them to won't even notice!



The giant Easter egg mould, and trays of mini eggs were closer to the types of chocolate moulds I've used in the past.  I like these types of moulds the best because they're see through which allows me to look at the bottom of the mould in order to ensure that my chocolates don't have any air bubbles in them.  There's nothing worse than an air bubble on the surface of your chocolates.  You can get rid of air bubbles by tapping your filled chocolate moulds on a hard surface like the counter top.  Do this several times and you'll be able to see them rise to the surface and pop.  This will also help to level out and spread your chocolate to all areas of the mould.



The giant and mini eggs were easy to make since I was only using one type of Chocolate.  I used Waitrose own brand milk chocolate because it would taste a lot nicer than the Wilton candy melts.  The only issue was that it was that the chocolate quite soft, especially considering my flat was so warm that it was hard to touch the eggs without them starting to melt.  I filled my giant egg with some of the smaller eggs, a few ducks and I threw in some Easter Peanut Butter M&M eggs for a bit of added colour.  


After I took these pictures I re-chilled my giant egg and made a few more ducks and chocolate mini eggs to put inside before I glued the 2 halves together with some meted chocolate.  I wrapped a blue sheer ribbon around the egg to hide where the two halves met, which really polished off the look.  Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture!  I didn't use the thermo spatula this time, but I can definitely see it coming in handy for loads of other things so I will let you know how I get on with it soon! 


Thanks again to Lakeland for letting me have a play around with all their fun Easter stuff! I had a great time making these chocolate, and my family and friends will no doubt have a great time eating them! 

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Easter Egg Surprise Cakes


What kid doesn't love Easter?  With the promise of dozens of little chocolate eggs left scattered around the house, Easter is like a pastel version of Halloween.  You're pretty much guaranteed to get a whack load of chocolate, but you don't even need to go knocking on doors to get it!

When I was a kid one of my favourite things to do around the Easter holidays (in addition to eating chocolate), was dying Easter eggs.  There was nothing funner than mixing up mugs of coloured water and dunking plain boring white eggs into the dye, only to watch them emerge moments later looking fun and colourful.  Within a half hour period we would have a dozen or more hardboiled eggs lined up on the table in a rainbow of colours. What fun!  I'm sure what wasn't fun was the fact that my parents were stuck with a basket full of hard boiled eggs to eat (I didn't like hard boiled back then!)

Photo source

So when my first Easter in the UK rolled around a few years ago, I decided to try and re-create the fun I had as a kid and dye some Easter eggs.  To my surprise I could not find white eggs anywhere!  I mean no where.  I called around to all my local grocery stores, free range egg farms, specialty farm shops, and even Selfridges in London and no one sold white eggs.  Except for duck eggs, and I didn't want a dozen hardboiled duck eggs hanging around.  Even if they were in pretty colours.  After an exhaustive search across the greater London area I discovered that white eggs are pretty much an extinct species in the UK.  It all comes down to a hyped up urban legend way back in the 1970's that brown eggs were healthier than white eggs. Lies I tell you!  All lies!!  White eggs eventually fell out of favour here, which means that the chickens that lay white eggs are no longer kept in the UK - so no more white eggs! :-(

I've since been told that Whole Foods in Kensington, and now Selfridges stock white eggs around Easter for Americans (and Canadians!) so they can dye them just like they do at home.

I haven't had the time to actually get to Whole Food or Selfridges this year, but I still wanted to make some pretty coloured eggs for Easter so I came up with a solution.  Last year I had the idea to bake cake inside eggs.  Yes, that's right.  I baked cake inside of egg shells.  I got the inspiration for my egg cakes from baking cake inside of oranges - something I used to do when I was a kid in girl guides.  This year I went one step further, and instead of baking just a boring white cake inside of my eggs I decided to dye my batter pretty colours in order to fill my coloured Easter egg void.  


I loved the way these turned out!  Just by looking at them you'd never guess that they weren't your regular run of the mill brown egg.  Only up closer inspection will you find the hole in the bottom of the egg where I poured the cake batter.  Try and crack them, and you'll be in for an even bigger surprise!

These eggs are really fun and easy to make, but they are a bit time consuming to empty out before you can fill them with cake batter.  I decided to try out a white cake recipe from a new cupcake book that I had just bought.  While I did really like the flavour and texture of the cupcake (I made a dozen egg cakes and used the rest of the batter for cupcakes), the batter itself was a bit thicker than I had imagined which meant that it was a bit tricky to actually get into the egg - but I came up with a solution for that (I'll explain below).

What I think the best part of these cake eggs is (aside from the fact that they're cake filled eggs) is that they're basically a mini cake in it's own container!  How cute would these be to include in your kids lunch box!  They'd probably think you'd gone mental packing a hard boiled egg inside their lunch and not a cookie or something like that.  Come to think of it, I should have got this post up for April Fools Day!  (Lack of sleep and a 2 week holiday have resulted in a bit of a blog delay).  Oh well, ho hum.  Make them now and surprise your friends and family with them this week instead.


To make these cake eggs you'll need a few things - eggs (duh!), something sharp to poke a hole in the shell (I started off using the tip of a meat thermometer, but found a corkscrew worked better), food dye, and cake batter either from scratch or a mix. You decide.


Easter Egg Surprise Cakes

Classic White Cupcakes

Ingredients:

2 3/4 Cups (345g) Flour
3 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
3/4 Cup (170g) Butter
1 2/3 Cups (375g) Sugar
5 Egg Whites
2 1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract (I used Coconut Extract)
1 1/4 Cups (295ml) Whole Milk


12 Eggs (or more if you'd like), emptied
Food colourings of your choice

Instructions:

1.  First you'll need to empty out your eggs.  Start by holding a raw egg firmly in your hand with the bottom (the wider end) facing up.  Using a corkscrew or something else sharp and pointy, carefully but firmly start to make a hole in your egg by twisting / "drilling" into the shell.  Once you create a small hole, you can gently pry little pieces of the shell up and off of the egg until you've got a hole wide enough to get your batter into.  


Next you'll have to actually empty the egg.  Do this by holding the egg upside down over a bowl** and give it a few god shakes.  The egg white inside will start to drool out of the hole.  You can basically pull the liquid egg out from the shell by poking a toothpick through the liquid white dangling out of the egg and pull down.  Do this a few more times, give the egg another shake or two and it should be totally emptied out.  Set your egg aside and continue to empty all of your eggs in the same way.   

Once all of your eggs have been emptied, give them a rinse by holding them under the tap and filling them with water.  Cover the hole with the tip of your finger, give them a few shakes and dump the water out.  Turn your eggs upside down and set them aside in a large bowl, or on top of a tea towel so all of the water runs out.

**Tip: To avoid wasting the eggs, use a few small bowls and empty 2 - 3 eggs into each bowl. This makes them easier to use in recipes later on.  Have a think about what you'll be making in the next day or so, and portion out your eggs accordingly.

2.  Preheat oven to 350ºF (175ºC).  In order to prepare your cupcake pan to hold the eggs, you'll need to twist strips of tin foil into circles and place them in the bottom of each section of the pan.  This will ensure that your eggs stay in place and don't lean on the side of the pan.  Line another cupcake pan with regular cupcake liners.  Set both pans aside.

3.  Combine the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.  In a large bowl, beat the butter for 30 seconds using an electric mixer.  Gradually add the sugar 1/3 cup at a time, beating well after each addition.  Continue to beat for 4 minutes longer.  Add the whites, one at a time and beat well after each addition.  Beat in vanilla.  On low speed, add the flour mixture and milk alternating between the two.  Beat until just combined.

4.  Decide on how many colours of cake you would like to make, and set out a small bowl for each colour.  Assuming you are making 4 colours, pour about a 1/3 cup of batter into each bowl and add a few drops of food colouring to each until you achieve your desired colour.  Pour each bowl of coloured batter into a piping bag (or ziplock bag with the corner cut off).  Fill your hollow eggs by inserting the tip of the piping bag into the hole and squeezing the batter into the egg so it fills the egg 1/2 - 2/3 full.  Place the filled eggs into your prepared cupcake pan, hole side up.  Use the rest of the batter to make regular cupcakes (unless you want to make more egg cakes!)

5.  Bake the egg cakes for about 10 minutes, or until they're done - you can insert a toothpick into them if your not sure.  Bake your regular cupcakes for 18 - 20 minutes.  Cool in the pan for 5 minutes before moving to wire racks. 

**Don't panic if the batter overflows from your egg cakes and bakes onto the outside of the shell.  You can easily peel the baked cake off the outside of the egg shell, and use a damp cloth to wipe off any remaining cake and crumbs.  Some of mine looked more like egg volcano science experiments before I wiped them clean. 

That's it really!  These are a bit time consuming because you have to hollow out the shells, but they're pretty cool once they're baked.  Hand them out to your unsuspecting family and friends, and watch their amazement as they crack open and peel these little cakes!


I took my egg cakes one step further and used a straw to hollow out the centre of a few of them so I could fill them with a lemon curd yolk!  You could do the same with icing if you wanted, but I thought a lemony yolk was a nice surprise.
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