Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Book Review: Comfort & Spice by Niamh Shields

It is thanks to Niamh's Eat Like a Girl blog and her tweets that I have learned about Sumac and Fiddleheads. I really enjoy reading her blog posts as she recounts her culinary and travel experiences. How this girl copes with the jet lag, Lord alone knows but throughout she remains a bubbly and positive person whose passion for food knows no limits. So when the opportunity to review her newly launched book, "Comfort and Spice" came up it was a bit of a "no-brainer" for me! I particularly like the quote "Treat your spice box as a palette and watch your food come to life" Nice opening isn't it?
Comfort and Spice Book

In a nutshell, this book jumps up and gives you a warm Autumnal embrace! Can I break it down further?

One of the first things I look for in a cook book is the ability to replicate the recipes and buy the products and I am pleased to say that there are a variety of recipes that I would take great pleasure in reproducing. I am already looking forward to making the Venison with Blackberry and Balsamic Sauce, Baby Back Ribs and the Quince Tarte Tatin.

Good variation of themed chapters:
All in all there are 5 themed recipe chapters: Brunch, Speedy Suppers, Long Weekend, Sugar and Spice and Drinks. Each of the themed chapters highlights a "Passion" section which denotes Niamh's favourite recipe(s) from the chapter. I followed the Lentil Soup with Harissa Croutons recipe from the Speedy Suppers section and because I did not have red lentils, replaced using green lentils. It was a tasty and heartwarming dish!
Lentil Soup with Harissa Croutons
Irish influenced cuisine:
Although I am Scottish, my great grandparents on both sides were Irish and apart from visiting Dublin once, I've never really had much experience of the Irish culture (much to my disappointment) so the Irish inspired dishes go some way in bridging this gap. I like the way the book introduces homemade favourites such as Blaas and Irish soda farls and I feel it's a nice touch when Niamh pays tribute to a local fish smoker. Her personal experiences are a recurring theme throughout the book.

Additional Extras:
The book is peppered with added bonus such as "How to be a better cook" where Niamh provides tips on how to shop for ingredients and acquiring the basics in the kitchen. She has a nice way of jazzing up salt by making her own "Ham Salt" or "Rosemary Salt" - who knew? The Leftovers section is equally good as I frequently suffer from this dilemma.

Very book shelf friendly (thank you). Space is a premium where I live :-)

Overall cooking and preparation time:
A minor point but a personal preference nonetheless. I like to know up front how long it will take to prepare and cook a dish, rather than estimating a preparation time and counting up a series of cooking times within the recipe.

Heavily geared towards Autumnal/Winter Dishes:
This is by no means a bad thing at all, just the majority of dishes are largely focussed on warm comforting dishes such as Chicken and Chorizo Pie, Lentil Shepherd's Pie, Lamb and Aubergine Stew so it probably would not be your first stop when looking for Spring/Summer dishes. Besides, I'm looking forward to reading another cook book by Niamh - perhaps one based on Spring/Summer meals will be her next?

Congratulations to Niamh on her first cook book, I'm going to raise a glass of her very own Mandarin, Chilli and Lemongrass Juice in her honour. Cheers!

Overall MelikeyUK Rating: 9/10

You can read Niamh's blog here
You can follow Niamh on Twitter here

My thanks to Quadrille Publishing for providing me with a copy of Comfort and Spice.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Running a Cake Business: Points to Consider

First of all, I should mention I do not run a cake making business, nor do I profess to be adept at producing perfectly presented cakes. No, I leave that job firmly to the experts. One such expert is the delightful Shikhita Singh who runs Fair Cake Ltd ; a business primed at running cake making/decorating courses from the new Vanilla Workshop in Greenwich, South East London. 
Vanilla Workshop: Business Premises of Fair Cake Ltd
Having a background in business and being an avid food blogger, my interest in attending the course "Run your own Cake and Cupcake Classes" was to gain an understanding of the considerations and challenges involved in running such an enterprise. 
Am I alone in thinking the world has gone cupcake mad? There seems to have been a proliferation of cupcakes emerging with varying flavours and colours of late and this week celebrates our very own National Cupcake week! Who would have thought?
So what did I learn? This is by no means an exhaustive list but what made an impression on me:

  • You don't have to be trained by Michel Roux or any of the talented pastry chefs to be successful in this business
Indeed, Shikhita is self taught. A former Programme Manager in the city, Shikhita harnessed her passion for cake making and decorating and turned it into a very successful, polished and professional business. Shikhita welcomes attendees from countries afar as Thailand and India. When I attended the class I was one of the very few people living in London.
  • Equip yourself with the necessary Food Hygiene rules and regulations and register your kitchen with your environmental health officer. On-line training is available here
  • Decide which business model you are going to pursue
Are you going to register as a limited company? Or are you going down the self employed route? Familiarise yourself with HMRC guidelines for both routes.
  • For as long as feasibly possible, run the cake business from home and save on additional expenditure accruing from a separate business property 
Shikhita started trading in 2008, running the cake business from home and it has only been in June of this year that she has started running courses from the Vanilla Workshop. This delay in using business premises allowed her to save up and invest in the right space. The old adgae "you get what you pay for" rings so very true in this case. The workshop has been well worth the wait. It is light and airy and very conducive to cake making and meeting fellow cakemakers.
Vanilla Workshop: Light, clean and airy space
Photo Credit: Fair Cake Ltd
  • Be realistic with financial projections on running the business 
When Shikhita revealed the operating costs involved in running the business, it was an eyewatering amount. Always be prudent to factor in a contingency margin in your budget. Consider the cost of items such as product and public liability insurance, council tax for business premises, electricity, salary and wages and parking permits. If the business premises is being renovated, consider building, architect and lawyers fees as well as any fees due regardless of whether the business is turning over sales. Strong attention to detail and scheduling for all project tasks including planning permission and building delivery dates should be closely monitored.

  • Pitch a variety of classes to audiences with the same skill level and inject fresh content
For example, basic classes should be aimed at beginners and those classes requiring a bit more technical ability should be aimed at intermediate/advanced levels. This will limit frustrations and produce more satisfied/repeat customers. All class descriptions should be informative enough to allow the customer to decide which course is the most appropriate.
Different themed courses should be introduced to stimulate repeat customer business, to enthuse trainers and to compliment the seasons. 

Picture Perfect Roses
Photo Credit: Fair Cake Ltd
  • Structure the cake class accordingly.
Remember to schedule in breaks and ensure practical exercises begin at the earliest opportunity. Factor in time for elements to dry/set and for assembling cake boxes to transport cakes. 
Shikhita has decided to strike a balance between teaching and growing the business. Teaching for 6 hours, 3 times a week can be quite tiring and she wants to be able to provide the best courses to her clients. It is for this reason, she will deliver no more than 3 classes a week. During other periods, her assistants help or she has guest teachers in the form of Naomi Henderson, founder of Hello Naomi or Kaysie Lackey, owner of The People's Cake.
  • Do not neglect to grow the business
As well as delivering the majority of the classes, Shikhita needs to maintain customer interest in her business. She invests heavily in marketing the business and a quick search on Google for "cupcake classes" will find Fair Cake ranked very highly in the results. Connecting and networking with fellow cake business owners and potential clients on forums and social media such as Facebook and Twitter  is also a good way of promoting her business. Faircake has more than 20,000 "likes" on Facebook and over 4,000 followers on Twitter.
  • Photography. First impressions count.
You will notice the photographs used in this blog entry are the property of Fair Cake. Using mine, would only do Shikhita a disservice. Shikhita is a very skilled photographer and produces her own photographs for the website. She posts all her photos on flickr and uses picnik to manipulate her photos. Both resources are free. Throughout this discussion, Shikhita emphasised the importance of lighting and the spacing of cupcakes; they should be equal distances apart.

A variety of cupcakes: Equidistant to one another
Photo Credit: Fair Cake Ltd
This course I found to be invaluable to those wanting to start their own cake making business. It is one thing to read about starting your own business from textbooks, quite another to hear of Shikhita's experience first hand. She gives a very frank account of what to expect and how she has overcome many challenges to date and will happily take questions from budding cake entrepreneurs.

Look out for the course "Tricks of the Cupcake Trade" or "Run your own Cake and Cupcake Classes"
For further information click here.
Alternatively, if you want some inspiration and have a interest in learning more about cake design have a look at the other courses on offer here
My thanks to Shikhita, Jessica and Louise for the kind invitation. It was a very enjoyable and informative day.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

My obvious choice of dish using olives : Linguine Puttanesca

I have been wanting to write this blog entry for some time but with everyday life, commitments and holidays  taking over, time has elapsed and we are already in mid September! As a courtesy to my sponsors of Food Blogger Connect, Olives from Spain, I wanted to write up a favourite recipe using their lovely black olives. For me it was an obvious choice; Linguine Puttanesca. Okay, I know it's of Italian origin rather than Spanish, but it was a dish I simply could not resist making. This recipe however, will divide the masses, with ingredients such as olives, capers and anchovies, you will either love it or hate it! I sit firmly in the "love it" camp!

Linguine Puttanesca

Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking: 17 minutes

Portion Control:
2 generous portions

200g of cherry tomatoes, cut into halves
250g of  dried linguine
150g of black olives pitted and cut into quarters
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 tin of anchovy fillets (8 fillet tin)
3 tbsp of capers, rinsed
1 red chilli, de-seeded and thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp of olive oil
Salt and pepper for seasoning
2 basil leaves, shredded

  • Put the linguine into boiling salted water and cook according to packet instructions.
  • Meanwhile, add the olive oil to a frying pan along with the chopped onion and chilli and cook for a couple of minutes.
  • Then add the anchovies and the crushed garlic to the frying pan and cook for a further minute. The anchovy fillets should start to break up and melt.
  • Add the olives, capers and tomatoes to the pan and turn up the heat. Cook until the onions are soft.
  • When you are happy that the linguine has been sufficiently cooked, rinse the pasta reserving a couple of tablespoons of water to add to the sauce.
  • Pour the pasta to the frying pan, along with the water and toss all the ingredients together. The sauce should have a silky texture and should coat every strand of pasta.
  • Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper accordingly. Remember anchovy and capers will already be heavily salted.
  • Serve into two bowls and garnish with some shredded basil.
Buon Appetito!

Of course, you can always use Spaghetti instead of Linguine, I just prefer the shape of this pasta and it's ability to absorb more sauce. My thanks again to Kirsty and Olives from Spain for my weekend conference pass and for those lipsmacking delicious olives.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Rhubarb Crème Brûlée without the cream

Although we are in our first week of September, I am not yet willing to say goodbye to Summer. I had some rhubarb in the freezer and wanted to put it to good use. Although I am a sucker for rhubarb crumble it conjures up images of Autumn/Winter which does not bear thinking about ..not yet anyway. So I decided, it was to be a Rhubarb Crème Brûlée with a twist; made with no cream! If I can avoid having cold cream in desserts, then I'll find a way. I'm not a big fan of the taste. Strange? Yes, I know!
Rhubarb Crème Brûlée without the cream
Preparation: 10 mins
Cooking: 1 hr and 5 mins
*Additional time required for chilling overnight*

Portion Control:
Serves 2 ramekin dishes (capacity 100ml each)

  • 1 cup of rhubarb stalks, trimmed, cut into pieces
  • 3/4 cup of whole milk
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp of clear honey
  • 3 tablespoons of  caster sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of orange juice
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp of demerara sugar

  • Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
  • Place the rhubarb pieces into a shallow baking dish. Squeeze over the orange juice and drizzle with honey.
  • Place into the oven and bake for 25 minutes, occasionally basting the fruit with the cooking juices.
  • Once the rhubarb is tender, spoon equal quantities into the bottom of two ramekins and set aside.
  • For the crème brûlée, place the milk into a small saucepan, add the caster sugar and vanilla extract over medium heat. Bring to the boil then remove from the heat. Leave the milk mixture to cool. This is important as warm milk on cold eggs produces the scrambled egg texture which is best avoided.
  • Place the egg yolks into a clean bowl and beat together. Little by little, add the milk mixture and continue to stir until everything is mixed together.
  • Preheat the oven at 150 degrees Celsius.
  • Pour the egg mixture on top of the rhubarb in the ramekin dishes. 
  • Carefully place the ramekin dishes on a baking tray and add hot water to the tray. Fill until the water has reached half way up the ramekin dish.
  • Bake the dishes for 35-40 minutes.
  • Remove the tray from oven and the ramekins from the water. Allow to cool to room temperature before placing in the fridge. Chill overnight.
  • Sprinkle the top of each crème brûlée with demerara sugar evenly. 
  • Place the dishes under a hot grill until golden-brown and melted.
  • Serve immediately if you prefer the dessert to be warm. Alternatively, allow the tops to cool, then place in the fridge to chill until ready to serve.

The top should have a nice crisp texture and the crème part should be velvety smooth.
You can always replace orange juice with strawberry juice which also works well with rhubarb.

Bon Appétit!