Sunday, 30 October 2011

Coffee at The Basement

A sign in the window advertises that this interesting looking coffee shop has “Pumpkin Lattes”.  Who am I to deny myself from taste testing the one and only pumpkin latte available in Newcastle upon Tyne?
Located in Carliol Square, the relaxed atmosphere is apparent as you walk downstairs into the spacious coffee shop.  Music quietly plays in the background as the friendly barista greets you.
It feels like I’ve been transported back in time to my teen years and landed in a suburban basement to hang out on a Friday night complete with a pool table and combinations of random furniture dotted around.
There is even a little stage in one corner with a musician’s stool and a microphone which must be for “Live Music Fridays” advertised on the blackboard. 
I was very excited to have my pumpkin latte and was indeed quite impressed with it.
I was even more impressed with the “London Fog” (Earl Grey tea with steamed milk and vanilla syrup) that I had the pleasure of tasting for the first time.
That drink is definitely going on my list of things to order again, yum!    

Monday, 24 October 2011

Sugar Cookies

The sugar cookie is such a simple and versatile cookie. 

Perfectly delicious on its own or it can be made extra special using cookie cutters. Once decorated they can be a special treat suitable for any tea party!

I decided to make these particular sugar cookies for a Tea Party themed Baby Shower. 

I had chosen the teacup and teapot cookie cutters specifically for this purpose and I’m sure I will get plenty of use out of them in future too (Tea Party themed cookies from now on!).

I have to admit that it was a little frustrating when the baked cookies came out of the oven looking less than ideal. 

They had spread out quite a bit and were not particularly looking like they were heading to a tea party but luckily I was planning to add icing touches to embellish the finished cookie.

My mission was to force the brain to assume they were destined for a tea party through the creative use of sugar and an icing pen.

I had made an impulse buy of an icing pen (for the bargain price of only £3.99) on a little lunch time excursion to Clas Ohlson. I’m loving it and have put it to good use with these cookies.  

I am already envisioning Christmas cookies with sprinkles and icing galore!

Recipe from Joy of Baking:

Makes about 36 cookies.

3 cups (390 grams) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (227 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda. 

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). 

Add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat until combined.

Add the flour mixture and beat until you have a smooth dough. Divide the dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about one hour or until firm enough to roll.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Remove one half of the chilled dough from the refrigerator and, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/4 inch (1 cm). Keep turning the dough as you roll, making sure the dough does not stick to the counter.  Cut out desired shapes using a lightly floured cookie cutter and transfer cookies to baking sheet.

Place the baking sheets with the unbaked cookies in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to chill the dough which prevents the cookies from spreading and losing their shape while baking.

Note: If you are not going to frost the baked cookies, you can sprinkle the unbaked cookies with sparkling sugar. 

Bake cookies for about 8-10 minutes (depending on size) or until the edges are just starting to brown. Remove from oven and let cookies cool on baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Frosted cookies will keep several days in an airtight container. Store between layers of parchment paper or wax paper.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Tyneside Coffee Rooms

Far: Banoffee Cake with Caramel Frosting
Fact: there are some fantastic places to have coffee in Newcastle.
I can appreciate the technical skill and extreme dedication to customer service that it takes to create a half-caf extra shot, extra hot, skinny caramel macchiato to the same standard each and every time, and I do indulge in a handcrafted beverage from the worldwide chains every so often quite happily. 

However, I can also appreciate a uniquely cosy one-off coffee shop that makes a helluva cuppa served in a chunky painted mug and whose decor comes complete with mismatched chairs, lumpy throw pillows and a take one/leave one book shelf in the corner. 

One of these wonderfully unique places is the Tyneside Coffee Rooms on the second floor of the Tyneside Cinema.
Blueberry cake with cream cheese frosting
Ok, so it doesn't have mismatched chairs or lumpy pillows, but it has fabulous red velvet seats with a greatly varied menu and they always seem to have a delicious selection of cakes (which come in very satisfyingly large portions!).  
Not only do they serve coffee but they also have a wide variety of tea and the loose teas are even served in funky tea cafetieres that perch on top of your cup.
It’s a great place to pop in and grab a cuppa to sip over good conversation, or to have lunch before a big shopping expedition in town.
I especially like the fact that there is movie memorabilia, factoids and photos in an exhibition in the corridor on your way into the coffee shop. 
The Tyneside Coffee Rooms is definitely a one-off coffee & cake experience.    

Friday, 7 October 2011

Chocolate Photo Shoot

Chocolate is a treat in all of its forms. 
Whether it be an indulgent hot coco moment, a sinfully rich & gooey chocolate dessert or just a candy bar fix from the vending machine during the work day, each is a special little moment to be enjoyed in its own way.
So last year when the opportunity arose to partake in an extraordinary chocolate selection box at an amazingly bargain basement price I jumped at the chance.
It was one of those fabulously priced trial offers for a certain high end chocolate company’s tasting club (the shop that has a name which sounds like it may actually be somewhere to rest your head overnight on a bed made of the delightful treat ). 
It was truly just too good of a deal to pass up.
I, of course, had to have a little photo shoot with my chocolates before I allowed myself to indulge in their deliciousness.

They were indeed the prettiest chocolates I have ever experienced and they tasted pretty fantastic too which is an impressive bonus. They had both style and substance, a combination I can happily sink my teeth into.
I can genuinely say that up until that point I had never had so much fun taking pictures of food.  I think it was one of the very first times I tried my hand at actually styling food.   
After the shoot I did my best to savour each and every bite of these decadent morsels but if I recall correctly the box didn’t last very long.
Can you blame me?  

Saturday, 1 October 2011

French Toast Casserole

It may be purely an American thing to make a casserole that is not savoury but whatever you choose to name this dish it is not a disappointment for something special of a sweet & stodgy nature.

It is probably best to refer to the meal where this dish is served as brunch otherwise you are flat out having dessert for breakfast. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to the idea of having dessert for breakfast, and in fact some of my favourite breakfasts are probably considered desserts somewhere in the world (waffles smothered with syrup, bagels with fruity cream cheese, porridge with dried fruit and drizzles of honey...) but for the sake of appearing healthy let’s just refer to this as the perfect brunch dish.

My mom found this recipe a couple of years ago and prepared it for our family Christmas Brunch that year (see how that sounds? Brunch is just fantastic!).

Simply put, it was awesome. It is now in my ever-growing repertoire of tried & tested recipes.

Basically it is a giant finger-licking portion of delicious French Toast (or Eggy Bread as it is called in the UK) that has been smothered in a sticky combination of syrup, pecans and brown sugar.  It is then baked to perfection so each bite has a bit of crunch followed by the soft sweet insides.

It is pretty simple to assemble and well worth a try! Your sweet tooth will definitely thank you (even if your waistline wants to disown you).

Below is the original recipe that my mom typed out for me from the newspaper article where she discovered it.  The article credited the recipe as being adapted from Virginia Willis' Bon Appetit, Y'all.

It is worth noting that recently I made a half batch (since I didn’t have a football team to serve it to) in a brownie pan and it worked quite well and made two large portions or 4 petite ones.

French Toast Casserole (makes 8 servings)
4 TBSP (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 loaf brioche (any sweetish white bread will do) sliced roughly 1 1/2 inches thick
8 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup whole milk
1 TBSP vanilla extract
1/2 TSP ground cinnamon
1/4 TSP ground ginger
Pinch Salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
Confectioners Sugar
Maple syrup

Combine melted butter and brown sugar in a 9x13 inch baking dish.

Arrange bread slices overlapping in the dish.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and salt. 

Pour mixture over bread, and let it soak in. 

Top bread slices evenly with pecans or walnuts.

Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 3 to 12 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Meantime, take casserole out of refrigerator and let sit at room temp for 20 minutes.

Bake casserole until browned and set, 30 to 45 mins. Let cool slightly on wire rack.

Sift confectioners’ sugar over casserole, and serve with syrup.

(Adapted from Virginia Willis' Bon Appetit, Y'all)