Tag Archives: cupcakes

The perfect paupers present

I make no bones about the fact that I am not well-heeled or over privileged, and since my redundancy in 2009, neither do I have enough disposable income to enable me to constantly experiment with different recipes and dishes (although of course I do, but on a very tight budget!).

Since I also live outside London I am often limited in my choice of varied and exotic ingredients. I would of course love to use the strange array of herbs, spices, vegetables and fruit readily available in the average big city, conjuring new and enticing dishes with which to tantalize my family and friends, to entertain nightly and ultimately to write a recipe book (which requires triple testing and tasting) but sadly at this time it is not to be.

Cupcakes: chocolate with orange frosting; vanilla with chocolate cherry ganache; vanilla cherry with limoncello icing

Birthdays can also be a problem when one has challenged finances: My generosity thwarted (I have big ideas and no bank balance) I turn to my own skills to create individual birthday gifts. Over the past two years I have discovered that there is nothing as satisfying, as personal, or as gratefully received as an item that has been lovingly hand-made. Whether this be a hand drawn card, a candle, a hand-knit, or sewn item or something tasty to eat. I have given a variety of gifts and received them back; jams, chutney, marmalade, sometimes paired with an unusual cheese and wrapped in cellophane, liqueurs made from foraged fruit, sweet tasty fudge and of course the ubiquitous cupcake. I have on several occasions given a massive box of cupcakes as an extra special birthday gift (some of which I have pictured here under the ‘more from the kitchen’ heading) and this is exactly what I did for my friend Sarah’s 40th birthday party over the bank holiday weekend. Decorated with a more unusual choice of icing they make a rather glamorous, sophisticated present

Overjoyed, Sarah exclaimed “oh! you are so kind” before a large posse of children swooped and wiped out the box in less than 3 minutes! I think Sarah got one.

Later, as we left the party we passed one ten-year old splayed on the trampoline...”are you alright Herbie”? we said  “I’m not drunk” he replied “I’ve just eaten several very alcoholic cupcakes” Oops!

Limocello cupcakes: Makes 12 to 14

125g unsalted butter, 125g caster sugar, 2 large eggs, 125g self-raising sugar, a couple of drops of vanilla essence, 6 to 8 glace cherries (preferably organic. These look darker as they don’t have the vivid red colour), a dessertspoonful of limoncello, a tablespoon or two of milk.

Line a muffin tin with cupcake cases. Preheat the oven to gas mark 6/200 degrees C.

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until smooth (adding a tablespoon of flour with the last one). Add flour and fold or beat in with the vanilla, limoncello and milk. Beat well until smooth. Fold in the finely chopped cherries. Put a dessertspoonful or so of the mixture into each case filling fairly equally. Bake in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove and allow to cool on a rack. For the icing mix 250g icing sugar with 1 tablespoon limoncello and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. I just kept adding a bit more limoncello and lemon juice until I got the desired consistency, it should be thick enough to spread without dripping everywhere. You could also add a few drops of yellow colouring (I use Langdale which are available in most supermarkets) but it’s not essential.

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Fasoulia, frills and fluffy meringue-a weekend at Bangor Aid music festival in aid of local homelessness charities

Bubbles from Dr. Zigs...Dragon bubbles

I’m sure I always begin my posts with the word phew! Closely followed by the phrase ‘what a hectic weekend’, but this was almost a record-breaking attempt as I asked myself exactly how many activities could fit into one weekend? I thought living in the countryside was meant to be peaceful? but I guess since I grew up in London I’ve just transported city life with me! I have lived here 20 years and I guess I’ve slowed down a bit, but blatently not that much!

As I mentioned in my last update, this weekend was all about the Bangor Aid  music festival where I was selling produce, as well as performing in my other guise as a can can dancer and cooking for one of the bands for good measure!

I spent most of the latter part of the week preparing goods to sell on the Saturday; a family and kid friendly acoustic music day, with lots of activities for the small ones. The brief had been not to clash with the kitchen who were preparing hot food and cakes, so I opted to make a variety of sweet goodies that would appeal to children as well as adults. Treats included fluffy light mini meringues, chocolate macaroons (finally I’ve got it sussed!! This was my first ever succesful attempt), fudge, ginger bread people and about 60 child sized cupcakes!

organic gingerbread people

chocolate macaroons with chocolate ganache filling

On Friday evening, while I was finishing off the preparation and packaging,  I also prepared several pots of food to take to my good friends Adam and Iya’s. Adam had ‘booked’ me at the last-minute to do a small impromptu ‘secret supper’ for Thabani, the group headlining  later, at their home just across the valley. I took the opportunity to experiment a little with some different tastes and flavours that still incorporated local seasonal produce. I opted for a traditional Libyan / Middle Eastern stew called Fasoulia, a dish of beans (haricot, cannellini or fava) cooked with tomato and garlic. There are variations such as Fasoulia Baidha made with lamb, and it was this that I finally settled on. One of the band had asked earlier what I was going to cook and when I told it would be lamb they all laughed. Visiting Wales? well it had to be lamb!

As accompaniments I made a cooling dish of minted yogurt, a salad of feta, oak smoked tomato, cucumber, red onion and parsley, and couscous with lemon, olive oil and lots of fresh herbs. The sauce of tomato, beans and lamb was thick and wholesome, perfect for a cool and drizzly evening and its rich, spicy sauce a real taste bud delight. The band certainly thought so (I’m pretty sure one member had four helpings!!).


225g dried haricot or cannellini beans (not soaked over night), 1 large onion, 1k of Welsh neck of lamb (get your butcher to slice it into chops as I did), 150g tin of tomato puree, 3 large garlic cloves chopped, 1 teaspoon of chilli powder or a fresh chilli, or a good pinch of chilli flakes which is what I used, 1 teaspoon of cumin, turmeric, coriander and cinnamon, 1 teaspoon salt.

Wash the beans, drain and put into a large saucepan with 2.15 litres of water and half the roughly chopped onion. Put the pan on a low heat and bring to the boil slowly without covering. Keep on a low heat and cook the beans slowly for 2 hours until partly cooked. I think mine took about an hour and half so test them every now and again. Add the lamb to the pan with the salt and add some more water to cover. Keep simmering slowly for a further hour. In another pan heat the oil and cook the onion gently until tender but don’t brown. Add tomato puree, garlic and spices and cook stirring all the time for about 5 minutes.

At this point check the liquid in the beans, if it seems too watery ladle a little out or if there isn’t enough add a bit more water. Then add one or two ladles full of liquid to the tomato puree before tipping the whole lot back into the pan with the beans and lamb. Cook for another 10 minutes or so until the sauce has thickened. Taste the seasoning adding more salt if necessary and serve.

As soon as the boys were fed sorted I began my own transformation…my second persona of the evening that of a member of the Cheap Frills Can Can troupe. I headed off to join my co-dancers at the venue. It was a great night! Music, dancing and real party vibe. A couple of the band members looked more than bemused to see me again, one minute serving them dinner the next wearing corset and feathers looking like I’d stepped out of a cabaret set!!

Cheap Frills Can Can

Thabani: The band for whom I cooked a special pre-gig supper

Having rolled into bed at about 2.30am gaining little sleep in the process, I was rudely awakened by the teen at 6am getting up for school (yes I know, school on a Saturday is very harsh…but she can’t complain, she’s now off on a climbing holiday with said school in the Rhone Valley!). Forced from my bed more prematurely than anticipated I made use of my time and packed up the car ready for the days next job that of produce stall holder. The weather was changeable, promising first sun, then showers and grey clouds hung ominously over the area. With a variety of indoor and outdoor stages at the Victorian farmyard Hendre Hall (the site for the event) everyone prayed that the day wasn’t a total washout. Of course I was hoping to cover my costs, as well as making enough to give a healthy donation from my sales.

cupcakes and goodies

fudge, meringues, macaroons and gingerbread

My mate Rossi with her Dilys the Sheep brand of Welsh made knitted goods

and more bubbles

The day started slowly and feared I would be eating cupcakes and gingerbread men for the rest of the week, but as the acoustic music kicked off, the sun poked its head occasionally from behind the clouds and rainbow-hued bubbles bobbed and floated on the breeze so sales picked up and by the time I was ready to collapse in a heap at 4pm I had sold everything but a couple of bags of meringues and a bag of macaroons (hidden by the teen so she could take them off to Geneva with her).  It was a good day in all, the kids ran riot chasing giant bubbles around the old farmyard, teens hung out swapping artist wrist bands with each other so they could pinch a free beer from the green room and a whole host of local up and coming talent entertained us including, the fantastic folky Eve Goodman and fifteen year old songstress  Charlotte Starmer, one of my teens best friends. She has just started performing and she’s great.

The whole weekend was a successful whirlwind of frills, feathers and food….hugely busy but great fun and most importantly we raised money for a very worthy cause. Well done and thankyou to Bangor Aid for putting together a packed weekend and of course to all the performers, artists and volunteers who made it happen, I’m glad to have been part of it.

Chocolate macaroons (Nigella Lawson recipe…the only one that works for me!):

250g icing sugar, 25g ground almonds, 25g green and blacks cocoa powder, 4 large egg whites (mine stood out over night…a tip I was given by another ace macaroon maker), 25g castor sugar

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180 degrees C. Line baking trays with parchment. Sift together the icing sugar, almonds and cocoa. Whisk the egg whites until almost stiff then sprinkle over the caster sugar and whisk again until very stiff, but not dry. Very gently fold in the dry ingredients. Fit a piping bag with a 1cm plain icing nozzle and fill with the macaroon mixture. Pipe small rounds on to the baking trays. Leave for about 15 minutes so that the rounds form a skin then bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until they are dry on the outside but still chewy inside. remove from the trays and leave on a rack to cool.

For the ganache melt 150g plain chocolate (I use green and blacks generally or Valrhona if I’m feeling rich and posh!) with 90ml or 6 tablespoons of double cream (Rachel’s dairy) and 3 small tablespoons of unsalted butter (Rachel’s organics) in a bain marie (or a bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water). When the chocolate is just melted whisk everything together off the heat and leave to cool.

When macaroons and ganache are cool spread one macaroon with chocolate and sandwich together with the second. Perfect with a cup of good coffee!

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