A Farewell to Carbs

Doesn't the marbled chocolate make this look so pretty?

Doesn’t the marbled chocolate make this look so pretty?

Has something weird happened to time? It appears that I am now a mere nine days away from wedding bells and I am not entirely sure how that happened…

As is my wont, I set myself various ambitious goals at yon time when the wedding day seemed like an occasion far, far into the future. Most of them, in a purely shallow fashion, centred around being a size 6, sporting arms like Madonna and having come through the other side of the world’s harshest detox to guarantee skin so fresh, shiny and young-looking people mistook me for a 39-year-old instead of a… (er, ladylike modesty forbids me to reveal the truth dear reader).

Aye, all rather shallow hmm? So, what happened instead? There was wine, ladies and gentlemen. There were cakes and there was a lot of cheese. Yum! So, I’m now on Atkins*. Rumour has it that the 5.2 diet and the Cambridge diet are among those my guests are trying. Possibly I should contact said diet companies and ask for commission…?

So yes, Atkins, and carbs are now the mere daydream of mashed potatoes, or the enticing whiff of baked goods. To compensate for my carb-free life, I made millionaire’s shortbread today** to serve as favours for my wedding. I cut the normal sized-pieces into cute mini portions and I’ll be putting a couple of each into a china teacup and adding a hand-written note. Kitsch hmm?

I have to share the recipe for the shortbread as it’s one of the world’s nicest biscuits and three trillion times (at least) nicer home-made.

MILLIONAIRE’S SHORTBREAD (makes shed loads)

100g cornflour

250g plain flour

250g unsalted butter

110g golden caster sugar

2 tins condensed milk (397g each)

100g unsalted butter

100g dark brown soft sugar

150g plain chocolate

150g milk chocolate

150g white chocolate

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C and grease two 18cm/7-inch square tins (I find it’s easiest to use loose-bottomed cake tins – it makes removal of the finished shortbread much easier.)

Combine the flours and sugar in a mixing bowl and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Bring the whole lot together until it forms a bowl, divide in two and press into the bases of the two tins. Cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes until lightly golden. Leave to cool, but do not remove from the tin.

Place the condensed milk, unsalted butter and dark brown soft sugar into a heavy based sauce pan and heat very gently until the butter has melted and the sugar dissolved. Bring to the boil slowly, stirring all the time. Once it has boiled, turn down to a simmer and cook for five minutes. The mixture will turn a lovely fudgy colour. Pour half over one shortbread base, and half over the other. Leave to cool and set.

Melt the three chocolates separately (I favour 30-sec bursts in the microwave) and place spoonfuls of each kind over the cooled caramel and shortbread. Aim to roughly cover each surface in the three different kinds of chocolate and then lightly tap the tin on the surface so that the chocolates merge into one. Using a skewer or a knife tip, swirl the chocolates to create a marbled effect.

Leave to cool and cut into small squares. You’ll get roughly 40-45 squares from this, but mini ones look sweet. Tip – if you cut this up before the chocolate has fully set, the chocolate topping won’t crack.

*Atkins, for those of you for whom dieting is a blissfully unfamiliar habit, is a low-carbohydrate/ high protein diet. While unlimited eggs, bacon and steak sounds good in theory, without toast, chips and other starchy gloriousness it all gets rather tedious after a while. It does, however, produce results though if you do it and fall desperately ill, IT IS NOTHING TO DO WITH MOI.

**Worry not, the said millionaire’s shortbread is currently residing in my freezer so it can be just-baked fresh on the day.

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Lordie… January Blues…

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Doing double time on the detox – cakes and wine are playing a much less significant role in my life these days, money spending is at a minimum (I’ve got a wedding to pay for, for heaven’s sake!) and, as I’ve been fairly organised so far, I can’t even write any more lists for said wedding.

Dull, dull double dull!

So, post-work I’m forced to find other ways to entertain myself, such as tidying up the kitchen cupboards. Most of it was tedious, but the ordering of the baking cupboard was joyful and it is now a thing of beauty, which leads me neatly on to another top ten list (thank you Lesley Carter) – the baking essentials:

  1. Digital scales for precise measuring

  2. Cup measures so you can easily use American recipes as well as British ones

  3. Vanilla extract/paste for delicious flavouring

  4. 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate (so many lovely things to create with it)

  5. A good, solid mixing bowl

  6. Condensed milk (see dark chocolate above)

  7. Soft brown sugar

  8. Icing sugar

  9. Stork margarine – use half and half with unsalted butter for lusciously light cakes

  10. ANYTHING from Lakeland.

The Very Sweet (and the Very Sticky)

This recipe makes tonnes (four boxes this size).

This recipe makes tonnes (four boxes this size).

Hen parties, diets, guest lists, menus, favours etc – all have been written about recently and I now find myself a teensy bit bored of the whole wedding shenanigans…

So, as Christmas is on its way, I decided to add in a recipe for Peanut Butter fudge. The fudge is super easy to make, but do cut it up into small pieces as it’s incredibly sweet and may make all of your fillings fall out. To appease your conscience, use Fairtrade sugar and organic ingredients…

Peanut Butter Fudge (gluten-free!)

Grease and line a baking tin with grease-proof paper and set aside. Melt the butter slowly in a thick-bottomed pan over a gentle heat, add the milk and sugar and continue to heat, stirring gently until all of the sugar has dissolved. (The mixture shouldn’t feel grainy at all.)

Bring the mixture to a gentle boil and allow it to boil for three minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the peanut butter and mix together well. Sift the icing sugar into a mixing bowl and pour over the sugar and peanut butter mix. Beat together until thoroughly combined and pour into the prepared tin. Chill in the fridge until cold and then cut into very small cubes.

(For extra decadence, freeze the cubes for an hour and then dip in melted dark chocolate – use cocktail sticks to make life easier – and leave to set.)

A Tale of Two Topics

 

What 500 calories looks like...

What 500 calories looks like…

Today’s blog post focuses on guest lists (urgh) and an update on the 5:2 diet.

When we initially decided to get married, I wanted a very small wedding – close family only and then a party some time later for friends. Simple, non? But working out the logistics of organising two events defeated us and the wedding began to grow arms and legs.

Several months ago, we wrote up the guest list while under the influence of a wine or two. It took on the realms of fantasy – the world and his wife were coming to see me become a wife. My fiance stuck to the sensible, I was scribbling away happily adding the Power Plate guy (I felt I owed him for the stomach muscles I now possess), the people from the corner shop who keep me supplied in diet coke even though I don’t know their full names and several others I haven’t seen in decades.

Needless to say the list was scrapped…

I’d been putting off writing it again, even though I really love writing lists (to do lists feature daily in my life). Necessity has stepped in. The New Lanark Mill Hotel is pretty small and rooms are filling up already. Getting married on a Thursday means people will also need to book time off work.

Plus my sister has been organising my hen party (I’ve mentioned I’d like cheese, wine and possibly chocolate and cakes to be involved and left her to it. It kills me as I’m a bit of a control freak, but if you ask someone to do something for you, best to leave them to it. My sister hasn’t done this before and I think she is finding it quite exciting.) so she’s sent out invites for that. I haven’t yet asked people to save the date so time to face up to my fears of the guest list.

I’ve come to the conclusion that guest lists are easiest when they are either very small (family only) or very large (when you’re a millionaire, say). In between the small and the large is the hell of the ‘who can we cross off this list?’

We wrote them out separately and are excluding children, except for close family. It feels a bit mean, but our numbers are limited to 110 and my theory is that most children get bored at weddings anyway.

Like many people I went to a lot of weddings in my 20s and saw a lot of people marry that I now haven’t seen in at least 10 years. Therefore, I haven’t invited most of them. We’ve decided not to invite most of our cousins either. And we’re rather uncharitably hoping that our currently single friends remain so for the next six months…

And so on to the 5:2 diet! I’m one week into it. The idea is that you eat normally (roughly 2,000-2,500 calories a day) for five days a week and on two days a week you eat 500-600 calories a day. I’d read it described as the easiest and most difficult diet you can follow. Funnily enough, the fasting isn’t as difficult as you might imagine. The second day I did it I felt as if I had greater and sharper mental clarity, which is why fasting is so popular with yogis I suppose.

Cutting to the chase though, I’ve lost three pounds and my stomach feels much, much flatter. Blimey, you don’t get a lot of food for your 500 calories, though! I’ve done it by eating some fruit at lunchtime and then an evening meal and if you’re looking for ideas for low-calories meals, there are some nice ones here. If you’re looking for a great calorie counter try myfitnesspal which has a website and mobile app.

As Christmas and the inevitable over-indulgence rapidly approaches (write cards! Buy presents! Make food! Meet up with various people! Why oh why does December always catch me out?) I thought I’d stick to it for another week or so. Watch this space…

 

 

 

 

Everything Good Begins with a ‘C’

Chocolate cakes made at the Tennents Training Academy

Chocolate sponge topped with chocolate butter cream, white chocolate sprinkles and chocolate truffles. Mmm-hmm…

Upmarket spa days, cocktail making classes, cupcake decorating lessons or an old-school piss up…

All appear to be options for a hen night. I’d also considered another option – no hen night – thinking along the lines of ‘once again, why this unnecessary encouragement to spend money?’ But friends asked, expectations were raised and yet again the pink, fluffy roller coaster that is wedding planning swooped me up.

Customised t’shirts, pink Stetsons, L plates and handcuffs probably won’t play any part of the night; I also want to keep costs as low as possible so that rules out options too. If I had the space at home, I’d do a home-made option – come round to my house in the afternoon, drink Cava and eat cakes I’ve made.

Alas, chairs are few and we currently own a very badly behaved cat prone to throwing up, knocking over wine glasses and partial to stealing cake off plates. (Seriously, he does.)

At the weekend, my mum, a good friend and I tried out the Tennents Training Academy’s chocolate and champagne evening. We got a one-course meal, two glasses of champagne and a lesson in making and decorating chocolate cakes. Oh, and there were plenty of chocolate sampling options for the cocoa-obsessed punter…

The evening once more confirmed to me my lack of patience (those white chocolate pencils we had to create were flippin’ hard) but was indeed great fun. Since then, I’ve had visions of good, girlie fun in the training academy despite the fact that I have mild anxiety issues around group activities (wah! Too many people! Gotta talk to them all! Are they having fun, oh no they’re really, really bored…)

The academy also does wine tasting so I’m wondering about a bit of cake making in the afternoon with wine in the evening – opt in and opt out so that no-one has to spend too much money. A solution, non?

And finally, after all the sweet stuff we need to include cheese. When human beings stumbled upon the making of cheese, it was among the finest evolutionary discoveries ever. My hen party needs, therefore, to find a way to pay tribute to the world’s most magnificent food…

 

The (Mucho) Joy of Chocolate

Ridiculously proud of the shine on those chocolates…

Friends, I experimented with the idea of home-made favours. I took my Lakeland chocolate mould, I made whisky truffles and I filled said chocolate mould (beforehand coating the moulds with a thin layer of plain chocolate) with the truffle mixture and I sighed in a Nigella Lawson style domestic goddess ‘I make my own’ stuff type contentment…

I did NOT. Yes to filling the chocolate mould, yes to the making my own truffles, but absolutely no to the ‘sighing in contentment’ thingie. Two-thirds of the way through lining the chocolate moulds I got bored and shortcuts were taken. The blasted truffles did not seem to stick together. My hands got seriously dirty. Chocolate worked its way underneath my nails and made me look like a dedicated gardener (reader, that could not be further from the truth).

In short, the whole exercise was a lesson in why people buy chocolates for their favours. Mind you, in true chef privilege style I did taste some of the truffle mixture and it was a bit wow-ee. It’s pretty easy too so here goes…

225g plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids and above naturally)

75ml double cream

3tbsp whisky*

1 tsp vanilla essence

Finely chopped hazelnuts (or other ideas, see below)

Break up the chocolate into small pieces and place in a non-metallic bowl in the microwave. Put on for 30 seconds at a time until the chocolate has melted. Stir well, add the vanilla essence and leave to cool till room temperature. Add the whisky, then use an electronic whisk to beat the mixture for five minutes until it seems lighter and is paler in colour.

Cover and refrigerate for an hour or so until firm. Roll the chocolate mixture into balls (about walnut-sized shape) and then roll in either cocoa, chopped nuts, grated white chocolate or icing sugar. Eat within four days. They should be kept (covered) in the fridge.

If you do make them, please let me know and tell me what you think! You can substitute the whisky for Cointreu or Bailey’s too.

 

 

*I want to love whisky. It’s such a romantic drink. Think whisky, think sitting in front of a roaring log fire having hiked four or five hours up and down hills, think ancient clan chiefs sneaking the distillery away from the excise men (and Rabbie Burns was one!). Unfortunately, it still tastes pretty cough mixture to me.

Let Them Eat (and enjoy) Cake

This isn’t the world’s lightest example of cake

For a recent birthday – in traditional lady fashion I’ll be coy about its numerical value – my sister presented me with a cheesecake.

Not the soft cheese mixed with lavish amounts of cream and sugar version, but a concoction of actual cheeses layered up three-stack and decorated with trails of grapes and bay leaves. It was a thing of beauty and the top tier vanished in precisely 10 minutes (smoked cheddar – the gods of cheese production’s finest hour).

I’d like to replicate this for my wedding day (estimated cost £40), but say I were also to follow the dictates of convention and get a proper wedding cake. What does the budget bride who sadly can’t afford Choccywoccydoodah* do? Obviously, you either make your own [and there are some spectacular examples of cake-making genius here] or find a talented friend who can do it. In the meanwhile, I adapted a Good Housekeeping chocolate brownies** recipe recently and I think that may well be a wedding cake contender, once I spend time practising cake decorating via some online cake decorating tutorials. Dontcha just love the world wide web?

 

*Amazing, amazing chocolate cake shop in Brighton and London where very talented people do spectacular thing with chocolate and appear on TV showcasing their talents.

**Plain chocolate (85% cocoa solids – now I’m showing off), butter, eggs, sugar, flour, chopped toasted nuts and topped with fudge icing. Yum…