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Since 2011

Bûche de Noël Entremets | Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everybody!



I’ve been looking forward to Christmas so much for the last few months; a time to relax a little, catch up with some work and things I haven’t had the time to do recently, getting up late, eating lots of food, drinking copious amounts of tea, not worrying about training, and doing it all with the family in the countryside… perfect! I’ve had such a brilliant end to the year – I feel generally happy with myself as a person, the last PhD meeting I had of the year was a success and I’m finally moving forward with results that have turned out the way I had hoped, all of my family are alive and well, I’m so blessed and am loving things the way they are right now. I couldn’t ask for any more! What a better way to celebrate with the people you love than with some Christmas-y activities and food?

I also decided to make this Yule log entremets for the family, as it can be kept in the freezer, and it’s made of several different components, it’s perfect to make piece by piece over a period of a week or so, and so it’s overwhelming and doesn’t take up much time. And, once it’s put together the whole thing looks so complex! I also love Yule logs; I made one when I was in secondary school for Food Technology, and it came out so well and found it delicious! My mum and I usually don’t like chocolate cakes, as they’re usually quite dry, but I suppose the frosting and use of real chocolate makes the Yule log cake so tasty and moist!

Another reason for making French themed desserts and things is so I can be inspired more the keep up with the Open University’s beginner’s French course on which I’ve enrolled. It started in September, and because it’s only a 30-credit level 1 course, the workload is definitely easier to keep up with than the level 2 60-credit courses!

I find that I go through periods where I’ll catch up, and get ahead, then really busy periods where I don’t do any for a few weeks, but because I was ahead, I end up then being right on track. Although I don’t think this is really the optimal way to learn a language (I think little and often is way better than doing it all at once and not touching it for weeks), at least I’m keeping up with the materials. So that’s why the level 1 courses work well for me, and they run from September to September. The level 2 courses, however, such as the upper intermediate Spanish, run from February to September… so there’s twice as much work to do, which is harder, but in a shorter period of time… that just spells chaos! I struggled so much to keep up with the materials for this course that I had to split this course over two years. But either way, it was worth it. I dread to think as to what the level 3 courses are like!

If I study at least one module each year with the Open Uni, I get to keep their transitional fees, which is great, especially as I really enjoy the materials. I love learning, and doing so in my own time, but sometimes I do find that these courses, for me at least, just move at too fast a pace and I find that I need more time to immerse myself into the language and play around with the pronunciation and new material.

Another thing to boost my French-learning-motivation is that I’ve entered a science writing competition. I don’t expect that I’ll get anywhere with it, but if you don’t try then you’ll never improve with anything. I spoke about the chemistry behind patisserie and chocolate, and after having done all of my reading around the subject, I’m seriously considering going into that industry when I’m done with my studies. Maybe I can go to Paris and work as a chocolatière? Who knows?! 🙂 It’s amazing how applicable my area of science would be in this industry! One of the science communication competitions I’m thinking about entering requires talking about chemistry in health, and so I thinking of talking about the health benefits of chocolate. I’ve been learning all about the flavonoids and minerals that help to make it healthy, and so I’ve used the best quality dark chocolate I can find in this dessert (~70-80% cocoa), which totally justifies eating it! 🙂


At first I was really disappointed with this dessert; but it is the first entremets I’ve ever made, and the more I think about and look at it, the more I’m pleased with the way it turned out. I made flavoured the crème brûlée with matcha (green tea powder) to represent moss on damp logs. At first I think it looked weird but I grew to like it. The coating was supposed to be über smooth, but the sugar clumped together and made lumps. I decided to use the coating, anyway, but I’m actually quite pleased with it because it adds to its log-like appearance. I also struggled to make the inside super tight and stuffed with filling, but it worked out well in the end. I decorated it with desiccated coconut and crushed pistachios, along with homemade plain chocolate leaves and marzipan mushrooms dusted with cocoa powder. I’ve love to try making mushrooms out of meringue, but that’ll be a project for another day. Next time I’ll hopefully get better at making entremets. Perhaps I’ll make another type of Yule log next year!

I also found it quite hard to make the leaves because my choice of leaf wasn’t very good. I used a variety, but it sort of goes without saying that you want a strong and sturdy leaf to support the chocolate once it’s coated, but a leaf with intricate details that will transfer to the chocolate. I couldn’t find a leaf with both of those qualities; a detailed but flimsy leaf, or a sturdy yet lacklustre leaf. Oh well! I think the shapes are what counted! 🙂

Right, I’m off not to watch a film with the family, before preparing for St. Nick’s visit, later 😉 Mince pies and carrots it is! 🙂



Bûche de Noël entremets
Adapted from: L’Atelier Vi, BBC Food, Rosa’s Yummy Yums, and How To Cook That

Ingredients
Element #1 ~ Dacquoise layer:
• 80g ground coconut (coconut flour)
• 50g icing sugar
• 2 tbsp plain flour
• 3 tbsp cocoa powder
• 3 x egg whites
• 50g granulated sugar

Element #2 ~ Praline Feuillete Insert:
For the feuillete:
• 100g dark chocolate
• 25g unsalted butter
• 2 tbsp Rice Krispies or Coco Pops (to replace 60g gavottes)
• 30g praline*

For the praline*:
• 10g granulated sugar
• 20g pistachio nuts, shelled and crushed

Element #3 ~ Matcha crème brûlée insert:
• 115g double cream
• 115g whole milk (I accidentally weighed somewhere between 150-160g… I wasn’t paying attention!!!)
• 1 tbsp matcha
• 1 x vanilla pod
• 4 x egg yolks
• 25g granulated sugar

Element #4 ~ Milk chocolate mousse:
• Powdered gelatine, the equivalent of 2 leaves (will say on back of packet)
• 175g milk chocolate

• 350g (1 ½ cups) double cream

• 3 x medium egg yolks

• 40g granulated sugar
• 10g honey
• 1 tbsp water

Element #5 ~ Ankou-infused chocolate ganache insert:
• 1 heaped tsp of ankou (read bean paste)
• 135g (⅔ cup less 1 tbsp) double cream

• 135g plain chocolate (>70% cocoa)
• 45g butter, softened

Element #6 ~ Dark chocolate coat:
• Powdered gelatine, the equivalent of 4 leaves (will say on back of packet)
• 120g (¼ cup) double cream
• 120g caster sugar
• 100g (¼ cup) water
• 60g cocoa powder

Equipment:
• a u-shaped mould
Preparation
Element #1 ~ Dacquoise layer:
In a mixer, pulse the coconut flour and icing sugar briefly, just to break apart the lumps. I didn’t do this, and although I sieved the icing sugar, the lumps of coconut still remained, and thus I immediately regretted it. I recommend to do so. Although the texture was still nice and it did look as though I intentionally speckled the sponge with coconut! Sift the flour and cocoa powder into the mix. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites (with an electric mixer), and gradually add in the sugar. Keep whisking until stiff peaks are formed. Pour in the coconut mixture, and fold in gently, until all is homogenised.

Preheat an oven to 175°C, and line a baking sheet with non-stick baking paper. Spread the egg white batter across the baking parchment, so it encompasses at least the dimensions of your mould (as this lines the bottom of the entremets when unmoulded). Bake for 20 minutes.

Element #2 ~ Praline Feuillete Insert:
For the praline:
Put the sugar in a small frying pan/saucepan. Turn the heat up to medium-high, and melt the sugar. Add in the crushed pistachios, and coat. Scoop into a ceramic bowl (or on top of non-stick baking parchment), and leave to cool.

For the feuillete:
Melt the chocolate and butter over a bain-marie, or in a saucepan over a very low heat. Add in the praline and Coco Pops/Rice Krispies, and coat everything in chocolate. Spread on non-stick parchment paper to a size slightly larger than the dimensions of what will be the base of your Yule log entremets.

Element #3 ~ Matcha crème brûlée insert:
Put the milk, cream, and matcha into a saucepan. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the milk and heat until just boiling (keep an eye on it!). Remove from the heat.

Whisk the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white). Pour the matcha milk mixture over the yolks, and mix well. Preheat an oven to 100°C.

Use a wet cloth to wipe the inside of your Yule log mould, and line with non-stick baking paper. Pour the mixture into the mould. Put the mould into a roasting pan, and add enough hot water to the roasting pan so that it comes half way up the mould (don’t do what I did and pour a splash of water right into the crème brûlée!!!). Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the edges are firm and the middle wobbles slightly when shaken/jiggled. Let cool and then place into the freezer for at least 1 hour.

The next day, I took the mould out of the freezer for 20 minutes (in a warm kitchen), and popped the crème brûlée out of the mould (still wrapped in its parchment paper). I gently wrapped it in foil and placed it back in the freezer for keeping, until I’m ready to use it.

Element #4 ~ Milk chocolate mousse:
In a large bowl, dissolve the gelatine in the minimum amount of hot (not boiling) water necessary. Set aside.

In a saucepan, heat the sugar, honey, and water until it starts to look syrup-y and coats the back of a spoon. In the meantime, in another bowl, beat the egg yolks (using an electric mixer) for about 5 minutes until white and frothy (this is a pâté à bombe). Drizzle the sugar syrup into the pâté à bombe slowly whilst mixing, and keep going for about another 5 minutes. It should thicken and start to froth a little. Set aside.

In another saucepan, or bain-marie, very slowly melt the chocolate with 2 tbsps of double cream. Let cool a little, then pour into the gelatine, and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whip the cream until stiff. Add half a cup to the gelatine/chocolate mixture, and mix well to temper. Then pour the pâté à bombe into the chocolate, mix well, and then pour the mixture onto the whipped cream. Fold gently until homogenised, and place in the fridge until ready to use.

Element #5 ~ Ankou-infused chocolate ganache insert:
Measure the double cream into a saucepan, and stir in the ankou until homogenised. Set aside.

Break the chocolate into a bowl and set aside.

In another saucepan, melt the sugar by spreading it evenly over the bottom on a medium-high heat, until dark amber in colour; swirl the pan, but don’t stir. Bring the cream to a boil, and then pour into the hot sugar syrup, being careful not to burn yourself if it spits.

Pour this cream-syrup mixture over the chocolate, wait for about half a minute, and then stir until smooth. Add in the butter, and use an electric mixer (I used a wooden spoon) to whip hard and fast until smooth and shiny. Make sure you whip/mix it well, otherwise you’ll have sugar lumps (which, actually, I think are quite nice!).

Assembly:
1. Take your crème brûlée out of the freezer.
2. Line your mould with non-stick baking paper; I used honey to stick it down to the mould.
3. Pipe a third of your mousse into the mould.
4. Place your crème brûlée on top of the mousse, and press lightly to ensconce it into the mousse.
5. Spoon (or pipe) a second third of mousse onto of the crème brûlée.
6. Cut the praline feuillete insert a little smaller than the dimensions of your mould, and lay on top of the mousse (mine, unfortunately, shattered).
7. Spoon/spread/pipe the rest of the mousse on top of the praline feuillete insert.
8. Freeze for an hour or so, so the mousse hardens.
9. Now, this is where you should make the ganache (element #5), but I did before I assembled my log… luckily my kitchen was warm! If you make this mistake, just gently reheat the ganache over the hob until it’s a consistency that you can deal with/pipe.
10. Spoon (or pipe) the ganache onto the top of the mousse, being careful not to go too far to the edges, so that when you press the dacquoise base on, the ganache won’t seep our of the sides.
11. Close the entremets with the dacquoise.
12. Freeze overnight.

Element #6 ~ Dark chocolate coat:
Bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil over the hob. Turn the heat down and cook an additional 3 minutes. Let cool a little, then add the gelatine and mix well. Let cool. When the mixture is smooth and coats the back of a spoon well, it is ready.

Unmould the entremets and set on a wire rack over a baking tray. Smother the cake in the coating, wait for it to set, and return the entremets to the freezer for it to set entirely.

Decorate as desired; decorations can be pressed into the coating before it’s set, or placed on top afterwards. Place in the freezer to set.

To serve:
Transfer the entremets to the fridge no longer than 30 minutes before serving. Be careful about certain elements (i.e. decorations, chocolate coating, etc.) that may start to melt, depending on the temperature of your kitchen/room.

The Primal Games 6 | Hasselback and Egg-Stuffed Potatoes



Well, that time of year is coming up again… Christmas! I’ve been eating a lot of stodge recently, mostly in the form of sugar, chocolate, and cheesecake… so I thought I’d share something that isn’t in that form… for now! This is definitely the sort of stuff I love to eat over the winter period; tonnes of vegetables, starch-y goodness, and lashings of gravy, so thought I’d share a recipe for some potatoes (a definite winter staple!). Having these with pork and apple chips definitely makes for a real treat (breakfast!) to dip into the egg. 🙂

This past week has been pretty busy, rather stressful, and a bit naff since my previous blog post, which spoke about Recession Proof Body coming to CrossFit Plymouth. They posted a link to that particular blog post on Facebook, and I had a flurry of people come onto the blog again – how lovely. 🙂



And, to top it off, the Primal Games 6 (held at CFP) was a few weekends ago, and it was SO MUCH FUN! Not only did I equal my snatch PB of 60 kg (I had only done it once before and was pretty surprised that I managed it in a comp this time) but got my first ever bar muscle ups! 🙂 The team I was with were also super fun and encouraging, and it was an amazing day all around… it left me buzzing for the WHOLE WEEK afterwards! It was great that everyone seems genuinely supportive of one another, regardless of what level of fitness or ability, it was just an amazing environment.

I was quite surprised about the bar muscle ups, considering how little I’d ever practiced trying. But I was the only member of my team not doing them, and I think that the sheer desire to want to contribute to some points and help them out was my driving force. Never have I ever been more determined to get over the bar or do something as I was then; usually, when snatching heavy weight or doing movements like muscle ups, I get quite scared at the prospect of injuring myself or the movement going wrong, but during this instance I never thought once about injuring myself, I just thought about getting to the end of the movement. It goes to show how the real desire and intention to do something makes that something happen!


In September, I went to the Particulate Systems Analysis and conference and UKPTF, and whilst in Manchester I stopped off at an amazing box called Train Manchester (the home of Samantha Briggs!). I managed my first real muscle ups there (i.e. starting with straight arms at the bottom)… I reckon it was because Samantha Briggs’ touched the rings, and some of the magic transferred to me! I’m not amazing at muscle ups, but even though deep down I knew I had the ability to do them, I didn’t really believe it… until I did just the one… then I did four more afterwards. When I got home, I then did an OMEM drill, and managed fourteen muscle ups, one every minute for fifteen minutes… I failed one once, but still, that’s a big improvement from zero, to being able to do them overnight!



It’s nice to be busy with so many projects going on, but I cannot believe that I’ve hit the ripe old age of twenty-five; where has the time gone? I absolutely cannot wait for Christmas, where the time will hopefully slow down a bit and I can catch up with some important people. Even though times can be busy, stressful, emotional, etc., personally, I feel stronger mentally and physically than I have in a long time; I used to be scared of getting older, and of course, I still am, as we all are, because the future is never certain or guaranteed, but as I get older I learn more and more, and life keeps getting better and gives me amazing gifts. So although getting older is sometimes seen as a negative (i.e. ageing, more responsibility, less time, etc.), it’s actually something to be proud of, and to simply enjoy (unfortunately, some don’t get the chance to be older). In some ways, I can’t wait. 😀



♪ Hasselback… hasselback POTATO ♫

Egg-stuffed potatoes
Adapted from: Cheese and Chocolate

Ingredients
• pre-baked potatoes
• eggs (as many as you have potatoes)
• butter
• salt and papper
• various other fillings (my favourites being bacon, sausage, spinach, broccoli, roasted garlic, cheese, etc.)

Preparation
Preheat the oven to 175°C. Find where you potato stands upright, and slice off the top to make a lid. Scoop out enough of your potato to make room for your fillings (you can save the flesh to mash up and have as mash another time).

Add some salt and pepper to the inside of your potato, place some of your fillings in, and crack in your egg. Sprinkled with more salt and pepper, and add some cheese.

Bake for about 25 minutes, although the baking time depends on how you like your eggs, and serve.

Hasselback potatoes
Adapted from: BBC

Ingredients
• white potatoes
• butter
• pepper
• salt
• parmesan cheese (although I like cheddar)
• breadcrumbs

Preparation
Preheat the oven to 220°C. Wash the potatoes well, and dry. Score the top of the potatoes ¾ of the way through. You can slice through the potato whilst it’s sitting in a large serving spoon to prevent slicing cleanly through the potato. Put a lump of butter on top of each potato and pop in the oven for 5 minutes. Then bast using the melted butter and sprinkle on some salt and pepper. Return to the oven and bake for 45 minutes. When done, remove, sprinkle with the cheese and breadcrumbs, and return to the oven for 15 minutes until the potatoes are soft and the crust is browned a little.

Bacon would also be a nice addition. Even without the cheese and breadcrumbs, these potatoes offer a different texture to a regular baked potato, mashed potatoes, or roast potatoes.

A Trip to Paris!! | Macaron Délicat à la Thé Vert

Beware: Photo heavy and ramble-y post! 🙂


“Like a good Chanel purse, the macaron is timeless and elegant, and always a treat!”
Bake Bellissima



I absolutely love a good cuppa tea, and being British, tea is a large part of our daily lives. However, I also love the Japanese culture, and have taken a very fond liking to their sencha 煎茶; whenever I’d have green tea in a Japanese restaurant or café, it would always have a delicate taste and leave my mouth feeling refreshed, although others would complain of how weak the tea appeared to be. But for me, I think that’s the key! I love the way these leaves are processed and I love how soft and subtle the flavour is. I bought some good quality sencha tea bags, but to use a whole teabag would make the tea so strong that it leaves a bitter after taste in your mouth, even when using warm water (as opposed to hot)! I had never liked Chinese green tea because of this reason, but perhaps it’s not the flavour of the leaf, it’s just its strength that I dislike. So now I simply rip open the teabags, and use literally a small pinch of leaves, pop them in the bottom of my cup, and pour over hot water, and I absolutely love the taste! I just keep the ripped teabag in my empty pot of Teapigs matcha, which has made a very useful pot for varying my sencha around! Not forgetting that the matcha itself was beautiful! I’ve converted dad to green tea because of this, too, and now I feel that I can enjoy this lovely Japanese daytime ritual into my daily life, too.

So yes, I love a good British cuppa, and also a gentle chawan of matcha. I’m very confused as to what to believe regarding the health benefits of tea; some say that it counts towards your daily water intake, although I think that these days most “experts” agree that it doesn’t because of its caffeine content. However, I have read that tea has as much caffeine, if not more, than coffee, but it simply releases it over a slower period. Both green and black tea contain around 30,000 polyphenolic compounds, some of which have been shown to have numerous health benefits, including reducing cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and inflammation, and their exact biomechanical mechanism is still not clear.1 Also, polyphenols can act as antioxidants, and for a long time this was thought to be the reason for their health benefits.1 However, recent studies have shown that this only plays a small part in their effectiveness.1 Yet, according to Disler et al. (1975), drinking tannin-containing beverages such as tea with meals may contribute to the pathogensis of iron deficiency if the diet consists largely of vegetable foodstuffs. 2



Anyway, regardless of whether it’s healthy or not, I believe that it’s a marvellous beverage! It’s perfect for any occasion: celebrations with loved ones, get-togethers with friends, consoling one who’s upset, as a snack, a post-meal cleanse, a breakfast necessity… and so I decided to infuse matcha (powdered green tea) into macarons in order to celebrate my love for tea and the Japanese culture, and also because I’ve just recently got back from a trip to Paris! These were originally a trial of green tea macarons to be had as a spring treat for Father’s Day, especially seeing as dad took quite an interest in the Japanese culture, and they were secondarily going to be for celebrating a trip to Paris should my abstract have been accepted. But they came out so well the first time I decided not to make them again, and the next time I will make them, I will try and feature a different flavour, I think. Flavours I’ve love to try and make include, and are not limited, to a few I have just quickly found on Foodgawker:


• Chocolate macarons with an orange ganache, or orange macarons with a chocolate ganache!
• Lime macarons (green) with a coconut buttercream (white), sprinkled with desiccated coconut
• Pistachio macarons (green) with a raspberry or strawberry buttercream (pink/red)
• Rose macarons (pink)
• Vanilla macarons (white/light) with a Nutella filling (dark brown)
• Basil macarons (green) with a strawberry ganache (red)
• Matcha macarons (green) with a match and white chocolate ganache (green and/or white) with a dusting of matcha
• Chocolate macarons (brown) with a dark chocolate and pepper ganache (dark and spicy!)
• Lavender macarons (pink) with honey-early grey infused buttercream
• Chocolate macarons (brown) with a peanut butter frosting (yellow-brown)
• Vanilla macarons (pale) with vanilla bean buttercream and a fresh strawberry (to make it very pale pink)
• Chocolate macarons (brown) with a coffee ganache
• Custard cream macarons (or another English biscuit!)
• Wasabi macarons (with strawberry, ankou, or white chocolate filling)
• Savoury macarons with dill, cream cheese, and salmon

I went to Paris to present at my first ever international conference, the 10th International Conference on Diffusion in Solids and Liquids DSL-2014. Seeing as this is a food blog, I won’t talk too much about the conference, but will focus on my various pâtisserie exploits of Paris! 🙂 Originally, I was going alone, but then Ed suggested that perhaps he could come along. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out because our dates for various things clashed, which was a shame. 🙁 But I thought “hey, why doesn’t my bro come?” He agreed, and so he came! I could have gone alone, as I’m always up for doing things alone, but this was just a little holiday (as we spent a few days extra in Paris after the conference), and doing things in the capital is always much more fun with a friend than alone.

The conference venue, Le Tapis Rouge, was absolutely stunning, and I felt so privileged to have been there. I did feel rather out of place at first, so I was pleased that I decided to dress up relatively smartly, although there were others there in jeans and white trainers! We even had amazing live instrumental music and delicious pâtisserie in our coffee breaks, such as madeleines, pains aux chocolates, and even macarons, along with various other hors d’oeuvres… yum! The conference itself was interesting, and I met two lovely fellow researchers, Özer who is a fellow PhD student from Turkey, and Igor who is a researcher from Russia with 43 publications, and spent the evening gala meal on the Wednesday with them and my brother.



Myself, Igor, Özer, and Tim, outside of Cathédrale Notre Dame 🙂

I was really quite disappointed with my presentation. It didn’t go nearly as well as it did in the practice runs, and I was way more nervous when I presented at the CRES conference last year in front of about five times more people, including Iain Stewart! I think the proximity of the audience (i.e. I was standing really close to the audience in Paris) and perhaps knowing that the speciality of the audience in Paris was closer to my field than the geologists at the CRES conference, but I still don’t understand why I got quite so nervous. Usually, I read quite a bit from a script that I have, because I know then that everything will go according to plan, and that’s always worked really well for me and I can still project my voice well. But this time I was just a nervous and jittering wreck. I also think I had too much content to get through in the allocated time… which was fine when I was confident in presenting, but then as soon as I lost confidence, everything went out the window! I didn’t run out of time, but next time I will reduce my content so that I can speak slower and more thoughtfully, but it’s difficult to know until you’ve run through the presentation under more nerve-wracking circumstances. I wanted to put in as much as possible, but there were some things I should have left out, even though it was nice to have them in… oh well. It was an experience, and I was quite down on myself for a few days afterwards. As long as I learn from it then it would have been worth it. I just feel so lucky to have had this experience, because if it wasn’t for Omya and Plymouth University, then I wouldn’t have gone to Paris.

So, naturally, being in the capital of France, one has to sample as many pastries and delicacies as possible. Tim and I went to LOTS of places, and I tried a few of the things I set out to try. On the first morning, we had an early morning breakfast at Du Pain et des Idées. I wanted to visit this bakery as I had heard (more like read on blogs) a few things about it. As we walked to Rue Yves Toudic, Tim pointed the bakery out saying “that looks like a really nice place,” and it turned out to be the place! Tim had a snail pastry with raspberry and cream cheese, and I had a pain au chocolat with banana. It was absolutely delicious, although I have to say that mine was slightly burnt on the bottom. Nevertheless, the layers inside were soft, the pastry was crisp on the outside and the flavour was amazing. Tim also made a really good choice with his pastry flavours, although I think that whatever we chose would have been great.

Later that day we went to Jacques Genin, who according to David Lebovitz, may be the makers of some of the best caramels in the world. On the first of our visits, we tasted seven of their beautiful chocolates: milk chocolate, grapefruit milk chocolate (couldn’t taste much difference to the natural), ginger milk chocolate (lovely combination of flavours!), dark chocolate, dark chocolate infused with tea (what type of tea I don’t know, but the flavour was extremely subtle if non-existent), raspberry dark chocolate (I found it quite “fragranced,” but Tim really liked this one), and basil dark chocolate (very distinctive, and probably my favourite one!). We also had a green and purple pâté de fruit (or “Posh fruit pastels”), and we think the green one was kiwi and the purple was blackcurrant. The flavours were really delicious; they must use real fruit extract. We bought a couple of fruit jellies for friends and families, and left.


The following day we decided to return, and had a dégustation of six caramels this time, along with a thick hot chocolate to share, which is just like the Spanish chocolate a la taza that I love so much, and a mille feuille vanilla. The caramel flavours we tried were mangue passion, natural, café, pistache de Sicile, noix de cajon and cassis. I’m not a massive fan of caramels but they were definitely of the variety to make me want to try and make my own some day! We bought some caramels as gifts for others, and cried as I handed over my debit card. The caramels are sold at 110 € /kg, and the pâtés de fruits at 90 € /kg…

The next morning we had breakfast at a the bakery Liberté; I really enjoyed the clean and modern look of this place, and seemed really busy yesterday lunch time when we walked past. We bought all sorts of things, such as a pistachio financier (with a possibly raspberry filling), a large madeleine, pain au chocolates, pain aux raisins (which is Tim’s favourite), a Viennese chocolate bread, and a large chocolate log. Unfortunately, the chocolate log bread actually seemed a little undercooked, as it was quite doughy in some parts, but the quality of their cakes and pastries made up for this tenfold! The only thing I would complain about is that there was nowhere I could get a British cuppa to wash it all down with!


Of course, we tried some nouvelle cuisine, which was delicious, and again, I wept as I handed over my debit card. But it was definitely a lovely treat and something I’m going to try and do myself at home! We went to L’Office and Chez Marie Louise, but this is all for another blog post. 🙂 We also had an amazing falafel at L’As Du Fallafel, and delicious crepes at Crêperie Josselin, my two favourite hangout spots. Actually, I think L’Avant Comptoir was probably my favourite, and I made a special stop there just to try Le Beurre Bordier, or the Bordier Butter, that I’ve heard so much about. It took us a second glimpse to make sure we found the right spot, as the stand-up wine bar is a little hidden. The place smelt absolutely delicious and reminded me of the best Spanish tapas bars you could find, with cured meats in the background, wine glasses everywhere and their menu, with each of their different tapas, hanging on card from the ceiling. We each had a different glass of red wine, and ordered a portion of poitrine de porc caramélisée and a mini crème brulée; the only complaint I have is that there wasn’t enough. The pork was cooked to perfection, and the crème brulée was the best I’ve ever had, with a wonderfully caramelised top, yet not too caramelised (i.e. burnt), and a very smooth, creamy and rich pudding underneath. We also helped ourselves to baguette slices and Bordier butter… if I had the means to store the butter in our hotel rooms and carry it back, then I would have found some to buy to take back home. It was some of the creamiest butter I’ve ever had!

Of course, I visited Ladurée, and sampled six of their macarons: réglisse (liquorice; unfortunately we couldn’t taste any liquorice…), l’incroyable guimauve chocolat coco (chocolate and coconut “guimave;” the subtle taste of coconut was lovely), l’incroyable guimasse fraise bonbon (strawberry candy “guimave;” Tim really like this one!), caramel fleur de sel (salted caramel; by far my favourite, as the combination of salt and caramel is always a winner!), fleur d’orange (orange blossom; couldn’t taste any orange, but I guess orange blossom doesn’t taste of orange! It sounded intriguing, though), and menthe glaciale (iced mint; a seasonal flavour, and was nice, although not my favourite macaron flavour). We were quite lucky with queuing in this store, because I walked in when there were only a few others in there at the counter; after I arrived, suddenly a flurry of other people did, too! I would loved to have stopped off in their café for some tea and pastries, but we decided that we already had enough that day!



I also tried to visit Pierre Hermé, but unfortunately the queue was so large that it backed out into the street, and people were shielding themselves from the rain using their umbrellas. I had already dragged Tim around many pastry shops and things that day, so we decided not to queue, especially seeing as we were to have macarons from Ladurée, anyway. However, I’m by no means an expert in the art of pâtisserie, but I must say that going by other people’s reviews that the photos I’ve seen, I am slightly tipping to the side of preferring Pierre Hermé’s macarons over Ladurées. This is because the macarons from Ladurée usually have a shell that’s not as dome-shaped as Pierre Hermé’s, and their feet seem to protrude over the edges. Either way, I’m sure they both taste equally as great, and Ladurée do claim to be the creators of the first ever modern day macaron that we enjoy today. Tim also said that mine tasted just as good as Ladurée’s and so to me, that was a great compliment! Thanks, bro! 🙂

And finally, we visited Sadaharu Aoki, which is probably my favourite pâtisserie that I’ve found in life so far! We bought a bamboo, which is layers of biscuit joconde, crème au thé vert, ganache au chocolat noir, punch au thé vert (altering layers of matcha-infused buttercream, dark chocolate ganache, and biscuit sponge). I was tempted to go for matcha-adzuki, as it combined traditional Japanese flavours like matcha and ankou (red bean paste). But I love the combination of matcha and dark chocolate, which is also what prompted me to use this combination for this macaron recipe that I’ve posted. We also bought a tarte caramel salé, one of the most sought after pastries in Paris. They were both absolutely delicious, but as Tim said, nothing that I couldn’t make myself. Of course, I took this as a large compliment, and so my next baking mission is to make a lovely little entremet, that I will try and develop my own recipe for, and also a chocolate caramel tart, as there is a recipe I can follow for that here. These are the sorts of things I’d make for dinner parties, perhaps a trio of desserts, being macarons, a tart of some sort, and a joconde or opera entremet.



Macarons, in actual fact, are definitely better up to three days after they’ve been made (three days is what Ladurée recommends!). This is because the flavour from the ganache has its chance to impart itself into the macaron shell via osmosis. I find that macarons are nice when they’re fresh, nicest after a few days, and then after that they shell gets a little soggy; the flavours are there but the shell doesn’t have that crispness to it on the outside anymore. I remember biting into my first ever batch of chocolate macarons after a few days left to “marinade” in the fridge, and the flavour was so rich; much better than I had ever imagined!

I struggled deciding what filling to put inbetween green tea/match macarons; I love the visual impact pink and green has, because it stands out right away, yet they complement each other quite naturally, I find. So I decided to make a pink buttercream of raspberry and strawberries. Now, I absolutely love buttercream, but I found that it just didn’t complement the macaron that nicely, because it’s just too sweet. Cover a birthday cake in it, why not? But I don’t think it was meant for macarons, not this one at least. I also wanted to use typical Japanese flavours, such as wasabi and ankou (red bean). But the wasabi would have also been green, and I wanted to try and make a contrast of colours, but the ankou filling I made was too runny, unless I added lots of icing sugar, in which case it would have been a buttercream, which I didn’t quite want. So I decided to go for a rich classic ganache combo that I really love: green tea and dark chocolate.



Matcha and dark chocolate just go really well together; fact! That’s what made me choose the Sadaharu Aoki’s bamboo entremets over all of the others; because it had Japanese flavours that just meld really well with typical Western ones. I went really upmarket and used Tesco Finest dark chocolate in my ganache, and I had a choice of two flavours: Tesco Finest Peruvian 70% dark chocolate, single origin, fruity with subtle red berry notes and Tesco Finest Ecuadorian 74% dark chocolate, single origin, floral & spicy with subtle notes of green tea. I certainly preferred the latter; it was rich, dark and spicy, and really went well with the macaron shell. The other flavour was just too sweet and perfume-y for me. Here’s some more blub regarding the Ecuadorian chocolate (it sounds delicious!):

“Made with cocoa beans from plantations in Esmeraldas, Los Rios and Manabi in Ecuador. A slight hint of coconut aroma contrasts with the rich earthy tones of this Ecuadorian bar. The initial flavour of molasses is followed by notes of green tea, with a depth of gentle woody spices to finish.”

I also really struggled with what to decorate the macarons with. I would liked to have done so with a chocolate “paint” or a cocoa powder dusting, but decided to settle with a matcha paint and a sprinkling of broken sencha leaves from a teabag. The paint was a little too translucent, and when it dried it didn’t have the effect I was hoping for. I also didn’t have a brush so it was difficult to get the desired design, too.

To make the macarons, I decided to go for the chocolate macaron recipe, as it’s one of my favourites and has worked really well for me each time I’ve tried it. But perhaps the cocoa powder stabilises it in a different way to the matcha, or was it simply my technique this time wasn’t good enough? I think that I knocked too much air out of the batter during the macaronage phase, or perhaps I simply didn’t stiffen the peaks enough, because after the hour of waiting, the piped macaron batter had flattened almost entirely. And also, at 45 minutes, the tops weren’t sticky to the touch before baking as is the case with the chocolate macarons. This is the ratio of ingredients that I used(which yielded 10 shells, although 3 of them were green, oddly shaped, and undercooked, so fell apart…):

• 35g egg whites
• 40g ground almonds
• 67 g icing sugar
• 11g granulated sugar
• 1 tsp matcha

Ratios:
• Eggs: 1
• Almond: 1.14
• Sugar: 2.23; icing: 1.91; granulated: 0.31

I also put these macarons on the top shelf of my oven (top shelf out of three shelves in oven) and then some in the lower third portion. The ones on top rose nicely, but browned; that made me REALLY disappointed because they looked perfect except for their colour! I also think that rotating the pans, even if you think it’s unnecessary, to ensure an even rise of the foot, because you don’t know if there are hotspots in your oven or not. And the ones on the lower shelf didn’t rise enough because the top macarons were shielding them (do not use a fan assisted oven… so I used top-bottom heat!). Luckily I could practice this a few times because we make such small batches of macarons at a time! It’s a bit fiddly, but it’s worth it, I think. Patience is definitely the key, because I can only cook one tray at a time in the lower third of my oven for (almost?) perfect macarons! So, I put the lower macarons in the top shelf for a few extra minutes, and they then rose spectacularly, but collapsed with an uneven foot as soon as I took them out of the oven and sank unevenly (wish I had a photo of when they immediately came out of the oven!). Perhaps this is also a sign of them not being in the oven for long enough? Here, it says that if the tops don’t move from the feet when nudged, they’re done. I don’t know if they were done or not but I’ll test next time!

The next recipe I decided to try was adapted from Not So Humble Pie, and I think was successful, because I had to make my sugar ratio a little higher:

• 100g egg whites
• 120g almonds
• 200g icing sugar
• 30-35g granulated sugar

Ratios:
• Egg white: 1
• Almonds: 1.2
• Sugar: 2.3-2.35; icing sugar: 2, granulated: 0.3-0.35

I followed the same recipe as for the chocolate macarons, but I whipped the egg whites for longer and don’t think I “knocked” as much air out as previously.

I left them on the side for an hour and still thought that they were slightly “tacky” to touch, but put them in the oven anyway and they came out really well! I did pipe very small shells, as they do spread out a lot more than you think! I did this by drawing a small circle on the underside of the baking parchment with marker pen, using a cork from a wine bottle as the template, and I would make sure that my piped (*ahem* dolloped) macaron batter was within that small circle, so ideally they would all spread out to the same degree. They spread out perfectly and the “feet” were even! For me, the best results for even feet came from baking my macaron shells on the underside of a roasting dish that I have in the lower third of the oven (so that they don’t brown!). The ones on the circular pizza dish I rotated every 5-10 minutes to ensure that they feet were even, yet on the roasting dish I didn’t have to… I think I’ve found my method! 🙂

According to Evan’s Kitchen Ramblings, having to leave the macaron shells on the side to “dry” before being put in the oven is a myth, and that not leaving them to dry works for her (and in Singapore the humidity is 60-100% every day!). I have to say that I’m a little scared of having cracked shells and no feet, and so I always have left them to “dry” before baking them as I’ve had those aforementioned baking disasters before. But it must have been other factors that contributed to those things, but perhaps drying them can be my own macaron ritual! 😉

I think I tried to fool myself into thinking that these were healthy; made with eggs and almonds, and infused with green tea! But then of course there’s the icing sugar in the shell, the granulated sugar in the shell, and the chocolate! I suppose that cream and butter in the ganache are healthy, though, but not the amount of sugar in the buttercreams. 🙂 I would love to try and make paleo macarons someday and see how well they come out!

Anyway, onto the recipe! I tried to be all posh and that by putting the name in French, as if they were part of my own pâtisserie shop (one can dream, can’t they?), but I came up with all sorts of combinations for names in French… I’m not sure which is correct, and I should probably ask Ed (especially seeing as I took some all the way up to Aberdeen when I saw him there!):

• Macarons à la thé vert avec ganache au chocolat noir ou de la crème au beurre de haricots rouges et fraise.
• Crème au beurre de haricots rouges et fraise.
• Macarons au thé vert avec ganache au chocolat noir ou crème au beurre aux haricots rouges et fraise.
• Macarons à la thé matcha et crème à la haricots rouges.
• Macarons à la thé matcha et la crème de haricots rouges.
• ???

Macaron Délicat à la Thé Vert
Kung Fu Café and Not So Humble Pie
Makes 8-12 shells (4-6 macarons)

Ingredients
For the matcha shells:
• 43g ground almonds
• 67g icing sugar
• 1 tbsp matcha
• 35g egg whites
• 15g granulated sugar

For the dark chocolate ganache:
• 100g dark chocolate
• 100g double cream
• 35g butter

To decorate:
• cocoa powder
• matcha
• sencha leaves
• cocoa powder or matcha “paint”

Preparation
For the macaron shells:
Add a splash of lemon juice to a very clean bowl together with the egg whites. Whisk for about 30-60 seconds until very frothy. Sprinkle in the granulated sugar, and continue to whisk until stiff, glossy peaks form (the kind where you can hold the bowl upside down over your head!).

Then sieve in the icing sugar, matcha and ground almonds together over the egg white peaks. Now, this is the part some people refer to as “macaronage” (i.e. macaron-ing). Use a wooden spoon or pastry scraper to knock the air out of the batter. Use the spoon to scoop the batter around the outer edges of the interior of the bowl and then almost scrape the batter down the middle of the bowl in a zig-zag pattern until the final consistency is similar to that of magma. A useful video to watch can be found here.

A test to see if the batter is of the appropriate magma-like consistency is to take a clean plate, and dollop a spoonful in the middle. If the peak slowly disappears into itself, then the batter is ready. If it’s still visible after about 30 seconds or so, then it needs some more air knocking out! If the batter is too runny, then you’ve over mixed!

Prepare a heavy-duty baking sheet with baking parchment. Spoon the batter into your piping bag (or icing syringe, etc.), and dollop macarons onto the parchment paper, leaving at least an inch worth of space between each shell. This depends entirely on how large you want your macarons.

Bash the tray on the surface of the worktop 4 times, rotating each time. This forces air bubbles in the macaron batter to rise to the top. Use a toothpick to pop any large ones. Leave the macarons on the side for an hour to air dry, so that they’re not sticky or tacky to a light touch.

Preheat the oven to 155◦C, ensuring that you do not use fan assist. Pop the tray into the lower third of the oven for 16-18 minutes.

Leave to cool completely before peeling the shells off the parchment.

For the dark chocolate ganache:
Melt the butter and chocolate over a very low heat until melted and combined. Remove from the heat, pour in the cream, homogenise well and pop in the fridge until thick enough to pipe. Before piping, leave the bowl out of the fridge for a while to bring the ganache up to room temperature.

Assembly:
Fill an icing syringe or piping bag with the ganache, and pipe some around a macaron shell leaving about a mm of edge, working your way into the centre. Then, very gently pop the other macaron shell on top, and press VERY lightly to make the ganache pop out and spread to the edges of the shell but no farther, and so that there’s a smooth, unblemished edge around the ganache. Be very careful not to crack and break the shells with your fingers.

Pop in the fridge for anywhere between 2-5 days before taking out of the fridge to bring it up to room temperature before devouring. 😀

Shells baked: 16.03.2014
Shells filled: 17.03.2014

Du Pain et des Idées
34 Rue Yves Toudic, 75010 Paris, France
Website

Jacques Genin, Fondeur en Chocolat
133 Rue de Turenne, 75003, Paris, France
Website

Ladurée
21 Rue Bonaparte, 75006 Paris, France
Website

L’Avant Comptoir
3 Carrefour de l’Odéon, 75006 Paris, France
Website

Liberté
39 Rue des Vinaigriers, 75010, Paris, France
Website

Pierre Hermé
72 Rue Bonaparte, 75006 Paris, France
Website

Sadaharu Aoki
35 Rue de Vaugirard, 75006 Paris, France
Website

References
[1] Uncovering the secrets of tea, Chemistry World, January 2013, Page 31.
[2] Disler, P. B., Lynch, S. R., Charlton, R. W., Torrance, J. D., Bothwell, T. H., Walker, R. B. & Mayet, F. (1975) ‘The effect of tea on iron absorption’. Gut, 16 (3). pp 193-200.

Happy 20th Birthday to My (Not So) Little Brother (and Happy Father’s Day!) | Simple Chocolate Cake with a Peanut Butter Filling



Happy 20th birthday, Tim

The above Polaroid is my brother celebrating his 10th birthday in our family home. Yesterday, he turned 20, and I can’t believe where the time has gone.



Yesterday, he also got back from the Isle of Wight; it was a two-week trip he had to undertake as part of his geology and ocean science degree. The unusual thing about it, is that it was out of term time… Tim’s degree is actually really full on, and he’s only just finished his second year. Just before he started this academic year, he had to take a field trip to Spain for two weeks before term time. He also gets a LOT of work during the year (I should know, because I’ve been there helping him when the chips were low!), and with his dyslexia and dysphraxia, I really don’t think Tim could have done any better. 🙂 We’re so proud of him and he’s come a long way! I think that calls for a celebration in itself. 🙂


I looked through Tim’s photos, hoping there would be some nice ones, and it was a typical “feldspar jockey’s” (thanks, Sheldon Cooper, for the diminutive 🙂 ) camera… nothing but photos of rocks! Rocks, rocks, and more rocks! Oh, there were three photos of the above fish n’ chip meal, and two photos of the above Isle of Wight landscape, which looks beautiful. Other than that, it was all rocks… Considering how hot it was, I was expecting more photos of the scenery! The photos below show how much of a tan he got from two weeks of collecting samples… looks like he went abroad on a lad’s holiday or something; but no, it is possible to get that tanned in the UK! 😀

I decided to make this recipe because it’s simple. I usually try and make more extravagant, interesting and bigger cakes than a simple chocolate one, but this time is a little different; Tim’s just got back from the Isle of Wight as part of a trip for his geology degree, and I know he will be moaning about not having eaten well while away… so rather than make a large cake, we have a smaller one simply for celebration purposes.

I would loved to have made a cake from oats and peanut butter, because it’s the typical bodybuilding food and would go well with his exercising theme… perhaps for the next special occasion, just in case it doesn’t turn out nicely! For his next birthday, though, I’m going to make a superhero themed cake! 🙂

Unfortunately, this cake wasn’t flat on top after it had been baked, and it was on the website from where I got the recipe. It didn’t even rise evenly, but I still think it looked nice! I think that if I had baked it at a lower temperature, like this chocolate cake, then it may not have risen and would have had a flat top! I’ll have to experiment in the future for when I make the superhero cakes! 🙂

Mum said that she really enjoyed the cake, and I was a little worried, because I know she doesn’t like chocolate cakes; she always says that they’re too dry, and I do agree with this sentiment. However, she said that this was the best chocolate cake she has ever had, and that it even topped this one that she liked a lot! She said that the peanut butter really set off the cake, and there was just the right amount; not too much and not too little. It reminded us of a Reese’s peanut butter cup! 🙂 And I also feel that the ganache/fudge icing really helped to moisten the cake, too! It was lovely, and definitely something I’d make again. Just make sure you mix all of the baking powder and soda in thoroughly; I accidentally got a clump in one slice, and trust me, it doesn’t taste very nicely!



He’s always been my best friend. 🙂





Oh, and of course, happy Father’s Day, dad. 🙂

Simple Chocolate Cake with a Peanut Butter Filling
Adapted from: King Arthur Flour
Makes a one-tier 20 cm cake

Ingredients
For the chocolate cake:
• ⅔ cup granulated sugar
• 1 cup plain/all-purpose flour, sifted
• 1 tbsp cornstarch, sifted
• ⅓ cup cocoa powder, sifted
• 1 tsp baking powder, sifted
• ½ tsp baking soda, sifted
• 1 tsp instant coffee granules
• ½ tsp salt
• 2 x eggs
• ⅓ cup coconut oil, melted
• 1 tsp vanilla
• ½ cup + 2 tbsp water

For the peanut butter filling:
• ¾ cups peanut butter, smooth or crunchy
• 1 ½ cups icing sugar, sifted
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• ⅓ cup double cream

For the chocolate ganache:
• 1 cup chocolate (I used a combination of dark and milk chocolate, as mum’s not too keen on the dark, bitter stuff)
• 7 tbsps of double cream

For decoration:
• roasted and salted peanuts

Preparation
Preheat the oven to 175°C. In a large bowl, add the sugar, flour, cornstarch, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, coffee granules and salt. Then add the eggs, oil, vanilla and water, and beat until smooth and homogenised. Pour into one 20 cm cake tin (lined with baking parchment if not silicon), and bake for about 35 minutes, or until a skewer or knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan.

To make the filling, simple beat all of the ingredients together until homogenised. When the cake is cool, carefully slice it in half and generously spread the filling over the cake, and assemble.

For the chocolate ganache, simply melt the chocolate with the cream over a very low heat. Leave to cool until it’s a spreadable consistency (i.e. not too runny), and cover the cake. Decorate with the peanuts, and put in the fridge to set.

Baked: 11.06.2014

A Planned Spontaneous Weekend | Chive and Cheddar Scones



There’s nothing like a warm, fresh, chive and cheese scone with a little goat’s butter for breakfast whilst watching the beautiful woodland life right in your back garden. 🙂

What a lovely weekend I’ve had, embracing the English summertime weather! It was certainly a weekend planned in advance, but everything was pretty spontaneous, as it completely depended on what the weather was doing, as is usually the case when planning what to do in the UK. Ed suggested that we could go surfing, but I said I wasn’t really up for it. I mean, I’m a complete novice and have really enjoyed surfing the few times I’ve been, and call me lazy, but I just can’t be bothered to get wet… I find that I stay cold for hours after (unless it’s a particularly hot day), can’t be bothered with wet and salty hair, and my skin dries out and eczema flares up.

The top left picture is the ledge off of which the boys were tombstoning/jumping… dangerous!

Anyway, the past few weeks I’ve managed to get a lot of work done, except for last week… I was procrastinating making my presentation for Paris in less than a few weeks, and preparing for Ed’s visit (by making a lovely paleo cheesecake and non-paleo bread!). But you only live once, and I’m sure that I’ll make up my slack last week once I’m back from the conference. And it’s all part and parcel of living and doing a PhD anyway! Speaking of living, I’m going through a phase with Crossfit in that I don’t really care how well I do anymore.; my perspective has completely shifted and it’s actually rather liberating. I mean, I’m still going to train, and hope that my hunger comes back for it soon, but it’s just a hobby! And even if I don’t progress as fast as others, who cares?! My family still love me, and I’m pretty sure that Ed wouldn’t think any less of me based on that. I also have a lot of other hobbies and aspects about myself as a person; Crossfit is just one of them and it doesn’t define who I am. I’ve been telling myself this for a while but it’s only recently I’ve actually felt it. And it feels great! 🙂

Anyway, Ed came to visit and we actually did a lot over the weekend! I was treated to a lovely Japanese meal (one of my favourite cuisines!) and then we just went for a walk around Plymouth. Although Ed used to study at the same university as me, he’d never seen where I do my work! So I showed him the office and some of the labs, and then continued along the Hoe. It was such a lovely day that we decided to jump into Tinside Lido! It looked so inviting and cool… and it was ABSOLUTELY FREEZING! The sun was quite hot and the breeze cool, but after one dip in the water I couldn’t stay in there for longer than about 30 seconds! So I just spent the rest of the time sunbathing. I did feel like a proper tourist and felt far removed from Plymouth! 🙂


The lido water looked soooooo inviting, but was freezing!!!

It seems that we chose the right day to go sunbathing and swimming, because it rained on the following day (even though it started quite warm and sunny!). We visited the old Victorian Hazelwood House (home of the Peek family), and things had certainly grown since last time! We went for a walk around the grounds before settling down for some tea, and it was at that time it decided to rain. It was so beautiful though; no one else was around and it was so typically British. I would absolutely love to stay for a weekend in a place like this; although I would love the weather to be warm and sunny (it would make splashing in the stream a lot more enjoyable!), I think that even if the weather was raining, it’d still be a charming place to stay and be cosy. They have beehives, beautiful scenery, and lovely scones and cream teas. What more could one want? 🙂



The foliage sure had grown since our last visit a few weeks ago… look at the size of these leaves compared to Ed!!!

On the way back we decided to visit a pet shop called Sign of the Owl and it is full of all sorts of birds and animals. I loved the chicken varieties and the ducklings, too! I’d visited before where my dad had a large bird on his shoulder (got a cracking photo of that!) and my mum had another cute little bird pecking at her shoes laces. I would also do anything to buy some chicks and ducklings and keep them as my own! Sooooo cute!!!


My dad with a parrot on his shoulder at Sign of the Owl Bird Pets Centre, and the other bird pecking at my mum’s shoes! May 2008.

We also stopped off at my parent’s house; dad was away working and Tim was away with the uni, so mum made us welcome. My parents have also had a cute little bunny take up residence in their back garden, and makes an appearance several times a day. Unfortunately, it didn’t show itself when Ed was there. But it’s so adorable and when I returned with a different lens I managed to snap some pictures of it! 🙂 We named him “Bunny;” how original, hee hee! We put out some carrot for him and he took forever to find it! We’ve now left him a bowl of fruit (lettuce, cucumber, cherries and a few other things), yet he still hasn’t found it yet!


Anyway, when Ed left, I decided to make some scones as a way to show how much I appreciate how much I love the British countryside (apart from the hayfever…) and for my family to munch on. I should have made these scones a little thicker and smaller so they rose upwards a little more; I suppose that’s because I used a small plastic bowl (my mum bought some delicious Christmas puddings from a friend last Christmas) rather than a biscuit cutter, and so it squashed the edges a bit, and my scones were more like buns. But that’s ok, they were still delicious! Especially when warm and fresh out of the oven, smothered in butter! It’s also a lovely dough to work with; it’s not sticky at all, and I just kneaded it in the bowl so there was no mess on my kitchen worktop. I think that when they’ve cooled, they’d be a great alternative to sandwiches with some cured hams and lettuce. Yum, yum, yum!

Tuesday’s WOD @ CFP with Samantha:
5 x 5 deadlifts, 2-3 mins rest between sets

5 x 5 back squat, 2 sec pause at bottom, 2-3 mins rest between sets

6 x hill sprints, jog back down, and at the bottom do 10 tricep dips and 5 tuck jumps

Chive and Cheddar Cheese Scones
Little Spice Jar
Made 11 scones, 2.5″ in diameter

Ingredients
• 2 cups all purpose flour
• 2 tsps sugar
• 2 tsps baking powder
• ½ tsp baking soda
• 1 ½ tsps garlic, crushed
• 1 tsp salt
• ½ tsp pepper
• ½ cup butter, melted
• 1 x egg
• 2 tbsps water
• ½ cup sour cream
• 30g fresh chives, chopped
• 1 ½ cups mature cheddar, grated
• 1 x egg, beated, for brushing

Preparation
In a large mixing bowl, sieve in the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Add in the sugar, garlic, salt, and pepper.

In a separate, smaller bowl, crack in the egg, add the sour cream and 2 tbsps of water. Whisk until combined. Add to the flour mixture and combine. Add in the butter, chives and cheddar, and mix well until combined.

When you can’t mix well anymore, knead with your hands a few times until it all comes together. Preheat the oven to 205°C.

Line a tray with baking parchment. Roll the dough out on a separate surface, or press it out flat, until the dough is about 1 inch in thickness. Cut using a cookie/biscuit cutter and place on the baking parchment. Crack an egg in a cup and beat. Use a pastry brush to brush the egg over each scone. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Pop into the oven for 16-20 minutes. These are best served warm with slathering of goat’s butter. 🙂

Baked: 08.06.2013 on a beautiful day, in many different ways 🙂

Happy Easter! | Primal French Apple Tart

Happy Easter, everyone!

Unfortunately, today is raining so much! The first time in about a week. Fortunately, the last week has seen absolutely stunning weather. On Good Friday, I woke up in such a bad mood, feeling overwhelmed with the amount of things I had to do, with worries, stress and insecurities, so I decided not to go into work/uni, not to do any of it, and go home to my parents house down the road. Tim didn’t come with me as he was doing his own thing that day. But I’m so glad I went.

We went for a cream tea and a walk at Hazelwood House, an early Victorian house that was the home of the Peek family for generations, just down the road from my parent’s.

“The Peeks were originally tea merchants who later amalgamated with the Freans to become famous for tea and biscuits. In its pre-war hey-day the house was a hub of a 1000 acre estate with four farms; a chapel and a schoolroom for children living on the estate. They even had their own Mausoleum as well as a separate burial ground for staff. Those pre-war years saw dances in the drawing room and Boxing Day meets outside the front door. The beautiful wood-lined stables housed hunters and no less than nine gardeners were employed to keep the gardens. Servants lived on the top floor and estate workers came through the back door to the office behind the kitchen to collect their weekly pay. Post war years saw the decline of this style of living. There were fewer staff; the chapel became a squash court and the schoolroom a billiard room. Keeping up with the extensive gardens, driveways and buildings became too difficult to manage and soon the lifestyle that there once was had gone.”

“In around 1986 the son who was to inherit the estate decided to put Hazelwood on the market. Property developers bought it and sold off the adjoining farms and land leaving 67 acres, the heart of the estate, which they planned to split into 27 small lots and sell off for separate development. It was at this point, in 1988, that the present owners came upon the house and through a miracle found the money to buy it and give it a new lease of life for all to enjoy.”

The sites around Hazelwood House were absolutely beautiful. And there was a sweet little Jack Russell that followed my dad and I when we went walking around the grounds. She was weary of us when we first arrived by soon realised that we meant no harm, and seemed to latch onto us. Any excuse for a walk, I suppose!

We had to book our cream tea in advance because they make the scones fresh on site. Our scones were so fresh that they were warm when we got them! They weren’t your typical scones either, but perhaps made with whole wheat flour and spiced. It made a nice change. 🙂

We also went for a visit to Topsham, and a little walk around there. It’s the area where my parents live which reminds me of my childhood, and also of video games such as The Legend of Zelda. I believe Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of said video game, said that he was inspired by the surrounding area of where he grew up in Japan, and that led to him creating the worlds and landscapes where The Legend of Zelda took place. I feel inspired in the same way. 🙂

I feel so lucky that I live where I live, and I’m so glad that I didn’t move after my undergrad. My parents live in a beautiful area surrounding by rolling green hills and hedgerows, and I’ve moved just down the road to live in the perfect city by the sea. I love where I live: the climate (although more sun and a little more warmth wouldn’t hurt!), the beauty, the people… I’ve been so lucky. I would describe my life as serendipitous, which actually was one of the many names I was thinking of calling my blog, and everything for me has turned out fantastically. I’m so lucky for my family, location, experiences, work, how things have turned out, and even who I am, I suppose. 🙂

Now, that’s not to say that I’m going to stay in Plymouth forever. I won’t rule out moving, but I certainly am not ready to leave just yet. 🙂

One thing I’d love to make for my family as a starter is a wild garlic soup. There’s a photo on this page of wild garlic, and it smells lovely. If you squeeze the oils out of the stem, a beautiful and subtle garlic scent is released. I’d also love to make a horseradish also using that found in our wonderful edible hedgerows.

So yes, basically, this Easter I’ve done nothing other than enjoy my family with my newfound happiness (as my PhD is back on track, I feel like I literally have nothing to worry about – other than trivial issues which I’m continually learning from 🙂 ), and eating! One of the pictures here is of some really divine Jeff de Bruges chocolates sent from Ed’s parents from France. They send them every year (which is really very lovely of them 🙂 ) and I love the cute little farm yard animal shapes and Easter themed chocolates. They’re really very smooth and I could eat the whole box to myself.

And I even did my first ever WOD alone!

It sounds pretty trivial but I think (or at least, I hope) it was a big mental barrier broken down for me. I’ve only recently got comfortable doing strength stuff on my own, since starting a 5/3/1 programme at the beginning of the year. But I’ve never really worked out alone. Partly because I dislike it as it’s not fun, but mostly because I never work hard enough, and I get stupidly scared; scared of working too hard, scared of finishing, scared of being tired, scared of being looked at and laughed at. It’s stupid, but it’s true.

I didn’t feel tired whilst doing the WOD, but sometimes I think it’s a subjective thing. I know, though, that I’ll be unhappy with whatever workout I do because I know I just don’t work hard enough, but I’m so afraid of doing so. I really need to get into the mind frame of doing something imperfectly rather than not doing it at all. As Scooby, Tom Venuto, and parts of the Overcoming Gravity book say, that it’s better to do an imperfect workout than waiting for the perfect workout that never happens.

But whether I worked hard or not, hopefully it’s a mental barrier broken for me. I am a very emotional person, and by that I mean that my emotions govern how well I do things. If I’m feeling tentative or scared, then I won’t have a good session and get annoyed and frustrated with myself. If I’m working with people and feeling happy and confident, then it’ll be great. That’s why I work better in group sessions. But now they’re 1.5 hours (rather than 1 hour long) for something like a 20 minutes WOD, I’m better off learning how to suck it up and do it myself to save time.

I just want to get into the mind set of doing things alone and not needing anyone to do anything. If I can work with someone great, but now I don’t have a consistent training partner and I train with various people randomly. I want to not rely on others and stick to my own commitments, regardless of whether other’s can push me and train with me, or not.

The WOD was 5 rounds of:
• 250m row
• 12 alternating pistols
• 12 pull ups
• 90s rest

Anyway, onto the apple tart! I love French apple tart, but here is my almost paleo version… it has double cream in it, so it’s not paleo. But I wonder if it could be replaced with coconut milk to make it so? It can always be made without the creamy base.

I made this for a dinner party at a friend’s house last weekend, and I also made a chocolate mousse tart with an Oreo base. This is actually great with store-bought custard! 😛

Oh, and when making this, you don’t need nearly as many apples as you think! I suppose that looking at the tart, it looks like a lot of apples went into it, but an apple goes quite far! 🙂

Primal French Apple Tart
PaleOMG, BBC Food and 86 Lemons
Serves 8-10

Ingredients
For the crust:
• 2 cups almond flour
• ¾ cup coconut flour
• 2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
• 1 x egg
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• ½ teaspoon baking powder
• ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon

For the filling:
• 15g unsalted butter
• ½ tbsp lemon juice
• 65g honey
• ½ tbsp apple juice/calvados (if not, just lemon juice will be fine!)
• 4 apples (used the standard supermarket ones), washed, core removed and cut into segments (just cut around the core)
• 100 ml double cream
• 1 x egg

Preparation
To prepare the crust, mix all of the ingredients together, and press into 20 cm silicon tart case.

For the filling, heat the butter, lemon juice and 15g (1 tbsp) of honey in a small saucepan until the butter has melted and everything is mixed well. Remove from the heat, stir in the apple juice and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Pop the apple segments in concentric circles, overlapping as you go. Brush the apples with the butter mixture, slide the tart into the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce to heat to 200°C and bake for 20 more minutes until the apples have caramelised.

Meanwhile, whisk together the double cream, egg and remaining 50 g of honey until well combined. Pour the mixture over the tart, and bake for a further 10 minutes until the mixture has just set. When I poured the mixture over, it covered most of the apples. If you want the pie to look bursting with apples, I got around it this way: I got 3 more apples, sliced them as before, fried them in butter until they were a similar texture/cooked like the apples in the tart, layered them on top of the mixture, sprinkled with flaked almonds and continued with the baking.

Set aside to cool.

Made 11.04.2014.

Mum’s Plum and Raspberry Crumble | DWF 2014

Mmmmm, I dream about this dish; this crumble is certainly one of my favourites! When mum makes it for my bro and I to have, I’ll usually have the leftovers cold the next morning for breakfast. It really is a delicious dish, hot, cold, with cream, ice cream, leftover chocolate ganache (from making macarons). It really is just delicious and packed with fruit. It’s so comforting; perfect for a winter’s day, or a summer’s evening.

This is a simple dish that gives great results. It can be made ahead, so is perfect to have on a busy day, but the flavours are so good that you can have it for a dinner party dessert. I love this with Cornish ice cream. The topping can also be made ahead and frozen. It’s an Ina Garten recipe; she’s one of my mum’s favourite chefs and she loves to watch The Barefoot Contessa cooking programme.

Hmmm, so any recent news? Nothing too spectacular. I went to Aberdeen last week for the Unconventional Gas conference and stayed with Ed. It was probably the highlight of my PhD; things have been going really well recently, and spending a week in great company tops it off (especially as attending conferences generally motivates me, anyway!). And I bought mum a haggis as a gift from Aberdeen.

Maurizio, Katie and I drove there and back! It took 11 hours to get there, and the journey was smooth. We stopped only once and Maurizio drove all the way. He also drove all the way back, but unfortunately we were stuck in traffic for 3-4 hours, which put a dampener on things, but road trips are always fun with good company! It was also great going out in the evenings with great people, and it’s even better when everyone gets along and talks about varied things!

I also found some beautiful dresses from AX Paris, which is probably now my new favourite place to buy things! I don’t really deviate much from Amazon to be honest, and certainly don’t’ buy clothes online, but I recently bought two beautiful dresses: this beautiful blue cocktail/bodycon dress, and this skater dress.

I told Ed about these dresses, and said to him that if I am able to present in Paris, then I’ll wear the blue dress. And before I knew it, Ed had surprised me by having it delivered to my address! I was quite touched by it, and thought it was really thoughtful, but Ed seemed to think nothing of it really. Some other friends and my mum certainly agree that it was a romantic thing to do! 🙂 <3

Oh, and on April 1st, Google launched their Pokémon challenge! I managed to find just over 100 Pokémon without help (by going to famous landmarks, Japan, etc.). But I needed a few guides (1, 2, 3) to help… either way, it was a great way to procrastinate in uni and a nice way to chill after Crossfit in the evenings while watching South Park or something with my bro before bed. Below are some screenshots of my phone, which turned into my Pokédex, of Japan, London, and I also included screenshots from San Francisco. I love Japan their culture, language and traditions, and of course, London. But San Francisco is one of the more recent places I’ve visited and loved it, so thought I’d pop them in here. That place/trip holds important lessons for me so thought I’d just use screenshots from the very areas I have visited. 😀

Anyway, onto the *bigger* news… our team made it to the Divided We Fall (DWF) Games! That means Samantha, Luke, Simon and I have to travel to Cardiff at the beginning of May to compete!

We did 3 qualifying WODs as a team, and had someone to judge us. I was feeling ill when we did them the week before I went to Aberdeen. We did three in the space of, like, 25 hours, and I think those WODs pushed me from being ill to getting pretty ill. I really don’t know how I did what I did when I felt so bad, but I hope I didn’t let my team down! One thing that did really scare me though, was that Luke went blind because he pushed himself so hard… maybe it was s side-effect of the supplement combined with how hard he worked (he did do three rounds of 5 ground-to-overhead at 80k, 10 box jump overs (24”) and 5 toes 2 bar in, like, 3 minutes. It really scared me and I’ve never seen such a thing before. I’d never push myself to that sort of effect but I hope it won’t happen again!

Samantha and I tried our first pre-WOD supplement (literally a shot each), before the guys went to do their 300 wall balls (the guys had to do 300 wall balls between the two of them, and then Samantha and I had to do 300 wall balls between the two of us, and had to do 30 double unders on the minute, every minute, before we could proceed with the wall balls). I don’t know what it was called, but we spoke about a supplement called Jack 3D, and I just Googled the stuff, and two worrying articles appeared: this one, that says it has been banned in Britain because of potential lethal side effects, and this one, that says this guy nearly passed out a few times and had a racing heart. I think I’ll stick to the au naturel way, thank you very much!

Samantha and I got a little hyper because of it, I think. Although it may have been because of the nerves. While the guys were finishing off their 300 wall balls, we were dancing a little! But an idea was to create a pre-WOD cake! If I can make it paleo, the better (yeah, right!), but I’m thinking it’ll have to be as moist and as tasty as the Oreo cake, and as colourful as Rose’s cake to show how it’ll make you feel! Maybe it can have pre-workout stuff, protein powder, post-workout stuff, supplements, etc. I don’t take all of these things, myself, but it’ll be fun to try and incorporate it into a cake!

When I first checked on the night just after all of the scores had to be validated, we were in 42nd place. I have just checked where we are now, and we’re currently 51st, so after the processed the results we moved down quite a significant number of places. 🙁 But fortunately, we were still in the top 100 teams out of 298 teams that registered. Although I counted the number of teams that didn’t’ submit any scores, and that totalled to 83. So I guess we were 51st out of 215 teams. Not too bad I suppose… I’m surprised that more teams didn’t register, but oh well! It’ll be an experience to compete!

I’m really excited, but at the same time so nervous that I’ll let the team down and be the weak link. All I can do is try my hardest, but right now I feel the most unfit I’ve felt in the past couple of years. I’ve really lost motivation for training, and can’t seem to get hold of my nerves at the moment. I always get pretty nervous heading down to the gym/box, but recently it’s been out of control and I need to reign it back in. It’ll be a real challenge but it’s making me get really upset with myself as I’m not being the person I want to be. But at least my teammates are really encouraging and fit themselves. It’s fantastic to train with people who inspire you and are fun to be around.

Maz, who came 2nd in the CrossFit Open for her age category, has asked me and Alan to train with her! We had our first training session on Friday, and it was super fun! She’s got such motivation and is in amazing shape (her age doesn’t even come into play to be honest; she could beat anyone half her age, except for Samantha Briggs, I think!). I’m really inspired by her and she’s so much fun to train with! 🙂

Thank you Kayleigh for the DWF photos! 🙂

Anyway, the take home message: when you’re resting (I’ve been doing far too much of that these days…), it’s great to indulge in this delicious crumble. Thanks, mum! This makes me think of you, every time! 🙂 🙂 🙂

My mum gave my brother and I two of these in slightly smaller aluminium trays… I ate a whole one for breakfast with cream. I’m not ashamed! I have a big appetite, ok!

Plum and Raspberry Crumble
Ina Garten, Food Network
Serves 6

Ingredients
For the cake; 2 x 9″ cakes:
• 1 ¼ cup (160g) plain flour, sieved
• ½ cup (45g) rolled oats
• 115g butter (or coconut oil), diced
• ⅔ cup brown sugar
• pinch of salt
• ½ cup (25g) slithered almonds
• 2 tbsp orange juice
• 450g sliced plums
• 2 punnets (500g) raspberries

Preparation
Wash fruit. Preheat oven to 175°C.

Pop the plums, ⅓ cup sugar, ¼ cup flour, orange juice and raspberries in a large baking dish. Toss well so everything is coated nicely.

In a bowl, add 1 cup flour, ⅓ cup sugar and salt into a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is the size of peas. Pour the mixture back into the bowl and add the oats, working with your hands until it’s a crumbly mixture. Add the almonds, mix well and spread on top of the plum and raspberry mix.

Sprinkle with some extra almonds, if desired, and pop into the oven for 45 minutes until the fruit is tender and bubbly, and the top is golden brown.

These particular crumbles were made in March 2014.

Vegan Carrot Cake with a Cream Cheese Frosting | Spring Has Arrived (as has the Exam Period!)

It’s now spring and the weather recently has been spectacular! Two days ago was the deadline of the last piece of coursework for the academic year of my brother’s course, and now he’s freeeee and can enjoy a summer of training hard. BUT, it is the start of the spring exam period… doh! But at least Tim prefers exams to coursework. 🙂

In order to celebrate the coming of spring and to help get Tim through his exams, I decided to make my most favourite carrot cake recipe! I’ve also made this into a paleo version (with paleo icing and everything!), and will hopefully post that soon. 🙂

Actually, the real reason to make this carrot cake was to take it to a friend’s housewarming party. However, Tim and I ended up eating most of it before the party… and so I had to quickly whip something up the night before and it turned into some ooey-gooey peanut butter bar things. They were delicious, but I did feel very fat for having eaten something I was going to take. But it was just so good and I have no self control! I’m sure many people can relate though… right? But the cake that was leftover, I took to the party, and was offered a place to stay in her house because of my baking. Woop woop!

Carrot cake is one of my all time favourite cakes. It has to be moist, with not too much frosting, but not too little, either. It has to be light, and slightly sweet, but not too sweet (i.e. no sugar in the frosting and not too much, if any, in the cake). It also has to have plenty of nuts and dried fruits of different varieties, and chocked full of carrot.

This carrot cake recipe, in my opinion, is pure perfection. The cake itself is soft and moist, full of nuts and fruits and plenty of carrot. The icing is smooth and delicate, and the cake satisfies a sweet tooth without being too sweet. The ratio of icing to cake is perfect, and one doesn’t overpower the other. Carrot cake, I believe, is the ultimate combination of flavours and is sheer bliss.

To decorate this cake, I used some crushed cocoa beans from Hotel Chocolat, and it made the cake look more like a white chocolate cake, but I really wanted to try and decorate it like this! Otherwise, I would have used pecans, walnuts, or pistachios to decorate. In some ways I wish I had made it distinctively a carrot cake, as I do usually, but I quite like this presentation. I think it looks soft and very eye-catching!

The cocoa beans are the ones to use in a cafetière, and I bought them when I was in Aberdeen visiting Ed. He influences me so much, and he makes coffee over the hob from a little moka pot; it’s so cute and I love the smell and the idea of brewing coffee over the stove, but I just don’t like coffee! So this is a lovely alternative. 🙂

When I first made this cake a few years ago, mum took a bit and asked if I had soaked the dried fruit in orange juice. She noticed! She said she bit into a raisin and it burst with flavour. So I definitely recommend soaking the dried fruit for as long as possible.

The frosting I tried to use when last making this cake was a Swiss meringue buttercream, but it failed miserably. In fact, the frosting itself tasted fine and the carrot cake was beautiful, as usual, but it just looked like someone had puked all over the cake and was quite off-putting and unappealing. And in actual fact, I do prefer cream cheese frostings because, yes, they’re easier than meringue frostings, but I find that the cheese compliments the carrots and spices in the cake so much better than a super-sweet meringue icing. Although, the very first time I tried a cream cheese frosting, it was really lumpy! This time, I actually bothered sifting the icing sugar and melted the butter and cheese together to ensure that it was well homogenised. Yes, the little extra effort is almost always worth it (yet another life lesson learnt through baking escapades!).

Failed Swiss meringue buttercream from 18.08.2011…

Anyway, back to this cake; it’s so delicious with double cream and fresh strawberries and blueberries. The flavorus complement one another and the tastes are indescribable. Seriously, try it for yourself! To me, it’s reminiscent of something you’ve have at Wimbledon. 🙂

I struggled for ages with the composition when taking photos. I’m not sure at first if I really liked the orange colour, but I think it looks nice with the brown of the cocoa beans, nuts, the paper cocoa bean bag, and the cream frosting.

And to end this post, I’ll leave you with some witty Little Britain dialogue (as I did with the banoffee pie!):

”Carrot cake, carrot cake, have ye any nuts?”

Friday’s WODs @ CFP:
DWF qualifying WOD 2 and WOD 3 with Samantha, Simon and Luke! 🙂

Vegan Carrot Cake with a Cream Cheese Frosting
Apt 2 Baking and The Little Epicurian
Makes 2 x 20 cm cakes

Ingredients
For the cake:
• 2 ¼ cups flour, sifted
• 1 ½ tsp cinnamon
• 1 tsp ginger
• ½ tsp nutmeg
• 1 tsp all spice
• 1 ½ tsp baking soda
• ½ tsp baking powder
• 1 cup pecans, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, macadamia nuts…
• ¼ cup toasted coconut
• ⅛ cup dried goji berries
• ⅛ cup cocoa beans, crushed/broken
• 1 cup orange juice
• ½ cup mixed dried fruit
• ½ cup groundnut oil
• 1 cup brown sugar
• 2 cups grated carrot (about 2 large carrots)

For the frosting:
• 450g tub of soft cheese/cream cheese
• ½ cup (115g) butter
• 1 ¼ cups icing sugar, sifted
• pinch of salt

Preparation
For the cake:
Add the mixed dried fruit in a medium-sized bowl with the orange juice, and leave to soak for 45 minutes (overnight would be better).

Preheat oven to 175°C.

In a large bowl, sift in the flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, all spice, baking soda, and baking powder. Add in the nuts, toasted coconut, dried goji berries, and cocoa beans.

In the bowl with the fried fruit, grate in the carrot, add the sugar and groundnut oil.

Pour in the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients, and pour into 2 x 20 cm silicon cake moulds, and pop into the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean. Take out of the oven and leave to cool in the moulds on the kitchen worktop.

For the frosting:
Melt the butter in a large Pyrex bowl in the residual heat of the oven (or you can turn the oven back on, or do it over the hob). Then add in the soft cheese and mix well until homogenised. Leave to cool to room temperature before sifting in the icing sugar and salt, and mixing well.

Assembly:
When the cakes have cooled, remove one from the mould/tin, and put it on a plate (be careful, the cakes are delicate!). Spread a layer of the frosting on top, and then carefully place the other cake on top. Cover the assembled cake in cream cheese frosting, putting it all on top, and using a knife to spread it around the outside. Decorate as desired, with nuts, carrots, cocoa beans, etc. Keep in the fridge. When the cake is cool, it will be easier to move to another, cleaner plate.

Baked: 28.02.2014

Quick Bordelaise Sauce | Stand Up for Yourself

Ahhh March… the first sign that winter is ending and that spring is a’coming! 😀 So it’s time to get out some lovely spring vegetables, such as asparagus, and to pair is with an equally sophisticated sauce!


Asparagus is a sexy vegetable. Let’s face it, it looks delicate and exotic, even though it’s really a robust, strong and hardy vegetable. It looks different to most vegetables, and breaks free from the ground, defying gravity and shows everyone that it’s here! It even sounds foreign – those sexy ‘s’ and ‘r’ sounds make is so much more distinctive from something such as everyday ‘broccoli,’ which sounds like ‘brick,’ or something.

Steamed asparagus is so beautiful, but it’s one of those vegetables that’s so easy to overcook and then it goes all mushy and soft. Although it’s not one of my favourite green vegetables, when compared to something I love such as cabbage or kale, I do love the prospect of eating it; it’s so exotic-looking that I get really excited when I see it on my plate, but it’s a little bit stringy in texture if you eat the whole stalk (asparagus tips steamed well are really delicious, though). When steaming, once the water has boiled in your steamer, your asparagus is probably cooked. Check it by stabbing your fork into the thickest portion of the stalk. If it pierces it easily, then it’s done. Take it from the heat straight away. If left any longer, it will cook in an instant! You have to keep an eye on your asparagus.

But now that I’ve gone on about my love for asparagus, and before talking about the sauce, let’s talk about life.

There’s so much going on at the moment. With Crossfit, there are quite a lot of competitions coming up. This is the first weekend of the CrossFit Open… 14.1, which I haven’t entered (for many reasons!), but I think I’ll just do the WODs for fun if I can. The first WOD for DWF (Divided We Fall) has also been released, and with my awesome team of Samantha, Simon and Luke, it should be quite fun. 🙂 I do like team WODs… I usually work harder than I would by myself, providing that I’m not too nervous or feel like I’m letting anyone else down!

But, last week was one of the most stressful weeks I’ve had during the PhD I’ve had so far. To be honest, I have been fairly depressed and suffering from PhD Depression for most, if not all, of my PhD so far. I know I’m not the only one (seriously, just Google “PhD depression”), but I sure feel alone at times. I have the support from many, and I’m so thankful for that, but sometimes it just feels like there’s no way out.

I feel like an imposter, and that I don’t know enough. Whatever I do isn’t good enough and won’t please everyone… and the stress and demands are really brutal at times. The thing is, I enjoy the work and the scientific enquiry, the challenge… but I can’t cope with feeling so stupid all of the time. I think I know my strengths and weaknesses, but sometimes that just isn’t enough and it all becomes so overwhelming.

The whole PhD has actually turned me into a depressive person. I think I’m quite good at putting my mood behind me. If I’ve had a bad day in the office or lab, I won’t let it affect my Crossfit, a week with my other half, or a weekend with my family… but it will ruin an evening alone, because I just can’t switch my mind off. In some ways, I say to myself that when I get a job, it’ll be different, but deep down, I know it won’t be. I’m a natural born worrier and I’m going to have to learn to deal with that and develop different habits.

But last week was very character building for me, as I got myself into hot water (a.k.a. touble!). Basically, I have issues with my project, and instead of going to my first supervisor, I went to my second. This didn’t go down well what-so-ever. I can see why my first supervisor got upset, but he was very reasonable with it all, I feel. I still have the same issues with the project, but maybe as a lesson for my own assertiveness, I should bring them up as they arise, rather than wait. Although in my defence, I didn’t realise they were issues at the time, until I looked back on them and realised that certain things shouldn’t have happened, etc. Now, I appreciate that everyone’s only human, but I still feel that so many things shouldn’t have happened in order to have made for a smoother project.

Anyway, I could talk about this and make a whole post of it, but I won’t. My friends know what I’m talking about and I don’t feel that I should air my dirty washing/laundry in public. So I shan’t. But I do feel a little unfairly treated and reprimanded like a child. So instead of being talked to, my funding was threatened. So of course, I got a little ill last week just because of the sheer stress of it all, because of the potential bad relations that may have been between me and my supervisors, but also, of course, the prospect of having to find a job and spending almost three years on a road to nothing. I’m only just getting over it and my mild-flu.

Anyway, let’s talk about this dish! 🙂

Bordelaise sauce, according to Wikipedia, is a classic French sauce named after the Bordeaux region of France, which is famous for its wine. The sauce is made with dry red wine, bone marrow, butter, shallots and sauce demi-glace (a rich brown sauce used as a base). This sauce is adapted from an AllRecipes recipe, and it tastes very rich and elegant without going to much hassle at all. Although I guess technically, it couldn’t be a Bordelaise sauce, as it doesn’t have bone marrow (unless you wanted to add some!).


I seared the beef steak with a grill pan in order to try to get some lovely sear marks on it. I always call those pans a “Jamie Oliver pan,” as they always just remind me of him… I swear he uses them almost all the time! But I had to smear a small amount of oil on each side of the steaks in order to get the marks… otherwise it just wouldn’t work!

I think this sauce would go really well with any dark meat, such as lamb, beef, or even liver. I cooked this for Ed and I in Aberdeen a couple of weeks ago (wow, where does time go?!), and we had it with veal, steamed vegetables, leftover sweet potato and apple mash, and honey-roasted parsnips. Mmmmmm. I think if you added in double cream, it’ll work just as well, although of course will add a different dimension to the dish, rather than being rich and dark.

I would also quite happily eat this as a soup! I was taking photos of it in the white bowl, and my brother immediately exclaimed “that looks really nice… can I have it?” He was very disappointed when I told him that I’m going to be taking photos of it the following day, so will have to wait. I went out and bought a specific bowl from Marks and Spencer, because Ed had these really nice shallow white bowls with a rim. They looked great with everything and anything in it! I’ve never really been into shallow bowls, but these “pasta bowls” just make everything in it look great.

As Ed currently has no Tupperware, I put the remainder of our Bordelaise sauce in one of these white “pasta bowls.” It just looked amazing and I wanted to take a photo of it then and there! But I didn’t (because it was dark at the time), so I decided that I would do it myself when I got back to Plymouth. 🙂 Ed also has lovely plates, as you can see in the photos: the yellow Mediterranean-looking ones. And he even had this brown-blue-white plate that was very sophisticated-looking, and I used it to take photos of the chocolate-walnut brownie torte. So after all my babble, what I’m trying to say is that even though Ed was moaning about his kitchen (he really seemed to want to do it up!), he had some lovely plates that I just wanted to take back to Plymouth with me. 🙂


Although I do like white plates (as they’re guaranteed to display any food well and look good in pictures), I invested in four more, too: a beautiful blue plate that I bought with Ed, a wooden pant pot stand (that I’ll use as a plate), a small, white rectangular plate, and a larger and flatter white, rectangular plate with a sauce dish. You’ll see them featured in my photos a lot more from now on, and I think now is the right time, too, as my photography is getting better, I’d like to experiment with different plates, colours and backgrounds, too.

I hope to go back to Aberdeen in three week’s time… it’ll be to go to the Unconventional Gas conference to promote the research groups porous structure modelling software and its applications in fracking. This means, of course, that I will get to see Ed! I believe two of my colleagues will stay in the city centre, and hopefully I can stay at Ed’s! My two colleagues are hoping to drive up, and are going up regardless of whether I go or not, so not only will we have a fun road trip, but me tagging along for personal development, means that I don’t have to pay any extra for travel, anything for accommodation, and only £25 (as a student) to enter the conference for a day! I think that’s just an opportunity on a plate! 🙂

Sunday’s WOD:
NOTHING! 😀

Oh, it’s pancake day on Tuesday! 🙂

Bordelaise-esque Sauce
Adapted from: All Recipes
Makes enough sauce for 4-6

Ingredients
• 1 tbsp butter
• 1 x kg shallots (or 2 x large leeks), diced
• 1 tsp garlic, crushed
• 500 g of chestnut mushrooms, sliced
• 250 ml (1 cup) beef stock (or vegetable stock to make it vegetarian)
• 85 ml (⅓ cup) red wine
• 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (or soy sauce or balsamic vinegar)
• 2 x bay leaves
• a bunch of fresh thyme, washed
• 1 heaped tbsp cornstarch (or arrowroot powder to make it more primal)

Preparation
Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the garlic and shallots and/or leeks. Sauteé until translucent. In the meantime, pick the leaves off of the thyme, and chop the thyme stalks. Throw in the mushrooms, bay leaves and diced thyme stalks, and cook until soft. Add the wine, beef broth and sauce/vinegar. Bring to the boil and then turn down to a simmer until the sauce reduces slightly. Maybe 20 minutes or so. Dissolve the cornstarch in a mug in 4 tbsps of cold water, and add into the saucepan. Simmer for about 10 more minutes, remove the bay leaves, and serve. 🙂

Deep Dish Paleo Berry Pie | An Ode to Pie

Ahh pie. So comforting. There’s nothing like burying your problems, woes, and tackling procrastination by tucking into a large serving of pie with a heavy helping of clotted cream (hmmm, on further introspection, this is not a healthy habit; I should do something about this)…

I can’t believe it’s the end of January already; I’ve never understood the cliché phrase “Where does the time go?” more at any point of my life than I do now. I guess being busy is a good sign, because it means that my glass is full, overflowing if you will.

I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, because I don’t believe that you need a new year to make goals. Why is a new year going to be any different to the previous one if you don’t make changes? Once the clock strikes midnight, and it’s no longer December 31st, but January 1st… how has your life changed in such a way that your goals are finally achievable?

What I’m trying to say, is that New Year’s resolutions are goals that you must have been holding dear to your heart and think of often, so why is it that overnight you can suddenly achieve your goals? Heck, you don’t even need a new week to start new goals and decide that you’re going to go for it. You just need a new moment, or the present. And I think that’s what commitment is; deciding that you want to achieve your goals at every new moment, rather just because it’s customary to do so at a particular time.

Anyway, the goals I am working towards, in no particular order (not resolutions, because these are things I’ve been working on for a while, and haven’t made just because it’s a new year!):
1. Start writing thesis;
2. Get better at running, rowing, and endurance-y stuff;
3. Get really strong!
4. Try my hardest to fit in Spanish studies;
5. Eat clean and to not be influenced by bad eating habits and the eating habits of others;
6. Be happy and continue my spiritual growth.

Last week, I had some good news with my PhD! I was in contact with a Japanese researcher, who invited me to study in his lab if I could obtain a JSPS Fellowship. However, Omya will not allow me to go because of patents, secrecy of research, etc. Nevermind! Perhaps this is something for a future endeavour. 🙂 And I also received an email saying that I was “accepted” to present at a conference… in Hawaii! Well, I’ve made the first hurdle! My abstract was accepted, and now I need to hand in a manuscript, and from there, they’ll decide if they really do want me to present. But to be honest, I doubt I’ll be able to get adequate results in such a short space of time, and even if I was, I don’t think I’d obtain the funding to be able to go. This saddens me, however I will try my hardest, and if it doesn’t happen, then it just wasn’t meant to be.

Anyway, I still made time to post this pie recipe this week, and bake a few other things, as well as take photos of them (and post them to Facebook). There’s no point in saying “I’ll wait until I’ve done this to do my hobby” or something similar… you just have to grab it. Which is why I bake and take photos; I love it! It reminds me that life is something to be enjoyed NOW and not to be put off for another time. You have to MAKE time for your achievements, for your work, for your family and hobbies, and you have to sacrifice and prioritise for them all. I personally think that you can have and do it all, but just not at once.

And, onto the pie!

I didn’t really expect much from this pie… I just sort of threw it together. I felt like making something hearty and relatively healthy (compared to other desserts). But now I think it’s going to be a delightful addition to my repertoire of recipes! I mean, sure, it’s a paleo pie, but even if you’re not on the paleo diet, this pie is absolutely fantastic and I really prefer it to conventional pies, as it’s not too sweet. I used cherries and blueberries, but you could easily use other fruits. Favourite combinations of mine are apple and blackberry, forest fruits, and peach and raspberry (my mum makes a delicious peach and raspberry crumble… mmmmmm!).

I made this for one weekend when we were all together at my parents’ and we had this with mum’s rib-eye beef! Was delicious!


The morning that I had baked this pie, my brother and I were working in the living room, and the pie was cooling on the kitchen worktop. I went into the kitchen with the lights off, and the light from the living room was shining through the serving hatch and illuminated the pie in such a picturesque and angelic way that I had to capture it was it was! I’ve never been a fan of using indoor lights, and always try to use natural lighting, but I had a good tripod and the right angle, and I think the pictures below came out beautifully, despite the darkness and small amount of fake light!

I also took photos at my parents’ house, because I absolutely love their rustic kitchen as it’s large and beautiful, and full of light, but I really struggled with the composition. Well, more so the lighting and angles to make it look delectable without making the colours look flat. The typical example would be taking photos of salads: with the right lighting and angles they can look crisp and delicious, but with the wrong lighting (i.e. in a dark restaurant with a flash) it can look limp, boring and lifeless.

I love how the crust of the pie is stained purple, and the colours inside. 🙂 And how it looks so impressive yet is so simple to put together! And, a great gift idea would be mini pies!

The pie is delicious when hot and straight from the oven, with a generous dollop of clotted cream. But then this is also wonderful cold with double cream as well. If you leave it for a day after baking and before eating, the flavours mingle with one another and with the pie case. It’s perfect all year round: hot in the winter, and cold in the summer!

The pie case is also great for savoury pies, because it’s not sweetened with coconut flour, it goes with every taste! I used it to make a savoury beef pie that was absolutely delicious! 🙂

Thursday training:
1km run into a 100m farmer’s walk 16/24kg
800m run into a 100m farmer’s walk 16/24kg
600m run into a 100m farmer’s walk 16/24kg
400m run into a 100m farmer’s walk 16/24kg
1 min pull up rig hang (weighted if possible)
400m run into a 100m farmer’s walk 16/24kg
600m run into a 100m farmer’s walk 16/24kg
800m run into a 100m farmer’s walk 16/24kg
1km run into a 100m farmer’s walk 16/24kg

Deep Dish Paleo Berry Pie
Serves 8-10
Case adapted from: Elana’s Pantry; filling adapted from The Yoghurt Pot

Ingredients
For the pie case:
• 4 cups almond flour
• 4 tbsp coconut oil, melted (approx. 2 heaped tbsp coconut oil if hard)
• 2 x eggs

For the filling:
• 350g cherries, pitted (fresh or thawed from frozen)
• 350g blueberries, (fresh or thawed from frozen)
• 250g mixed dried fruits (soaked overnight in hot water)
• 3 generous tbsp maple syrup/honey
• 2 tsp ground cinnamon
• 1 tsp arrowroot powder (optional)

Preparation
Drain the dried fruit that has been soaked overnight in water. Mix all of the ingredients for the filling together in a saucepan, bring to the boil, and let simmer for around 10 minutes (if not using arrowroot powder, maybe simmer for 15 minutes to evaporate a little more of the liquids?). Then set aside.

In the meantime, prepare your pie cast. Mix all of the in a large bowl and homogenise well with the back of a spoon. Line a cake tin with baking paper (my cake tin had a removable base, and was 15cm in diameter and 8 cm in height), and press the case mixture all around the cake tin, ensuring that the walls are thick enough to hold the weight of the fruits. (I used about ¾ of the mixture for the base and walls, and the remaining for the top.)

Pour in the berry filling. Then pat the remaining pastry mixture on top of the filling. Make sure to seal as best as you can any gaps between the lid and the walls of the case, without splashing juice anywhere!

Pop the pie into a preheated oven at 200°C for 20 minutes, and then turn the oven down to 160°C for 15 minutes. I then let my pie cool in the oven.

If you wish to present the pie to guests, I recommend to cool the pie entirely before removing it from its tin, so that it holds its shape better.

This is delicious straight from the oven when hot and fresh, but is also beautiful the next day, as the juices inside become a sauce, and the flavours mingle with each other and the pastry case.

Bon appétit! 🙂

Baked and constructed: 24.01.2014 @ the Kung Fu Kitchen! 🙂