Chocolate strawberries

Chocolate dipped strawberries are a special favourite of mine – we had a big pile of them instead of a cake at our wedding reception which was great fun! I think they look lovely and they are very simple and easy to make. In this photo I have displayed them on little tiny doilys which I made by using a Cheery Lynn die through my Grand Calibur – it’s the one called Sophia’s Heart – very sweet!

To make the strawberries, choose the chocolate you like best – plain, milk, white whatever and melt in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Take this stage slowly and you will get a better result. It is quicker to melt in the microwave if you are in a hurry but do be endlessly careful and not overheat/overcook the chocolate or it will be ruined.

Once you have the chocolate just melted (not too runny) then using a cocktail stick pressed in through the centre of the strawberry top, dip and swirl in the chocolate. Keep twirling slowly to give the chocolate a chance to stop dripping and then lay gently on greaseproof paper or a non stick baking sheet (very handy). Once they are set, place them in the fridge until needed.

A few extra pointers about these. Do not make more than 24 hours in advance and don’t get the chocolate too runny or it all gets very messy, just melt the chocolate enough and no more. Finally you can dip in melted chocolate as above and then as an extra, dip into finely chopped nuts – which makes an interesting change.

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Cod, basil & tomato with a potato thatch

What is it about fish pie that is so warming? I don’t know the answer, I only know it is! With a green salad, this makes an ideal dish for lunch or a family supper.

Serves 8

You will need:           

  • 1kg/2lb smoked cod
  • 1kg/2lb white cod
  • 600ml/1 pint milk
  • 2 sprigs basil
  • 1 sprig lemon thyme
  • 75g/3oz butter
  • 1 onion peeled and chopped
  • 75g/3oz flour
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 tbsp chopped basil

For the thatch

  • 12 medium sized old potatoes
  • 50g/2oz butter
  • 300ml/2 pint milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley 
  1. Place both kinds of fish in a roasting pan with the milk, 1.2 litres/1 pint water and the herbs. Simmer for about 3-4 minutes. Leave to cool in the liquid for about 20 minutes. Drain the fish, reserving the liquid for use in the sauce. Flake the fish, taking care to remove any skin and bone.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan, add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes until tender but not browned. Add the flour, tomato pure and half the basil. Gradually add the reserved fish stock, adding a little more milk if necessary to make a fairly thin sauce. Bring this to the boil, season with salt and pepper and add the remaining basil. Add the fish carefully, and stir gently. Pour into an ovenproof dish.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4. Boil the potatoes until tender. Add the butter and milk and mash well. Add salt and pepper to taste and cover the fish, forking it up to create a pattern. If you like, you can freeze the pie at this stage.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve with chopped parsley.

 

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Wine in the Westcountry…

I am fortunate to live in a county rich in locally grown and produced foods. Devon is unique in England in having a coastline on both its northern and southern edges and it’s an area where farming livestock is still an important part of the economy. We are also blessed with lots of artisan cheese makers, bakers and vintners, our climate being suited to all sorts of exciting foody businesses. Through my blog I’m going to take the opportunity to introduce you to some of our local producers and I hope you will be inspired to try their produce and their recipes!

I introduced you to the rather exotic Devon Chilli Farm a few weeks ago and now, equally surprising, I’m going to talk about Devon vineyards. There are no less than NINE in the county and some of the wines they produce are winning awards worldwide.

Internationally, I think Britain is probably more famous for producing gin and beer than wine but in fact, we have been producing wine since Roman times. Historically though, English wines were seen as a bit of a joke, with people making their own peculiar brews such a potato or parsnip wine (remember Reggie Perrin?) while commercially the quality and consistency was very variable. But, since about 1970 – and particularly at the beginning of the 21st Century – things have improved dramatically.

It seems that Devon, and Cornwall too, enjoys an ideal mix of soil and climate making them suitable areas for growing vines. The latitude and longitude are very similar to the well-known wine growing regions of France so it’s not too hard to see why this area is proving successful.

There’s a vineyard just down the road from our village that produces four types of wine, a white, red, rosé and sparkling. Rather unromantically, these days there are no peasants trampling round in great vats of grapes pressing out the juice with their feet (actually, that always put me off a bit!), today it is all stainless steel tanks and white coats, but the wine they produce is excellent.

The best-known vineyard in this part of the world is Sharpham. They also happen to make excellent cheeses, but that’s another blog altogether! Their Sharpham Sparkling Reserve NV recently won the ‘Best International’ trophy at the World Sparkling Wine Competition, beating French champagnes in the process!

If you are in this neck of the woods, the Sharpham estate is well worth a visit. There’s a lovely café on site for lunch before you walk through the vineyards that go right down to the banks of the river Dart and the wine tastings are inexpensive and very enjoyable!!

For more information, do have a look at the Sharpham wine website at www.sharpham.com

 

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Cupcake heaven

We have been really inspired by a cupcake site on the internet www.carinascupcakes.co.uk and so I bought various PDF guides that they sell. These cakes were created by Jo, our accounts person, using inspirations from Carina and also some ideas of her own.

Cupcakes have a wonderful way of making people smile – often on a glum day. Offering round a plate of cakes in the office brings out smiles from all of us! My younger daughter, Emily, is a huge cake making fan and she had said that making people at university and her current job placement, pretty cakes has had excellent results!

Vanilla cupcakes recipe:
(makes 12 cupcakes)

  • 110g butter
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 110g self raising flour
  • 1tsp vanilla
  • 1-2 tbsp milk

Buttercream:

  • 140g butter
  • 280g Icing sugar
  • 1-2tbsp milk

Cream the butter and sugar – add the eggs a little at a time. Then add the flour and vanilla, add a little bit of milk. Pile into cake cases and bake for about 20 minutes in a medium oven. Allow to cool thoroughly before icing.

The variety of ways that these are decorated all use sugar paste but they have had touches of the metallic food paints and decorations that we sell. Our cake department is growing every week now so if you enjoy playing with cakes it might be worth a browse around!  

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Checkerboard cake – tastes as wonderful as it looks!

Happy New Year – here’s something just a little different to get the new year off to a flying start – and it tastes as wonderful as it looks! Jo Bridgeman, our accounts person, made this cake and brought it in to share with all the staff – yum, yum! I can tell you, it’s worth working here just for the cakes and recipes we all bring in. You can get the tins to create this clever checkerboard effect from our website if you fancy a go!

Cake

  • 85g dark chocolate
  • 4 eggs
  • 320ml milk (divided 80ml/240ml)
  • 1tbsp vanilla extract
  • 400g self raising flour
  • 400g white sugar
  • 2tbsp baking powder
  • 1tsp salt
  • 227g unsalted butter

Butter cream filling

  • 110g butter
  • 200g icing Sugar
  • 1-2tbsp milk
  • 1tsp vanilla extract

 Chocolate butter cream topping

  • 125g butter
  • 250g Icing sugar
  • 40g melted chocolate
  • 1-2tbsp milk
  • 1tsp vanilla extract

Method

Preheat oven to 350ºF/177ºc, grease the three tins and line bottoms with baking paper.

Melt chocolate over saucepan of simmering water, set aside.

In a bowl whisk the four eggs and 80ml milk and the vanilla extract, set aside.

In the bowl from your electric mixer combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, add the butter and 240ml milk and beat until combined. Then gradually add the egg and beat until combined.

Divide the mixture in half, and stir the melted chocolate into one.

You are then ready to fill the three tins, this can be done using two large piping bags or spooning the mixture in carefully. Place the divider ring in one of the tins and pipe or spoon the mixture into each section, alternating batter colours (example – outer and inner ring yellow, middle choc). The mixture should fill the tin about half full. Now carefully lift off the ring and wash, place into next pan and fill, when finished you should have two pans the same colour and one the opposite.

Bake for about 20mins and once the cake is cool, mix up the buttercream filling and spread thinly between each layer. We didn’t add any jam in this cake, but feel free to add an extra filling of your choice. Then mix up the chocolate buttercream and spread over sides and top of cake, grate some chocolate over the cake and add chocolate fondant flowers to the top of cake for decoration. The cake we made is chocolate and vanilla, but you could choose chocolate and orange, vanilla and rosewater, the combinations are endless!

You could just use two tins and two thirds of the recipe and make a two-layer cake instead of three if you’d like it to be a little smaller!

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