Monthly Archives: November 2011

Sharky Oven Gloves turns one!

Today is an exciting day, because it’s my Blog Birthday!  (Blogirthday?  Blorthday?  Blirthday?  Who knows…)

One year ago today, I posted my very first post.  A very short one, which was clearly not a sign of things to come, since I think by now we’ve established that being concise really isn’t my strong point.

Sharky Oven Gloves was an idea that I first ran past Kat whilst queuing for Christmas Ball tickets at some stupid time in the early morning in the snow (oh St Andrews, how I miss your crazy ball ticket queuing strategies), and I thought I’d give it a go and see what blogging was like.  I’ll be perfectly honest – I started more or less out of procrastination whilst working on my Dissertation (of Doom).  It was a great way to get away from the frustration of data analysis which was telling me pretty much nothing except that some bycatch observers can’t tell the difference between certain shark and ray species (which is rather soul-destroying when your dissertation is based around observer data).  However, blogging rapidly became a new form of stress relief which conveniently incorporated my usual method of stress relief (cooking and baking).  It was so refreshing and almost relaxing to be able to just write something in a non academic context, and to not have to back-up every single statement with 56 references.  In the year that has passed since starting Sharky Oven Gloves, there have been several important (and not so important) milestones and events:

  • I finally tried making macarons.  The first few tries were rather dubious, but I think I’ve got the hang of it now!  I’ve definitely got the hang of stuffing them with alcohol.
  • I discovered how easy it is to make blueberry gin.  Cue plenty of alcohol infusion ideas (some of which have been carried out, some of which are on the waiting list).
  • I accidentally found out that there’s a World Nutella Day and a World Gin Day.  My life is complete.
  • The tradition of epic animal-themed birthday cakes appears to have been started.  We’ve had seal pupsmeerkats and killer whales.  What will next year bring?  Or will it be a different theme?
  • Blog challenges appeared on my radar and I decided to join in with some of them.  It turns out that it’s a fabulous way to engage with other bloggers and get involved in the community.
  • I finally made crêpes for the first time since an unfortunate incident involving my crêpe pan and some tuna steaks.
  • I went to the St Andrews Farmers’ Market for the first time.  I’d only lived there for three and a half years…
  • I stacked all the odds against myself and still managed to successfully make chartreuse soufflés.  Still not entirely sure how that happened.
  • There was a Royal Wedding which involved some pretty famous St Andrews alumni.  William and Kate – I don’t know if you’ve heard of them?
  • After somehow managing to survive for several months on 4-5 hours of sleep a night (I’m pretty sure that I’m still paying for this), the Dissertation of Doom was handed in.  On time and everything.
  • I graduated.  That’s right.  Sharky Oven Gloves BSc (Hons) if you please (not to sound pompous or anything…).  Oh and did I mention that I graduated with the national treasure that is Sir David Attenborough.  No biggie.
  • After four years of learning valuable life lessons, I moved from my beloved St Andrews down to Edinburgh, which is one of my home towns, but this is the first time I’ve lived here.  It’s only temporary though – I have an announcement regarding that, but I’m waiting until everything is finalised, hopefully soon…

I feel I should have some ground-breaking blogging revelations or something, but I’m afraid that I don’t, and I really don’t feel that I’m established enough as a blogger to venture into the “my tips for blogging” territory.  So I think I’ll leave it there for today (being the super-concise person that I am and all).  Oh except one little thing – I’ve set up a Sharky Oven Gloves facebook page!  And did you notice the little shark fin RSS button up at the top of the left-hand column?  I won’t tell you how long it took me to make it, but it was a long and arduous journey which taught me that I really suck at graphic design.  I’m still tweaking it a little, but please do let me know what you think!  There should be facebook and twitter fins joining it in the next few days, so look out for those…

So on that note, Happy Birthday Sharky Oven Gloves (is it weird to wish your own blog a happy birthday?  Seriously, what’s the protocol on this whole blog birthday thing?), here’s to another year of blogging fun made up of ramblings, recipes and general adventures…

In case you haven’t guessed, the grey blob is supposed to be a shark fin, and not a random rock poking out of the sea as my Mum thought.  The icing was pretty gloopy and uncooperative so it didn’t quite work as well as I’d hoped (clearly).  I’ll aim to work on my shark fins for next year…

Enjoy the rest of your day!

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Filed under Ramblings

Manly moustachioed Movember cupcakes

As you may know, last month was Breast Cancer Awareness Month – a disease that I feel that most people (in the developed world) are now aware of (though whether they do anything about it is another matter entirely).  Whilst it is, of course, important to raise awareness of breast cancer, there are plenty of other cancers that are hardly spoken of, but really should be.  Have you heard of Movember?  If so, marvellous.  If not, then it’s a campaign that revolves around men’s health and aims to raise awareness of prostate and testicular cancers in particular (which are the two most common male-specific cancers in the UK), but other cancers and health issues, too.  I feel that this is an excellent cause, especially since men seem to be notorious for not going to see the doctor when they probably should (based on the men in my family), so the more awareness the better.

Aside from being an important cause, what I also really like about the Movember awareness campaign is they’ve made it fun and different.  The idea is that men who want to take part in raising awareness grow a moustache for the month of November (Moustache, November, Movember.  See what they did there?) and get sponsored to do so in order to raise money which goes towards men’s health charities (I think the charities are country-specific).  It’s fun, it’s different, it’s interactive (sort of).  Excellent.  Now, for obvious reasons, I haven’t grown a moustache for Movember (that would be a newsworthy feat indeed…  And rather worrying), but I’ve gone for the next best thing…  Manly cupcakes with moustaches!  Obviously (because the photos totally hadn’t given that away already).

Now I realise that “manly cupcakes” are a bit of an oxymoron, since cupcakes are supposed to be all cute and everything.  When I first came up with this idea, I wasn’t really sure how I was going to make the cupcakes manly, short of adding bacon to them (which I have actually seen recipes for).  Bacon was out, so what other ingredients could I use?  Beer.  Beer is manly (clearly there’s no stereotyping going on here whatsoever…).  Guinness is very manly.  And I know that you can bake with it because I’ve eaten chocolate Guinness cake before and it was tasty, so chocolate Guinness cupcakes were clearly the answer, adorned with chocolate moustaches for Movember (because clearly that makes them so much manlier).  Sorted.  They turned out rather delicious, if I do say so myself.  They’re wonderfully moist and although you’d expect the combination of chocolate and Guinness to be heavy, they’re surprisingly light.  They were even given a Manly Seal of Approval by Craig (though considering that the last baked goods I gave him were pink Rose Martini macarons, these were highly likely to be deemed manly in comparison…).  So here we go, manly moustachioed cupcakes for Movember!

Chocolate Guinness cupcakes

Makes 24 cupcakes
Cakes adapted from My Baking Addiction
Icing adapted from Home Bake

Don’t be put off trying these if you don’t like the taste of Guinness, because it’s a subtle flavour that blends perfectly with the chocolate rather than coming through outright and overwhelming the cupcake – trust me, because I really don’t like Guinness as a drink, but I love these!  The chocolate moustaches are a fun decoration, but have a slight tendency to droop a little if the cupcakes are left out somewhere warm, so it’s best to add them at the last minute before serving, or to keep these cupcakes in a cool (but not cold) place.  If you don’t want to make chocolate moustaches, you could just use chocolate sprinkles or a dusting of cocoa powder to finish them off.

Ingredients

For the cakes:
330g all-purpose flour
300g caster sugar
65g cocoa powder (at least 70%)
1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
375 ml of Guinness (or other stout)
120 ml milk
120 ml organic rapeseed oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs
150g sour cream
100g dark chocolate chips (optional)

For the cream cheese icing:
50g white chocolate
200g cream cheese, softened
100g un-salted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
450g icing sugar

For the chocolate moustaches:
A few squares dark chocolate (at least 70%)

Directions

To make the cakes:
1.  Pre-heat the oven to 175°C.  Line two muffins tins with 24 cupcake liners, or set out 24 silicone muffin moulds on a baking sheet.

2.  Into a large bowl, sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda, and mix them together.

3.  In a separate large bowl, whisk together the Guinness, milk, oil and extract (using a hand whisk, not an electric one).  Gently whisk in the eggs, one by one, followed by the sour cream (it might start of lumpy, but it will smoothen out, I promise).  Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients gradually by adding a little at a time (I started off whisking then switched to a wooden spoon when the mixture thickened a little).  Stir in the chocolate chips (optional).

4.  Spoon the mixture into the liners or moulds, taking care not to over-fill them (the mixture will be quite wet).  If you added chocolate chips, most of them will have promptly sunk to the bottom, so bear this in mind and try to scoop some into each liner or mould.

5.  Bake for 25 mins, until the cupcakes have risen and are set in the middle, but still soft.  Allow to cool in the tins before turning out and icing.

For the icing:
6.  Whilst the cakes cool down, prepare the icing.  Melt the white chocolate in a small heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water (make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl).  Remove from the heat and allow to cool down to nearly room temperature.

7.  In a large bowl, whisk the cream cheese and butter together using an electric hand whisk.  Once smooth, beat in the white chocolate and vanilla extract.  Mix in the icing sugar a little at a time (unless you’d like a humungous icing sugar explosion), until the icing is fluffy and smooth.

8.  Spoon the cream cheese icing into a piping bag with a large round tip and pipe icing swirls over the tops of the completely cooled cupcakes.

To make the chocolate moustaches:
9.  Line a baking tray or tin with some baking paper.  Melt a few squares of chocolate in a small heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Remove from the heat as soon as the chocolate is smooth, and allow to cool a little.  Spoon the chocolate into a piping bag fitted with a small round tip and pipe out the moustache shapes (if the chocolate is still too hot, you’ll feel it through the piping bag – please don’t burn yourself!).  Allow to harden before carefully peeling off from the baking paper and placing on top of the cupcakes.

Enjoy!

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Filed under Recipes, Sweet Foods

A big toothy sharky grin for 100 posts!

I can’t quite believe that this is my  100th post.  I can’t quite believe that I’ve published 99 rambling stories, recipes and anecdotes, and that people have actually been reading them.  I find that amazing.  To celebrate my  100th post, I was originally going to share what I’d learnt from blogging, or something along those lines, but my blog’s birthday is next week, so I’ll save my ground-breaking insights for that occasion (don’t hold your breath).  So instead, I thought I’d do something a little different.  If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may remember that to celebrate my  50th post, I introduced you to my oven gloves, the inspiration for my blog’s name.  As might be obvious from the name Sharky Oven Gloves and the fact that I have two shark-shaped oven gloves as well as a shark mug (which crops up in photos occasionally), I love sharks.  So I thought I’d share three of my favourite photos of real live sharks that I took whilst doing an internship at a research lab in South Africa about three years ago.

Apparently this shark didn’t get the memo that there’s no recipe today.  She ate the entire bait rope.  And tried to eat the buoy as well.  (By the way, the bait is used to bring the great whites (Carcharodon carcharias) as close to the boat as possible to get photos of their dorsal fins, as each one is individual which allows identification – rather like fingerprints, but a bit more difficult to obtain.  The sharks aren’t supposed to get the bait, but sometimes they’re stealthier and faster than the person operating the bait rope, and once they get hold of it, they have a tendency to not let go.  And have you ever tried to play tug-of-war against the tonne of muscle that is a great white?  My guess is no, and my advice is don’t try it.  This shark was clearly of the distinctly uncooperative variety as she kept showing us her belly rather than her back.)

This shark was far more cooperative, and even grinned for the camera (anthropomorphism?  What anthropomorphism?) – clearly a diva shark.  Her fin isn’t quite entirely out of the water, so it’s not ideal for identification, but if you look closely, you can see that there are a few notches along the straight edge, and those are what make the fin individual, along with colour blotches and scars (those this shark has no examples of those).  Contrary to Jaws, great whites don’t usually swim along with their fins sticking out of the water, which is why a bait rope is used to try and get them to the surface and close to the boat (wait, what, that film wasn’t an accurate portrayal of Great White behaviour???  No way!).

As for this shark, well, she literally jumped for joy at the prospect of being featured on my blog.  Her little five minutes seconds of internet fame.  That is an actual great white somersaulting out of the water, by the way (before anybody tries to tell me that sharks don’t do that, and am I sure it’s not a dolphin?).  Have you ever seen the footage of sharks hunting seals by ambushing them from below in documentaries?  If not, you can find a clip from BBC Planet Earth here (it involves seals getting munched on by sharks, so don’t watch it if that will upset you), narrated by the amazing Sir David Attenborough, who graduated with us in June as an honorary graduate.  So we’re practically the best of friends, Sir David and I (I wish).

So on that exciting note, thanks for indulging my shark over-enthusiasm (I know it’s not shared by everybody…).  Enjoy the rest of your day!

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Filed under Ramblings, Sharks

Random Recipe #10: Celeriac soup

Here in the Northern hemisphere, it’s definitely soup season.  So it’s very apt that for this month’s Random Recipe challenge, Dom has teemed up with Jac from Tinned Tomatoes who runs the No Croutons Required blog challenge, which involves sharing a vegetarian soup or salad recipe.  The rules for the joint challenge were simple: we had to randomly choose a soup (or salad – but I’m very definitely sticking to soup for this one) from our cookery books, and then make it.  Oh, and the soup also had to be vegetarian.  Easy-peasy.  Or so I thought…  Most of my cookery books are oriented towards desserts and baking, or specific foodstuffs like muffins or macarons, so it turns out that soup recipes are rather few and far between.  But I have a fair amount of soup recipes that I’ve collected from magazines or blogs, so I decided to randomly choose one of those instead.  A random number generator directed me to a rather delicious-sounding pear soup with pancetta and blue cheese soup, and I was looking forward to trying it out.  Until I noticed that one of the main ingredients is pancetta (I know, it’s in the title of the recipe – how did I not notice??), which makes it very much not vegetarian.  I randomly chose a further three recipes, none of which were vegetarian either (who knew there were so many non-vegetarian soups?!) and was starting to get rather frustrated at this point.  So I switched tactics, and randomly picked a recipe from my mum’s folder of recipes (it’s still a randomly chosen recipe, so I’m not breaking the rules or anything… right?).

The recipe I chose was for celeriac soup, and was definitely vegetarian.  Success!  It’s a recipe that my mum had quickly noted down whilst watching a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall cookery programme a while ago.  Up until we made the soup, I’d always thought that celeriac and celery were the same thing (namely celery sticks), and were maybe just an American/British vocabulary difference or something.  Turns out they’re not the same thing at all.  Well, I mean they’re both from the same plant, but they are different parts.  As my mum put it, celeriac tends to get a bit neglected because it’s ugly (it’s the big round thing that isn’t an onion or a potato in the photo above) and people don’t necessarily know what to do with it.  Or know that it exists, if you’re me.  I don’t really know how I’d describe the taste.  I was sort of expecting it to taste a bit like celery sticks or something.  Thankfully it doesn’t (since they taste of approximately nothing), but it doesn’t have a particularly strong taste.  The soup was good, but I wouldn’t say it was ground-breaking.  Because I’d never really had celeriac soup before, it was different, but ultimately, it was a bit on the bland side, and I’m not sure what I’d add to bring the flavours out better.  But it hasn’t put me off from trying other celeriac soup recipes.  In fact, I’m rather determined to find a delicious one!  Not by the challenge deadline though, so this will have to do for now…

Celeriac soup

Serves 4-5
Adapted from a Hugh F-W recipe in my mum’s folder of recipes

Whilst this soup is good, it is a bit bland on the bland side and needs something to lift the flavour, though I’m not sure quite what (not very helpful, I know – suggestions on a postcard in the comments welcome).  The original recipe called for vegetable stock rather than water, but we felt that the flavour of the stock might over-power the fairly mild taste of the celeriac.  Perhaps we were wrong and the vegetable stock would have improved the soup.

Ingredients

1 small leek
1 celeriac
1 potato
2 small onions
1 garlic clove
Ground nutmeg, to serve (optional)

Directions

1.  Slice the leek and peel and dice the celeriac, potato, onions and garlic (none of these have to be diced or sliced perfectly evenly – it’s all going to be blended at the end…).

2.  Melt some butter in a large pot on a medium-low heat, add the vegetables to soften for about 10 mins, stirring frequently so that the vegetables don’t colour.

3.  Add just over 1 litre of water to the pot (the amount of water that you add depends on how thick you want your soup.  Make sure that there is enough to cover the vegetables though – we used about 1.1 litre), cover and simmer for about 30-35 mins until the vegetables are cooked and tender.

4.  Remove from the heat, season and either pour into a blender or use a hand-held immersion blender to blend until smooth.  Return the blended soup to the heat until heated through and serve immediately, with a sprinkling of ground nutmeg and fresh bread on the side.

Enjoy!

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Filed under Recipes, Savoury Foods

Ask, and you shall receive…

Even though I’ve been blogging for nearly a year now, I still find the whole concept a little odd.  Well, not odd exactly, but… I can’t really think of a better word (and my thesaurus hasn’t come to my rescue).  Actually, I think “strangely fascinating” might be the description I’m going for.  I spend most of my posts rambling on about various fairly uninteresting happenings in my life, and I find it astounding that people actually read them.  If I’m honest, they probably skip most of it and scroll down to the recipe (were you just about to do that?  Don’t worry, I’ll just cry myself to sleep tonight I won’t be offended), but it’s gratifying to think that people from all over the world actually read what I write.  I find it doubly astounding that people actually subscribe to Sharky Oven Gloves – 42 of you have chosen to read my rants and rambles on a regular basis.  And, at least for the 38 of you whom I don’t actually know (hello there!!  Thanks for subscribing!), you’ve chosen to do so of your own free will.  Maybe I don’t sound quite as boring or borderline crazy as I think.  Or perhaps you all just skip through to the recipes…

It’s always exciting when my site stats are higher than usual, but what I really love is when people leave comments (that’s not a hint, but feel free to take it as one…).  Sometimes, a genial comment can make my day.  My site stats show me the number of times that a post has been read, but they don’t tell me whether somebody enjoyed reading the post or hated it, so it’s always great to know if somebody enjoyed reading a post.  Or if somebody tried the recipe, and what they thought of it.  I’m sure that other bloggers will agree that the interaction with people who could be almost anywhere in the world really makes blogging interesting and worthwhile.  Comments are also helpful to gauge what people enjoy (or don’t enjoy) and would like to see more of – though rest assured that I have no intention of changing what or how I write to cater to a wider audience or anything, though I am working on trying to be more concise (it’s not going very well).  It’s just good to know if there are things that you, my dear 42 regular readers (could Sharky Oven Gloves be the meaning of life?), would like to read about or particular recipe requests.  A few weeks ago, somebody left me a lovely comment asking if I’d posted the recipe for the muffins that feature in the header on my home page, because they “look seriously yummy.”

Well, I can assure you that they are seriously yummy.  I’ve baked quite a few batches of them for parties because most people like lemon, and most people like almonds, and it’s blatantly obvious that they contain nuts, so anybody who is allergic to nuts is unlikely to eat one without realising (and if they can’t work it out from the flaked almonds on top, well…  They’re probably already on their way to a Darwin Award).  I actually feel a bit cheeky – these lemon and almond muffins have featured on my home page header since I started my blog and yet it’s taken me nearly a year to share the recipe?  Shocking!  Thanks to SH’s comment though, I decided to sort that out.  So, my dear readers, the moral of the story is: ask, and you shall receive…  Maybe.  If you ask nicely.  (And if it’s a reasonable request.)  SH, wherever you are, here’s that recipe, just for you!  I hope you enjoy it!!

Lemon & almond muffins

Makes 14 muffins
Adapted from Mad About Muffins

The flaked almonds on top give a lovely crunch to the muffin, and whilst the ground almond makes the muffins a little heavier, the lemon flavour really comes through and adds a lovely freshness to the muffins. These are delicious both warm or cold.  As with most muffins, these won’t keep very well for very long, but they can be stored overnight in an air-tight box.

Ingredients

235g all-purpose flour
150g caster sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
100g ground almonds
100g unsalted butter
2 eggs
1 tsp almond extract
Zest and juice of 2 unwaxed lemons
Approx 70 ml milk
50g flaked almonds

Directions

1.  Line a muffin tin with 14 liners, or set out silicone muffin moulds on a baking sheet.  Preheat the oven to 200°C/ fan oven 180°C.

2.  Sift the flour, caster sugar, baking powder, salt and ground almonds into a large bowl.  You might need to push the ground almond through the sieve with the back of a spoon.  Add the zest, and stir all the dry ingredients together.

3.  Melt the butter in the microwave or in a small saucepan.  In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the almond extract. Pour the lemon juice into measuring jug and top it up to 170 ml with milk (I got about 100 ml of juice from two lemons, so needed about 70 ml of milk) before mixing into the egg mixture (don’t worry if the milk separates).

4.  Add the wet ingredients and the melted butter to the dry ingredients and fold together with a large metal spoon until just combined (the batter should still be a bit lumpy, with some flour still visible).  Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin liners.  Sprinkle the tops evenly with the flaked almonds.

5.  Bake for 20-23 mins, until golden and will risen and the tops spring back when lightly pressed.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool a little before eating.

Enjoy!

PS – The crying-myself-thing-to-sleep thing was a joke by the way.  Eating muffins is a much better coping mechanism.  Sniff.

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Filed under Ramblings, Recipes, Sweet Foods

Toothy’s Travels – St Andrews: St Rule’s Tower

I briefly mentioned in my last post that I spent Friday and Saturday in St Andrews, which was my first trip back since the start of the academic year (the trip involving Kat’s killer whale birthday cake was still during the summer holidays).  It was great being back and I had a wonderful time (the puffer fish cake pops that Kat and I made will be making an appearance next Zoosday Tuesday – I hope you’re excited), but at the same time, it felt a bit strange not belonging there anymore.  I really miss St Andrews, and it makes me sad that it’s no longer my home.  I don’t really know anybody in Edinburgh and don’t really feel at home here, which probably makes me miss St Andrews even more.  As a result, my original post for today ended up being a little on the depressing side – I’m not sure what the blog post equivalent of sobbing is, but I think this one was pretty close.  You’ll be glad to know that I’m sparing you from reading that emotional mess and have decided to do a Toothy’s Travels post instead, since I haven’t done one in a while.  I’m keeping with the St Andrews theme though, and using some of the photos that I’ve amassed over the course of four years in St Andrews…

Until the Reformation, St Andrews was the religious centre of Scotland.  St Andrews Cathedral was Scotland’s largest medieval church, and was the seat of Scotland’s most prominent bishops and archbishops.  The site on which it was built had been a place of worship since the relics of Scotland’s patron saint, St Andrew, are said to have been brought there in the 8th century AD.  The Cathedral was sacked by the followers of John Knox in 1559 and is now in ruins, with only a few parts still standing, resulting in an instantly recognisable skyline consisting of the east gable (in the centre of the photo above) and St Rule’s Tower (the square tower on the right).

I’ll talk more about the Cathedral in a future post, but today I’m going to focus just on St Rule’s Tower, which was part of St Rule’s Church, the first church in an Augustinian priory.  It was probably built in around 1130, which means that it pre-dates the Cathedral.  The tower is one of the few parts within the Cathedral complex that is still standing, and I’m not sure why it wasn’t completely sacked and hasn’t fallen into ruin.  Perhaps the reformers decided that it would make a useful watchtower or something.  Whatever the reason, it is still standing today, and you can climb it (you can buy the token required to get into the tower from the Cathedral visitor centre).

The tower is 33m high, so there is an uninterrupted panoramic view of St Andrews and its surroundings from the top.  I think it’s definitely worth a climb to see how the town is laid out.  It gives a completely different view of St Andrews and I think it’s fascinating.  There’s a selection of views from the top in the slideshow below.  Seeing the three main streets in the centre of town all lead to the Cathedral really shows how important the Cathedral once was.  West Sands stretches so much further than you expect it to, as do the various golf courses.  If you’re a first-time visitor to St Andrews, the view gives you a good feel for the lay-out of the town.  If you live in St Andrews or know the town well, it’s so interesting to see it from a different perspective and pick out all your usual haunts and favourite places.  I climbed St Rule’s Tower twice during my four years in St Andrews, and both times I was surprised at how funny it is to see the buildings that I was in and out of all the time as suddenly tiny.  I’m clearly easily fascinated…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Whilst I would definitely recommend climbing St Rule’s Tower, I should mention that it does involve a fairly narrow spiral staircase used by people going both up and down (although I’ve never actually had to pass anybody on the staircase).  So if you’re claustrophobic or not able to climb up 33m worth of stairs without really having space to stop, giving the tower a miss might be a better idea…  Luckily, there’s plenty to explore within the Cathedral complex if you’re with people who do want to climb the tower.  If you’re there during Graduation Week at the end of June you can people-watch as loads of Graduates get their photo taken amongst the ruins (gosh, who would ever do such a thing as that…?).

Enjoy the rest of your day!

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Pumpkin & cream cheese muffins

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve taken part in the Breakfast Club blog challenge.  There’s no particular reason for this – I can hardly say that I’ve been too busy, and I’ve certainly not stopped eating breakfast or anything ridiculous like that.  Perhaps I’ve just been lacking in inspiration a bit…  Whatever the reason, I decided to get my act together and get back into the challenge, because it’s always good to keep breakfast interesting!  The current challenge is being hosted by Sarah at A little bit of heaven on a plate…, and she has chosen “Stars and Stripes” as the theme.

Now I’d say that the US is pretty big on breakfast, so I felt rather spoilt for choice.  To me, the most utterly American breakfast just has to be blueberry pancakes – they just scream USA.  But it’s not exactly blueberry season, so I had to come up with something else…  We lived in the US for four years when I was little, and for some reason, I always associate pumpkins with the US.  Something to do with the whole pumpkin-carving tradition at Halloween perhaps, and enforced by the almost constant presence of pumpkin pie between Halloween and Thanksgiving?  Who knows why I associate anything pumpkin-related with the US, but I do.  So I thought about making pumpkin pancakes for breakfast.  Of course, if I was going to go all-out American, the obvious thing to do would be to use tinned pumpkin (Libby’s, of course), but aside from not having any, I decided that I’d feel a bit silly using tinned pumpkin when it’s actually pumpkin season.  I do try to use seasonal ingredients as much as possible, so fresh pumpkin was really the only option.  This also means that I could submit this recipe to the Simple and in Season blog event over at Fabulicious Food.  So I acquired an adorable little pumpkin and set about roasting it, ready to use in some pumpkin pancakes

Now, you’ve probably noticed that the photos in this post are quite clearly not pancakes.  Not even pancakes gone horribly, horribly wrong.  And you’d be correct, because you see, whilst planning my pancakes, I may have gotten ever so slightly distracted by a muffin recipe…  A rather delicious-sounding recipe for pumpkin muffins with a surprise layer of cream cheese hidden inside.  Luckily, I also consider muffins to be a totally American thing to have for breakfast (although I feel they should be jumbo muffins – unfortunately I don’t have any large muffin moulds or tins, so I just had to make normal-sized ones), so I scrapped the pancake plan and made pumpkin and cream cheese muffins instead.  How did they turn out?  Delicious!  They’re wonderfully moist and have a strong pumpkin flavour which goes beautifully with the surprise cream cheese layer.  Basically, they taste like pumpkin pie, but in a muffin.  Being muffins, they’re also easy to eat whilst travelling, and I had several of these for breakfast whilst on the bus to St Andrews on Friday morning.  They made an excellent start to a wonderful little two-day trip!

Pumpkin & cream cheese muffins

Makes 6-7 muffins
Adapted from Eat Good 4 Life

I used homemade pumpkin purée by mashing-up some pumpkin that I roasted the other day, but tinned pumpkin would probably work just as well.  The chopped pecans sprinkled over the top are completely optional, but add a lovely crunch to the muffin – the original recipe called for pumpkin seeds which I’m sure would also work really well.  As with all muffins, these don’t store all that well, but they’ll be perfectly fine for breakfast if made the evening before and stored in an airtight box.

Ingredients

For the muffins:
60g cream cheese
20g icing sugar
90g whole wheat bread flour
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cloves
130g pumpkin purée
1 egg
65g unrefined granulated sugar
30 ml milk
60 ml olive oil
¼ tsp vanilla essence

For the topping:
A few pecan halves (optional)
2 tbsp unrefined granulated sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon

Directions

1.  Line a muffin tin with liners or set out silicon liners on a baking tray.  Pre-heat the oven to 175°C.

2.  In a small bowl, whisk together the cream cheese and icing sugar, and set aside.

3.  Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices together into a bowl, and mix together.

4.  In a separate bowl, beat together the pumpkin purée, egg, sugar, milk, olive oil and vanilla essence.  Once the wet ingredients are well mixed together, stir in the dry ingredients using a metal spoon until just combined.

5.  Add about half a tablespoon of pumpkin mixture to each muffin liner (make sure that the mixture covers the bottom but that there is enough left to cover the cream cheese layer).  Add a dollop of cream cheese in each liner on top of the pumpkin layer.  Split the remaining pumpkin mixture between the liners, making sure to completely cover the cream cheese layer.  For the topping, mix the sugar and cinnamon in a small ramekin.  Roughly chop the pecans and sprinkle evenly over the muffins, followed by the cinnamon sugar.

6.  Bake for 20-25 mins, until golden.  Allow to cool in the tin for a few mins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

Enjoy!

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Gunpowder, treason and plot… And chocolate toffee apples

Chele form Chocolate Teapot has chosen “apple” as the special ingredient for this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge.  On reading the challenge, I must admit that I was not convinced by the apple-chocolate combination.  I just couldn’t taste it in my mind (if that makes sense – perhaps I should have said that I just couldn’t imagine the taste).  I resigned myself to the inevitable last-minute, slightly panicky, cobbled-together entry that would take me a whole month to come up with and turned my thoughts to toffee apples and Bonfire Night, which is tomorrow.  And then suddenly it hit me – what about chocolate toffee apples?  Hello potentially genius idea…

Now, I’ve never tried making toffee apples before, in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten eaten one before.  The first step was to find a recipe, and none of my recipe books obliged (probably because most of them are French).  Now, there are approximately 56 bajillion toffee apple recipes online, which doesn’t help when trying to narrow them down.  In the end, I settled on one that seemed straightforward and didn’t require condensed milk (because I’ve no idea what else to do with the other part of the tin that would be left over).  So I settled on one from BBC Food, and added some cocoa powder in at the end.  I think the addition of the cocoa powder made the toffee a lot thicker and heavier and also meant that the toffee wasn’t as smooth glossy as it would normally be, which also resulted in a few issues when trying to coat the apples as the toffee cooled quicker than I was expecting (I was faffing around a bit though, hence why there’s an uncoated apple in the  photo…).  I’ve never tried a normal toffee apple before, so I can’t say whether I prefer these or not, but these did taste good!  Enjoy Bonfire Night, however you’re planning on celebrating!  (Hopefully toffee apples are involved…!)

Chocolate toffee apples

Makes 3
Adapted from BBC Food

I used Cox apples, because that’s what I happened to have, and they’re quite crisp which works well.  If you don’t have skewers or lollipop sticks, you could probably just drop the apples into the toffee and fish them out with a slotted spoon or something (though eating them without a stick to hold onto could be a slightly messy affair).  Using a small saucepan makes the toffee layer deeper, making it easier to dip the apples.  I think the addition of the cocoa powder resulted in a slightly thicker toffee, which made coating a little more difficult, and the toffee cooled slightly quicker, too.  Remember that this involves heating sugar to 140°C, so it’s probably best to keep small children and pets out of the kitchen until everything has cooled.

Ingredients

3 small apples
110g granulated sugar
60 ml water
15g butter
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp roasted chopped hazelnuts
10g cocoa powder (at least 70%)

Directions

1.  Scrub the apples in hot water to remove the waxy layer so that the toffee sticks well.  Remove the stalks and insert a lollipop stick or bamboo skewer halfway into the apple through the bit where the stalk was.  Set on a lined baking sheet and place near the hob.

2.  Heat the water and sugar together in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves.  Stir in the cubed butter and honey and bring to the boil.  Clip your sugar thermometer to the saucepan, and allow to boil without stirring until the temperature reaches 140°C.

3.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and carefully stir in the nuts and sifted cocoa powder (be careful not to splash yourself with hot toffee).

4.  Carefully (but quickly) dip each apple into the saucepan, coating as thoroughly as you can (don’t worry if you don’t get it right to the top though).  Set the apples on the lined baking tray to cool and harden.

Enjoy!

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Roast figs with honey & goat’s cheese

My mum is currently on holiday, which means that I’ve been left to fend for myself for two weeks.  I managed to fend for myself, feed myself, and generally survive during my four years of university, so this isn’t exactly a challenge.  Far from it, in fact.  Since I don’t have any essays or deadlines to worry about, I can play around with food-related ideas without having to feel guilty because I should actually be reading papers or pulling my hair out analysing data.  Not that that ever really stopped me anyway…  In theory, I could try out recipes and churn out a batch of cupcakes or macarons or cookies every day.  There’s just one teeny tiny little problem…  I have nobody to share all these theoretical baked goods with, and there’s no way I could eat an entire batch every single day without making myself feel sick (plus, I already don’t go to the gym nearly as often as I’d like, so eating a batch of baked goods every day probably wouldn’t help matters.  And I’d also like to avoid diabetes for a little longer, thanks).

In St Andrews, it was easy to find eager recipients for baked goods – I suspect that a large proportion of my friends were only friends with me because they wanted cake.  In Edinburgh, I have a grand total of one friend (actually that’s a lie, I managed to bump the total up to two yesterday.  Oh the achievement.  Actually, it’s not even much of an achievement – I already knew them, I just didn’t know they were currently studying in Edinburgh).  So I can’t really try a new muffin/cookie/macaron flavour every day and share the results.  But I still want to try out new recipes, particularly since I currently have the time.  The obvious solution is to experiment with savoury recipes, because even if I don’t want to eat a batch of cupcakes every day, I’ll definitely be eating lunch and dinner, thanks very much.  And breakfast, too, obviously, though I’m usually not too keen on having to put a significant amount of effort into breakfast before I can sit down and actually eat it (muffins baked the night before though, no problem).  I’ve cooked quite a few delicious dinners or lunches that I would have liked to share, but haven’t been happy with the photos.  I find it quite difficult to make savoury foods look really appetising in photos and I would also quite like to eat my dinner warm.  I think I just need more practice in styling food brilliantly and quickly.  A lot of practice.  Ideally, I’d also like a proper camera, but my little five-year old point-and-shoot camera usually manages alright with cupcakes and macarons, so I don’t think my camera is really the problem…  (Any tips on photographing savoury food appetisingly are definitely welcome!)

Anyway, you well wonder where all this rambling is going (I may or may not be wondering the same thing).  My original point was that I’m currently on my own, which means that if a particular food experiment fails miserably doesn’t quite work, having toast and pâté for dinner is a totally acceptable back-up plan.  I’m not sure that my mum would agree, so I’ve been trying a few ideas out.  Ideas of the I’ve-no-idea-what-I’m-doing-so-I’ll-just-make-this-up-as-I-go-along-but-I’m-sure-it’ll-be-fine variety.  When I was in Waitrose a few days ago, I saw they were selling fresh figs at half price, and since it’s getting to the end of fig season, and they were in really good condition and just looked so tempting, I bought a packet (I’m like a retailer’s dream customer sometimes – ooo it looks pretty, ooo it’s half price, yes please!).  When I got home, I remembered that I don’t really like fresh figs.  I know, I know.  But they looked so beautiful…  Anyway, I decided that roasting them with honey would probably make them a delicious dessert, because honey makes everything better.  Then I had a moment of inspiration yesterday, and I decided to make them savoury by adding walnuts, goat’s cheese and rosemary and have them for dinner.  My theory was that the goat’s cheese and rosemary would make it savoury enough to work as a dinner, even with the honey (back-up plan: toast).  And you know what?  It totally worked!  The dish turned out to be ridiculously easy to throw together (except that I couldn’t find our stash of rosemary, so I had to use thyme instead), and it turns out that I love roasted figs.  Now, excuse me whilst I go see if Waitrose have any beautiful half-price fresh figs left…

Roast figs with honey & goat’s cheese

Serves 2 as a starter, 1 as a light meal
From my imagination

I’d originally planned to use rosemary, but our supply appears to have run away, so I used thyme instead – both work really well, so just use whichever you prefer or have available.  This recipe is super easy and quick to throw together, so it would make a delicious but easy starter or quick lunch.  The ingredient quantities are more guidelines than anything else.

Ingredients

Handful of walnut halves
4 fresh figs
4 tbsp of runny honey
Several sprigs thyme or rosemary (or about 1 tbsp if using dried herbs)
70g crumbly goat’s cheese

Directions

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C.

2.  In a small frying pan, lightly toast the walnut halves for a few minutes, until they start to release their smell (make sure not to let them burn).  Remove from the heat, allow to cool a little and roughly chop (depending on how large you want the pieces to be).

3.  Cut a cross in the top of the figs to about half way down the fig so that they open up a bit if gently squeezed at the bottom (I cut a little too close to the bottom on mine so they opened right up when roasted) and place in a small roasting tin.  Sprinkle the chopped toasted walnuts into the opened figs, dividing evenly between the four.  Drizzle about 1 tbsp per fig of honey over the walnuts (don’t worry if some of the honey spills out of the figs).  Finely chop the thyme or rosemary and sprinkle over the honey (or add a large pinch of dried herbs to each fig), followed by the crumbled goat’s cheese (don’t worry if some falls out of the fig), finished off with some roughly ground or cracked black pepper.

4.  Roast in the oven for 10-12 mins, until the goat’s cheese begins to melt and just turn golden.  Serve immediately on a bed of salad (peppery rocket works really well) with the juices from the roasting tin drizzled over the top.

Enjoy!

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Filed under Recipes, Savoury Foods