As those who know me on Facebook and Instagram will be aware, I am leaving my job after almost 14 years. I have worked in a number of different roles for the same company but it finally feels like it is time to move on and try something new. So in a month from now I will be starting over. Yikes! When I announced to my team a few weeks ago that I was leaving, their biggest concern seemed to be who was going to feed them. I bake a lot for work. To make them feel better I agreed to bring something in weekly… and to take requests. I have been delving into my old faithful recipes but someone requested a carrot cake recently. I do have a carrot cake recipe but it’s a layer cake and transporting a layer cake across multiple train journeys at rush hour is not easy. Instead I decided to go for a tray bake. It was very popular and I will definitely be making it again.
When I was a child growing up my mum always made our birthday cakes. She’s extremely creative and they were really elaborate affairs. There were trains, tractors, princesses, umbrellas, monsters… my brother even had one based on the band U2. I am nowhere near as skilled or patient as my mum is but I really wanted to make Little O’s birthday cake. With some help from Pinterest and a recipe from my mum that I adapted, I think I pulled off something passable that pretty much anyone with a couple of hours of spare time could manage. The sponge cake method used here is an oldie but a goodie and makes a really light fluffy cake.
When I asked Mr O what he wanted for his birthday he said he didn’t want any presents he just wanted me to bake him a cake. This is pretty unusual since Mr O doesn’t really like cake but being a big fan of baking and a big fan of Mr O I couldn’t say no. He specifically requested a red velvet cake so I turned to my most trusty baking book, The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook and made this slightly wonky but still tasty three layer cake. There is something so pretty about the bright red sponge with the white cream cheese icing. Oh… and I did get him some other presents too. The cake was just the cherry on the top. Read more…
They say you eat with your eyes as much as with your mouth and I have to agree that seeing a picture of beautiful food always whets my appetite. So when I saw Mandy’s amazing pictures of her Pineapple Upside Down Cake on Kitchen Joy I immediately wanted to make (and eat) it. There’s just something so pretty about the yellow pineapple rings with the cherries inside them.
Mine didn’t turn out anywhere near as pretty as Mandy’s but it was delicious and the friend’s I invited around to join me for tea and try it out were big fans. Read more…
Selma follows the life of civil rights activist, Martin Luther King Jnr (David Oyelowo) in the lead up to a groundbreaking march for equal access to the ability to vote for African-Americans. As someone with a limited knowledge of US history, I didn’t know much about King apart from the fact that he was influential, he made a famous speech and he was tragically shot, so this film was a powerful introduction into just how much impact he had and I have to admit I was blown away. My connection with this true story might in some way be related to the fact that I grew up in a place with a history of racial segregation and oppression but whatever it was, I was deeply touched. A lot of this has to come down to the performances, particularly from Oyelowo who was absolutely shafted when it comes to an Oscar nomination because I could not take my eyes off him. He is ably supported by Carmen Ejogo, playing his stoic wife, Coretta – always consigned to playing second best to the movement, as well as, Tom Wilkinson playing President Lyndon B. Johnson and Tim Roth playing the Governor of Alabama. I liked that the film didn’t portray King as a saint, refusing to shy away from his infidelities, insecurities and willingness to do whatever it took – even if that sometimes meant the loss of innocent lives. A lot has been said about the idea that Johnson is portrayed as a villain but as an outsider to the actual history to me he just came across as someone with a lot on his plate trying to balance everything. I am very glad that I managed to see Selma in advance of the Oscars as it’s definitely one of my favourites for 2015. 5/5
When Nina (Anna Kendrick), a fellow member of Claire Bennett’s (Jennifer Aniston) chronic pain support group commits suicide, Claire finds herself obsessing about Nina’s life. To some extent Claire is jealous of Nina because she’s escaped yet she cannot bring herself to to do the same. As the bitter, disconnected, pill-popping Claire sleepwalks through her life she forms rather odd friendship with Nina’s husband, Roy (Sam Worthington) as well as dragging her long-suffering housekeeper/carer, Silvana (Adriana Barraza) on a series of random adventures. There are some issues with Cake. It’s slow-moving, Worthington is as wooden as ever and some of the direction around the effect of Claire’s pain medication on her vision and perception is a little bit obvious. On the other hand, Aniston’s performance is impressive. She makes you believe that every movement she is making is agonising and as more and more of the circumstances of her accident are revealed she moves from being very difficult to like to a deeply sympathetic character. Overall I found Cake to be a touching study of grief, blame, loss and ultimately hope. 3.5/5
Minutes after being released from prison, master thief, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) decides to bring together a team to take on the biggest heist of his career – knocking over three Las Vegas casinos in one night. The crew includes, Basher (Don Cheadle) – a British demolitions expert, a pair of Mormon brothers (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan) – who never stop arguing, a Chinese acrobat (Shaobo Qin), the legendary Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner), pickpocket, Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon) and Danny’s right hand man, the permanently hungry Rusty (Brad Pitt). It won’t be easy though. The three casinos are owned by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), known not only for having an unbeatable security system but also for exacting brutal retribution on anyone who crosses him. But is the job really about the big score or is it about the fact that Terry is dating Danny’s ex-wife, Tess (Julia Roberts)? The reason this excellent crime caper is so enjoyable is threefold. Firstly it’s packed with outstanding performances and an electric chemistry within its ensemble cas . Secondly its dialogue is sharp, witty and clever. And finally it balances exposition and suspense perfectly. The audience is only ever half in on what is happening so every twist in the story hooks you even further… plus we all secretly love the idea of a bunch of clever guys getting one over on a a dodgy fat cat. The only real downside is Cheadle’s horrific British accent. It’s so bad he could have had a lead role in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. I mean I love Cheadle but why they didn’t just hire Idris Elba is anyone’s guess. I haven’t seen the original but this remake is definitely worthy of its classic status. 4/5
Chris Parker’s (Elisabeth Shue) boyfriend stands her up so she decides to take a babysitting job looking after Thor-obsessed, Sara (Maia Brewton). Sara’s brother, Brad (Keith Coogan) is supposed to be staying over at his friend, Daryl’s (Anthony Rapp) house but once the two realise the sexy, Chris is going to be there for the evening they decide to stay in. Chris settles herself in for a quiet night but it’s not long before her friend, Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller) calls her to say that she’s run away from home, regretted it and is now stuck at the bus station in the city needing a ride. Against her better judgement, Chris bundles the kids into the car and heads into central Chicago. Throughout the night the gang will face crazed mechanics, a chop shop, a subway gang, frat boys and the blues… but will they make it back before their parents do? Adventures in Babysitting is so very 80’s it hurt, which is awesome – especially if you grew up in the 80’s like I did. And I loved the fact that Sara wanted to be Thor rather than some kind of princess. On the downside there are some things that have not dated as well. There are a lot of homophobic jokes in this movie that made me cringe and the way that Chris eventually gets the money to get her mother’s car back seemed a bit dodgy.. as did the weird subplot that she was the doppleganger of a Playboy centrefold but if you can get past that and enjoy it as a “period” piece, you’ll probably have just much fun as I did. 3/5
I’m not sure if everyone is as obsessed as I am with The Great British Bake Off but I can’t help tuning in to see what they’re going to make next. My baking skills are nowhere near the kind of level that’s necessary for Bake Off but I do enjoy flipping through the cookbooks and dreaming about what I might attempt. This easy raspberry fudge cake comes from The Great British Bake Off Everyday and it’s delicious! It is worth mentioning though that this cake needs to stand for 24 hours before you eat it.
Raspberry fudge cake
5 tablespoons of raspberry conserve
300g caster sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
A pinch of salt
2 tablespoons of raspberry conserve
300g fresh raspberries
Grease and base line a 20cm springform tin and heat your oven to 180 C (170 C for a fan oven).
Place the butter and raspberry conserve in a pot big enough to hold all the ingredients. Put the pot over the lowest possible heat and melt the butter stirring regularly with a wooden spoon.
Once the butter is melted place the pot on a damp cloth to prevent wobbling. Sift in the cocoa and then add the sugar. Stir until well combined.
Beat the eggs and vanilla together until just combined. Add the egg mixture to the pot a little at a time, beating well after each addition.
Sift in the flour and salt and stir until you have a smooth, glossy batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Bake for 10 minutes and then turn the oven down to 160 C (150 C for a fan oven) and bake for a further 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out slightly sticky (if you have a demon oven like mine check after 30 minutes so you don’t over bake).
When the cake is done place the tin on a wire rack. Run a knife around the edge to loosen and then leave it on the rack until completely cold. When release the spring and then wrap the cake in foil and store in an airtight container for twenty-four hours to settle.
When your cake is ready to decorate, gently heat the raspberry conserve and then brush over the top of the cake. Arrange the fresh raspberries over the top and serve.
I used to have this amazing carrot cake recipe a few years ago. It was everything a carrot cake should be – moist, spicy, light… except that somewhere in one of my many moves, I lost it. Bereft and somewhat annoyed with myself for not writing it down, I haven’t made a carrot cake in ages. But after we accidentally ended up with a surplus of carrots, I decided to take the plunge and find a new recipe. This is the result. I think it is every bit as good as the original but why not try it out and see for yourself.
Carrot cake with maple cream cheese icing
Adapted from Rasa Malaysia
2 Cups flour
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 Cup golden caster sugar
1 Cup soft light-brown sugar
1 Cup grape seed oil
1 240g can pineapple slices in juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
3 Cups peeled, grated carrots (5 -10 carrots depending on size)
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
Large handful of pumpkin seeds
½ Cup raisins or sultanas
500g full fat cream cheese
2 Cups of icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ Maple syrup
Turn your oven on to 100 C. Put your pumpkin seeds on a baking tray and pop them onto the top shelf of the oven while you grate your carrots. I use pumpkin seeds because I am allergic to nuts and I think they made a great substitute but feel free to use roughly chopped pecans or walnuts if you prefer.
Now grate your carrots. I suggest using the finer side of a box grater and doing it by hand. This will ensure that you get a light and fine textured cake. If you use the thicker side of a box grater or a food processor it can get a bit chunky.
Take the pumpkin seeds out of the oven. Return the shelf to the middle of the oven and turn the temperature up to 180 C (or 170 for a fan oven).
In a medium sized bowl stir together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ground ginger.
Put the pineapple slices in your blender with a couple of tablespoons of their liquid and blend until pureed.
In a separate large bowl whisk together pineapple pure, sugars and oil until well blended. Add in the eggs one at a time. Now stir in the flour mixture until just blended. Add in the vanilla, carrots, fresh ginger, pumpkin seeds and raisins.
Lightly grease and line three 20cm layer cake tins. Divide your batter evenly between them. Bake in the middle shelf of the oven for 25 – 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin for five minutes before removing from the tin and allowing to cool completely on a cooling tray.
Making cream cheese icing can be very tricky and it easily turns to gloop so be careful. First cream together the butter and cream cheese together until mixed together. Always use full fat cream cheese or it will destabilise. Add the maple syrup, vanilla and cinnamon. Now add the icing sugar half a cup at a time. As soon as it starts to get a little runny stop and do not add any more sugar. You want something runnier than a buttercream but not so runny it slides off the cake. Put your icing in the fridge for at least an hour before icing the cake to help it keep its shape.
Once your cakes are completely cold, spread each layer with icing and sandwich them together before covering the entire cake with the remaining icing.
Store the cake in the fridge in order to keep the icing stable. This cake refrigerates and keeps well for 3 – 4 days.