Monday, 14 December 2009

Home for Christmas

Im back! I've returned home, back to my lovely family and welcomed to an amazingly decked out Christmassy house (oh how much I love Christmas). I can't begin to explain how great it is being home, it seems all my worries and fears have just gone out the window. Or probably are all locked up somewhere waiting to be released again once I return back to England. But for now everything is great, although I have had to bring along with me, my lecture notes and books.

Christmas is a time where we Georgoulopoulos' truly go all out! The whole house is decorated from top to bottom with ginger bread men, candy canes, baubles, santa hats, fairy lights, holly berries, rudolf cuddly toys and of course the all important Christmas tree. I've probably painted a crazy, tacky, over the top picture in your heads of what our house looks like. But our house looks amazing at Christmas and isn't tacky at all. Instead, it is warm, inviting and puts a lovely smile on your face.

I arrived on Saturday night and immediately on Sunday (after an amazing lunch of roast chicken pieces with carrots and onions, accompanied by a bowl of steamed brocolli, cauliflower and dry fried mushrooms with a squeeze of lemon, delicious!) found myself helping my mum make her mince pies for my old schools' Christmas carol concert. I always love helping her make them every year but was quite upset when I realised how much better hers had turned out in comparison to the ones I had made at university. I hadn't tried any of the mince pies I had made last week nor had I tried my mums. But hers looked amazing, smelled even better and just had the crumbliest of pastries (a good thing in my mind). But maybe this is a good thing, that my mums mince pies are better. It makes them more special. It seems they're only perfect when she makes them!

Continuing with the fact that we go all out during this festive time, this is the list of things we have come up with which we have to, or rather want to make/do before next week:
-Gingerbread House
-Gingerbread Tree
-Ouzo Biscuits (Κουλουράκια Ουζου)- A recipe recently found by my dad who used to have these as a child and who is desperate to try them out.
-Melomakarona (Μελομακάρονα) - Traditionally Christmas, greek, syrupy biscuit. Α favourite in our family.
-Fig Chutney (we have a fig tree at our summer house which every year produces hundreds of figs, which we then dry with the intention of eating them all year round. As of now we still have 2 large boxes of them waiting to be used. So we have decided to make a chutney from of them)
-Decorate the Christmas Cake

So from tomorrow our cooking/baking marathon begins. The gingerbread house, gingerbread tree and melomakarona are trusted recipes we use every year, so hopefully there will be no suprises there. However the Ouzo biscuits and fig chutney are recipes we will be trying out for the first time, so fingers crossed. The decorating of the Christmas cake, I've been doing every year. But I still find it quite tricky and there's always a debate on what decoration or design I should put on the top. But I'm so happy to be doing all of this in my home with the people I love around me.

I will be updating you on how all our Christmassy cooking comes along. I think the first thing up will be the fing chutney. Wish me luck.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Christmas Isn't Christmas Without Mince Pies

I say that Christmas isn't Christmas without mince pies, but to be honest I am not one of their biggest fans. However it is true that you can't be without them during the festive season. It is simply one of those traditions like making mounds of brussel sprouts eventhough 2 out of 15 people like them or like playing 'All I Want For Christmas' by Mariah Carey while wrapping up the Christmas presents. It would just be wrong to not have a plate over flowing with the little fruit filled crisp parcels dusted with icing sugar, waiting to be eaten hot out of the oven and served with cold cream. Funilly enough, all this talk about mince pies is making me crave one right now!
Although I would prefer eating the traditional Greek Christmas sweets (did I tell you I was greek?) melomakarona. Simply put, they are a flavourful spicy biscuit which are soaked in a honey and sugar syrup till soft and moist, to the point where they are on the brink of crumbling but stay strong and keep their shape until you pop them into your mouth, where they will melt happily. Most of the people in my family (from the English side) love, love, love mince pies. So this blog is dedicated to them.
For years my mum has been using this recipe and has never failed to recieve a massive compliment by anyone who tries them. Growing up, every year we would all help my mum make her famous mince pies. I was usually incharge of dolloping the mince meat into the pastry cases, an easy job I'm sure you would think but I always remember being told to 'add more' or 'that's too much'! Another thing I remember, is my mum always telling me that the pastry was really tricky and would fall apart very easily. A problem which she now realises was due to 25grams too much of butter. I think I can safely say, that her mince pies are legendary! She is pretty much known for them, when it comes to Christmas time, with people calling up to order boxes and boxes of them.
Seeing as I love baking and all things traditional, last year 2 weeks before the Christmas holidays I planned to make mince pies at uni (I was adamant to use my mum's recipe over my other friends') with two of my flatmates. To my suprise the mince pies turned out great AND my friend begged and pleaded for the recipe saying they were the best she'd ever had. This was another reason why I was happy. I again decided I would make mince pies this year for my new flatmates, however this time I was left to make them all by myself. So I put the radio on and began the process. The pastry worked amazingly, I got the cooking time down to a t and the whole kithen smelt all christmassy. I couldn't believe how well they turned out when I made them on Thursday and was pleased to hear the congratulatory feedback when I took my uncle, aunt and cousin some to try yesterday.
Maybe there is some truth in the saying 'too many cooks spoil the broth'.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The All Important Cake Tin

Now sometimes you can get away with it, but I must say that when a recipe tells you to use a specific cake tin, my advice would be to stick to that tin! I have been able to use different tins from those suggested in recipes in the past, but this time it did'nt really work out for me.
Having three bananas going quite brown I thought the best thing to make would be Banana Bread. I would usually use a long tin like the recipe suggests, but being a student all my tins are at home and all that is left here, in my 'student' kitchen is a square tin and a 22 cm round cake tin. But I still thought it might turn out ok if I used the square tin. But, disaster struck and now I have been left with a thin and fairly tough banana cake, although it does still taste amazing. The moral of the story is, that unless you are 100% it will all work out ok or you are an extremely experienced baker,I would suggest that you should probably just stick to what the recipe tells you to use.
Either way here is the recipe for the Banana Cake, it is simply amazing and freezes really well.

Banana Cake

200gr self raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
85gr butter
170gr soft brown sugar
2 eggs
3-4 large bananas
100gr chopped walnuts

(The tin that I would recomend for this recipe would be a medium sized loaf tin, about 21.5 cm x 11.5 cm)

1) Cream the butter and sugar together
2) Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition.
3) Mash the bananas to a pulp and gently fold them into the butter mixture.
4) Sieve the flour, b. powder and salt into the butter mixture and fold into the butter mixture.
5) Finally fold in the walnuts( I personally like to leave the walnuts quite chunky rather than cut them into little pieces)

Pour the mixture into the greased and lined tin and bake at 180C, 160C fan oven, gas mark 4, for 1 hour and 15 minutes, just until a cocktail stick comes out clean.

I dont usually frost or decorate this cake with anything as it is meant to be a tea time treat, but you could make a nice buttercream frosting adding a little bit of maple syrup to give it a nice colour and depth of flavour, or simply drizzle some royal icing over(made by mixing icing sugar with water.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Right, exams are over and done with so now I can focus most of my attention here, while still keeping an eye on my lecture notes. I have decided, after realizing the wonders of this cake, to talk about the amazing Coffee and Walnut cake I made over the weekend in between revising for my exam and reading up on lecture notes (there is nothing like icing a cake with rich, airy buttercream and then topping it off with roughly chopped walnuts to soothe away any worries and stresses).

My break (of baking) began with the idea of making a banana cake, a tried and tested, amazingly yummy recipe which usually gets great reviews.I must say that it is an amazing recipe, given to my mum and I by a friend of ours who loves baking and cooking as much as we do. But I had half heartedly set out to bake it as I really wanted to try something new and different, not mentioning that it was getting pretty late and the cake needed and hour and a half in the oven. It wasn't until my flatmate walked in and whispered 'make coffee and walnut cake'. I then remebered that that was her favourite. Seeing as I had never made or even tried a Coffee and Walnut cake before I thought it would be fun to try out a new recipe and it would be a nice treat for my flatmate to wake up to her favourite cake sitting on the counter in all its glory.

So as I had never baked this cake before so naturally I didnt have a recipe for it either. After browsing the internet for one, as you do now a days, I came across a Nigel Slater recipe. I must say that I love Nigel Slater, so I began reading the ingredients list and realised that it was pretty much just your usual sponge cake recipe with a bit of instant coffee and walnuts mixed in. So sticking to what I know best, and I know that Nigel Slater is amazing I gave his recipe a try.

I have to say that this cake was absolutly AMAZING, well if no one else liked it,which Im sure they all did as it all went within a day, I can safely say that Mr Slater has turned me into a Coffee and Walnut cake worshipper (or atleast a worshipper of his recipe).

Walnut and Coffee Cake
175g unsalted, softened butter
175g sugar(I used a mixture of light muscavado and normal sugar)
3 large eggs
175g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
70g chopped walnuts
2 tsp instant coffee granules + 2tbs boiling water
A few extra whole of chopped walnuts, whatever takes your fancy, for decoration
For the buttercream:
200g softened butter
400g icing sugar
(I used 150g of butter and 350g icing sugar and found it made more than enough buttercream, but if you are a fan of the good old icing go for the larger quantity)

1)Cream the butter and sugar together till pale and fluffy.
2) Beat in the eggs one at a time, or else the mixture may curdle (mine almost did, not that it really affects the end result, but if you see it going a bit lumpy just beat in a tablespoon of flour from your 175g of s. raising before adding the next egg)
3)Sift together the flour and b. powder and gently fold in to the butter/egg mixture till the mixture is one thick, glossy mixture.
4)Dissolve the coffee in the hot water, leave to stand for a minute or so just so that you're not pouring boiling water into the butter, then fold in to the mixture along with the chopped walnuts.
5) Nigel next said to split the mixture between 2 greased and lined 20 cm cake tins, but I just used a 22 cm cake tine and it turned out fine, just needed a bit longer in the over.

Bake the cake at 180C, 160F, gas mark 4, for about 25 - 45mins, depending on the size of your cake tin/s. The cake will be ready when an inserted cocktail stick comes out completely clean, i.e with no pieces of batter stuck to it.
6)Once your cake is ready take it out of the oven and leave to cool, when I say this I mean wait till it is absolutely, completely cold. If you try putting icing on a warm cake it will just melt and run off!
7)In the meantime you can make the icing. Simply beat the butter till its smooth and then slowly sift in the icing sugar (I wouldn't normally sift the icing sugar, just out of laziness, but I do think you get a better result this way). Once this has all become one lovely, thick paste, dissolve the coffee in the boiling water, leave to stand as before and then mix into the buttercream mixture. I didn't think the mixture would take all the coffee but it did, don't be tempted to skip on the coffee because it really does add the most glorious, almost caramelly flavour to the frosting.
8) Finally, once the cake has cooled (if you used 2 cake tins skip this next step) take a serated bread knife and slice the cake in half. Now this is not a hard procedure, dont think that you have to cut the cake perfectly into 2 identical halves, it really doesn't matter. You then want to spread about 1/3 of the buttercream over one of the cake halves. Then top this with the second (half of) cake and generously pile the remaining buttercream over the top, slowly pushing it out to the edges. If you want you can even take the buttercream round the sides, to make it look like one of those big, thick cakes you see in films in New York cafes.
All that remains is the decoration. All you need to do is sprinkle or place (depending on how wild you're feeling)the walnuts over the top of the cake, et voila! the cake is made.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Well as you can see, not much going on in terms of cooking tips, recipe book reviews etc. But you have to remember that yes I am a student and until I get these exams out of the way with(just 24 more hours)I will be 101% focused So dont lose hope in me, I am still a student and a blogger virgin so I may be a bit slow to begin with.
Much love and go make your self a delicious snack of cheese on toast with onions and sundried tomatoes, yum :)

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Hi, my name is Natalie and Im a second year Psychology student. I have decided to start a blog on food and different aspects of being a student, mainly as an escape from writing up lecture notes and simply because just like many other foodies I live, dream and think of food continuously.
This is my first blog ever and I hope that you will enjoy my little stories about cooking,my tips, reviews of recipe books and just general insight into my life and opinions guessed it, food!