Sunday, 1 November 2015

I made a thing! Part Two

So here I am again, with part two of I made a thing!

In my last post I showed you how I made some of those fancy book boxes you can buy in craft shops that cost an absolute fortune! I ended up making three of them for my niece and nephews for halloween and I wanted to show you how they turned out.

So as I said, my niece is a big Harry Potter fan so that became the basis of my theme this year. The previous years have all been along potions themes so I thought a change was in order. I mean, I could have done potions boxes and ingredients but it's all so similar to what I did before. Instead I decided to take the traditional sweets from the series and "make" those to put inside the box.

I picked three of the Hogwarts Textbooks from the first book, The Philosophers Stone, and painted the boxes to look like them. Before I started, I took the white painted boxes and covered then in tissue paper and glue to give them a nice, old book texture. Once I'd picked the books I wanted I did a google search for images of the covers, resized them and printed them out. I used acrylic paint to paint them in the colour of the book. I then used carbon paper to trace the deesign on the front of the boxes and filled in the detail with black and metallic paintmarkers. I personally like the Edding 780 ones, I think they have the smoothest and most vibrant coverage. Here's how they turned out:

Sunday, 18 October 2015

I made a thing! Part One

It's been so long, I really don't have the habit of updating regularly it seems. In my defence I have now entered the final year of my PhD and the resultant panic that comes with that realization... I mean oh my... in about a year i'm going to have a doctorate and be out in the big wide world. Now is also the time I've had to start looking into what I'll do after, I think a Post-Doctoral position would be an excellent choice, but also slightly terrifying!

Anyway, I know this blog is called The Graduate Eats but this post is not about food... well not entirely. You see, I also really like working with my hands to make things. Infact before I set on my path to become an academic I actually wanted to train to be a set designer or prop maker, event's conspired against me however and  I ended up not being able to do that, but I still love it as a hobby. As it coming upto Halloween I set about my tradition of making a gift for my nieces and nephews. Every year I make them something for halloween, filled with sweets and treats. Everything is hand-made and personal to them and they love it. It helps me feel closer to them too since I don't get to see them as often as I'd like. This will be the fourth year since I moved away and started this tradition. The first year I made them little coffins filled with sweets, the second year I made them potions kits filled with all kinds of 'ingredients', last year I made them a potions shop filled with all their potioneering needs.

This year however, I learned that my 10 year old niece loves Harry Potter, which is totally awesome because I'm a huge Harry Potter geek, so my joy at sharing this with her is immense. So, with that in mind I decided to make them spell books from the series and fill them with the traditional sweets from Harry Potter, chocolate frogs, peppermint toads, fizzing whizbees, sherbert lemons and so on. Now I know you can buy papier mache book boxes from most craft stores but boy are they expensive, like seriously expensive. Instead I decided to make my own, since I'm pretty good with my hands and all that I figured it shouldn't be too hard and it's really not. I also noticed that finding detailed tutorials on how to do it is very hard so I though I'd share with you how to make them so you can do them in future. This is the first time that I've ever done a photo tutorial so I hope you'll forgive me any mistakes I make but do ask questions if you want!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Vegan Chocolate Cake

Recently I was asked to make a birthday cake for a friend, since I love making cakes this was a very welcome request, until came the stipulation that it had to be vegan. oh... I've never made a vegan cake in my life! The idea quite baffled me I mean eggs and butter are pretty much a staple in cake. This would be quite a challenge! It also had to be sturdy enough to stand up to being carved and covered in fondant as they wanted a rollerskate cake (as a side note Renshaw Regal-Ice and Modelling paste is totally vegan!).

I set about researching in earnest for vegan cake recipes, there are a few out there, most of which use oil, I tried one of the highest rated ones. I don't know what it is about oil based cakes but they just don't do it for me, the flavour always seems to be lacking the richness that butter gives it and it just seems to taste flat to me, I also really don't like the texture. Maybe it's just me, but I really don't get on with those kinds of recipes! So 1 try down and it was just ick, fudgy to the point of cloying in your mouth, almost like unbaked cake batter.

But, I had an idea! You can buy vegan butter so that's a start, and eggless cakes are quite popular as well so maybe an eggless cake was the way to go and I could 'veganize' it from there. This was by far the best choice. I found a simple eggless chocolate sponge and adapted it from there with almond milk in place of skim milk and vegan butter instead of butter. I also divide the flour between self raising and plain for a bit more lightness and added in some dark chocolate to up the chocolate factor a bit. The result was deliciously rich, moist cake that was tasted pretty much like a normal sponge cake. 

I will say that a problem of vegan cake is that it is quite crumbly, probably due to the lack of eggs so I found it best to leave it to cool completely in the tin before trying to move it and then by using two plates to kind of flip it over so you're not lifting it out as it's likely to crack. It also is much more stable to next day when it's had time to settle but if you are using it for carving/decorating you do need to be a bit more gentle!

For carving the cake I layered it up with peanut butter frosting (vegan butter, icing sugar and peanut butter) and then wrapped it in greaseproof and foil and froze it before attempting to do anything with it. It actually worked out quite well with minimal crumbling, just make sure you have a very sharp knife. Before crumb coating it I chucked it back in the freezer for half and hour and made sure my frosting was not too cold or thick otherwise it would have pulled off the crumb. Then just proceeded as usual, chilling the crumbcoated cake before covering in frosting. It turned out quite well if I do say so myself! And went down quite a treat with the intended birthday person!
(I used this recipe for vegan royal icing)

Vegan Moxi Skate Cake

Friday, 3 July 2015

Simple, yet delicious, fruit Salad

It's been a busy past few months! The blog rather fell by the way side amidst making 2 wedding cakes and 2 celebration cakes in the space of a month (perhaps I shall share some photos later), travelling around the south of England on research and studying. I also gave my first conference paper this week, oh my pretty scary stuff but quite fun, they also feed us and free food is always a bonus, especially accompanied with free alcohol, I think I could get used to this conference thing! 

Anyway, I do have quite a backlog of recipes to share with you now that things have quietened down a little. Today though I want to share something really really simple yet incredibly delicious, just to ease us back into this game!

Peach season is upon us! I think peaches have to be my favourite fruit and I can demolish a punnet of peaches in a day, but thats ok because they're totally healthy so I don't feel too bad about it. My favourite has to be the yellow flesh peaches they just seem so much sweeter and juicer than the white flesh, and necatrines? forget about it. Is it just me or do they taste weird? But yes, peaches. Peaches are delicious and I'm so happy that I can get them in the supermarkets again. I love that they are only sold in season since I think that fruit sold out of season is just kind of meh... you know the strawberries in December that just taste like water or Blueberries that have literally no tartness or sweetness just mushiness. Ick. Well its the season for Peaches, Strawberries and Blueberries so I am one happy camper right now! My three favourite fruits right at my finger tips in all their sweet, tart, juicy glory! It's also the season where the weather gets warmer which seems really nice at first, until it's too warm, you know that british thing right? There's like a 3 degree window of too warm... too cold. Yesterday was one of those days that it was a case of nope... too hot. But a girl still want's dessert! Just, not turning on the oven because oh dear god please no more heat.

This is where today's recipe comes in. Here at the grad house we try to eat healthy, sure the odd bar of chocolate sneaks its way into my belly more often than it should occassionally... but we try to get plenty of fruit and wholegrains and cook things from scratch so we know what's in them. We're still working on the vegetables because we have very different tastes in those! I love broccoli, sprouts, green beans, cabbage, Mr Grad... not so much. But that's another post and another recipe! So, eating healthy, this fruit salad is a really easy way to get delicious fruit into you diet without having to munch your way through endless apples. As a bonus it also has the flavours of Mojito in it which has to be like the best drink ever. What's not to love??

Monday, 11 May 2015

Mojito Cupcakes!

Aren't cupcakes fantastic? I mean really, a little piece of cake just for you with the perfect cake to frosting ratio. I quite, quite love them, mostly because the flavour combinations are endless, more so than actual cake! They are also so much easier to share. I mean, who really wants a half eaten cake or even just one slice of cake? Instead cupcakes are all like 'hey I made these just for you... look, tiny little whole cakes just for you!'  (it also means you eat less cake, which is good and also bad because, cake!).

Anyway, cupcakes. I like baking, alot, but I am also conscious of my health so sometimes I have to really reign in my cupcake baking (and general baking) desires otherwise we'd have a house overrun with tiny little cakes. It's a problem when I suddenly have an idea like, 'hey! I wonder how Mojito cupcakes would taste?' and then my brain is like 'you need to go make them... now!!' for like the next week or month until I have an opportunity to indulge my experimentation and share the results. However, now that Mr. Grad has a job my problems have been solved! yay! I can bake/experiment all I want and the results are always very gratefully recieved by his colleagues who all seem to have very sweet tooths. Everybody wins!

Recently, Mr. Grad passed his 6 month probation with his company so to celebrate I made cupcakes for him to share with his colleagues. My brain had been nagging me to make these mojito cupcakes for a few weeks and I'd been obsessively searching through google and pinterest for ideas and drooling over the images so it seemed totally fitting to make these cupcakes to celebrate. Everyone like Mojito's right? and cupcakes? so combined? One word... divine! All his colleagues declared them to be the best cupcakes ever which was nice to hear! Even Mr. Grad who doesn't particularly have a sweet tooth went back for seconds!

So, you totally need to make these for your next 'grown up' party or celebration or just because you need mojito cupcakes in your life, which you do, you always do!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Overnight Oats

Now the warmer weather is coming in I don't feel like filling up on a steaming bowl of porridge in the morning, but I do like my oats! They are so very healthy and tasty. What's a girl to do??

But then I discovered this wonderful, magical food called overnight oats! Have you heard about overnight oats? I think I'm quite late coming to this party but they are pretty amazing! Basically you toss oats, milk, chia seeds and whatever flavours you like into a jar, shake it up and throw it in the fridge overnight. In the morning you have gloriously thick oats that have absorbed all the liquid and become tender and delicious!

I also love them because they are so simple, no faffing about in the morning with the stove when you're sleepy and likely to burn down the house. No bowls/saucepans to wash up. Everything gets made into the jar and shaken up and then you can eat out of that jar too. Bonus! You make them the night before so it's just grab and go and you can make them up for a few days and not have to worry about breakfast! yay!

They are also so incredibly healthy! No nasty stuff in it and it's a really good way to get fruit into your breakfast as well as protein and everyone knows the oats are like the best superfood. What's not to like?
See? So healthy!
Into the jars it goes!


It's been so long since I updated here hasn't it? Life has totally gotten in the way... well I say life, I really mean the PhD has gotten in the way, which seems to be life anyway so hey ho... I've been scootling around the UK to archives and conferences and all that kind of stuff and I also started teaching! That's right, they let me loose on the first years at the uni! It's been fun but pretty exhausting, I also have way more sympathy for my Professor's than I ever had before! But now term is ending and I finally have a few moments to myself so it felt like it was time to crack open the blog and share some recipes that have kept us going over these past few months. This is one of my favourite bread recipes to make, so easy, simple, quick and delicious.

We love bread in this house. We eat it every day, more than once a day. There is nothing better than a warm slice of bread fresh from the oven. I am quite simple in my tastes and quite enjoy it on it's own with a tiny bit of butter and a sprinkle of salt or just alongside a slice of Salami, oh and of course slathered in Nutella for breakfast, lunch afternoon snack. Mr Grad will eat it with pretty much anything, Salami, Cheese, Chilli, Artichokes, Tomatoes, you name it.

One of my favourite breads though is one that is purely savoury, Focaccia. I adore it! It's insanely delicious, all nice and fluffy and chewy with a delicious olive oil taste. It also makes the best sandwiches (amazing with Porchetta!) and is even incredibly tasty as a grilled cheese! 

I have a recipe for Focaccia that I've been making for at leat 6 years, I don't even remember where I got it from, I just know that I love making it, it's so easy and versatile! When I say easy, I mean EASY, no kneading, no fancy equipment or anything, just a bowl and a spatula and you get the fluffiest, tastiest bread you can imagine. You can also flavour it in almost anyway you want which is awesome, I love it with Rosemary or Sage.

So fluffy!!

Wednesday, 18 February 2015


It's been just over a year since Mr. Grad moved over to the UK with me and whilst we eat Italian style food most days there are times when he hankers after a taste of home that is something more that just pasta. This week was one such week when he had a craving for Porchetta. 

Porchetta is a traditional Italian street food made from a whole deboned pig that it stuffed with herbs and spices and slow roasted in a fire pit and then pulled apart and usually put between two pieces of delicious crusty bread. Driving through any place in Italy you are likely to come across a roadside trailer selling this magical food. It is really out of this world delicious, just the smell when you are driving by is just heavenly and the panino itself... oh man... 

So anyway, Mr. Grad got on about wanting some Porchetta, now I don't have the space nor inclination to roast a whole pig, let alone the stomach to debone the poor beast, but I promised I'd try to make some for him. I began my research in earnest, there are so many Porchetta recipe's out there with all kinds of ingredients and I think a lot of them have tried to jazz up the dish to make it less humble street food and more gourmet 'look at what I made' kind of food. I didn't want any of that because the great and wonderful thing about Italian food is that it is simple! Forget all this Pine Nuts, Raisins and Chicken Livers nonsense. I'm sure it's delicious... well kind of... raisins and meat never particularly struck me as good together... but it's not Porchetta as I know it. A lot of recipes also are intended for slicing the meat which Mr. Grad informs me is not particularly common, rather it's more reminiscent of pulled pork. This is why if you are going for that kind of feel the Shoulder is better than the Belly as it falls apart so much better. We are also not huge fans of Pork Belly because of the amount of fat it has in it, nothing really worse than chewing through fat. 

After a good few recipes I came across a few that seemed to fit the bill so I set about making porchetta.

We were also really lucky because at this time I had just received a new programme invite by Tesco Orchard for their meat campaign. If you don't know what Tesco Orchard is you should totally check it out. Basically you fill in surveys and they invite you to try out new products based on your survey answers. They send you out vouchers which usually entitles you to a free product and extra vouchers to give to your friends. All you have to do is just talk about the product and report back to Tesco in the form of Tweets, Facebook Posts, Reviews, Blogs and so on, whatever you like! It's so much fun!

So onto Porchetta, thanks to Tesco Orchard I had a £10 voucher for fresh meat and they were also running a promotion on Pork Shoulder at £2.99 per kg. I managed to get a 3.6kg piece of deboned Pork Shoulder for 90p! Talk about a bargain! Now I had to butterfly it and well that was my first attempt and whilst perhaps it wasn't the neatest it did the job just fine! There are plenty of videos on youtube if you don't know how to do it, or you could ask your butcher to do it for you. Unfortunately I don't have a butcher but perhaps with time I will get better. I'm pretty sure I'll have plenty of practice because this went down SO well... I actually gave some to another Italian friend who loved it too so it does have the native seal of approval! I promise you if you make this you will LOVE it. It has so much flavour and is so fall apart tender and moist! and then you get the delicious crunchy skin running through and oh my just delicious!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Gluten Free Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes!!

Today is my friends birthday! Happy Birthday Derek! Yaaaay! 


What better way to celebrate a birthday than with cupcakes?! Unfortuantely my friend has a gluten intolerance so for a long while has only ever been able to eat those icky carboardy gluten free cupcakes that you buy in the supermarket *plegh*. That was until... he met me! Every year I send him cupcakes for his birthday... did you know you can send cupcakes in the post?? I found out a little while ago that there are a few products on the market like these very functional Postable Cupcake Pods or these Cakes-Away Postable Cupcake Boxes that look so pretty! I've used both with great success sending them to friends on random occassion because hey who doesn't like getting surprise cupcakes in the morning?? 

Anyway, birthday cupcakes, so every year I try to make him some delicious cupcakes for his birthday and a really awesome resource for gluten free cupcakes (and everything else!) is Gluten Free Canteen I've made so many things from there like these Double Chocolate Espresso Cupcakes and these Drunken Chocolate Cupcakes and so many others! All of them have been so delicious, in fact my non gluten free friends can't taste the difference that's how good they are!

Today I wanted to make something a bit different. I love salted caramel and I found a jar in the supermarket the other day and thought it would be perfect for the cupcakes. I've made Salted Caramel Cupcakes before that were a total hit so why not make a gluten free version to share with my dear friend? So using my go to resource I found these Chocolate Sundae Cupcakes which I adapted slightly to my purposes (also reducing the sugar a little) since I just wanted a really good chocolate cupcake base and they certainly didn't dissapoint! Rich, dark, perfectly moist and oh so chocolatey... delicious! Then I cut out a little hole in the top and filled with Salted Caramel Sauce and topped with more salted caramel flavoured buttercream and drizzled with even more salted caramel sauce and finally topped it off with a little square of chocolate just to set it over the top! (hey it is his birthday!)

Don't they look worthy of a celebration cupcake??

Saturday, 31 January 2015

The amazing thing that is... Pizza!!

Pizza, boy do we love Pizza in this house, we eat it atleast once a week! We are not fans of premade pizza though. I mean some of them are edible like the super expensive supermarket 'fresh' ones that cost as much as a small child but they are quite convenient when they are on offer. Frozen pizza? never ever liked it, in fact, confession time.. as a child I hated pizza, like really loathed it because we only ever ate that icky, super cheap, frozen pizza at home. You know the kind, they cost about £1 for 4 and are full of sugar, salt and other nasties. Take away pizza? Forget about it, they are so horrificly bad and over priced!  It was only when I tried making my own pizza once I got into cooking that I discovered that actually it was pretty good! Then I met Mr. Grad and tried proper pizza, made in a pizza oven in a resturaunt run by a little old mamma and there was no turning back! It was heaven... it was also gigantic! Ever since then I've developed a very good appreciation for pizza and enjoy it quite a lot!

There are many recipes out there for pizza, some good, some not so good. Whilst you will rarely ever be able to make the awesome pizza that you eat in pizzeria's in Italy at home (unless you are amazing enough to own a pizza oven in your back yard, and if you do... can I be your friend??!!) this one is pretty darn good! This recipe I got from a little old grocer in the village that we stay in in Italy and it's soooo good and tasty! It's also really easy and  cheap. In the time it takes for your pizza to be delivered you could be eating this and I guarantee you it's a million times better and has no hidden nasties in it!

This recipe is also so customisable. Once you've made the base, go wild! .We added sliced onions at the same time as the mozzarella to one of ours. You could add thinly sliced Aubergines, or break apart some sausages and scatter over or perhaps some pepperoni. Mushrooms also go really well, just slice them thinly and add with the mozzarella, try adding some mascarpone with it too, or ricotta! Artichoke hearts are tasty too. To jazz up a plain old margherita scatter over some fresh rocket and a few shavings of Parmesan. Even bacon works well on pizza!

You can also totally skip out the tomato sauce and make 'white pizza'. Just follow the instructions above omiting adding the tomato sauce and cook as directed. Onion and Mozzarella are super tasty. You could also go the Quattro Formaggi way and add dollops of Ricotta, lashings of mozzarella and pieces of creamy gorgonzola (or stilton!) topped with a sprinkling of Parmesan for a truly delicious cheesy pizza (you can also add cheddar if, like me, you don't like blue cheese.)

Friday, 30 January 2015

Apple and Blackberry Crumble

You know those days when the weather outside is awful, its raining and cold and windy? The days that bring on a hankering for good old fashioned comfort food that you can tuck into whilst curled up on the sofa watching TV. Today was such a day.

The weather here has been so cold and windy and wet over the last few weeks so I was really craving something sweet and warm and oh so comforting. Enter... Blackberry and Apple Crumble! It's a dish that I remember so fondly from my childhood that would always start appearing late September-ish, just as it started getting colder in the evenings, usually as a pudding to the traditional Sunday roast.  

Of course as kids, every year we'd regularly go out to pick the blackberries that would end up in this dish. It was always so much fun tramping through the hedgerows, getting snagged on the bushes, and eating your weight in blackberries at the same time. We'd always return home with purple stained fingers, (and mouths) and a few scratches, proudly carrying our bounty. Blackberry picking is still something I do even as an adult and it's still so much fun! The blackberries that went into this crumble I picked back in late September and froze so that I could get that wonderful comfort food all through the winter even after the bushes were bare. They also taste so much better than the ones you can buy in the supermarket, which really kinda taste like water and cost a fortune! 

This crumble really is so easy to make and tastes just divine especially when served with a good quality Vanilla Ice Cream (Bailey's Ice Cream is also delicious!). The one I remember from when I was a child was much simpler, literally just blackberries and apples with some sugar but I decided to experiment a bit with flavours by omitting the sugar, the apples are usually sweet enough, and adding some Lemon Zest, Ground Cloves and Cinnamon. It gave it a wonderful depth of flavour that was so warming and comforting. If you don't like Cloves you could always leave them out or just go with the Cinnamon if you prefer. I also don't think it matters what apples you use, personally I use whatever I have around, usually Granny Smiths (because i'm a total apple snob and it's the only one I like) or Cox or Braeburn apples. All taste equally delicious, just use whatever you have to hand! I do like that bit of bite that firmer apples keep though.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Zuppa Inglese

There are some foods that, no matter how popular Italian Cusine is around the world, you just can't find in the UK.

Since moving here Mr. Grad has embraced british cusine quite well, though I admit to cooking alot of  Italian based dished because they're usually so quick, cheap and yummy! So he hasn't missed his staple foods too much!  But, there have been a few things that he's hankered after, good Salami, proper Italian Sausages, not the spicy kind that I don't know what the heck they are but I've never seen them in Italy, but proper Italian Sausage that you can eat raw on a slice of bread and also, Zuppa Inglese.

Zuppa Inglese, or English Soup in well... English, is a traditional Italian dessert that somewhat resembles the British Trifle but its way more delicious... at least according to Mr. Grad. I think it's an Italian thing. I mean I like it but I don't love it... perhaps its the alcohol taste that is pretty strong! I think I miss the fruit too.

Anyway, Zuppa Inglese is Savoiardi biscuits dipped in Alchermes Liquor and Rum and then layered up between copious amounts of Chocoloate and Vanilla Custard and topped off with whipped cream. It's not for the faint of heart or anyone trying to stick to a diet.

The difficulty in making it in the UK is finding the staple ingredient, Alchermes. Alchermes is a spiced liquor that is bright red in colour and has a really wonderful flavour, kind of aniseedy but sweet and more subtly spiced. You cannot find it anywhere in the UK and the few places online that you can buy it are prohibitively expensive which is really annoying since in Italy its so cheap!

So, Mr Grad was craving a taste of his childhood favourite and after a week or so of searching for Alchermes, there was only one thing to do: Make it myself! I poked around online and found this recipe at All Things Sicillian & More. It takes a few weeks to make, and by make I mean stuff everything in a jar and leave it in the cupboard for a few weeks then add vodka, lots and lots of vodka, oh and some sugar and ta da! It tasted amazing! The addition of a little food colouring for the obligitory red colour (traditionally they used cochenial but you can't find it here and this way it's also vegetarian!)

He had to wait a few more weeks to satiate his craving but boy was he overjoyed by the result! I mean it has such a rustic homemade charm about it, none of this plastic looking, perfectly packed nonsense. It's messy and uneven and looks just like it should! and tastes even better! You could perhaps layer it up in a trifle bowl and make it all neat and tidy but 1. I don't have a trifle bowl, 2. This is how I first ate it and 3. I like the rustic look, turned out onto a plate, dusted with cocoa and then attacked with a giant spoon! Mr Grad likes to add an extra drizzle (or flood) or alchermes over his portion for extra flavour.