Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Revenge: what happens to cake that is morish

I had planned a wonderful father's day post about porter cake for today. I even thought about tying it into the disappointing performance of the Irish football team in the UEFA euro 2012s. I prepared a whole celebration of Irish things that are actually good (you know as opposed to the football team) like Irish music, scones, stew, our language, our rugby team, and of course Guinness. I had this whole story about all the nights where the adults in my family would suddenly become fruit cake fiends after nights of trad music and traditional beverages. Good ole Irish times! So maybe you're asking why not just write this post?? Well I made the cake, I gave the cake as father's day present and before I could take any pictures, it was gone. He reported that the cake was delicious, my bf's father also got a cake and said that it was really tasty and yet I do not have a single photo to share this recipe and it just feels like recipe without photos is fairly useless. So it seems I will need to post about something else and I have recently been watching 'Revenge.'

 Revenge is the story of a young lady who grew up with her father in the south hampton society until a tragedy befell her family. She is torn apart from said father who then died without proving himself innocent. Now having received millions of dollars from an investment her father made she is back in the hamptons to get revenge against all those who betrayed her father. The pilot episode opens with murder and intrigue and uses this to hook the viewer's interest, and to be honest, it works....kinda.

The opening scenes are so random that the natural reaction is to wonder how this happened and even what's really going on in the first 3 minutes. According to the wikipedia page, the show has received 'generally favourable reviews,' and has very high viewer ratings among the all important (for advertisers) 18-49 year old groupings. So why is this who so popular? In looking at this I would like to take an initial positive positions and then discuss the numerous elements that I disliked.

To start with the show's resonates not just with our emotional need for 'justice,' but also with an age-old tale of avenging our loved ones. This is not an original concept; Greek mythology, Shakespearean dramas and numerous modern classics, as well as everything in between, have featured this theme and taped into our human need for restorative justice. Much like a great Shakespearean drama it appears that perhaps this story will also explore how negative actions from negative emotions can frequently result in negative consequences for everyone, including the protagonist. If this is the direction the show is headed I can definitely respect that.

Secondly this show is exploring the lives of the rich and socially respected only to highlight their faults and use said faults to knock these people down. I can imagine that there are any number of people who would like nothing more than to knock socialites down a peg or two. We live in a world of reality television and meaningless celebrity, where those who already swan around high society feel that their every thought and action must be caught in tweet, print and/or video form so that everyone can hear how brilliant they are while they collect money for every numb-skull who entertains this behaviour. Yet behind it all there is corruption, distortion and lies. We all know, we all wait in excited anticipation for the next break-down, or up, the next drama, the next costume mishap or misguided decision. We revel in undermining the power that we ourselves have given to these celebrities and socialites. Therefore a show like this one fits perfectly with many people's concious or unconcious dislike for rich people.

Thirdly it also encompasses a number of different fantasies; from basic dreams of receiving unexpected millions and living the easy life, to more unlikely fantasies of marrying into royalty, in the wake of Kate's big day. This show therefore represents an hour of escapism, of reveling in unadulterated hatred and passionate destruction. All in all this show taps in nicely to the undercurrent of anger and longing that is so prevalent in our post 2008 world and for this I tip my hat to the writers and producers.

Now the negative. The story seems to reflect many of the great themes of drama. Unfortunately the actual storyline also feels a bit random. I felt like I was watching some mishmash of 'Gossip Girl,' and 'The girl who kicked the hornet's nest.'

The main character Emily Thorne/Amanda Clarke (played by Emily VanCamp) just seems to good at, well, everything. The girl has supposedly spent the best part of her life in some lock-up psychiatric unit and yet everything she does, she does perfectly. Yes, i get it, she has meticulously planned this massive revenge stunt but somehow I don't see her being able to fake an entire life, which she apparently lived for many years before the start of this show (hence her party planning friend from years ago?!) while also learning computer hacking, horse-riding, painting, cooking skills, etiquette, fashion, hair styling (her curls are far to defined for that humidity), disguising oneself, stock market facts, how to shoot, martial arts, and the list goes on. In every episode it appears that she is just a complete jammy dodger ;)! In one episode people even break into her new house and conveniently never discover her box of father/revenge plan keepsakes or anything that might reveal her true identity! It all a little too convenient if you ask me.

I won't lie, I am looking forward to each new episode but couldn't tell you if that's because this show is so amazing or just because there is literally nothing else on until True Blood Season 5. Either-way the show is entertaining, the acting is dramatic enough to be funnier if you're tipsy and the overall storyline is intriguing, if somewhat unlikely. I will keep watching this show and if you have been considering it, I would recommend it; not brilliant but good for summer television.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

London Family Trip: Part 2 - Cupcake Master-class with Eric Lanlard

Cupcake Anyone?
The weekend with my family in London, had so many wonderful points. The visit to Leavesden Studios was amazing and the time spent with my family but something that stood out for me in particular was the amazing cupcake master-class I attended in Cake Boy Cookery School. In February of this year I was unwell and stuck at home when I got into watching old episodes of Baking Mad with Eric Lanlard. I googled him and discovered the cookery school, then I booked myself onto the only course he was running during the family visit. I went with no expectations and what I experienced was worth reporting.

The cupcake master-class is a two hour class. It focuses on cupcake d├ęcor and presentation. The class is taught by Eric Lanlard himself and starts with a talk on cupcake history. In my traditional way I managed to turn up 20 minutes late and missed the first section. I walked into this industrial estate and practically ran into the Cake Boy shop. I was flustered, out of breath and any chance of making a good first impression on the master patissier had left my head. The store is absolutely beautiful. On the way in the door I was struck immediately by the beautiful, beautiful pastries and cakes. There was a couple drinking coffee at a table near the door that held a tiered cake stand covered in the most exquisite little cakes and macarons. If you can imagine, I did one of those cartoon double takes with a jaw-drop and nearly ran straight into a wall!

The class itself was really enjoyable. Eric Lanlard teaches everything himself and I was very impressed with how approachable and involved he was. He was walking around helping people, giving pointers and answering questions. He even asked me where I was from and told me about a trip he took to Ireland previously. The class seems to be designed to be accessible to all levels of baking expertise and I would be very interested in attending another of his classes to see if other classes are more complicated. I imagine they range in difficulty. This class was low on the difficulty level, but informative and enjoyable to everyone, experienced baker or not, I would say. We all decorated 12 cupcakes complete with adorable little toppers that he showed us how to make and then there was the champagne lunch and, oh my goodness, that was the cherry on top of the whole afternoon.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would recommend it to anyone. I rang my boyfriend afterwards in a state of total ecstatic hyperness or maybe it was drunk on champagne/high on sugar-ness but I was happy as hell, so if that's not a recommendation then I don't know what is. If I had one criticism I would say that the box they give you to bring home the cupcakes needs to be more sturdy cos mine kept collapsing and all my cupcakes got messed up =(

Therefore we must flash forward to yesterday. During the week decidedlydelicious and I met up to do a macaron baking session, with the intention of posting our experience/discoveries on our blogs. This was such a fun afternoon and I really enjoyed baking with someone as talented and intelligent as her. Unfortunately my ADD and hr natural hyper-ness resulted in us getting distracted by videos online and we burnt our macarons. We will be having a macaron baking 2.0 with less burning soon but as a result of this I was left with a bowl full of delicious blueberry buttercream. Now we are at Saturday and my bf was having the guys over for a poker night. Seemed like the perfect opportunity for some poker-themed cupcakes and excuse to try out my new skills. Et Voila...

Vanilla, Apple and Blue-berry Cupcakes that boys can enjoy

 Since the idea was to make cupcakes like those from cake boy I decided to use Monsieur Lanlard's cupcake recipe that you can find here and the blue-berry butter-cream which was based on his butter-cream recipe but we messed around with it by using frozen blue-berries and glucose powder to create a kind of blue-berry glucose which we added to sugar syrup, whisked into 7 egg yolks before adding 500g butter. The frozen blue-berries give a beautiful natural purple to the icing and there are little flecks of darker purple which add texture and depth. 

To make these cupcakes my own I decided to give them an apple glaze, both to keep the cupcake moist and to add an extra flavour. I made this glaze simply by chopping 2 apples very finely, sprinkling stevia onto the chopped apples and microwaving for 2 sets of 2 minutes on high, stirring between sets.I injected a small amount of this apple sauce into the top of the cupcakes and then glazed the exposed surface before piping the frosting.

As you can see the texture is soft and moist and the apple glaze definitely added in terms of moistness and flavour combination. The bf was amazed when I showed him these little treats and they suited his poker night perfectly but would be just as good with any kind of topper you choose. Just take your sugar paste and go crazy =)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

London Family Trip, Part 1: Making of Harry Potter Review

This past year, like many families in this recession, my family have been living in two different countries. I’ve been over to visit my sisters a few times this year (See insert Cambridge post) but the weekend after my birthday my Mum organized a whole family holiday. We planned any number of different exciting activities for the trip, including the rugby match, a trip to the Making of Harry Potter studio tour and I went to a cupcake master class with the brilliant Eric Lanlard, but that's so wonderful it gets it's own post!

The weekend began with my brother making fun of me as always. He loves me really, but a family holiday is not a family holiday if myself and himself are not exchanging insults. We all headed to my sisters house and were met with one of her specialty welcomes. My sister is always trying to think of little ways to make other people happy and is always ready for a chat and cup of tea even if you arrive at 1am, which I love about her. We settled down for the night. The next day we went into the city. We met my other sister in her adorable apartment which she has made her own with Irish-ism on the wall and stacks of tea cups and tea accessories.

We spent the night in London, in various locations. I spent time with my good friend Nelly (nickname). We took in a Hitchcock movie in a church, while dressed as flapper girls, and then went out to drink Pims in a darling little pub that had lamps straight from the 30s/40s, which seemed appropriate. The movie (39 steps) was atrocious but the company was excellent and I had a truly marvelous evening. (please note my attempts to describe this evening in suitable vernacular!)

The next morning we assembled as a family again and after some minor delays (my family have tardiness in our genes, although many of them would argue me on that) we managed to have lunch and then head out to Leavesden Studios for the making of Harry Potter Tour.
I'm not gonna lie at the time that I took this photo I was as excited as an 11 year old running towards the entrance to platform 9 3/4 for my first trip to Hogwarts. My family can attest to the fact that I was almost spinning on the spot. We then entered into a magical world of Harry Potter for about 2 hours and it was absolutely amazing!

The only criticism I have of the tour is the American angle that it takes at parts, like for example all the staff wear khaki pants and a WB t-shirt and have a cheery, cheery attitude. That said however the majority of the tour is self-guided so this doesn't affect the experience much. The most unbelievable aspect of the whole thing and the idea I struggled with throughout the tour lay in the fact that I was looking at the actual sets and the actual costumes used in the movies. It's not every day that you are faced with the Gryffindor common room, Mrs Weasley's kitchen or Hagrid's cottage.

The tour involves an interactive audio system where actors, director's, artists and other specialists from the movie speak about what you are looking at. I had mixed feelings on this. If I'm honest I sometimes felt that actor's were talking where I'd have preferred to hear from a producers or creative director but I guess that is geared towards the younger fans.

The highlights of the tour for me included; Diagon Alley, the great hall, the knight bus, Butter beer, and the scale model of Hogwarts Castle. The whole experience ends in a huge Harry Potter shop where you can buy everything from robes and wands to house scarves magical sweets. You can even buy a broomstick. I bought myself a scarf, as I have wanted one ever since I saw the very first HP movie and got my bf a hoodie, which he has subsequently had numerous offers for. By which I mean to say, don't be stingy in the shop, you will not regret it later. Overall I would recommend this tour to anyone who enjoyed the Harry Potter movies at all. The tour can be as short or as long as you want. I would suggest that you try to stick together as a group as the studio is enormous and there is so much to see that it can help to have people to point out aspects you may have missed. I'd go again in a heartbeat =)

No recipe today but look out on Friday for cuteness.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Birthday time Ninja Cookies

Life has become increasingly crazy over the last few weeks which resulted in absolutely no time for me to blog, but tonight I am prioritizing the blog. The advantage of all this craziness is the stories and pictures I have to share.Therefore I will be posting three fun life posts with a nice little recipe for each over the next week. Hope you enjoy =)

The fun started with my birthday just after my last post. It was an unmentionable number so I won't say but I still feel about 21/10 so that's the important thing. I am very lucky to have some wonderful family and friends that know my love of all things baking and exercise. Therefore my presents reflected those things.

Ninja Cookie Cutters
I had an absolutely wonderful day. First my Mum brought me out to a beautiful estate with lovely tea gardens and adorable shops for a little girl time. It was hilarious and typical when we got stuck in a garden shop and then started laughing about how we were celebrating with herbs plants and hanging baskets. My mum can be so amazingly random and always considerate. Then we flew back so I could go to an exercise class, I'm that into working out, no joke!

I spent the afternoon making my cake. I chose to make a yellow cake, infused with raspberry syrup and covered in delicious white chocolate icing. Unfortunately it's not my recipe and the recipe I used appears to have been taken down. =(

Then the bf brought me out to a wonderful meal in an Italian restaurant and then we brought the cake to my parents place to eat with the half of my family who are in the country. The cake went down a treat and I got some lovely presents, including something to work off the cake with ;)

It was such a fun day and the birthday celebrations continued in a family dinner the next weekend, which I will tell/show you all about very soon. Firstly, however, a recipe using the wonderful cutters.

Hazelnut Dark Chocolate Ninja Cookies (recipe adapted from AB Sugar Cookies)

110g Butter
75g White Sugar
50g Brown caster sugar
350g All purpose Flour

1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
100g ground/chopped hazelnuts
50g chopped dark chocolate
1 egg
3 tsp milk
150g Dark Chocolate for covering

Preheat the oven to 180C. Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat together the milk and egg and sieve together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the wet and dry ingredients in thirds. Once the dough is thoroughly combined add the nuts and chocolate. Then let the dough sit in the fridge for 20 minutes before rolling, cutting and baking for 15minutes.
Melt the rest of the dark chocolate and cover in whatever way you like

So.........that went well......but I'm back with a bang!

At the start of the year I said that I would try to post more regularly and......yeah....that didn't happen =/ Finishing this doctorat...