Pumpkin Cupcakes Every Witch Way

I’ve been promising the recipe for making pumpkin cupcakes for a couple of weeks, but of course, timing is everything so about now seems to be the optimum moment.

You can make the actual little pumpkin shaped cupcakes using either the following pumpkin flavoured recipe or a standard vanilla cupcake cake recipe which you can find here (make sure you use a large egg). The buttercream again can either be a standard recipe, such as given in the vanilla cupcake link substituting vanilla extract for orange essence for a nice twist, or again the recipe given below.

So you will need: 12 cupcakes or however many you wish, enough buttercream for the number of cupcakes you wish to decorate, orange coloured sugarpaste (allow 80g per cupcake so 3 x 250g packets will comfortably decorate 12, probably more) a little brown sugarpaste or Matchmakers or a Cadbury’s flake for the pumpkin stalk. Orange, black and green coloured sugarpaste is currently available in supermarkets.

Equipment needs: small palette knife or flat knife, 10cm pastry cutter or similar, a paintbrush or something to make a small round indent.

1) peel the cake cases away from your cupcakes

2) coat the sides and top of the cupcake in soft buttercream with the palette or flat knife

3) roll out about 80g of orange sugarpaste so that it measures at least 20cm diameter

4) Flop the sugarpaste disc over the buttercreamed cupcake and using the pastry cutter trim the disc to 10cm diameter

5) Tuck all the edges round the bottom of the cupcake

6) Sit the cake upright and using the back of a knife, score the pumpkin ridges

7) Using the end of a paintbrush, make an indent on the top of the cake in the centre, and then insert either a little piece of Matchmaker or Cadbury’s Flake or if you have the ‘where with all’ a small piece of brown sugarpaste fashioned into a stalk.

8) Tah Dah!!! Made by 8, 12 and 42 year old bakers….

9) Alternatively you can buy stencils which can be used to create Halloween-y images, once you have iced your cupcakes in the conventional manner, with cinnamon or cocoa powder.

Pumpkin Flavoured Cupcakes

Tricky to get a good bake and a good flavour it seems. I’ve had trouble with the straight Hummingbird recipe (wouldn’t rise) and the flavour of others can be a bit too spicy. This recipe worked for us though, giving the right amount of spice and a rise on the cakes,

For 12 cupcakes: 140g Plain Flour, 1½ tsp Cinnamon, ¼ tsp Nutmeg, ¼ tsp Ginger, ¼ tsp Salt, 1 ½ tsp Baking Powder, ¼ tsp Bicarbonate of Soda, 55g Butter softened, 100g Caster Sugar, 2 ½ tbsp Soft Brown Sugar, 1 Egg, 80 ml Milk, 125g Pumpkin Puree (you can make it or buy it in Waitrose!)

Preheat the oven to 190°C/Fan 170°C and fill a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases.

Into a bowl combine the flour, spices, salt, baking powder and bicarbonate or soda. Stir together and set aside. In another bowl combine the sugars and the butter and beat together ( I would say until light and fluffy but there is so much sugar here I don’t think you will achieve light and fluffy). Add the egg and beat into the butter sugar mixture until smooth, add the milk and the pumpkin puree and beat until combined. At this point it will truly look like a horrible mess, just press on. Stir in the flour mixture lightly until just incorporated and then dollop the batter into the paper cases.

Bake for 25 minutes or so until brown on top and springy to the touch. Allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out.

Once cold coat with the buttercream.

Buttercream with Maple Syrup

90g Butter, softened, 270g Icing Sugar, 1 tbsp Milk, 3 tbsp Maple Syrup

Pop the butter and icing sugar in a bowl and beat together until combined. Add the milk and maple syrup and beat slowly until incorporated and then turn up the speed on the mixture and beat for 5 minutes or so until light and fluffy. It should be very soft to spread.

Alternatively you can use a classic cream cheese buttercream: 50g Butter, softened, 300g Icing Sugar, 125g Cream Cheese, cold. Beat together the butter and icing sugar until well combined and then add the cold cream cheese and beat on a medium speed until you have a soft fluffy icing, about 2 minutes. Do not beat as ferociously as the standard buttercream or for as long as the cheese cream will render the mixture runny and it won’t pipe or spread well.

Pumpkin Puree

Cut up the pumpkin flesh into chunks and pop in a roasting tin with some water in the bottom. Cover with foil and bake until tender on 180 – 200°C. Once cooked, drain any remaining water away and blend until smooth.

Happy Halloween

Burgers with Hidden Vegetables!!!

Now I’m not pretending that this IS the answer to everyone’s prayers, nor am I suggesting that this idea is unique (I’m probably late to this party), but if you really need to entice kids to consume their 5 a day this would be an easy place to start.

I’m just going to jump straight in with this, any further talk about whether or not one’s kids eat veggies and how enthusiastically is totally unnecessary.

This makes around 5 or 6 depending how big your kids are; however don’t go too small if you are tempted as the veggie bits will then seem more prominent. Making burgers is very easy but if you really can’t bind the constituent parts by hand, you might struggle. So in a large bowl you will need:

400g lean minced steak, 1 slice of any bread whizzed up to make breadcrumbs, 1 medium carrot, grated,  1 medium courgette, grated and then pressed between kitchen paper towel to squeeze out the excess moisture (repeat this process 2 or 3 times), ½ tsp dried oregano, a large pinch of salt, a grinding of black pepper, a dribble of Lea and Perrins (optional) and 1 egg.

Combine everything with your hands, squeezing and mushing until thoroughly combined, then form into 5 or 6 burgers and arrange on a plate. Set aside for 5 or 10 minutes whilst the grill or BBQ warms up, you want it hot.

Cook as usual for 15-20 minutes or so, turning from time to time. Obviously check they are cooked through before serving.

The Kids were aware of the veg inclusion but keen to eat these nonetheless. Normally, if I try to pull this sort of stunt, I receive plenty of complaints that I am ruining a perfectly lovely tea/dinner/cake etc etc.

Beach Hut Food (or almost half a dozen things to do with Tortilla Chips)

Despite the distinctly mediocre weather we have been experiencing this week, we have found our collective stiff upper lip and pressed on with our half term/Jubilee plans regardless. We like to book a beach hut on Studland beach for a week each year and this week has been the appointed one. The weather on the Isle of Purbeck can frequently render national forecasts useless and certainly for part of the time I think we have managed to suffer far less rain than some. Sunday tea time we returned from a very pleasant afternoon at the beach, switched on the TV, to find the National Anthem in full flow on the River Thames and a bedraggled choir trying to look cheerful notwithstanding the driving rain. Nightmare.

Kitchen for the week

So during a typical week, we like to cook at the beach as much as possible and over the years we have developed Beach Hut Food. This can easily be regarded as camping food and so with the camping/glamping/festival season upon us some might find the following useful. I’m not really suggesting anything very revelatory just jogging memories I suspect.

The return of the 5 layer dip; the original recipe is here but an easier or possibly more child friendly version would be as follows:

Small tin of refried beans spread on the bottom of  the bowl/saucepan/suitable receptacle.

A layer of sweetcorn from a small tin to cover the beans or a layer of guacamole from a ‘ready to eat’ tub

A layer of tomato salsa, strength to your taste

A layer of half fat soured cream

A layer of grated cheese

Arrange the tortilla chips around the bowl as illustrated. This is really good as an accompaniment to a barbecue. N.B. Doritos are not very strong and therefore not good for scooping. Sainsburys Basics Tortilla Chips are much much better in this regard.

Tortilla Soup; British summers being what they are, soup is still a must even in July at times. Cuppa soup Cream of Tomato or a tin of Heinz Tomato can be pepped up with a few drops of Tabasco sauce and tortilla chips to dip with.

Camp style Caesar Salad; this is adapted from a Nigella recipe so she deserves all the credit. Arrange some salad leaves (Little Gem are good here) in a bowl and dress with Caesar salad dressing (we like the Pizza Express Light variety). Add to that handfuls of tortilla chips and grated Parmesan or any grated cheese.

Tortilla chip sandwiches; if you are at the beach, the ‘do I have sand in my sandwich’ concern can be offset by adding tortilla chips to the filling. The crunchy sensation they provide will mask any actual sand. Again grated cheese, a drop of Tabasco and chips work well and should you have these ingredients around because you made the 5 layer dip, will help with using stuff up.

As it was Jubilee weekend, we really pushed the boat out however and had my favourite sandwich of all, baguette with smoked salmon, lots of dill, lemon juice and black pepper and whilst barbecuing constructed this user-friendly arrangement.

Frozen raw King Prawns can defrost throughout the day in a cool box. Thread onto the skewers as the barbecue is lit to finish defrosting if necessary. Fill a fish holder with the skewers and cherry tomatoes for ease of handling.

The fish holder is often filled with Bream stuffed with dill. If you have sea air up your nostrils, this barbecue dish has to be one of life’s great pleasures.

Warming up for Wimbledon

Gold is on the birthday brain and a few Cutest Cakes explained.

It’s Child 2’s birthday tomorrow – Happy Birthday Darling Boy.

What a week for a birthday. The town is decked out with flags and bunting as the Olympic flame passed through this afternoon. Truly momentous. I have been desperately teaching myself to use a Christmas present I haven’t really had time to play with – a video recorder, to provide footage of this historic event, I don’t think I shall be posting the results, a normal jpg will have to do.

Child 2’s party has already been held. With a mid-week birthday, this is inevitable. In fact he shared his party with a friend as many in his class have May birthdays. I supplied them with one or two birthday cake books for inspiration a couple of weeks ago and suggested they choose something together to avoid arguments over the nature of the party cake and they plumped for this:

Gold mining Goblins! what more could you want in this year of Olympic excitement.

This is copied from the phenomenon that is Debbie Brown’s Cakes. The modelling guru who has turning cake decorating into an art form, like no-one else in my view. If you read the blurb on the back of one of her cake books she started out making cakes for her children’s birthdays and her talents and business grew from there. I adore her work and often use her cakes as a starting point for other designs. She is fearless with shape, carving cakes into every imaginable form and manages to get modelling paste, used to make figures and features, to defy gravity. My favourite of her books are Magical Cakes and Enchanting Cakes for Children. The cake above is from the former.

This idea of using something in print as a launch pad for a cake design is as fairly common one. I have been ruthless in this regard. For example, if you need a ski piste then Debbie’s enchanted castle atop a mountain can be converted into a ski hut up a mountain instead:

or if you ditch the hut/castle you can have an alpine scene:

The trick with carving cake into shapes is to use a stiff madeira cake recipe. Essentially if you use the recipe I give for making a sponge, add half as much again of plain flour, to the quantity of self raising, and bake in a deep tin to produce a cake which can be sculpted into a variety of shapes, in Pyrex bowls for round or egg shapes (stick 2 together) or even cooked in the ‘shaped’ cake tins one can hire to look like footballs, giant cupcakes, books, Mickey Mouse, that sort of thing. A sharp serrated knife, buttercream, a sugarpaste coat and your imagination will do the rest!

I will provide a few hints and tips on modelling paste on the ‘Baking and What not page’ very soon…..

Cutest Cakes loose in London: Food, Furries, Pharoahs, Falafel and Feathers.

We have had a Bank Holiday here in England and unusually we managed to get away for a few nights. Child 2’s school has an annual May Fayre on the Bank Holiday Monday and typically this precludes time away as cakes must be baked and bunting must be hung etc. etc.

London and it’s environs was the destination and so I think a round-up of pictures is the most amusing way to illustrate a lovely weekend with the fam.

We began with Friday night is Pizza night,

a Child 2 special:

½ Margherita, ½ Pepperoni,                                whereas I’m more into rustic style

I found this printed across my napkin and I think it sums up my world view:

The following morning we set off for Whipsnade Zoo, which is part of London Zoo despite its location north of the M25! We had a ball and due to freezing conditions the crowds were kept to a minimum and the wildlife was up and about:

European Bears

Melman and Co.

A family favourite: RED PANDA on the move!!!!

Lightening quick picnic lunch due to the temperatures – cheese sandwiches with homemade bread, strawberries and left over volcano cake (don’t ask: a long story)

Then the highlight – Macaws and Timbo the bonkers African Grey Parrot (flew so fast couldn’t get a pic)

Sea Lions, Elephants, Rhinos, Pod camping WITH Rhinos, Linx, Lions – it was all going on.

Next day we were in London proper – oh yeah, London baby! I just love it: the energy, the scale of it all, the food, the brick colour. I adore the place.

Coffee is always high on my list of priorities: this was a good one

We had mini croissant style confections filled with a kind of butter icing or Nutella!

On to The British Museum

Rameses II?

These are actual Gold Medals that will actually be handed out in August!

and then on to a Cake Shop via Tube, Taxi and muggle magic….

At this point I shall pause as cake is involved. For anyone who is following The Cutest Cakes on Facebook, you may have noticed that I ‘like’ Violet Cakes. The owner is an American and used to be a pastry chef in the US. She now has a shop and café and although she was not around I was thrilled to have made it to her glorious bakery.

We had salted caramel cupcakes, rhubarb crumble, almond polenta muffins, cheese toasties and take-out Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Goats Cheese Tart. Divine and much food for thought as well as tummies. A few pics…

The place was simple, nostalgic and inspirational. On the way back to our hotel we picked up some gigantic falafel in Camden – these formed the local street food – awesome.

More from the Unloved Vegetables – No.4: Carrot and Ginger Soup?

Now with this series of posts about unloved vegetables I do fully appreciate that what is unloved for some is probably much beloved for others. Timing is probably also a factor in this regard too. I can well imagine carrots receiving a warm welcome alongside kohlrabi, turnips and swede, but just at the moment when the other inhabitants of the veg box are purple sprouting broccoli, mushrooms, aubergines and if you are really lucky asparagus, carrots will induce and sigh and droop of the shoulders. It has been a long winter with the root vegetables and still having to deal with carrots is starting to feel a bit much. Suddenly they are a little more difficult to use up as the hearty winter meals which lend themselves to featuring carrots as an accompaniment are now fewer and further between.

A seasonal dish using carrots such as coleslaw only needs one!

Soup is the answer. It is often the answer as you can make it and freeze it if you don’t really fancy it or the weather is too warm. Not something we are likely to be struggling with this Bank Holiday. Soup really will be the answer as temperatures are due to plummet. But something zesty and bright might help.

Carrot Soup I think might also assist if you are on a hidden vegetables campaign. A blended orange coloured, velvet-y smooth soup is really not going to seem unappetizing surely and if you can coax the target consumers into having a little taste that may well lead to the drinking of an entire bowlful.

You will need: 1 medium Onion, chopped, 2cm length of fresh Ginger or more if you like the flavour and zesty heat, grated or finely chopped, 1 medium Potato, roughly chopped, 6 or 7 medium Carrots, roughly chopped, 600-800 ml  Vegetable Stock, juice of ½ Lemon, 1 tbsp of Oil, Salt and Pepper.

It’s dead easy: Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onion, cook over a moderate heat until transparent, add the ginger and stir round for a minute or two. Add the potato and carrots and sweat gently with the lid on the saucepan for 5- 10 minutes. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or so. Once the vegetables are tender, blend the soup with a hand held blender for preference, check the seasoning, add the lemon juice and a little more stock or warm water to achieve a preferred consistency. Done.

Sorry for the lack of photos today, I can’t seem to get the iPad to let me load anything else up from the media library – best laid pans plans, blah, blah, – and I am not at home. But I’m sure everyone can guess what carrot soup will look like.

Photofest coming very soon …..

Sea-Change in the Veg Box fuels Low-Carb Lunches

So we have been having a quiet time of it this Easter Holiday. The manic last week in March (two significant birthdays and the Help for Heroes Cake Sale) left us all feeling a little worn out in this house and completely distracted me from planning a vast amount of holiday excitement. Judging by Facebook this is not true for everyone. There has been much sharing of Disney Resort visits, ski-ing trips, Floridian escapades, family get togethers, camping or not as the temperatures plummeted, for one set of ex-pats (living in Australia) visiting other bits of Australia and finally counting the locally nesting swan’s egg collection (OK we could have done that last one too!).  I ♥ Facebook.

We did go ski-ing in the Tamworth Snowdome – that was good fun – surreal and invigorating, visited Studland beach for a day, made the best ever scones, tested some more chocolate salted caramel cupcakes (recipe coming end of the week), have caught up on lost sleep from the Child 1’s Camp In, went to see the Hunger Games and watched Child 2’s latest drama workshop performance:

Absolutely Fabulous Darling!

All perfectly exciting enough you might say, well yes it was and rather nerdishly from my point of view an additional highlight for me was the arrival of the veg box as (apart from the perpetual carrots and potatoes) there was not a root vegetable in sight.

Here are a few of the said highlights:

It’s all looking a bit green you might think and that would be true and at the time of year when we should be experiencing the ‘hungry gap’ –  very lush.

Now, I might be generalising here, but usually, when friends return from holidays, there are complaints about weight gained. Coupled with that my better half informed me that the largest upsurge in gym memberships is actually post-Easter not post-Christmas (how does he know this stuff – he regularly comes across as being the oracle). So I am thinking a low-carb recipe might be in order.

I am not going to get into a big discussion here on healthy eating and weight loss. I’m not qualified and currently fall within the ‘normal’ BMI range. I have dieted in my time, and get a lot of comments running along the lines of ‘surely you should be fatter as you are surrounded by cakes and buttercream’. I try to keep on top of weight gain by owning a pair of scales and using them regularly (monitoring really does make a difference I think), running (essential for me), and over the course of a week eating several low carb meals. As you get older this tactic seems to make the job of maintaining a steady weight much easier. If I see the weight creep up, so do the number of low carb meals.

However I don’t worry too much about essential fatty acids. These are the fats which are necessary to keep you healthy and are found in oily fish, olive oil, nuts, avocados that sort of thing. Animal fats: butter, cream, cheese and the fat on the meat have a different molecular structure and are the more ‘problematic’ ones. I don’t eat much in that department and try to keep my sugar consumption down. This last rule seems to be trickier the older I get! The other trick I have learnt is to stop eating when I start to feel full, and a need to feel properly hungry before I eat again. I understand that particularly for some eating food is wrapped up with issues such as stress and therefore this robotic approach won’t work for all, but over time some small shifts in behaviour can make a big difference. There was a weight-related motivational quote on Pinterest the other day ‘you will notice the difference after 4 weeks, your family after 8 and the rest of the world after 12’. 12 weeks is the beginning of the school summer holidays.

About perfect then.

So a salad recipe. In the bottom right hand corner of the picture is a Portobello mushroom and I believe these beauties are too interesting in their own right to be chopped up and put in Spaghetti Bolognese, let’s make a feature of them instead.

This can be made out of whatever you have knocking about really, or if you want to use half fat cheese (like those Mozzarella balls, grated Edam or even low-fat soft cheese) then do, but some easy melting cheese is essential.

  • Preheat the grill on a moderately hot setting.
  • Remove the skins from 2 Portobello mushrooms and place them gill-side down in a small roasting tin. Brush with a little olive oil. Pop under the grill for 3-4 minutes.
  • Meanwhile in a bowl mix together some chopped or grated cheese, I like Dolcelatte or Stilton mixed with a small amount of grated Jarlsberg or alternatively crumbled goat’s cheese, some chopped walnuts and some chopped parsley if available. In the picture above I also added some chopped avocado. (A lot of chopping).
  • Once the mushrooms are looking like they have softened and mushroom ‘juice’ is starting to run, remove from the heat, turn them over and pile on the cheese-y nutty topping. Return to the grill and continue to cook until the cheese has melted and is bubbling.
  • Prepare some salad leaves and maybe some tomato and cucumber on a plate and drizzle no more than ½ a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil over. Once cooked, transfer the mushrooms to the bed of lettuce and pour over the juices which will be running around the bottom of the tin. Squirt a little lemon juice over or, if you have used avocado particularly, drizzle a little balsamic vinegar and tuck in.

Other types of nuts or chopped tomato can be substituted for walnuts. This is actually substantial enough for an evening meal.

It’s That Time Again: Easter, Tea and The NT.

The NT for the Brits needs no explanation. The National Trust. We just love it and Easter sees this glorious and beloved organisation throw open it’s stately doors up and down the country. For anyone who is still struggling to comprehend, the National Trust is one of the country’s largest and most successful charitable institutions. I won’t bore you with statistics, as I will only have plagiarised them from the official website, but the basic deal is that quite a number of the country’s stately homes have been and continue to be bequeathed to the NT to be maintained, for a variety of reasons but mainly financial, which are then opened to the paying public, from Easter to October. The said public look around the houses, picnic in the gardens and take tea in the obligatory NT tea shop, run by very capable NT staff, usually located in a recently converted stable block. The Charity is also bequeathed coastal paths, other chunks of beautiful land, gardens, small islands, light houses in fact all manner of historic or picturesque property and I’ll mention it again, the one thing they invariably have in common is a tea shop (car parks and toilets aside). Arguably this IS the major attraction for most people as the catering is fantastic on the whole and something I shall return to very shortly.

We visited one of our favourites, in fact, our overall favourite NT spot over the weekend, The Banks Estate, which takes in Studland Beach. We adore this strip of coastline, hire a beach hut on it every year for a week, BBQ in their designated areas, sign up for nature trails, avert our eyes if we pass through the naturist section (we don’t ‘pass through’ much), play cricket after everyone has gone home, try to keep off the sand dunes, pedal furiously in their hire-out pedalos and dig gigantic holes in the endless golden sand. The weather this time was verging on miserable, but we don’t care. Here are some pics taken at various times including this weekend:

Taken in 2008, one of the beach huts we have rented with sand dunes and Ballard Down Ridge in the distance

off the end of Ballard Down are Old Harry’s Rocks which can be seen in the second to last image. Above, too much sea air it seems?

Seeing as it is Easter, a time for treats, I thought I would treat everyone to a tiny round-up of some of the NT properties we have visited in the ‘West Country’ (Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset and probably Wiltshire) since I have owned a digital camera….

Palladian Bridge, Prior Park Grounds, Bath

Montecute House, Somerset, Cute door

Utterly beautiful Stourhead

More from Stourhead

Stunning Great Chalfield Manor

St Michael's Mount, Cornwall

Picnic at Avebury, Wiltshire. Should we be sitting on these 5,000 year old stones?

So back to the tea shops. The NT have in their time published recipe books detailing the range, breath and local variations of cakes and other baked goods sold by them, but I suspect the confection that features without much regional variation throughout the entire country is the Scone. Scones are typically a component of ‘West Country Cream Teas’ (pot of tea, scone, jam and clotted cream) but the Nation has taken them to their hearts and they have wide appeal.

However scones are actually quite tricky to make. I’ve never really had much success despite being the item of choice for me if available. The following recipe seems to have turned all that around. These are so wonderful I cannot find the words, so if you are struggling with the sickly sweet of cake, chocolate, marzipan and the like this Easter, give these a try, they should be warm from the oven and really only require a smear of butter and jam in such circumstances. But you could go the whole clotted creamy hog if you wish….

The Best Scones Ever at bbcgoodfood.com, write this down somewhere, you’ll be heartbroken if it vanishes.

Spring Risotto to Warm the Toes

I promised a risotto recipe about a month ago I think when the temperatures were barmy and there were thoughts that Summer must be just around the corner. Well that all changed about 48 hours ago when an arctic front swept across the country just in time for Child 1’s birthday Camp Out. I am typing today in a sleep deprived state, (so apologies if I lose my train of thought or this piece is peppered with worse than usual spelling) as the Camp Out turned into a Camp In. We live in a cottage and consequently ceilings are low, noise travels well and despite the ripe old age my elder son has reached it appears that if you administer food there is still a requirement to ‘let off steam’ immediately afterwards else furniture and/or breakables will be broken. Thankfully I spotted the cabin fever early, sent everyone to bounce on the trampoline and my meager collection of knick-knacks lives on. So with all that out the way, the cake pops issued as take home gifts and guitar cake consumed (not my finest creation for some reason), I have the Easter Weekend to look forward to.

Generally leg of Lamb is popular at such moments and, as I have mentioned before, Greek cooking springs (!) to mind at this time. One of my favourite roasts would be Lamb with Orzo pasta. This pasta is rice shaped, so the dish comprises of a kind of tomato-y risotto with caramelised onions, carrots and slices of delicious garlic studded roast lamb on top. Fantastic. The Orzo pasta can be a little tricky to get hold of and I have no idea how the origins of this Greek dish has pasta at the heart of it, but the Venetians invaded Crete at some point so maybe that fact is relevant. I’ve had a surf about and can’t find the exact recipe (I need to have a search through my Mother’s recipe book shelves to offer something here) but greek lamb with orzo from the bbc/food website will provide something similar.

So authentic risotto it is instead. The whole point of this dish is to use up leftovers. I love this type of cooking. The Italians have lots of dishes which have origins addressing this domestic issue. Salads, pasta sauces, pizza and risottos merely scratch the surface. I am assuming you have some left over roast lamb lying around for this.

  • Pick off some of the meat, to be honest you don’t need loads as the flavour is strong, and shred/chop into bite size pieces or smaller.
  • If you have any lamb gravy left over, pour/spoon into a saucepan and top up with water to give 600ml or 1 pint of stock. A vegetable stock cube will work here too. Get the stock simmering gently on the back of the hob.
  • In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, fry a chopped onion in a slug of olive oil. Cook gently to the transparent stage and then add a finely chopped stick of celery and included some chopped leafy parts too, cook that for a minute or two and add a crushed clove of garlic.
  • Then add 200g of risotto rice, Arborio or Carnaroli and stir continuously until the rice is coated well with the oil. Now you can add a slug of white wine or Vermouth at this stage or just start adding the simmering stock, a couple of ladles full at a time. Stir continuously and once the liquid has been absorbed, add a couple more, stir continuously and continue in this fashion for about 10 minutes or so.
  • Add your lamb, a good handful of frozen peas or so and a grating of parmesan, continue cooking in the gently simmering state for another 5 minutes or so until the rice, when sampled still has a little bite but appears to be almost done, the lamb is piping hot and the peas are tender.
  • At this point check for seasoning and add salt and pepper  to taste, a knob of unsalted butter, a good grating of parmesan if you wish, and a good tablespoon of fresh and finely chopped mint. Stir all that round for a minute or two and then ladle into bowls. This serves 2 adults.
  • Present the bowls with a little more grated parmesan and black pepper.

If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked just continue with recently boiled water from the kettle. This would also be good with ham from the Ham up and try it post! I will post more risotto recipes soon as I still haven’t brought you ‘Running Buddy 2 s’ ‘ yet.

Quacking Easter Beaver Biscuits

The Cutest Cakes spent some time down at the local Beaver Colony recently decorating Easter themed biscuits. The trick here was to find an activity which would engage all concerned and only take ½ hour or so. Simplicity was definitely the key. This particular activity would work well with children of all ages and different animals can obviously be tackled, pigs, bunnies, sheep for example. Aardman-esque designs might look good!

The Beavers seemed very excited at the prospect of a bit of modelling, perhaps it was the thought of all that sugar but enthusiasm was not in short supply. As with many of these types of workshop, we began with a demonstration:

and then the Beavers ‘hatched’ a few ducklings of their own.

You will need: Some rich tea biscuits, some boiled sieved apricot jam, a pastry brush, a pastry cutter (slightly smaller than the biscuits), some white, yellow, orange and black sugarpaste, a rolling-pin and a cup with a small amount of water in it.

To make the ducks:

  • roll around 25g of yellow sugarpaste into an egg/oval shape and then flatten to some degree on the work surface you are using.
  • take around 5g of orange paste, break off a pea sized piece and set aside and roll the rest into a jelly bean shape. Again flatten on the work surface and then fold in half lengthways. Shape into the beak and stick on the head.
  • 2 petit pois sized pieces of white paste, roll into balls and flatten onto the head as eyes. Flatten the balls as part of the attachment process to the head.
  • 2 even smaller pieces of black paste can be rolled into balls and again flatten onto the white eyes as pupils.
  • finally the remaining pea sized piece of orange paste can be attached on top of the head as a quiffy bit.

To finish the biscuit:

  • using the pastry brush paint the jam onto the centre of the biscuit.
  • roll out and cut out a circle of sugarpaste and stick onto the biscuit over the jam.
  • attach the duck head

The water can be used to provide ‘damp fingers ‘ which can help the sugarpaste elements stick to each other if required. You do not want ‘wet’ fingers as this will essentially make a right mess, a little moistening of the paste can however aid the sticking process.

Well done Beavers! How very egg-citing!

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