Thursday, 23 December 2010

Bun in the oven

Well, it's my happy birthday today and I'm STILL waiting for my cake (which I suspect isn't going to materialise, Marty!). Anyhow, I have already received the best gift I could possibly imagine this year, and with that I have some breaking news about the imminent arrival of baby pie! 

Yes, friendly cottage is going to come alive with all things baby in early March next year (oh my wallpaper!). I am seven months pregnant now and thankfully all has gone really well. I have been so lucky to have flown it so far, especially as I've had such a nutty work schedule. I by now, have a very diligently trained food styling assistant! So we (baby pie and I) are planning on taking things a little easier from now on with lovely yoga and swimming classes booked in the New Year, lots of nesting to do and the exciting prospect of a baby room to decorate.

So anyhow, there's my bun in the oven news. I'm STILL waiting for my birthday cake, so in the meantime, here's a cake-to-self recipe for my mini carrot cakes. Pink for a girl or should it be blue for a boy????


Makes 24

100g walnut halves
400g soft light brown sugar
450g plain flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp mixed spice
pinch salt
325ml vegetable oil
75ml buttermilk
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
450g carrots (about 4 medium), peeled and finely grated
1 tbsp grated ginger
zest of 1 large orange
200g cream cheese
50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
300g icing sugar
zest of 1 large orange

Preheat the oven to 180C (360 F / Gas Mark 4). Line two 12 hole muffin tins with muffin paper cases.

Toast the walnuts in the oven for about 10 minutes to release their flavour. Remove and finely chop.

In the meantime, stir the sugar, flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, mixed spice and salt together in a large bowl, leaving a well in the centre.

Measure the vegetable oil and buttermilk into a large jug and add the eggs and vanilla extract. Beat together until combined and pour into the dry ingredients. Add the grated carrots, ginger, orange zest and chopped walnuts and stir everything together until well mixed.

Spoon the mixture into the paper cases and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, swapping the trays around on the shelves half way through. The muffins should be risen, deep golden in colour and cooked through. Leave to cool on a wire rack

Meanwhile, prepare the topping. Beat the cream cheese and butter in a food mixer for a few minutes until smooth and creamy. Scrape down the sides, sift in the icing sugar, add the orange zest and then gently beat again to give a smooth, thick paste. Refrigerate until ready to use to firm up a little. Pipe or spread the icing onto each cooled carrot cake before devouring!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Deck the halls

Thanks to journalist Niall Toner from the Irish Times for including me (along with Mel over at design heavenin his recent feature on decorating your home for Christmas on a budget. Once again, I'm great at being 'all talk' and have only just got our house blinged up for Christmas this week. I'm totally relishing being at home for the holidays with the fire blazing, the sweet smell of Christmas baking, festive tunes beating out, and fairy lights dazzling. Wishing you a happy Christmas!

Here are my decorating tips from the Times feature:

- Thread some festive ribbon through cute christmas cookie cutters and hang them from kitchen door knobs or hooks.

- Why stop with eating at the table? Edible decorations can be nibbled on anywhere in the house...adorn your nest with fresh cranberry chains, fruit & nut garlands and cheeky gingerbread men.

- Get down and dirty with the kids and have fun making, baking and painting your own bespoke decorations with salt dough. Store them carefully for use next Christmas too.

- Always have a pan of warm mulled wine on the go! The intoxicating smell of spices will waft festive cheer around the house before you even drink it.

- Stock up on festive essential oils like frankincence, orange, cinnamon, pine, clove and juniper to burn around the house (individually or in interesting combinations). Also, use a few drops in homemade cleaning products and air freshners to keep you in the festive mood as you clean.

- Bring childhood memories flooding back and have fun with potato printing your own homemade christmas cards and wrapping paper.

- The best way to instantly fill your home with Christmas cheer is to stick some of your favourite festive tunes on (mine are from Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra) and get baking Christmas goodies while you sing along.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The bread of life

There's nothing quite as satisfying as making, baking and eating your own bread. For me it gives a great sense of wholesomeness and warmth to a home. That's definitely what is needed right now with snowmageddon going on outside. Thankfully there is no fear of our dry food supplies running out which means I've been baking like a madwoman!

The last time I made this yummy foccacia bread was in the summer when we had some lovely friends over from London to stay. The kids, Issy and Lucas, loved squishing the dough and getting their hands messy with the tomato topping. We took it to the park as part of a picnic (the other 'part' being fizz to wash it down, non-alcoholic for the kids of course!). It's surreal to look at such summery snaps now when the current weather couldn't be more opposite!


This is based on a recipe from ‘Homechef’ by Neven Maguire

Makes 1 loaf

7 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for oiling and drizzling
1 tsp fast-action yeast
450g (1lb) strong plain white flour, plus extra for dusting
1 ¼ tsp sea salt
1 jar semi-sundried tomatoes, drained
leaves from 1 fresh rosemary sprig
Maldon sea salt, for sprinkling

Oil a 28 x 18 x 4cm (11 x 7 x 1 ½ in) baking tin and line with non-sick parchment paper.

Mix the yeast, flour and ¼ teaspoon of salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in 225ml (8fl oz) of tepid water and 5 tablespoons of the olive oil. Mix well to form a soft dough then turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. 

Place in an oiled bowl, cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise in a warm place (I always use the airing cupboard!) for about 1 hour or until doubled in size. Knock the dough back by punching lightly to knock out air bubbles. 

Then turn it out on to a lightly floured surface again and knead for another 2-3 minutes. Roll out to a large rectangle that is about 1cm (½ in) in thickness and place in the prepared tin.

Stud with the semi-sundried tomatoes and sprinkle the rosemary sprigs and remaining salt over.

Cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise again for about 30 minutes until soft and pillowy. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220C (425F), Gas mark 7.

Drizzle again with olive oil and bake for about 30 minutes until cooked through and golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool and drizzle with olive oil to keep the crust softened. Cut or tear into chunks and enjoy!