Kung Fu Café
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.

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

Plymouth Half Marathon | Chocolate Sweet Potato Brownies/Cake with an Avocado Frosting

Yesterday was the day that myself and eight other CrossFit girls ran with a stretcher loaded with 50 kg, and ran the Plymouth Half Marathon in order to raise money for The Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund.

We managed the whole thing in 2h 59m and 38s… sub-3 hours! Wohooo! Eight of the guys from CrossFit Plymouth also ran with a 70kg person on their stretcher, and completed it in 2h 36m and 50s. It was pretty cool that the guys could find someone to be on their stretcher… unfortunately, the person that we were going to carry couldn’t make it. So we carried a sandbag! It didn’t look as impressive because a lot of the crowd were saying “oh, what’s on the stretcher? Nothing.” It was pretty frustrating!

The weather was a little overcast, a little sunny at times, windy, and even a little rainy. It wasn’t as sunny as it was on Friday (we did a Hero WOD combo of DT and Murph… not fun!), and when we were training it was actually pretty hot running in the sun! So thankfully it wasn’t as sunny on the day, but I still managed to get tan lines on my legs!


The map of the route we ran, as recorded by my Garmin watch – thanks Ed!

We only did one training day with the stretcher and ran only half of what we were supposed to run. Not only that, but we didn’t even have all of our teammates on that day (think there were 6 of us girls). Oh, we did one other run with the stretcher in the pouring rain late in the evening in January sometime. We ran only a couple of km and realised how difficult it was going to be. That said, there were only 4 of us carrying the thing. Although it did feel really cool because it reminded me of the Xbox game Left 4 Dead I play with my bro (zombie apocalypse thing… standard).


The guys coming back to cheer us on for the last 800 m or so and over the finish line!

I personally made the big mistake of eating a few (*ahem*) jelly babies and drinking some Lucozade. At one water station they were handing them out and I missed the water. But instantly it made me feel sick (this was at mile 6, I believe) and felt that way for the rest of the run. I didn’t need any of the sugary stuff, and I wish I’d listened to my gut (no pun intended!). But when you have loads of people telling you that you need it for energy (i.e. websites, onlookers, other people), then you kind of start believing them. I wish I just had water for the whole thing!



But what was worse was my knees! I even said to everyone at mile 7 that this is loads easier than I thought it was going to be, to which they told me not to jinx the rest of the run! But by mile 9 or 10, my knees were in pain! I was really worried that it’d be my calves that would go (as I always complain about my calves on long runs), but I suppose the fact that we were running slowly and I was making an effort to strike on my heels first maybe meant my calves were protected? My knees became so painful and today, my hips are a little sore and my knees are rather bad. Although nowhere near as bad as I thought I was going to feel. I even feel so fine that I may go to CrossFit and hammer my shoulders tonight… There’s no rest for the wicked as we have DWF in less than 2 weeks… and I feel extremely underprepared…


There was PLENTY of this cake consumed, along with copious amounts of sushi and sake with my bro the evening after the race! Needless to say I’m very proud of myself, and proud of how we all pulled together and supported one another; that’s what the CrossFit community and friends are all about 🙂

We had quite a few supporters from CFP and others’ friends and family come out, which was really lovely. Thanks to those guys for coming out and shouting to us! 🙂

When I got home, I felt a little sick for a while, and wasn’t hungry at all. Still managed to eat loads of food in the evening though! My brother and I treated ourselves to some takeaway sushi (we’ve been saying for months that we need to do that!) and some warm sake. Then had some of these brownies in cake form for dessert! 🙂


I made these brownies on a very rainy Easter Sunday to share with my lovely family. The weather cleared by the evening so my dad, brother and I went for our usual walk. 🙂 I took some into work and those who tried them said they were surprised that there was no flour. Katie wants to recipe, hence why I’ve written it up! 🙂

I then made two brownies in the form of a cake. This was I could “treat” myself to dessert and control my portions every evening. So if I wanted to have a dessert, it would have to be a portion from the cake – nothing more! But having said that, within two days over half of it had gone between my brother and I… and that was us trying to be “conservative.”

I was going to decorate the cake with raspberries, as they’re so visually stunning, but I did so with the Oreo-crusted tart. So then I thought I’d decorate it with more frosting piped around the edges of the top, but then couldn’t be bothered to waste previous avocado frosting in my piping bag (as thare’s always loads leftover/stuck in the bag).

They’re similar to the sweet potato brownies I made for the CFP party, but different. And then basically covered in chocolate avocado pudding

This really is definitely one of my most favourite chocolate cakes, and with double cream it just tastes absolutely amazing. Really. It’s so moist, creamy, chocolate-y, yet sturdy enough to cut slices and look visually attractive. Just all the things that you could possibly want from a chocolate cake. I tried to catch the moistness and textures of the cake in my photos, so I hope I’ve managed to do that!

If you’d like to make the brownies, follow the recipe below. If you’d like to make it into a cake, simply double the recipe and then split the batter into 2 x 20 cm cake tins. 🙂

Chocolate Sweet Potato Brownies with a Chocolate Avocado Frosting
Not Quite Nigella, Eat Drink Paleo, PaleOMG, and Kung Fu Café
Makes 20-25 squares

Ingredients
For the brownies:
• 800-900g raw sweet potato
• 4 x eggs
• ⅔ cup honey or maple syrup
• ½ cup coconut oil, melted
• ⅔ cup dark chocolate when solid, then melted
• 6 tbsp coconut flour
• 2 tsp vanilla extract
• 3 tbsp chia seeds
• 4 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted
• 1 heaped tbsp baking powder, sifted
• ½ tbsp baking soda, sifted
• ½ tsp mixed spice/allspice
• pinch of salt

For the frosting:
• flesh of 3 ripe avocadoes
• 4 tbsp honey or maple syrup
• 4 tbsp of cocoa powder, sifted

Preparation
Preheat the oven to 175°C. Pop the sweet potatoes in for maybe 1.5 hours until the middles are soft. Take out and leave on the side until cool enough to handle. Scoop out the insides of the sweet potato (reserve the skins for sweet potato skin pizzas!), and place in a large bowl. Add all of the other ingredients and homogenise well. Pour into a 20 x 20 cm silicon baking mould (or a greased tin!), and pop back into the oven for 45-50 minutes. When the time is up, turn the oven off and leave the brownies in the oven for about 15 minutes. Take out and leave to cool on the side.

To make the frosting, blend the avocadoes, honey and cocoa powder in a food processor until smooth. Add more honey and/or cocoa powder until the desired taste has been reached.

Brownies made: 20.04.2014 (Easter Sunday).
Cake made: 24.04.2014.

Dark Chocolate Walnut Brownie Torte | Trip to Aberdeen

I had a generally lovely week last week! 🙂 I took a week off to go and see my lovely other half all the way in Aberdeen!



I even missed out the appalling storms and 100 mph winds and rains at home in the South West, fortunately! The weather in Aberdeen was actually rather pleasant throughout that week; sure there were a few days when it was raining, but generally it was cold and crisp, but bright and sunny. I was also a little concerned that my flights would have been delayed due to the weather, but on the outward and inward journey, the flights were seamless. No turbulence at all! I was very, very lucky! Thank you! 🙂

There’s so much going on at the moment, but I seemed to have taken the perfect week off, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I was really stressed out with a few things regarding my PhD, and that week was just after I had sorted some things with my colleagues and was feeling good about it. But anyway, that’s rather confidential stuff and for another blog post entirely! In some ways I felt a little resentful that I took a whole week off to spend elsewhere (if I have time off I’d rather it be at home so I can catch up on sleep, spend time with my family, pursue my own hobbies and go training as much as possible), but it was so lovely to see Ed and his new place. 🙂



It was so nice to actually do nothing, no work, not even any Crossfit (I only visited CrossFit Aberdeen once! They’re a lovely bunch, and a few even recognised me from my visit a year and a half ago which was great!). All I did was spent my day browsing through FoodGawker, Tastespotting, baking, cooking, annoying Ed, pretending I was helping him while he was plastering his walls when in actual fact I really wasn’t (well, that’s not true; I stripped a bit of wallpaper, brought him coffees and food, and just generally didn’t stop talking), and strolling around the city centre.


Peeling the wallpaper off in the hallway!


The newly plastered hallway… Ed’s a very handy man!


Pretty much my position for the week: PJs, tea, Kindle, laptop, duvet and comfort!

It was Valentine’s Day during my visit while I was spending the week with Ed, which was the first Valentine’s Day we spent together in probably years. It was also the mark of our 6 years and 1 month together… that’s a long time! One thing I decided that I’m going to try to do and add to my list of “resolutions” (or things to work on) is that I’m not going to worry or endlessly fret about things beyond my control, or procrastinate and over think things until I actually come to do them. For example, I fret so much about WODs at Crossfit that it engulfs a lot of my mental energy the entire day before I go and do the WOD. I’m the same when it comes to work as well. I even asked my second supervisor if I could go to some conferences at which my abstract has been accepted for an oral presentation, and I received a really positive reply back, yet I was STILL fretting about how I’m going to be knowledgeable re: questions (what if I miss something and they think I’m stupid and I get embarrassed?), and about getting enough and the right kind of work done on time, etc, etc. That’s why I get stressed out easily, too. I worry about everything, about whether things will go right, whether the future will work out, whether my family are well and aren’t too stressed out themselves, whether my training is going to pot, my diet and eating habits… everything. Sometimes it just gets too much and I can’t see a way out.

But it was nice to get away from that for a week. Just being somewhere else and doing something completely different from the usual routine made me feel as though I was in a time blip. That week was nowhere in time, and it felt as though my normal life in Plymouth had frozen for a while.

One thing it was nice to get away from was eating “cleanly.” I are so much crap I put on weight! Every morning I had jam, banana and peanut butter on toast, or peanut butter, Nutella and banana on toast. Sure, it was delicious at first, but now I’m struggling to feel perky and just feel plain old fat. I also made this brownie torte, which was delicious, but full of unhealthy things! I also made a banana bread (again, very unhealthy!) with walnuts, oats, banana, chocolate and all of that delicious stuff. So it was bittersweet; in some ways it was great to just go off the rails and eat rubbish… at first… but then by the end, I was hooked on the stuff, wanted to get out of eating it, but felt like I couldn’t. I can easily see how people get into bad ways of eating and get stuck there. It’s so easy to do that, but once you’re out of the rut, you’d be amazed at how great you feel.

Anyway, it was nice to bake things, especially for Ed. I love to bake, cook and dine with people I love. It’s my way of showing them that I love and appreciate them, and a way I enjoy spending time with them (over a relaxed meal talking about anything and everything). It was also nice to take photos in a different location! The light in Ed’s kitchen was great as he had a large window, and the set up meant that the light shone from the left (which is usually how I do things in my own flat!), so in some ways it didn’t change the set up! But it was just nice to be working elsewhere and seeing if I could get ok pictures working with someone other than my brother around (even though Ed was too busy doing his walls to notice what I was up to!), and in a different environment with a makeshift reflector and no tripod (as a couple of days it was rather overcast).

Right now I’m quite heavily focussed on food. I think that’s because it’s nice to take a break from the PhD and it’s been stressing me out a lot. I’m not really into training at the moment (going through a lull for a variety of reasons… again, that’s for another post!), and I’m struggling with Spanish, because recently I’ve been spending a lot of time in front of the computer trying to read publications or typing some sort of document, that I don’t want to study in my free time. Cooking, however, it’s entirely creative, and taking photos, and being with people you love and sharing with them what you’ve done… it’s 100% satisfying. You’re learning something, you’re being creative, and you’re having fun. What’s more to love?

In Aberdeen city centre, on my various wanders when Ed was either at work or sorting out his flat, I came across a culinary school, the Nick Nairn Cook School. I looked in through the windows of this beautiful granite building in a lovely part of the city centre, and could see all sorts of kitchen utensils for sale on a shop floor, right next to an open plan kitchen where there were a couple of chefs busily preparing something on an immaculate kitchen worktops. I wanted to be involved so badly! Looking at the prices of some of the courses, I wasn’t so sure if I would want to part with such money for only a few hours, especially when it was a simple “how to cook a steak” class. Now, that’s not to say that my steak cooking ability is great (I’ve never really tried and think I’d miss what I was going for completely), and maybe I’m being ignorant here, but when it’s something you’ve never tried before and it’s just one aspect of cooking that you’re a beginner in anyway, I say just go learn it yourself initially! I think self-teaching is, in some ways, more rewarding, until you get to a more advanced level where you need some guidance and fine tuning and help with technique and knowledge. But then saying that, I am a student who always moans about money, and think that actually I’d really enjoy the classes. The quality of the teaching may well be worth every penny, and if I had the money I’d love to take one of these classes and a sushi class, as I think I’d enjoy the group atmosphere, too, and if I won the lottery, these sorts of things is that I’d be doing with my free time! No work, but plenty of cooking, photography, piano, Crossfit, gymnastics, weightlifting, martial art, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese and Icelandic lessons, along with travel and adventure!

Maybe one day I’ll hit it big, and live out my dream of owning a Crossfit and martial arts gym with my own restaurant and café, that promotes eating for health and body composition, whilst bringing out my own cookbook full of my own photography… maybe one day… I had better get proficient in all of the above, pronto!

Anyway, I’m going off track now! I spent the time cooking all sorts of dishes… some came out quite well, and others came out not as well, but everything was edible and Ed was just pleased that he had something cooked for him after long days of sorting his flat. On Valentine’s Day though, he did save some lobsters that he had, and prepared a really beautiful lobster thermidor. I hadn’t had lobster since I was a child, and I do have bad memories of lobster (I was sick in the local village hall that night whilst playing badminton… I know it wasn’t because of the lobster, but it was probably the whole tin of oranges I had shovelled down my throat afterwards and I think, from what I can remember, I was ill anyway… of course when I’m ill I don’t lose my appetite like most people!). I knew that I would enjoy lobster anyway, as I know I like crab and all other seafood I’ve come across, so hopefully now, I can push that memory of lobster out of my head and replace it with this one. 🙂


English breakfast cooked by Ed (in Scotland! How controversial!)!


A lovely Valentine’s meal 🙂

We also spent some time with a lovely friend and work colleague of Ed’s and his beautiful girlfriend, who chose a really lovely restaurant at which to have lunch; Le Cafe Bohéme, which was well hidden, but was a gem. The prices were affordable, and great considering the deliciousness and class of the dishes. My favourite was definitely décor and atmosphere that was created from the moment you stepped inside. Definitely my kind of place!

After that, Ed and I briefly visited Stonehaven for a battered Mars Bar from The Carron Fish Bar (which claims to be the birthplace of the deep fried Mars Bar! We couldn’t find a battered/deep fried Crème Egg, unfortunately!), and then popped along to Dunnottar Castle (it was cold and windy… but luckily not raining!). It was really beautiful, right along the coast. Being in the city centre, I often forget that Aberdeen is right by the ocean, just like Plymouth. Next time I’m going to visit the harbour, definitely. The castle itself has a very interesting history, and I believe the official website is here. According to the website, a part of the castle was used for the imprisonment of Covenanters in 1685. It was also home to one of the most powerful families in the land, but then was seized by the government in 1715 because of treason. And a small garrison fought Cromwell’s army for several months and saved the Scottish Crown Jewels, which can now be found in Edinburgh Castle. How exciting!


Dunnottar Castle.


Stonehaven.


The famous deep fried or battered Mars Bar from…


… The Carron Fish Bar!


And the story of how they supposedly came to be!

I also love a lot of the shops and restaurants in Aberdeen, too. Sure, there are a lot of the well-known places to be found that can be found in every British town, but there were also a lot of local and independent places, too. I loved Yorokobi, which is where Ed treated me to a Japanese meal, and also the last time I visited about a year and a half ago. I also loved the comic book, toy and general geek shop, Plan 9, where I bought my brother (well, both of us I suppose, really!) a Muhammad Ali poster. It was a decision between batman and Ali… tough choice! But I went for Ali because he’s real, looks classy in our living room, and is a constant reminder of how we must consider ourselves to be great and more than capable of achieving our goals if we ever are to achieve them.



Muhammad Ali poster from Plan 9 now in mine and my brother’s living room.


A Muhammad Ali poster in Plan 9, Aberdeen.


Some Batman posters in Plan 9, Aberdeen.

There are some lovely tea and coffee houses, too. I had a fantastic vanilla white tea at CUP (but unfortunately I had to let Ed into the flat because he came home from work earlier than expected as the window guy was inspecting Ed’s windows!), bought some lovely tea from the small but beautiful shop (that smelt of such a strong coffee smell) MacBeans, and really wanted to try and have a coffee in The Coffee House, but they were always too busy whenever I walked by! The day that I left, Ed and I went into town for a couple of hours and sat in a shop called Books and Beans, and again, was always busy whenever I walked by. I love being able to sit in comfort, with a hot drink, chatting away whilst surround by books, knowledge, literature, adventure. I find it really exciting, and back to the theme of winning the lottery; if I ever was to win, I’d have a library in my house with a coffee, tea, juice and smoothie bar! We spent ages in there! The food smelt good and looked good, too! Luckily, we were there on a Sunday, so it wasn’t as busy as during the week, and this is definitely the kind of place that my friend Lucy and I have discussed about opening in the future! 🙂



Sushi, ramen and Korean sizzling beef at Yorokobi, Aberdeen.

Anyway, this brownie torte wasn’t made on Valentine’s Day (in fact, the banana bread was!). It was made a couple of days before, and devoured by Valentine’s, but it looks like a romantic sort of dessert, with the chocolate, marscapone cream and strawberry. The ingredients in this are so simple and the procedure is really straightforward, yet they make, combined with the marscapone, such a decadent dessert.

I accidentally over-baked this dessert… Ed had a very old and retro oven, and I don’t think the temperature is what you set it as. Or it may be, but because the oven isn’t fan-assisted, I tend to find that the heat doesn’t really penetrate the whole thing you’re trying to bake and just crisps the outside (seriously, I’m not making this up! I swear!). After 30 minutes, the inside was still completely raw yet the outside was turning black. So by the time the inside has just about cooked, the outside because a thick, hard shell. Even when I baked sweet potatoes at the same temperature as I do in other ovens (being my own and my parent’s), the inside was deliciously soft as I was expecting, but the inner side of the skin was black and had burnt!



I made this dessert ahead of time (I believe I went to Crossfit, or something, so made it a few hours in advance before putting gin the oven!). It was very delicious though, especially warm and straight out of the oven. But even cold the next day, it was really tasty! The next day, Ed had a slice with milk. 🙂 Of course, you could pop these into a square tray and just have them as brownies! I also think pistachios or Brazil nuts would make for a romantic dessert, also.



CrossFit Aberdeen.

As lovely as it was seeing Ed, I always feel a little empty the week after I get back from seeing him. In some ways, I’m glad he’s not in Plymouth anymore, as I’m struggling enough as it is to keep up with everything I’d like to and need to do, and having him down here would most probably just distract me. But after I’ve seen him, I realise how much I miss him and wish we would see each other more frequently like we did when we were both at the uni down here. 🙂 Unfortunately, I have to wait until next time…




Friday WOD @ CFP with Mike, Jon and Christie (Benchmark Friday!):
5-3-1 strength (deadlift, bench press and front squat)
Angie (100 pull ups, 100 push ups, 100 sit ups and 100 squats!)

Dark Chocolate Walnut Brownie Torte
Adapted from: All Recipes
Makes 1 x 9″ torte

Ingredients
• ¼ cup butter
• ½ cup honey
• 1 cup dark chocolate, roughly broken
• ¼ cup granulated sugar
• 3 x eggs
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 1 cup plain flour, sifted
• 1 cup broken walnuts (I think pistachio nuts or Brazil nuts would work, too!)

Preparation
I used a 9″ cake tin with a removable bottom lined with non-stick baking paper, as I wasn’t at home, but I think my silicon mould at home would have worked just as well. 🙂

Melt the butter and dark chocolate over a gentle heat in a saucepan. Remove from the heat and then add in the honey, sugar, and vanilla. Stir in the eggs and add the nuts and flour.

Pour into the pan, and bake at 175°C for 30 minutes.

Serve straight from the oven, warm, with strawberries, marscapone and grated chocolate.

Merry Christmas from Kung Fu Café! | Sweet Potato Truffles & Coconut Chocolate Ganache

Here’s to seeing the end of 2013 with loved ones and continuing the good fight by achieving many more goals in 2014. Merry Christmas everyone!

This year has been an amazing year full of personal growth and lessons learnt. I can’t wait to see what 2014 brings and whatever happens, if I continue to improve as I have been in 2013, then I’ll be stronger because of it. 🙂

These photos are the first photos I’ve taken with a background! I decided to give it a go as it was Christmas, and I absolutely love Christmas themed food photos! Not only was it a nice and simple challenge for me (i.e my first use of a background, albeit simple!), it captured what I love most about Christmas; preparing food especially for loved ones (although the meal was my mum’s, not mine!) and being grateful for everything.

My parent’s house is absolutely perfect for shooting photos; the kitchen is so rustic, the living room is very grand with pine furniture, dark leather sofas and a roaring fire, and the whole house is just absolutely bathed in light – there are windows everywhere! I love this place so much, and really don’t want my parents to scale down and sell it! I’ll buy it from them for my photography practice (for a greatly reduced price, of course 😉 ).

Anyway, as you can see, these photos are of my Christmas dinner just before devouring it. So I’m very pleased with how these photos came out providing that it was a few quick snaps (although I did prepare the setting and gold reflector, candle and regular old orange lamp before dinner was served. I really like how the Christmas lights, candle and Bucks Fizz came are out of focus and the dinner looks so perfect. We didn’t eat around this table (hence why I could set up all of my photography stuff there!), but the meal was certainly as delicious as it looked! Thanks mum! 🙂

And for dessert, we had a friend’s Christmas pudding! She makes and sells them every year, not giving out her recipe, and packaging them in beautiful red crepe paper, plastic and gold string. This is where I got the inspiration for making my own paleo Christmas puddings! These ones are definitely different to conventional Christmas puddings in that they’re more moist and fruity. I think you can see how moist they are in my photos, and they’re slightly lighter in colour than regular puddings. But they were absolutely delicious! Today we had my Christmas puddings. 🙂

So, as well as making my own Christmas puddings, I’ve also been making paleo mince pies! The crust/pastry is made from a recipe I’ve adapted a little and is made from almond flour, egg and oil, and the middle is my own mincemeat creation that includes fruits soaked overnight in brandy and all sorts of Christmas flavours. Someone ordered 20 mince pies from me (without the tops; someone who ordered 12 mince pies from me said a mince pie isn’t complete without a top; differing opinions I suppose!) and tried to call me on Christmas eve to thank me and tell me that the pies were “unbelievable!” That definitely made it all worthwhile! I don’t make a massive profit from the foods I make, and if I’m going to go into business with this, I think it’s worth playing around with prices to see what is the biggest profit I can make without taking advantage of my customers; but the mince pies I only just scrape myself into a profit margin with the price I’m selling them for. Mince pies are so cheap in the supermarkets, but it’s so timely to make them by hand (pressing the pastry into the moulds, and forming the lids, too, not to mention making the mincemeat in advance). But I suppose that these mince pies would be more expensive as they’re homemade and are also gluten free, too!

You can also see in the photos below that the texture of the mince pie crusts are different, and I think that’s dependent on the coarseness of the almond flour I use, and also how much I pack the dough into the moulds. In some ways I like the large pies with a smoother crust, and having a bulging top means you can put more filling in the middle. But at the same time, I quite like having flat tops because you can stack them more easily.

Anywho, the recipe below is for sweet potato truffles/balls. I absolutely love these and they’re perfect for the Christmas season! I think they’re great for a healthier treat, especially if the ball is left plain or perhaps covered with nuts. And even if they’re covered in cocoa powder and chocolate ganache, at least they’re made with healthier and more natural ingredients, rather than all of these additives formed in a lab!

I think a large ball would be a great post-workout snack, as they’re chocked full of carbs like sweet potato, and fat like almonds. The photo below is a ball covered in cocoa powder, and it looks just like the MCCs (modified calcium carbonates) I work with! You can see an SEM (scanning electron micrograph) of an MCC grade in the left picture below. Of course, the MCCs and sweet potato balls are on a completely different size scale. 🙂

I made these relatively large. They were fairly small when plain, but after adding and rolling them in different things, they plumped up in size. I rolled them in currants, desiccated coconut, dried goji berries, crushed pistachio nuts, cocoa powder and hemp seeds. Some I even rolled in this delicious chocolate-coconut ganache (which I thoroughly recommend serving with any dessert!).



I think these would be great for parties, lunch boxes, snacks, post-workouts, as a breakfast on the go, a snack before bed… any time, really!

I would love to make these again, but a little smaller, and all covered in chocolate ganache. These would be great on any party table, especially around Christmas, as they just have so many Christmas-y flavours and tastes… not to mention colours! They’re perfect to give as gifts, too, especially if presented in a nice box with a ribbon. 🙂

Maybe these could even be made into some sort of cake/patty as a starter, but with apple incorporated into the mix instead of dates? Some experimenting is afoot!

It’s not necessary to blend the ingredients; you could just mash them. The dates would be better blended, but of course you could omit the dates (if sweetness isn’t your thing) and perhaps replace them with more sweet potato or oats or something. I would also love to stuff these with melted peanut butter! Now THAT would be amazing!


Boxing day WOD:
Leftovers for time! 🙂

Sweet Potato Truffles
Adapted from: Nutrition Stripped
Makes 24 truffles

Ingredients
For the truffles:
• 4 x small sweet potatoes
• 1 x cup of almond flour
• ¾ cup of rolled oats (or coconut flour)
• 1 cup dates or dried fruit
• 1 tbsp coconut oil
• 1 tsp cinnamon
• ½ tsp nutmeg
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• pinch of salt

For garnishing:
• *nothing*
• dried currants
• cocoa powder
• desiccated coconut
• dried goji berries
• crushed pistachio nuts
• raw shelled hemp seeds

For the chocolate ganache (makes how much?):
• ¼ cup cocoa powder
• ¼ cup coconut oil, melted
• 1 tbsp maple syrup or honey

Preparation
For the truffles:
Put the sweet potatoes, whole, in the oven at 175°C for an hour, or until they’re soft when inserting a knife in the centre. Leave to cool.

When cool, peel off the skins off (keep the skins to pop in the oven for a primal-style pizza!) pop them with the rest of the ingredients into a large food processor, and process until smooth.

I only had a small processor, so I processed the oats until they became flour, the dried fruit until it turned mushy, and mashed the insides of the sweet potatoes in a large bowl. Then I homogenised by hand; it took a little longer but everything came together into a dough in the end.

Roll these balls out into as many truffles as you desire! 🙂 I rolled them out into sizes about ¼ the size of the palm of my hand, and got 24. I could happily eat one in a large bit, or in two more moderate bites 🙂

For garnishing:
Roll each truffle into your chosen garnish, ensuring that you don’t smush the shape of the balls with your hand!

You could incorporate the cocoa powder into the actual ball itself to make it entirely chocolate.

For the chocolate ganache:
Melt the coconut oil over the hob (VERY gently) and take off of the heat. Add the maple syrup and cocoa powder, and stir to create a sauce. Add more coconut oil to make the sauce thinner, less coconut oil/more syrup and cocoa powder will make it thicker. I like mine thick! Let the sauce cool a little.

Roll each truffle into the chocolate ganache, or drizzle on top, and pop on non-stick baking paper. Store and cool in the fridge. Serve on a cool day (or immediately from the fridge) to ensure that the ganache will remain hard (otherwise the coconut oil will melt!). At this time of year in the UK, there will be no problems with ensuring that it remains cool!

Store in the fridge in an air tight container.

All baked in my lovely kitchen: 22.11.2013

Coconut Chocolate Ganache & Coconut Cream | Homemade Christmas Puddings & Perspective



I’m feeling really rather Christmas-y this year and absolutely cannot wait to be curled up with my loved ones all under the same roof, all having a laugh and a bit of down time. Christmas is that time of year where I shut myself off from work and worries for a couple of weeks and just do the things I love, catch up on sleep and rest, and eat. 🙂

I’ve even gone as far as making my own Christmas puddings! I’ve looked at various traditional and gluten-free Christmas pudding recipes, and from those my own concoction full of brandy, mixed nuts and dried fruits, apples, coconut and general Christmas-ness is born. 🙂 I think that I’ve used minimal but best ingredients in order to make it as primal as possible. I absolutely love these hot and covered with a mixture of coconut-chocolate ganache and double cream (see pictures further down the page!). Clotted cream works well, as does coconut cream.

The photo above and in the middle was taken in the dark using a 135W 5500K tungsten lamp and a silver reflector. How cool is that?! I love the result, actually! I just had to be careful with the light, as it was too weak to use a diffuser, but strong enough to make harsh shadows on the pudding. Luckily, the reflector worked nicely.

The two photos above and below it are taken in natural light (on a perfect day; overcast yet not grey!) with a gold reflector. I’m really glad that I used the gold reflector; I was a little worried about mixing daylight, which is a little more blue, with gold, but I really like the effect. 🙂 I think that’s because I feel as though it makes the spices come alive, and it’s also a little reminiscent of home. I can image myself being at home on a cold winter’s eve with the fire flickering in the background. The only thing that would have made this more homely is if this plate was on a pine table, rather than a white board! It would have so reminded me of being at my parent’s house in the countryside in beautiful rural England. 🙂

That’s what food photography does for me; it has to have a story, a theme, a memory behind it. It has to evoke feelings, emotions and daydreams. It’s not just about the food, but it’s about the sentiment and enjoyment of, yes, the food, but also the situation and the people you’re sharing it with. My photos are rather minimalistic, but that’s because I struggle badly with the composition of the photo if there’s too much going on in the frame. I’ll get good one day if I keep practising! When I look back over the photos on this page, I see my improvement, although it’s easy to forget how far you’ve come. So it’s good to review regularly to inspire and motivate yourself. 🙂



Anyway, enough daydreaming! And onto talking about the two sauces in this post. These sauces are really rather delicious and go with everything you can think of! The photo below is the coconut-chocolate ganache on a pistachio sweet potato truffle, which is absolutely beautiful!

The sauce can be used for a lot of things. It does dry, as you can see in some of the pictures on this page, which not only makes it great to photograph (as there’s no shiny bits on the sauce), but also makes it great to coat truffles, for example. But if you’re in a warm environment (as coconut oil has a low melting point), or serve it immediately, it makes a really rich sauce that goes great with double cream (I’ve already said that earlier, but it was that good I had to say it again!).

I suppose you could make the sauce in advance, put it in a jar, keep in the fridge, and reheat over a VERY gentle heat when needed. Or you could periodically take spoonfuls from the jar (as we do with Nutella and peanut butter!).

Honestly, I could make this stuff and shape it into balls, pop in the fridge and have chocolate truffles or something. I have a silicon chocolate mould in the shape of coffee beans, and it’s tempting to just pop in in there and eat it. The coconut oil is so light on the tongue and melts as soon as it touches anything warm. It’s delicious and utterly divine!

And in actual fact, that’s what I did do (see the picture below)! I also added a little bit of instant coffee granules (or I suppose you could use freshly made espresso if you wanted), popped them into my silicon mould, and popped in the fridge. They were AMAZING!



Coconut cream is also another *must* to have available in the kitchen, especially around Christmas. This stuff has such a lovely texture and taste, and goes with just about anything! I think it could also be substituted for yoghurt. It’s delicious and silky smooth! Below is pictured a black bean brownie smothered in coconut cream. 🙂

Anyway, just briefly, I’ve decided that I’m not going to worry anyway (yeah right!). Today, and this time last week, I have given a presentation to an audience about my research, and I was really nervous, especially for last week’s! I was worried about the sorts of questions I was going to be asked. But I think it’s all about seeing these presentations as opportunities to grow, and discuss my work and see what I may have overlooked, rather than a sort of interrogation or an attempt to show me up. I if I didn’t know something, there was no need to be embarrassed to admit that “I don’t’ know/haven’t thought that far ahead yet.” But I managed to answer everything, and I answered it well (although the askers genuinely seemed to be interested in my work, rather than trying to tear it apart as it happens at other more specific conferences!). Even Iain Stewart asked me a question! Eeep! 🙂

I was also quite tempted to shout out to all those “feldspar jockies” during the CRES conference (which is essentially a room full of geologists; so my presentation was unique in that sense!) that “geology isn’t a real science!” in the style of Sheldon Cooper! (Apparently my work colleagues nearly died of hysterics after reading my “status” on Google+!)

My point is, I suppose, to just focus on the now. I spent a bit of time worrying about what may never have been, and after the presentations were over, it wasn’t! I did worry about what wasn’t! What a waste of time! And that was on the small scale! Imagine how much time we, as humans, spend worrying about so many things that don’t happen or mean anything. That’s time we could dedicate to just being happy.

So, forget the future, and enjoy the now! I prepared for questions as best as I could. After I did that, I could do no more. So why worry and put yourself through painful mental situations? And even demonstrating in the labs; I’m worried about how the students will perceive me, but again, there’s no shame in not knowing something and I can see it as a chance to get to know the students and improve my teaching, CV and public speaking. 🙂

I’m nervous about tonight’s WOD, but I’ll worry about that when I get there… 🙂

Wednesday’s WOD @ CFP:
Battle of London qualifier 3!

As many rounds as possible in 20 minutes of:
50 wall balls 9kg to 10ft/6kg to 9ft
40 KB swings Russian 32/24kg (to just above shoulder height)
30 down-ups (burpees without the jump and clap)
20 pull-ups
100 double unders

Score = total reps

442 reps rx’d

Coconut Chocolate Ganache
Adapted from: Nutrition Stripped and The Sweet Life Online

Ingredients
• ¼ cup cocoa powder
• ¼ cup coconut oil, melted
• 1 tbsp maple syrup or honey

Preparation
Melt the coconut oil over the hob (VERY gently; do not boil the sauce!) and take off of the heat. Add the maple syrup and cocoa powder, and stir to create a sauce. Add more coconut oil to make the sauce thinner, less coconut oil/more syrup and cocoa powder will make it thicker.

Coconut Cream

Ingredients
• 1 x tin of coconut milk

Preparation
Simply open the tin, empty it into a mason jar, mix well, and put it int he fridge overnight! By morning, it should have a smooth, creamy texture; perfect for desserts, or even as a yoghurt replacement! 🙂

Please note that this will not work with all brands!

Rave at the Box (any excuse to bake!) | Quadruple of Primal Treats

Menu du jour:
1. Banana & nut brownies
2. Coconut brownies
3. Honey, lemon & almond cookies
4. Chocolate & pistachio biscotti

What a week and what a crazy weekend! Where do I start?

Firstly, I should probably apologise for a very photo heavy post. But these brownies are just so damn photogenic. I love the colours of these banana brownies in particular, and the fact that they’re a little thicker/taller than the coconut ones (although the coconut brownies are a little gooey-er) makes them slightly easier to shoot.

I also tried a slightly different set up when taking these photos; I put my white boards on a coffee table so I could get differently angled shots easier than before, and it seemed to work! I took the Friday afternoon off because a) I was being incredibly unproductive that afternoon and all of the labs were packed, and instrumentation I needed was in use, and b) it was sunny and so I wanted to make the most of the light (as it had been dark and raining all week!). Although, it did get too sunny that afternoon (too sunny?! Yes!) and the direct sunlight made the shadows too harsh! Can’t win, eh? But I managed to get around it. 🙂 (I have posted a photo of my set up, but please excuse the cables; I was testing my internet connections and there usually aren’t that many!)

So anyway, onto the food!

Although these treats are technically primal (paleo for the most part), they’re still concentrated (i.e. too many nuts, lots of honey, maple syrup, dried fruits, etc.), and so they’re still only a treat. I need to keep reminding myself of this; I swear there were twice as many of these treats before I took them to the party at CFP, but I just ate most of them in the space of two days. I tried my hardest to resist, but I just couldn’t. I would have eaten them all if it wasn’t for the potential shame of turning up with an empty box and broken promises!

Of course you can alter the sweetness with the amount of honey/maple syrup you add, and as well as the squidgy-ness with the amount of sweet potato and flour. Also, the more things you add, the less squidgy they will be (hence why the coconut brownies look a lot moister than the banana ones!).

These also go superbly well with coconut cream! How do you make coconut cream, you ask? Just open a tin of coconut milk, mix well, put in a mason jar and pop into the fridge overnight, et voilà‎! Coconut cream! It’s light to taste and so delicious! Although these brownies are moist enough to enjoy without anything else. 🙂

Just make sure that the brownies are cold before you cut them, otherwise they’ll crumble a bit too much! Although if you’re like me and put a million different things in them, it’s always going to be difficult to cut a clean slice every time.

And don’t get rid of your sweet potato skins! They make excellent pizza bases! Just put on some toppings and pop them in the oven. 🙂 I would love to try and make these with avocado or beetroot. I would also like to try these with oats, too. I’ve used black beans in brownies, and they came out really well, although a little drier. I think my next test will be to try them with mung beans as they’re a little bit mushier in texture and may make for a softer brownie. We will see and I will post the results at some point! If they come out well, I may well try and scale it up to make it in to a cake for my brother’s birthday. He’s into health foods and getting as much protein as possible. Beans have a lot, so I’ll make it into a protein cake! I could even add protein powder and peanut butter, but I think adding a large chunk of meat will be taking things a bit too far…

The honey almond cookies were supposed to be biscotti, but I think I accidentally put in twice the amount of honey and syrup, as well as too much baking powder! So when I popped the batter (yes, batter, not dough!) on a baking sheet, I thought that it was too runny, but it sort of kept its shape. And when I had baked it for the first time, it was as flat as a pancake (and just about spilling over the edges, too!). It still tasted really nicely though, and would have been a shame to have got rid of those lovely ingredients. So I scooped the batter back up, made them into cookie shapes, and baked them again. And ta daaaa! Saved biscotti turned biscuits!

I’ve never even been a big fan of biscotti. They definitely have nice feelings and associations… when else do you have biscotti other than with tea or coffee? And tea and coffee means either a break, time to relax, or good old ramblings and nattering with someone special. Or that first cup of tea in the morning… that’s to die for! Anyway, getting off topic… the photographs on the other blogs made the biscotti look SO divine, so I thought I would give it a go! But one thing that puts me off of biscotti is that they are SUPER crunchy! I like crunchy things, but sometimes they’re too hard… maybe I’ve just had bad biscotti in the past? But either way, the ones I baked weren’t hard at all – they were still quite soft and fairly chewy with a really nice taste! More like soft biscuits/cookies than hard biscotti and remind me of Roman sweets. 🙂

The brownies are definitely my sort of thing though! Especially the banana ones, as I love banana! But then again, the coconut ones were so chocolately and moist, so I liked those, too. I did have a lot of complements the night that I took them to the rave at the box! And even afterwards, on Facebook, someone posted that they only remembered having little brownies/cakes that tasted delicious. I’m glad they went down so well! I’ve even had several people ask me for recipes, and so, here they are! Today, someone from the box even posted photos of this sweet potato pie that they had made, but added pumpkin in, too, and served it with Swedish glacé (dairy free ice cream)… and it looked so good!

It turns out that I have inspired quite a few people to cook more things and eat more paleolithically, and I’m always really pleased to hear such feedback. And not even regarding food and nutrition, but I’ve recently had feedback about how I inspire some people down at the box with their training and various other things. It really touches me every time I hear something like that, and really makes me feel great, as though my work on this planet is helping me to fulfil what I set out to do. If I can inspire people to try new things and push harder in order to try and better themselves in some way, then I am very happy, indeed. 🙂 That’s what I believe we’re all here for, and I believe that’s what optimises the human experience!

Earlier that day we had a “leaving WOD,” beautifully crafted and it was a partner WOD, too, which are always fun. The atmosphere was epic! I was with Emily and we kicked butt! The WOD was as follows:
Cash in: kettlebell handwalk in plank position in pairs (using 3 KBs)
WOD: 30 partner alternating wall balls 9/6
30 partner alternating pull ups
30 partner alternating sit ups
30 partner synchro skips (1 rope)
30 partner alternating press ups (legs of one partner on another)
30 partner alternating plate complex 20/15
-burpee
-cluster to overhead
-2 x alternating OH lunges
Both partners then stand on a 2.5kg plate for 5 seconds to finish WOD!

The photos from Crossfit are not mine, but nabbed from Facebook. 😀

The photos of the hoodie are also another surprise in the post I received last week from a friend I made at PrimalCon a few weeks ago! It was such a thoughtful gift, and the postcards are of Emerald Bay around Lake Tahoe, as we toured there one evening on a beautiful boat. In return, I have posted a load of English tea to the US! He has tea most probably for life! Although if he drinks it at the rate I do, it certainly won’t be for life! I was very touched by this gift, as it was incredibly thoughtful, and will take place in my heart along with a few other special gestures I’ve received in my lifetime. Thank you. 🙂

Oh, what else? Plymouth Raiders won their basketball match on Sunday night again Durham Wildcats! It was a great match to watch and I’m so glad I was with my favourite people!

I could go on about a lot of different things, but I will stop there, and maybe save it for next time. 😉 Here’s Monday’s WOD!

Monday’s WOD at CFP:
(After-party WOD I think!)
“The Grim Reaper and his gurned up mate”
In pairs with a 40 min timeout:
100-70-40
Push press 35/25
SDHP 35/25
KB swing 24/16
Press ups
Sit ups

Banana & Nut Brownies
Adapted from: Eat Drink Paleo

Ingredients
• 3 x small sweet potatoes
• 2 x large bananas, chopped (+ 1 for decorating!)
• 2 x eggs, beaten
• 2 tsp vanilla extract
• ½ cup honey
• ½ cup coconut oil
• ~1 cup dried fruit and nuts (I used a mix of walnuts, dried cranberries, dried goji berries, pecans, dried physalis, large raisins, golden raisins and a handful of macadamias!)
• 1 cup of good quality, unsweetened, cocoa powder
• 2 tbsp coconut/almond flour
• 1 heaped tbsp baking powder (gluten free)

Preparation
Put the sweet potatoes, whole, in the oven at 175°C for an hour, or until they’re soft when inserting a knife in the centre. Leave to cool.

When cool, peel off the skin and mash the insides in a large bowl (keep the skins to pop in the oven for a primal-style pizza!). Add the rest of the ingredients (dry ingredients first, followed by the wet ingredients) and mix until well homogenised.

Spread in a baking tin lined with non-stick parchment paper (I used a silicon baking tin; they’re fantastic!) so that they’re 1″ thick. Use the one banana reserved for decoration by chopping it into 25 slices and arranging them on top of the batter. Cook for 25-30 minutes at 185°C, and let cool. Carefully remove the brownies and cut into sizes as big as you like. (In my case it’ll just be one big portion all for me!)

I used a 20 x 20 cm silicon baking tray, but I think a slightly smaller one would have been better for thicker brownies.

Coconut Brownies
Adapted from: Eat Drink Paleo

Ingredients
• 3 x small sweet potatoes
• 2 x eggs, beaten
• 2 tsp vanilla extract
• ½ cup honey
• ½ cup coconut oil
• ½-1 cup of toasted, flaked coconut
• 1 cup of good quality, unsweetened, cocoa powder
• 2 tbsp coconut/almond flour
• 1 heaped tbsp baking powder (gluten free)
• White chocolate and double cream to decorate

Preparation
Put the sweet potatoes, whole, in the oven at 175°C for an hour, or until they’re soft when inserting a knife in the centre. Leave to cool.

When cool, peel off the skin and mash the insides in a large bowl (keep the skins to pop in the oven for a primal-style pizza!). Add the rest of the ingredients (dry ingredients first, followed by the wet ingredients) and mix until well homogenised.

Spread in a baking tin lined with non-stick parchment paper (I used a silicon baking tin; they’re fantastic!) so that they’re 1″ thick. Cook for 25-30 minutes at 185°C, and let cool. Carefully remove the brownies and cut into sizes as big as you like. (In my case it’ll just be one big portion all for me!)

I used a 20 x 20 cm silicon baking tray, but I think a slightly smaller one would have been better for thicker brownies.

I melted white chocolate (not paleo, I know!) with double cream, spread it across and sprinkled flaked coconut all on top for decoration.

Chocolate & Pistachio Biscotti
Adapted from: Paleo Spirit

Ingredients
• 1 cup almond flour
• ¼ cup coconut flour
• ¼ good quality cocoa powder
• ½ tsp baking soda
• ¼ tsp salt
• ½ cup maple syrup
• ½ cup pistachios, halved/crushed
• 100 g milk chocolate, broken into pieces

Preparation
Preheat the oven to 175°C.

Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl until homogenised. The dough should keep its shape when pressed together, otherwise you may have added too much syrup!

Form the dough into one 1″ thick log on a baking tray lined with baking paper, and bake for 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool completely (about an hour).

Cut into ½” thick slices, place on their side, and put back into a preheated oven for 15 minutes.

Allow to cool before decorating and serving. I covered the biscotti in the white chocolate/double cream glaze I made for the coconut brownies, but it didn’t look as nice as I hoped it would! I think pure, intense white chocolate would have been better, but we live and learn! 🙂

Honey, Lemon & Almond Cookies
Adapted from: Steak, and Sass

Ingredients
• 1 cup almond flour
• ½ cup coconut flour
• ½ tsp baking soda
• ¼ tsp salt
• zest of 1 lemon
• 8 tbsp lemon juice
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• ½ cup maple syrup
• ½ cup honey
• ½ cup slivered almonds

Preparation
Preheat the oven to 175°C.

Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl until homogenised. Spread onto a baking tray (with large sides!) lined with baking paper, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely (about an hour).

Scoop the dough up, shape little balls of equal size, and press onto a baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes.

Let cool entirely before serving.

All baked in my lovely kitchen: 24.10.2013

Chocolate Oatmeal Peanut Butter Bars

Blog post is here.

Photo: I actually find this book really quite useful; but there’s a lot of material to get through. How do people finish doctoral projects in 3 years?! With the amount of mistakes and wrong turns I’ve made…

I have a love-hate relationship with studying and writing, although I think most people do.

I’m kind of stuck in a weird limbo at the moment. I’m writing and revising from home, because that way I can start early, use cooking and preparing food as a break, and walk around, talk to myself, have limitless cups of tea, and stay in my PJs. I also have my brother to chat to and I just feel more comfortable at home. When I get restless from sitting down all day, I can stretch, walk around and do whatever without looking weird.

Some days I really enjoy writing and being productive, and really get into what I’m learning, and I actually learn for the sake of learning. Whereas other days I just can’t do it.

My productivity is really determined by my emotional state. I don’t mean “if I’m happy I do well, if I’m sad I do badly,” but more a case of mental clarity. I suppose it’s because most days I have to think meticulously about what I’m doing, so when I’m clouded mentally with mind junk (which happens often) I just can’t focus. And doing only a few hours of work a day (whether it’s writing, lab work, planning, revising…) just isn’t enough.

And it’s not just a case of brushing off a bad day; it’s the guilt and worry that comes with wasting a day, which further adds to the mental bog and decreases further productivity.

I’ve been trying to read through the Foundations of Colloid Science, and it’s a good book. I find it clear and interesting. I also am reading through Dani’s thesis, and now I have a better understanding of colloid science and the background of the stuff I (think I) need to know, sometimes I think “hey, I get this, and last week/month/year I didn’t! Maybe I can do this! This doesn’t seem so bad!” And other times, I really worry as to whether I can actually produce anything like that, and worry and guilt start to enter my consciousness. And depending which line of thought dominates my mind will determine my attitude towards the PhD, studying, and sometimes even life.

Last Friday, I only did a few hours revision, and again on Sunday, and as a result, I felt really refreshed yesterday. I have also been getting more sleep too, and that really helps. Although sometimes it does make you resentful when your whole day is dedicated to working – I usually get up earlier so I can pursue my own hobbies, but what’s the use if you feel tired all the time? I tend to go through cycles where I sleep more and do fewer hobbies, and then I sleep less and do more hobbies, which eventually leads to me being quite tired and run down, so I sleep more.

The other day I made some these chocolate oatmeal peanut butter bars as a break, and I really do find cooking, trying things, etc., relaxing. It’s a nice break and makes you immerse your mind into something completely different!

Photo: There’s nothing like reliving Japan days (ahem) by drinking some delicious green tea – very soothing!

I also used to cook a lot of Japanese food when I was younger, which stemmed from a love of martial arts, to Oriental culture, and to the unique language, customs and of course, food! Even the icon for my blog is a little piece of sushi! 🙂

Of course, there are just too many things to do in a lifetime! Not only is there the stuff I do now: science-y stuff, Crossfit-y stuff, and the occasional cooking, but I’d love to learn Spanish, French and continue Japanese, as well as pick the piano up again, play badminton again, and all sort of other sports too long to list here! (That’s another post!)

I used to study a lot of Japanese and its culture, including its history (inspired by video games – how geeky!), and I feel as though I’ve already been there! I “relive” it often 🙂 It’s a dream to go to Japan one day, maybe with someone I feel close to and can have a good time with, not just for a typical “holiday,” but to do all sorts of things. For example, on my life, I’d love to visit Kyoto, Himeji Castle (and others, too!), go on a pilgramage around the island of Shikoku stay in a traditional ryokan and have some kaiseki, climb Mount Fuji, bathe in an onsen, see a Kabuki play, visit lots of cultural sites, Shinto and Buddhist shrines, take all of the JLPT tests, see a Kabuki play, visit the Ninjutsu dojo (my ultimate dream at one point in my life, hehe!), spend time on the lovely beaches in Okinawa (of course, maybe get some Karate training in, too – and visited Crossfit boxes around Japan, of course!)… and stop off at other places like Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines 🙂

One can dream, right?

Wednesday’s WOD:
In teams of 3:
a) 5 mins max ring dips
Rest 3:00
b) 5 mins max HSPUs
Rest 3:00
c) 5 mins max kb swings 24/16
Rest 3:00
d) 100 burpees
100 press ups
100 wall balls

Chocolate Oatmeal Peanut Butter Bars
Syrup from: Yummy Recipes
Makes 10-12 bars or 20-24 squares

Ingredients
• 1 cup crunchy peanut butter
• ½ cup honey
• ½ cup coconut oil (no substitutes, this is what gives its creamy texture and flavor)
• 2 cups rolled oats
• 1 ¼ cups milk (and/or) white and dark chocolate
• ¾ cup dried dried fruit and a few glaceed cherries

Preparation
In a milk pan, melt the peanut butter, honey, coconut oil and chocolate over a low heat. Remove from the heat, add in the oats and dried fruit, and stir until combined. Line a 23 x 23 cm pan with baking/non-stick parchment, and then spread the mixture in that. Put in the fridge until hardened. If you want to speed it up, pop into the freezer. Keep in the fridge! 🙂

Black Forest (Dark Chocolate and Cherry) Individual Pavlovas

Well, I’ve just got back from Crossfit after tackling Barbara, and I’m so glad I went! I really didn’t feel like it, but you do get into after a while and just have fun! The will to continue comes. As the saying goes; don’t wait for the inspiration to come, act as though you are inspired and inspiration will soon come! I wrote a blog post about will and workouts here, and it applies to so many things in life. Will can also be cultivated through changing one’s perspective; I’ve been doing that a lot recently, and really feeling the effects in my mood and the amount of joy that entered my daily life as a result has been tremendous! But that’s for a whole other blog post! 🙂

I’m in a particularly good mood and have a lot to ramble on about, but not much time as it’s getting late and I need sleep and energy to study and train hard tomorrow! Mum wants me to post this pavlova/meringue recipe so she can make it for when nanny knocking visits next weekend, so I’m posting it 🙂

Recently, I’ve been getting back into cooking (specifically baking and trying things I would like to photograph, other than the usual stuff I eat on a daily basis like vegetables and salads – but I’ve wanted to photograph more exquisite things recently!) and photography! Since I’m at this point of revision, when I do have free time I don’t want to study Spanish/French/Japanese/German (as inspired by my recent trip to Switzerland and an upcoming trip to Frankfurt!), because I just don’t want to be writing any more things down or reading intently. I’d just rather have some fun and get creative! It’s also something I do where I can guarantee that my ego won’t pop in, as I just find it so joyous and fun to do. I also like that when I’m feeling upset, it cheers me up because I can focus on the task at hand, knowing I’ll enjoy it. If I’m feeling happy, it has the same effect. If it’s rainy, I can focus on cooking/baking/creating something delicious for people I love, and even if the weather’s nice and I’m alone or my brother’s doing his own thing in the background, I can do this quite happily and entertain myself. It’s my little thing and I love it 🙂 But again, this is all for another post!

As my mum’s a big fan of white chocolate, I gave her white chocolate and my brother, dad and I had dark chocolate. We all had a combination of blueberries and cherries, and drizzle cherry juice (from the cherries when pitted) over the meringue before serving and it was beautiful. Of course, for photography purposes I just stuck with cherries, dark chocolate and no juice, but you can see the one I ate in the most bottom right photo (it does look a little more juvenile; like the sort of thing you’d find at a kid’s party! I think the different colours make it look like sprinkles!).

I made the meringues the afternoon before, and kept them in an air tight container in the fridge. They kept their crispness for up to 3 days. They were all gone by then, do I don’t know if they would have remained crisp for any longer! So I suppose you can prepare thee meringues a couple of days in advance if you like. However, definitely don’t stack/layer them with the cream until you’re going to serve them! Not only will the cream not be stable, the meringue will go soggy. I made one at 9.45am so I could take photos last Saturday, and didn’t eat it until 4.30pm and it was a little soggy. It was still delicious, but the crunch wasn’t there; it was almost like a meringue cake, but I suppose that’s not the effect desired by most pavlova-enthusiasts.

I also made the cream at the same time as well, and it started to melt in my living room (which was rather warm) while I was taking photos. It stayed together in the fridge until 4.30pm (in a stainless steel bowl), when I served it, although it didn’t seem to have quite such a beautiful texture as when it was freshly whipped, so I personally recommend whipping the cream just before serving, too. It will only take about 5 minutes though! There are recipes online to stabilise the cream, which I think involves either a) adding sugar and gelatin and other things, or b) adding a LOT of sugar so that it turns into a sort of frosting, which I think takes the delicate creaminess away from pavlova.

The original recipe that I found online said that glossy meringues would form if you fold in 2 tsp of cornflour and 1 tsp of white wine vinegar into the stiffened egg whites. I completely forgot to do that but oh well! They were still delicious! I will have to remember next time!

Monday’s WOD @ CFP:
“Barbara”
20 pull ups
30 press ups
40 sit ups
50 squats
3:00 mins rest in between rounds

Time after…
… round 1 = 4.04
… round 2 = 12.26 (inc. 3 mins rest)
… round 3 = 21.12 (inc. 3 mins rest)
… round 4 = 30.06 (inc. 3 mins rest)
… round 5 = 39.09 (inc. 3 mins rest)
rx’d baby 🙂 (press ups were definitely the slowest! Followed by squats and my sore hips after stretching and being aware of my awful form!)

Black Forest (Dark Chocolate and Cherry) Individual Pavlovas
Adapted from: Donal Skehan
Makes 18 meringues (9 individual pavlovas)

Ingredients
For the meringues:
• 250g icing sugar
• 4 x egg whites

For construction:
• 500ml whipped double cream
• ~250g pitted cherries and blueberries
• ~100g dark and white chocolate
• Juice from the pitted cherries

Preparation
For the meringues:
Preheat the oven to 150°C and line baking trays (I used three!) with non-stick baking paper. Put the egg whites and sugar in a bowl, and whisk until stiff and glossy white peaks form. Use the upside-down-over-the-head test if necessary.

Spoon 18 tablespoons of the mixture onto the baking sheets, and flatten the tops. They should keep whatever shape you give them; this is a way to tell that the peaks are stiff enough. Make sure they’re not too close together but they don’t have to be too far apart, either!

Bake for 45 minutes (I used a fan-assisted oven). Then turn off the oven, leave the door ajar, and allow to cool completely.

To construct:
Whip the double cream until stiff, and construct the pavalovas by starting off with a meringue base, spreading on cream, adding cherries, a sprinkling of chocolate, and repeat with another meringue base, etc.

Serve immediately with cherry juices and enjoy! 🙂

Constructed for my beautiful family: 03.08.2013