My mini 12 year old chef; I’m so proud of her

My daughter, Freya, is 12 and is developing a love of spending time in the kitchen creating food.  She’s taken to searching recipes on the Internet and in my (many) recipe books and asks if she can bake/cook them.  It’s something that I want to actively encourage as I feel it’s very important that every child learns to cook good food, from scratch. To learn how to eat wholesome, healthy food and to know where that food comes from. This transpires to when we shop together; she knows to compare prices per 100g etc. to find the best deals and not just the supermarket ‘headline’ offers that ‘appear’ to be a bargain.  She even tells her dad off if he picks up the wrong item now!

She’s become a dab hand at making pasta, from weighing the flour out on her own, to adding and mixing the egg, to kneading, rolling and shaping it for dinner.  She will happily and confidently spend time in the kitchen absorbing what I’m doing and how I’m doing it and I’ve seen her confidence grow so much; not to mention the increase in her culinary appetite to explore new flavours.
On Saturday, I’d decided to make a salmon & smoked cod flan for dinner with a white chocolate ganache tart.  One quick call to her to say I was ready to make it and on went her apron to learn how to make pastry. She made the savoury, Parmesan pastry and I made the vanilla, sweetened pastry for dessert beside her.  I have to say that her pastry was sublime! Crisp, light and short as well as being full of flavour.  She has a lovely, gentle touch when rubbing in the butter to her flour and confidently kneaded it before putting it to rest in the fridge.

I demonstrated lining a pastry case to her with my pastry, and without hesitation she followed suit and lined her own, before they were set to chill again.

The term ‘blind baking’ was obviously understood as she went straight to get the baking beans to line her pastry case.  Her only difficulty was that she didn’t scrunch up & smooth out her parchment before lining the case.  Quick explanation to her why it would be better that way, and the beans were out, the parchment scrunched up in a ball and they were back in the pastry case and in the oven to bake.  Paul Hollywood would have been pleased as there certainly wasn’t a soggy bottom on that pastry!
Next came the salmon steaks.  She was watching me skin one when she asked if she could do the next.  At this point I was a little worried as my fish knife is incredibly sharp, but she followed my advice and laid her hand & fingers flat on top as she ran her knife close to the board and skin.  The result? A fish skin that was almost perfectly clean. I’ve seen worse and more wastage from my fishmonger!

Freya made sure to cut all her fish into even sized pieces so that they’d cook at the same time.  She then confidently separated an egg to get the yolk, before mixing that with another whole egg, creme fraiche, double cream, horseradish sauce and grated gruyere cheese, which she then seasoned (& even tasted to check if it were correct).  To this she added her fish and filled her blind baked pastry before putting it back into the oven to cook.

Not a single piece of this was left after dinner which we served it up with fresh salad leaves & peppers with mildly spiced Cajun roast potatoes.  It will be made again, especially now I know how good my daughter is at making pastry too!  

Savannah’s giant cupcake

This cake was for Savannah’s 16th birthday. A giant chocolate cupcake with duck egg, cream, blue & lilac decorations.

Makes you realise who’re getting old when you’re making cakes for old school friend’s grown up teenagers!

Home made vanilla extract

I recently had a go at making my own vanilla extract. I’m an immense fan of Nielsen-Massey but get through so much that at £5.51 a bottle it’s getting a bit on the expensive side. So, I read the ingredients list and came up with my own alternative.

* Take some clear alcohol with a minimum 35% alcohol (I used a half bottle of vodka).
* Take out (& drink if you must) a few tablespoons of the vodka.
* I split 5 long premium Madagascan vanilla pods and added them to my bottle.
* I then topped the bottle up with some soft brown sugar, replaced the lid & shook vigorously for several minutes until some of the vanilla seeds had been dislodged from the pods.
* Place the bottle in a dark cupboard & shake well every week for about 6 weeks. You’ll see the vodka change colour & darken as it becomes infused.
* The longer you leave it, the better it becomes. Remember to shake it regularly & keep it in a dark place.

You can add more sugar & vodka as you use it, alternatively when you get down to half a bottle, buy another & start again.

Now, Sainsbury’s sell their own brand half bottle of vodka (350ml) for £5.80 (as at 15/05/2012). Nielsen-Massey is £5.51 for 118ml. I buy my vanilla pods from Vanilla Mart for £3.25 for 5 pods. I always have soft brown sugar in for making cakes, and a few tablespoons is merely pence.

Therefore for just over £10 you can make almost 3 times the quantity for only twice the price of the GOOD quality vanilla extract.

I’ve started my bottle of homemade vanilla extract and so far I’m really impressed with the fragrance it’s giving off, both in the bottle and also in my baking.

I can see me continuing to make my own in the future now.

Remember to buy really good quality rich dark Madagascan vanilla pods. Buying in quantity from a reputable place such as Vanilla Mart really does make sense. They don’t sell the dry, often sad looking vanilla pods that you see in the supermarkets at extortionate prices for 2 pods. I buy mine in packs of 20 (normally packed as 4×5 pods as I make my own delicious vanilla sugar too.

If you do have a go at making your own on my recommendation, please come back & tell me, won’t you?

Love & cake


Things have moved on

Further travels down the road to launch my little cake making business saw me taking my Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Level 2 Food Hygiene course & exam last week. I’m very proud to say I passed with flying colours with a very respectable 30/30 marks!

I also had my kitchen inspection & have been awarded 5 stars, but I wait my certificate to prove it!

My business cards have arrived, thanks to Vistaprint, & I even ordered myself some post cards to advertise that little bit better.

My boxes were chosen, ordered & delivered. I’ve gone for a very understated plain white; clean & simple for any occasion, I think!

Apologies for the photo quality as it was taken on my phone, as opposed to my proper camera.

I continue to be graced with trust & the orders continue to arrive at a nice & comfortable pace of a few a month, booked to the end of June now, which is good.

Thank you to everyone supporting me along my journey to create beautiful cakes to celebrate birthdays etc.