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Tasty Tapas

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Tapas recipies

Parragon Books, Love Food Imprint.

These recipes are from Tapas: 100 Everyday Recipes (Parragon Books, 2011), which I picked up at an airport somewhere. I think the range is available from most bookshops. Each recipe has a lovely photo to illustrate it. There are five sections: ‘Nibbles’, ‘Made with Vegetables’, ‘For Meat Lovers’, ‘For Seafood Fans’ and ‘Of Eggs and Cheese’.

Courgette fritters

Courgette fritters

From the ‘Nibbles’ selection, we made courgette fritters. The courgette is sliced thinly, tossed in flour and paprika and coated in an egg mixture. The slices are then fried and sprinkled with sea salt. The book recommends serving the fritters with pine kernel sauce, in the end we didn’t make this to cut down on cooking time.

Also from ‘Nibbles’, are crab tartlets, which we made with tuna instead. We have eight metal mini-quiche tins which are handy for things like this. The recipe makes twenty four tartlets but our cases are bigger so we filled the eight and had a little spare pastry left.

Tuna Tartlets

Tuna Tartlets

Next we made tuna rolls, from the ‘For Seafood Fans’ chapter. Tuna rolls we have made before, although we tend to alter the recipe. We don’t use the capers or red wine vinegar. The tuna is rolled up inside strips of pepper. The instructions are to grill the pepper and then peel the skin off, but we don’t tend to bother but just cook them enough to soften them. The recipe says to coat the peppers with the dressing but we usually marinade the tuna in it instead. The roll is held together with a cocktail stick (ours are decorated because they all come from cup cake kits).

Tuna Rolls

Tuna Rolls

The recipe for the cannellini dip is from Phil Vickery on the BBC Food website. The beans were mashed up with sesame seed oil, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and rosemary. However, the result was more like a paste than a dip. Next time we’ll need to thin it down much more.

Cannellini Bean Dip

Cannellini Bean Dip

Other recipes we have tried from this book include potato wedges with roasted garlic dip, fresh mint and bean pâté , aubergine rolls and mixed beans and peas. I’d love to try the deep-fried Manchego cheese.

For such small dishes, tapas food can take a surprisingly long time to plan and cook, but the colours, textures and tastes of the dishes make it well worth the effort.

Photo Credit: book jacket from

Lovely Lemon Ricotta Cake

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I did another bit of baking recently and tried out a new recipe for lemon ricotta cake. The recipe is out of a supplement from The Observer called Baking with kids. We’ve had it since 2007 but have never used any of the twenty four recipes it contains.Lemon Ricotta Cake

The cake ingredients are lemons, eggs, butter, castor sugar, ricotta, self raising flour and chocolate. I used the zest of one lemon instead of two but the cake was still very tangy. The recipe calls for a 20cm square tin, the one I used was about 24cm square. These recipes are obviously designed for children to mess around with. I got egg yolk in the whites, didn’t whisk the whites up very well, the mixture seemed to separate and I wasn’t sure about the consistency. Despite all this, I still got a soft, creamy yellow cake that looked remarkably like the one in the picture!

Lemon ricotta cake

Melted chocolate and sugar-paste flowers

One other alteration I made was with the chocolate, which is used for icing the top. According to the instructions, only 75g are necessary, but there wasn’t any point leaving 25g in the bag, was there? Come to think of it, 100g was probably better because my cake had a larger surface area than it should have done. The icing is very simple, you sprinkle chocolate drops over the cake while it is still hot and spread them about as they melt. You were supposed to use white and milk chocolate to create a marbled effect but I just stuck with milk chocolate. I added sugar paste flowers in two shades of Primrose that were left over from an earlier project. The cake was delicious with caramel ice-cream.

Lemon ricotta cake

Lemon ricotta cake

Let us know if you’ve tried any new recipes lately…

Baking up a bonfire!

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Tried and Tested: Raspberry and Chocolate Brownies

We recently made another batch of brownies, using the Waitrose raspberry brownies recipe, which we made last Christmas. The chocolate mix was a bit different this time as it was left over from another project. We had the problem of the mixture separating during the melting stage. We put it down to not having the right proportions of milk and dark chocolate. We also added blueberries to the mix, which worked out very well. I think it would be nice to try to add white chocolate for a marbled effect, but it might separate in the melting stage again. The brownies are stickier than usual, although they were slightly over-baked and the crust seems quite hard. Not that we are complaining about oozing chocolate! The recipe made thirty-two pieces, which I think is about average, of which half a dozen were sent off as a birthday present.

                                 Father’s Day cake

It’s a bit late to blog about it now, but we did make a Father’s Day cake which has only just been all eaten up. The recipe was a variation on English Apple Cake. We used rhubarb instead of apple. We also left out the ground almonds and lemon rind. The cake is made using the creaming method. The recipe makes an 8 inch cake although it isn’t very deep, but it was large enough for a good bit of icing. The original recipe calls simply for a glaze on the top but we opted for an under layer of marzipan and white sugar-paste icing over it.

Father's Day cake

Iced rhubarb cake

He Who Put The Shelves Up is fond of hill-walking so the cake was iced like a rocky mountain path. All of the decorations are sugar-paste, the moss in light Holly Green, the flowers in two shades of Primrose and the path in Chestnut. The stones were made using a very small amount of black which wasn’t fully worked in so it looks like streaky grey, the small white parts were meant to represent crystals in the stone. The path was marked and pitted using various tools to make it look more rugged. The flowers were cut using two tiny cutting gadgets. The moss is less high-tech, it was made using one of Chris’s tricks of pushing icing through a sieve and scraping it off the other side to create curled strands. The distance sign is just paper and a short wooden skewer. I tried to make a small dolmen at the edge of the cake as well with the rest of the grey icing.

What have you been baking recently? 

Iced cake

Sugar-paste icing

Iced cake

A sweet hill path

Christmas Desserts

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Apart from our pudding, we made a Christmas cake this year and a variation on the mince pie. Although we usually stick to a traditional fruit cake, this year we baked a ginger cake. In fact, this year was quite a year for change, as well as baking a ginger cake, we also cut it in a most unusual shape. Our cake this year was a Christmas jumper! The ginger cake was done in a large oblong tin. Two parts were cut away to form the arms and a small piece where the neck should be. We made it about a week in advance, and we were afraid about it getting dry, actually it was still nice and sticky when we cut it.

Christmas jumper cake

A woolly ginger surprise!

We used our apple butter to anchor a layer of marzipan and then covered it with a layer of white sugar paste. Be warned, those of you who want to make jumper-shaped cake, it is a very tricky shape to roll icing into! We mixed Royal icing, which is made using water, icing sugar and meri-white (dried egg white). We coloured the icing red and green and left some white also. The Christmas tree is sugar paste, the decorations are royal icing. The collar, cuffs and bottom edge are iced in two layers of white, with colour on top. The holly leaves are also sugar paste. We used Christmas red and holly green paste colours, from those little tubs that look so small but take forever to use up.

Another dessert we made over Christmas was a mincemeat crumble tart. The recipe came from the same newspaper as the truffle recipe. It is what it says it is, a pastry case, with mincemeat filling and a crumble topping. The pastry is a sweet shortcrust pastry, made with icing sugar. It uses a lot of mincemeat, almost a whole jar. The crumble is quite dark, made with light muscavado sugar. We had this on Christmas eve, it was delicious with cream, and also very tasty with toffee yoghurt. Unfortunately, it was so scrumptious that we ate it all before I remembered to take a picture!

It was our first time making the mincemeat tart and the first step on the road to trying out all of the recipes we have stashed away in a kitchen drawer. If I have anything to do with it, it will definitely be making a reappearance next December. Baking a ginger cake for Christmas was also very successful.

Tell us what baking you did for the festive season. Did you dig out any buried recipes to shake up the old traditions?

The Garden Diary: An Introduction

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I’ve mentioned my garden diary over on The Landing Book Shelves but I suppose it should now more properly be called ‘our’ garden diary. Furthermore, the garden diary is into its second volume at this stage (a rather smart Paperblank journal from He Who Put The Shelves Up) so we’re heading towards a trilogy of diaries at least. It’s fascinating to read back over several years worth of gardening activities, some of which was indoor gardening as I lived in a flat for about ten years. The only thing I regret about keeping the diary is that I wasn’t more systematic in maintaining plant and growing records. Some plants or seeds make an appearance and then disappear without trace (slugs, green-fly, who knows?)

The first volume of the diary dates back to 1990 or 1991, with the first definite date being an entry for July – August 1991 on page 33 (yes, I numbered the pages at some stage). I’m no longer sure what I had in mind for the book when, on the first page I wrote down a list of suggestions for plants to grow indoors. Whatever I might have intended, I think the book just evolved into a garden diary cum notebook over time. Anyway, some of my growing indoors ideas were herbs such as coriander, mustard, cress, dill and rosemary. I apparently had a taste for the exotic, having jotted down pineapple sage, dwarf golden sage and lemon thyme.

The page ends with a cryptic exclamation to ’See Pip Book!’ which refers to a book that I bought around that time, all about growing plants from fruit pips and stones. Over the years, I have attempted avocado and peach stones as well as apple and various citrus pips. I have to admit to varying degrees with these, though probably orange and lemon pips have been the most rewarding. I am in no doubt that avocado stones have a mind of their own when it comes to growth patterns. You need a firm hand with them or else all is lost.

Borage blossoms

Pink and Blue…

Following on from the first page, are several pages devoted to herbs cultivation. Some of my entries are hand written and some are paragraphs cut, I think, from gardening magazines. In browsing through the herbs, I find that the first herb is borage. I never did grow any, though Verity and I have been thinking recently about adding some to our herb collection:

“The leaves of borage, which have a distinct cucumber flavour, can be used in salad when they are young and not coarse. You can boil the leaves, or make fritters from them. The pretty blue flowers can be sprinkled over salads and look good in long summer drinks, especially Pimms, and can be put into ice-making trays and frozen for use in winter.”

A recent Sunday Times magazine feature mentions that borage leaves can be chopped into yoghurt or cream to make a dip, which I assume would be a version of a tzatziki recipe. As there’s about twenty years between both of these borage related cuttings, I feel that the time has come actually to grow the plant. The question that is now distracting me is whether I should stick the more recent borage cutting into the first volume for continuity’s sake or enter it into the newer book for accuracy’s sake. I’ll think about it, but in the meantime I should go hunting for borage seeds amongst the seed catalogues and then optimistically research some borage recipes.

We’d love to hear about your experiences with garden diaries, herb growing, or indeed any sort of growing!

Borage picture credit: Wikipedia, with thanks.


Sorting Out My Recipe Drawer

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As the first post on Curiously, Creatively I’m going to talk about an activity that happens in our kitchen at occasional intervals. This activity is known as ‘sorting out the recipe drawer’ and it has often occupied a good couple of hours. It is a very enjoyable kind of kitchen activity, but whether it achieves any good in the end is open to question. Bear in mind that the sum total achieved by the exercise is to have taken things out of a drawer and then to have put most of them back in again. Tidily, of course. This peaceful sorting of recipes may be accompanied by suitable homemade refreshments!

Recipe Drawer

Lots of Recipes

In the recipe drawer sits a ring binder of recipes, hints, tips etc. culled from various magazines and Sunday newspaper supplements over the past few years  The folder has now become very full indeed; additionally there are booklets and ‘pull-outs’ that don’t fit in to it and just live in the bottom of the drawer. Every so often, a new recipe or culinary feature catches our eye and a new item lands in the recipe trove. When we reach a certain point where there are more loose sheets lying on top of the folder than actually filed away within it, then we know it’s time to act (decisively of course).

You can see the root of the problem can’t you? Every Saturday and Sunday those obliging food magazine writers dash off new or revised recipes (sometimes having a book to promote) and temptation strikes us yet again. Thank you Domini Kemp, Ottolenghi, Nigel Slater et al. We did have a moratorium on recipe collecting until we had the drawer sorted (again) and we had actually tried out a few more recipes. I can’t recall exactly when this moratorium was decreed but I do know that we had one. It just didn’t work out very well, with the result that yesterday was yet again spent recipe cutting out and sorting. We are obviously not taking our recipe collection seriously enough and simply falling into the trap of cooking a regular repertoire and little else. We need a cooking plan of some sort. Meanwhile, drawer tidying…

Open ring binder recipe folder

Very Organised!

At this stage, I can safely declare that both drawer and folder look very neat and tidy and ready for any amount of culinary action in the future. But just how much are we going to end up making and baking I wonder? Curiously Creatively hopes to chart the fruits of our labours (with a few more activities besides as we’ve explained in the Introduction) as we endeavour to cook our way through the recipes now tucked away in the folder. The upcoming school holidays should provide more opportunity for experimentation than usually allowed by the term time routine. What with cooking and doing a little gentle furniture renovation then we are in line for a busy summer!

Call back soon to see how we’re getting on with our many projects, culinary and otherwise. I may even have tidied the recipe drawer and put a few recipes to the test!


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