Wednesday, April 30, 2014

My Beekeeper's Quilt

My blog may be about my escapades in the kitchen, but cooking isn't my only skill, I am also a keen knitter.  For the past few months I've been working on a project called The Beekeeper's Quilt - so called because it is made up of lots (384 to be precise) of individual 'honeycombs' or 'hexipuffs'.  These are knitted individually and stuffed meaning you end up with a wonderfully puffy quilt at the end.

My Beekeeper's Quilt
This isn't the first blanket I've knitted since I've been at uni, I also knitted one during my second year and I have to say it was one of the things which kept me sane during my exams.  There's something about knitting which helps me to relax and switch off from work for a little while - a great way to break up revision.  I remember hearing about a woman who said that when she was under pressure she knitted to help her calm down and that as a result she had a jumper for every year she spent at university.  Well it seems that I have done a similar thing, except with blankets!

I bought this pattern a couple of years ago but what with spending a year in Germany I didn't get round to starting it until last September.  The great thing about this project is that you can use up yarn that you've got lying around.  It's recommended that you use sock yarn but double knit would also work (so long as you figure out your tension correctly) and stick with broadly the same type of yarn.

This project has been perfect as I have been able to pick it up and put it down as and when I have the time (which has varied given that I am in my final year at university).  Since you knit each hexipuff individually you don't have to worry about losing your place in a pattern, it's super-easy to work out where you left off.

So 7 months and 384 hexipuffs later, I have finally finished the project.  One of the clever things about this quilt is that rather than laboriously sewing every hexipuff together along the seams you simply tie them together at the corners, meaning the blanket is not only relatively quick to assemble but also quite flexible too.  However, I have realised that my knots come apart quite easily so any suggestions for better knots are much appreciated!

Starting to assemble my blanket
To try and make sure the distribution of colours looked random I divided the blanket into six sections and tried to put a roughly equal number of each colour hexipuff into each section.  I then arranged my hexipuffs working my way from the centre of the blanket out to the edges.  This took a while as my hexipuffs weren't all of exactly even size - knitting nearly 400 to exactly the same tension is challenging - so I had to keep swapping them around to make them fit together, but I finally managed and I'm glad I took the time to arrange them properly.

Arranging my hexipuffs
As you can see I didn't really go with a colour scheme, but that's the beauty of this blanket, you really can use any wool.  I'm glad it's finished and I know that whenever I use it I will think of this year, all my wonderful friends and all the memories that I made.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Local treasures - Pigeon pot

There's a story behind this dish.  I've been on a hunt to find great local shops where I can find tasty produce for my food.  I've already mentioned the Cambridge Cheese Company in a previous post and this time I've got a new shop to tell you about.  It's called the Cambridge Farmer's Outlet and it's located on the corner of Lensfield Road.  As its name suggests, it sells produce from local farms in Cambridge, from fruit and veg to meat, eggs and cheese.

The Cambridge Farmers' Outlet shop front
As well as buying some eggs, cheese and mushrooms I also decided to give myself a challenge and cook something a little different for dinner for dinner.  In a chiller at the back of the shop I found a few shelves full of some more unusual meats including pheasant and duck, however I went for the pack of four pigeon breasts.

Four breasts was plenty of meat for two people.  I have to admit that I used microwave mash as I only have one hob and I didn't have a lot of time to cook this meal.  I fried some sliced mushrooms and an onion in a pan along with a couple of diced carrots.  When they were done I transferred the veg to a saucepan and added a tin of red kidney beans (which I had drained and rinsed) as well as half a can of tomatoes.  I heated everything over a medium heat until it was simmering and then added the pigeon breasts.  I then simmered everything for 15 minutes until I thought the breasts were fully cooked.  This was a little too long and the pigeon was a little overdone, however, as I had never cooked it before I wanted to err on the side of caution.

Pigeon is an interesting meat and I would definitely try it again, however, I imagine it would work better being roasted or seared and then finished off in an oven.  I would definitely recommend experimenting with new ingredients, especially if you have access to such a good source of local, fresh produce.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Brunch time!

It's time for another brunch post!  With the weekend not far off it's the perfect time to start thinking about what you'll be eating.

I love this time of year, the weather is improving, spring is in the air and asparagus is in season!  So I made a deliciously simple brunch made from asparagus, pancetta and eggs.

Asparagus, pancetta and eggs - simply delightful!
First of all fry the pancetta.  You don't need to use any oil - the pancetta is fatty enough on its own.  Once it is brown and starting to go crispy put the asparagus stems into the pan.  Fry them, making sure to turn them regularly so that they don't burn.  Finally crack the two eggs over the asparagus, then cover the pan and leave to cook for a couple of minutes until the white is cooked but the yolks are still runny.

The beauty of this dish is its simplicity.  If you don't eat pancetta then you can miss this step, heat some olive oil in the pan and fry the asparagus.  While the eggs are cooking you can sprinkle on some cheese to give it a little more flavour, I would recommend parmesan.

You could even add some Hollandaise
Asparagus also goes well with poached eggs and bacon or with a simple Hollandaise sauce and it is for that reason that it is one of my favourite brunch ingredients.

Brunch also happens to be my favourite meal.  It's perfect for those lazy weekends when you've slept in past breakfast but want something to eat before midday.  Brunch doesn't have to be just a boring fry up and I'm always looking for new ideas to try out, so if there's something that you love cooking for brunch please comment below, I'd love to hear about it!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter!  In my last post I promised to tell you about my attempts to make some treats in the form of Easter egg cheesecakes!  I came across this idea a week or so ago on a The Londoner and decided to give them a go myself.  Of course Easter wouldn't be complete without a chocolate rabbit (thanks to my family - missing you lots) and hot cross buns which D kindly bought for us from my favourite Cambridge cafe Afternoon Tease (read my review here).

Chocolate egg cheesecakes and hot cross buns
My Easter bunny with his Easter treats
I bought a pack of hollow eggs from M&S, originally designed to be used in an Easter egg hunt, these eggs are a perfect size for the cheesecakes - any larger and they would be too rich and sweet to finish.  The recipe recommends using 6 eggs but I found that there was probably enough mixture left over for around 4 more.  Unfortunately I didn't have any extra eggs (owing to a couple of mishaps when removing the tops) so decided to simply put the rest of the mixture into a couple of ramekins I happened to have.

The accidentally broken chocolate eggs
Although not essential I would advise using an electric mixer for this recipe as you will need to whip 150ml whipping cream until it forms soft peaks - you really would need a lot of strength and patience to do this by hand!  Next mix 150g cream cheese with 30g icing sugar, the juice of 1 lemon and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract.  Combine with the whipped cream and set aside.

There are two ways to cut the tops off your eggs.  If you want them to look a little more authentic then you can do what I did which is carefully crack the top off with a sharp knife to leave a ragged edge.  If you prefer to play things a little safer then run the knife under warm water first and evenly slice the top off.

Use a teaspoon/the end of a spoon to fill your hollow eggs with the cream cheese mixture, then place them in the fridge while you make the yolk.  If you don't have egg cups then just use the carton the eggs came in to keep them upright.

Passion fruit and chocolate - yum!
Squeeze the juice and pips of 1 passion fruits into a bowl, then sieve into a saucepan, getting as much juice out as possible.  Add a tsp of apricot jam and 1tsp butter (about 15g) and melt over a low heat, stirring to combine.

Once melted remove the eggs from the fridge, use the end of a spoon to make a small well in the centre of each egg and pour a little of the passion fruit mixture into each.  Return to the fridge for at least 15 minutes before eating.

The cheesecake mixture and passion fruit yolks in the chocolate eggs
Not your usual box of eggs
Since I had quite a lot of chocolate debris (remember the Easter egg mishaps I mentioned earlier?) I crushed up the leftover chocolate and sprinkled it over the cheesecakes in the ramekins and added a few mini eggs to make them look like nests.

Cheesecake nests
These were great fun to make (if a little fiddly) and are a lovely Easter treat.  I can especially recommend these if you tend to find Cadbury's cream eggs too sweet as the lemon and passionfruit cut through the sweetness of the chocolate slightly to provide a nice balance.  Enjoy the rest of the holiday!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Hot Cross Brunch

I hope you're all having a good Friday and that you haven't already eaten too many hot cross buns, as they feature prominently in today's post and trust me, this is a recipe you're going to want to try for yourself!  I love this time of year and today was perfect.  I woke up to beautiful sunshine and blue skies, the Wisteria in college is in full bloom and spring is definitely in the air!

Hot cross brunch

The Wisteria
Hot cross buns are a staple in my diet around easter but I wanted to make today's extra special, so I present to you french toasted hot cross buns with maple syrup, bacon and scrambled egg.

Unfortunately I don't have an oven in college so I had to use shop-bought hot cross buns.  However, a couple of weeks ago while I was at home I did take the opportunity to make some, so here's a bit about how that went.  Every month in my GoodFood magazine there's a section called 'Maisie makes' the idea being that these recipes are child-friendly.  As I had never made hot cross buns before, this seemed like a good place to start!

Home-made hot cross buns
Home-made hot cross buns
In theory the buns are pretty to make: mix flour, dried yeast, sugar, mixed spice, cinnamon, milk, egg, butter and currants/sultanas, knead and leave the dough to rise.  However, the process became a little tricky around the knead section.  I had an incredibly sticky dough and had to add some more flour, except it didn't really help and I was worried about adding too much extra.  So I left the dough as it was and instead of kneading it on a work surface I cheated and used a mixer with a dough hook!  The dough rose well, however, as it was still very sticky I wasn't quite able to roll it into the lovely round buns shown in the recipe.  Instead mine ended up being somewhat misshapen blobs.

The hot cross buns ready to go in the oven
Ready for the oven!
Undeterred I left them to rise for a second time while making the paste for the crosses which is just a simple mix of flour, sugar and water.  Once risen I piped the crosses onto the buns and popped them in the oven.  Once baked I glazed them with some apricot jam to give them that lovely sheen.

The hot cross buns just out the oven ready to glaze
Just out the oven, ready to glaze
All things considered the buns came out very well.  Aside from the slightly unusual shapes they smelled and tasted exactly like hot cross buns should.  The buns are best eaten warm, not long after they've come out of the oven, with just butter, perfect.

The finished glazed buns
The finished buns nicely glazed
The roundest hot cross bun
The roundest one of the batch!
Now on to my hot cross brunch.  As I said, I was unable to make my own buns for the occasion, so instead I decided to treat myself to M&S's luxury hot cross buns - definitely worth it!

The ingredients
As I only have one hob I prepared the scrambled egg first.  For two portions I beat 3 eggs with a splash of milk.  I then melted some butter in a frying pan over a very low heat.  I then added my eggs and stirred them continuously as they cooked.  If I'm in a hurry I cook scrambled eggs quickly in a hot saucepan, however they are far better cooked slowly over a low heat.  I've heard that if you season scrambled eggs before cooking them then they can go a little dry because of the salt, so I tend to season mine when they're nearly cooked.  I transferred the eggs from the pan to a bowl just before they'd finished cooking and covered them with a plate.  Since I had to cook the hot cross buns and bacon they were going to sit for a few minutes so the plate was to stop them getting cold and by taking them out of the pan a little early they finished cooking in the bowl from the residual heat and were perfect by the time I got them onto the plate.

Butter the buns and sprinkle with cinnamon
I then made my eggy mixture for the french toast part of my brunch.  I beat two more eggs in a bowl along with 100ml milk (this produced enough mixture for 4-6 hot cross buns).  I cut my hot cross buns in half, lightly buttered each half and sprinkled them with ground cinnamon before putting the halves back together again.  I then dipped the 4 hot cross buns into the egg mixture, making sure they were fully coated and that they had soaked up plenty of the mixture.

After dipping I melted some butter in my frying pan over a medium heat and waited until it was nice and hot before adding the hot cross buns.  They need to be fried for a couple of minutes on each side to heat them through and  to allow the outside to brown nicely.  Once they're done, place them on a plate and quickly return the pan to the heat.

Fry the eggy hot cross buns
I then added the ban immediately and quickly cooked it in the leftover fat from the hot cross buns.  Bacon usually releases a lot of fat when it cooks so you should be fine, if the pan does seem to be getting a little dry just add a bit more butter.  For the last 30 seconds add about a tablespoon of maple syrup to the pan - this will give the bacon a great taste and colour.

Once you've got your hot cross buns, eggs and bacon on a plate pour over some more maple syrup and if you want to try and pretend to be healthy then blueberries go amazingly with the hot cross buns.

Hot cross buns with maple syrup and blueberries
And Serve
Needless to say brunch was incredible even if I won't need to eat anything else for a while!  I hope you all have a lovely Easter!  There will be another Easter themed post coming up soon in which I will tell you about my escapades trying to make Easter-themed cheesecakes.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


I'm in my final year at university and with exams not far off I'm getting down to some revision.  As much as I think it's important to have a good diet (not just when you've got exams!) sometimes you need a break from the brain foods (although I do love avocados and blueberries).  So for those moments when you just need a tasty treat my advice is popcorn and not just the boring salty or sweet options (although these are perfectly fine).  I've tried out a couple of more exciting combinations.

I got a popcorn maker at the start of the year.  This may seem extravagant  but I realised that microwave popcorn really is expensive and that I would quickly save the £20 the machine cost me simply because basic popping corn is so much cheaper.  The Andrew James popcorn maker is also a much healthier way of making popcorn as it is air popped (rather than using fat).  You generally need to add a certain amount of butter or oil to get toppings to stick but this way you are in control of exactly how much goes on.  If you don't want to invest in a machine then don't worry, you can also just use a saucepan.

One thing I did learn while preparing this post was how hard it is to photograph popcorn, especially when your bowl is bright green!  I must therefore apologise if the photos don't look as appetising as they could, I will work on my photography skills in future.

The first batch of popcorn I made I flavoured with paprika.  You will be seeing quite a few recipes appearing on my blog which use paprika.  This is because a friend brought a lot of paprika after a visit to Hungary and I decided it was high time to use it.

Hot and sweet paprika

After popping some corn I mixed a couple of teaspoons of sweet paprika with about a tablespoon of olive oil and poured it over the popcorn before mixing in until the popcorn was nicely coated.

Paprika popcorn
Paprika popcorn is very tasty as it is, especially if you are fond of savoury popcorn.  However, we decided to make the popcorn even better by grating some cheddar cheese over the popcorn and microwaving it to melt the cheese.  This was a great idea and made for a very tasty treat.

Paprika popcorn with melted cheese
For those of you who have a sweeter tooth, the next batch of popcorn is for you!  Simply pop some corn and while it's popping melt a tablespoon of butter in a mug in a microwave, then add a teaspoon of cinnamon to the butter and mix it in along with a teaspoon of white caster sugar.  When the popcorn is ready pour over the butter, cinnamon and sugar and mix it in until the popcorn is evenly coated. I have read that cinnamon also works well with honey instead of butter and sugar but have not tried this combination yet!

Cinnamon popcorn
The great thing about popcorn as a snack is that you can use pretty much anything as a topping - I recently tried some salt and pepper popcorn which was interesting and grew on me as a flavour combination the more I ate.  As snacks go, this one is cheap, versatile and most importantly, delicious!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

My go-to meals

Quesadillas and fajitas are two of my go-to meals if ever I need something quick, warm and tasty for dinner.  You can make as much or as little as you like and the fillings are so versatile.  Here is my typical shopping list for these meals:

Wraps (I usually go for the large wraps but small work well if you want a quick lunch)
Chicken (if you're vegetarian large flat mushrooms also work well)
Green and red peppers
Lettuce (baby gem or romane)
Cheese (cheddar)

If I'm making a Fajita I tend to use the spices I already have in my kitchen and my homemade mix usually includes cumin, ground coriander, chilli powder and paprika (plus a pinch of salt).  If you don't have spices lying around then you can always buy a pot of ready-mixed spice.

I start off by chopping up the chicken into chunks and, if I'm making fajitas, I then coat them in the spice mix.  If you have time to leave the chicken to let the spices infuse for a bit that's great, if not don't worry it will still taste good!  Heat some olive oil in a frying pan and fry your chicken until golden/cooked, you can always check by cutting a piece in half to see if it's cooked all the way through.  If you want you can also fry some onions with the chicken.

While my chicken is cooking I usually quickly chop up my salad.  If you're making a quesadilla, once the chicken is done and your salad is prepared get out a clean, non-stick frying pan (or if like me you only have the one wash it up).  Heat the pan but don't put any oil in, once it's hot turn the heat down to medium and place a wrap into it, sprinkle over some grated cheese and allow it to melt before adding the chicken and salad.  Remove the wrap from the pan by sliding it onto a plate and put another wrap in to brown, use this as the top of your quesadilla.

The finished quesadilla

Inside the quesadilla

For fajitas I usually just use an unheated wrap and put my chicken and salad into the centre before folding it in half to make it easier to eat.

You can always add some sour cream/guacamole/salsa if you want to make these dishes a little more exciting, however I much prefer to make these from scratch and there often just isn't time.  If you do fancy making your own check out this blog post.  If you want a slightly fancier variation on this recipe then you can have a look at my other post on fajitas here.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Brunch featuring Eggs Benedict

I have to admit, that the muffins you see in the final picture are not the ones I attempted to make.  I wanted to try the Baker Brothers' spinach muffins because you don't need an oven to cook them, just a frying pan.  However, I couldn't find semolina so I substituted it with breadcrumbs, which meant that the outside of the muffins burnt rather than browned.  However, the hollandaise was successful and tasted great with the shop-bought replacement muffins, poached eggs and smoked salmon.  I will update this post when I next try the muffins, hopefully I will be able to find semolina and they will turn out better than the first attempt!

Eggs royale: English muffins topped with poached eggs, smoked salmon and hollandaise sauce

The hollandaise:
3tbsp white wine vinegar
6 peppercorns
1 dried bay leaf
2 eggs - yolks only
125g butter
lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste

I found that the taste of vinegar in this recipe was a little too strong so my advice would be to reduce it less.  The recipe says to put the vinegar in a small pan with the peppercorns and bay leaf and to reduce it over a high heat until there is only 1 tbsp left, the to remove the bay leaf and peppercorns from the reduction.  Personally I wouldn't reduce it as much.

You can make hollandaise by hand but it's far easier and quicker to use a food processor.
  1. Put the egg yolks in a food processor with the vinegar reduction.
  2. Gently melt the butter so that the solids separate from the liquid.  I then spooned off the solids, trying to take as little of the liquid as possible.
  3. Turn the food processor on slowly and pour the liquid butter on to the egg yolks (my food processor has a nifty attachment on the lid which is designed for making sauces like mayonnaise or this hollandaise.  It means the butter trickles into the food processor slowly and gives you far more control.  At this point the sauce should thicken.  If it is too thick then add a little hot water.
  4. Season with the salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.
The muffins:
I followed the Baker Brothers' spinach English muffins recipe, mixing together butter, sugar milk, dried yeast, nutmeg, fresh spinach and flour, before kneading and leaving to rise.  After they have risen you're meant to tip the sticky dough out onto a work surface, cover with cornmeal or semolina and gently stretch it out before cutting out discs.

The dough
English muffins are cooked in a very hot, dry frying pan for about 5 minutes on each side.

The muffin before it burned
Unfortunately this was the point where it all went wrong and I ended up with a rather burnt muffin.  I did scrape off the burnt  part and try the muffin, which tasted quite good so I will definitely be trying this recipe again and hopefully then I will be able to enjoy the whole muffin!

The poached eggs:
Poaching eggs is one of those skills which every cook should learn at some point.  I've tried poaching eggs without an egg poacher before but the attempt wasn't particularly successful.  However, this time I managed it!  My best advice is to use really fresh eggs as the white is a lot less watery and forms a better poached egg.  Some people say you should add vinegar to the water, others say you should swirl it as you put the eggs in, I didn't do either of these things as I've found it hasn't particularly helped in the past.  I heated a pan of water until it was only just simmering.  I cracked my egg into a cup first as I found it was then easier to pour it into the water, I also tried to use a spoon to make sure the egg white stayed together and coated the yolk.  I then let the egg cook for a few minutes until the white was cooked, but be careful not to leave it in too long otherwise the yolk won't be nice and runny.  I then removed the egg from the pan with a slotted spoon.  I poached two eggs at a time but the number you can make in one go is really only limited by the size of your saucepan.

The poaching eggs

To serve I buttered the muffins, placed a poached egg on one half, some smoked salmon on the other and drizzled them with the hollandaise.  Eggs Benedict or eggs royale as the dish is often called when served with smoked salmon is great to have as a treat for brunch when you want something a little bit more special.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Chocolat Chocolat - Chocolate tasting and making

This week I was invited to attend a chocolate tasting and making course run by a local chocolate shop Chocolat Chocolat and not being one to turn down chocolate I gladly accepted.  I discovered the shop in first year and since then have tried a lot of their products, from their delicious hot chocolate to their Belgian chocolates.
Chocolat Chocolat shop frontChocolat Chocolat interior

The course lasted 2 1/2 hours during which we were given an introduction to chocolate, explaining how it was made, the minimum cocoa content and how to taste it.  Much to my delight plenty of samples were supplied so that we could compare the different flavours.


The session was fun and I even learnt a few new things.  Did you know, for example, that even if you normally get migraines from chocolate, you'll be fine if you eat white chocolate as it only contains cocoa butter and it is the cocoa solids that are the problem?  Or that if you're craving chocolate but don't want to eat too much you should go for a dark chocolate, with a higher percentage of cocoa solids, as they contain the chemical you're craving and thus you will feel satisfied after a much smaller amount?
After the introduction we moved on to the chocolate making!  We learnt how to make a ganache by melting chocolate in a bain-marie (a bowl resting on top of a saucepan of warm water) and once melted, whisking in cream - the more cream the smoother the ganache will be.

We then formed the ganache into small malteser-sized balls.  This is a lot easier said than done.  You are meant to use the tips of your fingers to form the ganache into a ball, however, this is a lot easier if you have cool hands, which I quickly discovered I don't.  It took only a few seconds for my fingers to become coated in chocolate.  I decided that as I wasn't going to be able to complete this task neatly to just go for it and roll the ganache in the palms of my hands as it was far easier and quicker to create balls using this method.  20 minutes later I finished shaping the ganache, hands covered in chocolate but feeling very happy (this could have something to do with the amount of chocolate I had consumed by this point, which contains endorphins - the chemicals which make you happy).

Rolling the ganache in cocoa powder The different toppings

We rolled some of the ganache balls in cocoa powder and left the rest to set for a few minutes.  We then dipped them in a bowl of tempered chocolate before rolling them in a variety of different toppings; dark chocolate sprinkles, coconut, crushed hazelnuts and chocolate shavings.  The chocolates needed to set for about 15 minutes before we were able to package them in our boxes and bags and we were advised to let them set for a hour or so before actually eating them (naturally I couldn't resist and a couple didn't make it home).

The finished chocolates in a decorative box

I had a wonderful morning and would definitely recommend their courses to all chocolate-lovers.  If you want to find out more about their upcoming courses and booking then you can visit their website here.

If you're in Cambridge and want to pop into their shop then you'll find them at 21 St Andrews Street, Cambridge CB2 3AX
Alternatively you can browse their website or keep up to date with what they're up to on Twitter and Facebook.