Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb

One of the few benefits of having a shady garden is that my rhubarb plant loves it and with all this rain we've had recently I was able to get some lovely fat, beautiful rosy stalks which I chopped and froze within minutes of plucking from the garden.

We went to someone's house for dinner on Saturday and I offered to take pudding so thought I would do a twist on my gluten-free crumble (see my previous blog here).
I put the frozen rhubarb in a saucepan with quite a lot of sugar and warmed it very gently until the rhubarb had softened but not disintegrated and then drained the lovely rhubarb juice off into a jug.
I baked the ginger gluten-free biscuits (ginger and rhubarb are just so good together) and crumbled them up once they were cool.

I mixed icing sugar and delicious pink rhubarb juice into some mascarpone which I then swirled through the chunks of cooked rhubarb, before topping with the biscuit crumble to create a rhubarb fool crumble. The resulting pudding was delicious.
Two things I would change for next time: I would try to get some glass sundae dishes so you could see the rosy pink rhubarb swirled with mascarpone under the crumble; and I would add more rhubarb juice to the mascarpone - I was worried about making it too runny but once the puddings had sat for a while it all thickened up a bit. Alternatively, I could have taken the rhubarb juice to pour over the top before eating!

Another recipe I tried some time ago using the rhubarb was apple rhubarb bread. I baked this using gluten free flour and the apple and rhubarb kept it moist. The original recipes calls for finely chopped rhubarb but I found that it became lost in the baked cake and next time I will keep bigger chunks so I can actually tell that there is rhubarb in the cake. 

Another recipe that may work well with rhubarb are quick and easy biscuits called diggles. I have made these several time with blackberries but I can see rhubarb working for a slightly more adult version.

I have put the recipes below. If you have your own rhubarb I hope you enjoy making some of these and if you don't have your own plant make sure you get hold of some rhubarb while it's in season.

Rhubarb fool crumble

Ingredients
rhubarb
ginger fairings (see here for the recipe)
mascarpone
icing sugar
juice from the stewed rhubarb

Gently stew the rhubarb until soft but still holding shape. Drain off the juice into a jug and keep to one side. Allow to cool. 

Mix a small amount of icing sugar with the mascarpone (to taste) and add some of the reserved rhubarb juice until it's the consistency of single cream.

Place some rhubarb into individual dishes and swirl the mascapone cream through. Crumble the ginger fairings over the top to finish and serve with a jug of the rhubarb juice.

Apple rhubarb bread

Ingredients
1.5 cups chopped rhubarb
1.5 cups chopped apples
1.5 cups brown sugar
0.5 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
4 eggs
3 cups flour
1 cup chopped nuts
3.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, eggs and vegetable oil. Stir in the rhubarb, apples and vanilla.

In a separate bowl sift together the baking powder, salt and flour. Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just moistened.

Stir in the finely chopped nuts and pour into a greased baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees, for 50 – 60 minutes or until a toothpick comes clean.

Remove bread from pan, cool on a wire or wooden rack and wrap for storage.

Rhubarb diggles

Makes 12
Rhubarb (in small chunks)
1tbsp granulated sugar
85g butter or margarine
225g self-raising flour
85g caster sugar
1 medium egg, beaten

Lightly cook the rhubarb and stir in the sugar to coat the pieces. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6.

Rub butter into the flour in a bowl. Add caster sugar and make a well in the centre. Add the egg to the well. Mix until you have formed a dough.

Break off 12 pieces and shape into rough balls the size of a large walnut. Place on to silicone paper on a baking tray, leaving a good gap between them. Make a dent in the top with the end of a wooden spoon, then spoon in a couple of pieces of rhubarb.

Bake for approximately 12 minutes until just golden. Remove and cool.

NB. the original recipe uses blueberries but blackberries also work very well

© 2012 Nicola Noble: Please observe the rules of copyright and blog etiquette. If you use my ideas or images, please link back to my blog. And do let me know - I'd love to take a look.

Monday, 25 June 2012

The trials and tribulations of a shortbread mould!

I was given/bought myself a shortbread mould last Christmas. It is such a pretty mould and I had great visions of creating shortbread that would not only taste amazing but look beautiful too - perfect homemade Christmas gifts for years to come! But, as with all these things, the mould languished at the back of my cupboard for the last six months unused but not forgotten!
Then last week I decided I really was going to make this beautiful shortbread. I got a recipe for orange shortbread from my mum (I remember having this as a child) and had a go at making my very first batch. Never one to do things by half, I also decided to make this gluten free. Oh dear - the shortbread tasted good but the mould was a disaster! I followed the instructions on the box and pushed the shortbread mix into the mould then left it to chill for 30 minutes. But when I then tried to turn the shortbread out of the mould onto a baking tray it refused to budge. No amount of coaxing could get it out in anything but a crumbled mess. I even put it in again, chilled it for another 30 minutes and had another go and it would not come out! So I ended up scraping it all out and creating a rough circle by hand. So disappointing :o(

I phoned Tesco to complain that their product was rubbish and got through to a Scottish customer service guy who said that as I had bought the product at Christmas I wouldn't be entitled to a refund (I don't agree with him since the mould is not fit for purpose if you can't get the shortbread out , but that would be a whole other story!) We then ended up having a long discussion about shortbread and it
turned out that he makes shortbread all the time and that his two favourite shortbread recipes included almond essence and vanilla essence and coconut ...

Not one for giving in easily, I did a bit of research on the web and decided to have another go. Most of the information on shortbread moulds were for ones that you bake the shortbread in but my mould clearly said not to be used in the oven! So this time, I carefully washed and dried the mould, dusted it with cornflour very thoroughly, pressed the shortbread in very well and left it to chill in the fridge for a very long time (a couple of hours). I also made it with regular wheat flour and decided to add coconut as per Mr Tesco.

This time when I tried to remove the shortbread, I ran a knife around the outside edge several times, tapped the bottom forcefully a large number of times and used a fish slice to try to lift it carefully. Two small sections broke away but then success: the rest of the dough popped out onto the baking sheet. I was able to push the two broken bits back onto the rest and there I had a fairly decent looking shortbread ready for baking.
I'm still not sure how long to cook the shortbread for - most recipes say to remove it before it goes golden but both my shortbreads seemed to be a bit crumbly. Maybe my expectations should be different between home made and shop bought shortbreads. The pattern did show through on this one but still not as much as I had hoped. It may be different without the coconut but we all enjoyed the taste of this in it so it was worth including.
The final verdict? I won't be having a fight with Tesco about fit for purpose goods just yet as I think that with more use the mould and I will develop a better relationship. But I wouldn't recommend buying a non-bakeable mould to anyone thinking about it - it really isn't as easy as the instructions on the back make out!

© 2012 Nicola Noble: Please observe the rules of copyright and blog etiquette. If you use my ideas or images, please link back to my blog. And do let me know - I'd love to take a look.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Jubilee-tastic product branding

I have to admit that I am loving all the very British branding that many well-known brands have adopted this year - in honour of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, London 2012.

That said, I am not particularly choosing one brand over another when I am shopping but if something I normally buy has a patriotic option then I buy that one.

My favourite so far has to be Marmite - very clever ...
 ... although technically, it's not quite right. Apparently, when addressing the Queen (after the first "Your Majesty") it's  Ma'am (as in jam) not Ma'am as in Marm-ite!

Kingsmill bread also made me chuckle out loud in the supermarket when I saw their tribute...
Other patriotic brands I have come across include:

The obvious: the undisputed queen of summer drinks, Pimms

The not-so obvious: Ryvita - rye crisp breads

And the downright bizarre: Andrex toilet paper

What others have you seen?

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Baked doughnuts

Yesterday Justin asked if we could have doughnuts and as we weren't going anywhere near the shops I thought I might have a go at making some. I don't own a deep fat fryer and didn't want to fill a saucepan with oil (unless you do a lot of frying I always think this is a waste of oil!) so opted to try baking them.

The recipe for doughnuts in my very old Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book was for fried doughnuts but after checking out other recipes on the net I decided to go with the Mary Berry recipe and take a chance on baking them.
I decided to use my dough hook on my Kitchenaid for the first time. This worked well and I followed guidelines to keep the mixing speed at 2 and mixed for about 10 minutes. I then covered the bowl with oiled cling film and left to rise. Sophie had a party so the dough was left for about three hours (as opposed to the 1.5 hours suggested). I hope this didn't make a difference, I really don't know enough about dough to know if it would!

When we got back from the party, I knocked the dough back to get the air out of it, rolled it out to about two centimetres thick, then cut smallish circles out. I didn't have a circle cutter small enough to cut the middle circle out so I used a star cutter - I think this looked really cute on the uncooked doughnuts, although it virtually disappeared on the cooked ones. But I did get very cute star shaped doughnut middles!!
I then placed the doughnuts on oiled baking trays and cooked them for about eight minutes. Most of the recipes online say to take the doughnuts out before they become golden on the top but I didn't feel that they would have been cooked enough if I had taken them out at that stage.
Once the doughnuts had cooled for a few minutes I dipped the top of each one in melted butter and then in cinnamon sugar. And the result?

Well, the plain doughnut tasted like the sort of bread roll you get in Europe or the States (sweeter bread than the bread you get in the UK) but dipped in melted butter and cinnamon sugar they were more like doughnuts. And the opinions of quality control was divided - Sophie liked them plain and Justin and I liked them with the sugar. There is a slightly yeasty aftertaste but nothing to stop me eating copious amounts of them!

I put some of the uncoated doughnuts in the freezer as an experiment and it would be good if they come out edible for another time.

And the doughnuts still taste good a day later ...

© 2012 Nicola Noble: Please observe the rules of copyright and blog etiquette. If you use my ideas or images, please link back to my blog. And do let me know - I'd love to take a look.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

MoshiMonsters.com v. Build-a-Bearville.com



There is an ongoing debate in our house as to which of these free online "worlds" is better - if you can call a discussion between a six year old and a 40 something a debate!

It seems that Sophie's answer depends on what external influences happen to have come along in the previous week/day - such as a visit to the Build-a-Bear shop or a Moshi Monster purchase of some sort - collectable Moshlings, cards or stickers (sadly we have been sucked into the collectables whirlpool of which there seems to be very little escape!). 

So a brief summary of both:

Moshi Monsters

Moshi Monsters (MM) is an online game for children, where you can adopt a monster and look after it. You care for your monster by solving puzzle games, which earn your monster virtual rewards called Rox. 
You can spend Rox on virtual items like food, furniture and other treats and toys for your monster. Over time your monster increases in level, can visit new locations in Monstro City, and earns in-game rewards for playing. Monster owners are also be able to make friends with other owners and leave messages on their pages. 

You can adopt and play the basic version of MM for free, but there is also a membership option where Moshi Club Members receive exclusive access to extras.
As mentioned already, you can buy real-life MM merchandise, and most of these come with special codes that you enter into your account and which give you virtual gifts such as items for your Moshi house or Rox currency which can be used to buy things within the game.

A huge part of MM are the very cute Moshlings - little pets for your Moshi Monster. There have been a number of series of Moshlings produced and they are very cute. It is surprising how easy it is to remember the names of all these little guys, even as an adult!

Build-a-Bearville

Build-A-Bearville (BAB) is a virtual town where you can create your own avatar, explore the town and its surroundings, take part in challenges and play games. If you have a real Build-a-Bear teddy you can enter a special code from its birth certificate to create a virtual replica of your teddy. This then unlocks other things within BAB, such as your Cub Condo (house). 
You can purchase virtual items within the game, either with Bearbills which you get from playing games and challenges or with virtual credits which you get when you purchase real-world items from the Build-a-Bear shop. Some virtual things can only be "bought" with virtual credits, rather than Bearbills.
You can play in BAB for free, but there is also a membership option where VIBs can access extra areas.

So, the pros and cons

As a parent I personally feel that BAB offers much more (for free) for my preschool and infant school children. Below are some of the pros and cons for both MM and BAB and my reasons why I prefer BAB overall.

They both have free membership and paid-for membership, but you seem to get much more in BAB without being a paid up member. We don't want to get into the paying £x amount on a monthly basis to join an online world just yet - our children are both too young!

As a non-paying member, you can do much more with your house in BAB, such as adding lots more levels (Sophie has several floors, a back yard, roof terrace, attic, basement - all of which she has saved up and bought with her easily collected bear bills). You can only add more to your MM house if you are a paid-up member.

Without being a paid member of BAB, you still get lots of freebies. You can earn these in games or quests or just for playing the game when an activity is happening (we just got free swimming goggles for playing the game when BAB had an "under the sea" them in June). They also have other regular special events, such as Summer Camp or Halloween where you can collect/get given free gifts. No pressure to play but a nice bonus. MM does give you trophies when you achieve certain levels but not much else for free.
There appear to be more games in BAB where you don't need to be able to read - so more "playable" games, which is great for preschoolers and new readers. MM has quite a few puzzles where you need to be able to read - many of them educational which is great but frustrating when Mum is trying to cook dinner and keeps being asked to come and read what has just come up!

A minor pro for BAB v MM is that when you do get special codes it is easier to enter them into your account. You can just go to the Build-a-Bear workshop on the map and enter 
MM sends a regular e-mail telling you that your Monster is missing you and reminding you to play. Clever marketing ploy but personally I find this annoying as I don't like the emotional blackmail! Sophie is at school during the day and has two days of after-school activities. I don't want her to use the free time she does have at home feeling she has to play MM on the computer to keep her Monster happy. She can play on the computer occasionally when she thinks of it and has free choice of a number of child friendly games. This offers a variety of learning skills and fun, rather than getting so involved in one game that it becomes a slight obsession. I'm sure there will be plenty of that later but for the moment she is only 6 years old!

As mentioned previously, a huge part of MM is the very cute Moshlings, which you can get online by either getting a special code from a real-world purchase or by planting seeds which attract the Moshlings. Growing the seeds is great for problem solving (although there are now many books/ apps that tell you which seeds attract which Moshlings) but as a free member you only get to keep two of these moshlings! Very frustrating when you have three or four favourites!

And the conclusion?

The aim/philosophy of both online worlds seems very different. Overall, I get the impression that Moshi Monsters is more about the money/ merchandising than Build-a-Bearville. Does it make a difference that Moshi Monsters is a UK created company and Bearville is a US company or that BAB has been going much longer? I really don't know.

So for now, I am happy for Sophie to play both but I do encourage her to play BAB more as I feel that she gets more from it and comes away less frustrated by not being a paid-up member. 

What do you think?

© 2012 Nicola Noble: The views expressed here are my own personal views. I apologise if I have got any details wrong and would be happy to correct them if you let me know.Please observe the rules of copyright and blog etiquette. If you use my ideas or images, please link back to my blog. And do let me know - I'd love to take a look.