Monkey’s Advent Adventures

This is essentially a guest post by Barn as what follows is his creation – an idea he came up with to visually share his advent calendar with family and friends – I thought you might enjoy it too ūüôā

On Day 1 there were Minion socks and Day 2¬†a miniature but very powerful torch (ideal for camping trips). ¬†On Day 3¬†Monkey was introduced to the scene…

Day 3 РA passing Monkey was drawn to the bright colours on the tree and asked what was going on.  After having the concept explained to him he asked to join in then immediately lay claim to the contents of box no. 3.

Day 4 – Curious Monkey discovered a Man Flu treatment in his box…and immediately felt a headache coming on.

Day 5 –¬†Monkey got so excited he was biting his nails, and actually got a trifle¬†over giddy. ¬†When he finally got the wrapper off he was very pleased with his new chocolate friend.

Day 6 –¬†Barn went for a bike ride and came home to find Monkey anxiously watching out for him at the window.¬† Monkey gave a great big cheer when he came in, then rushed off to get in the shower with his new shower gel.

Day 7 –¬†Monkey was sent to climb up and collect the box from the tree. ¬†¬†He was quite out of breath when he got back but felt it was worth it for a chocolate snowman.

Day 8 –¬†After having his breakfast Monkey was in such a rush to get to his present that he got his hand stuck in the box. ¬†After freeing himself and opening the gift he decided to laze around and do nothing but dream and eat the chocolate bars he’d received.

Day 9 –¬†Monkey upped the festive spirit by popping on his new reindeer antlers for the box opening.¬† He was gobsmacked by the Santa socks he got.

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BBQ Beef & Spit Roast Chickens

The SpitExciting times in the Renegade household this weekend – Petit Man, Mme. E and Medieval came round and we had our first test run of this bad boy, in preparation for Mum and Little M’s upcoming birthday f√™te.

Three Sunday roastsAlthough on the day we’ll be cooking a suckling pig, for the time being we contented ourselves with a couple of chickens and a slab of beef.

The chicken on the left had truffle pesto under the skin, and the one to the right a BBQ sauce that I’m working on.

Truffle pestoThe truffle pesto idea was an absolute winner Рit melted under the skin, basting the chicken as it rotated and cooked, creating a juicy, succulent chicken with salty, crispy skin.  Doing that again!

The BBQ sauce is still not quite right¬†quite right, but a¬†recipe’s slowly emerging from the trials. ¬†The first flavour burst is grand but something’s missing in the depth of the flavours…it doesn’t ‘continue’ in the mouth as it should (does that even make sense to anyone but me?!) ¬†I’ve a few ideas on how to improve this – adding a couple of ingredients, increasing one or two existing ones, preparing some of them differently – when I feel I’ve succeeded, I’ll post ūüôā

Crisp and tasty on the outsideMedieval created a rub for the beef, using white and black pepper, chipotle salt and juniper berries.

BBQ beefCooked to absolute perfection – without doubt this beef was the star of the show.

Served straight from the board when we descended like a wake of vultures, crowding around Medieval, gobbling up slice after slice as he carved, moaning with gustatory pleasure as we begged for more.

Beef in a bunAlso served in brioche buns (because that’s what we had in, but something sturdier and less sweet would have been better), with a sprig or two of watercress and the sweetest Sicilian cherry tomatoes on the side.

Dandelion seedClearly we should have tackled some weeding, but who could be bothered after all that meat? ūüėČ

Beano Bangers and Mash

Day 9 of the Cupboard Challenge and I was running out of steam, so Barn stepped in and took up culinary responsibility.

Barn's cooking abilities & the moon phasesNow, leaving Barn in sole charge of the kitchen can be an…erm…interesting experience. ¬†He firmly believes, and frequently declares, that he can’t cook. ¬†He can. ¬†Sometimes. ¬†Depending upon the lunar cycle, or his Circadian rhythm, or some other such uncontrollable thing.

The point is, nothing is certain.  His offerings can range from restaurant quality, beautifully presented platters of taste sensation, through to scorched, unidentifiable mounds of rubble and goo.

Picture from: Antiques Atlas
Picture from:Antiques Atlas

With the greatest love in my heart, I have to confess that when Barn offers to cook, alone, inside my head a little carny guy starts his patter …

C’mon over and play the kitchen game…you could win big! ¬†Fair food or foul? You decide little lady…wanna take your chance? Roll the plates?

Sometimes, you just don’t fancy taking the chance, and so cooking companionably together is a preferable option. ¬†Other times you’re just too tired and hungry to care…anything on a plate would be great. ¬†And there are times when you just know he’s going to make something fabulous.

Barn's ability to make mashed potato & the moon phasesOn this occasion, Barn offered to cook and stated¬†that ‘mashed potato and something’ was on the menu. ¬†I knew, when¬†carny man started up his blarney, that the dishes were stacked in my favour – one thing that can be said for certain about Barn’s cooking is that he always makes the best ever mashed potatoes. I don’t know what he does that’s different to what I do, but mine are not amazing and his are. ¬†Maybe one day he’ll let us all in on his secret.

Anyway, I gambled, leaving an unsupervised Barn in the kitchen while I went off for a soak in scented bubbles.

Bangers and mashMy faith paid off – Barn came up trumps, producing a cartoon style dinner of bangers and mash, making me grin and giving me one of those “Wow, I love my husband!” moments ūüėÄ

Best eaten fresh from the bath, wrapped in clean fluffy things and surrounded by a contented glow.

Introducing the Cupboard Challenge

Cupboard ChallengeI collect ingredients with the compulsive fervour of a school boy collecting football cards.

Our ‘big shop’ is done (online) with some consideration and a degree of meal planning. ¬†However, if I allow myself to roam, in real life, anywhere ingredients are sold, I tend to buy like a hoarder, without plan or direction.

A fresh, shiny purple aubergine, a little tub of some exotic spice, a wonderfully shaped pasta, salty white truffle butter, a pile of glistening, fat olives…when it comes to quality ingredients, I have scant¬†self control – sensory pleasure takes over and I just have to¬†possess¬†it. ¬†I don’t necessarily know how I’m going to use it, but I’m sure I will . ¬†

Now,¬†there’s one thing that stands between me and becoming a scoundrel who contributes significantly to the profligate waste of the planet’s resources – the fact that¬†I hate seeing food go in the bin. ¬†Combine this¬†with the inevitable overstocks resulting from my purchasing habits, and you will see why there are times when our meal preparation resembles¬†an edition of¬†Ready, Steady, Cook.

A recent inventory of our food resources has indicated the need for a whole cooking programme series, never mind a single edition.  And so it came to pass that Barn and I made a pledge Рfor at least a 10 days we will cook using only what is already in the house Рwe call it a Cupboard Challenge.

Truth be told, this is not going to be a particularly difficult challenge; the cupboards are well stocked with basics, including an untold number of spices, varieties of pasta and rice, tins of tomatoes, and canned beans.

The fridge contains our usual wide selection of cheeses and massive array of condiments and pickles, plus veg, salad items, cream, butter and other general nonsense.

Our freezer is currently filled with a wide range of odds ‘n’ sods: ¬†half a dozen or so different¬†pots of sauces, wraps, soffritto, a variety of veg, ¬†lots of ‘odd’ portions of meat and fish – one lamb chop, one salmon fillet, one pork loin steak… ¬†There’s¬†a few good portions of meat (minced pork, chicken breast, a beef joint, 12 pork sausages) but it’s mostly stuff that is insufficient in quantity to be a meal, in and of itself, for two or more people.

Oh, and of course, due to our miserably haphazard to non-existent labelling systems, there’s also the mystery pots – those items whose true nature won’t be revealed until they’re thawed. ¬†Exciting times!

So good people, brace yourselves for the oncoming slew of rather imprecise, slightly unusual recipes.



P.S. You didn’t think that picture was my¬†actual pantry, did you? ¬†I wish!

Petit Man Pizza

I actually had it in mind to make this for Petit Man’s birthday last year, but I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it and didn’t think I would have enough time. ¬†As it happens, I’m glad I waited to get another year’s experience before trying it as I feel I wouldn’t have done nearly as good a job back then. ¬†In the event, doing this cake for Petit Man was easy and fun. ¬†I feel the effectiveness of the end result is positively out of proportion to the effort involved.
Pizza cake 4

Pizza cake 3

The cake was a single layer firm carrot cake, frosted with fresh orange Italian meringue buttercream, covered with fondant and decorated with hand made toppings.

Pizza cake 2I used thinly rolled fondant for the tomato sauce, and cut circular gummy sweets into strips for the green peppers.

To make the olives I cut¬†slices from some of those soft, short and stubby, liquorice sticks you get in bags in the supermarket (do you know the ones I mean?!), then used a metal skewer to poke the ‘pitting’ holes in them.

Trying to get the colours and ‘fall’ of the pepperoni right took a bit of experimenting but I’m pleased with the end result, made using a mix of modelling chocolate and fondant.

For the mushrooms, I used scissors to cut shapes from white marshmallows, then painted them with edible food colouring.  (Fear not, the pink marshmallows did not go to waste; they were used as a my-mouth-filler.  Excellent for purpose, albeit temporarily.)

Finally, I used yellow Belgian chocolate curls for the grated cheese.

I loved how this turned out, but more importantly, so did Petit Man.


Pet a cake, pet a cake

One of Mum’s friends asked if I could do a birthday cake for her Aunt’s 90th birthday. ¬†It needed to be fairly traditional and relatively simple, so this is what I came up with:

Jessie's pets cake

This a three layer vanilla Madeira cake, filled with strawberry jam and vanilla buttercream, then covered with fondant. ¬†I’m happy to note the continued improvement in smooth finish to the fondant covering. ¬†The animals are fondant renditions of the lady’s pets. ¬†Admittedly they’re not absolutely faithful replications, but I think they’re reasonably cute.

Jessie's Fondant dogContrary to appearances, Jessie does not have a pitbull…this is supposed to be a border collie… ¬†Practice needed!!


Frozen Party

One year on from the cake that got me hooked on fondant and ¬†I was thrilled,¬†once again, to ¬†be asked to help make a special birthday for Barn’s niece.

Birthday girlThis time I not only made a cake, but also planned, designed and styled a whole dessert table, and several other elements of the party.  It was such delight to do!

Frozen Lunch BoxesSnow White has lunchSavoury food was provided in individual lunch boxes containing:

Freshly baked mini rolls filled with ham and cheese,
Olaf Noses and Blizzard Dip (carrots with cheese dip),
Sven Antlers (Twiglets),
Cherry tomatoes,

Definitely no poisoned apples involved!

DrinksDrinks were served in mini bottles with paper straws.

Left to right:

Melted Snow (water)
Princess Potion (apple & strawberry juice)
Winter Frost (blueberry & blackberry juice)

Icicle treeFrozen Table Decorations - Anna and ElsaThe centrepiece to the dessert table: Anna and Elsa stand in snow at the foot of tree laden with rock candy icicles (bubblegum and pink raspberry flavours).

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A family that likes to brunch

Continuing the treats for Big Sis’s birthday weekend, on the Sunday we went out to one of our favourite local eateries for brunch. ¬†Can’t fault the place – ¬†fabulous food, excellent service, great ambiance, and all within ambling distance of home.

After much dithering I ordered the corned¬†beef hash…with a bacon sandwich on the side. Freshly squeezed orange juice and copious cups of tea completed the delicious meal.


Salt beef with grated potatoes and parsley, served with an egg on top, crispy bacon on the side and a puddle of yummy but not identified sauce.20140504_114750Slabs of bacon, crispy round the edges, liberally sauced with good ol’ HP and presented between thick slices of soft, freshly baked bread. ¬†Now THAT is what you call a bacon butty!

20140504_114530Heaven help me, how did I become part of an Instagram family?!

Medieval despairs as we all delay eating by whipping out our cameras.  A full English awaits his ministrations.


Harry who?

A friend challenged me to come up with a cake design for her birthday, so I did. ¬†Shame she lives in Texas and never got to eat it ūüėČ

Harry Potter Themed Cake InsideVanilla sponge cake filled and frosted with choca mocha Italian meringue buttercream, covered with vanilla fondant and decorated with hand crafted fondant, modelling chocolate and gumpaste Harry Potter paraphernalia. Sorting HatThis was yet another cake where I had no real knowledge of the subject and had to rely on internet sources for information and¬†images. ¬†Obviously I’m aware of the books’¬†existence¬†–¬†I’ve not been living in a pothole for the last couple of decades – but I’ve just never had any desire to read them. ¬†Or watch the films. ¬†Stop sucking your breath in and doing Munch painting impressions at me. ¬†I know you’ll find it hard to believe, and I’m aware that we’re a minority group, but I can promise you, I am far from alone in my quiet disinterest in Harry Potter!

The Wand, the Snitch and the Sorting HatThe wand, the snitch and the sorting hat – even if you’re as Harry Potter challenged as I am, I’m sure you can use your powers of deduction to work out which is which ūüėČ