Category Archives: Student Life

All things pertaining to being a student and student life (involves a lot of procrastination)

Chocolate & almond crackle cookies

I bookmark a lot of recipes, but then never quite get around to making them – I don’t have enough time, something else comes up, I have other things to bake.  Basically, life happens.  Usually I forget about the recipe, and that’s that, although if the recipe is lucky, I’ll happen across it completely by accident a few months later and then actually try it out.  If life doesn’t intervene once again.  Not this recipe though.  I first saw it about three weeks ago, and it’s been on my mind since then.  I was just so intrigued by the appearance of the cookies – they look so… arresting.  A bit of a dramatic description for a cookie perhaps, but I don’t really know how else to describe the wonderful contrast between the dark chocolatey inside poking through the cracks in the white icing sugar shell.  But true to form, every time I thought to myself right, I’m going to try those cookies out this evening something else came up and it just didn’t happen.

Then the other day I got my act together.  It was a bit of a miserable weather day – the rain started about an hour after I left the flat, so I wasn’t very prepared for it (though thankfully I always have an umbrella in my bag – a necessary habit after living in Scotland for four years).  And every time I stepped outside it poured.  I also accidentally got fish guts on my jeans whilst I was feeding my eagle rays at the aquarium in the morning.  Unfortunately, the rain didn’t wash that out.  So not only did I get to the lab slightly damp, but smelling faintly of fish, too.  I really go in for the whole attractive thing, you know?  It turned out to be quite a long day, so by the time I got home (still smelling slightly fishy) I was a little fed up.  I decided that it was time to try these cookies.  Fun fact: “crackle cookies” is rather fun to say (if a bit of a tongue-twister when said too quickly), and I find it really difficult not to smile when I say it.  Automatic mood-lifter.

The original recipe is just chocolate crackle cookies, and I was actually initially going to add hazelnuts, but then at the last minute realised that almonds would also work.  And then I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to use hazelnuts or almonds.  I’m the most indecisive person ever, so I consulted with Craig (luckily he’s used to random baking ideas/questions/panics being thrown into the middle of a conversation about something completely different.  Or just out of the blue.  Some things don’t change, even if you move halfway across the world*), and he suggested almonds.  Which is rather convenient, because “almond” happens to be the secret ingredient for this month’s We Should Cocoa, which is being guest-hosted by Laura over at How to Cook Good Food.  The cookies turned out to be utterly delicious, and were the ideal counter to what was essentially a damp and fishy day.  A little crunchy on the outside and fudgy on the inside – perfect.  The almond flavour definitely goes with the chocolate, but then the combination of dark chocolate and almonds is always a winner.  I brought the cookies into the lab and everybody loved them.  Everything about them actually – the appearance, the texture, the flavours.  Definitely a winner of a cookie!

Chocolate & almond crackle cookies

Makes 20-25 cookies
Adapted from Cuisine, May 2012

These cookies get coated in icing sugar and go into the oven looking a bit like truffles.  As they expand in the oven, the icing sugar coating “cracks” to form their distinctive appearance.  The outside will be crunchy but the middle should stay a little bit fudgy.  The amount of icing sugar required will depend a lot on how big a ramekin or bowl you use when coating the balls of dough – a small ramekin is best.  The cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 5 days (if they last that long!).

Ingredients

40g slivered blanched almonds
175g caster sugar
100g all-purpose flour
60g cocoa powder (at least 70%)
50g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
60g unsalted butter, chilled
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3-4 tbsp icing sugar, for coating (this is just a rough guide)

Directions

1.  Roughly chop the slivered almonds.  Set aside.

2.  Sift the caster sugar, flour, cocoa powder, ground almonds, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl and stir together (you may need to push the ground almonds through the sieve with the back of a spoon).  Dice the butter up into small cubes and add to the bowl.  Rub together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Stir in the chopped almonds.

3.  In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs.  Beat in the vanilla extract.  Add to the flour and almond mixture and stir together with a metal spoon until incorporated and the mixture begins to come together into a ball (it takes a little while, but it does happen).  Wrap in cling film (or cover the bowl in cling film) and refrigerate for 30-45 mins.

4.  Line two baking trays with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to fan 180°C.  Sift 3 tbsp of icing sugar into a ramekin (don’t put it away yet, you may need to sift more icing sugar later).

5.  Remove the dough from the fridge, and split into walnut-sized balls.  Drop each into the ramekin of icing sugar and roll around to coat well, so they look a bit like truffles (your hands will get messy from the dough, so I suggest using a teaspoon to manoeuvre the balls of dough in the icing sugar and then transferring them to the baking sheets.  Sift more icing sugar into the ramekin as you need it).  Place about 5cm apart on the baking trays.

6.  Bake for 10-12 mins or until just set when lightly touched.  Allow to cool for 5 mins on the baking trays before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Enjoy!

* Thank goodness for the existence of WhatsApp.

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Filed under Recipes, Student Life, Sweet Foods

Baking muffins, the impractical way…

In my last post I declared that I was going to be blogging more regularly again, but that clearly hasn’t really happened…  I may have forgotten to factor in the fact that I don’t have internet at home yet.  A minor oversight there.  But, as I also mentioned in my last post, I have moved into my new flat!  Which means that I have a kitchen again, hurrah!  Unfortunately, the crockery and cookware that were supposed to come with the flat haven’t actually made it into the flat yet…  The estate agent was supposed to drop it all off the evening that I moved in, then the next day, then it transpired that the estate agent didn’t actually have any of it yet, so she ordered it online to be delivered to the flat.  Luckily, I came to NZ vaguely prepared: I brought a vegetable knife, a measuring cup, my oven gloves, my apron and my silicone muffin moulds with me in my suitcase.  I’m not kidding (don’t judge me).  My rather resourcefully-assembled breakfast on my first morning in my new flat looked something like this:

I have since managed to borrow a knife, fork, spoon, bowl and saucepan from somebody to tide me over. I missed the delivery on Wednesday because I had to go in to uni to do some really important stuff, like sitting an English test.  Yes, really.  I had to sit a compulsory English test.  Which showed that my “language skills are appropriate for university.”  I’d have thought that would be fairly obvious considering that I was recently awarded an undergraduate degree (which involved writing a dissertation) by a generally well-regarded English-speaking university, but I’ve now sat a slightly pointless computerised test to prove it.  Anyway, I digress.  I’ve been wanting to bake since I moved in, but I’m obviously a little bit limited at the moment.  Any sensible person would have waited until the delivery of all the kitchen stuff today…

But I do love a challenge.  I saw some beautiful mangoes a couple of days ago and decided that I absolutely wanted to bake with them.  Once I have an idea, I tend to want to try it out as soon as possible, so in the absence of any baking tins, my options were limited to using my silicone muffin moulds.  I decided to attempt mango and chocolate muffins.  I had originally intended to include nuts, too, but couldn’t find the ones I wanted.  When I’ve figured out where to get those from, I’ll try my original idea.  In the mean time, I’ll be munching on these, which came out totally delicious, somewhat against the odds.  They aren’t the most perfect-looking muffins I’ve ever made, but considering that it’s the first time that I’ve used my new oven (which seems to heat better than I was expecting) and I made up a large proportion of the recipe as I went along, I’m really pleased with how they came out… I also couldn’t sift the dry ingredients (I don’t have a sieve yet), so they were a little less fluffy than I’m used to, but they taste so fruity and wonderful.  I got much more flesh from the mango than I was expecting, so they’re actually about 40% mango, which makes the muffins wonderfully moist and adds a hint of juicy sweetness which is perfectly counter-balanced by the slightly bitter dark chocolate chips.  I can’t wait to make these again!  (I have another mango in the fridge, I’m seriously tempted…)

The sign in the shop where I got the mangoes from said they were from NZ, but I wasn’t aware that mangoes were grown in NZ and I have a suspicion that they’re actually from Peru…  So I’m not sure if they’re actually local or not, but they are definitely in season, so I’m submitting these to Fabulicious Food‘s Simple and in Season blog challenge, which I’ve missed for the last couple of months.

I’m also submitting these muffins to a new blog challenge that was started last month by Caroline Makes and The More Than Occasional Baker: Alphabakes.  The host randomly picks a letter of the alphabet, and participants have to come up with something which either features a main ingredient or is a type of baked good beginning with that letter.  This month’s host is Caroline Makes, and she has chosen the letter “M“.  Which is obviously an excellent choice of letter.  Not that I’m biased towards the letter of my first name or anything…  These mango and chocolate muffins satisfy both options – do I get bonus points?  Anyway, I shall stop rambling on – the above-mentioned English test obviously didn’t test my ability to be concise, because I’d clearly have failed it.

Mango & chocolate muffins

Makes 10-12 muffins
Adapted from Mad About Muffins

As mentioned above, this is the first time I’ve used this oven, and I had to eye-ball quite a few of the ingredients, so whilst the muffins turned out wonderfully for me, do bear that in mind!  As I don’t have any scales at the moment, I can’t tell you the weight of mango flesh that I used, but just play it by eye.  I had thought of roughly mashing about half the mango and leaving the other half diced, but I forgot about that when I was actually making them.  As with most muffins, these are best eaten within a day of baking.  They make great snacks, but also an excellent breakfast.

Ingredients

1 smallish mango
175g all-purpose flour
¾ tbsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
75g light muscovado sugar
100g unsalted butter
1 egg
125ml yoghurt
5 tbsp milk
75g chocolate chips

Directions

1.  Line 10-12 muffins tin sections with paper liners or set out silicone moulds on a baking tray.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.

2.  Peel the mango and remove as much flesh as possible, dice the mango flesh and set aside.

3.  Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into a large bowl (you may need to push the sugar through with the back of a spoon).  Stir together.

4.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan or in the microwave.  Meanwhile, lightly beat the egg in a small bowl with a fork, then add the yoghurt and milk and mix together.

5.  Add all the wet ingredients, including the butter, to the dry ingredients and stir with a large metal spoon until just combined (don’t overmix – it’s perfect if you can still see a bit of flour).  Gently fold in the diced mango and chocolate chips.

6.  Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin sections.  Bake for 18-22 mins until well risen and golden and the tops spring back when lightly pressed (don’t press down on a chocolate chip though – they get really hot!).  Transfer to a wire rack to cool a little before eating.

Enjoy!

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Filed under Recipes, Student Life, Sweet Foods

How to unintentionally forget that it’s Valentine’s Day

You may (or may not) be glad to know that I survived my slightly epic 30h journey of over 20,000km without any problems (which is distinctly unusual), which means… Hello from New Zealand!!!

Small confession: being able to type that is really quite satisfying.  I feel that my first blog post from New Zealand should be something super exciting, but I’m afraid I’ve spent the three days that I’ve been here just finding my way around the area that I’m currently staying, familiarising myself with the university campus and doing really unexciting things like setting up a bank account and other admin-y type stuff.  However, trips to the bank don’t make for the most riveting of blog posts.  Alternatively, I could just upload some really pretty pictures of my new surroundings, but I’m afraid things are a bit limited in the pretty pictures department.  I’m finding the light quite difficult to work with here (look at me sounding all technical and like I know what I’m talking about.  I really don’t.) – it seems incredibly bright, even when the weather is overcast, resulting in some very over-contrasted photos.  Basically, I just need to get used to it (and maybe learn to use my camera properly), but in the meantime here’s a glimpse of the clock tower, a symbol of the University of Auckland:

I’m going to be unoriginal and talk about Valentine’s Day (please don’t groan and go off in the huff) since that’s today.  Which you totally knew, right?  You didn’t forget?  No?  Well, I did.  I totally forgot that it was Valentine’s Day today.  Not that I have any particular reason to remember, but since most of the shops in Edinburgh have had obnoxiously pink and/or red, heart-filled, fluffy vomit-inducing window displays since the beginning of January, it’s not something that I would have expected to happen.  My general view on Valentine’s Day is that it’s a completely overly-commercialised occasion that is stressful for everybody whether you’re in a relationship or not, and why does there have to be a designated day to declare your love for somebody anyway?  What about the rest of the year?  Some supremely awkward situations at school haven’t helped my general dislike of the day either.  So how does one go about accidentally forgetting?

  1. Move to a new country where you don’t know anybody, arriving four days before Valentine’s Day.  A country that involves a 12-13h time difference with the countries that your most pro-Valentine’s Day facebook friends live in is best (or just avoid facebook, but let’s be realistic).
  2. Get super distracted by the fact that it’s summer, which means that it’s warm (currently 23°C to be precise – please don’t hate me if you’re somewhere cold) and fairly sunny.  This is particularly effective if you’ve just moved from Scotland and haven’t seen anything resembling warm and sunny for… about four years.
  3. Schedule your very first meeting with your MSc supervisor for the morning of Valentine’s Day, in the hope that you’ll find out where you’ll be based so you can start looking for somewhere to permanent live.  Stress out about not having read enough papers, not having read them more in depth (it’s a well-known fact that the least read section of any paper is the methods section), not really understanding most some of the physics involved.
  4. Decide that you’ll need to get some basic physics books out of the library and revise electricity.  Remember that you can’t get books out because the International Office won’t give you your student card until you have a permanent address or if that’s really not possible, then a NZ mobile phone number.  Because clearly international students arriving and staying in temporary accommodation organised by the University itself until they’ve found somewhere to live must be a really rare case…not.  Get annoyed about the lack of logic.
  5. Get excited at the prospect of picking up your shiny new phone, knowing that it won’t freeze for two minutes whenever you open Twitter…  Get excited at the prospect of having a NZ phone which means you can access Twitter again whilst out and about (realising that you have a minor Twitter addiction is optional).
  6. Notice a huge gift basket that includes a large, very fluffy, baby pink, ugly stuffed toy being delivered this morning whilst people-watching drinking your coffee.  Wonder why somebody would have such bad taste and then finally remember that it’s Valentine’s Day.  Then get distracted and stress out a bit more about your upcoming supervisor meeting and potential lack of preparation.
  7. Go to the meeting with your supervisor, who turns out to be really nice.  Worry because there appears to be no door to the building, but then find it round the back.  Discover that “meeting” means a walk-and-talk as he delivers a piece of paper at the other end of the campus and then stopping at a café for coffee on the way back to discuss potential projects.  Whilst sitting on the terrace (I’m not complaining).  Briefly wonder if this is a legit university, then just go with it.
  8. Stress out a bit because you still don’t know where you’ll be based, although at least your supervisor is very comprehensive of the situation and agrees that it would be a good idea to just assume Auckland and start looking anyway.
  9. Go pick up new phone and get terribly distracted by it (ooooo shiny).
  10. Get rained on a couple of times, but saved by the habit of always carrying an umbrella in your handbag (thanks Scottish weather).
  11. Manage to convince the International Office to give you your student card (hurrah!).  See a girl with a rose in a brown paper bag – the brown paper bag looks like it should contain a bottle of gin rather than a rose.  Debate to yourself which you would have preferred: rose vs gin (the queue at the International Office was really long and I got pretty bored…).  Incidentally, as much as I love roses, gin wins (if it’s good gin).
  12. Realise that you haven’t seen a single shop display that is pink, fluffy or full of hearts, and that the gift basket and rose-that-should-have-been-gin are the only two Valentine’s-related things you’ve seen during the entire day.  Conclude that New Zealand is clearly the place to be to forget about/ignore Valentine’s Day, and that you love the Kiwis for their minimum fuss attitude towards it.
  13. Walk past a massive hibiscus tree (bush?) on your way home, after another rain shower.  Revel in that wonderful almost-tropical post-rain shower smell.  Be happy.

Enjoy the rest of your day, whether you’re a Valentine’s fan or not!

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Filed under Ramblings, Student Life

Announcing an exciting new adventure…

I have some super-exciting news to share with you:  I’ll be starting a Masters in February!  I’m so excited!!!  This also means that I’ll be  moving out (finally!), which, as much as I love my mum, I cannot wait to do, because I really miss my independence…  I was actually given an offer back in October, but I had to sort out a supervisor, and have modules approved before I could pay my fees, as well as various other administrative faff, and I wanted everything to be finalised before I announced it, just in case I jinxed it and it all fell through or something (very scientific approach that, ahem).  But my visa arrived on Friday, which means that it is actually happening and that I can finally announce it!  Wait!  Visa?  What?  Ya, that’s right, I had to apply for a visa (which is why it took so long to be finalised) because I’m not only moving out, but moving country.  Moving hemisphere.  Moving to New Zealand!!!  I told you it was super-exciting news!

For those of you who are interested, I’ll be doing a MSc in Marine Science until December.  It’s all research-based, but I don’t know exactly what my research topic will be until I’ve met and discussed it properly with my supervisor (he seems really relaxed about it, which is good… I think!), but it should definitely be something to do with elasmobranchs (sharks and rays), which I’m obviously super excited about!

Of course, although I’m going to study, I’m a bit obsessed with food, so I’ve been reading various guidebooks and NZ-based blogs, all of which seem to agree that there is an excellent food scene.  So that’s all good, and has definitely increased my eagerness for this next adventure (if that’s possible).  Toothy has been helping me read the guidebooks, obviously, though he’s mostly been eyeing up the sea lion pictures:

Since I move in less than three weeks (!!), I’ve been quite busy procrastinating packing, so things have been rather quiet on Sharky Oven Gloves, and they will probably continue to be so, but now you know why…

Wherever you are in the world, enjoy the rest of your day!

PS – Apologies for the over-use of the word excited and the over-abundance of exclamation marks – I have a lot of enthusiasm to share!

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Filed under Ramblings, Student Life

The many uses of a chopstick and other important things that I learnt at University

I haven’t really unpacked all my stuff yet, partially because I have no idea where to put it all, partially because I’m a bit lazy and disorganised, and mostly because once it’s all unpacked, I really have to admit that the St Andrews chapter of my life is closed and that I genuinely have no idea where my life goes from here.  So anyway, the point is that today’s post is not about food (and is also incredibly long – you’ve been warned).  Instead, since University is supposed to be all about learning, I’m going to share the random things that I learnt at University, but outwith lectures and labs.  A few are serious, but most of them are fun little tidbits:

  1. Being a TCK (Third Culture Kid) in a non-TCK environment is hard work – As a result of having lived my entire life (until University) as an expat, I am a TCK, brought up in a mix of cultures.  Although I am half British, and it is therefore one of my “home” cultures, when I first moved here for Uni, I often felt like a total outsider, particularly in first year, simply because there were loads of cultural references that I just didn’t understand.  So culturally, I was (and still am) a bit of a foreigner, but I’m British and I have a very British accent, and a lot of the people that I met found this difficult to comprehend.  Basically, I didn’t fit into a box, so people didn’t really know how to react to me, and I found this quite tough and a little lonely at times.  I realise this all sounds a bit miserable, but don’t worry, although it took a while, I found friends who accept me just as I am, or put up with me because I feed them.
  2. Being able to cook and bake is a great way to make friends – Most people enjoy being fed yummy food, and if they don’t, they probably aren’t worth making friends with anyway.  I’ve always found that, in general, people are particularly enthusiastic about baked goods – unless they contain nuts and you feed them to somebody who is allergic to them.  That might not work out so well. 
  3. Everybody loves madeleines – It might be rather big-headed of me, but I like to think that I bake pretty delicious madeleines.  I have yet to meet somebody who hasn’t enjoyed them and gone for a second, third, fourth helping/finished off the plate.
  4. The effort that goes into baking a cake sometimes goes completely unappreciated – This is a bit of an awkward point, since I am still a bit upset over this particular incident.  I went to a lot of effort to make a birthday cheesecake for somebody once.  They took a miniscule slice of it, told me they loved it (I had baked a trial run and everybody who tried that one agreed that it was lovely), and put it in the fridge “for later,” which was totally fine since we were going out for tea.  So far, so good.  The issue arises in that ten days later, when they left for a two-week break, the cheesecake remained, completely untouched.  Needless to say, it was rather past its prime.  Nobody should ever have to throw out a birthday cake that they made as a gift to somebody.  I don’t wish to name and shame this person, but if they are reading this, I hope they are aware of how insulting it is to have to do that.  Rant over and lesson learnt to only make cakes for people who appreciate it.
  5. Leather handbags are really good for ripening bananas – I accidentally found this out whilst dissertating when I bought a rather under-ripe banana on my way to the Bute one morning and then forgot about it until evening by which time it had totally ripened.  Not that I would really recommend carrying bananas around in your handbag since they might get a bit squished, but it’s good to know.  In case you need to ripen any bananas quickly…  Uhm, ya.  I’ll just stop there.
  6. Muffins can form the base of a pivotal moment in a friendship – Kat and I got to know each other over the course of third year after bonding over cookies and field-working in a knee-deep river (in wellies), but I think we really became close friends when she unexpectedly ended up living with me last summer (long story).  We spent a lot of time faffing in the kitchen, but I think one of the most pivotal moments in cementing our friendship was when we decided to make a US flag for the 4th of July… out of iced mini-muffins.  Ya, we’re that cool. 
  7. Amazon sells food – Ingredients-wise, I’ve almost always been able to find what I needed in St Andrews.  The only exception to this is corn syrup, which I have never seen stocked anywhere.  However, I found out completely by accident that you can order it off Amazon.  Amazing!  Incidentally, Amazon also sells champagne, which I find kind of random.
  8. Allowing others to use your non-stick pans may not be a good idea – All my pans and most of my bakeware are non-stick, and good quality at that (there’s a Tefal factory outlet near where I’m from in France), and since most of what came with the flat was pretty disgusting, we ended up using all of my kitchenware for cooking.  As I’m sure you’re aware, metal should NEVER be used anywhere near anything non-stick.  Apparently not everybody is aware of this (even after being specifically told), and whilst my pans luckily did not sustain any major scratch-mark damage, there were a few near misses.  Moral of the story: never let other people use your pans (further enforced by the next point).
  9. Although somebody may wax lyrical about being God’s gift to the culinary arts, this may not actually be the case – If you’ve read my crêpe post, you may remember my little rant about somebody using my crêpe pan as a frying pan, and searing burning tuna steaks in it.  In my humble opinion, that is not exactly the mark of a culinary God.  Enough said.
  10. People give you strange looks when you whip out an oven glove and take photos of it in tourist spots – This is much less bizarre than it sounds, since my oven gloves are shark-shaped and therefore completely awesome.  You can read about the adventures of Toothamanga around St Andrews here
  11. Some people “have no nose for wine” (from the genius of ‘Allo ‘Allo) – I know somebody who was given a very nice, and fairly expensive bottle of wine for their 21st birthday.  When they eventually opened the bottle with other friends also lacking a nose for wine, they left about a glass-worth in the bottom of the bottle, popped it in their fridge and only removed it (untouched) when they moved out 8 months later.  Now, I’m no wine expert, but really?!  Poor, completely unappreciated wine.  And my poor friend that gave the bottle in the first place – a bit of a smack in the face to see it every time he opened their fridge.
  12. Tesco Market Value wine can de-block a bathroom sink – Tesco Market Value wine comes in little cartons, very similar to individual drinks cartons.  Craig and I bought one once for a laugh, just to see how utterly disgusting it was.  The only reason neither of us spat the stuff out after taking the smallest sips possible is that we’re too polite to do so.  I’m pretty sure labelling it as “wine” counts as false advertising and it should really be sold as “vinegar” or “sink de-blocker.”  If you think I’m exaggerating, the bathroom sink was a little clogged so we poured the carton down the sink to see if it would de-block it.  It did.  Enough said.
  13. Pieropan: Soave Pieropan wine can be relied upon to result in some seriously awkward comments – The first time we tried this wine, I managed to accidentally come out with a spectacularly awkward comment.  Every time we’ve had this wine (which, due to it being good both with food and on its own and also very drinkable, happens fairly regularly), somebody has managed to go off on a roll of unintentional and awkward comments, with truly hilarious results.  Consequently, we’ve affectionately nicknamed it “The Awkward Italian.”
  14. Always keep a spare bottle of gin or three – For some reason, the gin always seems to be running low or gone (why is the gin always gone?).  Don’t underestimate the value of having spare gin.  And tonic, obviously.  Oh, and also make sure that you always have limes/cucumber in the fridge as well.  The freezer is a great place to store spare gin, by the way.
  15. It is possible to get tipsy (possibly even drunk) off my muffins – After much practice, I now have the baking of muffins with rum (or any other alcohol) as the principle ingredient down to a fine art. 
  16. At a party, when in doubt, grab the Cointreau and hang out by the freezer – This is a particularly great tactic if you don’t really know anybody or don’t really want to speak to people who are in the drawing room.  Why the freezer?  Because that’s where the ice cubes live.  People will realise that you’ve hit on a genius plan and also hang out with you by the freezer, or you might already find a collection of fellow alcoholics already there to make friends with.  Sharing the Cointreau is optional, obviously, though highly recommended if it belongs to somebody other than yourself.
  17. BUT when you run out of orange juice/Passoã/both to make punch, Cointreau is not a suitable alternative – This might sound like a genius idea, and it tastes fabulous at the time, but it leaves you feeling a little bit on the rough side the next day.  And also leaves you with a bit of a blank memory.  I speak from (hazy) experience.  Let’s just leave it there.
  18. An illuminated punchbowl fountain is a brilliant investment – A totally awesome addition to any party.  The end. 
  19. You can get chatted up through eBay – The eBay seller from whom I bought my James Bond DVD boxset attempted to chat me up via eBay message.  I’m sure you can imagine my surprise and amusement.  The guy’s profile name thing was something along the lines of “Hotrod69″ though, so I probably should have seen that coming (please refer to the following point if you chuckled at that).
  20. Maturity is overrated – I could give plenty of examples of my immaturity, but I’m just going to stick with one.  There is a lane in St Andrews which I’ve walked past almost every day for four years, yet I still chuckle a bit to myself whenever I do, because it’s called Butts Wynd.  I’d like to think that one day I might grow up a little, but I somehow doubt that will be happening any time soon (I kind of secretly hope it never happens.  Being totally immature is really quite fun).
  21. Making friends with local shop-keepers can only ever end in win – This one is pretty self-explanatory really…  If you get to know the shop-keepers (and they like you – baked goods help with that) of shops that you frequent often then they get to know what you like.  And they might set aside that last slice of your favourite cheese for you, or give you a reduced price on that lovely bottle of wine that they know you’ll love.  How is that not a win?
  22. Over-enthusiasm for dinosaurs at the age of 22 is totally acceptable…  If you’re a biologist – I know I said that this was a list of what I’ve learnt outwith academics, but I’ll make an exception for this particular point.  When I was younger, I never went through a dinosaur phase.  I think it was in second year that we learnt about how amazing dinosaurs are and I’ve been enthusiastic ever since (totally nothing to do with the fact that our professor dressed up as a swamp monster for the lecture).  I even own dinosaur cookie cutters.  Whilst my fellow biologists totally share my enthusiasm, most of my other friends think I’m crazy.  They are clearly missing out. 
  23. There is only one way to get away with dressing up as oneself for Halloween – Dressing up as oneself for Halloween is a complete cop-out, and I have serious issues with it.  To the point where at our last Halloween party, I threatened anybody who dared turn up as themselves with multiple shots of tequila (nobody dared).  However, if one happens to have been caught on Google Maps Streetview and there is a funny (though blog-innapropriate) story behind it, dressing up as oneself as seen on Google Maps is totally acceptable.  And highly amusing, for those who are aware of the back-story.
  24. Watching rugby in the library is incredibly stressful and difficult – Due to a heavy workload during the Autumn Tests and the Six Nations, I managed to end up having to watch most of the matches whilst working in the library.  Have you ever tried to keep quiet whilst watching a rugby match?  It’s remarkably difficult and really quite stressful.  Needless to say, not a whole lot of work ended up getting done.  Woops.
  25. There are approximately 562 different uses for chopsticks – The flat that I lived in for the last three years came with several sets of chopsticks.  I think I might have used them as eating implements a grand total of once.  However, I discovered that chopsticks are, in fact, incredibly useful.  Stirring jugs of Pimm’s, loosening out curls if the hairdresser was a little too enthusiastic with the hairspray, fishing teabags out of the bottom of a Thermos flask, making mojitos, stirring paint, poking holes in the tops of muffins to fill them with rum and pushing fairy lights into empty champagne bottles are but a few alternate uses (ok, so 562 may be a slight exaggeration). 

So there we have it – 25 of the crucial life lessons that I’ve learnt at University.

Wherever in the world you are, enjoy the rest of your day!

PS – As a reward for getting to the end of this mammoth post, here’s a special bonus life lesson: If you are staying in a B&B or hotel, always close the curtains – There were B&Bs across the street from our flat.  Apparently people didn’t realise that if they could see into our flat, we could also see into their room.  A surprising number of people didn’t shut the curtains, you can imagine the rest yourself.

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Goodbye St Andrews… But I’ll be back!

As the first Tuesday of the month, yesterday was Zoosday Tuesday, so I should have posted an animal-related recipe.  However, yesterday was also the day that I finally moved out of my flat in St Andrews, my home for the past three years (I was actually supposed to be moving out on Monday, but I had waaaaaay too much stuff to fit in the car.  So we had to do an additional trip yesterday.  Woops.).  This means that all my baking stuff is currently packed up in boxes and not exactly accessible, so there was blatantly never going to be any recipe-sharing yesterday.  I’m sure you’ll forgive me.

St Andrews has been my home for the last four years, but now that I’ve graduated (I will post properly about that soon) it’s time to move on to new adventures.  I’ve spent my entire life moving from country to country with my parents, but that doesn’t make it any easier to close the door one final time on a flat that has been my home for the last three years but has now been emptied of all my stuff and cleaned and scrubbed from floor to ceiling, ready for the next tenants.  In fact, I’d argue that it makes it harder, because I know how heart-wrenching it can be to spend four years making a home in a new place, loving it, and then having to leave it devoid of all traces of yourself.  That said, the fun in discovering a new country and culture, embarking on new escapades, eating new foods and meeting new people makes it completely worth it, and I wouldn’t swap it for the world.

Of course, some places are harder to leave than others.  No matter where in the world I end up, or how many other countries I end up living in over the course of my life, I know that my time in St Andrews will always remain very close to my heart.  I’ve met so many amazing people, made such incredible friends, had so much fun, shared so much laughter (not to mention the pure collective delirium whilst dissertating), and have so many happy memories to take away with me.  Consequently, St Andrews has proven to be one of the most difficult places to leave so far.  Though as my mum pointed out to me, contrary to Lagos (we lived in Nigeria when I was younger), at least I can go back and visit St Andrews fairly easily, because even if I end up living on the other side of the world, I’ll still be back in Edinburgh to visit my family.  That’s slightly comforting, though it makes me sad that St Andrews will never really be “mine” again.  From now on, I will always be a visitor, and that means that it will never quite be the same.  But that’s life.  And at least I have about 56 bajillion photos to remind me of the beauty of the town, stunning surroundings and most importantly, the fantastic memories that I have with my wonderful friends.

St Andrews, I will always love you, and I will definitely be back…

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Strawberry & Pimm’s jam

Last week was Graduation Week here in St Andrews (I graduated on Wednesday, which means that, for now at least, I’m suddenly no longer a student – my gosh, how did this happen?!), so things over the last two weeks have been rather on the hectic side.  There’s been a lot of running around, various half-hearted attempts at packing, meeting up with people for one last coffee/game of pool/drink/lunch, etc., a lot of celebrating and many goodbyes.  On top of all of that, my laptop is very rapidly nearing the end of its lifespan, resulting in a lot of frustration whenever I try and write anything up (if you’re familiar with the Blue Screen of Death or the Black Screen of Incomprehensible Scrolling Text, then you’ll know what I mean).  So my rather rambly point is that I’m afraid I’ve neglected my poor blog somewhat, resulting in a slight back-log of recipes, including this lovely jam that I made just over two weeks ago.

Now, I love home-made jam (who doesn’t?!) and it always reminds me of making jam during summer holidays at my French grand-parents house when I was younger using the fruit from their garden.  My French grandma had an ancient (to me) pair of kitchen scales that you had to balance out using weights and so on, and I thought that they were great fun to play with.  So actually, what really happened was that I played with the scales and generally got in the way and probably ate a fair proportion of the fruit, my mum did all the hard work of actually making the jam (stirring, pressing, etc.), my grandma sat at the table and probably told me off for getting in the way and mucking around and occasionally helping my mum, and my grandpa went off gallivanting in the garden.  The end product was jam though, and gosh was it good jam!  Unfortunately, we haven’t made jam since I was about 15 or 16, because my French grandparent’s house has been sold now, and we don’t have a garden in Edinburgh, nor do I have one in St Andrews.  Sad times.

My mum suggested that we make strawberry jam last summer, but I’m not really a huge fan of strawberry jam – I often find it a little too sweet and I’m not too keen on the big lumpy bits that you often get (picky?  Me?), so that didn’t end up happening.  However, we’ve had a lot of really tasty strawberries this year, and when I saw a recipe for strawberry & Pimm’s jam in BBC Good Food, I absolutely had to try it.  Now, I don’t know about you, but in my world (and most of St Andrews) it’s pretty much always Pimm’s o’clock.  Never mind that the recipe was still for strawberry jam, strawberry and Pimm’s is a fabulous combination, and it sounded delicious.  I’m also submitting this recipe to this month’s Simple and in Season blog event, even though I already used strawberries for the same event last month.  But they’re so delicious and still seasonal, so I’m not too bothered!

I won’t lie to you, I was a little bit nervous about making jam by myself – I’ve only ever been involved in making jam when there have been other people around who actually know what they’re doing.  But the recipe looked straightforward and detailed enough, there was no straining fruit through muslin or anything, and I even have a sugar/jam thermometer, so I took advantage of Tesco’s apparent failure to estimate the quantities of strawberries they would sell and snapped up a lot of very tasty strawberries at super-reduced prices.  Win!  The jam turned out to be really quite easy.  Yes, you do have to watch the temperature a bit, and I did think the jam was going to bubble over the top of the pot at one point (it didn’t), but there was nothing especially difficult to do.  Jam-making is as much fun and smells as wonderful as I remember!  And the jam turned out to be rather delicious – the Pimm’s comes as more of a subtle after-taste and also means that the jam isn’t too sweet at all, and I made sure to mash it up a bit at the end to avoid the lumpy bits that I don’t like.  If you’re not keen on having alcohol at breakfast time, this jam would go wonderfully on scones for afternoon tea.  Or served with Pimm’s.  Yummy…

Strawberry & Pimm’s jam

Makes just under 6 x 350g jars
Adapted from BBC Good Food (June 2011)

This is a soft-set jam, presumably mostly as a result of the added Pimm’s and gin.  It is wonderful for breakfast, but would also be delicious on scones with afternoon tea or served with a pitcher of Pimm’s.  To sterilise the jars, wash the jars and lids in hot, soapy water before placing on a baking tray and placing in an oven on low heat until fully dried (about 10 mins or so).  Apparently choosing just-ripe strawberries will help the jam set, though the ones I used were quite ripe and the jam worked absolutely fine.

Ingredients

1.5 kg strawberries
1 kg jam sugar
2 lemons
1 orange
4 tbsp Pimm’s No. 1 cup
1 tbsp gin

Directions

1.  Place a few saucers in the freezer to be used later (I ended up using 4 or 5).

2.  Hull and halve or quarter the strawberries, depending on how large they are.  Place them in a preserving pan or large pot (the jam will increase in volume when bubbling away, so make sure the strawberries only come half-way up the side of the pot or so).  Using a potato masher, give the strawberries a good mashing until quite juicy (if you like lumpy jam then don’t mash too much).  Stir in the sugar and place the pan over a low flame, stirring occasionally, and taking care that the jam does not boil.

3.  Once all the sugar has dissolved, stir in the juice from the lemons and orange and turn up the heat.  Once a fast boil – 105°C on a preserving thermometer – has been reached, time the jam for 10 mins.  After 10 mins, place 1 tsp of jam onto one of the frozen saucers and place in the fridge (allow the jam to continue on fast boil).  After 1 min in the fridge, push your finger through the jam on the saucer.  If the jam wrinkles (this may sound strange, but you’ll be able to tell exactly what I mean when it happens), then it is ready.  If not, allow the jam to continue on fast boil for a further 2 mins before testing again.  As soon as the jam is ready, remove the pan from the heat.

4.  Allow to cool for 30 mins, then skim away any scum from the top of the jam.  Mash the jam slightly more if necessary (this depends on your taste), before stirring in the Pimm’s and gin.  Ladle the jam into sterilised jars (a jam funnel helps considerably).

Enjoy!

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May I present… My oven gloves!

Would you believe it, this is actually my 50th post!  Yes, 50th!!  For some reason, I feel that this is some sort of milestone and that I should post about something special.  So I thought I’d introduce you to my amazing oven gloves, the inspiration behind my blog name: Sharky Oven Gloves.  (Yes, I’m writing about my oven gloves, and no, despite the past few weeks of intense dissertating, I haven’t completely lost the plot, I promise!)

I’m sure I’ve previously mentioned my love of sharks, but in case you’re not up to speed on it, basically, I’m fascinated by them.  Ultimately, I’d like to go into academia and study sharks.  My friends have realised that anything shark-themed makes me totally happy, which makes buying presents for me fairly straightforward (aside from the minor detail of actually finding shark-themed gifts).  About three years ago, my flatmate gave me a shark-shaped oven glove for my birthday – a truly amazing present!

Through a series of totally unexpected circumstances, Kat ended up living with me last summer (2010) and Craig, who was also in St Andrews over the summer, spent quite a lot time with us.  Our summer involved baking a lot, eating a lot and drinking a lot totally responsibly.  Craig and I introduced Kat to the old James Bond films (we worked our way through the entire set).  We also discovered that a shark-shaped oven glove has a lot of potential for hilarious photos.

By the time we watched The Man with the Golden Gun, shark oven glove photos were a fairly permanent feature of our evenings (not as sad as it sounds…), and we’d decided that we wanted to name the oven glove something Bond-related.  Christopher Lee plays Scaramanga (the “bad guy” with the golden gun), and he’s just a fantastic actor and we also happen to be Lord of the Rings fans, so we decided to name the oven glove Toothamanga, or Toothy for short.

I don’t know how familiar you are with the James Bond films, but they contain a lot of dreadful innuendo, which is, of course, incredibly hilarious (did I mention that we’re all really mature, ahem). We paired a few of the photos up with various Bond quotes (hover over the photo for the quote), and just in case you weren’t sure about our (im)maturity level, here is one of my favourites:

In case you think your eyes might be deceiving you, yes, there is an actual street in St Andrews called Butts Wynd.

Here’s another, rather more mature photo-quote pairing:

Kat and Craig took Toothy on a proper tour of St Andrews one day, made him a facebook profile and put all the photos up whilst I was in the lab – I didn’t know about it until I got a friendship request from my own oven glove.  It must have taken me about 10 minutes to stop laughing (thank goodness my professor wasn’t in the lab at the time).  Here are some of my favourites (it was difficult to choose!):

Now, it’s all very well having a shark-shaped oven glove, but sometimes you need two oven gloves.  Most times, actually.  Since we spent a lot of time baking, I complained about this a lot over the summer.  So Kat, being the amazing friend that she is, gave me a second shark-shaped oven glove for my birthday (it’s in September, so at the end of the summer).  We named it Toothy-Two, or Twothy (see what we did there?)  Being working oven gloves, they have of course accumulated various stains, and that’s how we tell them apart (though Twothy also seems to be made of slightly thinner material – possibly on account of the recession?).  So there you have it – the rather long-winded story behind Sharky Oven Gloves!

Here’s a final selection of photos, all golf-related – after all, I hear that St Andrews is famous for it…!

Hmmmm…  Perhaps I have lost the plot!

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Dear Dissertation, So long, and thanks for all the fish

If you follow my blog, you may have noticed that things have been pretty quiet lately.  The last few weeks have been pretty stressful, and pretty much entirely taken up with dissertating (definitely a word…), so I’m afraid I had to put the blog on hold for a little while.  Though I made an exception for the chocolate & marzipan biscuits for Easter and the Pimm’s cupcakes for the Royal Wedding.

The last three weeks or so have consisted of around 18 hours a day spent in the Biology computer lab, stressing out over statistical analyses, attempting to make sense of the outputs and results and then trying to coherently write it all up.  Fun times.  There was a core group of us, all 4th year Biologists, all dissertating away, slowly losing our sanity and swinging in and out of hysterical delirium, but all supporting each other through the whole process and somehow managing to all calm each other down when things were verging on becoming too stressful.  I think I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for them, I’m not sure I’d have made it through the last few weeks without having a nervous breakdown (so thanks guys – you know who you are!).

It’s all done now though – I handed my dissertation in this morning!  I would love to say that that’s it, it’s out of my life, I never have to think about it again, but I have to do a presentation about it next week and then I have a viva during which I have to defend my dissertation to two professors.  So it’s not quite out of my life just yet, but the most work-intensive part is over.  Hurrah!  I’m actually excited about being able to sleep for more than 4-5 hours tonight.

By the way, in case you’re wondering how my post title is relevant to anything, my dissertation was about elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) caught by the UK fishing fleet and was basically a comparison between the official landings statistics and a dataset collected through an observer scheme.  So I’ve spent a lot of time looking at a lot of data about a lot of fish.  And I’m glad it’s over!

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Cupcakes fit for a Masquerade Ball

The four weeks between the end of Spring Break and the beginning of revision week and exams are full “Ball Season” in St Andrews.  There are at least five balls happening (that I know of – I’m sure there are more) in the next four weeks, and I have a ticket for three of them, plus two Wine & Cheeses (dissertation?  What dissertation?) and various other events.  It’s the last few weeks of my final semester here, so I might as well make the most of it…

Even outwith “Ball Season,” I think St Andrews must hold one of the highest numbers of balls compared to other British universities – between those organised by societies, those thrown by the various halls of residences and those put on by the Sports Clubs, there are a lot of balls held throughout the year.  Most balls are Black Tie, so I now associate anything Black Tie-themed with St Andrews (because there are so many Black Tie-themed things around obviously…).  Black Tie cupcakes are no exception, and when I saw these I knew that I was going to have to make them.

I came across the original recipe for Black Tie cupcakes back in February, and they’ve been playing on my mind ever since.  I’ve been waiting for a good excuse to make them (well, not that I need an occasion to make cupcakes, but these sound rather special).   Tonight is the Masquerade Ball, so I think that counts as an appropriate Black Tie occasion.   I’m quite looking forward to it – for some reason I couldn’t go last year (I think it clashed with some other event) – so I decided to jazz up the cupcakes a little bit…

A ball is, of course, synonymous with the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol (well, to the students of St Andrews at least), so I obviously had to substitute some sort of liqueur instead of the vanilla essence.   A clear and colourless liqueur (so that the icing would stay as white as possible) that would go with dark chocolate and cream cheese icing was required.   Cointreau was decided upon (sadly I highly doubt gin would go with this combination).   The original ganache recipe requires corn syrup, which I don’t have, so I just used the tried-and-tested ganache recipe that I use for filling macarons, which also has the added advantage of being fairly alcohol-laden.  I decided to go with the masquerade theme as inspiration to decorate the cupcakes, hence the little masks made of chocolate on top.  Well, that’s what they’re supposed to be anyway.   So there you have it, Masquerade Black Tie cupcakes.   A lot of fun to make, totally presentable and rather tasty, too.

Masquerade Black Tie cupcakes

Makes 20
Cupcakes & icing recipe adapted from My Baking Addiction

These cupcakes are yummy, though very alcoholic (just a warning).  You can use vanilla essence, though try and use clear vanilla essence for the icing (if you can get it) so that it stays as white as possible.  I want to try these again with white crème de cacao, which I think would also go well.  It’s quite time-consuming to make them, but well worth the results!  If you don’t have any buttermilk, use the same amount of milk, add 1 tsp lemon juice and allow to stand for about 10 mins.  To make the masks, I just melted some dark chocolate down and then used a fine piping tip to draw the masks out onto a baking paper-lined baking tray and allowed them to cool in the fridge.  Store these in an airtight container in the fridge.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes:
65g cocoa powder (at least 70%)
190g all-purpose flour
300g caster sugar
1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¾ tsp baking powder
Pinch salt
2 large eggs
2 tsp coffee granules dissolved in 175ml warm water
175ml buttermilk
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp Cointreau

For the ganache:
40ml single cream
150g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
50ml Cointreau

For the icing:
225g cream cheese
45g unsalted butter
455g icing sugar
2-3 tsp Cointreau

Directions

To make the cupcakes:
1.  Pre-heat the oven to 175°C, and line a muffin tin with 20 liners, or set out 20 silicon moulds.

2.  Sift the cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl and mix together.  Add the eggs, dissolved coffee granules, buttermilk, oil and Cointreau and, using an electric whisker, mix until fully incorporated.

3.  Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners/moulds, filling them no more than ⅔ full, and bake for 18-22 mins.

4.  Transfer to a wire rack to allow to cool fully.

To make the ganache:
5.  Whilst the cupcakes are cooling, make the ganache filling.  Heat the cream, and as soon as it starts boiling, add the chocolate (broken into pieces) and the Cointreau, and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth (don’t let it boil or you will boil off the alcohol and we wouldn’t want that now, would we?).  Allow the mixture to thicken in the fridge for about 30 mins.

6.  When the cupcakes are fully cooled, use an apple corer to hollow out a hole in the top of each (make sure not to go through the bottom of the cupcake).  Fill this hole with the ganache filling (make sure you push the ganache down so that it’s properly filled).

To make the icing:
7.  Using an electric whisk, cream together the room temperature cream cheese and softened butter until fully combined.

8.  Set the mixer to low, and gradually add the icing sugar (be prepared for icing sugar clouds if you aren’t careful) and mix until smooth.  Add the Cointreau and mix until fully combined.

9.  Fill a piping bag with the icing, pipe it over the cupcakes and decorate with masks or a dusting of cocoa powder.

Enjoy!

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