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Year in Review

It’s like Hogmanay creeps up on me every year. I’m all happy and content after a filling and fulfilling Christmas and then it is like ‘oh! I need to plan how to see in the New Year! Er, glass of prosecco anyone?’

It’s true that my friends and I are pretty useless when it comes to firming up NYE plans and as I type this, I am simultaneously trying to think of ways to see in 2014. Dinner? Drinks? Pub? Outlandishly expensive dinner dance? Not quite.

While I am completely unable to plan where I will be when the clock strikes midnight, I can ensure that I start my Hogmanay with a bang with my most popular posts from the past year. I have to say, some entries were a surprise and others were a given (everyone loves chocolate cake it seems) but I have only included recipes that were posted this year. And thankfully, although healthy, my Spinach and Cucumber Smoothie has *finally* been overtaken as my most popular post. I do love it, but quite frankly this is a baking blog and your favourite recipe has to include butter and sugar in there somewhere right?

So without further ado, I bring you Victoria Sponge Pease Pudding’s Top Ten Recipes in 2013.

10. Pink Peppercorn, White Chocolate and Rose Shortbread

Pink Peppercorn, White Chocolate and Rose Shortbread

One of the first recipes to be posted in 2013, this perfect pile of shortbread came in at number ten on the most popular list. Probably for its unusual kick of pink pepper, the flavour combination and crumbly texture also made it a nice alternative to the tartan tin variety.

9. Vanilla Berry Triple Layer Cake

Vanilla Berry Triple Layer Cake Side View

The first of many cakes to make the list, this pillow soft sponge filled with vanilla frosting and bursting blue and purple berries was the boy’s birthday cake this year. He may have been miffed that it wasn’t the Ultimate Chocolate Cake from the previous year, but there was plenty of the sweet stuff still to come in 2013.

8. Death by Chocolate Cake

Death by Chocolate Cake

What did I tell you? Perhaps the most indulgent chocolate cake ever created, the fudgy, almost torte-like texture and bitter chocolate ganache may have been a little heavy going for some, but my colleagues managed to demolish it in record time. This cake was also the test recipe for the next cake on the list.

7. Love and Death by Chocolate: The Two Tier Challenge

Two Tier Chocolate Cake

A true labour of love, Love and Death by Chocolate was made for my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary and consisted of two types of chocolate sponge, one of vanilla, two types of ganache and a lot of silver sprayed chocolate shards. My first foray into just about everything technical about tiered cakes and chocolate work, it was a real challenge to overcome but also incredibly rewarding.

6. Apricot and Lemon Frangipane Tart

Apricot and Lemon Fragipane Tart

This recipe kickstarted my love of having a backup sandwich bag of frangipane in the freezer in case of a cake emergency and I am very grateful for it. Full of fresh summer flavour and bursting with fruit, this is a delicious dessert that can be whipped together fairly simply for a BBQ or picnic.

5. Blueberry Lime Polenta Cake

bluberry and lime polenta cake

I have to admit I was nervous to step into the world of gluten free baking and rightly so – the first time I tested this recipe it broke into a million pieces as I removed it from the tin *sob*. Luckily, I learned that gluten free recipes are less hardier than those containing flour, so this polenta cake also taught me to be patient when trying new things. No bad thing.

4. Cherry Blueberry Frangipane Tart with Almond Buttercream

side view of cherry blueberry frangipane tart with almond buttercream

Oh my goodness I really did love this recipe. It makes me long for the cherry season just so I can bake this beauty again. Using the leftover frangipane from the Apricot and Lemon Tart, it was also studded with almond buttercream, curling stalks of cherries and full of bursting blueberries. A real winner of 2013.

3. Cherry Tomato, Rocket and Pesto Pizza

Cherry Tomato Rocket and Pesto Pizza

This recipe was a real game changer for me and after I made it I don’t think I ordered or bought a pre-prepared pizza for months. The no-knead dough is super simple even for a bread baking phobe like me (planning to tackle this in 2014) and with homemade pesto spread on top, you know exactly what is in every bite.

2. Courgette, Lemon and Poppyseed Cake

Courgette, Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake

This recipe is actually viewed almost every day and was one that was in my repertoire long before I ever got around to blogging it. If you are a bit wary of baking with vegetables, I promise this cake will change your mind – the inside might scream Incredible Hulk but really, it’s just Incredible.

1. Raspberry and White Chocolate Cookies

Raspberry and White Chocolate Cookies

I’ve been blown away by the response for this recipe and to be honest, I hadn’t realised there wasn’t many variations on the internet when I whipped up a batch of this cookie dough to recreate my memories of teenage shopping trips with my Mam and sister. It’s also the most popular recipe *ever* on my blog and I am so grateful to everyone who reads the words and tries their hand at making the next best thing to a bag of warm cookies from Millies.

 

…And Three of My Personal Favourites from 2013

 

Peach, Pistachio and Ricotta Torte

Peach Pistachio and Ricotta Cheesecake

Recreated from my memories of a beautiful torte I consumed in Berlin in 2011, this post rekindled my love for travel writing and conjured up some wonderful memories of an unforgettable trip.  A cross between a cheesecake and a tart, this dessert looks stunning and would be perfect served up during Easter.

Brown Sugar Chai Spiced Marshmallows

Chai Spiced Marshmallows

A real lightbulb moment when it came to candy making, I’ve made countless batches of marshmallows ever since this inaugural recipe and I’ve been adapting and trying new techniques since it was first posted back in November. I’ve had such lovely compliments and one of my favourite memories of the year is toasting a batch over an open fire this Christmas. Magical.

Salted Caramel, Golden Pecan and Chocolate Celebration Cake

Salted Caramel, Golden Pecan and Chocolate Celebration Cake

Oh my word. This was quite a challenge in that everything that could have gone wrong did and yet I managed to turn out one of my favourite projects of the year for my sister’s 21st birthday. It was so ridiculously indulgent yet surprisingly, very little was left the next day for consumption. I wonder why…

So what new culinary delights will 2014 bring? I’ve already started brainstorming ideas and hope to bring some healthy and delicious recipes at the start of the New Year to offset all those mince pies. I’ve also started a 23 before 24 list of challenges, goals and activities to do before my birthday in July, many of which unsurprisingly feature some foodie treats. So Happy Hogmanay and I will see you in the New Year!

4 simple goals before 2013 the results

So around four months ago I decided I needed a little direction in my life. I was running around in what can only be described as two-job-one-blog-one-unpaid-writing-job circle. I ate, slept, drank coffee, worked, wrote, ate some more and cried. A lot. Then all of a sudden the circle slowed down and I had one awesome job, a blog that was doing really well, a flat and a new life. I saw the 4 Simple Goals post on A Beautiful Mess and dreamed up some achievable but fun challenges for myself. Adding some simple goals to my new life didn’t seem so scary any more.

Except it was. I have to say reader I didn’t do particularly well with this challenge. I said I would make loads of smoothies and share the recipes with you. Reality: I made two. I said I would DIY and craft more. Reality: I made two things and decided Hobbycraft was an expensive place. I said I would try different types of pastry. Reality: I did do this one, but I made bloody miserable croissants that made me cry. And I said I would blog more original content. Reality: Well, I’ll let you decide that one.

I think my slight ineptitude with this task is due to the upheaval of my life some 100 miles north, but you can’t blame Aberdeen for everything. (Except the sideways rain. ALWAYS the sideways rain). But I am no quitter and really bloody stubborn so I have picked myself up, grabbed a notepad and given this thing another shot. So far I’m doing much better and the extra kick up the arse I am giving myself means I am being more creative, healthy and pushing myself outside of work. How’s that for simple!

So here are the results from my first challenge:

Make fresh smoothies: This particular one went badly due to the fact that it was badly planned. I up sticks and left behind my mum’s blender, and who enjoys standing over a Pyrex jug with a load of fruit that won’t blend with an immersion blender? Not me anyway. Goal: rubbish effort.

smoothie challenge

Be inspired to craft and DIY more: Went well but the majority of my crafty stuff still resides at home and it always seems a pain to drag it up the road. A side goal for this year will be to actually find a home for it in my room so I can’t get away from it. Anyway I upcycled a knackered old pine mirror into quite a cool Great Gatsby-eque number with decoupage. I made my own Dorothy shoes when I couldn’t find any on the High Street. I also sculpted and painted personalised Christmas ornaments for my family which went down extremely well. Goal: accomplished-ish.

diy challenge

Brainstorm and blog original ideas: Pretty darn good! Out of nine posts, five were my own or heavily adapted recipes that were barely the original any more. I created spiced German biscuits piped with snowflakes, a monster sized pumpkin cake with fresh puree and discovered making my own frosting recipes was a bit of a doddle. All in all this challenge was perfect for me and gave me the push to be more confident and adventurous in my posts. Goal: A success!

blog original content

Try making different types of pastry: Again, various successes. I was utterly terrified of choux and was pretty much convinced I’d scramble it but it was perfect and completely responsible for me eating the whole batch in one day. Despite the fact in the post I advocated a ‘little of what you fancy’ policy. Er, oops. Flaky pie-like pastry was also fun and easy and made the most gorgeous Pumpkin Spice Pop Tarts. I think that recipe will be adapted heavily over the next year. Alas we end on a sad note, as my croissants died a painful death despite a full weekend of prepping, rolling, folding, proving and then ultimately burning. I always learn baking lessons and this one was painful, but at least I gave it a shot and I will go back and try again one day. For now though, my croissants will be purchased from the bakery aisle. Goal: Two outta three ain’t bad – passable.

pastry goal

So there you have it. My Simple Goals to achieve before 2013. I tried my best and had some spectacular failures but all in all it was a fun challenge to undertake. I’ll be back soon to tell you my four new goals, but in the meantime, did you undertake the challenge? How did you do, I am dying to know!

A few months ago, I headed off to the SECC in Glasgow, notepad in my hand and finger on the voice recorder app on my phone, ready to act like the perfect food journalist at the Good Food Show. As I was handed over the plastic press pass that screamed I was a fully fledged journalist, I finally felt like I knew what I was doing.

All of these confident feelings slip away the moment you have your first taste of ‘professional journalism’ (i.e. not stuck behind a teeny mini Mac whilst Air TV are arsing about with swords behind you). My first opportunity came when last year’s Masterchef finalist Sara had finished a cookery demonstration featuring macarons. There was ample opportunity to stride over, thrust my battered HTC under her nose and demand her egg white- folding technique. But instead, I dithered and scurried away to hide amongst the displays.

Of course, being alone in a situation like that is a normal thing for a journalist, so my whole experience at the event was to observe, learn and improve for the next time. My confidence was boosted when a lovely company called DeviliShh happily stood and spoke about their dessert cheats product and I walked away with an armful of samples. Rooster potatoes sang the praises of their purple tatties and I chatted away, munching on an indigo coloured potato wedge. And a company with a penchant for air dried vegetable crisps proudly told me about their desire to keep their products away from supermarkets. As I sat in the journalists holding pen, scoffing a bag of said crisps and scribbling down notes, I felt like I had properly began to find my feet as a food journalist.

Afterwards, I retreated back to the arena to watch a few demonstrations in the pre-booked theatre, where the likes of Antony Worrall Thompson (who is now slightly more famous for pinching cheese from his local Tesco than his rant on a drawbridge on I’m a Celebrity about rice portioning) and Tom Kitchin created luscious dishes before the eyes of a clearly delighted audience. Kitchin has something of a soft spot for knobbly veg, and recently sang the praises of the celeriac in delicious. magazine’s ‘Knobbly Veg’ campaign. In the theatre he was no different, and he displayed the vegetable an impressive three ways topped with slices of juicy pheasant. There was no denying the dish looked amazing and I was suitably impressed by the bobbly thing that looked like an ugly turnip, and thus began my hunt to find one.

And lo, it has taken me 3 months, but the offending veg has been hunted down in my local Tesco. Taking inspiration from Mr Kitchin, I’ve roasted the celeriac and turned it into a delicious soup, adding a citrus hint with a touch of lemon to complement its creamy texture. This soup is great on its own, but taking the time to make your own parsnip crisps will be a rewarding venture. I’m sure the vegetable crisp company won’t hold a grudge against me for doing so, and maybe one day I’ll get Sara’s folding technique to perfect my macarons.

You Will Need

1 celeriac

2-3 garlic cloves, skin on

3 tablespoons of olive oil

1 parsnip

1 white onion

2 pints chicken or vegetable stock

1 lemon

A handful of grated parmesan

Salt and pepper to taste

Double cream to serve

Preheat the oven to 200oc/180oc fan/Gas Mark 4. Using a large knife, carefully remove the skin of the celeriac and wash until clean. Cut into 1cm chunks and place on a baking sheet. On a chopping board using the back of a knife, crush the garlic cloves and place them whole on the baking sheet. Drizzle with one tablespoon of the oil, season and roast for 50 minutes, turning regularly.

Thinly slice the parsnip using a sharp knife or a vegetable peeler and lay on a baking sheet. Drizzle with one tablespoon of olive oil, season and coat well. Add to the oven after the celeriac has been roasting for 30 minutes, turning regularly.

With 20 minutes to go, heat the remaining oil in a large stock pot. Chop the onion finely and add to the pan, slowly cooking until translucent. Once the celeriac has cooked, add to the pan and squeeze in the insides of the garlic. Cover with the stock and bring to the boil.

Once heated through, remove from the hob and blitz with a hand blender until smooth. You may need to add a little boiling water at this point to thin the soup slightly. Add the zest of the lemon, a squeeze of its juice and the parmesan and stir until incorporated. Season well and return to the hob whilst heated through.

To serve, ladle into bowls, drizzle over some double cream and add the parsnip crisps on top with a twist of black pepper.

Let’s get one thing clear; ALL of us can make a meal in well under 30 minutes. Boiling water, pasta, reheat sauce, place in bowl, done (as another chef quips). But Jamie Oliver’s new cookbook, the foodie’s equivalent of a concept album, requires a little more creativity than that. And an extra arm. True the majority of the time you are frantically scrabbling at the skin of an onion wondering why the bugger won’t peel, when if you took your time, you would probably do it quicker. This does bring down my overall opinion of the book, as I feel like I’m in a race against time to crank out the goods (even timing my first meal to see how long it really takes). But what you will find is an abundance of fresh ingredients that will fill your kitchen which such amazing smells you can almost forgive him his god-like speed at peeling an onion.

Having picked at different menus since receiving the book last Christmas, I decided one night to cook an entire meal for my family. Having enjoyed numerous holidays in Portugal (as well as a few Nandos) I thought piri piri chicken thighs, crushed potatoes with feta, a green salad  and a dessert of custard tarts sounded like a good one to go for. Plus I had seen him cook it on the television version of his book, so had a rough idea of how it would go.

Beginning the chicken was fairly simple, slashing the meat to allow the sauce to penetrate better, and crisping up the skin in a grill pan beforehand. Whilst it’s cooking, getting on with tarts is simple too. But once they go in the oven it all starts to get a bit hectic. You have the potatoes to wash, make the custard filling for the tarts, keeping an eye on the chicken and the sauce to blend. All in an 8 minute time frame. What sounds relatively easy quickly descends into a blind panic when making the sauce. How many tablespoons of vinegar? Oh no a lemon pip fell in the blender! Why don’t I have long enough nails to peel the garlic! Dammit I’ve picked the bluntest knife in the drawer to chop the chilli! Couple this with dashing round the kitchen to the tune of the timer beeping furiously began to unravel me slightly. And then, when the tarts are made, you’re ho-humming waiting for everything to cook. What you shouldn’t do at this point is make up the potatoes, because they will sit on the table rapidly cooling so that when the chicken FINALLY cooks (which is longer than 30 minutes let me assure you) it’s more like potato salad than hot dressed potatoes. It’s also worth noting that after the initial stir for the caramel topping for the tarts, you shouldn’t continue stirring as the recipe implies, as this means it won’t turn to caramel, more like runny honey. Still, it tasted lovely.

Of course, the finished meal did make a wonderful impression on the family, and all the rushing and blending and panicking felt slightly worth it…when they finally arrived home 30 minutes after I had finished. Perhaps I should stick to quality over speed in the future; then my meal may actually be ready on time.

So after a brilliant Halloween that had me and my friends traipsing all over Stirling, attempting to find somewhere that possessed decent tunes and a licensed bar that wouldn’t have us queuing for an hour to get into, the next day I was in possession of an ever so slightly delicate head. Normally this is remedied with a quick trip to McD’s, but living on campus has somewhat stunted this tradition (not to mention my car is in ‘Muchty and slightly poorly). The campus shop had also disappointed me with its lack of chicken supernoodles (seriously, what is that all about? Neon noodles with a hint of artificial chicken are the only ones worth stocking Nisa). So me and Nicola made the (somewhat bad decision) to hit the atrium burger bar, in the hopes their £3.85 burger meal would contain enough salt and grease to get me through Advanced Reporting.

Alas it was not to be. Sodexo’s attempt to bring the students of Stirling tasty fast food fell flatter than my attempts at a fat-less sponge (more on that in an upcoming post). Never before have I seen a burger so burnt that hadn’t been ‘cooked’ on a BBQ. Said burger was having a great time swimming in a  strange concoction of mayo and ketchup, all housed in a roll that was the size of a small dinner plate. Couple that with the depressing sliver of lettuce that had given up on life about a week ago, and you have the standard offering from the food outlet.

Naturally, I was upset and annoyed having shelled out for something so gross when I could have made something far better with less money. So please don’t make the same mistake as me and instead make some breadcrumbs, fire up the frying pan and create the ultimate chicken burger.

 

Serves 1 (easily doubled)

 

You Will Need

 

1 chicken breast, skin removed

1oz (25g) plain flour

1 egg, beaten

A large handful of breadcrumbs (to make, simply blitz some stale bread in a blender. White or brown bread is fine)

A small handful of grated parmesan

Salt and pepper

1-2 large floury potatoes (I love Roosters)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped (alternatively, use 1 tablespoon of dried rosemary)

Rolls, mayo and lettuce to serve

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 200oc/180oc fan/Gas Mark 4. Slice the potatoes into fairly chunky chips (about 1cm thick). Add to a pan of cold water with a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil.
  2. Once boiled, drain and place onto an oiled baking sheet. Drizzle over the olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Add the rosemary and make sure each chip is coated well. Place in the oven for 20 minutes.
  3. After 20 minutes has passed, take out the chips and turn. Place back into the oven for a further 20 minutes. Meanwhile, take out three plates or bowls. In one, add the beaten egg, another the flour and the third the breadcrumbs and parmesan. On a chopping board, flatten the chicken breast with a rolling pin. Then dip into the flour, making sure it’s coated well, then the egg and finally the breadcrumb mix.
  4. Heat a frying or griddle pan under a medium to high heat. Drizzle over a little oil. Add the chicken breast and fry for around 5 minutes on each side until cooked through. If your chicken burger still needs longer, simply place on the tray with the chips and the heat from the oven will finish it off. To serve, place in a bun spread with mayo, add the lettuce and plate up with the chips.

P.S I dressed up as the Black Swan. Like the costume?