Meet Herman, the cake

A few weeks ago there was a knock at the door on Saturday afternoon….who could it be? Too late for the postman, no guests expected….I sent lovely husband to find out, just in case it was a salesperson ;o

It was the next door neighbour with a plastic tub and a piece of paper and muttering something about Herman…..husband, I believe, looked bemused so she said ‘give it to Linda she will know what Herman is’ and thrust the box and paper into his hands.

And so it came to pass that we were the recipients of a Herman the German Friendship Cake sourdough starter. The chain letter of baking.

Herman's care program

I had seen mention of Herman by a few other bloggers over the last year and not being a cake baker or eater was rather hoping he wouldn’t land in my kitchen. But land he had.

In common with most chain letters the friendship element is somewhat undermined by the way in which you feel compelled to do as the letter asks or feel guilty for breaking the chain. A sort of low grade emotional blackmail that I hope doesn’t exist in real friendships! In the case of Herman the the emotional pull comes from the fact that you might apparently kill him if you don’t look after him:

‘You cannot put me in the fridge or I will die. If I stop bubbling, I’m dead’

Oh good, not so much as a gift more a kind of burden. Apparently you also have to do everything on the exact right day or it won’t work.

That said it does feel quite nice to be given something by the neighbours in a world were we mostly only say hello in passing.

Probably if you have read much of my blog or if you happen to know me then you’ll know I’m not one to follow a recipe without making tweaks. And so it was with Herman.

I decided it would be sort of fun to see if he worked and also fun to see if he would still work if I broke some of the rules. After all I know from my bread baking that you don’t kill sourdough by putting it in the fridge you just slow it down and you don’t kill it if you don’t quite feed it to program and if it looks like its breathing its last you can usually revive it.

So I sort of followed the instructions but as day 10 (the day to bake the cake) was going to fall on a work day when I was with a client I mashed it up a bit and just extending the process so that I could make the cake at the weekend. I also knew that on day 9 I was unlikely to see anyone to share the starter with (plus I wasn’t sure I wanted to oblige a further 3 people to make a cake) so the surfeit of Herman starter is in the fridge and he looks a little listless but he sure isn’t dead.

Finished cake

The cake mix seemed a little dry so I added some extra milk when mixing it, possibly a mistake as the resulting cake although cooked through was so moist and soft it fell apart when you tried to slice it. I baked for the longer time as most people seemed to think this gave a better result. Taste wise it was really good a little on the sweet side for me (look at all that sugar in the instructions). As ever we only got about half way through before we forgot about it only to find it a week later alive and kicking with mould.

Verdict:

– if you like cake and you want to experiment with sourdough this is an easy way to start

– if you like the idea of sharing cake mix with neighbours then you’ll love this

– don’t believe the emotional blackmail of Herman dying –  he won’t and you don’t have to pass him on, breaking the chain is never a diaster

You can find more about Herman here should you want to start your own, or receive one and need to find out more.

Good Food Show Winter 2010 (very special competition)

I’ve been to local food festivals, I’ve been to food trade shows but I’ve never been to any of the big, big food shows like The Good Food Show. The idea of the NEC packed with good food is is slightly overwhelming.

But this year I’m going to be there. Not cruising the aisles checking the produce mind you. Oh no. I shall be a Pop-Up Pie Assistant to the wonderful Brays Cottage Pork Pies. If you are in any doubt about their wonderfulness then consider that they were one of only ten producers selected from over 70 to win a Bursary Award to enable them to have a stall at the show. And the list of people who rave about their pies is simply too long to mention…

I’m really excited about being Pop-Up Pie Assistant, I’m following in the trailblazing shoes of this list of luminaries of the Pop-Up Pie Assistant academy:

@Farctum and @Josordoni and @DrTimKinnaird and @deantoms and @enjoynorwich and @JonnyB and apparently even an MEP

…..each had their trade mark style I’m hoping mine will be a porkpie hat…

So of course naturally you want to come along and see me being pie assistant. You want to meet Sarah the driving force behind Brays Cottage. You want to sample the pies. Of course you do. Who wouldn’t.

And you’ve two ways to get there:

1. The usual way: pay your entrance fee pop along to the stall and buy a pie. We’ll be thrilled to see you.

OR

2. The GSD special way: enter my competition to win one of 3 pairs of entrance tickets donated by the show organisers, pop along to the stall, flash your special Pie Voucher and YES YES YES you get Bray’s Cottage pie for FREE. And better still you get a special GSD/WKF limited edition for this competition only gift.

WOW. This is truly an exclusive competition. You CANNOT get this deal anywhere else.

So what do you need to do:

Leave a comment on this post telling me why you deserve to win and how will your life be changed by experiencing pork pie nirvana. I’ll pick 3 entries (pair of tickets to each winner) on some basis yet to be determined, probably the 3 that I like most and failing that by random number generator.

Get entering you have until midnight on Friday 19 November. I’ll pick the winners on Saturday 20th and mail the tickets out to you.

Small print:

1. Tickets are general admission only. Excluding Saturday. They are non transferable and cannot be exchanged for cash.

2. You must present your special Pie Voucher to claim your free pie. One pie per person. And I’ll have a cunning system in place to ensure only the winners get their mitts on the free pies so don’t bother making your own, photocopying or anything else ‘smart’.

3. The Pie Voucher is also used to collect your GSD/WKF exclusive gift.

4. I’m the judge and my decision on who wins is final.

5. You can’t enter if you are related to me, sorry.

6. Oh and I’m there Thursday and Friday but you’ll still be able to claim your pie etc if you choose to go a different day

Reviewing stuff

I’ve been reviewing stuff here since the early days of the blog in some shape or form. Usually stuff rather than eating out experiences, there are plenty of people doing eating out reviews way better than I ever could hope to. I’ve also done mini reviews on both of my posterous blogs.

Sometimes the stuff I review has been sent to me for free, sometimes I’ve paid for it with hard cash, sometimes its been an exchange or barter of a truly old fashioned type – some of my help in return for food.

Just as I don’t review every single thing I buy I don’t review everything I get sent.

But somewhere along the line I thought it might be fun to have a rating system for the reviews.

So today I bring you…. (drumroll, trumpet fanfare)…..

…..Oh yes its…the…..

goodshoeday ‘shoe’ rating system (TM) ….gsdR(TM) for short

The reviews will be totally honest and the rating will be a genuine reflection of what I think but its also a little bit of fun, shoes instead of stars.

If you want to read my review ‘policy’ check here

If you want to understand how the gsdR(TM) system works then take a look here

And keep a look out for that gsd X shoe rated item stamp….I just know you’ll be seeing on slapped on rated products across the land very soon (once I’ve ironed out a few minor legal points that is…)

Oh and you can find my posterous blogs via the side bar links over there on the right >>>>>>

Competition results

So the closing date is passed. The entries are in. I’m about to draw the results for my first ever blog competition.

But first let me indulge in a little wander through some of the thoughts I’ve had about running a competition on my blog…..

1. It was fun, people do bother to write good replies if you set them a topic and now I know there are quite a few other stationery geeks out there.

2. You get way more comments on your posts if people think they are in with the chance of winning and from all sorts of people who either don’t normally visit the blog or don’t normally comment. So it does seem to drive traffic (the google stats confirm this too).

3. You get more comments so you kind of feel more popular but of course it’s important to remember it’s a ‘buying friends with the promise of sweets’ approach.

4. There are people out there who like real old fashioned fountain pens, maybe we need to form a club (there probably already is one!)

5. Random number generators are great fun for playing with for some unfathomable reason (ooo look another random number).

6. Random number generators made me think about what we mean by random. The winning number (which I’ll reveal in a minute) kind of felt like a swizz when it popped up (not, I’m sure for the person who has won), it didn’t feel random. Which takes me back to point 5 as I then spent a good 10 minutes clicking the ‘Generate’ button to see what happened.

7. I like competitions so if you’re reading this and you have fab prizes you’d like me to offer to readers then hey get in touch :)

Right onto the draw. There were 50 comments overall. The first one is a trackback so doesn’t count. Two people commented twice but don’t worry they don’t get to be in the draw twice their first comment only counts. So although I put in 1 -50 to the random number generator we really only had 47 entries, I would just draw again if a non winning number came up.

Anyway it didn’t because here it is (drum roll):

The winner is comment 2 which in the way I have done the draw means Kelly has won.

WELL DONE (rounds of applause).

Thanks to everyone for taking part I really did love reading all your favourite stationery items.

Competition time

I’ve not run a competition on the blog before. I’ve thought about it a few times and played with different ideas but never actually taken the plunge.

Until now.

Why?

Well two things really, someone offered a lovely prize, one I’d be happy to have myself and when I asked Twitter the verdict was resoundingly that competitions are GOOD….. I assume everyone is hoping to win. So good it would seem that one cheeky chappy (he knows who he is) suggested I design the rules such that he was guaranteed to win, very naughty. And I won’t be doing that.

So what’s the competition and what’s the prize?

Well the prize is this hamper of goodies:

which has been supplied courtesy of HamperGifts.co.uk, who provide a wide range of hampers, chocolate gifts and mothers day baskets.

I particularly like the fact that as well as the food goodies it comes in rather nice looking boxes, but that’s probably because I’m a bit of a stationery and storage fan, as evidenced by some of my posterous posts.

So what do you have to do to be in with a chance of winning? Well you have to post a comment on this post by 20th September telling me what your favourite stationery item is. I’ll then pick a winner using a complex spreadsheet formula or much more possibly a random number generator. If you don’t list a favourite stationery item your comment won’t be included in the draw and if you comment more than once the earliest comment that meets the competition rules will be the one that counts…..so Dan there is little chance of rigging it in your favour….

Over to you to try and win the hamper.

Please note the hamper will be dispatched direct form the supplier so if you are feeling very generous you could choose to send it to someone as a gift. Note that delivery can be anywhere in the UK except the Channel Islands, PO Box or BFPO Box addresses.

Burgers, three ways

When the Beyond Baked Beans team asked if I’d do a recipe that would appeal to students for their blog I was pleased but stumped. It’s a long time since I was a student and I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to get through Uni without having to cook much more than the odd slice of cheese on toast and the very occasional chilli. This isn’t because I lived at home rather its because I lived in college all three years and the college catering seemed to be modelling itself on a pretty reasonable hotel. And then each time I came up with an idea another faster more organised blogger had pipped me to the post. And so it is that I thought of burgers, something so easy to make I’d almost missed it….here’s the post I did for Beyond Baked Beans so that you too, as well as all those lucky students, can create your own delicious burgers.

Everyone loves burgers (well everyone who loves meat). Homemade ones are brilliant, once you’ve tried them you’ll never want to buy ready made again, because there is no point. They are really simple to make and they taste so much better.

You can mince the meat yourself but I’m guessing if you have a mincer you probably don’t need me to tell you about making your own burgers….

You should allow between 150g-250g of meat per person depending on whether you like small, medium or really quite large burgers. I find that 3 burgers from 500g is about right if you’ve got toppings and side dishes. Its also important that you go for the 20% fat mince, less fat and your burger just won’t be as juicy and tasty, burgers are not the place to be exercising fat content control. Get the best mince you can find it does make a real difference to the taste.

This is a kind of design your own burger recipe…..

Ingredients (for 3 people):

500g of mince (beef, lamb or pork)

1tsp to 1tbsp of herbs or spices to complement your chosen meat (see below for my favourite combinations)

salt and pepper

3 white buns or rolls, again the nicest you can find

cooking oil

condiments: mayo/ketchup/tomato/mushrooms/sliced cheese/bacon/lettuce/onion as suits you and the burger

sides: chips, coleslaw, salad etc

Method:

Break the mince up in a bowl, add salt and pepper and mix in. You can leave your burgers plain but I like to add some spices or herbs: add your herb/spice of choice, mix in and leave for 30mins to 1 hour for the flavours to mingle and then form the meat into three equal patties with your hands. You just need to squash and shape it and it will hold together fine. Aim for about 2cm thick and don’t worry if its not perfectly flat.

Pour some cooking oil onto a plate and coat each burger with oil by putting it on the plate and moving it about a bit on each side (don’t worry about the edges, just the flat surfaces).

Heat your chosen pan, a griddle plan will give you nice seared lines but a frying pan is fine. You don’t need any oil in the pan as you’ve already oiled the burger. When the pan is nice and hot put the burgers in. Turn the heat down about ¼ – ½ way. Leave the burgers alone to cook. After about 2-3 minutes they will be ready to flip and they will come away from the pan easily. Turn them over and leave again. This will give you medium-rare/medium burgers; cook for longer if you wish.

Serve on the buns with the condiments and side dishes of your choice.

Good spice/herb combinations are (picking just one usually works best). Use 1 tsp of spices (ready or freshly ground) or dried herbs and up to 1 tbsp of fresh chopped herbs:

Beef: chilli flakes or fresh chilli, coriander seeds or leaves, English mustard powder

Lamb: cumin seeds, coriander seeds, mint, oregano, rosemary

Pork: sage, smoky paprika

Think about how different cuisines spice their food and you’ll find plenty more options.

Reviewing books

Other posts have revealed my fondness for books and printed matter generally. Over the years I have had to invest heavily in IKEA Billy bookcases to help keep this predilection from taking over the house. Its sort of worked but I know there are many books I have that I have looked at only a few times and then moved on to the next must have item. Some of the books cast aside were great, some mediocre, some utter rubbish. But mostly when it comes to food related books I still have every single one of them. I have made attempts to catalogue them all so that at least I can find them when needed, I have thought about selling those I rarely use or didn’t hit the spot for me, after all one girls junk is another’s dream item.

This love of printed matter takes on a new slant when, on Twitter, publishers are offering review copies to bloggers and at events generous souls are popping them in goodie bags. What is a girl to do? Well clearly one thing is to review them. And I did one full review of a book I got from a publisher, and I enjoyed it: both book and review. But the others that you can see above have created a little conundrum so I haven’t yet managed to review them. Why? Well its not that I only want to write positive things on my blog, but essentially I do want to mostly write about things I enjoy and can enthuse about a sort of ‘goodshoeday recommends’ approach. And some of these books I do heartily recommend (as you will eventually see) but I couldn’t always find much to say. I don’t want to simply repeat a press release and I don’t want to be bland or negative unless I’ve read a book cover to cover and as you will guess from the intro I don’t always do that with books I pay for!

I also don’t want to be obliged to cook a recipe just to be sure the it works (or doesn’t). There is endless debate about this with many saying if you haven’t cooked a recipe how can you properly review the book and those who, like me, think its in no way essential. I guess it depends who’s going to read the review and who the book is aimed at. If its “the basics of cooking in 100 pages” then yes it should all work if its “this is mostly full of pictures and ideas” well I guess they should still work but then its more about the inspiration than the exact quantities, after all who follows recipes exactly (except possibly when baking).

So I have a pile of books I have garnered for free. To date I haven’t reviewed them. Well all that’s about to change because I’m ready to launch my all new patented method of book reviewing The GSD flip-thru (TM) . In the interests of objectivity I will be reviewing the books in individual blog posts in the order I received them, which is from the bottom of that pile upwards……

Bet you can’t wait for the first review ;0