Branch like a tree!

I’ve had a bit of a break from posting, mostly because I have had a bit of a break from baking! This does not mean that I’ve had a break from learning to be a domestic goddess, just that my hands have been turned to a different set of skills. The somewhat dubious arts of DIY.

It turn out that the biggest difference between moving house when you’re renting and moving house when you’re buying is which property you need to work on. Renters need to tidy up the old place and restore it to the original condition, while a home-owner will concentrate on bring the new place up to scratch. So if like us you have been renting and are moving into a new, it makes for interesting times.

My latest adventures have been with the paint rollers. This my second foray into painting, and so was much quicker, and managed to get myself much less paint splattered. This is a room which had been painted, wallpapered, painted again, papered again and then given a final coat of paint. Stripping all this crap off the walls took a while, so we didn’t  managed to get it done until a couple of weeks ago. Then I gave it a coat of white emulsion to seal in the newly uncovered plater, a rather messy task and my first ever attempt at painting. It took me all day to do the whole room, and I came out of it covered in paint and exceedingly happy!

Things I learned when Tom got home:

  1. The roller sleeve is meant to fit snugly on the roller, it should fall off just because you turn it round.
    • Tom had bought different sized rollers and sleeves and not noticed.
    • Don’t always assume that things are meant to be difficult. Sometimes there’s just been a small human error.
  2. When someone says do one coat it means run the rollers across once. It does not mean continually roll until the wall is as white as the paint.
    • Just because you have a whole tin of paint does not mean you need to use a whole tin of paint.
    • If your plan is to do a base coat next, the wall does not need to be white now.

Fortunately this was the cheap paint…

So yesterday evening’s task was to put on the layer of base coat. This should smooth the slightly wrinkled walls and give us a nice finish on the next layer of colour. This time I had a 2 inch roller and a 2 inch roller sleeve, which sped the process up quite  a lot. I got the 2 larger walls done in one hour, and then left the rest for tonight.

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Tasty Chocolate Biscuits

This is for me the perfect biscuit recipe. Simple, tasty and using ingredients I always have in. It’s also a slightly dangerous recipe, as now I can make biscuits whenever I fancy, rather than having to plan in advance. I’m slightly hoping that when biscuits are craved, the action of making them will raise my mood enough so that I’ll be happy with just one or two rather than scoffing the lot.

Nigella has titled this as Granny Boyds biscuits, but I prefer a more descriptive title. Mmm, chocolate…


Ingredients:

This recipe does not require eggs. Which is eggcellent! (sorry, couldn’t resist!). I don’t have eggs in as a staple, only when I’m planning to do something specific or have some left over, so a biscuit recipe which doesn’t use them, is ideal.

The recipe does require butter which I don’t usually have in, but I suspect that margarine will be an acceptable subsitute. The next time I make these and don’t have butter in, I will find out.


Method:

Super simple, cream and mix. I made a half batch and the divided into 16 to get a good sized biscuit.

I look forward to having a fan oven again, as the sheet of biscuits didn’t cook evenly. The ones at the back were done while the ones at the front were still slightly too squishy. I did turn the tray when I realised, but as it was more than half way through the cooking time, some ended up slightly overdone and so a bit dry.

The overall result was a tasy and light chocolate biscuit. I will definitely be making these again, and possibly experimenting with other flavours in the future. Any requests?


Calories per serving: 110

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Sweet and Salty Peanut Biscuits

These biscuits were definitely sweet, although they salty-ness didn’t come through as much as I’d hoped. I would happily make them again by request, but not for me as there are tastier biscuits out there.

Recipe:

This is a fairly standard biscuit recipe, just add salted peanuts. I suspect that the choice of peanut will effect the flavour of the biscuits quite a lot, and they might have been nicer if they were a bit saltier. So next time I will add a little additional salt.

This was another mix everything together style recipe. I just bunged all the butter in one lump, and then regretted it when I had visible chunks of butter in the mixture that I couldn’t get rid of. They went away when I added the flour and the peanuts.

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Spicy Crispy Beef

Whilst in the States with work, I visited the Cheesecake Factory one evening for dinner. I had the Spicy Crispy Beef and enjoyed it so much that I wanted to try it again the next time I was in town. So 3 weeks later I went back only to find that it had been taken off the menu!

Not to be deterred by such small setbacks, I started searching for recipes on-line. I found a few references and they all seemed to point to a pair of very similar recipes. It looks like one is a simplified version of the other, and this is the one I chose to try out, as I have more of the ingredients in.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup (30g) cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
12 ounces flank steak, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon chili paste
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon ginger
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup sliced onion
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper

Method:

Heat oil to 375 degrees F.

In a resealable plastic bag, combine cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Add steak slices to cornstarch mixture and shake bag to lightly coat.

Place one layer of breaded steak strips into the fryer basket and carefully lower basket into the preheated oil. Deep fry steak slices until golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from oil and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine soy sauce, vinegar, honey, sugar, chili powder, water, and ginger. Mix well and cook over medium heat until sugar has dissolved.

Heat a wok or deep frying pan over medium-high heat. Add one tablespoon of oil and quickly saute the onion, garlic, and red pepper for 30 seconds.

Add sauce mixture and cook another 30 seconds. Add strips of fried steak and toss to heat through and coat with sauce.

Verdict:

This was a fantastic dish, but there’s definitely room for improvement. Mostly in my cooking though. I don’t have a deep fat fryer, so I used a small amount of oil in the bottom of a saucepan. I also didn’t have a pair of tongs and knew I’d be fishing the bits of beef out with a pair of forks, so I wan’t prepared to heat the oil up as much as it should have been. This meant the beef strips didn’t come out as crispy as they should have – although the flavour was very good.

I misread the recipe and put in more salt and pepper than required, but the alternative recipe suggests more, and I agree. It wasn’t too much. The flour mixture didn’t stick to the beef strips particularly well, but I think this is most likely another symptom of not hot enough oil.

The sauce was good, but rather than all the different flavours combining, they were in little pockets. I think it’s not enough to heat the sauce and stir, a more thorough mixing is definitely required. It also needed a touch less sugar. I only put in 5 tablespoons, and next time I will put that down to 2 or 3 and maybe add a bit more honey instead. And finally, I think it needed to cook for longer to thicken up a bit more. but by this time I was starting to get a bit rushed as I’d had no idea of how long it would take. It took just over an hour in the end, because I was trying to do everything separately as I fumbled my way through unfamiliar territory!

So all in all, not up to cheesecake factory standards but still very tasty. I will definitely be having another go and enlisting Tom’s help in the kitchen to deal with the hot oil!

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In search of the perfect cookie

Oatmeal and Raisin is definitely my favourte cookie flavour. Of course I love a good chocolate chip same as anyone, but to me the epitome of a cookie is the oatmeal and rasin. Crisp on the outside with the oats giving a chewy texture on the inside interspersed with a bunch of juicy raisin flavour.

Whenver I have a classic cookie craving, I turn to the internet for a recipe. Often they turn out more cake like than cookie like, a sort of oaty flavoured rock bun. And alwasy, always, I forget to save the recipe when I’m done. But now I have a baking blog – where better to store a collection of cookie recipes along with notes until I have found the perfect specimen!

This weekend’s cookie experimentations came from the Smitten Kitchen website. I’ve avoided this recipe before because it looks much more complicated than others. Now I am a master baker, I decided to give it a go! I have repeated the recipe below in case the website ever mysteriously disappears in a puff of baking powder. Stranger things have happened on the web.

Ingredients:

115 grams butter

125 grams light brown sugar

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

95 grams plain flour

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon table salt

120 grams rolled oats

120 grams raisins

Method:

Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, egg and vanilla until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together. Stir this into the butter/sugar mixture. Stir in the oats, raisins and walnuts, if using them.

At this point you can either chill the dough for a bit in the fridge and then scoop it, or scoop the cookies onto a sheet and then chill the whole tray before baking them. You could also bake them right away, if you’re impatient, but I do find that they end up slighly less thick.

The cookies should be two inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake them for 10 to 12 minutes (your baking time will vary, depending on your oven and how cold the cookies were going in), taking them out when golden at the edges but still a little undercooked-looking on top. Let them sit on the hot baking sheet for five minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool.

Verdict:

Yum. Very tasty cookies, as demonstrated by the fact that they didn’t last long enough to take a photo. I have half the batch still in the freezer though, for a later resampling. They are not the cookies I’m looking for, but I think they might get closer if I squash them down to make them flat before baking. I will try this technique next time!

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A Quick Note

I have rediscovered that many of Nigella’s recipes are available on her website. I will link to these whenever it exists, and update my previous posts with these links where possible.

In the meantime, here is a random recipe to get you started:

http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/butternut-squash-with-pecans-and-blue-cheese-8

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Easy Almond Cake

This cake definitely qualifies for its title, being both easy and almond-y. I baked it for Mum and so only tasted a couple of slices while were there, but I will be making more in the future.

 

I did find it a tad heavy for my normal tastes and overall I prefer the Madeira cake. See my write up for that cake here.


Ingredients:

The recipe uses marzipan for the almond flavour which also gives it density and a smooshy texture. The other ingredients were all standard larder items so I only had to buy eggs and butter as we’d run out. The only downside is that you have to be very disciplined while cooking, or you will find yourself surprisingly short of marzipan part way through. I would recommend measuring out the required amount, and then putting an extra chunk on the side for nibbling purposes.


Method:

Bung everything in a food processor and buzz. Awesome – my kind of recipe! As usual for our slightly crappy gas oven, this took longer to cook than the recipe stated, but I’m starting to get the hang of it now. I baked it exactly to the recipe first and then when I saw it hadn’t cooked through, put the heat right up and gave it another 10 mins. Worked a treat!

This cake does require a ring mould for baking which we didn’t have. I was planning to just make it in a regular cake tin and see what happened, but while I was buying ingredients I came across a ring mould cheap in Tesco and decided to give it a go. It performed wonderfully, and I am keen to try it out on different cakes!

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