Saturday, 21 August 2010

One Happy & Excited Little Baker


The time has come.

The launch of my very own bakery project.

I welcome you all to the Happy Little Baker.

An edible annual of delectable pretty cakes.

Orders can be made via email @

Thursday, 19 August 2010

It's not easy being Green


I know a couple.

I also know a few plastic ones. "Yeah, I'm a vegetarian. But I eat fish sometimes. And......sometimes I eat Chicken, but only like once a year."

Yes. I know what it's like. Sometimes, David Beckham rings me up and takes me to Pizza Express once a week for Orange Wednesdays, every so often Beyonce rings me and asks me to go swimming with her at Darwen Leisure Centre and Brad Pitt also calls in to deal babysitting duties off me the first Saturday of every month whilst him and Ange hit the nearest Hogshead and Lava and Ignite.

It could not of course be further from the truth.

Being a Vegetarian requires a person to abstain from any meat, flesh of an animal, poultry, crustacea or shellfish of any kind.

The afore mentioned plastics, are what we know to be Semi-Vegetarians.

So let me get this straight.

I am for the sake of any arguments. A teacher. My requirements are to plan lessons, turn up to work on time, teach kids how to cook and learn about nutrition.

But, when the urge does not take me and I feel like perhaps forgoing my job, I could be a Semi-Teacher?

I have always been the kind of girl who is all or nothing. It is not one hob nob. It is the whole tube.

Being a Vegetarian would be hard sure. But spare a butternut squash and aduki bean spritzer for the poor blighters who choose to live by the real hardcore diets.

I am talking your fruitarians, nutarians, su-vegetarians (they believe it or not won't eat anything that smells of an onion or garlic). Eating a strawberry spag bol followed by a plate of pineapple mash and blueberry sausages would be enough to send Mr Del Monte himself down to the Dole canning factory for a few chunks.

I actually love Vegetarian food anyway. Meat and fish are too expensive for a single lady.

My friend and I toddled our carnivorous bodies off to Simon Rimmer's divine Vegetarian restaurant in Didsbury, Manchester last night.

Green's was first established back in 1990 when only 7% of our UK population would admit to be a Vegetarian.

Looking at the Veg busting stats for 2010, it would appear that the figure won't budge and there are still 7% of our population munching edaname beans and soya sausages.

Perhaps they are the same people, cryogenically preserved by anti-oxidants and flavenoids.

Green's are not only appealing to the V-fest around Manchestaaaa, but to a whole crowd of people who are either fans of Mr Rimmer and his cheeky and extremely amiable TV appearances and talents or his £15.95 for 3 courses and a glass of wine meal deal.

We, of the Semi-decent teaching salary brigade went for the latter.

A cosy dining room vibe. Deep, warm wooden flooring, chesterfield seating, Nina Campbell-esque wallpaper, ornate glass mirrors and trendy french looking waiters all sporting obligatory mancunian urban facial growth.

It was 6.30pm (15 minutes short of the meal deal cut off point) and we were in good company.

It's funny looking around a Vegetarian restaurant. For all they could know, I could have been a fully fledged Veggie since the late 80s, flying the flag for the SOS mix.

You don't go in KFC and look around wondering who the meat eaters are?

Our Waiter politely brought us both menu's over. Luckily the meal deal menu did not have old kent road style meals on it. I would have happily bought any of them. In fact, to monopolise them, they would be up there with waterworks or the electric company.

No one really knows how to operate them or would live in them, but you invest in them and slowly reap the benefits.

For starters we had the choice of red pepper hummus and pita bread, Greek salad or soup.

Hummus, no contest. Delicious. No meat cravings here. Looking like a well turned out wet sandcastle, it was juicy, salty enough and full of charred pepper goodness. The cheeky drizzle of basil oil was a pleasant added river to dip my pita in.

The mains were like offering a group of Saturday morning footballers Juninho Pernambucano, David Villa, Daniel Alves and Kaka as a back up sub.

I suppose being used to being offered savoury crumbles and lasagne's in your standard pub, it is a slight shock to the system when you find veggie options difficult to choose from.

Three bean chilli, aubergine Thai curry and sticky rice, goats cheese, celeriac and beetroot tarlets and cheshire cheese sausages with mustard mash and beer gravy.

Kappow, sock, boom hunters chicken and minted lamb cutlets!!

The aubergine curry was the sweet and sticky melee that I would have wanted. Heady, light and packed full of flavour, not to mention filling.

I suppose being good northern souls, we only felt it fair to the animals that we ate our puddings too.

Creme Brulee or Chocolate Pudding.

The health goddess in me said Creme Brulee.

A pot of amber glass staring back at me. Breaking in is always the party piece. Like stepping on a glass christmas bauble, it broke so beautifully and was perfectly burnt, cindered toffee heaven.

Underneath its frozen lake of cinder bobbed the gluggy mass of custard. I usually enjoy a much lighter and runnier Brulee. Don't get me wrong, it was as gorgeously delicious as a dessert could be and I ate almost everything apart from the 200 degree stained caramel dregs from the edges. But........and I hate like any Semi-Veggie likes to admit that they guzzle tuna butties.

Girl was stuffed.

Thinking from a scientific point of view, fibre tends to expand in your stomach and cause a feeling of fullness. I should have known such techniques from my weight watcher scoffing years. Those vegetarians aren't as hungry and deprived as we think.

It was around 8.30pm and we were finished. We were not court marshalled out by a prize growing leek or stoned by maris pipers to leave.

We were left to order another glass of Pinot G, listen to some Groove Armada and to enjoy the Vegetable buzz in the air.

I give Green the light.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Birthday Kake!

Whipped up a delicious batch for my sister's birthday yesterday!

Happy Birthday Kake!

Berry swirls.

Standard Cupcake recipe:

40g butter

120g Plain Flour

140g golden caster sugar

1 egg

120ml milk

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp strawberry flavouring

Bung it all in a kenwood and blend until smooth.

Pour into a measuring jug.

Fill cases just above halfway

Bake in preheated oven at 190 for 15-20 minutes

mmmmmm yummy smell fills house

Make the buttercream by whisking all together and shove into a piping bag.

I used a thick star nozzle for these babies.

175g icing sugar

1 tsp strawberry flavouring

75g butter

silly sweets for good measure!

Get baking xxx

Friday, 13 August 2010

Mutant Pizza

Being sent a menu to pre-order your meal for the following week I always find highly intrusive.
They are basically pre-empting your exit before you have had chance to sit down and slightly absorb the ambiance.

Like people who choose to find out the sex of their baby and talk about it for the next 8 months, I don’t like to think about my food all week.

An Italian menu. Good start. The standard layout and choices. Girls tend to steer away from the meat and fish section. Firstly, it is too healthy and second, too damn expensive.

Pizza and Pasta may as well be the only choices to show us.

Most girls will choose pasta. It is safe. Pizza can say a few things when it comes to ordering in a restaurant.

You are an unpolished philistine with no social etiquette when it comes to eating out.
You are greedier than an urban fox sniffing around a KFC waste control bin.
You can’t read properly.
You could be pregnant.

I like to hold my pudgy fingers in the air and throw caution to the wind on this one as I flippin' 'love Pizzas and that is what I went for.
Essentially a very posh toastie, it is no nonsense. You don’t have to have a back catalogue of knowledge on the location of the ingredients, nor will it whiplash you in the face and smear sauce up your nostrils.
Some classic pub quiz trivia for you. Pizza owes its origin to Neapolitan cuisine and has been adopted in various bread guises across the world.
Now, if they were to ever bring back the game show You Bet! (without Matthew Kelly as he scares me somewhat) I would be able to compete on the topic of Pizza.
I would vouch for eating going on 2000 pizzas in my lifetime. I love everything that the Pizza stands for.
For those of you who are interested in its Etymology, the first recorded use of the word "pizza" dates from 997 AD and comes from a Latin text from the town of Gaeta in southern Italy. There are many varying stories from die hards from various Pizza Posse’s. Some believe it comes from the Latin word “pinsa”, the past participle of the verb “pinsere” which means to pound or to crush and may refer to the flattening out of the dough.

Some believe it comes from the Greek word Pita just for bread and there are even some cheeky Germans (they never retreat) who believe it is a derivative from their word "bizzo" which means bit or bite. H to tha bizzo indeed.

My piousness for Pizza can be traced back by Pizza anthropologists to my love of mini cheese and tomato Pizzas in my grandmother’s house in the six week holidays.
A chewy CD size of pale white dough, the bread looked like an aero when you cut into it with your knife. The cheese was the type although it had been under the glare of a 180 degree oven, it did not melt fully and still maintained a bulbous maggot appearance, similar to strands of all bran.
The tomato sauce was sharp to say the list; I would go as far to say that we were eating cheese and tomato ketchup on toast.
The advantages to these little babies were that you could essentially build your own Pizza on a daily basis.
Having a mum who worked in a supermarket also played a big part in my love of Pizzas. We were able to try all the latest imports hot off the conveyor belts of Chicago Town and Findus back in the day.

Mum worked at ASDA who had already cottoned onto the sheer magnitude of Pizza’s in the UK.
Soon our freezer was stocked full of French baguette style Pizza’s, Pizza pockets for the toaster no less. Both should have been banned under ISO 1001 for their different inflicting injuries on the gums and upper mouth.
The black orchid in our Pizza trail was back in 87’ when the world was a place full of Deeply Dippy, Respectable by Mel & Kim, Flipper on a Sunday morning followed by Batman and Robin and more notably to our household WWF and Teenage Mutant Ninja (now Hero) Turtles.
Part and parcel of being a younger sister to an older brother means that you have to learn to fit in with their chaotic lifestyle.
Being utilised in WWF knockouts in the front room was just one of the deal breakers. Yes, I have been involved in the Hart Foundation, The Colossal Connection, given an elevated walls of Jericho move whilst trying to be The Honky Tonk Man and also been impaled into the carpet after many a Tombstone Piledriver as he attempted to be the Undertaker.
After a good pasting from my dad (heavy duty brass wedding ring and all) WWF was given a timeout and the ring was usurped from under his evil clutches.

TMNT soon became our new fascination. I became particular enamoured by Michelangelo, developing quite the crush on our anthropomorphic buddies. I don’t know whether it was the fact that we were kindred spirits in our shared love of the party scene or that he made me laugh but I developed quite the crush on Mikey.
My brother was not so strange and just stuck to April O’Neill.

Again, another thing we had in common which could not be ignored was our love of Pizza.
The clever cads at ASDA decided to start knocking out some TMNT pizzas. Nobody to this day believes us, but you could get a sweet flavoured TMNT pizza which used chocolate spread on the base and marshmallows as the topping.
We were only ever allowed this on very special occasions. Essentially just nutella on toast with extra sugar smeared across it, this is Pizza Piety in its glory.
Now of course, like anything, I have had my poor Pizza’s. Over use of the dough, stingy on the sauce and oily flabby cheeses are guaranteed ingredients for a teenage dirtbag mutant pizza.
Over in Italy, Pizza’s are all a serious business and are recognised through their regions.
Sicilian Pizza has a thicker base, Rome like to make their bases as thin as crackers, Naples like a soft and pliable dough, Neapolitans stay true to their roots and will only produce two flavours, the Marinara and the Margharita. So staunch about their doughy discs, a Pizza can only be classed as a true “Italian Pizza” if it passes a parliamentary bill by the Pizza mafia.
Once snorted at as a peasant food, it was sold in the street and not even recognised as a dish to be made in a kitchen.

Early pizzas were covered in a white sauce as opposed to tomatoes. It wasn’t until 1889 to honour the Queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy when a Neapolitan chef created the “Pizza Margherita” covered in tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil to represent the colours of the Italian flag.
My personal Pizza poison has to have a thin base, preferably with a Naples style chewy dough so that you can taste the pepper in the extra virgin oil. A good lashing of tomato sauce which is still perfectly pulpy bearing flavours of sweet San Marzano’s.
Toppings would bring out my wild Michelangelo side. Vivid orange sweet pointed peppers, soft and sweet artichokes, Milano sausage, capers, fresh red chilli, chilli flakes, a thin layer f patchwork mozzarella cheese and a shower of Pecorino Romano.

Now that’s what I call music 2010.

The pre planned pizza in question had all the pre requisites of my perfect pizza. The venue was Piccolino’s in Clitheroe. A pleasant and cheery restaurant chain from Manchester, it brings a slice of cosmopolitan neopolitano to the East Lancashire eating scene.
Packed with beautiful people quaffing the Italians champagne Prosecco, I was in good company with equally beautiful people.

My week old pre-conceived Pizza was plated up and it did not disappoint. The only problem was the age old routine of “I don’t need to eat a starter”...who was I kidding.
I decided to opt for a little dolce instead......being an official funder of the I hate Tiramisu/all coffee based desserts, I went for a little gelato instead. Ferrero Rocher to be precise.
The waiter was a cheerful soul, who embraced his charachtature of the Italian waiter with great gusto. He obviously fancied his chances as he questioned my choice of a dessert.
Pointing to his belly “you not afraid of diet no?”..........................
No mate, I’m bloody starving after that Pizza was his abridged version.
It is a good job I was steering off the Prosecco or he could have found himself entangled in some Sweet Chin Music, Shawn Michaels styleee.

All in all, a tidy little meal.

Shall I compare thee to an ASDA build your own Pizza??? Hmmmmm, purely for nostalgia, the pick and mix greed factor and the dessert comment, I am going to opt for our supermarket giant.

A Saturday lunchtime favourite from my region of the country is to whack some onion jam on a naan bread or pita, crumble over with feta or Lancashire cheese, decorate with spinach leaves and if I am feeling exuberant, some anchovies.

Mangiamo people!!!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

I love the cake!

Pat a cake, Pat a cake, baker's man.
Bake me a cake as fast as you can;
Pat it and prick it and mark it with a 'B', And put it in the oven for Baby and me.

Coming to a china plate and pot of tea soon..................

With thanks to the ridiculous talents of Miss Sally Leach at Doodlevend.
Cheers Cocker!

Friday, 6 August 2010

Pump up the Ham

1994. U14. A sweat box/greenhouse that called itself a classroom. The blackout cellophane even curling itself up in misery.

There were no trendy film posters, no whiteboards of the millenium classroom, no one saw fit to crouch into their teeny tiny handbags that masqueraded as a schoolbag to schnidily check their texts from their mate in the next classroom.

No siree bob.

These were the days of old school teaching. When teachers planned their lessons around the use of chalk and the possible use of a TV on skates that was usually harboured up in the Geography department.

I will never forget her.

Mrs Toop.

A true lady in every sense.

She wore a box pleated skirt which was usually in tune with the season. Think dark truffle for winter, rust in the autumn, mink in the spring and an aquamarine in the summer.

A highly intuitive and eloquent lady, her knowledge of poetry and literature was flawless. She exuded class and oozed intellectual prowess from every inch of her court heeled shoe. I never got close enough to find out, but if I was a gambling man, I would have her down as an Estee Lauder Youth Dew fan.

A teacher with the ability to command utter silence from a group (OK, so we were top set in the school and extraordinarily well behaved young people) however, even the boys in the group had a fear of her.

It was sheer pleasure when she asked you to read as it meant you had the chance to perhaps impress her.

Thanks to Mrs Toop, I got the opportunity to read one of my all time favourite plays, Romeo and Juliet.

Due to the loquacious nature of my personality, I was often thrown the role of the nurse. A meaty role for me to get my chops around. The nurse was a cool lady. A rebel who was up for mischief who managed to flit between the Capulet's and the Montague's, but no one really gave her any stick for it.

I will never, nor any of my girlfriends forget the time that Toop had got the wheelie TV on loan for a double lesson on a wet Wednesday afternoon. We were going to be watching Franco Zeffereli's "Romeo & Juliet". The double after lunch was always a tumultuous time for a teacher. I know and understand this all too well now, however, when you are 15, obsessed with making sure your body smells like vanilla and decorating your pencil tin with Neighbours stickers, double English did not seem to important.

That was until Andrew Smith decided to bring in his Casio digital watch which niftily changed TV channels.

Being one of the more garrulous of the supreme set (I am not really sure what I was ever doing there) and the most likely to go for a dare, I decided that I would take the lead role in clock faux-channel changes during the film.

Mrs T took pole position in her director's chair which was turned to a tight acute angle of about 40 degrees. She had full view of her auditorium. Or so we thought.

So engrossed it appeared by the surprisingly "hot for a film from the 60s" Leonard Whiting who played Romeo, Mrs Toop was blissfully unaware of the digitally remastered version that was about to unfold in her top set theatre of A grade's.

Peppering the Capulet's ball scene with Henry Kelly's "Going for Gold" and "Greenclaws" was pure thespian gold.

Panting and puffing and a few searches of the Wheelie proved to be as fruitless as Romeo's mission to Mantua itself.

Not so square as we had thought, she turned to her baying audience and flexed her Shakespearean muscles with an experienced and commanding monologue.

Despite the choking and pent up giggles even from some of her most ardent followers nobody relented.

The VHS was turned off.

The TV was wheeled away back to the clutches of the Geographers, ready for a view no doubt of the Mt St Helens eruption.


For all her foibles and idiosyncrasies, Mrs T was a fantastic teacher.

One piece of knowledge that she imparted upon us which I have found infallible and meaningful for most daily events is that we should all read as though we are on a diet.

"Reading should be like a diet. We should not eat junk food too much as it is bad for you. As are terrible books. You must read books that will benefit your brain."

I do not wish to divulge into my preferred book habits in my adolescent life, however, I do have to admit that I agree with Mrs T and her wise proverb of 9T4.

Having actually gone onto university to study food and the diet, I should know and obey the basics of nutrition and good wholesome food.

As much as I adore excellent food and food that makes my body and mind feel good. I cannot help myself but want to go a little "casio" on my food habits and rebel now and then.

I have a long list of Foods that are my Montague to my metabolism's Capulet. I love them, but my body certainly does not.

Hollands Steak Puddings, Krispy Kreme's, KFC Zingers, Findus Crispy Pancakes, Dr Oetker Pizza, Gregg's Sausage rolls, Fish Fingers, Mr Kipling Vieniesse Whirls, Birds Eye Waffles, Party Pork Pies, McCoys, Sensations, Campbell's meatballs, Ravioli, Spaghetti hoops, Heinz Beans n Balls, Angel Cake, Primula cheese to name but a few storecupbaord nasties.

Quite heavy in fact on the savoury.

Come and sneak on my book shelf and you will find my collection of embarrassing dietary literature.

Notably autobiographies from most of the Spice Girls, at least two of Jordan's "books" and even some thicker fashion magazines that I have collected that I like to falsify as books.

A food item that is constantly in my fridge as an embarrassing collection is that of Ham.

Not any ordinary Ham.

I am talking plastic Ham. One that you could draw on with a marker and then wipe off with a J-Cloth.

A lot of people have a problem with Ham.

These breed of Hamists are pig ignorant (snort snort) to the multi faceted use of this ingredient.

I have a different Ham style to suit my moods for Ham.

There's the roll up, which is basically a cigar style of Ham used for quick on the go eating between making your actual evening meal. Think Larry Hagman meets plated salad. Advantages include the double quilted thickness of the ham and a slim easy to carry model of the ham.

Alternatively, you could go for the sheet. This works better with the tissue paper ham that has a translucent appearance. Opportunities for the sheet include being late for work, not having enough to eat at a friend or relatives house, being drunk and cleaning up. Clean, no nonsense, no need for a plate or cooking utensil, this has all the elements of a highly intelligent snack.

Bumping into an old friend in the gym recently, he enlightened me upon his new found diet of eating small amounts of Protein every five hours.

Now personally, eating every five hours is something which definitely holds court with me, however when he told me it is cubes of chicken, tubs of tuna and slices of beef, my enthusiasm began to wane. I told him that supermarkets are missing out on a niche in the the protein pumpers. What about a meaty sweet? Ham flavoured fudge? Hammy glaciers? Just a thought now.

My personal favourite combines another of my passions.......cold toast.

Two extra pieces of thick white bread left to go cold and chewy and then coated corner to corner in salty Lurpak. I then like to use my plastic honey roast ham as a linoleum to the bread. The butter acting as an adhesive for our centrepiece.
Essentially a ham toastie, this has a more gutsy use of the ham and provides a platform for its potent glory. Dependant upon my mood, I may provide the ham with a flavour. Perfect partners include thai sweet chilli sauce, barbecue crisps, Branston Pickle and sandwich gherkins.

My affinity towards plastic ham spans many years. I feel sorry for ham. It gets a bad press. It tells foolish lies claiming to be part of a burger. I can understand people's repugnance.

Just reading the passage du terror of the food labelling and you will see the descriptive tales of terror. I mean really, who is going to be attracted to "ham with water added". Hammy water. Yikes......

Given shoddy sandwich accompaniments over the years like soggy bread inducing tomatoes, milky coleslaw and oesophagus stripping mustard, ham just has not had a chance to shine.

Bring on the insults. It only makes me love it more and it means I am always left with a fresh sandwich in a motorway service station.

It is an affordable meat. It steers well clear of main meals only allowing itself into the realms of pizza and the odd pasta dish.

I personally like to use ham in between layers of lasagne to add extra depth and texture.

I have no ham snobbery. I will buy over the counter or from the shelf.

If I am feeling flush, I will head to the butchers in my local high street, Tom Duckworth's of Rishton and buy some delicious ham off the bone.

Deeply pink, verging on a cerise, this ham has a deliciously melt in the mouth and fresh flavour.

My own little slice of Jamón Ibérico in a paper bag with it's price written on it.

Yes, I am a habitual user of ham and I am not afraid to admit to it.

It is only on a cold November day or often a day battling with a hangover that I salivate and fawn over Billy Bear. I air on the side of caution when something that is being sold alongside meats, requires a surname of meat at the end as an affirmation.

Fear not Mrs Toop, I eat Billy Bear as much as I enjoy reading Point Horror stories.
Come on then, join me in the ham crusade. Save this butty box favourite from being banished from all good lunchboxes forever.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

A must View.


A shameless expose for a rapidly rising star in the culinary world.

Mr Gary O'Hanlon.

I first met Gary back in 2004 when my sister and I visited my brother Andrew who was living in Boston at the time. Andrew was living the high life as a bachelor with Mr O'Hanlon. We heard lots of tales about his Irish chef de roomate and how he was slowly wooing my brothers parochial palate with herbs and spices and dare I say it...vegetables???

We were also given my brother's very bad Father Ted meets Roy Walker impersonation of Gary so we knew what we were letting ourselves in for.

A favourite Garyism notably being:

"Heeeeearr. Seeee. Let me breek it doon far ya. Raillll railll kwikkkk"

Now anyone who can move my Brother on a level from Chicken Tonight Tikka Masala mix and his infamous abuse of Dolmio stir in sauces has to have made some sort of impression.

It was not long before Andrew and wee Gazza as we like to call him, spent many an evening sat on the bed together waxing lyrically over new menu ideas. Very Brokeback. Knowing my brother and his flair and imagination it would have been adding some kind of cheese or perhaps a barbecue sauce of some sort to the pan.

Meeting Gary was a true highlight to my trip to the East Coast as my sister and I were taken on an all expenses (free!!) meal at the restaurant he was working at the time, Devlin's.

A showman and perfectionist in every sense, Gary executed 7 delicious courses, notably in my memory a Curried Coconut and Parsnip soup with Mussels that looked like the stones we used to skim with as children. Sheer heaven.

We still talk about that meal to this day and I do believe this dish made my brother and sister fall in love with Mussels.

Since his days tearing up Boston, Gary has returned to his beloved Ireland where he is now in his rightful place in charge of the kitchen in the VM Restaurant at Viewmount Country House in Longford.

Since taking over, Gary has revolutionised the menu with his own unique and Willy Wonka style approach. Each dish represents passion and identity and read like a children's story, full of colour, energy and character. Thanks to Mr O'Hanlon, Viewmount Country House is now in the Bridgestone 100 Best Places to Stay and on of the 100 Best Restaurants in Ireland.

Not too shabby for a Red.

His menu inspiration is always an eclectic blend of the finest produce that Ireland has to offer, yet his American influences still bubble under the surface.

I am yet to sample the delights of Viewmount House, however I am planning a visit very soon.

I have promised Gary a very fair review....of course and he has even upped it onto my sound list.



Cheers wee Gazza!