Sunday, 26 December 2010

Christmas Cakes

I haven't made Christmas cakes for a few years.  My family find them too rich, dense and sweet.  When I enquired whether Mr Leaf liked them he told me they were "too fruity".

I've been baking more this year and as a result of having this blog, taking pictures of my makes and bakes and sharing them (if not here, facebook).  I sometimes bake cakes and take them into work.  I like to try new recipes occasionally and when there's only me and Mr Leaf there's only so much cake two can eat.  We now have a Baby Leaf but there's no chance of him sampling cake for a while.

One of my work colleagues asked if I made Christmas Cakes and if so, would I make one for her.  (She insisted she pay so I wasn't to argue.)  I agreed and the above photo shows her finished cake. 

I enjoyed baking the cake, simmering the fruit in orange juice and brandy - it smelt sooo good!  I whipped up another batch (different recipe this time) and made one square cake and two smaller round cakes.  The square was halved to make two bar cakes.  The Frosted Holly Cake above is for one of our neighbours.

These two Polar Bears and Presents are for our neighbour on the other side of us.  They have two young children so I thought they'd like all the presents!

This cute scene, Snowball Fight with penguins and snowman was really fun to make!  I like the innocent penguin building his snowman unaware that his 'friend' is about to attack him with snowballs!  He eveb has a little supply of balled up snow ready as ammunition!

This little cake is for my friend who will be celebrating their first Christmas with their daughter who will be 10 months old.

Boxing Day Bun Bakery

Was woken early by the "Boss" (also known as Baby Minh) so I thought I'd might as well get on with baking the buns I'd prepared the night before. 

 Tuna mayo buns are a favourite of mine from hols to Hong Kong so I recreated them at home.

 Sausage buns were a childhood favourite so I'm reliving some memories.  Although they were mainly just rolled around the sausage - a bit like a mummified sausage.

 Had to make some Char Siu Chan Buns too!

Tray of buns ready to take to my parents house later.

** I did this post in a hurry & have now included links to the recipes where available.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Wishing all you lovely people a very happy Christmas however you choose to celebrate it!  Christmas doesn't have to mean turkey and the trimmings, exchanging gifts.  Celebrate how you choose to.  Eat great food, share laughter with family and friends and create happy memories to look back on.

Best wishes to you all and may the new year bring with it much happiness, peace and love to you all!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Snow, Snow Go Away, Come Back Another Day

Our front garden is a carpet of white snow!
Britain is covered under a blanket of snow.  It is causing havoc with transport in the country as airports are closed.  No flights landing and minimal flights leaving.  We don't cope very well with snow in this country and only a thin sprinkling of snow is enough to cause disruption to transport links.

I usually spend Monday's at my parent's home and we had planned to go to a Chinese Supermarket to stock up on goodies for Christmas.  Mum makes Chinese soup every week and at Christmas time she makes one with exotic roots and tubers.  Well, exotic to the natives here but I've grown up seeing them so not weird and wonderful to my eye!  This soup would have the following:   Arrowroot or Kudzu (I would pronounce this 'fun goht' in Cantonese, I believe it may be known as 'fen ge' or 'ge gen' 葛根 in mandarin);

蓮藕 Lotus Root ('leen ngow')         

馬蹄 Water Chestnut ('mah tai')    

It would also have things like pork bones, carrots other goodies to make it flavoursome and sweet.  I had suggested we go buy these last week but noooooo parents wanted to leave it to the week before Christmas.  Personally, I though getting it two weeks before the event will hopefully mean less crowds.  Parents obviously wanted it last minute as possible so it would be fresher.  Well.  With the snow that we had and the chance of more in the afternoon it totally scuppered the idea of me leaving my house to get to them (they only live 25 miles away 35-45 minute drive normally).  So, Chinese supermarket trip has not been made and the likelihood of having this yummy soup is slim.  

Chickens are snowed in!
I am hoping that the weather doesn't worsen as we always spend Christmas with my family.  My older brother brings his family over and stays at my parent's house and the house is a hive of fun as me and my younger brother play and entertain my niece (she will be five soon!).  Was having depressing thoughts of being snowed in at home and spending a quiet time just me, Mr Leaf and the baby. 

Although I have some more material to blog and pics to show you (foodie ones too!), I'm going to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Festive Christmas - may it be merry and bright!  Best wishes for 2011!!!


Cute Curvy Coin Purse

Hi, well I remembered to use my newly made bag to my work's Christmas Karaoke and even made a matching coin purse.  We went to a Chinese All-You-Can-Eat Buffet and wore a blue Cheongsam.  My colleagues were too busy admiring the dress to notice my bag! 

Christmas Karaoke at a Chinese Buffet - Can you spot me?

Ah well......I'm so pleased that they remembered to invite me and we did have a very good time!  I also delivered my first Christmas Cake to a friend as she'd asked me to make one for her - she was pleased!  (I'll show you pics of all my Christmas Cakes later!)

Coin purse has same matching hot pink lining as the Loop Handled Purse

Friday, 3 December 2010

Sew Again - Loop Handled Purse

I've bookmarked this purse tutorial for a while now and even bought the hardware for it.  I had an idea of what fabric I wanted to use too but I heard it's tricky to use as the edges are prone to fraying. 

I love Chinese Brocade fabric.  Maybe it's the oriental in me?  I'd like to think it's silk, but I think I just have the polyester type.  As it's so smooth, slinky and shiny, I thought a similar lining fabric would be appropriate.  So I opted for polyester lining material.  Another slippery contender which frays at a mere stroke. 

Cutting the material wasn't too difficult as the pieces aren't large.  I took my time as this was going to be a Special Going Out Bag.  :0)  I decided I would try prevent too much fraying by using some fusible interfacing on the wrong side of both the brocade and lining.  Idea being 'cos it's stuck to something the edges won't fray?  Worked on the lining and the brocade still frayed a little - might just be the loose strands though.  The pattern uses heavy sew-in interfacing as well which makes the bag lovely and slightly padded.  It means it can be an absolute @*$% to sew 'cos it gets thick in places! 

Still.  It's finished and ready for it's first night out next week.  Am impressed that I'm not working on it minutes before I plan to use it.  I'm rather chuffed with my bag.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Sew Crazy - Reusable Groceries Bag

Strong padded handles - no cutting into hands
I haven't blogged for two weeks!  It's not through lack of material.  I could tell you about the Peach Upside-Down Cake that I've baked (TWICE!) and not shown you; or the Cherry Cake that I baked last week 'cos that is what I fancied; the Christmas cake that I baked and fed with brandy as a cake order for a work colleague and even the Hakka Dumpling (? not really sure what they would be called in English) with the shredded white radish filling that my mum made....

There is always so much I want to bake...  Even though I'm still on Maternity Leave, it's hard finding time to do these things.  I stay up rather late to do Minh's 1st night feed at around 1am, so inevitably I sleep in (where I can) until around 9:30am - 10:00 if we don't need to be anywhere that morning.  Still, that leaves me part of a morning and an afternoon before the evening sets in and I need to think about making the evening meal.  Time flies extremely quickly when you're a mum.  I only manage to slot in little snippets of time to myself in between Minh's naps.  These days he's spending more time awake and wants entertainment.  When he was younger, it was more frequent feeds, now he can go four hours, sometimes five but he's not always sleeping in between these feeds.  Sometimes it's the time when I think "Right!  Better get fed myself.  Or, let's do the washing up."  It can be a weary task but you are paid back in sweet smiles and chuckles of laughter that take your grumpiness away.

After dusting down the sewing machine to finish the baby quilt for our niece, I set to work on my first bag.  I've been following Lisa Lam's blog - U-Handblog for a little while now and have bookmarked some projects to make.  I even splurged on some wonderful goodies from her online shop in the Summer with the intention of making something before the baby arrived.  I thought I might get bored waiting you see - no chance of that!

I was pleased to complete this for my mum on Monday.....

Plenty of room for your shopping
Handy trolley token

It's one of Lisa's designs for a reusable groceries bag but I made mine with a square base opposed to her curved gusset.  I figured it'd be easier to sew and the shopping might stand up better in the bottom of the bag.  I used thick cotton fabric - I think it's probably curtain material so I should've made the bag cosy a bit bigger.  I also included a supermarket trolley coin - I hate it when I need a coin to get the trolley from the trolley park and I've run out of £1 coins!  These trolley tokens do just the job.

It was simply to put together even for a total newbie like me - her instructions are clear and plenty of photos to show you the steps.  I've got quite a few of her bags bookmarked to make all I need is the peace to do them!

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Baby's first Halloween!

It's still Halloween (just) here!  Halloween is becoming big business here in UK - even the shop assistants in the supermarket were dressed for the occasion on Saturday!  There are Halloween outfits for children, adults AND babies, but I thought it too cruel to dress Minh as a pumpkin - I mean what if it gives him a complex for the rest of his life?!?!?  lol

Anyway, decided I will buy a pumpkin to carve into a lantern for him - not that he'll understand mind, it was something I wanted to do.  Funny thing being a parent - makes you do the most daftest of things!  Never had inclination to make a pumpkin lantern before and there I was thios afternoon carving one for my (almost) 3 month old son!  Crazy!

Funnier still was going outside to see what the lit lantern looked like from outside and taking a snap of it from outside.  Durrrr....why not just take a picture indoors!?!?!?!? lol

This ghostly Lantern has arms and a body!! It's my reflection silly! 

Minh - Pampered Prince

In the mornings, the little man wakes at around 08:45 to 09:15 and cries in his cot which conveniently is next to the double bed where I'm sleeping.  I used to think he was hungry and crying for milk.  I would run downstairs to fetch him some milk and make sure it was not too cold. 

He would just refuse the bottle, turning his head to dislodge the teat from his mouth or clamping his mouth shut.  Funnily though, he would settle happily in my arms and as I would often still be tired at that time I often snuggled him in he middle of the double bed next to me so we could both get some more shut eye.

He's settled in the bed now and as I'm up and in blogland, I thought I'd make sure he was okay.  He's tucked up so well and propped up on so many pillows so he doesn't fall down - he looks just like a pampered prince!  Sometimes at silly o'hour in the morning when I'm running upstairs and downstairs for milk as he's crying I feel like that.  Especially when I've fetched the milk and he doesn't want any.  I guess it's nightmares they must have.  I wish I could tell the difference between a night time, "I'm hungry!" cry to a "I'm having a bad dream" cry.  They both sound like something is biting his leg off!

The smallest person in the house surrounded by a pile of pillows to suport him in a double bed all to himself!  Pampered or what?  lol  But you can't help but love him!

Sewing - Baby Quilt

My niece was born March 2009 and to mark her arrival I thought I'd make a baby quilt.  I'd only made one the previous year in blues, greens and yellows (didn't think to take photos of my creations back then) for my friend's new baby son.

With this quilt I thought I'd use some pretty pink satin ribbon to give it a different texture.  Hadn't anticipated how difficult it would make sewing.  It's smooth silky and slippery and doesn't feed into machine very well.  Hence wobbly sewing!  Out of frustration I abandoned the project for over a year and have completed it this weekend!  Phew!  Finally!

I want to start a new sewing project but had to finish the quilt.  I have far too many half started craft projects I couldn't stand to have another!

Bun Bakery - Char Siu (BBQ Pork) Bun 叉燒餐包, Pineapple Bun 菠蘿包 & Custard Bun 奶黃包

PlumLeaf Bakery with four trays of buns ready for the baking!
Had a crazy bout of bun bakery this weekend!  I doubled the quantity in EEWIF's Sweet Bread Dough recipe as I intended to give some buns to my brother and his family who are visiting my mum whilst my niece is on half-term holiday.

Char Siu Piggy hiding next to the Pineapple buns!

Piggies fighting in oven?!  Out of place ears and snouts!
Custard Filled Hedgehog

Tray of Custard Buns

We always loved Char Siu Buns as kids and sometimes Dad would buy buns from Chinese Bakery in Chinatown as treats.  I also tried some different toppings and fillings.  My bro' likes Bor Lor Bao ~ Pineapple Bun 菠蘿包 so I thought I'd try recreate that one.  There are several different recipes for pineapple topping floating around the internet but I like the sound of this one from Bao/Bread and as it was enough for 6 buns it gave me opportunity to whip up a batch of custard filling as my third bun flavour.

Char Siu buns had more room on tray at front - ugly ones at back of queue!
I must remember to space out my buns better as I had Char Siu Buns that had merged into one another (like my red bean ones did a few weeks back).  Instead of being beautiful burnished domes of porky bun goodness, it resembled burnt honeycomb.  Not a good look.  Had fun making a couple of Char Siu Pigs though!  Those two had slightly more filling than the rest (only 5 g extra) so I thought I'd make fat pigs out of them!  They did swell out - looked almost ready to burst!

Custard Buns

Have still yet to make my Hong Kong favourite - Tuna Bun 吞拿魚包.  Also got to dream up of some more tasty fillings! Yum Yum!  Am loving this recipe so much!  I have to thank Everybody Eats Well In Flanders again for sharing an excellent recipe!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Macaron Madness!

Bite-sized tea-time treats

I'm obsessed with the baker's arch enemy - The Macaron!  Notice the spelling - one 'o'.  The single 'o' spelling of macaron is normally used to describe the french confection of two meringue and almond discs sandwiched together with buttercream, ganache or jam.  Macaroon, however is known in England as a coconut or almond small baked confection.

You do get more than that in each pack, I've just eaten half the pack!

It appears that these dainty and colourful creations (french macarons like Lauduree or Pierre Hermes) are popular in blogosphere at the moment as well as being a hit outside in major cities all around the world.  They are made from sugar, icing sugar, ground almonds and egg whites and are exceedingly difficult to get right.  I've gone through a craze of sitting up late at night reading blog after blog about macarons, the best recipes, different fillings, flavours, what went wrong......  Now I've never even eaten one of these pretty pastel coloured confections but I must make some!  I tried.  I failed.

I heard Waitrose were stocking these in packs of twelve to buy (where I heard that I forget now, too many blogs, too many sites!), so off I popped to the shops yesterday (it was wet and drizzly too) in search of these little treasures.  Nope.  My local didn't have these on offer but I did find the English equivalents, both the Coconut and Almond Macaroon. 

Soft chewy centre full of almond flavour

Moist sweet coconut - for the exceptionally sweet-toothed!
My fave has to be the Almond Macaroon.  Looking like a crunchy cookie it's deceptive as you bite into that crisp exterior that gives way to a soft chewy centre with a flavour reminiscent of marzipan but less dense.  It's usually has a thin edible rice paper sheet lining it.  The coconut cousin however, is a much, much sweeter affair.  A rough, rocky lump of lightly browned coconut which is very slightly moist in the middle, like eating a Bounty Chocolate bar without the thick chocolate covering.  I now recall making these coconut delights when younger.  My mum said I was never to make them again as they were far too sweet.  Afterall, it consisted of mixing egg white, sugar and desiccated coconut together before dropping rough heaps on a tray to bake.

Dense chocolatey gooeyness

So, what went wrong with my macarons?  Well, I saw a chocolate macaron recipe and thought the bitter chocolate would take away the sweetness of egg whites and sugar.  I anticipated a fail and so split the recipe in thirds.  On mixing the meringue with almonds, cocoa and sugar I knew something was wrong.  The mixture was far too dry.  So I quickly whisked up another egg white to combine with the mixture.  Maybe I got my sums wrong when scaling down the recipe?  I checked if I was being a scatter brain.  Nope.  I guess it may be down to the eggs being on the small side (they're from our own hens) or me getting the method wrong.  The mixture still seemed thick and it didn't make me think of flowing magma like other blogs described.  I won't use the words I thought the lumpy brown mix looked like, never-the-less, I dropped blobs on a baking sheet to bake anyway and wished for a miracle to happen.  Hmmm....well, they kinda cooked.  They aren't right at all.  It's deep dark and chocolaty but not crisp and chewy.  Just moist and gooey.  Actually, I think I've invented chocolate flavoured marzipan as that what it reminds me of.  Ho-hum.  Back to the drawing board and I will summon up the courage to try making these elusive babies another time. 

Minh Update - 11 weeks

For a change, the sun is shining and it always makes for a better photo.  I've taken these photos not because Minh has changed much in appearance but just for your viewing pleasure!  Minh has started to babble more now, sometimes his cries can sound like "Mere, mere...." which sounds like he's speaking french as that's the word for mum.  Hubby (Mr Leaf) tells me that's the Vietnamese word for mum too.  Other sounds are "Gurr, gurr, gurr."  No idea what that is.  Funny how they repeat their words/sounds.

Minh makes me laugh when I'm talking to him as it sounds as if he's answering to me.  I often speak to him in English (living here so long it comes second nature) occasionally I remember my Chinese roots and speak to him in Hakka - my mother tongue.  He replies with "Hair, hair, hair." Sounding like Hakka for "Yes".  Makes me smile!

Here are today's snapshots for you to coo over!

"Where's the camera?"
"Well Helloooo There!"
"Say Cheese?  That's silly! I don't eat cheese!?!!"

"All that posing makes me zzzzzzzz........"

...and a rare appearance from yours truly.