Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Domestic Goddess in Training - a tale of three cakes - the cake that fell

 Sad cake.

Sad, sad cake.

No photo of sad cake.  Too upset.

Firstly the electric whisk died just as I  started to cream the butter and sugar together.  I had to finish it by hand.  With a wooden spoon.  Hard work.

Then I burnt my thumb taking the cake out of the oven.

So I dropped it on the floor.  The cake, not my thumb.  That was in my mouth.

The top sank.  Considerably.

After putting ice and lavender oil  on my thumb (ice for pain, lavender to stop blister appearing - it works) I prepared the  butter cream icing.  Too much cream cheese fell into the mixture (which I had to cream by hand, with a wooden spoon as the whisk was still dead) so I had to add more icing sugar and butter.  And more -  until it tasted better.

Then I carefully cut the cake in half.

But not carefully enough as I still ended up with  quite a huge hole in the top layer, where it had sunk.  Spatial awareness nil points.  Slicing skills minus nil points.

At this point a resourceful person would have filled the cake, hole and all, with lashings of cream, fresh fruit and a sparkly candle.

Not me.

This is what I did.

I cut a bit out of the middle of the bottom layer and put it on the top. To fill the hole.  I then filled the hole in the bottom with masses of butter cream (I now had masses because of the extra cream cheese, icing and butter).  Because the top now had soft(ish) cake on it instead of the crispy cake top bit, when I butter creamed it the cake sort of started to disintegrate into the butter cream and there were cake crumbs on the top and all round the sides.  Messy.

Then I iced it.  And again stuck little melon baller discs on it.  In pink.  Pink food colouring painted on with a pastry brush.  Sigh.

The cake needed to be transported. 

So I turned the cake tin upside down.  Put butter cream on the inside of the lid which was now the base.  Put the cake onto the butter cream.  Put what was formerly the big bottom bit  of tin on top and sellotaped both together.  Safely anchored I put it  into my eco-friendly cloth bag ready for transportation.

The cakes journey.  Twenty minute walk to bus station, crossing two main roads and three minor ones and via a subway.  Five minute bus ride to Station Road.  Five minute walk to rail station.  Twenty minute train journey.  Five minute walk to bus stop.  Ten minute wait for bus in very warm sunshine.  Twenty minute bus ride. Ten minute walk to my parents house.

The cake did not survive this journey intact.

Despite my best efforts to keep it upright it had slid off it's butter cream base and was squashed against the side of the tin.  It was now a semi-circle.  Some of the pink discs had moved - quite a way in fact - leaving a trail of pink food colouring behind them - like a snail.

And my Mum loved her small tier red velvet birthday cake.  She ate it - even though I thought it was a bit stodgy (probably because it wasn't mixed enough!).  She said it tasted lovely.  My Dad had a slice (minus icing), I had a slice, my nephew had a slice and my Mum ate the rest.  It took her a week.  She said she really enjoyed it.

My Mum. xxxxxxoxxxxxxxx

Monday, 16 May 2011

Nostalgia not being what it used to be................

Since I mentioned school dinners during the Piccalilli episode (haven't eaten cauliflower for some time now) I have been in nostalgia mode.

This particular bit of nostalgia came about because I was musing on my usual occupation which is how to make a living for myself and still stay sane and happy.  One of the ideas in my book of ideas is to have a soup stall in the high street during the winter. I love love love making soup and it nearly always goes right.  So I thought a stall selling 3 or 4 different kinds of warming, natural, healthy homemade soup

with a variety of homemade breads

(ok the bread still needs a bit of work

but I'm getting there)

would be a lovely way to earn a living.  

Of course the fact I don't have a kitchen that would make a health and safety inspector smile (being as it is over 30 yrs old and the landlord refuses to do anything about it and don't start me on the landlord!!) might be an issue.  But it is not unsolvable if I could find an alternative venue in which to cook.  But there is another issue - I don't drive.  So I need a business partner.  One who can drive.  And this is proving to be a bit of a difficult one.  Still you never know - maybe....out there somewhere.....

Then of course what would I do with the stall in the summer. But I am sure I can come up with a summer  idea (in fact I have one bubbling away) so don't anyone go and steal it.  The soup idea that is, I haven't told you the summer idea and without it you can't do anything.

And so one thought led to another, as it does, and my mind drifted back to my childhood and teenage years living in 'the village'. 

My parents move to Kent when I was eleven involved taking us away from a nomadic life of living in a series of small Surrey and Sussex towns with amenities like buses, libraries, people, parks, shops, guides, brownies, decent schools and cinemas and depositing us, permanently,  in a very small  village with no amenities and a barely there bus service with which to take you to civilisation  (civilisation only existing between the hours of 10 and 4 apparently)  and thus to a library which was my life's blood when young - I couldn't believe there wasn't a library in this place - how was I to survive.  It was a big big shock to my system.

As my CV states I am adaptable and flexible so, not being in a position to do anything about it - I was always too scared to runaway -  I coped and tried to make the best of it.  Well, I endured it albeit not very silently until I left home at 19.  This  was young to go in those days unless you were off to university or to join the forces which was the usual method of escape from 'the village' and neither of which I was doing. Once I left it became a nice place to visit (in between the people, shopping,  parties and social life I was catching up on) as long as I didn't stay too long, like more than 2 hours (joke - I loved seeing my family and was happy to stay for 4 hours being as the buses only ran every 2 hours).  Fortunately none of my family live in 'the village' any longer and so I don't have to visit. 

The village life of my former years is not something I usually dwell on but I remembered not long after we moved there the village shops began closing down.  The baker went, one of the three grocery shops became a restaurant (and it was the one where I used to buy my Fab ice lollies while waiting for the school bus in the morning so I was not best pleased), then another closed down leaving just the not overly well stocked corner shop. The bank became an antiques shop and eventually the greengrocers closed.  To this day only the butchers and the corner shop remain.  My parents, being the proud owners of 5 children who needed regular feeding on a very tight budget, now had to invest in a refrigerator with an icebox (no-one we knew had a freezer)  and then had to spend money on petrol to drive once a week to the nearest town 15 miles away to shop in the supermarket.  It was not a happy experience,  for them or for me who, as the eldest,  had to babysit.  Also, supermarkets then were not the all encompassing purveyors of all your heart could desire that we now know.  There was just the one, it wasn't that big and so there wasn't much choice and being the only one it was also horrendously busy.

Then came the vans.

Once the village shops started closing down enterprising people with vans started coming round.  Twice a week the bread van came laden with squidgy, soft, yeasty bloomers, crispy topped bridge rolls, crusty cottage loaves all begging to be smothered  with soft, yellow, creamy butter and consumed with delightful relish.  There were also long  finger buns topped with soft, shiny, sticky pink or white icing that could be licked off with the tip of your tongue.   The best way to do this was to eat the bun from underneath so that all you had left was the top of the bun with the icing on otherwise after the joy of licking off the icing you then had to eat plain bun.  Nice, but not so much fun.

The fish van also came weekly with freshly caught fish.  It smelt of the sea and evoked memories of light glistening on water, warm pebbles, wet seaweed and woody, tarry upturned boats drying in the sun. 

Once a week the fish and chip van would park at the top of the road and the smell of the frying oil and vinegars would propel us out of the house to join the queue for an occasional fish and chip supper. The rest of the time we just sniffed the air and whined 'oh pleeease just some chips' usually to no avail. 

Every day in summer and once a week in  winter not one but two ice cream vans came round; Mr Whippy and Walls fought it out for our custom - I was a Walls soft scoopy girl myself and always, always with a flake.

Once a month the joy that was the Corona Soft Drinks lorry appeared and I could get my fix of limeade with sharp, pointy bubbles that burst on my tongue (and I still have my own teeth!!). 

These deliveries made life easier and cheaper for my parents (who were very good at not giving in to our constant badgering each time the ice cream vehicles  appeared) and I just loved the vans.  I loved the anticipation of their arrival, poking around in the back to see what they had got with them this time, helping Mum make my her choices,  watching her pay and then the pleasure of eating and/or cooking whatever had been chosen.  My Mum used to make us fish and chips the day the fish van came.  The fish was always a  lovely white colour, it would be thick and would just flake off the fork when eaten and if we were lucky she would coat it in her own homemade breadcrumbs.  I loved to help by dipping the fish firstly in egg and then the breadcrumbs ready for frying.

And so I spent a fanciful five minutes (or so) thinking wouldn't getting a little van (possibly purple or a luminous green or even better a bright, bright yellow),

and filling it with tasty homemade breads (yes, yes I know), delicious pretty cakes, buns and pastries, heartwarming soups, ready to heat homemade casseroles and pies, home grown vegetables and then driving  around the countryside delivering all these goodies to people be such a lovely way to earn a living.  And it would be so eco-friendly as well. 

But then of course reality set in.  In actual fact the vans didn't last all that long.  Life changed.  Supermarkets began appearing on every available spare piece of land.  People suddenly seemed to become more mobile, more women went out to work and how we lived underwent a change.  Now shopping online means supermarkets deliver to your kitchen and bespoke goods like beautiful cakes can be ordered over the interweb and delivered to your door as and when you want them. Not many people are around during the day any more so a daily delivery van is no longer an option. 

Perhaps I had better get back to the stall idea bearing in mind how many stalls and street markets we seem to get in the city centre and how popular they are in general.  Borough Market for example.

Stalls are the new delivery vans. 

I want one.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The Culinary Secrets Act

Since mrs pao set up my blog for me a while ago, thus introducing me to the art of blogging, I have been errr browsing, surfing??? anyway going through many a food blog collecting millions of recipes, which I really will put into little yellow computer folders the next time it rains on a Sunday (along with clearing out the larder, filing paperwork, sorting out my aromatherapy draw, tidying the bookshelf etc).  Of course one of these days I  will also try out some of these million or so recipes. No, really, I will.  Especially some of  joythebaker's recipes. In fact the next time AJ, TJ and MG come to lunch they may well get her chicken pot pie - so there. 

Anyway in/on (oh no I have to learn a whole new vocabulary of terminology now!) one food blog I came upon I discovered that they used recipe testers - and what is more they wanted volunteers.   I had no idea such a thing existed, outside the realms professional cooks employed by the likes of Jamie and Delia et al.

And so I applied.

I had to fill in a little box saying a bit about myself so I told them I  had been made redundant after being in a stressful job, rediscovering joys of photography, reading, cooking  etc etc.  And then I had to say why I wanted to be a recipe tester for them........... so I said..........wait for it........'.if I can successfully follow a recipe... then it must be  foolproof, check out my blog'!!! I read it all back, not once but twice - and then I sent it.

I got an email back saying they had enough volunteers at the moment but they were always on the look out for suitable people.  That was it.  No -  and as we consider you to be eminently suitable we will keep your details on file - or - will get back to you when we have a vacancy - or - even thank you for your interest. For a while I was surprised.   Then I remembered.  Ah,  blown it again then.

I now wanted to be a recipe tester more than anything and so spent much, much, much time looking at food blogs but sadly found no opportunities.

So imagine my surprise when opening my email today I found an invitation from the very website I had applied to asking me to be one of their recipe testers. 

I'm so excited!!!   I'm registered already.  Of course it's all unpaid and I have to supply the ingredients at my own cost but I'm a recipe tester. How very, very exciting. There are some  legal bits and one of them is a block on the things  I can actually talk about so until I have worked out what the legalese means I can't say much having already signed the legal agreement which makes me a recipe tester.  I can say(I think) that I have chosen my first recipe (can't say what it is though) and my evaluation  has to be sent in within a week.  The evaluation  'may', if it is well written and interesting enough, be published on their website - they must have an awful lot of testers writing reviews but, you never know.... oh how exciting.

And, someone is going to have to eat some of the things I am going to be cooking so invites may well be abounding in a fortnightly manner..........   Although by the sounds of it we won't be able to discuss the food, or is it just the recipe, I really must get straight in my mind just what it is I have signed up to.

It is an American website so there are a few translation issues that need resolving such as 'how much is a cup of something?', 'what is cilantro?', 'how much is one stick of butter'?, 'is a pie plate the same as a pie dish'? a 'how do I broil something' and 'what on earth  is a Ramp'?.  Luckily for me my friend MO is American so I can ask her for clarification, without actually mentioning what it is I am doing of course.

Me, a recipe tester - imagine that. 

They obviously didn't look at my blog so I shall keep quiet about it I think.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Domestic Goddess in Training - A Tale of two cakes - the cake that cried

Well, I did it.

 I tweaked.

And look

It's red going in

And it's red coming out.

So, what I did was decrease the cocoa powder by 10grams and increase the flour by 10grams and I increased the baking powder as well. It was meant to only be by 1gram but 3grams found their way in. Then I increased the red food colouring by a half.  And it went red.  So proud of self.

And then -  I had to go and ice it!!!

First I put the butter cream frosting in the middle and on the outsides

this is not how it is supposed to look

but never mind no-one would see because I was going to cover it with ready to roll icing

like this

Now, what I should have done is cut the icing downwards and outwards and what I did was cut it downwards and inwards and that is why it looks like a ball.  Which isn't at all right.  But it was late at night and I was very tired and I should really have been in bed - so what did I do. 

Why, I carried on and decorated it of course

like this

 In the original recipe the spots were delicate little things but I couldn't find any round cutters small enough. 

And then I found the melon baller. 

Just a pointer - a melon baller may look like a little circle but when it is used to cut out red circles which are then placed on a white background - the red circles become huge.  When this happens it is not a good idea to carry on using  the original number of circles.  Spatial awareness - nil points.

Tip of the day - if you can't get coloured sugar paste, which is what the recipe calls for, and decide to use the white ready to roll icing and food colouring - do not - repeat - do not - dip the cut out shape in a dish of food colouring and then stick it onto the cake.  If you do this will happen

it will run - like this

 and you can't wipe it off or cover it up.  I know.  I tried.

So for the next spots I used the same food colouring but painted them with a pastry brush and then stuck them on the cake and waited - a short while.  Nothing ran.  Hah, I thought, I might be getting the hang of this domestic goddess business at last.

I finally packed up and crawled into my bed.

I had a dream. 

I dreamt  my white icing had turned red.  I so was disturbed by this occurrence I woke up and staggered into the kitchen to inspect the cake.  I lifted the lid of the tin and peered myopically inside.  I was relieved to see the icing was still white.  I  staggered back to bed and   sleep.

In the morning I again  lifted the lid of the cake tin to gaze proudly at my newly decorated small tier  red velvet cake to find

my cake had cried

Quite a few of the red circles had run during the night. 

I'm obviously not getting as good as I thought,  slow running food colouring hadn't occurred to me.  Ah well, nothing I could do about it - so I just packed it ready to take to AJ's with me.

MG had fun putting all the candles she could find on the cake despite her mother's protestations that she wasn't that old.

and it tasted quite nice.

So, all in all, it was an almost successful cake.  And I learnt a lot about the liquidity of food colouring.

It's my Mum's birthday next  week and I'm going to make it again for her because practise makes perfect.  My plan this time is to paint the decorations with food colouring and this time let them  dry before putting them on the cake.

We shall see.............