Monthly Archives: July 2011

Breakfast Club #13: Banana, raisin & chocolate Crispy Minis crumble muffins

The challenge for this month’s Breakfast Club was to do something exciting with Cereals.  When I first read the theme of the challenge, hosted by Helen at Fuss Free Flavours, nothing particularly inspiring sprang to mind.  After a few weeks of thought, I decided to fall back on the fail-safe, but still wonderful, option that is the muffin.  I ignored the minor detail of not really knowing how I was going to incorporate cereals into a muffin recipe up until yesterday when I realised I should probably get round to actually giving the muffins a go.  Whenever I bake something, I’ve usually at least roughly planned it and can make sure that I have all the required ingredients, but these muffins ended up being rather haphazardly thrown together…

There was a rather lonely-looking, very ripe banana sitting in the fruit basket which I decided would be perfect to go into the muffins, and would keep them moist.  Plus fruit is healthy, so ya.  Since the muffins were to be for breakfast, I also decided that some dried fruit would be a good addition, being energising and all, so I decided I would throw in some raisins, too.  I still wasn’t really sure how I was going to include cereals (or even which cereals I was going to use), but decided that was still a minor detail and set about looking for a suitable recipe.  I have a muffin recipe which contains banana and porridge oats, and on reading that I suddenly realised that perhaps I could substitute crushed cereals instead of the oats and then sprinkle some crushed cereal over the tops of the muffins to give a slightly crunchy topping.  Problem solved!

I only had about half the amount of banana required for the recipe, but I couldn’t really halve the whole recipe since only one egg was required and I wasn’t about to start faffing around trying to measure out half an egg, so I fiddled around with the quantities of dry ingredients.  Out of the three boxes of cereals in the cupboard, I decided that the Weetabix chocolate Crispy Minis (that I inherited from my flatmate when she moved out of St Andrews and had sort of forgotten about – I don’t tend to eat much cereal) seemed the most promising choice, with the bonus that chocolate goes well with both banana and raisins.  Sorted!  So I enthusiastically crushed the cereal, substituted it for porridge oats, messed around with the quantities of flour and sugar, threw it all together and hoped for the best.  Much to my astonishment, the muffins worked wonderfully and were delicious both as an afternoon snack (I made them yesterday afternoon – I obviously had to taste one…) or for breakfast!  Although I must say that by breakfast this morning the topping was a little less crunchy than it had been yesterday afternoon.  Sad times, though still totally yummy!

Banana, raisin & chocolate Crispy Minis crumble muffins

Makes 9 muffins
Adapted from Mad About Muffins

These can be made the evening before, left to cool and then stored overnight in an airtight container ready for breakfast the next day.  I used Weetabix chocolate Crispy Minis, because that’s what I had, but any other flavour or similar cereal would probably work just as well.  Sprinkling cereal over the top gives a slightly crunchy top layer which is balanced by a lovely, moist muffin.

Ingredients

50g all-purpose flour
45g wholemeal bread flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
80g Weetabix chocolate Crispy Minis (or similar)
60g butter
80g light muscovado sugar
1 very ripe banana
1 egg
½ tsp vanilla extract
45g very hot water
70g raisins

Directions

1.  Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C.  Line a muffin tin with 9 liners or lay out 9 silicone moulds on a baking tray.

2.  Sift the flours, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a medium-sized bowl.  Tip in any bran from the wholemeal flour that didn’t go through the sieve.  Place 50g of the Crispy Minis in a zip-lock bag and crush them finely using a rolling pin before adding them to the flour mix and stirring all the dry ingredients together (set the zip-lock bag aside for later).

3.  Melt the butter in a large, heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Once melted, remove the bowl from the pan, add the sugar and mix thoroughly.

4.  Peel the banana and mash them with a fork in a small bowl.  Add to the butter and mix thoroughly.

5.  Lightly beat the egg using the same fork and bowl that you just used for the bananas.  Mix the egg and vanilla extract into the butter mixture.

6.  Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix thoroughly.  Stir in the hot water, followed by the rest of the flour mixture.  Stir in the raisins and spoon the batter evenly into the muffin liners/moulds (don’t overfill the liners).

7.  Place the remaining Crispy Minis in the zip-lock bag and roughly crush them (not too finely!).  Sprinkle the pieces over the tops of the muffins.

8.  Bake for 30-33 mins or until the muffins are well-risen and golden and a toothpick comes out clean.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before storing in an airtight container until breakfast.

Enjoy!

PS – If you read my blog regularly and are thinking that this recipe looks a little familiar, I realised halfway through making the muffins that the recipe I was adapting was, in fact, the same recipe that I had adapted when I made the banana, date and pecan loaflets for the very first Breakfast Club challenge that I took part in…  Woops?

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Random Recipe #6: Baked beef-stuffed tomatoes

This month’s Random Recipe was to be chosen from our favourite cookery book, which posed me a slight problem because I have lots of favourite books!  In the end, I chose La Popote des potes, a French book (bet you hadn’t guessed) which, minus the word play, roughly translates as “Food for friends,” and I think might have been based around a TV series, but I’m not sure.  I decided to go for this book because although the recipes range from quick and easy mid-week meals to more elaborate dishes, they all seem straightforward and achievable (assuming you can acquire the ingredients – certain easy-to-find foods in France sometimes require some serious hunting down over here), it has a fun style, and I love flicking through it for inspiration because it has wonderful photos for every recipe, which I’m a big fan of.

So, out came the calculator and it’s wonderful random number generator, which directed me to page 172, which happened to be the photo accompanying a recipe for “les incontournables tomates farcies” or “unmissable baked stuffed tomatoes.”  When we can get large tomatoes, my mum often makes this dish, though using a different recipe (it’s quite a popular dish in France), and I love it, although I wasn’t such a fan when I was younger because, much to the dismay of my French grandfather, I detested tomatoes.  Anyway, luckily, I am (mostly) over my dislike of tomatoes and it also happens to be tomato season at the moment, which means that large tomatoes are available.  What a perfect choice!  Even though I love baked stuffed tomatoes, I’d never actually made them before for the simple reason that I only had a mini blender in St Andrews, and I deemed it too time-consuming to have to blend the stuffing in at least six batches.  My mum has a proper blender though, so problem solved!

The recipe required ham and minced veal, which isn’t exactly widely available in the UK, but the note at the bottom said that using beef and sausage meat also worked perfectly.  We decided to use just beef, since neither my mum nor I are particular fans of the fattiness of sausage meat, but of course the fattiness is partly what holds the stuffing together, so based on my mum’s usual recipe, I added an egg to compensate for that.  I also added a bit of bread soaked in milk to keep the stuffing moist, also a tip from my mum’s recipe.  Just before popping the tomatoes in the oven, in a moment of inspiration I decided to top the stuffed tomatoes off with breadcrumbs, which meant that the top of the stuffing didn’t go all crispy and burnt as it sometimes does.  So although it turned into a bit of an amalgamation of two recipes rather than really testing the one from La Popote des potes, the tomatoes turned out absolutely delicious, and I will definitely be adding this recipe to my list of regular recipes.  And buying a blender when I move out again (whenever that may be).

Baked beef-stuffed tomatoes

Serves 4
Adapted from La Popote des potes

If you have any leftover stuffing, butter a little ramekin, fill it with the remaining stuffing, cover with breadcrumbs and a few shavings of butter and bake for the same length of time as the tomatoes.  It’s super yummy and moist and is delicious served hot or cold with a tomato sauce and rice, couscous or pasta.  For the tomatoes, try and pick large, fairly firm ones, and if you can get beef tomatoes, those are really good for stuffing.

Ingredients

8 large tomatoes
2 onions
2 garlic cloves
3 slices bread
Several tbsp milk
500g lean minced beef
3 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp rosemary
1 egg
7-8 tbsp breadcrumbs
Butter

Directions

1.  Wash the tomatoes and remove their lids, setting them aside for later.  Scoop out the pulp from the tomatoes, and reserve.  Sprinkle some salt inside each tomato and turn upside down, allowing to drain on some kitchen roll for about an hour.

2.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C.  Finely chop the onions and garlic cloves, and sauté them in some olive oil for about 5 mins.

3.  In a small bowl, tear up the slices of bread and cover with some milk.  Add the soggy bread, minced beef, chopped herbs, egg, salt and pepper to a blender and blend well.  Remove to a large bowl, add the onion and garlic mix and mix well.

4.  Dab the inside of the tomatoes with kitchen roll to remove any remaining juice, and place them in an oven-proof dish just large enough for them to all fit (it’s best if it’s a tight fit, otherwise if there’s too much space between the tomatoes, they’re more likely to collapse a bit).  Fill the tomatoes with the meat mixture (pat the stuffing down well to ensure that the tomatoes are properly stuffed).  Sprinkle each tomato with breadcrumbs and add a few slivers of butter over the top.  Spoon some of the reserved pulp into the dish between the tomatoes.

5.  Bake for 45-50 mins, adding a lid to each tomato about 10 mins before the end of baking.  Serve hot, with rice or couscous to soak up the juice.

Enjoy!

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We Should Cocoa #11: Apricot, ginger & chocolate loaf

Apricots have got to be one of the most summery fruits – even just their warm, orangey-reddy colour makes me think of sunshine, which is probably just as well since it has just started raining here in Edinburgh.  However, they might look lovely, but more often than not I find myself awfully disappointed by the apricots that we get here in the UK – they’re not usually particularly juicy and tend to be rather on the bitter side.  I can tell you precisely the number of apricots that I have eaten this year that have fully met my expectations of being properly apricot-like (eight, if you’re interested), and all of them were whilst I was in France over the last week.  Actually, to be fair, before I left for France, apricots hadn’t really made an appearance here yet.  Since this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge, hosted by Chele at Chocolate Teapot, is “Apricots,” the lack of fresh apricots was rapidly becoming a minor issue.  However, my mum saved the day by coming across a recipe for an apricot, ginger and chocolate loaf that used dried apricots.

I was going to try it out last week, but as we had to travel to France unexpectedly, that didn’t end up happening.  Having finally managed to find some stem ginger in syrup in Waitrose yesterday, I decided to try the recipe this morning.  Which is when I discovered that we’d been so focused on finding the ginger that we’d completely forgotten to buy dried apricots.  Fail.  Luckily though, whilst we were away, Tesco clearly started stocking fresh apricots though, and my mum happened to buy some yesterday, so I decided to substitute fresh apricots for the dried ones (mostly because I was feeling a little bit too lazy to walk all the way to Waitrose which is not only around 20 minutes away, but also up a hill).  Having been lulled into a false sense of security by the lovely French apricots we had access to over the last week, I was unprepared for the bitterness and non-juiciness of the apricot I decided to munch on.   Unimpressed.  Baked goods were clearly all they were good for.

I will stop ranting about disappointing apricots now, except to say that on inspection of the label, it transpired that the apricots had actually been imported from France.  So, either they really don’t travel well or the French sell all their crappy apricots to the UK and keep the good ones in France.  I suspect it’s probably a combination of both, and I would find the latter option quite amusing… if I didn’t have to eat the crappy ones.  Right, my rant is well and truly over now, let’s move onto the actual point of this post: the loaf.  I’d originally been planning to halve the amount of sugar, but based on the bitterness of the fresh apricot I tried, I decided to only reduce the sugar by about a quarter.  Using fresh apricots worked well, but I think dried apricots would be better since they would match the texture and consistency of the stem ginger.  My mum and I ended up having some of the loaf for dessert after lunch, with a bit of whipped cream on the side, and it was really quite yummy, although pretty heavy.

Apricot, ginger & chocolate loaf

Makes 10-12 slices
Adapted from Pierre Hermé’s Mes desserts au chocolat

Whilst I used fresh apricots, I would suggest using dried apricots as indicated in the original recipe, as I think they would match the texture and consistency of the ginger better than pieces of fresh apricot.  That said, using fresh apricot is still delicious, and if you decide to use fresh apricots, increase the quantity of caster sugar to 150g.  This loaf is delicious as a snack with a cup of tea, but also works wonderfully as a dessert served with a bit of whipped cream on the side.  I found the loaf to be even yummier the next day, which is great since you can make it the day before you plan to serve it and it’s one less thing for you to worry about!

Ingredients

125g dried apricots (or de-stoned fresh apricots)
55g stem ginger in syrup
180g unsalted butter
180g all-purpose flour
40g cocoa powder (at least 70%)
½ tsp baking powder
140g ground almonds
100g caster sugar
4 large eggs
15o ml whole milk
70g dark chocolate chips

Directions

1.  Re-hydrate the dried apricots in just-boiled water for 1 minute, before removing them and drying them with kitchen roll.  Finely chop the apricots and ginger and set aside.  Butter a large loaf tin.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

2.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat.  Meanwhile, sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into a medium-sized bowl and stir together.  In a large bowl, stir together the ground almonds and sugar.

3.  Add the eggs to the almond and sugar mix one at a time, using an electric whisk and whisking for about 2 mins between the addition of each one.  Continue whisking until the mixture has thickened slightly.  At a slower speed, mix in the milk, followed by the flour mixture.  Add the chopped apricots, ginger and chocolate chips and mix in.  Finally, mix in the melted butter.

4.  Pour the batter into the loaf tin and bake for 40-45 mins, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Once baked, allow to cool for about 10 mins in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack to cool fully.

Enjoy!

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Cocorico, c’est le 14 juillet!

Today, le 14 juillet, is French national day (hurrah!), which I believe is referred to as “Bastille Day” in English.  This is obviously a day of national celebration, which means that large amounts of delicious food are involved, followed by fireworks where possible.  I had originally been planning to bake tricolore cakes or madeleines or something for today in celebration, but sadly one of my French great-aunts died on Tuesday and the funeral is tomorrow morning, so as this post publishes itself (I do like the scheduling feature in WordPress – awfully convenient) I should be located at an altitude of around 10,000m en route to France.  In a plane, might I add.  Which isn’t exactly the ideal place to go about baking cakes.

I was working in St Andrews over the summer last year, so to celebrate the 14 juillet (yes, I’m going to stubbornly write that in French throughout this post) I threw a small dinner party for the people I knew who still happened to be in St Andrews (with lots of help from Kat – thanks again Kat!!!).  Although only two of us were actually French, everybody else was a francophile and appreciative of good food, and I think I can say that we all had a great evening.  I hung up the string of French flags that I happened to be storing for French Society (I was President of the society, I didn’t just steal them, don’t worry), decorated the table with blue, white and red candles in little dishes, and set out blue, white and red napkins at each place.  Ok, so I was a little over-enthusiastic with the whole tricolore thing, but it was French national day, so whatever.  My back-up plan for today had been to share the recipe for the spiced lamb and chickpea stew that I’d made, but since this was pre-blog and therefore before I took 56 million photos of everything that I cook, it turns out that I unfortunately don’t have any photos of the stew.  In fact, the only photo that I seem to have is of one of the clips that I used to hold the three coloured napkins together on each plate.  I totally don’t play up to stereotypes whatsoever:

Afterwards, little frog clips mysteriously appeared in random places throughout the flat, and they were added to over the course of the summer.  I left them up as an amusing reminder of a delightful and relaxed summer evening (although anybody who came round and hadn’t been at the dinner party must have been somewhat confused by the profusion of tiny frog clips dotted around for no apparent reason).

So to conclude this slightly pointless ramble of a blog post, whether you are French or not, I hope you have a lovely 14 juillet, filled with lots of delicious food and pretty fireworks!!  (Although be careful with the fireworks bit if you’re doing them yourself.  Actually, I don’t even know if it’s legal to let off fireworks from one’s back garden in the UK.  Maybe.  Maybe not.)

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Attempting to make summer appear with an aubergine & lamb gratin

I try to eat seasonal (and locally-produced) foods as much as possible – not only is it better for the environment, but produce that is grown in season quite simply tastes better.  During the dark and rainy depths of winter, I sometimes find it a bit difficult to stick to seasonal foods when I’d really like a bit of sunshine in my life and there are some lovely, bright-looking red peppers and courgettes staring me in the face in Tesco’s.  During the summer, however, eating seasonally is pretty easy-peasy.  There are just so many seasonal vegetables and fruit that suddenly we’re all spoilt for choice for a few months (sounds awful, doesn’t it?).

Although it is technically summer at the moment, the weather appears to be completely unaware of this, and a few days ago Edinburgh was subject to some serious thunder and lightning accompanied by torrential rain that was more akin to a tropical rainstorm than anything else (although significantly colder).  Clearly it’s not just during the depths of winter that there’s a distinct lack of sunshine here in Scotland.  At least all the summery vegetables are actually in season at the moment, which helps to bring a little bit of sunshine into the kitchen at least, so when we happened across a recipe for a summery aubergine and lamb gratin the other day, we decided to test it out, partly hoping that it would inspire the sun to make an appearance…  It didn’t, but the recipe was super easy to prepare and turned out to be rather yummy – it would be great if you’re having people over for a summery dinner since it can be prepared in advance and bake away by itself whilst people arrive or the starters are served.  Although we used lamb mince, it’s also a great way to use up any left-over mince, which is always a bonus.  Since aubergines and lamb are both in season at the moment I’m submitting this recipe to the July Simple and in Season blog event over at Fabulicious Food.

Aubergine & lamb gratin

Serves 2
Adapted from my mum’s folder of random recipes

Although we used lamb mince, this would also work with beef mince, and is a great way to use up any left-over mince.  We tried splitting the aubergines into two layers with the beef in the middle, but this resulted in some slightly dry aubergine slices in the top layer, so next time I make this I’ll put all the aubergine slices on the bottom, and I’ve adjusted the recipe to reflect this.  This works as an entire course by itself, but if you feel you need more, it would be lovely with couscous.

Ingredients

1 big aubergine
1 onion
1 clove garlic
200g lean lamb mince
Handful fresh parsley
½ tin of chopped tomatoes or 2 tbsp tomato paste
2-3 tbsp breadcrumbs
10g unsalted butter

Directions

1.  Cut the aubergine into 5mm slices, place them in a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave them to sit and drain for about an hour.  Pat dry with kitchen roll.  Chop the onions and finely chop the garlic.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

2.  Heat some oil in a large frying pan and sauté the aubergine slices until just golden.

3.  In another frying pan, heat some oil and add the onions and garlic and cook for 10 mins.  Add the meat, cook until browned, then add the chopped tomatoes (or tomato paste), finely chopped parsley and seasoning, and fry for a further 5 mins.

4.  Layer the aubergine slices in an oven-proof dish, followed by the meat, onion and tomato mixture.  Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top to cover, and add a few tiny cubes of butter.

5.  Bake in the oven for 45mins and serve hot.

Enjoy!

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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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Mac Attack #20: Cherry margarita macarons

Since handing in my Dissertation (of Doom) way back in May, the limited organisational skills that I used to have appear to have entirely disappeared and I’ve missed a couple of blog challenges for June.  Granted, I’ve had plenty to do – packing the flat up, cleaning it thoroughly, attempting to sort my life out, graduating (no biggie), etc. – but still, I can’t help but feel that I might have been slightly more organised.  However, even though it’s technically no longer June any more, the round-up for Mac Attack hasn’t been posted yet, so I’m going to sneak my entry in, the theme of which was supposed to be “Fruit.”

There are plenty of fruit available at the moment, so my main difficulty was choosing which fruit to focus on.  After accidentally eating my way through an entire punnet of cherries in one sitting the other week (not that there’s anything wrong with eating cherries, but I’d planned to keep some for later.  Woops…), I decided to make cherry macarons.  My first thought for the filling was to use cherry jam, but I felt that making cherry jam was a little too much effort (and a little on the expensive side as well).  Then I thought of cherry curd.  After a quick online search for recipes, I happened across one for cherry margarita curd.  Hellooooo…  Plus, margaritas are totally summery, so I decided that cherry margarita macarons were definitely worth a try.

I had a few issues when making the curd – the recipe did not yield nearly as much cherry juice as it implied that it would (although that was easily solved with a tequila top-up), and I didn’t quite cook my curd for long enough so it was still a little bit on the liquidy side, which made filling the macarons rather interesting.  However, they still tasted rather delicious, even if not quite so practical to take photos of or give.  But cooking the curd until properly thickened should solve the issue I ran into.

Cherry margarita macarons

Makes about 60 small macarons (so about 120 shells of 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Curd recipe adapted from In a Row
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!

When making the curd, be sure to let it cook for long enough so that the curd sets properly.  It can be made in advance, and will keep in the fridge in sealed, sterilised jars for around two weeks  Don’t throw away the cherries when you strain the juice – they’d be great for adding to cupcakes/muffins/brownies, etc.  Any left-over curd would be lovely on scones or crumpets for Afternoon Tea with a slight twist!  Make sure you leave the macarons at least 24h before eating them, in order to allow the curd to soak into the shells a bit.  They can be stored in an airtight box in the fridge – just remember to bring them out at least 30mins before eating them, so that you can appreciate the flavour fully!

Ingredients

For the macaron shells:
100g aged egg whites (age them for 4-5 days in a sealed jar in the fridge)
66g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
180g icing sugar
Red edible sprinkles or sugar (optional)

For the curd:
225g cherries
About 70 ml tequila
About 2 tbsp Cointreau
1 lime
1-2 tbsp kirsch
5g butter
50g sugar
2 tsp cornflour (US: corn starch)
1 large egg yolk
Pinch of salt

Directions

To make the curd filling:
1.  Wash, halve and stone the cherries, then add to a saucepan with 35 ml tequila 1 tbsp Cointreau and the juice from the lime.  Cook together until the cherries begin to disintegrate.

2.  Roughly mash the cherry mixture in the saucepan to squeeze as much juice out as possible, then strain into a measuring jug (if you don’t have a heat-proof measuring jug, then pour into a bowl first and allow to cool a little).  Reserve the remaining mushy cherries for later.

3.  To make the curd, 60 ml of cherry juice is required, so top up the cherry juice that you’ve strained as necessary using mostly tequila, 1 tbsp Cointreau and 1-2 tbsp kirsch.  Pour the 60 ml of juice obtained into a large heat-proof bowl and add the sugar, cornflour, egg yolk, cubed butter and pinch of salt.

4.  Place the heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of water, but make sure that the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl.  Mix all the ingredients whilst bringing the water to a simmer.  Cook the curd over a medium heat, mixing constantly with a spatula or whisk, until the curd simmers and thickens (I got bored and didn’t wait until it has simmered slightly and consequently it didn’t set properly.  Perseverance is key!  And don’t forget to mix constantly.).  Simmer for a further 30 seconds before removing from the heat, and straining into a heat-proof bowl.  Allow to cool.

To make the macaron shells:
5.  Whilst the curd is cooling and setting, make the macaron shells.  Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper and set aside.  Prepare a piping bag with a plain nozzle.

6.  Blend the icing sugar and ground almonds together (don’t skip this step!)  Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl.  Sift them again if necessary.

7.  Make the French meringue by whisking the egg whites at room temperature (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand) to glossy firm peaks, gradually adding the caster sugar.

8.  Incorporate the French meringue into the dry ingredients using a large spatula and mix well.  Now work on the mixture by pressing down well with the spatula, going backwards and forwards, to press out the oxygen from the egg whites (this is the macaronnage stage), until you have a smooth mixture.  Don’t do this for longer than 5 minutes.  The result should be a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula.

9.  Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 1.5-2cm in diameter).  Press the nozzle right down on the paper and finish off with a flourish to obtain a nice round.  Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.  Sprinkle red sugar or edible sparkles over the top of each if you wish.

10.  Leave to set for about 30mins (this helps to produce the feet).  Preheat the oven to fan-oven 160°C.  When you can feel that a skin has formed over the top, they are ready to go into the oven.

11.  Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 8-10mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3mins longer).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair them up by size.

12.  Lay out half a mushy margarita cherry on the bottom shell of each pair (you may need to tear the edges a bit so that it lies vaguely flat).  Use a teaspoon to deposit a dollop of curd over the cherry.  Then place the partner shell on top, and use a slight twisting motion to squash the shell down onto the filling.

13.  Leave in the fridge for at least 24h before serving (I know, it’s difficult!  But so worth it!!)

Enjoy!

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Filed under Recipes, Sweet Foods