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March Bitesize Bits

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The annual Squires Kitchen Exhibition hits Surrey once more this month – I have featured cakes from this extravaganza in these previous posts about baby shower cupcakes and floral cakes.

Whilst the Cake and Bake Show or Cake International may boast larger venues, Squires offers a rare opportunity to close up and properly inspect top quality sugarcraft designs. And better still, the sugarcraft superstars are the real deal rather than familiar faces off the telly. When I asked Peggy Porschen who she admired in the cake decorating world, she told me Eddie Spence and he’s got top billing. Say no more.

Squires Kitchen Exhibition runs Friday 14th to Sunday 16th March at Farnham Maltings Surrey. Say hi to Squires Kitchen on Twitter @squireskitchen – the colourful cakes above are covered in Squires’ new ready coloured royal icing. Isn’t it gorgeous!

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Bookwise I’m been leafing through a backlog of baking and cookery books some of which I have copies to give away in subsequent posts.

First up Daylesford A love for food – of which I spotted copies in Anthropologie on Kings Road at the weekend reminding me I’d not featured it yet. Truth be told, I have hesitated to write about it as I think I’m probably too low brow to appreciate its contents. It’s all very Diana Henry / Nigel Slater, sophisticated heritage produce, wholesome seasonal twists on British dishes we might eat if we were splurging in Waitrose or strolling through a Berkshire farmers’ market twice a week. I’m not comfortable with the current trend of worshipping food as mead from the gods when the average family tearing out coupons at the Tesco checkout do not and cannot eat like this. I would gladly eat the food in this book but honestly, would I cook from it? Would I find all the ingredients in the supermarket and can I afford to buy them all? Not so much. I can’t motivate myself to visit Walthamstow Farmers’ Market more than twice a year so admittedly I’m not the target market. But it would make a well received gift to a friend in an affluent neighbourhood with a Mulberry purse to match. A Love of Food published by Fourth Estate, RRP £30, out now.

Possibly the most cerebral of the Bake Off contestants, Mary Anne Boermanns’ self photographed epic Great British Bakes stomps through the history of British baking. Meticulously researched, think Lucy Worsley with a rolling pin and you’re half way there. This is definitely a book to study as much as cook from and stands out as a labour of love by its writer rather than a commercially manipulated gimmick to please the punters. Some of the historic recipes have understandably been consigned to history but others such as Scots’ seed cake, Spiced damson tart and 19th century orange cake look and sound a real treat. A veritable thesis in British Baking that makes the show where the writer made her name look somewhat spongey in comparison. A thoughtful addition to the baker’s bookshelf. Great British Bakes published by Square Peg, RRP £20, out now.

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Finally it’s pancake day this Tuesday 4 March and I have been flipping out with a trio of Tefal non stick frying pans. My favourite has been the supremely non-stick titanium based Ingenio 28cm frying pan with removable handle. I’m not convinced by the thermo spot in the centre of these pans that’s supposed to change when it’s at optimum cooking temperature. I can still see the pattern that’s meant to disappear. But I am dead impressed with the pans themselves – I put this one to the test on Dinner With Crayons with my Tea Blini and another version is imminent over here. It’s an eye watering £86 on Amazon with a further £19 for the handle putting it in the realms of Circulon and Le Creuset. Having been let down by Circulon in the past I would recommend the Ingenio above it. It’s lighter weight and the removable handle gives you more flexibility when storing. (Handles are such a nuisance in cupboards!) Make sure you warn your husband about the removable handle though, mine pressed eject out of curiosity whilst waving it around above the loaded dishwasher and let’s just say, some vintage Emma Bridgewater had a narrow escape.

The other two models, the Tefal Superior 24cm and the Tefal Jamie Oliver 26cm frying pan were more affordable around £33 and £24 respectively. I especially like the rounded shape of the former which is perfect for omelettes – and shown below cooking steaks for Valentine’s Day.

Having recently been buying new pans – I bought some IKEA 365 ones last summer – and been horribly disappointed, I can now at least say to my husband, “See I told you the ones that were nearly £100 each would have been a better investment in the long run.” My IKEA 365 pans get hot handles you can’t pick up and stained badly after only being used twice. If I’d bought them anywhere sensible that didn’t have a rage inducing customer returns desk with 45 minute queue I’d be taking them straight back.

So it’s a big thumbs up for Tefal Superior and Tefal Ingenio. Rest assured my manky old KitchenAid frying pan (another bad investment) is being chucked out and you will see more of these pans on a regular basis.

They’ve also created a fun game online to create “pancake selfies” Tefalpancakeday.co.uk to create your own.

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With thanks to Tefal, Square Peg and Fourth Estate for sample products and books.

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When a published recipe is plain darn WRONG

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Meet The Art of French Baking by Ginette Mathiot published by Phaidon.

You know Phaidon books, they’re those big tomes in the manner of Silver Spoon that cover various cuisine comprehensively.

Now I’m not knocking this book as a whole yet, because that would be unfair after attempting one single recipe.

But I’m not impressed by what I’ve experienced so far.

And I write this as an open question, just how does stuff end up in books that’s plain darn WRONG?

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I was on a mission to make cigarettes. No, not those sort of cigarettes, the tubey biscuits that you see served alongside ice cream.

The irony of this is that I can’t stand wafery biscuits stabbed in my ice cream and always hand them to my husband to eat.

But in the interests of extending my baking expertise, I decided to attempt les cigarettes and picked an authoritative book on French baking to guide me.

One should end up with a wafer thin biscuit that gets rolled up whilst still warm in the manner of a brandy snap.

Knowing how brandy snap batter spreads to a lace like consistency in the oven, I was not put off by instructions to pipe discs of batter 2cm in diameter onto a tray leaving “space” between them. The recipe didn’t instruct how much space exactly so I conservatively piped 8 discs on one tray.

I only baked one tray at a time as I foresaw that rolling them fast enough whilst warm would be tricky enough with 8, never mind more.

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But alarm bells did ring when the recipe said to preheat the oven at 200c / Gas Mark 6.

Most biscuits bake at around 180c / Gas Mark 4.

Bearing in mind these guys were tiny, I had concerns this wouldn’t work.

Sure enough, I had black little bullets rather than thin cream circles to roll up into golden cigarette biscuits.

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So I tried again. This time with the oven down to 170c / Gas Mark 3.

And I piped larger flat circles.

There’s been some thorough deviation from the published recipe by now.

I’m really winging it on my own initiative, but surely these will work? Bearing in mind macarons still spread a bit at this temperature.

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Nope they’re still not spreading thin enough to roll up.

And they’re still burning.

Note to self. Check internet for alternative cigarette biscuit recipes to compare with Ginette’s version.

Something has gone badly wrong here.

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To salvage something out of the ingredients used, I piped long sausages of batter and ended up with a few fingers just about suitable for serving with ice cream. I will blog those separately shortly.

So I have my home made ice cream biscuits, but I’m still craving cigarettes.

With thanks to Kerrygold block for product sample. Not exactly the best illustration of it but I can vouch that it is softer than usual butter and it does indeed mix beautifully into cake/biscuit batters without needing to be left out of the fridge for ages. The Art of French Baking was a personal purchase.

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Lemon courgette pesto tart for hungry husbands

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I’m trying hard to only put DSLR photos on this site whilst blogging family meals that were instagrammed over at my family food site Dinner With Crayons.

But actually it was this shot above that did this recipe more justice (plus I didn’t scorch the pastry second time I made it!!)

With a conveyor belt of cookbooks and products within reach, sometimes you don’t get to eat the same thing more than once. However I was SO taken with this courgette tart taken from one of my friend Charlotte Pike’s new Hungry Student books, I just had to make it again a week later and it’s entering my canon of dishes to serve vegetarian guests.

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Charlotte undertook a marathon last year. Not the running variety, but she produced three cookery books inside six months*. Each one contains 150 student proof recipes, around half of which are illustrated in full colour photographs.

*Childcare excuses aside, you’ll not hear me whining about writing one book containing 25 sugarcraft projects in the light of this!!

The books are out now and at a highly affordable £7.99 each, they’d make an ideal gift for anyone off to university fending for themselves in the kitchen for the first time. The three titles are Hungry Student Cookbook, Hungry Student Easy Baking and Hungry Student Vegetarian. I’ve even heard rumours some supermarkets are stocking the series for a bargain £3.99. So you could buy all three for not much more than a round of drinks in the student bar.

I’ve cooked two recipes from the Hungry Student Vegetarian and the flavours of each of them have had distinct “yum” factor.

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Lemon and courgette tart keeps things quick and easy by making use of bought puff pastry and bought pesto.

After all, students are too busy studying (!) to make their own puff pastry and pesto. Possibly they’ll be cooking for themselves on a regular basis for the first time.

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And whilst making your own pesto is very easy, the bought varieties are spot on for quick meals and versatile enough to be used in many dishes other than pasta.

I recently used the coriander pesto on lamb chops and at the weekend I used more of the classic pesto in a rice salad. You can easily get three completely different meals out of one jar of pesto so I imagine it’s very popular with students.

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Charlotte’s recipe in a nutshell was to line a baking sheet with pre-rolled puff pastry, smear with pesto and score a one inch border around the edge of the pastry before topping with part roasted slices of courgette and a sprinkling of parmesan. Bake for around 25 minutes at 200c / Gas Mark 6 and drizzle with lemon juice on serving.

Whilst Ted isn’t a student yet, I’d happily (ok with a tear in my eye *sob*) pack him off to college with a set of Hungry Student books. In the meantime my hungry family will be enjoying lots more food from them. We’ve already been wowed by the lime and coconut ice cream (also in the vegetarian volume) which will be blogged in the near future.

With thanks to Quercus for review copies of the Hungry Student books and to Sacla for the pesto mountain that has been featuring in many of our family meals recently – watch out for more of them as they come on my instagram account and others popping up on Dinner With Crayons.

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May the Tapas Revolution commence!

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There’s too much Italian food on the high street. Spanish cuisine has long been overlooked in the mass market (I won’t mention one certain Spanish chain restaurant as no one I’ve spoken to admits to liking it).

But that could be about to change. Chances are you’ve not yet come across Tapas Revolution yet – with just two branches at Westfield London and Bluewater Kent it’s not quite a chain restaurant although it would be a welcome addition to the high street if it were.

Tapas Revolution partner Omar Allibhoy wants to get us all cooking simple classic Spanish recipes with his new book, also called Tapas Revolution. So whether you grab a book or pull up a stool, easy Spanish cooking is within your grasp.  I went along to their Westfield London branch to discover for myself what was on offer. Continue reading