Sunday, 18 July 2010

A night to remember

As usual I’ve been extremely busy but now the summer holidays are here I have a bit of time to catch my breath and catch up on my blogs, although I'm currently away on the North coast of Scotland where the mobile broadband signal is flaky to say the least so blogging isn't too easy!

On 15th July Steve and I attended the gala awards evening for the 2010 Brit Writers Awards at the O2 in London. My Preserves book (available to buy from my ebay shop, by the way) had been nominated for the non-fiction category prize. Apparently there had been 21000 entries to the competition as a whole so reaching the top 6 in any category was a huge achievement. It is fantastic to have people read your work and to decide it is good enough to be seriously considered for such a prize. Amazing really that a recipe book can generate that much excitement in people who aren’t actively seeking a solution to a glut of fruit or veg.

As the evening was a black tie event we had to get ourselves poshed up for the event. This is not something that comes naturally to me. I’d rather be stood on the allotment in a t-shirt that has seen better days and a pair of trousers with a few holes in. It’s not to say that I neglect my appearance but with so many things to get done in a day, spending time on my hair and make-up is a low priority and my clothes need to be practical. So it was a rare treat to go to the hairdressers and have someone spend 45 minutes transforming my long red locks into a glamorous “updo”. And then slip into a long velvet dress and give myself a makeover. As an unexpected finishing touch my Business Buddy friends had buttonhole flowers delivered to our door for Steve and me.

At 3 o’clock, with my mum setting off to pick the girls up from school, Steve and I headed into London. It’s not often that I get treated like a VIP but I think I could get use to it should I ever become a famous writer! At 6 we sat down for our VIP meal and then around 8 the awards ceremony began.

I didn’t expect my humble recipe book to win, and that proved to be the case, but it was an honour to get that far and to treated like a VIP for the night. Like Cinderella, I was home and in bed for midnight but unlike Cinderella, the next morning there was the school run to do and plenty more potatoes to peel!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

A tale of two cakes... and a trifle.

It was my youngest daughter's 6th birthday on Friday. Of course for her it was a very important and special day and rightly so, so it was only proper that I helped to make it a special day too despite the timing of it being smack bang in the middle of the busiest fortnight since the week before Christmas!

Her birthday also happened to share the day with the school's sports day and summer fete. From her point of view it just helped to make her day even more special. For me, it meant squeezing her birthday around fete preparations and spending a couple of hours standing in a field watching her throwing bean bags about. As well was the usual jobs of sticking tombola tickets on donated prizes, this year I was running a fruit kebab stall with the members of my after school cooking club. This required some last minute shopping for fresh fruit as well as organising equipment and so on. So from dropping the girls off in the morning I remained in school until 11.30. Then it was time to nip home, have lunch, slap on sun block and rush out again for the sports day at 1pm, followed directly by the fete at 3 until 5pm. So when exactly was I going to make her a birthday cake?

I had made arrangements to visit Gulliver's Land for her birthday treat on the Saturday, followed by dinner at my parents' house. For this I had planned a white chocolate raspberry ripple cheesecake as her "birthday cake". My daughter absolutely loves soft fruit so she welcomed the idea of this cheesecake with enthusiasm. With no cooking involved I managed to make the base and the raspberry sauce bits on Thursday in between other jobs and I just needed to assemble the thing at some point on Friday. So in my lunch break I blended the creamy bit together, swirled in the raspberry sauce and returned it to the fridge before dumping the messy bowls in the sink and dashing out again.

White Chocolate Raspberry Ripple Cheesecake
For the base
75g digestive biscuits, crushed
75g gingernut biscuits, crushed
75g butter, melted

For the topping
200g white chocolate
30g butter
1/4 vanilla pod
250g cream cheese
90ml whipping cream
100g raspberries
25g caster sugar

For the biscuit base combine the crushed biscuits and the melted butter in a bowl then press into the greased base of a 20cm circular tin or dish. Place in the refrigerator for at least half an hour to solidify. Next, melt the chocolate, butter and the seeds from the vanilla pod in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Leave to cool. In another bowl, mix together the cream and cheese and beat until smooth. Once the chocolate mix is suitably cool add it to the cream mix and stir thoroughly. Spoon onto the biscuit base. Reserve a few raspberries and place the rest in a saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of water and the caster sugar. Heat gently, squashing the raspberries with a spoon to break them down. After about 5 minutes remove from the heat and strain through a sieve to remove the seeds. Spoon the raspberry sauce over the cheesecake then gently swirl it through the upper surface of the creamy layer with a skewer or spoon handle. Chill over night then place the reserved raspberries on top before serving.

It slowly dawned on me that it was her birthday that day and she didn't have a birthday cake to stick candles in whilst we sung happy birthday to her. So back at school as the final preparations were being made for the fete I scanned the pile of donated cakes for the cake stall and under a piece of foil I found a homemade sponge ring cake. Perfect! I threw a donation into the pot and stashed it away at the back of the fruit kebab stall.
Several long and hot hours later, tired and stuffed with ice-creams, sweets and hot dogs we returned home. I grabbed the remaining whipping cream left over from making the cheesecake and whipped it until it was thick. Then I spooned it into the centre of the sponge ring cake, topped it with a selection of our soft fruit and decorated the ring with sugar flowers and six candles. Wow! It felt like I'd performed some sort of miracle!

Needless to say that with bellies full of fete food there wasn't much appetite for the cake, although the candles and song were greatly appreciated. So today with half the sponge ring left over I used it as the base for a raspberry trifle. I don't know who made that delicious sponge cake but whoever it was I am hugely grateful to them!