Friday, 26 December 2008

Boxing day bake-athon continues

It's baking time again!! But at least it's not me. See below: Our selection of "wives" cakes. Legend has it some man lost his wife in a gambling debt (welcome to the Chinese and gambling), and to get her back, he sold lots of these cakes to buy her back.

Well tomorrow I'm going up north to the Grandparents and so mother dearest baked a lot of cakes. I sat aside and let her get on with it as I'm not a major fan tbh. But check out the pictures.

Sis holding pei-dan so

Pei-dan is a thousand year egg. It's an egg that has become a black jellified solid. It tastes amazing in congee, but it also goes in these little cakes, in a mass of lotus paste wrapped in flakey pastry. I can't say I'm a fan of it in that form, but it's something we make. The pastry is the same as the wife cakes but they are more egg shaped.

Mama-san egg washing the "wife" cakes. These are stuffed with a more melon paste type concoction. Wife cakes are flat rounds and there are some special places in HK that are reknown for them. Personally I've not gotten over the wife cakes that have chunks in them as they taste nicer with more texture.

Boxed up wife cakes for grandparents.

Mum mixing mooncakes (yes we know they're out of season).

Eggwashing the mooncakes (also not a good idea as they got too brown in the end).

We stuffed theses babies with lotus paste mixed with some flour to lessen the sweetness. The incredible pattern is due to the mould.

Lye water. The deciding factor between mooncakes that keep, and mooncakes that go soggy.

My cheese and parma ham puff. Completely unchinese. But I needed to use up the cheese and ham.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Christmasberry baking

What else can I say? I've been a busy baker recently. Namely because I've been hugely antisocial of late, slight toothache and just generally sick of it all. So for the first time in ages I've been spending large amounts of time in bed curled up and so to be productive I've been baking a bit.

Coconut cupcakes (which neglect to mention the chocolate factor)
  • 175g softened unsalted butter
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 50g desiccated coconut
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons milk


  • 150g mascapone
  • 1 tablespoons icing sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 25g desiccated coconut soaked in a little milk

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and line a 12 hole muffin tray with paper cases. Cream together the butter and sugar in the large bowl until pale and light. Add beaten eggs and mix well. Add cocoa powder and coconut.

Mix together theflour and baking powder and fold it to the butter-egg mixture, and mix until smooth. Divide between the paper cases and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 30 minutes until the cakes are golden and toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

To make the frosting, mix the mascarpone, icing sugar and lemon zest until smooth. Add coconut. When ready, spread an even layer of the mascapone mixture over the top of each cake and sprinkle with coconut.

I can't remember where I nicked the recipe (they used lime but we have lemons so tough) but it's not something I'd make again although the sponge was delicately soft.

Jingleberry jingleberry jingle bell rock...

I'm in a petulent mood. Hmm maybe that's the polite way of putting it. Right now, I want to whip raw potatoes at the wooden fence outside. If I had superpowers and could throw fireballs I'd be in trouble right now. All in all, not feeling too Christmassy. Usually I'm really into the cooking. My only opportunity to cook the main. But I made goose last week (£19.99 at Lidl) and I suppose that might have killed my urge. I was banned from cooking goose for Xmas because it's too fatty, too expensive, may as well get duck... and when I bought it the parentals got all excited because it's not that pricy, it's huge and quite tasty.

I followed Nigella's Feast to a certain extent. Stuffed it with mashed potato but also some apple wedges which did not go down too well. I also learnt that geese have some large greasy valves near the bum which require squeezing or cutting off. (Icky, but less icky than what I thought it was.)

Presenting: My Goose.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Restaurant Blogging

I'm procrastinating as I should work (it's Sunday) but a mate said since I ate out so much I should really write reviews... well, tbh I should just write to remind me where to eat next time. Will do a round up and then try to blog going forwards. I already take bad pictures on my camera (well you're sitting on your own so being a freak isn't so weird...) Edit this as and when I can go through my receipts and remember where I was and what I ate...

Hotel: Jury's Inn: Nearest to the station, clean, basic, no biscuits on the nightstand, gym or free wi-fi. God-awful food. Will explain.

Unlike some of my more refined colleagues, I didn't mind Jury's Inn. I don't mind you have to go to pick up room service from downstairs. And I don't mind the minimal tv channels because channel 5 is a luxury for me (I live in a valley). The hotel is blissfully less than a minute's walk to the station. It's also about ten minutes walk to the Lanes where most the restaurants are. So on occasion if it's rainy, I am lazy enough to stay put and eat in the restaurant.

I ate three meals there I think. Pasta - plain, with a odd sprawl of spikey lettuce to garnish. Apple pie. With mango coulis. Steak pie with the world's flattest pastry (supposedly puff). Rhubarb and raspberry tart. With mango coulis. Cold. It really did get quite bleak. The Beef lasagna in the bar was of findus standard, which I didn't mind. But the garlic bread it came with was burnt. And didn't taste garlicky. Bleak. In fairness, most the time if I do get room service or hotel restaurant food I go for three courses because the main is rarely up to scratch. But it was pretty bad food attempting to be a bit fancy. Lovely staff though.

Englishes: Seafood
Lovely little restaurant which was pretty much completely empty when I dined there. Odd banquette seating (is that a word?) Think plush benches which have you facing other benches. If I wasn't there alone I'd be staring at another couple pinned to the wall by their table.

Regardless, I had some oysters because I was near the beach, there's the excuse anyway, however I don't think I'm any more inamoured with the slippery b@stards. Unlike the last time they were well shelled. However you still had to claw the muscle off the shell and this time they were freezing cold to the point of no flavour. Hmm. Is that meant to be the appeal? Just as a well they're not an aphrodisiac - there's not much around in Brighton. Mains was a rather gorgeous fish pie. Or rather a seafood pie. It came in this deep noodle bowl, topped with mash with red leicester. Definitely a nice touch. Given that I'm not a fan of fish pie - which is usually from M&S in my case, and given I'm not a major cooked fish fan, the fact I fell in foodie lust for this pie says something. Creamy sauce, peas, good chunks of fish, prawns... it was just yummy. I literally scrapped the bowl clean and licked my chops. *sigh* Good memories. Dessert however, was a bust. It had a fairly boring selection. Chocolate mousse and Raspberry Mille Feuille stood out. Trying to be experimental I went for the Raspberry. What a disappointment. It was chiller cabinet cold. It was pale white with a kind of raw pastry taste. Like layers of filo pinned together with water. Squiggle of raspberry sauce. If I'd not been on expenses I would have been disappointed. Go again? For the pie, the pie.... if only for the pie. Otherwise, just give it a miss!

Piccolos: Italian
Another questionable establishment which was packed to the gills the day I went. The risotto was not risotto. It was fried rice. With less oil. You know how risotto should have the wave to it and a slightly soupy texture? No soup. Fried rice. It was a good rice dish. Just not risotto. Dessert was Tiramisu and it was a round wedge. I'm guessing Brakes Brothers or Icelands, but it definitely wasn't home made. Oh poor mama! Go again? Not really. No. Consider it a stranger in the night.

Hotel: Thistle: Nearest hotel to the shopping complex. Are we sensing a theme here? It was a nice hotel. Cosy. Had a gym I never got to use but shops weren't bad.

What can I say about the food? Well never go to one where the review in the lift talks about rubbery scallops. I mean, you put the NICE reviews up, not the middling ones... as it was we had to "wait in the bar" for a table when there were plenty empty. Food wise it wasn't hideous. I remember it being fairly decent actually, if only I can remember exactly what I had! I do remember a mushroom cappacino thing to start with though. Slightly frothy mushroom soup served in an expresso cup. Hey I liked it. But then I always like surprise food you haven't ordered. Worth going to again, but not the best best.

Bordeaux Quay: Absolutely gorgeous restaurant. Beautiful bread. Didn't charge for water. Think I ate duck. This really is a poor review isn't it? Worth going to again. Particularly if it's with someone you actually carry a conversation with.


Hotel: Best Western

Ate at the best Italian restaurant I've been to for a long time. Can't remember the starter but it was good. The main however was a dreamy cream sauce pancake dish (crispolini?) with chicken and I can't wait till I have cause to go again. Great value for money and I only wish I had room for dessert.


Hotel: Carmelite
When in Aberdeen you should be prepared for two things. One, their hotels are extortionate. i.e. London prices. It was £135 a night for mine. Two, the quality sucks. Admittedly it was town centre, but even London would not give you a room that was sub-Travel lodge standards for that price. The lounge and restaurant was impeccably designed, and so were the suites so I hear... but the room that I got? Let's see, there was bird poop on the window, a little board nailed to the window so people at street level couldn't look up whilst you used the toilet, the toilet had this fantastic contraption that made lots of churning noises to make sure the water circulated away. It was just... caravan class. The furniture was circa 80s yellow MFI, the wi-fi dubious and oh, the tv went out at one point. But you know what? It's not the worse hotel in town! Actually it's one of the good ones apparently. Colleague went to the Copthorne, of which I am a fan of the one in Newcastle, having blown my budget on tea and cakes with a friend and grabbing a cheap dinner in town instead. That one again has a b&b room and a price tag of a fair heft.

To the food. Breakfast at Carmelite is a bit of a funny affair. Buffet spells pancakes, pastries, cornflakes etc. It's generally very sugary. One of the days I did spot mould on the american pancakes and discretely shoved it aside. I tended to stick to toast and cornflakes when I'm on expenses anyway but I was there that long I tried most things. Porridge was blah. On the days I did try the cooked, it's a funny affair. It came stacked on two crumpets like mini towers for a start.

Dinner. Ah. What can I say? I craved haggis. I have a love of haggis. Try not to quote me. Ever. It turned out that it seems to be more of a Edinburgh thing, because although you could get haggis in the shops, restaurant haggis is a rarity. Carmelite was the only place that had it, although I spotted chicken stuffed with haggis elsewhere. The haggis was lovely, but it only came in starter form. One of the days I did ask for it as a main. They said "oh I'd have to ask the chef", chef said fine, they came out with a starter sized main. Bright they ain't. Tasted my way through an assortment of starters and steaks etc. Memorable one includes scallops with blackpudding salsa. I'm not a blackpudding fan - it's okay. But the salsa is vile. Neither did I expect for the price, to get three scallops plopped on the little black mess. At least they were the beautiful fat chinese style scallops, but had I paid, I'd be starving and in tears. Dessert wasn't amazing either. Ultimately, if I wasn't eating there that frequently (it rained a lot when I was in Aberdeen) I may have liked it as it did have a nice decor and well-presented food. But a two week job where I probably ate there four nights? No thanks.

Prime Cuts: Meat
Had mushroom and ricotta pasta the first time (well I was trying to conserve my expense budget for the dessert) and it was lovely. Can't say I was elegant enough to taste the truffle oil but it was nice and well cooked - pretty good considering it was a veggie dish in a restaurant named after slicing meat. The dessert (oh the dessert) was baked alaska. It was actually the reason I chose the restaurant in the first place. It was the first time I'd eaten baked alaska and I'm not sure how I feel. They cheated. Well that's my opinion. They did the meringue and blow torch routine. I have no idea why but it feels like cheating in my opinion. Was yummy and well worth someone else's money though.

The next time I went I had beef (when in Aberdeen...) and it was lovely. It was meat. I don't know. I think the one to beat is Black and Blue at the moment, with regards to steak that is. Although I think that might be because they had garlic butter to go with the beast there. Had the chocolate parfait to finish and it was very nice. Just nothing to write home about. I'd go again, it's a first date kind of restaurant, comes with cutlery, glasses, linen and enough room to embarrass yourself in private.

Jasmine: Chinese/Thai/Everything vaguely oriental...
Haa... how to describe this. It was Chinese. I ordered a fried rice and mussaman curry. I love mussaman curry. It's peanutty with potatoes, coconut and onions and just enough spice to be interesting but not to scorch. Jasmine did a good curry. It had no peanuts in. And it had pineapple in it. Got to love the bizarre. Had a toffee banana to finish. Hefty portion, cantonese restaurant style. Go again? If I was in the mood why not? It was what it said on the tin...

Lemon Cake by Nigel Slater

I think I've been failed by Nigel Slater. It's very disturbing. Now he says he's not a cake man anyway, he's predominantly mains, ice cream and the odd fruit based dessert. However, I had poppy seeds, so I decided to borrow his recipe from Kitchen Diaries and tweak. I have to say it was an easy to make, albeit I judge him for requesting 90g of ground almonds when the packets come in 1oog amounts. So anyway, the cake. Which I forgot to add the poppy seeds to until the cake was in the pan. But I digress. Why did I feel the cake failed?

Well it lacked the lemony-ness one craves. But, even worse - although might be partially my fault.... it tasted quite bitter when warm. That could be because that's an entire lemon with peel sitting on the top. Or it could be that I made the syrup in the pan that held the slightly caramelised lemons. Oh well. Live and learn. And also figure out a way to use the shredded coconut that's in the cupboard...