Sunday, 27 November 2011

Choices and Cake Pops

Welcome to this weeks blog. The theme being "Choices and Cake Pops", odd combination I hear you say, maybe not so odd as you may initially think.So Cake Pops firstly, you must have seen these, at least at Starbucks? I decided I needed to make some, they look quite easy, balls of cakey mixture on stick, how hard can that be?? Let me tell you, harder than it may look, to get perfect cake pops has required more cursing even than the macaroon saga. The mistake I initially made was to try and make these using had made ingredients, a big mistake...i handmade the cake, handmake the frosting, what did it make? A big gloopy mess, not a happy culinary moment.Take 2, onto YouTube and the Queen of Cake Pop Barbarella, apparently you need to crumble the cake then mix with pre made "frosting" (Buttercream style) and mould as PlayDoh. Ok, so off we go again, made the sponge, crumbled by hand this time not MagiMix then mixed with the evil looking frosting as opposed to "real" butter cream made with real butter. Stuck lolly stick in with Candy Melt and refrigerate..So far so good! Wouldn't be eating them in a hurry but looking like they should. Now for the Candy Melted. Managed to source real American ones but seem a little trickier than you would think. There seems to be a very small window between melted and too hot so goes solid again (surely against the rules of physics??). After a long and frustrating phase of melting by various methods the bain marie seeems best and passable pops are dipped.
Cake Crumbs plus Betty Crocker = Cake Pops

So we now have the cake balls, time for dipping. This is where the Candy Melts started to misbehave. Very temperomental, also, as a footnote dont try and add colour unless its gel or the whole lot sets solid even at temperatures similar to the sun.

Evil Candy Melts :(

Adding the sticks

then decorate with many sparkley things :)

More Bling The Better
So finally the cake pops are constructed,  bring back Michelin Star recipes thats all I can say. And the choices? Well, im still making them, think that will be next weeks subject matter.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Food I remain suspicious of

A very dubious idea....
This week takes me to Holland, namely Amsterdam, somwhere I spend a great deal of time so should therefore be more at home in than most locations. Something that continually facinates me is the food here, it is, shall we say "unique" in a strange non descript way. This normally means that having asked for a vegetarian option you normally end up with a cheese sandwich or cheese salad made from very non descript forlorn ingredients and after a couple of days you just get so fed up you stop eating anything apart from chocolate from the vending machine. This is not to say all food is terrible, indeed only last night I had a lovely meal of pan fried cod with celeriac and lentils but sadly this was an exception to the rule.

I hesitate to be too judgemental though as I know I get quite offended when people say all food in the UK is terrible having based their opinion solely on a fast food vendor somewhere near Leicester Square or similar. There is one thing that really does trouble me though, and I just cant come to terms with it. The hot food vending machine....For anyone not familiar with the phenomenon imagine a type of see through lukewarm cabinet full or suspicious looking fried food products which can be obtained automatically by putting coins in the door and magically the cupboard opens to allow you access to your "food". There are a number of issues I can see with the system which I have yet to be proved wrong about. Firstly, why would you want to use one? Secondly, is it ever a good idea to store parricuarly meat based products at just the right temperature for bacteria to grow? Thirdly, how do you know how long its been there? These are just the reasons that come to mind straight away, I just dont understand. Maybe I am missing the point and have yet to be enlightened but Im not convinced. This brings me to another food item I find a total mystery, the Fray Bentos Pie. I was walking round my local Tesco at the weekend when it was pointed out that these pies had been in existence as long as anyone could remember. This does indeed seem true, but I have never known anyone to buy one, little own eat one? I got to thinking about how then the compnay stays in business, is there a vast number of the population shopping  under the cover of darkness for food products to stockpile which might help them survive a nuclear winter or natural disaster maybe? Or, judging by the length of the use by date did Fray Bentos actually go out of business several decades ago and the shelves just still have the original stock as no one did ever buy them and the brand is just an overworked urban myth? But why would you ever think of putting pie in a can? Who ever thought that sounded like a good idea?Its a mystery I am determined to get to the bottom of one day.
Is this retro packaging or just because the can has been in the shop for the last 30 years?

Thursday, 10 November 2011

No Bears in Boston

So here I am, back from Boston, four lattes down and still a little jet lagged. First piece of news, there were no Bears :( Maybe there are some somewhere, but as no one had heard of the Blue Hills and the only person who even thought there might be hills of any kind said not to bother going there. Thankfully though there are a great many things to keep you occupied in Boston even if they don't have big teeth,claws and like honey.
So looking for the none Bear like amusements I saw a sign for a Gingerbread House Baking Competition. I am well known for being over competitive on the baking front so was dissapointed only found out when I arrived or would have had to enter. This was again not your average size Gingerbread house as might be seen in Continental Europe, these were monsters, electric lighting, glazed windows, fully decorated interiors..

Anywhere else you would charge rent on a Gingerbread house of this magnitude

The only animal I saw with claws
The Boston "Beast"
If you go to America you have to do it properly, so the first priority was to get a suitable vehicle. You cant be too careful with how the weather has been lately so we thought it best to make sure we were prepared for all eventualities...A quick look through the flip chart of models available left us none the wiser due to none of them having the same names as in the UK (apart from a Yaris and that was just never going to happen) This led to being walked around the car "lot" to look for something we liked the look of as very few cars were out on hire and it seemed to amuse the staff greatly to have us choose, so much so it wasn't even going to cost anymore. Too much choice is also a bad thing so eventually we just asked what the coolest car was to be seen in to the retort that the car rental guy would look cool whatever he drove...but say he couldnt pull that off what would be cool then?? This line of questioning led to a huge black Ford of some sort with blacked out windows and alot of what can only be described as "bling". To Me it looked like it should be  being driven around with a very loud stereo somewhere like Southend on Sea dealing drugs but apparently this was "it" so the decision was made and we headed off with "The Beast".

Disappointingly looked like a swamp, not v Mystic
Off we went fully equipped with sat nav, and therein lies an you think in America everyone speaks English? Have you ever heard a Garmin in the UK talk about "Plows" and "Ramps" and did you know there was a difference between Interstates and Highways? Maybe the rest of the "English" speaking world does but sadly I didn't. Up until now my US transportation has consisted of chauffeured cars/taxis and a train so this came as to be honest a bit of a shock. It did however lead to probably the most amusing driving experience ever and aside from a maybe one of two pick ups it was the biggest car on the "highway". The next most amusing thing was the names, its not everyday you get to drive over the "Mystic River" for example.
Rockport, clearly named v appropriately
An unnatural altitude dinner
After the very underwhelming responses for the Bear tracking it was time to explore a bit more so we headed along the coast to Rockport. This turned out to be a picture book New England village with a beautiful seaview and more random things such as Great Danes being driven around in convertibles and a quite disturbing young shopkeeper clearly trying to "really" look like Shaggy from Scooby Doo with the episodes playing back on a loop.....time to go..Back in relative safety of Boston I remembered just how true it is that everything in America really is well, just "BIG". Even some squirrels in the park were huge monster size squirrels compared to any others I have seen. The next exciting episode was dinner at "Top of the Hub", 52 floors up in the Prudential Building. Its not for me a natural altitude to eat dinner particularly when you body thinks its about 3am but these things have to be done. It just makes me uneasy sitting by the window with the other would be skyscrapers looking like normal size houses and the planes going into Logan airport flying below you. Maybe I just need to get out more.

Huge Squirrel - Obviously have evolved this big due to lack of Border Terriers

39,000 feet and Bored

So here I am at 30,000 something feet, about an hour and half into a transatlantic flight and bored already. I think I must have developed a very short attention span, I have already read half of one of the books I brought with me, played games on the iPhone, flicked though the movies and eaten too many sweets. I’m just not very good at sitting still for this long. The most exciting thing to happen so far is that apparently this particular Airbus A340 is very famous, she is called “African Queen” and  had a cameo appearance in the UK TV show “Absolutely Fabulous”. Will have to track down the episode when I land, I have a sneaking suspicion that they weren’t  in economy and probably had Champagne at some point which is so far looking unlikely today. It’s also one of only 4 of this type in the Virgin fleet; does that mean it’s really good or really bad?
"African Queen"
I’ve been watching the map willing the plane along, not sure this makes the time go any quicker. It’s also quite inaccurate, there’s a guy surfing somewhere of the coast heading towards Reykjavik wearing shorts and shades then periodically there are whales and dolphins the size of London jumping out of the sea then Elvis is busy playing live somewhere in Greenland...

"Elvis Lives"

So, back on topic, I am off to Boston for a weekend away. A little indulgent maybe but sometimes these things need to be done. The original plan was for a Thelma and Louise – esque couple of days with a rental car, obviously only the good parts of the film so without the shootings and driving to our deaths into the Grand Canyon etc. I wanted to see the Black Bears who are supposed to live in the “Blue Hills”, partly as I have never seen a wild Bear, and partly because the Blue Hills just sounds a really cool place to go based on name alone. Thinking about it though, maybe they have already started hibernating if it’s been cold, perhaps I should have researched the topic a little better beforehand. Since then however, as is the general pattern of most of my travel where typically there is some form of abnormal weather, natural disaster or Civil Unrest there have been monumentally bad snow storms which have left large areas of Massachusetts and the surrounding States without power, some have even declared a state of emergency. Anyway, I’m sure it will be fun, I like to think these things are what you make of them in the end and it’s a non refundable ticket. I have however bought new Uggs just to be on the safe side.

There often seems to be bad weather when I go to the US. Last time I was there I was in North Carolina staying on a small island off the coast and there was a tornado alert. All the time the TV was on a warning scrolled along the bottom of the screen. I asked the people I was staying with if we should be worried, they assured me it “should” be fine, they often had them. “Should” is not a word I like in that context so I asked if, hypothetically, the Tornado hit what the best course of action would be? There were a number of not very helpful suggestions culminating in the decision by the majority of the group that the best thing to do would be go into the basement. This would have been fine had there been a basement but the house I was staying in was on stilts which presented a problem. I pointed this out and they then suggested sitting in an empty bath with a mattress over the top. I wasn’t sure that was entirely helpful either and probably not how I had pictured ending my days. I had nightmares that night mainly involving characters from the wizard of Oz and houses being sucked into the sky.
Brief intermission in typing for lunch. 38,000 feet, its -56F outside, hope it’s not one of the Airbus’ with the problem with the pitot readers that get frozen, something else to worry about. The surfer guy is definetly outside the realms of possibility now even if he had a dry suit on, he’s just off the coast of Greenland. They must have the same marketing team as the German airline from last week, my dinner was served labeled “Tasty” on the lid. It made me a bit nervous, I always think hotels with the word “Quality” or “Premier” in the name are anything but and I could see this going the same way but it was actually quite nice.
See - it says "Tasty" so it must be?

Looks like about half way now, although based on the other map detail I don’t know if I trust it. On the subject of travel, it’s been a busy couple of weeks. Last week I was working in Germany filming a “motivational” video, have to say wasn’t very motivational for me by all accounts but I am sure the viewing public will love it and it does look pretty good in the initial edits. To get to the part of Germany I was going to always seems to be more trouble than you would think, this being the case I ended up flying a new German low cost airline, I say “low cost” but to be honest at just under £300 it doesn’t seem all that low cost in my books. It was an interesting travel experience, I had been given the option of choosing my seat, I didn’t realize at the time that was at a cost of around £18 each way plus all the other usual extras such as bags etc. On boarding I was however amused to see that I had indeed been given one of the “Best Seats”. I know this because it was helpfully written on my seat. The only slight dissapointment was that about 2/3 of the plane were taken up with them which somehow took the edge of the exclusivity, you still had to pay for food and drinks as well.  Still, it got from A to B which is always a distinct bonus.

They helpfully labelled my seat
I think the more I fly the more worried I get about all the things that can go wrong, a while ago I even went to the trouble of looking for the safest place to sit, there seemed to be conflicting reports, some people being adamant that the back was safer, some over the wings as that’s the strongest part. I’ve had a long phase of one row back from the over wing exit but then it takes forever to get off so I’m now favoring the front rows in the hope the pilots have a pretty strong sense of self preservation so sitting near them will help. I have a friend whose father in law is a pilot. He says the safest place to sit is at the back, his reasoning being “you never hear of planes reversing into mountains do you?” Hmm. His other saying is “if you ditch you die”. I think I’ll just sit near the front, at least you will get the drinks trolley before it goes down.....