Friday, 16 January 2015

My first Blogiversary


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Happy new year everyone and Happy first birthday to my blog! Chow At Home turns 1 year old!

Apologies, I have not been blogging recently. I fell ill with the cold for the past couple of weeks and haven’t been feeling like myself. Anyways, I'm better now, and just in time to celebrate and look over my first year writing this blog. I can also sneak in a recap of the Christmas period (that I was meant to have done by now) in here too!

I made a mini blueberry and lemon birthday cake for my blog. I used my Blueberry muffin recipe and made a Bero lemon buttercream to go with it. Not tried this combo before as I normally eat the muffin on its’ own but it worked beautifully together and was absolutely delicious!


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I started writing my blog ‘Chow At Home’ to share my love of making (and eating) food. It led on from Instagram users requesting recipes of things I had baked and shared on my Instagram (@zoetcm).

I also created a Facebook page to go along with my blog. If you haven’t already, you can ‘like’ and keep updated with ‘Chow At Home’ :-)


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2014

I've really enjoyed sharing my baking Recipes with you. These take up the majority of my blog. I did blog some cooking recipes but it’s clear to see by the number of recipes that my interest in baking is greater! Really chuffed that some of these were tried and liked by readers. That’s what this blog is here for!

Alongside posting recipes, I have wrote some restaurant Reviews on this blog. I didn’t write as many reviews as I wanted too. Certainly not of all the places I did go and eat at this year!

I took part in What I Ate Wednesday a few times. However, I didn’t really get into this or keep it going.

Anyways, here are some of my favourite baking recipes over the year:


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I really enjoy attending food making workshops. They can be expensive so I make use of offers (like Groupon) when I can. I’ve learnt how to make bread (one of the best things I’ve ever done!) and chocolate in the past. I managed to do two workshops this year. Chocolate making with Kenspeckle and sausage making with Northumberland Sausage Company. Both were really good fun! I thoroughly recommend them.


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I went to a couple of food festivals: Tynemouth and Sunderland. We’ve been to the NE Chilli festival before but didn’t manage to go this year. The food stalls do get a bit samey after you’ve been to a few food festivals but the cooking demos are always new and interesting.

The best thing we got to do was at the Sunderland food festival. We took part in the ‘Frugal chicken’ class (which was free), where we were shown how to joint a chicken with minimum wastage, jointed one for ourselves, and got to take it all home!


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It was a busy Summer with family visiting from India and America. Of course, I had to bake some of my signature bakes for them! ;-) We took my family round a number of places, including local sights in Newcastle and surrounding coastal area. We also made trips to Alnwick and Edinburgh, Scotland.

As well as lots of fun and food, it was so lovely to meet my cousins’ children and get to spend some quality time with family who I don’t get to see often.


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We celebrated our two year wedding anniversary with a mini road trip adventure to Wales. We camped in the South for a few days and then in the North east for a few days.

We did a lot of sightseeing (mainly castles) and some camp cooking, sampled Welsh cuisine and had a wonderful anniversary gourmet meal at Park House in Cardiff.

We were so lucky with the weather. It was red hot the whole time, whilst it had been awful in the run up to our trip. Wales is a beautiful country and we definitely would like to return. For me, this holiday beat the previous year when we went to Tenerife by a mile! It goes to show that you don’t have to travel abroad for the typical sunny beach holiday to have the best time.


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Towards the end of the year, I started to turn my focus from baking great tasting cakes to decorating awesome looking cakes. I already had a repertoire of celebration cakes that I had tested and knew tasted good. So, I became more interested in making them look pretty!

It started with me wanting to do something special for my cousin’s 30th. I set myself the challenge of working with modelling sugar paste for the first time and created a unique and personalised veggie patch cake for her. My father-in-law’s duck hunting themed cake followed shortly afterwards, of which I was extremely proud of.

I then fancied decorating with buttercream and got into it using Wilton piping tips and techniques. Buttercream rosettes using a Wilton 1M/2D piping tip for the win! If you haven’t tried these yet, get yourself one and have a go. So easy yet so pretty and effective!


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At the end of the year, in November, I received my first ever cake order! This was very exciting for me! I had only ever made cakes for family/friends/work colleagues voluntarily. I love to bake and share what I bake with others. I also didn’t know whether my bakes were good enough to sell and how to start going about selling them.

It took me by surprise but I was really pleased when I was asked by my friend to make some Superhero themed cupcakes for her partner’s birthday party. Thanks Gemma! I then was pleasantly surprised again, when I got my second cake order from a work colleague for his cycling club fundraiser in December. I hopefully will get to do more cake decorating and sell my bakes in the year to come.


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The end of the year was a busy one for us. We cooked Christmas dinner for my family on Christmas eve. December is always a busy time for us. As well as Christmas, it’s Leigh’s birthday and mine too. And this year, I turned 30!

For my 30th, I was treated to a lovely meal at Peace & Loaf in Jesmond. This was followed by a surprise birthday party the following day. My mother-in-law made my cute owls birthday cake. You can contact her on Homemade Cakes by Sandra Facebook page if you're interested in ordering a custom cake from her.

I had a lovely night spent with family and friends. Especially as it was a few days after Christmas and before New year’s eve – thanks to everyone who made the effort – I really appreciate it. And thanks to my hubby and bestie Tor for organising the party!


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2015

I have had a great year of foodie adventures in 2014. What does Chow At Home’s second year hold?

I hope to:

- Blog more frequently. Including writing more restaurant reviews.
- Streamline and refine the blog. Make it look better and be more accessible.
- Read other foodie blogs. There are people I follow on Instagram who I’d like to start reading their blogs regularly.
- Improve my cake decorating skills.
- Get serious and try to sell my cakes and bakes!

Thank you for reading / liking / following / commenting. For your all-round support & inspiration that keeps me and this blog going! Love to you guys :-D

Let's make 2015 even better - Keep baking! x

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Gingerbread


Christmas is coming! My fave bake this year for Christmas has been gingerbread.

I’ve tried a few different recipes and have found Rachel Allen’s to be the best. I first tried it a few months ago and made Halloween gingerbread. They went down really well. I planned to make some more again at Christmas time. And these went down a storm again.


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I got to try making and piping royal icing for the first time. I use this kidspot.com.au recipe. I don’t know why I’ve waited so long to use royal icing. It’s not difficult to make, looks and keeps better on biscuits compared to glace icing. I will be using it all the time now!



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Ingredients

300g (11oz) butter
125g (4 1/2oz) caster sugar
125g (4 1/2oz) soft dark brown sugar
225g (8oz) golden syrup or treacle, (I use half of each)
725g (11lb 9oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Method

1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter together with the sugars and golden syrup or treacle.
Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda with the ground ginger and cinnamon into a large bowl.
Add the melted mixture to the dry mixture and mix together.
2. Knead the mixture for a few seconds until it all comes together.
Flatten the dough slightly into a round about 2cm (3/4 inch) thick.
Wrap with cling film and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
3. Whilst the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) / Gas mark 4.
Line two baking trays with parchment paper.
4. Remove the dough from the fridge.
Dust the work surface with flour and roll out the dough to about 5mm (1/4 inch) thick.
Cut out the shapes using cookie cutters and transfer onto the lined baking trays.
5. Bake in the oven for 12 minutes, or until they are slightly firm and drier on top, a little darker around the edges.
Allow the shapes to firm up on the trays for a few minutes then place them on a wire rack to cool.
When they have cooled, they can be iced, if you wish.


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Royal Icing

Ingredients

1 egg white
1 tsp lemon juice
1 1/2 cups icing sugar, sifted


Method

1. Using an electric mixer, whisk egg white with the lemon juice until combined.
2. Gradually add in sifted icing sugar on low speed until smooth.
3. Add food colour of your choice.
4. Pipe onto gingerbread.
Leave for 2-3 hours to set hard.
Use immediately or transfer to an airtight container as this icing hardens when exposed to air.

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Saturday, 13 December 2014

Longhorns Barbecue Smokehouse


How’s your Christmas shopping going? We started ours last Sunday. After a successful day in town, we stopped at Longhorns Barbecue Smokehouse. We've heard a good things about this fairly new eaterie. So were really looking forward to this meal.

You can't make bookings here and over the course of our visit, it was clear to see why. There is not a lot of sitting and seems to be a very busy place. We were happy to wait for a table though and seating for the two of us did open up shortly. There are large communal tables downstairs if you're happy to sit by other people.

Onto the menu and ordering food/drinks. We were told that there were no more ribs and chicken wings, nor hog rind. This was such a shame as we were hoping to get the ribs (before getting there). The menu is compact to start with - so it seemed poor that some of the food offered wasn't available - therefore the menu was made even more limiting.

The prices of food seemed reasonable for what you get. However, the cost of the drinks is seriously overpriced. I got a can of cream soda, which cost £3! I felt begrudged paying this much for fizzy pop. Leigh got Jakehead IPA (Wylam Brewery) for £4.50, which not as overpriced as mine, was still a bit on the pricy side. Though Leigh did like it that there was a local beer on the menu.


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We both ordered a BBQ board each and between us got to sample 3 of the 5 meats on the menu (2 were sold out). The brisket was really tasty (the best bit), the pork was soft and moist but not that flavourful, and the Andouille sausage was alright. We tried all the sides (apart from Hog rind which was sold out). The fries were decent but we didn’t rate the coleslaw or the bean chilli much. You can get 3 meats and 2 sides for a tenner, which is reasonable for the quality.


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A family sat down on the table beside ours shortly after we had sat down. They had already ordered their drinks then went to order the food. They retuned to the table and we overheard them saying that there was virtually no food left, including the one vegetarian option, which was also sold out. They were clearly unhappy and left without finishing their drinks. It is a little concerning why they weren’t told about the food situation before they ordered their drinks. The customer service and care didn’t come across very well.

Food is constantly being cooked 24/7 and talking to the staff, it was clear that they have been unable to cook enough food to meet the demand. Often selling out way before closing hours. I think if they manage to sort out this problem then they are onto a winner! If they don’t, then I’m afraid they may lose customers if they keep disappointing people and turning them away.

We would return, as want to try the things we didn’t get to have today. Pork ribs in particular and the chicken wings (a staff member also recommended the beef ribs). But we will try to get there earlier rather than later, in the hope that the food hasn’t sold out yet that day! The staff member (who had been very helpful during our visit) advised us that the best time to get their food at its’ best is during the week at lunchtime. We are going to try here again very soon at these recommended times!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Be-Ro Chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream


At the end of last month, It was my work colleague's last day.  I'm known for my bakes at work, so a homemade chocolate cake was fitting for a parting gift. He has always been a really supportive co-worker. Over the years, I have learnt a lot about youth work from him.

I used Be-Ro recipes for both the cake and the buttercream. I made a naked two-tier cake (like I normally would) and was going to leave it as it was. However,  by the next day, I was unhappy with the way it looked (so ugly!), so decided to cover it all with the chocolate buttercream.


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My second attempt at crumb-coating a tiered cake. I also piped some buttercream stars around the top of cake (using a Wilton star tip), as well as gave it a few sprinkles. Think it looks much better for it!


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I was pleased that I decided to cover the cake and add extra decoration. It was also extra practice in cake decorating for me! My co-worker was really touched by the cake :–)


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For the 2 sandwich chocolate cakes

Ingredients
200g (7 oz) Self-raising flour
25g (1 oz) cocoa powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
75g (3 oz) plain chocolate, broken into pieces
275g (10 oz) light brown sugar
50g (2 oz) butter, at room temperature
3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
150ml (1/4 pt) sour cream
75ml (3 fl oz) milk

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 160°C fan / 180°C conventional / gas 4.
Grease and line the base of s 2 x 23 cm (9 inch) sandwich tins.
2. Sift the flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a bowl and set aside.
3. Place chocolate into a microwave-safe bowl.
Heat in the microwave for 30 seconds intervals, stirring after each 30 seconds, until melted.
4. Cream sugar and butter together in another bowl.
5. Gradually add the eggs, with a little of the flour mixture after each addition.
6. Stir in the vanilla, sour cream, milk and melted chocolate.
7. Pour the mixture into the tins and bake for 30 minutes,
or until firm and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
8. Cool completely before icing the cakes.

For the chocolate buttercream

Ingredients
100g (4 oz) butter, at room temperature
220g (8 oz) icing sugar, sieved
2 tbsp cocoa powder, sieved
4 tsp hot water

Method
1. Beat butter until soft.
2. Gradually beat in icing sugar and cocoa powder then the water.


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Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Fig Almond Cake and Fig Chocolate Slice


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Parents got me many fresh figs on the cheap (4 for 23p)! I’ve never used fresh figs in baking and wanted to try a few experiments. Two out of three experiments were a success. Here, I am sharing the recipes for Fig almond cake and Fig chocolate slice. These turned out well and the evidence disappeared quickly at work!

I chose to use this Nestle recipe for Fig almond cake. I normally have condensed milk in the cupboard/fridge so this is a good way of using it up. I really enjoyed the taste and texture of this Fig almond cake. I didn’t have any flaked almonds to put on top so left them out. However, I think they would have added another tasty dimension to the cake.

I used this Taste.com.au recipe for Fig chocolate slice. People were surprised and couldn't tell that there were figs in the brownie-like Fig chocolate slice. Apart from the occasional crunch from the fig seeds, you wouldn’t know there was something very healthy in it. A great way to sneak goodness into a very chocolaty indulgent treat!

The original recipe for Fig chocolate slice is served warm with a Brown sugar cream. I didn’t make the cream but you may want to give it a go. I ate mine at room temperature but imagine it would be nice warmed up too.


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I made a few cupcakes out of the Fig cake mixture. I had leftover caramel buttercream icing leftover so used it up on these cupcakes. I use this recipe for caramel buttercream icing that goes well with chocolate cake. I let the caramel icing cool down and harden at room temperature. I then beat it with a hand-held mixer which loosens the hard icing. It becomes more like a buttercream consistency which you can pipe easily onto cupcakes. I had a go at trying different piping techniques with my new Wilton ruffle 125 piping tip.

Leigh really enjoyed these cupcakes. The Fig cake pairs well with the caramel buttercream.


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So, here are the recipes for both Fig almond cake and Fig chocolate slice.
Starting with the Fig almond cake…



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Ingredients

¾ cup butter (150 g), softened
½ cup (100 g) caster sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 tin (397 g) condensed milk
1½ cups (210 g) plain flour
½ cup (50 g) ground almonds
1 teaspoon baking powder
1½ cups (300 g) fresh figs, peeled and chopped
¼ cup (25 g) flaked almonds, optional

 

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C.
Grease and line a 23 x 28 cm baking tin.
2. Mix in a bowl the butter and sugar until well combined.
Add eggs, vanilla and condensed milk then mix to combine all together.
3. Add flour, ground almonds and baking powder then mix until well combined.
4. Fold the figs into the mixture and pour mixture into the tin.
Sprinkle flaked almonds on top, if using.
5. Bake in oven for 35-40 minutes,
or until when inserting a skewer in the centre comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and cool completely.

 
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And followed by the recipe for Fig chocolate slice…
 

 




Ingredients
200g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
150g butter, cubed
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs, whisked
250g fresh figs, peeled and finely chopped
3/4 cup self-raising flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder

Method
1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
Line base and sides of 4.5cm (deep), 18cm (base) square cake tin with baking paper.
2. Place chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl.
Microwave, stirring every 30 seconds, until melted and smooth.
3. Stir in sugar and vanilla. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool.
4. Stir egg and fig into chocolate mixture.
5. Sift flour and cocoa over mixture. Stir until well combined.
6. Spread chocolate mixture into prepared pan.
7. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out slightly sticky.
Slice should be set and have a crust, but still be a little soft inside.
8. Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely in tin.
Cut into 16 slices.

 
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Friday, 7 November 2014

Date & Walnut Chew Bars


I had a packet of walnuts that needed using up.  When looking for a recipe, I came across a tray bake with an unusual name – ‘Chinese Chews’. On further research, I couldn't find out much more about the origin of the name. No one seems to know where it has come from.

Anyways, I liked the sound and look of them and decided on using this Chinese Chews recipe.  I don’t think I've had anything like it before. Don’t know why they’re called what they’re called – didn't think they were particularly Chinese! However, I found this to be an easy-to-make and delicious tray bake (the flavours of dates and walnuts marry well together) with a surprisingly good texture (chewy from the dates with bits of crunch from the walnuts). I definitely recommend making this!


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Ingredients
3/4 cup plain flour
1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup dates, chopped
1 cup walnuts, chopped
3 eggs, well-beaten
Icing sugar, for topping if using 
Method
1. Preheat oven to 150° C.
Grease and line an 8 x 12-inch pan.
 2. Combine flour, caster sugar, baking powder and salt.
Sift into a medium sized mixing bowl.
3. Stir the dates, walnuts and eggs into the dry ingredients.
Make sure ingredients are well combined – the batter will be sticky.
4. Spread the batter out into the prepared pan.
5. Bake for 30 minutes,
or until top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
6. Cool completely and cut into squares.
7. Dust with icing sugar, as desired.



 
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Monday, 6 October 2014

Rose Cake


As much as I enjoyed making sugar models for my previous two birthday cakes (1 & 2), I wanted to take a break from modelling (it does get pretty intense consuming your life!). And try my hand at something else in the cake decorating world.

I’ve not worked with buttercream decorations much before. With my friend Nichola’s 30th birthday coming up, I fancied having a go at decorating a cake with buttercream roses. I’ve seen these a lot online but didn’t know how to make them. With a bit of research, I discovered that it wasn’t so much a technique but more of an essential piece of equipment! This being a Wilton 1M or Wilton 2D piping tip. So I ordered both and looked forward to making my own buttercream rosettes!


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Image taken from Wilton 



As well as purchasing the Wilton piping tips, I got myself a cake decorating turntable. I’ve always wanted to get one and it is the best help!

I started off making my Triple layer chocolate cake with caramel icing. I then gave my cake a ‘crumb coat’ with Vanilla buttercream. This was the first time I’ve covered a  cake as I normally leave them ‘naked’. Not perfectly smooth but I was happy with my first try.

The crumb coat is essential for ensuring that there are no cake crumbs showing when you pipe your buttercream decorations on. It also gives a good surface for the buttercream to stick too. And as I found out, it means you can easily scrape off any buttercream decoration that you’re unhappy with, without taking off any of the cake.

I chilled this for half an hour to help it set. Next time, I’ll go over the crumb coat again after chilling with a hot pallete knife to get it smoother.


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I ended up with 6 cupcakes from leftover cake batter. I used these to practice piping buttercream roses.
I planned to have a red swirl effect rose on my cake. I wanted the roses to go with the ‘30’ candles, which were a white colour with red outline. But due to mis-planning of the amount of buttercream needed to cover a three-tiered cake in roses (you need a lot!) - combined with removing roses and starting again several times (I'm a perfectionist!) – I ended up with a peachy pink due to the red food colouring mixing completely with the buttercream. Which ended up being a very pleasant colour!

Anyways, you achieve a coloured swirl by painting lines of food colouring down your piping bag. Add buttercream and pipe as normal.

Gel food colouring is the best and I recommend Squires or Wilton brands. Gel tends to be better than liquid food colouring because you need a lot less, so it achieves a better colour, without affecting the taste or texture of what you are colouring. I have used Squires gel food colouring to colour flower paste for my models/cake toppers. And I used Wilton gel food colouring to colour this buttercream.


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It took a bit of practice but once you’ve got the knack - it’s fairly quick and a breeze to pipe buttercream rosettes!



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I was pleased with the finished product as it makes for a ‘Wow’ celebration cake without too much work. Nichola and friends were impressed with the cake :-)


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I don’t normally pair vanilla buttercream with chocolate cake but found it worked well here. I would use this combo again.


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My mother-in-law Sandra has been making and decorating cakes for a long time. You can check out her creations on her FB page here. Anyways, she asked me to show her how to pipe buttercream roses, as she’d never done it before. So, I took round my piping tips and we had a go using cream cheese icing and purple food colouring. The icing was a bit wetter and looser than buttercream so didn’t pipe or set as well. But we managed to get some roses out of it. It was great getting to teach her something new!



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Since making this cake, I’ve been looking at other ways of decorating with buttercream. There are a few new techniques that I want to try and I’ve already ordered the Wilton piping tips needed. So, watch this space for hopefully more prettily decorated cakes with buttercream.