Brain Cakes


Remember the time I made cakes that looked like brains?

brain-cakes-plate

The unavoidable answer to that question is ‘no, what are you talking about?’ because I never did write a blog post about them. Until now!

I only have phone photos – and low lighting phone photos at that – but you’ll be able to get the idea. These were a Hallowe’en project. The G man and I dressed up as Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry.

zombies

Zombie Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, of course. Paul Zombiewood and Mary Deady, to give them the names the G man dreamed (or nightmared) up.

A plate of brain cakes seemed like the kind of thing Mary Berry would do if she was a zombie, so I put some together to serve as a prop, in case the floral jacket wasn’t clue enough to our Hallowe’en identities.

brain-cake

The cupcake on the bottom is your basic vanilla sponge. I also made cake pops with the same batter – half as many cake pops as cupcakes. Then, when everything was baked and cooled, I sliced the cake pops in half, so I had half-spheres to perch on top of the cakes. These were the base for my brains. I liked this much better than having a solid lump of icing on top of every one – combined with the cake and jam, it would have been seriously, teeth-grindingly sweet. There is only so far I’m willing to sacrifice taste for style, you know.

I made a vanilla buttercream, which I dyed a lilac-grey colour, then added a touch of red dye until the icing was a slighly mottled pink-grey – like raw meat. Appetising, no? I mixed it up too far, actually,  so the end result was more pink than anything else. I suppose that did make them look a bit healthier, and your discerning zombie would eat nothing but the healthiest brains available, preferably free-range and organic ones.

brain-cakes

I filled each cake with strawberry jam, leaving a big splodge on top of the cake to stick my half-cake pops to. Once they were all on, it was time to decorate – if I’d made the brains first, then tried to stick them on, I’d definitely have flattened and smudged the icing. The brain detail was piped on top with a fine nozzle. It was painstaking work, it must be said. I applied a straight line right across the middle, then used a back and forth looping motion to fill in each half, with any gaps being filled by extra little lines and loops.

They came out suitably gory, just right for a Hallowe’en party. For a last-minute idea (hence the lack of photos), they ended up being pretty great. This year I’ll be more prepared.

Unless Paul Zombiewood resurfaces and eats my actual brains.


Work in Progress – Peacock Blanket


If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you might know that I’m working on a big crochet project. I found the pattern on Ravelry – it’s a beautiful Peacock Blanket, and it will take me some time to finish.

Is this a good time to mention that you can find all my social media links on the right side of the blog? Click on any of those black and white icons to see what I’m up to when I’m not blogging (hint: I’m crocheting).

Before I could start the blanket, I had to learn to crochet. Nothing like starting out with an easy one, right? Here’s a demonstration of how my skills have progressed:

Peacock-Blanket-017

The stitches on the left are the newest ones, where I’m starting to figure out what individual stitches look like, and how to crochet through the right parts of the stitch to get the finished result I want. The right hand side is looser, less even, generally a bit muddled. Progress! I might make another sample swatch before I start on the blanket proper, but for now I’m working on the feathers.

Peacock-Blanket-005

The blanket is made in two stages – one is blanket itself, in the pattern above (though neater, of course), and the other is the feathers, which are stitched evenly on to the reverse side. I’ll have to make 102 of these, a seemingly vast number. That said, I’ve made 14 in the last week – only another 7.2 weeks to go, at this rate. Plus blanket time… At present they take almost an hour apiece – I hope I’ll get faster as I go along. I think I might still be making my stitches too tight, they’re tricky to get the hook into. Still, they’re coming out well! They’re all a little different – while there’s part of me that would like exact uniformity, it’s nice to see a bit of character emerging in each feather. I love the colours.

Peacock-Blanket-007

I am still firmly in the ‘learn by doing’ camp, but I did have one practise run with spare yarn, after I’d spent some time on the practise swatch above. There were a lot of different stitches to learn – the blanket itself uses single and double crochet, multiple double crochets in the same stitch, and cluster stitches. The feathers use a magic loop, single crochet, double crochet, half double crochet and triple crochet. I mean… half double crochet. To the layperson, that makes no sense whatsoever. Luckily, the internet is there to help me through.

That’s as far as we’ve got. Hopefully the next time you see the blanket, I’ll have finished at least one part of the process. Stay tuned…


Salmon and Noodles with Sweet Chili and Coriander Butter


Now, doesn’t that sound like a cheffy kind of dinner?

Salmon-and-Noodles-Close

That’s because the recipe was created by Jean Paul Giraud, the chef at the Millennium Hotel Glasgow. The Millennium and Copthorne Hotels group asked some bloggers to try and recreate the dish at home, and kindly sent us bags of quality ingredients to make it so.

Note: in case that wasn’t explicit enough, Millenium and Copthorne sent me all the ingredients to make this blog post possible, through the ever-capable middle men at the Joe Blogs Blogger Network. All opnions and thoughts are, as ever, my own .

I was expecting a box or a bag of ingredients, so I arranged to have them delivered to me at work. Imagine my surprise, and the bafflement of the people behind reception, when a Sainsbury’s delivery man showed up with four bags of shopping, including a whole bottle of wine. No, go ahead and imagine it. I hustled (and rustled) back to my desk slightly red-faced after collecting that lot. They really pushed the boat out, sending me top quality ingredients, and plenty of them. For example, the recipe calls for an ounce of ginger – I now have enough ginger in my kitchen to start up a ginger ale production line.

You can find the recipe on the Millennium Hotels website. I will say that it’s not the best-written recipe, especially if you’re not an experienced cook. You may have questions like how much coriander should I use? What length of time constitutes a decent ‘sweating’ for the ginger? Why is there a lemon in the ingredients and not in the instructions? What am I supposed to do with this lemon?!

The answers to those are: a big handful, a few minutes and I don’t know, my friend. But you know what they say. When life gives you lemons…

Life actually gave me a bag of lemons on this occasion, none of which ended up in the dinner. That’s certainly enough for lemonade.

 

Salmon-and-Noodles

 

Other than these grey areas, the recipe went really well, and I felt proper fancy serving this up. One thing to note: the recipe calls for sakura cress, which I would have substituted with mustard cress. In among my unexpectedly large amount of shopping was a bag of watercress, which actually tasted great with the salmon and ginger and looked pretty, to boot. I sprinkled it over the top before serving. Watercress doesn’t need much by way of cooking before it wilts away into nothingness. I also added a few garnishing leaves of coriander. That’s just how I roll.

 

 

The gist of the recipe is this: you fry some salmon fillets, then remove to the oven to finish cooking, or just to keep warm if your fillets are thin. Then you cook up a good dose of ginger, spring onion and red pepper in the same pan (I used a wok instead of a saute pan – it gave me more space to work), and toss in a little butter and some noodles. These, too, are removed and set aside to keep warm while you reduce white wine, sweet chili sauce, coriander into a fragrant sauce, then add in some butter to emulsify.

This is why restaurant food tastes so good – butter in everything.

 

 

The end result was a really great dinner. You could try serving some garlicky pak choi as a side dish, and next time I’d definitely put in extra spring onion. The recipe called for just one – I used two, so they wouldn’t be lonely, but they got a little lost among the crowd of noodles and peppers. The sauce was a revelation – I’d never had thought to combine sweet chili sauce and wine, but it really works. The butter thickens it up, and adds a touch of richness, but still lets the flavours that are already there shine through.

Salmon-and-Noodles-Plate

I encourage you to give the recipe a try – if you do, you can tweet your results with the #TOTTChef hashtag.

Thanks to Millennium and Copthorne, and to the Joe Bloggs Network, for hooking me up!


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