Food

Oh my, Pecan Pie!

The Hummingbird Bakery strikes again. This time, Brother James was having a BBQ and I offered to make the desserts. Suddenly, I had the mammoth task of making a Mississippi Mud Pie, a Pecan Pie and a Lemon Meringue.

The Mississippi Mud Pie was a triumph, as usual, and that had nothing to do with my baking skills, and everything to do with the oodles of chocolate, syrup, sugar and cream involved.

The Lemon Meringue is one of Mr T’s favourites and his mum makes a cracking version so I was a bit worried about this. I needn’t have. Phew. I’ll share the recipe later in the week.

And the Pecan Pie? Turns out it’s T3’s fave pie so I was already on to a winner there. The original recipe uses Hummingbird’s revolting pastry which I abandoned long ago, in favour of pre made frozen shortcrust. As I always say, if it’s good enough for Mary Berry… The recipe also specifies dark corn syrup, which, if you don’t live in the States, is bloody hard to find. You can order it off Amazon, but really, I’m not that fussed, so I improvised with golden syrup and maple syrup.

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Here goes…

Ingredients:

  • Readymade shortcrust pastry (I used JusRol, pre-rolled and one sheet is enough)
  • 200 caster sugar
  • 250 ml golden syrup and maple syrup (I substituted like weights)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g pecan nuts, chopped
  • Whole pecans to decorate

First up, preheat the oven to 170C. Roll out your pastry, and pop into your pie tin.

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Put the sugar, corn syrup and salt in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, remove from heat and leave to cool for at least 10 minutes.

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In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and slowly pour the warmed syrup (warm NOT hot!!! Otherwise you’ll have sweet scrambled eggs. Barf) into the eggs. Add the butter and vanilla and stir until blended thoroughly.

Put the chopped nuts into the pastry case and pour the syrup mixture over the top. My mixture was very very runny, so I popped the whole pecan nuts around the edge to decorate as best as I could, but there was definitely some sinkage…

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Bake for 50-6o minutes or until the pie has reached a deep caramel colour.

I baked this the day before, but, in my humble opinion, this is best served hot, with fresh custard or a generous scoop of ice cream. Because I’m an idiot, I didn’t take a photo of the finished thing, but it sort of, kind of, maybe looked a little bit like the one from Hummingbird Bakery at the top…

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Betsy Loves, Food, Travel

Afternoon Tea at The Devonshire Arms

Yesterday was another good day at the office; or more correctly, not at the office. At The Devonshire Arms at Bolton Abbey. For Afternoon Tea. Oooooooooh, I hear you cry. How swish! And you’d be right.

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Another local(ish) place I’ve never made it to before, the drive from York was glorious – incredible Dales scenery, tummy-dropping dips, two separate rain storms and plenty of time to sing along to Taylor Swift.

I arrived a bit earlier than my colleague so there was plenty of time to potter around and take some snaps. I’ll grant you that from the outside, the hotel doesn’t look super duper impressive, and it was quite grey at that point, but inside, I was enchanted. It plays to the whole rustic theme beautifully but then throws in expertly chosen contemporary elements, such as the gorgeous black flocked wallpaper in a cosy little sitting area – who doesn’t love velvet dachshunds?

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We were booked into the conservatory area for our Devonshire Fizz Afternoon Tea, and by then the sun had come out and was streaming through the windows. Mr P (that’s Poppa P, except no one would call him that…) would have approved of the pristine white tablecloths with matching napkins, while the polished silverware would have made his little heart sing.

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Within moments, two flutes of Laurent Perrier NV were popped in front of us. What a delight. Our lovely waiter offered us a selection of tea and coffee. I went for peppermint as I felt it might somehow counteract the insane amount of sugar that I was about to consume. (Update: it didn’t, but it was still tasty.)

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Then our cake stand arrived. Now, I’ve had Afternoon Tea before. Don’t sound all surprised, guys. I know I’m usually a lettuce-munching exercise fiend (cough), but wowwwwwwweeeeeeee. Not your traditional fancy silver cake stand, instead, we were presented with a modern right-angled jobbie with three tiers of goodness.

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First up – individual pots of strawberry and custard, blueberry and lemon shortbread, chocolate brownies, and raspberry and white chocolate macaroons.

I could happily have pounced on them, but the grown up in me forced me to look one tier down to the sandwiches – dainty fingers of brown and white bread with egg mayonnaise, smoked salmon, cucumber, cheese, chicken, and ham. They probably have really fancy names like Yorkshire’s finest Ham from Hand Reared, Bottle Fed, Christened in a Church, and Read Bedtime Stories, Local, Organic Pigs; ditto with the other fillings, although how you hand rear cheese is beyond me… in fact, scratch that, I don’t want to know. Shudder. Whatever their official titles, the sandwiches were tasty, alright? But once they were finished, that meant I could move on to the good stuff.

All of tier number one disappeared into my mouth. And I loved every single mouthful. Every. Single. Mouthful. Although would it have killed them to have two brownies EACH?…

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Finally, the cream tea part. The scones with clotted cream and jam. Now, if you’re Cornish, you pop the jam on first, and then the cream, but we were at The Devonshire Arms, so it was cream first, and frankly, that’s the way I like it anyway. We each had two individual scones to scoff – one plain and one with raisins (or dead flies as they’re universally known). I collared a waiter to ask for more cream. Obviously.

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You’d think I’d be STUFFED by now, and I admit I was filling up, but I hadn’t had lunch, and I was also kidding myself that this would be tea. Anyhoo, with the tiers in front of me depressingly empty, and the pot of clotted cream scraped out with a finger (I may or may not be joking about this. Who knows?… You know, right? You know…) I was forced to realise that there would be no more sugar coming my way.

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Wiping a tear away, I luxuriated in the warm embrace of the conservatory watching the clouds skitter across the blue sky and the bushes of lavender sway in the light breeze, and then I went home to Mr T.

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And here’s some more pics that didn’t fit neatly into my genius narrative…

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Betsy Loves, Food, Travel

Ripley Castle

Sometimes I love my job. Yesterday was one of those days because I had to go and do a food review at Ripley Castle. I wasn’t really sure what to expect as Ripley doesn’t have a restaurant per se, instead, they offer catering for events from as small as an intimate birthday dinner, to a 200 guest wedding. We’d been told we were going to try a 3-course bespoke menu so I, for one, was excited.

Even though I’m from the area (and went to school with one of the kids who lives in the Castle) I’ve never visited before so I was bowled away by the beautiful village of Ripley. It is gorgeously quaint, and if you take away the cars, you could be in the 1800s. Then we reached the Castle, and it’s a proper castle, even if it’s not as big as Windsor. It’s got whacking great crenellations and a prison block, and there are even musket holes in the walls from where they lined prisoners up during the Civil War and shot them… It’s also got a priest hole, as the Ingilbys (the owners) have always been committed Catholics. The same family has been there for more than 700 years, which is pretty impressive too. It really is a wonderful place, and I got my history geek on. I’m definitely coming back for the official guided tour and I’m bringing Danners or Mr T.

Anyway, to the food. O. M. G. The chef, Ollie, is clearly a culinary genius. To start, we tucked into salmon and langoustine ravioli with crushed peas and han-shineji mushrooms. It looked beautiful, and it tasted even better. Apparently it was served at a private celebration dinner a few weeks ago. Lucky things!

For the main, we were treated to fillet of beef with braised ox cheek, sweet potato puree, shallots and girolles. Apparently, one of the Ingilby sons is getting married in a few months, and this is his main course…for 200 people! It was my idea of heaven, and so far removed from the dry chicken breast you often get served at weddings.

Finally, we had a honey and garden borage pannacotta with blood orange sorbet and a fennel crumb. As pretty as picture, it tasted pretty darn good too, and this is coming from the girl with a serious chocolate problem.

All in all, I had a wonderful few hours at Ripley Castle. I thoroughly recommend you pop over for a visit of the house and the gardens if you get a chance. Although you might not be treated to a meal as excellent as ours, the village of Ripley has a pub, The Boar’s Head, also owned by the Ingilbys, is meant to be brilliant.

 

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Betsy Loves, Food

Mississippi Mud Pie

I am neither a good cook nor an enthusiastic one but I can bake, after a fashion. And if the recipe involves chocolate in some shape or form, then so much the better.

I stumbled across The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook during the whole cupcake phase, and knew I had to try their Mississippi Mud Pie. It looked INCREDIBLE! Since then, I’ve made various changes to their recipe (changes which I like to think make it all the better…).

First of all, let me tell you, this is foolproof. I promise you. And it’s delicious. And despite the oodles of chocolate and mounds of cream, it’s not disgustingly rich either.

Ingredients

For the pastry:
The original recipe for this was vile. I mean, absolutely diabolical. So, instead, I take a leaf out of Mary Berry’s book and opt for Jus-Rol’s frozen shortcrust pastry. If you get the pre-rolled stuff, then I find one sheet works fine. If you get the blocks, then again, one block is fine but you will be left with some

For the filling:
100g dark chocolate roughly chopped
50g unsalted butter
30ml golden syrup (this works out as 2 tbsps)
6 eggs
300g soft light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the topping:
350ml whipping cream (not double cream!!!)
Dark chocolate shavings

23cm pie dish
Baking beans (I use the same bag of old butter beans each time)

Method:

Preheat your oven to 170C.
First make the pie crust. Dust your work surface lightly with flour, then roll out your pastry (make sure to defrost it first – duh!).

Line the pie dish with the dough but make sure you leave enough excess hanging over the edges.

Pop in a square (or a precise circle, if you’re so inclined) of baking parchment/greaseproof paper and then put the baking beans on top.

Put the pie crust in the middle shelf of the oven for 10 mins; then remove the paper and beans and cook for a further 10 mins. You may find that some of the pastry rises with air bubbles; it’s ok to prick these but make sure you don’t cut all the way through the pastry to the dish below!

While the pie crust is baking, you can make the filling. Put the chocolate, butter and golden syrup in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (do not let the base of the bowl touch the water). Leave until melted and smooth then remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly.

While the chocolate mixture is melting, put the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat until well combined.

Gradually beat the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture on a slow speed. Make sure the chocolate isn’t too hot, otherwise it will scramble the eggs (barf!). Beat thoroughly until smooth.

Pour into the partially blind-baked pie crust and bake in the preheated oven for about 35-40 minutes. Check regularly after 30 minutes to make sure it isn’t burning. The baked pie should be firm to the touch but still have a slight wobble in the centre. Leave to cool completely then cover and refrigerate overnight (I’ve served this on the same day, so refrigerating isn’t the be all and end all, but the pie must have cooled before you put the cream on the top).

When you are ready to serve the pie, whip the cream with a handheld electric whisk in a large bowl until soft peaks form then liberally dollop on the pie and finish with plenty of chocolate shavings.

Usually I have a bit of pastry left over, as well as some of the chocolate filling, so I make myself a separate mini Mississippi Mud Pie. Om nom nom!!!

There you have it, folks – Mississippi Mud Pie. Enjoy!

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Betsy Loves, Food

The Cake of Glory!

Sorry if this all sounds a little saccharine, but I am blessed to have some amazing friends around me. AMAZING! One of my faves is Ashley. Not only does she love Buffy as much as I do; not only can we geek out together over just about anything; not only is she an incredible writer herself and really supportive of my own efforts; not only does she have her head totally screwed on and can always be relied upon to sort me, you, anyone, out; but she’s also one of the best cooks in the whole wide world. True story.

She just gets food. She knows what flavours go with what (nowhere near as simple as it sounds!). She’s a baker and a cook (if you see the difference). She makes food exciting and sexy. Yes, sexy. She has a day job (don’t we all…), but she also runs two wonderful foodie blogs. The first is http://www.peachtreesandbumblebees.com/ and the second she runs with the equally talented and passionate foodie – Amy – http://www.thegreedygirls.com/.

Sooner, rather than later, these two women are going to conquer the culinary world. You heard it here first!

In the meantime, it is my absolute pleasure to share one of my favourite recipes of Ashley’s – The Cake of Glory.

This colourful cake is totally breathtaking – especially if your guests don’t know what’s on the inside! Frost with white icing and hide the wonderful surprise within, then wait for the gasps when you cut it open! Best of all, it’s much easier than it looks and it makes a really tasty cake. Perfect for parties!

 You will need:

·         250g butter, soft

·         475g sugar

·         5 egg whites, room temperature

·         2 tbsp vanilla extract

·         380g plain flour, sifted

·         4 tsp baking powder

·         Large pinch of salt

·         1 1/2 cups of milk, at room temp

·         Red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple gel or paste food colouring (I use Sugarflair)

·         At least 2 8″ loose based round cake tins

·         Butter, oil or cake release for greasing

·         4 large skewers

For the icing:

·         A kilo of icing sugar, sifted (you may need spare)

·         200g butter (you may need spare)

·         50mls milk (you may need spare)

 

1.        Preheat your oven to 180°c degrees and grease your tins. I only have two so I just cooked them in three batches.

2.       Pop your flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl and mix well.

3.       In a stand mixer, beat together the sugar and butter until fluffy.

4.       Add the egg whites one at a time and beat until smooth. Add your vanilla and beat the mix on high until it is nice and fluffy.

5.        Then, alternating between the milk and the flour mix, add everything to the stand mixer. Mix on low speed until well combined and smooth.

6.       Split the mix between six bowls, and add some food colouring to each bowl so you have one of each colour. You might need to add a fair bit to get the vibrant colour. Mix well.

7.        Bake each layer for 15-25 mins. Keep a close eye on them as the layers will be much thinner than your average cake layers.

8.       When the cake springs back, remove from the oven and leave to cool for at least 10 mins before removing to a cooling rack. Be careful as the layers are thin and prone to breaking.

9.       While they are cooling, beat the butter and half the icing sugar in a stand mixer with the milk. Beat slowly until smooth, then add the rest of the sugar. Beat on high until it is smooth and fluffy.

10.     When the cakes are cold, pop the purple sponge on a cake plate and spread a layer of the icing over the top. Carefully place the blue layer on top and do the same.

11.      Ice each layer until you have all six sat on top of each other. If the layers start to slide around, stick the four skewers in a square through each of the layers to hold it all in one place. While it is being held, spread a layer of icing around the outside and top of the cake. Don’t worry if you get crumbs in the icing – you’re going to do another layer.

12.     Leave until the icing sets and then add another layer around the outside and the top. If you used a lot in the first round, you may need to make some more. Just half or quarter the recipe for the buttercream to make a bit more.

13.     Use a pallet knife dipped in boiling water to spread it smoothly (and remove the skewers and smooth over the holes).

 

For more of Ashley’s amazing recipes, visit www.peachtreesandbumblebees.co.uk

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Beauty, Culture, Food, Health

Bikini bridges

Yesterday I briefly touched on body image syndromes like thigh gaps. What is a thigh gap? The clue’s in the name really – it’s being skinny enough that the very top of your inner thighs don’t meet in the middle. On some women, those who have a genetic predisposition, this looks perfectly normal, or other women, those who’ve desperately tried to achieve a gap which was never naturally meant to be there, it looks weird.

And now it appears that this year, as well as demanding non-touching thighs, women can add another fetishistic syndrome to their list – the bikini bridge. Less self-explanatory perhaps. Allow me to expand, it simply refers to the ‘bridge’ that is formed by your bikini bottoms (or knickers) when your hipbones jut out when you lie down. Now, whether you think this is attractive or not, and before you express your outrage or delight, let me tell you that this is a hoax.

A hoax, you say? Yes.

Someone thought it’d be funny to poke fun at the whole ‘thigh gap’ and general body infatuation, and they created an entirely new phenomenon which they posted to social media, where it went viral. Lo and behold, The Daily Mail (among many others) picked up the story, but crucially, they hadn’t realised it was a hoax (maybe because once again they’d failed to do their homework, or maybe because it appeared so likely a fad, who were they to question it?). They then ran with wild panicky abandon through the quagmire of body image and media representation; you could practically feel the excitement of the editors leeching off the internet at this new monstrosity to rage against.

Then the hoax was revealed, but there was no backtracking and for once I agree with the reasoning – hoax or not, it still represented a worrying fad, and, as The Daily Mail had so elegantly proved, not everyone would realise it was a hoax. Sure enough, #bikinibridge is now a thing; a popular thing.

Perhaps over the next few years and months, we’ll begin to see #xylophonechest – when you can see the upper ribcage clearly; #collarbonecanyon – when these bones protrude prominently; #ribstripes – when your lower ribs show through your sides giving you a ‘stripey’ look; and #cheekdips – for either your butt or your face, take your pick. Isn’t it an exciting age that our unborn daughters can look forward to?

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Food, Health, Writing

That sinking feeling

I went to bed last night with the unpleasant, yet familiar, sinking feeling in my stomach that yet again I have failed to lose a stone in a week.

Obviously I’m exaggerating slightly but I am a very impatient person who’s also cursed with great enthusiasm at the offset which then declines quite quickly.

Perhaps I’m simply lacking in willpower and self discipline as some people have suggested, perhaps I simply don’t care enough to make the effort, perhaps I can blame the spare tire on my medically-proven sluggish metabolism, or perhaps there is another reason entirely.

Reason aside, almost every month I embark on a new plan of self-improvement with the main aim inevitably to shift at least a stone (except in my head I have visions of model-esque loveliness…). And every month, I find myself back at the same point. It’s all very depressing.

I’m a great lover of a fad, and will happily buy into whatever diet or fitness craze is currently doing the rounds. I’ve done the Dukan and Slimming World; I’ve followed James Duigan and Gwyneth Paltrow; I’ve fasted and Paul McKenna-ed; I’ve exercised to Tracey Anderson and even had a couple of personal trainers along the way, but the fact remains that at some point, some thing will knock me off course and I’ll go plummeting in the opposite direction.

I’ve very much an ‘all or nothing’ person so when I fall off the wagon, I do so into a sugary mattress of tubs of ice cream, family sized bars of chocolate, jars of Nutella, bags of Haribo and so on.

When I’m on the wagon, whichever one it may be, I am ‘living the dream’ and the perfect disciple, until, of course, suddenly I’m not.

There’ve been many reasons why I’ve lost my way. Sometimes it’s been a birthday or celebration when I’ve gorged myself and found it difficult to go back; other times it starts as a ‘treat’ which escalates; or it’s a deliberate FU to the current regime when I’m having a bad day; or an excuse because I’ve been productive and successful in other areas of my life.

Fairly recently I told Mr T that I find it almost impossible to be successful in more than one area of my life at the same time. He gave me a dubious look as I explained writing well meant I ‘rewarded or motivated’ myself with chocolate, while doing daily exercise meant I felt justified in reading and relaxing when I should be writing. His dubious look remained, but then, he has one of the most impressive (wait for it…) work ethics of anyone I know. I always feel lazy next to him.

Now let’s take me out of this entire situation for a moment. Losing weight sounds like it should be simple. Eat less + exercise more = weight loss. But it’s never that easy. For a start, one week people are demonising fat, the next it’s sugar. Some tell you to cut out carbs, others to eat for your blood type. It really is a minefield out there, and most people are gullible little sausages, happy to gobble up whatever new ‘nutritional’ advice is doing the rounds. And then you hear the depressing news that most ‘successful’ dieters weigh more three years after their weight loss than they did before they started! I ask you, where’s the incentive in that?!

I’m not asking for sympathy from this post. Let’s face it, that’s the last thing I need! But I’ve often found that writing down my actions helps me to understand them. Mostly though, after this, I’m feeling more confused and petulant than ever!

I’m about to book flights to go visit the fabulous Miss S in distant lands. I have five months to transform myself into a goddess. That’s do-able, right?…

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