Tuesday afternoons are rarely something to shout about in our house. School run, fish finger sandwiches and footie training before bedtime are standard. So this week when I was invited to experience the true taste of Mexico at a stunning new restaurant in Bedford I was more than a little excited. Firstly, Mexican food is my absolute favourite so it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Secondly, I’m so used to having to travel miles for a decent Mexican restaurant that I did a little happy dance to hear one was opening just twenty minutes away!
MEXIco is a relatively new kid on the foodie block (Bedford being it’s 3rd branch in a year, after Derby and Maidstone) but if you ever get the chance to visit, I can highly recommend it. Created by Head Chef Johnny Hernandez, the name behind numerous successful US restaurants, the menu brings a taste of authentic Mexican cooking to the UK.
Interior – MEXIco is a real feast for the eyes, bursting with colour from top to toe the vibrant décor and playful design give a relaxed fiesta feel to the venue and had me mentally redesigning my kitchen, living room, garden…
Artwork – I have to give this a special mention as the focus on authenticity runs right through to the specially imported artwork on display. Shipped directly from contemporary Mexican artists and craftsmen most of the light fittings, sculptures and patterns have been created specifically for MEXIco. (Even the toilets are wallpapered in the newspaper that was used to protect the artwork in transit!)
Food – Focusing strongly on freshness and authenticity, Chef Johnny has developed a menu that draws from his many years experience of travelling around Mexico. Talking to him about the dishes it’s obvious how passionate he is about bringing the true taste of Mexico to the UK (trust me, this guy knows his stuff, not many chefs can say they were personally requested to cook for President Obama at the Whitehouse!). All the favourites are on offer, tacos, tostadas and my personal favourite – chicken quesadillas. Just make sure you leave some room, the churros and dulce de leche are too good to miss.
Drinks – In true Mexican style, tequila is at the star of the show at MEXIco. If you’d asked me if I was a tequila fan before now the answer would have been a definite ‘No’ but after sampling (many of) the cocktails prepared and so beautifully presented I have to admit I’m a convert! Oh, and if you’re not planning to eat but fancy a drink or two with friends this place is perfect – a separate bar area means you can just pop in and enjoy a beer or work your way through the cocktail menu, no problem.
High on any kid’s list of favourite pass-times are making a mess and stuffing their greedy little faces with junk. It goes without saying then that baking, an activity that combines both these things, is always a winner. While I do a lot of baking when I have the kitchen to myself, I rarely have the patience or inclination to allow my two little helpers in on the act ‘just for fun’. This recipe is my secret weapon for those times when I can no longer avoid the joy that is baking with children. It’s simple enough for the kids to get involved, quick, has 3 basic ingredients and best of all uses little equipment so you won’t be left with a mountain of washing up.
If you’ve attempted to bake with kids before you’ll already know that they have zero interest in measuring out the ingredients or lining baking trays. All this stuff is boring. They basically want to get their hands covered in goop and eat the end results as soon as possible even if it means first degree burns to the tongue. Just get everything prepped beforehand (it won’t take long in this instance) and I promise things will be 100% less painful.
Like most families our weeks seem to fly by from one to the next, a busy jumble of school runs, work, to-do lists, chores, after-school activities and emergency fish fingers sandwiches. Weekends are just as hectic to be honest, only with a lot more football and laundry involved. Which is why school holidays are such a relief when they do come along, a chance for all of us to take a break from the usual routine and spend some family time having fun. This half term coincided with a bank holiday which meant even Daddy got the chance to kick back for a few days!
After a rare family trip to the cinema we headed to Prezzo with our tummies rumbling (Italian is the ONLY option we can all agree on when eating out). The La Famiglia sharing dish was just what the doctor ordered, no fussing about what who was having what, just a huge bowl of spaghetti bolognaise delivered to our table pronto! There are 4 pasta dishes to choose from so something to suit every family. Dishing out for the family in a restaurant setting is a genius idea – everyone gets to enjoy a family style meal together just how they like it – from the spaghetti monster who always asks for extra pasta to the one who insists on having the sauce on the left, minus the cooking and washing up! Plus no food envy whinging (guilty!) and because everyone is served just the right amount, no wastage – ooh we like that a lot! Along with a couple of garlic flatbreads, we found the portion size perfect for 2 adults and 2 children, leaving just enough room for that all important dessert!
You may have noticed the #rockingmotherhood tag popping up on your favourite blogs quite a lot recently. A list of 10 reasons why you’re acing it in the Mummy game followed by 5 nominees to join in. I’m all for encouraging us mamas to ditch the mum guilt and actually celebrate the positives of parenting so here goes…
1:EMBRACING NEW EXPERIENCES – Ha! Where to start with this one? Becoming a mother brings with it no end of new experiences and challenges. Some of these we may prefer to erase from our memory (Morning sickness? Episiotomy? Cracked Nipples? I could go on but I won’t!). Others open up a whole new world where we are forced to deal with things totally outside our comfort zone. From Great Aunt Aggie to Gina Ford (urgh) we’re bombarded and bamboozled with advice but ultimately the buck stops with Mama Bear and slowly you begin to grow in confidence, learning as you go. Every stage of parenting a small human throws up (!) weird and wonderful experiences. Eventually I realised that being a mother is a bit like being Charlie Bucket in Wonka’s Chocolate Factory; you know it’s a privilege not everyone gets, you spend most of it being slightly freaked out but ultimately you embrace it as one of the most amazing things you will ever experience.
Ordinarily I’d never have courgettes in the house, I’m not a fan but my Father-In-Law grows them so we usually end up with a couple every few weeks. Never one to waste food I’ve tried a few ways to transform them into something tasty including cake, fritters and tzatziki dip. Today it’s zoats, a combination of oats and grated courgette (or Zucchini, hence the ‘Z’oats). You can pimp your zoats however you please, topped with fruit, nuts, seeds, honey, chocolate chips, basically whatever you would normally put on porridge.
I had some fruit that was looking rather sorry for itself so decided to use that up.
For this bowl I used:
Half a massive courgette (1 small courgette) grated
1 apple grated
1 banana (half mashed, half reserved for topping)
Large splash milk
Topped with blueberries, banana and cinnamon
Just mix it up and either cook on the hob or microwave as you would porridge and add toppings. The result? Now I’m aware the concept may sound very wrong, but actually the courgette doesn’t affect the flavour one bit and the texture is similar to grated apple. It bulked up the meal (that’s a tablespoon in the top image!) added fibre and sorted my courgette quandary – all in all a total winner, I’ll definitely be trying this one again, maybe with a scoop of protein powder next time (proat-zoats??)
Have you tried zoats yet? More importantly can you recommend any other recipes that use lots of courgettes (that don’t involve a spiralizer)??
This week has seen the good people of Britain out in their thousands to celebrate the birthday of a very special lady. Up and down the country tea parties on The Common were held in her honour as people huddled under soggy gazebos to enjoy a cucumber sandwich and a cuppa. Ladies and gentlemen, today the marks the culmination of events with the big day itself, my birthday.
Whoop, whoop! Go shorty, it’s your birthday…. gonna party like, eh well a 37 year old Mum on a Tuesday. School run followed by Scouts then football practice, YESSSSSSSSS! Fear not though, this day shall not pass without ridiculous amounts of cake scoffing to mark the occasion. And not just any old cake either, noooooooooo no no; the chocolate cake of all chocolate cakes, with copious amounts of amaretto incorporated at every possible opportunity.
Regular readers will know that I make a lot of cakes for other people. From cascading roses on a wedding cake to towering superhero birthday cakes, most weeks I can be found fiddling around with fondant. So it will come as no surprise that when my birthday rolls around a Madeira / Jam / Fondant combo doesn’t quite do it for me. Out goes the fluffy vanilla sponge in favour of dense, moist, alcohol soaked chocolatey-ness. Buttercream is replaced with the darkest of thick ganache; no form of fancy decor required bar dark chocolate truffles and a dusting of gold lustre because it makes me happy .
It’s a great big lump of a thing, in no danger of winning any beauty contests, but to me it’s the epitome of utter gorgeousness! The ultimate in self indulgence, each individual component made just the way I like it. This one is for the serious chocolate lovers:
Dense chocolate sponge layers, moist and laced with enough amaretto to produce a satisfying ‘squidge’ factor. This cake laughs in the face of Death By Chocolate!
Sandwiched with chocolate ganache, whipped to a spreadable consistency.
Coated in a layer of white amaretto buttercream, an aesthetically pleasing contrast to the thick dark chocolate (with a glug of amaretto) ganache topping.
Topped off with gold dusted truffles and a halo of gold confetti.
*A choir of Angels sing*
I wish I could share a slice with you all but I’m afraid it’s virtual cake for now, sorry!
P.S. This cake is the realisation of my deepest darkest cakey fantasies but should anyone fancy giving it a go the recipe is below. Ironically this post was going to be about the backlash of the new National Obesity Forum report on low fat diets but it’s my birthday so sod it, here’s a cake with enough double cream to feed a Mall full of Royalists instead.
Chocolate Amaretto Cake of Dreams
135g plain flour
200g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 large egg
75ml vegetable oil
75ml boiling water
400g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
200ml double cream
1 tblsp amaretto
cocoa for dusting
(You will use this ganache 3 ways, more on that later)
Heat oven to 180c. To make the sponge, mix all ingredients except boiling water and amaretto until well combined. Slowly add the boiling water and amaretto. This will give you a very wet looking mix – don’t panic. This is nothing like the sponge mix I would use for a standard cake – it’s more like a mud cake, very moist and dense.
Pour into a lined 6″ cake tin and bake for 1hr (checking with a skewer from around 45mins if the centre is baked, I usually cover the top of the cake in foil for the last 15mins). Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin, wrap in cellophane and transfer it to the fridge. I do this part a day or two in advance as I find it is easier to work with and also it means you can break the stages up depending on how much time you want to spend in the kitchen in one go!
To prepare the buttercream add icing sugar to butter and mix until fluffy, add amaretto very gradually to loosen the mixture to a spreadable consistency (you may not need all of it). Again you can prepare this a day or so in advance if you prefer. I don’t refrigerate mine as I don’t want it to firm up.
Next, the ganache mix, which will be used 3 ways. To sandwich the layers together, to cover the top of the cake and to make the decorative truffles. Place the chocolate chunks in a large bowl. In a saucepan bring the cream to a boil on medium heat, once it starts to boil immediately pour it over the chocolate and leave alone. The heat of the cream should be enough to melt the chocolate. After about 5 mins mix gently and allow to cool for a further 10 mins. Very slowly add the amaretto until combined.
Once cool separate the ganache mix into 3 – I use tupperware boxes. Place 1/3 in the fridge. Put 1/3 aside and pour 1/3 into the mixer. Whisk on high until the ganache starts to thicken and lightens in colour.
Remove sponge from fridge and slice into 3 equal layers. Use the whipped ganache to sandwich the layers together.
Use a thin layer of the buttercream to cover the outside of the cake in a crumb layer. This should ‘catch’ most of the dark crumbs so they don’t ruin the end appearance. Refrigerate for 30mins and use the remaining buttercream to coat the cake. If you prefer a smooth finish on the cake run a large spatula knife around the edge and across the top to remove any lumps and bumps.Return to the fridge to allow the buttercream to firm up.
In the meantime take the fondant from the fridge which should be firm by now. Use a teaspoon to scoop a lump (however big you like your truffles!) and roll between your hands to make a ball shape. Roll in cocoa until covered. Set aside to firm up and repeat with remaining ganache.
Remove cake from fridge and pour the remaining 1/3 ganache on top so it overflows down the sides (use the back of a spoon to ‘help’ it if needed). Depending on how hot/cold your kitchen is this ganache may have started to set so you might need to loosen it up with a few seconds in the microwave to get a nice pourable consistency.
Finally top the cake with the truffles and whatever decoration takes your fancy (I used edible gold lustre and gold confetti). Voila! The most decadent, moist and sexy looking cake you’ve ever laid eyes on – ENJOY!
Slightly different post this week as I thought I’d give you a peek into my other life of all things cakey!! Back in 2012, after I had left my full-time job I decided that I wanted to DO something other than just be a SAHM, because as you know looking after a baby and a 3 year old leaves you plenty of time on your hands right??!!! I’ve always enjoyed baking and dreamed of my own little cake shop, a pretty little café in Cornwall, all ‘cake domes on the counter, flowers on the table’ and a little sign swinging above the door – I’m thinking blue facade, to match the Cornishware mugs….
Anyway, what with now having two small humans, no income and Cornwall being quite a commute from Bedfordshire, I decided to work with what I’d got and set up my own little home baking business. I attended a brilliant ‘Start-Up’ workshop (to get my head around all the dull legals and numbers) and Googled ‘How to set up a website’. Cue two weeks watching YouTube videos on HTML, trying to figure out how the hell to add tabs, insert images, create dropdown lists etc etc. Finally, on Jan 24th 2013, ‘Martha’s Kitchen’ was officially born. Sorry, I’ve digressed massively, banging on about cake domes when you’ve come here to see how to make a Superhero cake! (If you enjoy looking at cakes you can have a peek at my creations over here ).
SO, on to the cake. TAH-DAH! Perfect for any little (or big) superhero and I’m gonna show you how it’s done!
Anyone can make this I promise you, it doesn’t involve any particularly tricky decorating techniques or require much skill but there is one thing you will need masses of and that’s time. There are a lot of stages but if you plan ahead and break it down as I show below it’s completely do-able . You’ll be Parent of the Year AND get to feel smug about it – WIN!!
I started with the Hulk fist, modelling it from a mixture of Rice Crispies, marshmallows and butter. Melt a standard bag of mallows (minus one or two for QC) on a very low heat, with a knob of butter. Add crispies until there are enough to make a firm but well coated ball when you squash them together. Allow to cool.
Now for the messy bit. The mixture is really sticky , so for this part I wear disposable gloves coated in butter but you could just coat your hands in butter. Squash the crispie mix together and form a fist shape using your own fist as a guide. Allow to set (pop it in the fridge to help it along). Cover in a layer of white fondant, pressing into all the nooks and crannies, to smooth over the bumps a bit. Don’t worry about getting it completely smooth as I’m guessing Hulk’s hand is a bit gnarly anyway. Cover with green fondant and add some details like knuckles and wrinkles using the end of a teaspoon or anything pointy but not sharp enough to cut the fondant. Rub in cocoa powder to highlight the details and make the fist look grubby. That’s it, Hulk hand done.
For the next part I’m going to assume you know how to bake a sponge cake, if not, er, go learn how to bake a sponge and comeback. A Madeira type works well for stacking as it’s firmer so can hold the weight of fondant, decorations etc. (I’ve still used plastic doweling rods in the bottom layer though – it not that firm! You’ll get them online or in any cake decorators shop).
You’ll need 3 sponges: small, medium, large on cake boards and covered in red, blue and grey fondant respectively. I’ve used 6″, 8″, 10″ here but depending on how many you’re planning to feed you can go bigger or smaller. A note on covering cakes in fondant – there is no easy way, sorry, I still hate this part but if you just keep lifting it up round the sides and gently easing it down evenly all the way round, you’ll eventually get a feel for what your doing. Failing that you could always do what my friend does; chop the excess off with scissors and hide the wonky bits at the back. Your cake, your call.
Score the top of the red sponge with a sharp knife (see above) and gently peel back the layer of fondant making enough room to place the Hulk fist, to give the effect of it bursting through the cake. To transform the top tier into a Spidey cake, roll out and cut black fondant strips (pizza cutters are perfect for this) and attach to form a web pattern using a small amount of water. I started with 8 vertical strips spaced equally around the cake then joined them up with a row of slightly curved horizontal strips. Make a simple spider shape and position at the front adding creepy crawly legs.
For the remaining tiers I made a stencil of the Superman and Batman logos and cut around these to create badges from coloured fondant (again, attach with a little water).
Stack your cakes (Tip: coordinating ribbon around each tier makes everything look neater!) Once stacked, roll out some red and black fondant and cut into 2 rectangles, you can judge this by eye as these will be the ‘capes’ at the side so don’t need to be precise. If in doubt, better to cut them too big and trim to size. Attach these to each tier with water leaving a small part of the fondant unattached to give the effect of fabric billowing. I’ve covered a large base in leftover fondant and added the birthday boy’s name (no, it’s not for me!). That’s it, stand back and admire your handy work!! Cool huh?
P.S. I really deliberated whether or not to write this post as I understand that not everyone finds this kind of thing easy. The main thing here is to take your time, it doesn’t have to be perfect, just give it a go -your kid will think you’re awesome!
Just don’t blame me next year when they request a Hogwarts cake. X
Thought that might get your attention, I might just use that title for all future posts! While flicking through my shiny new The Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking (excellent choice of Christmas pressie Brother-in-law) this little number certainly made me linger long enough to get the taste buds tingling. A quick scan of the ingredients (nothing ridiculous there) and I was on a mission to make this thing of beauty happen.
To give it it’s official title, Martha’s Dark Chocolate & Almond Liqueur Savarin, is like a cross between a cake and a Panettone. A savarin is a light ring-shaped cake made with yeast and soaked in liqueur-flavoured syrup -although the ingredients are sweet the end result is not overly sickly.
The recipe is broken into three elements: dough, brittle and syrup (plus the melted chocolate for decoration which is optional but looks cool and worth doing just to let your kids have a go splattering it onto the cake/walls/floor). I wouldn’t say it takes a great amount of skill to make but there are a few stages so you do need to plan ahead a little and *adopts Mary Berry voice* make sure you read the recipe three times before you do anything. I was making it for an annual family gathering so I do tend to put in a little extra effort to try something new every year (along with the annual Pavlova, without which I would be refused entry!)
I found that the brittle recipe yielded more than I needed so you could probably get away with half the amount but I’m not going to complain about having to ‘tidy up’ leftover brittle. I also didn’t boil the sugar for long enough; too many GBBO contestant’s tears have been shed over a burnt brittle for me to risk such a terrible fate, so I chickened out too soon and was left with anaemic brittle which refused to set. Luckily it wasn’t a total disaster as you can just bung on a low heat and it will melt and start to take on a bit more colour after a few minutes.
I would definitely recommend trying this at least once as a special pud for grown-ups and the good news is that any leftovers keep long enough for you to finish off for breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the week! I’m already thinking of combinations for my next attempt- orange and Cointreau, white chocolate and Limoncello….let me know if you come up with any suggestions!
I can’t find a link to the recipe online but if anyone wants to give this a try let me know and I’ll type it up in the comments. Oh, and here’s the much less fancy but just as well received annual Pav.