Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas Chocolate Peppermint Candy Bark


Readers, I cannot believe it’s Christmas Eve again.  I know everyone says the years go in quicker as you get older… but they really do!    The last 12 months have disappeared.  We've been on adventures to Budapest, Ireland and China and in the next few days will be off to Germany to see in 2015.

This might be my last post of the year, so in case it is, thank you for following my blog, continuing to read my ramblings and also attempting my recipes in your own kitchens.  Please keep comments coming next year… it’s nice to know my words haven’t disappeared into cyberspace!

As it’s now lunchtime on Christmas Eve, if you do suddenly decide to attempt these, I know you don’t have a huge amount of time left.  Candy bark originated in America and it’s incredibly quick and easy to make.    There’s a good chance you’ll have candy canes in the house at this time of year, perhaps some festive cake or ice cream sprinkles and chocolate is very easy to lay your hands on!  Three ingredients are all you need.

These are also great to give as a last minute table gift for Christmas dinner or a stocking filler  – but be warned – keep them in the fridge or a cool place until you are ready to hand them over.  The chocolate is very thin and melts easily if hot hands touch it!

Merry Christmas from What Claire Baked! xx

chocolate peppermint candy bark

Christmas Chocolate Peppermint Candy Bark

Ingredients (makes 1 baking tray)

200g milk chocolate
6 candy canes (broken and crushed)
Christmas sprinkles and cake decorations

Method

  1. Melt the chocolate in a microwave proof bowl, for around 1 minute 20 seconds.  Set aside to cool slightly once melted.
  2. Meanwhile, cover a baking tray with non stick baking paper.
  3. Crush and break the candy canes (I removed them from their packaging and put into a sealed freezer bag.  Bash with a rolling pin… good for stress days.)
  4. Pour the chocolate over the baking tray and use a palette knife to spread thinly and evenly over the tray.
  5. Sprinkle the crushed candy canes over the chocolate, then, sprinkle the Christmas cake decorations over to finish, until you have a festive looking chocolate sheet.
  6. Transfer to the fridge to set fully.
  7. Once set, break into random sized and shaped pieces and keeping your hands cool, transfer to a cellophane bag for gifting.   Finish with a bow.







Friday, 12 December 2014

Steamed Asian Pork Dumplings

Readers, you’ve probably all read about my Chinese foodie adventure by now but I’m dragging the trip out of the archives of my mind in order to write a new post.

One of my favourite foodie experiences on the trip was having steamed dumplings at Mr Shi’s on the last night of the trip.  It was a little backstreet dumpling house with around 10 tables and menu half the size of Beijing.  I was so inspired by the food there, I went out and bought a bamboo steamer (£2.99 from Home Bargains) and decided to create my own dumplings.  I really struggled to get a UK recipe so have taken the dough from Foogio.com and made my own filling.

These are easy to make and easy to steam but the dough does take a bit of time to prep.  My half quantities made around 18 dumplings which is more than enough for two.

Steamed Asian Pork Dumplings

Ingredients
Steamed asian pork dumplings

Makes 18 dumplings

Dough

2 cups plain flour
1 cup boiling water
¼ teaspoon salt

Filling

200g pork mince
3 spring onion
1 carrot (finely grated)
Small cube of fresh ginger
Minced garlic
2 tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 tablespoons Sesame oil
1 teaspoon Rice Wine


Method

1. Firstly make your dough.  Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and slowly add the water, until you form a dough. It shouldn’t be sticky.  Turn out onto a floured board and knead for around 10 minutes, until it’s smooth and elastic.  Return to a bowl, cover with a damp cloth and set aside to rest for around an hour.
2.  Meanwhile, start to prep your filling.  Chop the spring onions as small as you can and peel and finely grate the carrot.
3. Brown the mince in a pan over a medium/high heat.  Break the mince into small pieces using two wooden spoons.  Pour off any fat.
4. Add in the garlic to your taste, the carrot and the spring onion.  Continue to cook through.  Add in the soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil.  Cook until the mince is fully cooked.

Cooking the filling

5. Remove from the heat and transfer the filling to a food processor.  Pulse until smooth and almost paste like. However, you want to retain some texture – not baby food standard!!!  If the filling isn’t coming together, you can add a tiny bit of boiled water to soften it up.  Set aside.
Finished filling

6. Once your dough has rested, turn out onto lightly floured board and break smaller pieces of dough off the ball.  Roll out until a few mm thick. Repeat.
7. Using a round fluted cutter, cut circles out of your dough, until you have 18 pieces.
8. Add a teaspoon of filling to the centre of each circle and wet your finger.  Run it around the dough and bring the two sides together, to form a sealed parcel with no air holes. Congratulations, you’ve made your first dumpling!
9. Repeat this process another 17 times… Sorry!
10.  Once all your dumplings are assembled (and if you have a two level steamer) add 9 dumplings to each level of the bamboo steamer.  If you have a single layered one, you’ll need to cook in two batches.
11.  Add boiling water to your wok to just below the bottom layer of the steamer.  Put the hob on and as the water begins to boil, place the steamer into the wok (with the lid on the steamer).  Steam your dumplings for around 10 minutes, once the steam really begins to take hold.
Checking on the dumplings as they cook

12. Remove from the steamer and serve immediately.  If your dumplings stick to the steamer, a gentle push should remove them with no damage.   Serve with soy dipping sauce.

Steamed asian pork dumplings


I'm entering this into #recipeoftheweek over at A Mummy Too

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Friday, 5 December 2014

Chicken, Bacon, Leek and White Wine Winter Pasta Bake

Readers, I was recently sent some alcohol free wine by the people at Eisberg.  Now before you all look aghast and say “why bother?” It does have its benefits.

As a designated driver at a dinner, there’s only so many Diet Cokes you can stomach before it all gets a bit much. At least with a glass of this it feels like you are part of the party.  The funniest response I got from someone was, at least if you were pregnant you could hide it filling up your glass with this…  Perhaps not the first thing that sprung to my mind!

Anyway, Eisberg sent me a couple of bottles to experiment with.  The real selling point for me was the calorie count  - at 34 per 125ml glass, you can have several!

I was making a rather indulgent creamy pasta dish and I managed to make it slightly healthier by using low fat cheese, semi skimmed milk to make the sauce and the alcohol free wine helped bring those pesky calories down as well.

I’ve included the recipe below for you.  It’s a perfect midweek winter meal.

Chicken, Bacon, Leek and White Wine Winter Pasta Bake

Ingredients – serves 3

1 large chicken breast, diced
1 large leek
200g smoked bacon lardoons
150g reduced fat cheddar
25g butter
1 heaped dessert spoon plain flour
300ml milk (to make the white sauce)
120g macaroni
1 large glass Eisberg Riesling
Salt and Pepper to taste

Method
1. Firstly cook your pasta, drain and set aside.
2. Grate the cheese onto a plate.
3. In a separate pan, fry the chicken and bacon until browned (5-8 minutes).
4. Slice the leek and add to the frying pan.  Once coated in the fat from the meat, add your glass of white wine and bring to the boil.  Cook for 5 minutes until the wine has reduced down.

Chicken, bacon and leek in the pan
5. Meanwhile, make your white sauce by melting the butter in a non stick pot.  Remove from the heat and add the flour.  Mix until a paste is formed.  You may need more or less flour depending on the consistency.  Add a little milk and transfer back to the heat.  Continuously whisk to avoid lumps forming in the sauce. Add the remaining milk when back on the heat and bring to the boil.  Cook out for several minutes.
6. Once the sauce has thickened add in half the cheese and stir to combine. 
7. Add the pasta and sauce to the pan with the chicken, bacon and leek.  Mix around to combine all ingredients.
All the ingredients in the pan

8. Heat the oven to 180c (fan).
9. Transfer all ingredients to an oven proof dish and sprinkle the remaining cheese on the top.

10. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the cheese has gone golden and crisped up.

11. Serve immediately with garlic bread and a glass of Eisberg Riesling. 
chicken, bacon, leek pasta

Disclaimer: I was sent two bottles of Eisberg wine for my review and enjoyment.  Any opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Cranberry Christmas Biscuits

Readers, I feel like a terrible blogger at the moment.  I’ve really found it difficult to find the time to write about my kitchen exploits.  It’s not that I haven’t been in the kitchen; it’s the transferring recipes to my little space of the internet that’s been the problem!

I made these biscuits as a surprise for Mr WhatClaireBaked last weekend after he received some good news.  I wanted to something different from the usual card.

These have lasted 4 days in the fridge in an airtight container but they were a little soft by tonight.

Also – these biscuits are made without adding any sugar to the biscuit mix – the sweetness comes from the milk chocolate and sweetened dried cranberries. Definitely a recipe kids could help with in the kitchen this year.

chocolate orange cranberry biscuits

Cranberry and Orange Christmas Biscuits

Ingredients – makes 12 biscuits

100g plain flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
35g unsalted butter
Zest of 1 orange
Juice of 1 orange
½ teaspoon cinnamon
20g dried cranberries
200g milk chocolate

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 160c (fan).
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and cube the butter. Using your hands, rub the butter into the flour until completely mixed in and fine breadcrumbs have been created.
Breadcrumbs!

2. Chop the cranberries into small pieces and grate the orange with a fine grater.  Add the orange zest to the mix and stir to combine.   Add the cinnamon and stir.
Add the extras

3.  Squeeze the orange juice into the mix and stir until a dough is formed.  You might need to add a  little water, or flour depending on the consistency of your dough.  It should form into a ball.
4. Transfer the dough to a floured board and roll out the mix to around 5mm thick.  Using a non fluted cutter, cut circles out of the mix and re-roll as necessary until all your mix has been used.
Biscuits ready for the oven 

5. Transfer each biscuit to a baking tray lined with baking paper.  Bake in the oven for around 10-12 minutes until lightly golden on top.  Once ready, transfer to a cooling rack until cold.
6. Melt the chocolate in a deep heatproof cup or bowl in the microwave.  Once the biscuits are cool, stick a skewer in one side, like a lollypop.  Dip the biscuit in the chocolate mix and remove from the chocolate.  Let any excess drop off before transferring to a tray with baking paper.  Allow to set on the tray, in the fridge.  Top with additional chopped cranberries or chocolate letters. 
Coat the biscuits in chocolate 

chocolate orange cranberry biscuits
Chocolate biscuits topped with cranberry


Store in the fridge until serving.

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Friday, 31 October 2014

Oreo Cookie Cupcakes with Cookies and Cream Frosting

Readers, I believe normality has now resumed.  I am back in the kitchen.  I’ve only managed one bake since I got back from China but it’s a start.

I’ve got lots of charity baking coming up in the next few weeks for BBC Children in Need and a TCCL Lodge fundraising night in Tayside, so I’ve no doubt I’ll have bakes to share with you after this.

I’ve gone back to the old faithful cupcakes for my first bake post China .  Rumour has it these are the best cupcakes I’ve ever made…  Even Mr WhatClaireBaked was excited by them and believe it or not, he’s not the biggest sponge cake fan…

I took my no fail chocolate cupcake recipe and added a secret Oreo Cookie at the bottom of each.  The surprise element went down a treat with the cake fans.

These are ridiculously easy and look impressive.  Perfect for cookies and cream lovers.

Oreo Cookie Cupcakes with Cookies and Cream Frosting

Ingredients – makes 15 medium cakes

175g self raising flour
175g butter
175g sugar
3 medium eggs
2 heaped dessert spoons cocoa powder ( and hot water to make a paste)
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
15 Oreo Cookies (halved horizontally)

Frosting

125g salted butter
400g icing sugar
1 heaped dessert spoon full fat cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
4 oreo cookies (blitzed to a crumb in food processor)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 190c/170c fan/Gas Mark 6.  Add cupcake cases to a muffin tin. Half Oreo cookies and place the side with the filling into the muffin case.  The cream should face up towards the mixture.   Set aside the other half of the cookie.
Set aside half of the cookie

Add the other half to the cake cakes
2. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla essence and mix.
3. Add the eggs one at time, mixing well between each addition. Add a teaspoon of flour to prevent curdling.
4. Mix the cocoa powder and hot water in a cup to form a thick paste.  Set aside.
Making the chocolate paste

5. Fold in the sifted flour to the cake batter and mix until combined.  Then, add in the chocolate paste and mix well.
Add the chocolate paste...

...and mix!

6. Spoon the mix into the cupcake cases and transfer to the oven.  Bake for 17-18 minutes until a skewer inserted into the cakes comes out clean.  Remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack.  Leave to fully cool.

Frosting

1. Transfer the softened butter to a bowl and mix with an electric mixer until soft and lighter in colour.   Slowly add the icing sugar to form a smooth butter cream.
2. If it’s too thick, add a teaspoon of milk to loosen the mix.   Once it has reached your desired consistency, add the cream cheese and fold in.  Don’t overmix otherwise the cream cheese will go runny.
3. Add your extra whole Oreos to a food processor and blitz until a crumb is formed.  Once crumbed, spoon into the frosting and mix well.  Add a bit at a time until your frosting reaches your desired colour – don’t add it all in one go.
4. Add the frosting to a piping bag and pipe swirls on top of the cooked cakes.  Then take the remaining half Oreos and pop into the frosting as an additional decoration.


Tips 

  • Temperature changes make the decorative Oreos go soft.  Keep in the fridge until half an hour before serving.  Or serve straight away. 
  • If this isn’t possible, a whole Oreo with a cocktail stick pushed in, so the cookie doesn’t touch the frosting will help it stay crunchy.

I'm entering this recipe into #recipeoftheweek over at A Mummy Too.



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Sunday, 26 October 2014

China... A New Food Culture and Adventure

Readers, things have been quiet on the blog the last few weeks as What Claire Baked has been hanging out overseas.  Google and Google platforms are currently banned in the country I was in, so keeping up with my foodie fans was impossible. I also had to go cold turkey on social media due to bans. Apparently it is good for the soul... yes food friends, I was in China.

This post will be a little different from most… not a recipe or a how to or even a photo of what I've made. This is sorely focused on the food discoveries I've made over the last few weeks touring around Northern China.

Being in China isn't comparable to anywhere else I've been in the world. I expected it to be a little like Thailand... its not.  Here people stare at Westerners, they spit in the street and the "squattie potties" are a whole new level of foreign experience... Google it. Not for a foodie blog.

Aside from the slightly bizarre mentality and fondness of western spotting, the people of Northern China sure know how to cook. I plan to share with you some of the regional delights we encountered during our trip.

So sit back, relax and prepare to be taken on a journey of culinary discovery.

Beijing... Hutongs and Huge Portions

The Hutongs of Beijing are the old neighbourhoods where many Beijingers lived for decades.  They are narrow winding streets with courtyard houses and home to some of the most amazing eateries in the city.   We stayed in one of the Hutongs on our return to Beijing in an amazing little boutique hotel called The Orchid.

Let me tell you a little about The Orchid. It's fantastic value.  It has a roof terrace.  The breakfast is to die for.  It's mid range on price.  You get a memory foam mattress and a rain shower.  The staff are lovely.  The wine rack rocks.  They make hot chocolate.  You get free fruit and water.  Aaand guests get Apple TV in the bedroom and the use of a smart phone during their stay.  I considered moving in for good at one point...
Stairs to The Orchid Roof Terrace at Night. 

Our bedroom at The Orchid was through the archway

Right across the road was one of the best dumpling houses in Beijing.  Mr Shi’s dumplings.  A little window in the corner of the restaurant was a viewing platform into the world of steamed or fried dumpling making.  The menu was huge… filled with a  selection of meat and veggie dumplings.  We went for a selection of 15 to share and accompanied by 2 soft drinks, out bill came to less than £5.00.  Not bad for dinner for two!  They offered up dessert dumplings but trust me, you won’t have room for them!
Master Dumpling Maker!

Inner Mongolia... Hotpots

We had an amazing experience in Inner Mongolia.   We were invited to stay with a family in the grasslands who were sheep farmers.  There were huge yurts for us to sleep in.  We were lucky and had a private one…It was cold and we had a very bizarre sheep killing experience… in the field one minute on the plate the next.  Sorry vegetarians, it’s a fact of life.

Mongolia is famous for its hot pot.  The locals choose a meat, add some vegetables, fry potatoes and throw in some hot sauce/stock (think a very chunky meaty soup).  It’s then served in a pot with a flame underneath to keep it bubbling whilst it’s passed around the table.   We were lucky enough to enjoy two hotpots during our stay.

Hello Hotpot!

Da Tong...Hotel Dinners and a Family Run Restaurant

There’s very little I can say about this city.  We arrived late at night, so didn’t see much of it and ended up having dinner at the hotel.  Yes it was decent, it cost £3.50 per person for a mass of food, but it was in a restaurant surrounded by smoking chinese people and wasn’t anything special.  We weren’t there long enough to try any regional specialities.

Around an hour and a half from Da Tong is the Hanging Temple which we spent a morning at.  On the way back we went to a local, family run restaurant at the bottom of the mountain, which served some delicious food.  Their vegetables were beautifully dressed and everything was full of colour and flavour. I've included some photos for sheer drool factor!






Pingyao... Corned Beef on Sticks

Ahh Pingyao… a wonderful walled city, with lots of character and plenty of history… home to the first bank in China if you are interested!

We had a bit of an experience with the street food in Pingyao.  We found a fantastic vendor who sold what looked like a meat pastry roll… Think sausage roll.  Tasted delicious and was mixed with a selection of vegetables.  We couldn’t wait to share the experience with Vincent our guide, who straight after informed us…. “Good effort guys, that was donkey you tried today.”
Scene of the donkey sausage roll incident

Aside from Donkey Gate… another regional speciality favoured in Pingyao is corned beef.  Not in slices as we know it in the Uk.  It’s served on skewers, normally hot, with a sauce accompaniment.  You’ll also find it in hot pot as well in local restaurants.
Corned Beef Skewers... Delicious!

Xian... Markets and Muslim Quarter

Xian has a fantastic Muslim quarter, home to some of the best street food in China.  They had everything – from savoury products, to lamb wraps, to corn cake with fruit sauce and what tasted like chapatti filled with Chinese style meat and vegetables.  We tried both of the above at lunchtime.  The corn cake was an odd experience.   Think cold rice stuck together and finished with fig drizzle. 

The savoury dishes were wonderful and the smell of the spices filled the air all around the market street.  Top tip – look for the stalls with queues of people who look local, they are usually the best options for you to try.
Look at those spices!

The corn cake we sampled

Cooking street food in Xian

How to cook Tofu!

Beijing... Taking a taste of China home and The Duck Experience

Our trip started and finished in Beijing and I realised I’ve forgotten to mention our great experience at the Jingzun duck restaurant at the start of the trip. It might be right across the road from a Holiday Inn Hotel, but don’t let that stop you!  It’s one of the best duck restaurants and the most reasonably priced in the city.  The duck is fresh, cooked whole (yup including the head) and is made in a glass windowed kitchen where you can see the chefs preparing it for you.

Every visitor to Beijing needs to try the city’s most famous dish: Peking Duck. It’s not like duck in the UK.  It’s served sliced, not shredded.  The pancakes are similar and the hoisin sauce is to die for:  it’s home-made, thick and full of flavour.  At Jingzun, a whole duck and the trimmings set us back £12.80… At least half of what you’d pay at home.
peking duck

The window into the kitchen at Jingzun Duck

To finish off our tour of China, Mr What Claire Baked and I spent a day at the Hutong Cuisine Cook School.  I’ve said so much so far, that that the cook school deserves to be recognised in it’s own right.  Look out for a post coming soon on that experience.

Here's what I made at cook school... More coming soon!

In a nutshell, China was a foodie dream.  If you ever plan to visit, I have some advice for you… Never judge a book by its cover.  Many of the restaurants look like the UK equivalent of a greasy spoon, but if you want they authentic experience, they are the ones to go to.  They’ll prepare the best food, with local chefs at the helm.  You definitely wont leave hungry!