Sunday, February 20, 2011

X Box controller cake

My son turned 18 recently and announced he would love to have a birthday cake in the shape of an x-box controller, avid gamer that he is! I scoured the net and found a few versions of the cake that I liked and decided to give it a go. I reckoned it would be simple enough to make a rectangular cake and then carve out the shape I needed. Using Nigella's buttermilk birthday cake recipe (a favourite for larger cakes) I made the cake in a 12" x 8" roasting tin.  I found a photo of an x-box controller on the net which I copied into a graphics program and re-sized to fit a full A4 page, printed and then cut out.
The template was placed on the cake (which I should have said was put into the freezer for about an hour to firm up) and then I cut out the shape with a serrated knife. Next I sliced the cake horizontally to create two layers and filled the cake with raspeberry jam and vanilla buttercream, then covered the whole cake in a thin layer of the icing (sometimes called dirty icing!) to seal the cake crumbs. Another stint in the freezer followed to firm up the icing before I added another layer of buttercream.

I attempted smooth icing the cake with the buttercream using a technique called the 'Viva technique' that I found on YouTube but it proved difficult to get the icing smooth around the inner curves so I gave up and covered the cake in white fondant instead. Using my template I fashioned the buttons and controls out of coloured fondant, adding a bit of black colouring to white fondant to make the grey thumb buttons and the grey trim at the front.  I used my trusty Noridcware cake tester as a modelling tool to carve the A, B X & Y on the buttons and other details in the cake. Overall I think it was a pretty easy project with nothing too technical or detailed to worry about and most importantly my Son's friends were impressed!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gingerbread House

I have never made a gingerbread house but I couldn't resist trying out the Wilton Gingerbread Mold. To make things a little easier for myself I used the Wilton Gingerbread Mix and the Wilton Frosty White Icing Mix.  Wilton is an American company so the directions on the gingerbread mix say to add 1/2 cup vegetable shortening and 1/2 cup water to the mix. I compromised and used 110g of margarine and 120ml water. The mix is so easy to use. I just threw everything into the Kitchenaid and within a minute it had combined to a soft cookie dough. 
The mold itself is very heavy duty aluminium and the mold pieces are on both sides so it means that you have to bake a total of 3 batches. I simply spread a little Wilton cake release with some kitchen roll over the mold and pressed the dough into the shapes (no need to roll out the dough but I did run the roller over the dough once it was in the mold to get it kind-of level) This picture shows one side that has a roof piece, side piece, the chimney, footpath and 2 little gingerbread men. You need to use this side twice, and the other side just once.(2nd side = front and back of house, santa sign, tree, large gingerbread man and 2 candy canes) 
The gingerbread dough pressed into the mould

All the pieces before construction
One of my Facebook friends recommended that I decorate the pieces before the construction and this definitely made things a lot simpler. Using the white icing I outlined the windows and the candy canes on the sides of the house and filled in the door. A put a jelly tot wreath above the door and put a few red stripes on the candy canes were added and I filled in the faces on the gingerbread men, and traced the 'North Pole' sign. I covered a square cake board in white fondant and then left everything overnight for the icing to harden off. Next day I mixed another batch of white icing (about the texture of stiff toothpaste) and generously spread on the edges of the front and sides of the house and stuck then in place with plenty of icing under the house. Miraculously they held in place and I was able to attach the back wall without the need of any props. I left the house to settle for an hour before I attempted the roof pieces and luckily that fitted like a charm! Having left it another while to settle, I then attached the chimney and added the finishing touches of 'snow' and sweets, the tree, sign  and gingerbread men. I love the detail of the tiles on the roof and the footpath and a light dusting of icing sugar really highlights them. All in all I was very happy with my creation and would definitely do another. Admittedly, the mold is an investment, but could easily be shared between friends and family and would last a lifetime. Something to hand down through the generations....

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A great 'Try me' offer from Le Creuset

This 22cm shallow casserole is great value at over 25% off the normal retail price. A perfect size for two, this casserole is ideal for Shepherd's pie, gratins, paella, fish pie or why not try the recipe for chicken roulades with spinach and cheese stuffing below? The casserole is available in Cerise red, Volcanic Orange and Almond Cream at €81.95 for a limited time only.

Recipe courtesy of Le Creuset:
Chicken Roulades with Spinach & Cheese stuffing
Ingredients for 22cm Le Creuset Shallow Casserole:
2 boned skinless chicken breasts
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp dried thyme
40g baby spinach
75g gruyere cheese
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 onion - thinly sliced
85ml hot chicken stock
2 tsp cornflour
85ml skimmed milk

Cooking Instructions:
  1. Place the chicken breasts between sheets of plastic wrap. Pound them with a heavy rolling pin until they are about twice as large, but not so thin you can see through them.
  2. Sprinkle each one with a little nutmeg, thyme, and seasoning, followed by a few leaves of the raw spinach, dividing these equally between the 2 pieces.
  3. Cut three quarters of the cheese into 2 finger-size pieces. Place one in the middle of the spinach on each chicken piece. Roll up the chicken pieces “swiss roll” fashion, tucking in the side edges to enclose the cheese. Secure with thin string or cocktail sticks.
  4. Heat the oil in the shallow casserole over medium heat on the hob. Add the onion and fry gently until it is just beginning to soften. Add the chicken roulades and brown them evenly on all sides.
    Scallops of pork or turkey make a delicious alternative for this dish.
  5. Gradually add half the hot stock around the roulades with a little seasoning. Cover and simmer slowly for 30 to 40 minutes until the chicken is very tender.
  6. Lift the roulades out of the pan and keep them hot on the upturned lid. Carefully remove the strings or cocktail sticks.
  7. Add the remaining stock to the cooking liquid and bring this to a simmer.
  8. Blend the cornflour with a little of the milk, then stir this and the remaining milk into the liquid, simmering and stirring until the sauce thickens.
  9. Finely grate the remaining cheese into the sauce, stirring until it melts.
  10. Taste and adjust the seasoning before returning the roulades to the sauce to reheat.
Serve with boiled plain rice or noodles.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Free pie birds from Le Creuset

Free ceramic pie birds from Le Creuset
We are excited about this latest special offer from Le Creuset - a free ceramic pie bird when you buy a 19cm pie dish. (The pie dish is also on offer at only €14.00, thats 33% off the normal rrp)
The pie bird is available via redemption - you just fill in the form that comes with the pie dish and send it away saying what colour bird you need to match your pie dish. Its such a lovely idea and looks very impressive.
So, how do you use a pie bird?
Simply place the pie bird funnel in the centre of the dish before covering the pie with the pastry lid. Roll out the pastry lid, cut a small “X” shape at the centre. Lift the pastry lid into place, lining up the “X” cut with the birds head. Gently press the cut edges at the centre around the shoulders of the bird. The top of the funnel should poke up through the pastry. Trim excess pastry from the pie edge and finish as required, or as the recipe suggests

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Strawberry Jam

There seems to be loads of strawberries about this year. Must be the fine weather at last. My lovely neighbours have gone on holidays and left loads of strawberries (and lettuces) unpicked, telling me to help myself to them. I gladly went with bowl in hand to collect some lovely fresh ripe strawberries and as there were so many I decided to make some strawberry jam. 

Simple Strawberry Jam
There are only 4 ingredients in this simple strawberry jam.
  • strawberries
  • sugar (I use granulated)
  • lemon juice - if not using 'jam sugar' - see below
  • small knob of butter
I use slightly less sugar by weight to strawberries eg: 500g strawberries to 400g sugar. Strawberries are low in pectin (the sustance that makes the jam set) so you can buy special jam sugar with added pectin, or alternatively use regular sugar and the juice of a lemon (1 lemon to each 500g of strawberries)

Chop the strawberries and sprinkle the sugar over them. Stir to coat the strawberries and leave to sit for 2-3 hours, or overnight.  The sugar draws out the juice from the strawberries and it starts to dissolve in the bowl. Place a small plate or saucer in your fridge.

To sterilise your jam jars either wash them in a hot wash in the dishwasher, or put them on a tray into a warm oven for at least half an hour. Do not touch the inside of the pots when you remove them from the oven/dishwasher. Put the strawberries in a preserve or maslin pan or heavy based saucepan (I use the saucepan from my pressure cooker) add the lemon juice, if using, and bring slowly to the boil stirring with a wooden spoon. When it comes to a rolling boil, stop stirring and leave the strawberries to boil for approx 5 minutes (or when the temperature reaches 220F on a jam thermometer) Take the cold plate from the fridge and drop a little jam onto it. Leave for a minute to cool and then push the jam slightly with your finger. There should be a wrinkle on the surface of the jam, that inidicates that it will set. If there is no wrinkle, boil the jam for another 2 minutes and try the plate test again. Stir in a small knob if butter, This settles down the foam on the jam (dont know how, but it works!)
Leave the jam to sit in the saucepan for about 10 minutes.  This allows the fruit pieces to settle in the jam and you won't end up with strawberries floating to the top of the jam pot. Use a jam funnel (it makes the job so much easier) to pour the jam into the sterilised jars.  Top with a waxed disc while the jam is still warm, this melts the wax a little and seals the jam,and then cover with a sellophane disc. When the jar is cool you can label and top with a pretty jam pot cover.    
note: 500g strawberries will yield 2-3 small jars of jam.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Vintage Gingham Caddies

Red still remains a popular colour for kitchen accessories, and these new vintage style metal caddies and bread bin should fit easily in many kitchen's colour schemes. In a lovely warm cream and red, they have a retro look with a cute gingham band around the base and red handle on the lid. These are very reasonably priced at only €4.95 for the tea, coffee or sugar caddies, €10.95 for the biscuit caddy and €21.95 for the bread bin.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

New Traditional Kettles and Toasters from Prestige

We really like these new kettles and 2 slice toasters from Prestige. Available in Red, Almond Cream or Dark Grey, they have a slick pearlescent finish and a traditional appearance with a modern twist.