Category Archives: Edible projects

Cold Smoking with Seasoned

Seasoned is a Midlands based cookery school run by Clare Tetley. Not only does she run a business providing  fabulous day courses throughout Derbyshire & Shropshire she has a brownie recipe to die for. I met Clare back in September 2010 when I started my business and we have worked on various projects over the last year. As Hubs has dabbled with smoking food in the past, he helped Clare road test a food smoking course that is now available through Seasoned. Both Hubs & I believe smoking has the amazing ability to transform a food. I certainly believe a bacon sarnie tastes even better if the bacon is smoked.

Essentially there are two ways of smoking food. Smoking food at home doesn’t require lots of expensive equipment. Read the rest of this entry

Black Velvet Beetle Cakes

We don’t celebrate Halloween as such in our household. Well we don’t trick or treat or encourage trick or treaters, but I do use it as an opportunity to take something and give it a gruesome twist. Last year was a Sweeney Todd Pie to accompany my Mrs Lovatt costume. This year as inspired by a copy of A Zombie Ate My Cupcake the publishers kindly sent me I used the instructions in the book on how to make black beetles and designed a cake around it. I used marzipan to make the beetles as I had some left from a cake decorating job. In amongst the marzipan beetles modelled on cockroaches and scarab beetles there is one little beetle with friendly eyes. This was the first beetle I made but decided the cakes would be too cute if he was on all of them.

Why have I called them Black Velvet cakes? well given Red Velvet cakes are essentially chocolate cakes with a bucketful of red food colouring (I duck as cake spatulas are hurled at me from Red Velvet Cake enthusiasts) added I decided to christen these Black Velvet cakes because they are simply chocolate cakes with black food colouring added to darken the colour. Weirdly although I used my usual chocolate cake recipe they tasted more chocolatey with the addition of the black food colouring. I’m sure this is purely psychological because the colouring makes the cakes look richer. I’ll admit cocked up slightly with the icing. My own fault for not adding the icing sugar gradually. I added too much icing sugar and it turned almost in to a paste, but I was able to spread it on to the cakes without too many problems. Thankfully in this case the icing was acting more like a glue and would be hidden under the edible dirt.

Gross fact: black marzipan when accidentally rolled the wrong way looks suspiciously like mouse/rat/bat droppings. While this could have given the cakes a rather disturbing twist I didn’t think the recipients of the cakes, Hubs’ workmates, would appreciate it or ever ask me to bake for them again! I’ve entered these cakes to English Mum’s Big Autumn Bakeoff.

Black Velvet Beetle Cakes

makes 12 fairycake sized cakes

80g self-raising flour

20g cocoa powder

100g caster sugar

100g butter

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

black food colouring


90g unsalted butter

150g icing sugar

1 tbsp cocoa powder

black food colouring

100g marzipan

edible lustre dust (I used antique gold and snowflake)

70g oreos, just the biscuits minus the cream filling

1) Preheat oven to 180°c and line a bun tin with fairy cake liners.

2) In a bowl beat together the butter and caster sugar until it is light and fluffy then one at a time stir in the eggs. Don’t worry if it begins to look curdled. Mix in the vanilla extract.

3) Fill each liner 2/3 with cake mix. Bake for 15-20 min until risen and pass the cocktail stick test.

4) While the cakes are cooling make the beetles. First knead black food colouring into the marzipan until evenly coloured. Pinch off a Malteser sized piece of marzipan and roll into a rugby ball shape. Place on a piece of clingfilm and gently press to flatten. Shape into a beetle shape. Mark the head and wings using a teaspoon. Add additional detail with a knife and cocktail stick. Brush lightly with lustre dust. Roll six mini sausages out of the marzipan about 1.5 cm long. Attach two of the legs near the head and the other four to the rear. Leave on the clingfilm to dry for  few hours.

5) In a bowl beat together the butter, then gradually add the icing sugar and cocoa until light and fluffy. Slowly add the black food colouring until you have the desired colour. Adding a small amount of red dye can help it stop looking like something you may concrete bricks together with. Using a pallet knife use nearly all of the buttercream to coat the cakes.

6) In a blender blitz the Oreo biscuits (or similar chocolate biscuit) then coat the cakes with this edible dirt. Pat down slightly to help it stick.

7) Place a small blob of buttercream on the bottom of the beetle then stick on to the cake. It helps keep the beetle on the cake if you mould it slightly to the shape of the cake.

Our Edible Garden – May ’10

Finally the frosts have gone, well I hope they have, and the garden is beginning to spring into life. The biggest success so far has to be the pea shoots. After seeing Alys Fowler plant them on Edible Garden I knew I had to have a go. I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of planting bog standard dried peas before. The gorgeous emerald butterfly shaped leaves have now become a regular in our salads as they taste so delicious.

It’s great to see my herb garden thrive after thinking the long winter may have killed it off. The reliable hardy mint is coming back with vengeance along with the thyme and oregano. New additions in the herb garden are flat parsley and borage plus the rosemary and chives are beginning to bear flowers. The flowers on the rosemary are so beautiful and delicate almost like mini orchids, a bonus that they are edible and will probably adorn a salad at the BBQ later on this evening. The chive flowers are also edible however I find the taste of them a tad bit intense. After eating a lonely chive flower last year the best way I can describe the taste is of strong onion water bursting in your mouth.

This year is going to be the battle of the birds and butterflies. As much as we like having wildlife in our garden it’s a pain when the nibble and trample they crops so Hubs fashioned an ingenious frame made from an old wooden clothes airer that had originally been thrown in the wood pile for burning. The trio of dunnocks are not impressed. Given they are meant to be shy birds they have spent a significant time bouncing up and down on it, trying to break it and once working out how to get underneath the netting. The netting is doing its job though and everything growing under it is doing well.

Newest addition to the garden, Hubs’ newest project, will be appearing in the next few weeks – a cold smoker that also doubles up as tandoor oven made of terracotta pots. Yep you heard that right. Some days I worry for the sanity of Hubs.

DIY Cheese Press

Given The Baker Jules has most of the say on the blog it was about time for me The Butcher & random stuff maker to have a go. As Jules has always let on I love any gadgets related to cookery and the quirky or more old-fashioned the better. Previous projects include a clay pizza oven, bread bin hot smoker, along with a meat/cheese safe suspended from the outhouse ceiling and restoring a clockwork spit (I’ve promised to blog about both of these  soon). The next project in the pipeline is a cold smoker. The burner has already been fashioned from an old gas bottle but I just need an elusive wooden barrel for the smoking chamber…And you thought Jules was a food geek!

My first attempt at cheesemaking was Basic Hard cheese. This was soon followed by an attempt at a basic blue cheese. All was going well until somehow Mr & Mrs Robin found their way into the shed and found this delectable fatty treat. It couldn’t be saved for human consumption, but certainly gave the birds a feast. After that hurdle the cheese safe was born. Since the beginning I wanted to make a cheese press that would form the cheese properly and give it its characteristic truckle shape. Not one to buy things like this, I wanted to make a press from scratch. It gives me the Engineer in me a challenge. It was more or less made of items I found in the outhouse or at the Aladdin’s cave of Dad’s garage. It’s not difficult, more of an easy/medium project, you just need some basic woodworking knowledge and tools. Hopefully the photos above help explain it better than I can.

You will need:

Piece of  hardwood for the base (hardwood won’t swell with the whey)
2 blocks of hardwood for inside tube
Broom handle (for holding the parts together)
Suitable lengths of wood for the sides
Modified G-clamp
Piece of drain pipe
Large baking tray
muslin/cheese cloth

1) First construct the base. Router a gully into the hardwood to allow the whey to drain from the curds easier.

2) To make the uprights at one end cut out a suitable sized notchfor the cross bar to sit in. Secure the two uprights to the base with screws.

3) For the cross bar you have two options. Fashion yourself a screw mechanism or, like me, chop down a g-clamp and  embedded it in the cross bar. It works perfectly. With the cross bar in place drill the holes for the broom handles through both uprights and crossbar at the same time to ensure the holes line up. The cross bar can then be held in place with short lengths of broom handle.

4) Cut a round piece of hardwood to match the internal diameter of the pipe that will for the truckle (This needs to be a snug fit)

5) Below the screw place the piece of piping and line with cheesecloth. Fill the tube with the curd. Place the round block of hardwood in the pipe. Screw down the screw onto the block, squashing the curds (If the screw isn’t long enough use a block of wood as a spacer). Keep turning until the screw becomes tight. Tighten the screw each day until the desired density is achieved.

Hot Smokin’ Hubby

Even since Hubby saw Hugh F-W smoke fish in an old bread bin on River Cottage Autumn he’s wanted to give it a go. Hubby being the resourceful man he is, he didn’t want to buy a brand new smoker, but make one himself.

Hubby bought the bread bin a few months ago on ebay and last week the heat source he had been looking for, an old paraffin lamp/stove, finally arrived. The bread bin was then lined with oak chips that once heated begin to smoke. Hubby also has some whisky soaked chips somewhere, which should give an interesting flavour.

There is essentially 2 types of smoker. A hot smoker and a cold smoker. A cold smoker is use for flavouring a food, but not cooking it whereas a hot smoker not only cooks the food, but also flavours it.

In tonights fading light Hubby decided to try out his new toy by smoking some plaice. The fish was cooked & smoked in 15 min. I have to admit smoked fish isn’t really to my taste so I only had the tiniest amount, but Hubby was impressed with what he had achieved and is interested in trying to smoke other things. The cold smoker is now next on his to-make list.

The Fruits of Hubby’s Labour

The advantage of living where we live is that there can be an abundance of wild food and many people prepared to tell you their wild food haunts. Since tasting my Father-in-Law’s sloe gin at Christmas last year I was determined that this year we would make our own. Well the weather put a stop on that plan as the sloe harvest is really poor this year so had to settle on some other fruits we could forage.

Inspired by Hugh F-W, Hubby set out Ray Mears style to forage for free food. Although there was no sloes he did manage to find the last of the blackberries and a tree heaving in haw berries. Added to the 5kg of apples from Aunt’s tree we had a plethora of free food to work with.

A few months back we picked up a copy of River Cottage Handbook: Preserves and today it certainly came into its own!

First to be made was Haw Ketchup. Haws eaten raw are incredibly sour (Hubby can vouch for that!) and you wouldn’t expect them to be edible, but with a bit of cooking they can be made into a lovely fruity sour sauce that will be perfect with game. I’m looking forward to trying this with a dish in a couple of weeks.

Haw Ketchup
Makes about 500ml
From River Cottage: Preserves

500g haw berries (Haws), washed
300ml cider vinegar
300ml water
170g sugar
1/2 tsp salt
black pepper, to taste

1) Simmer the haws in the vinegar and water for around 30 min until the berries are soft.

2) Pass through a sieve to rid of stones and skins.

3) Return the juice to a clean pan, stir in sugar and gently boil for 5 minutes. Pour into a sterilised bottle. Keeps for 12 months.

Next was the turn of flavouring some alcohols. If we weren’t going to have sloe gin for this Christmas we could at least have blackberry & apple gin plus some haw brandy. The method for both of these flavoured alcohols is the same, all your doing is changing the ingredients. The longer you leave them to steep the better. Ideally they say you should leave them for a minimum of 8-10 weeks. The tasting at Christmas will tell us if they are really any good.

Blackcurrant & Apple Gin

300g apples (2 large apples)
200g blackcurrants
200g sugar
700ml gin

Haw Brandy
225g haws
110g sugar
300ml brandy

1) Pour alcohol into bottle, followed by fruit then sugar. Give it a good shake until all ingredients are well mixed.

2) For the first week shake the bottle to stop the sugar settling to the bottom. After that shake on a weekly basis and taste after 8 weeks. Once it is ready for drinking filter through some kitchen paper/coffee filter. Enjoy!

The Fizzy Drink Cupcake Experiment

The 6 week holiday boredom has truly set in. So much so that my science geek side has emerged and I decided to do some experimenting in the kitchen. Proof I have officially lost the plot. This was all inspired by Cakespy’s cake challenges and various recipes on Craftster.

After seeing Nigella’s recipe for Coca-Coca cupcakes it got me wondering… Which fizzy drink makes the best cake?. Rather than the usual cola I decided to pick some truly British fizzy drinks – Tizer, Vimto (my personal favorite), Irn-Bru and Dandelion & Burdock.

I hasten to add this blog entry should also be entitled “How to make ugly cupcakes”. The last time I made cakes looking so decidedly dodgy was when I was 8.


I used the Nigella’s coca-cola cake recipe but omitted the cocoa. To make enough for 4 sets of cakes, I doubled the recipe, then divided the cake mix by 4 before adding the various fizzy drink/butter mix. The icing was simply 110g of icing sugar for each flavour of cake mixed with 90ml of the fizzy drink.

I used paper cases as various recipes around the internet suggested that the cakes can go very sticky.

To make it a fair test all cakes were cooked for the same part of the oven for exactly the same amount of time. At the end of the 15 min all had passed the “skewer test”


Resulted in an *cough* interesting mix of cakes some of which I certainly will not replicate again! Others however, with a bit of tweaking, could make good cakes.

Dandelion & Burdock

This drink makes me reminisce my childhood. The taste is unlike any other fizzy drink out there. In terms of cake baking it produced a fluffy well risen cake and you could certainly taste the D&B in both the cake and icing. The D&B tinted the cake and icing nicely.


Irn-Bru is one of those kind of drinks that you haven’t a clue what it is meant to tastes like, but it’s delicious especially with a bag of open chips from the chippy. It is also the unofficial national drink of Scotland. I didn’t realise until I did this experiment that Irn-Bru has caffeine & quinine in it. Why you need quinine in Scotland is another question for another day.

Considering the amount of artificial flavours and colours in Irn-Bru it produced a so-so cake. Only a very slight colour change in the icing and cake. It just tasted sweet rather than Irn-Bruish. Not as fluffy as the D&B cake. It also had a slightly greasy texture.


Vimto is my favourite fizzy drink of all time, it is also great in the cordial format. Never drunk it much as a child as I was always made to believe it was expensive! It made cakes with a pleasing purple hue and noticeable Vimto taste, however was almost verging on being too sweet. Like the D&B cake with a bit of tweaking it could make a nice cake. Didn’t rise as well as D&B.


Although they look like quaint little Bakewell Tarts , they turned out to be a bitter disappointment…where do I start. They have to be one of the worst cakes I have ever tasted. Cakes shouldn’t have a chewy texture! Although they had passed the skewer test after cooking, they looked promising…until about a minute later when they just collapsed leaving a lovely crater for the icing to pool in. They also leached a load of grease while cooking. Euch. There was no change in colour of the cake or icing. Interestingly Tizer was the only drink that I experimented with that said “No artificial colours, sugars or flavourings” so I wonder if this had something to do with it.

The said cakes are now infusing the compost heap.


Dandelion & Burdock makes the best cake, as for Tizer, never again unless you want a chewy greasy mess.

Things I learnt while cooking the cakes:

* When the little old man in the Newsagents questions why you are buying so many crazy coloured fizzy drinks, don’t admit to the fact you’ve lost the plot and want to cook cakes with them.

* I have a innate ability to make as much mess as possible while cooking. Cake mix down the washing machine? KitchinAid covered in cake mix? You name it, I can get cake mix on it.

* Cupcake cases are not a universal size, I must have picked up tiny ones and ended up with double the amount of cakes I had originally intended.

* The cake mixture is incredibly watery and it is easier to pour it from a jug rather than trying to spoon it in…yes I did try spooning it.

* Hubby does have the ability to be honest when it comes to my baking. I don’t blame him as I thought the same!

Basic Hard Cheese & Charity Jailbreak

Hubby’s latest edible project, basic hard cheese, has been a month in the making. He found out how to make it on the Creative Living forum. I never realised cheese making involved such a basic process. It was very interesting to see the milk curdle then the emergence of thick curds that could be sliced like jelly and the whey in which the curds floated. I did try to get a picture of this process, but it just didn’t work out. I challenge anyone to make curds & whey look photogenic! To help him mould the perfect round of cheese Hubby made a fancy looking cheese press.

Yesterday was tasting day, and I have to say it looks, smells and tastes like basic cheese. It has a slight eau d’sweaty socks…mmmm. He has some Penicillium Roqueforti, so the next challenge is to make blue cheese.

I promise the next post will not be about cheese making!

My brother is currently in France somewhere. He’s taking part in a “Jailbreak” for charity where the aim is to get the furthest away and back from the starting point in 60 hours. No money is allowed. It’s a case of blagging/begging/hitching as far as possible. So far they have blagged various train journeys within the UK, a night in a 4* hotel, food from KFC & McDonalds and a trip on the Eurostar. As far as I know his team are the only ones who have managed to leave the country. I think he’s mad! The map below is tracking their progress.

Mr & Mrs Robin and the River Cottage Seed Project

We have a cheeky pair of robins that have been around for a couple of years and often come to have a nosy when Hubby is gardening. We think they have a nest somewhere in the eaves of the outhouse as over the last week they have been busy feeding from the insect suet ball hanging in the garden. Now, we have been trying to get a photo of them for the last few days, but every time we got the camera out they fly off. In the above photo Mr Robin posed nicely for a photo, but in the split second decided to dive for the new vegetable planters. If you click on the photo you’ll get better resolution. It made me chuckle when I saw the photo and would like to see if anyone can come up with a fitting caption!

Hubby has River Cottage membership and is taking part in their Seed Project. Today our seeds arrived and they were Blue Ballet Squash, Blauhilde climbing French bean and rhubarb chard. We haven’t tried to grow any of these veg before and I’m interested to see them grow, and of course taste them.

Our radishes are nearly ready to harvest. We were a bit late planting them so they are only just ready. I may roast some of them to go with the roast chicken dinner tomorrow. On another positive gardening note the lavender out front has gone crazy, the strawberry plants are flowering and I didn’t kill the grapevine after all!

Bank Holiday Foodiness and tags

I had all good intentions of this post being about the beautiful blueberry polenta cakes I made earlier, but my new silicone muffin tray decided that the cakes were far too nice to release from the moulds in one go. Cute little lopsided cakes with half of one side still stuck in the muffin tray doesn’t make good photos no matter how hard I try! The cakes were delicious and I’m going to have another go with them in a couple of weeks, hopefully they will work out more photogenic.

The Bank Holiday weekend has bought a bit of food craziness to the house. I’ve made some lemon and lime vodka as inspired by Serena at Rock Cakes while hubby has been making a pulley system allowing him to hang more meat to dry in the outhouse and is currently at his parents making a cheese press for his next project. I’m a bit sceptical that the cheese will work, but I’ll be interested to see the whole process in action. I don’t know what’s come over Hubby. He’s gone from the Vesta meal/cheap meat loving student I first dated to a chicken/pig hugging, local food, Hugh wannabe…not that I’m complaining.

I’ve been tagged quite a bit over the last few weeks, apologies if I have missed anyone out.

Firsty The Cottage Smallholder gave me a new twist for this tag.

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

I’m currently taking advantage of the Food section in my local library as frankly I have no room left on my bookshelves for any more foodie books. Amongst other foodie books I’m currently reading Toast by Nigel Slater.

The three sentences are:

“Stevie, my brother;s new girlfriend, was everything in the kitchen my mother was not. When she came over for the evening she would always cook something for my brother. She cooked greens that shone emerald on the plate”

I tag:
A Forkful of Spaghetti
Gourmet on a Grant
A Slice of Cherry Pie
Dinner Diary
Claire’s Cake Bake

Stressed Out Mum has also presented me with a You Make My Day award, for which I’m incredibly flattered. It’s difficult to choose any particular blogs out there as all make my day :)

To finish off this post, I’ve been tagged by Maria at The Goddess’s Kitchen and Nilmandra at Soy & Pepper Little Corner of Mine for a meme to write my Six Word Memoir.

Blue-eyed cake loving science geek.

I should tag, but I’m leaving the door open. Feel free to write your own six word memoir.

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