A packed Lunch Made with Love

I’m an old romantic at heart.  My husband and I literally met by bumping into each other on the street.  It was fate that he got off the bus just as I was walking past with my pal, and for our eyes to meet.  It could of easily been a ‘sliding doors’ scenario as a minute later and we would have been heading off in different directions, lost in the crowds having never seen each other.  Obviously, I’m so glad it wasn’t, as 13 years later we have been married for nearly 7 years and have 3 wonderful children.

Our household is a pretty busy place as our children are still young and as a result I think it is easy to forgot the romance when real life gets in the way.  My husband and I are like ships in the night sometimes.  He works long hours and as a result so do I.  It can be a struggle to find time for one another when we are both exhausted at the end of the day,  but its so important.  This is why I try and do something special every year for Valentines.  I’m not a fan of the commercial side of Valentines day so it won’t be anything big or costly.   Just a little token of love.

This year there was no doubt that anything I do for Valentines was going to be homemade.  After making 6 Christmas hampers and being a self confessed baking addict, it was also going to be edible.  It had to be unique but also useful.  Cupcakes look pretty but were just not going to cut it, I’d make 12, he’d eat 1 and then have a sandwich!  Same with most other treats.  Then the idea of a valentines packed lunch came to me.  At the moment my husband buys his lunch spending far too much on a dry sandwiches,  but he has no incentive to make his lunch and I don’t have time ordinarily either.  A packed lunch made with love would be perfect.  I spent quite a while working out what I would make him.  A number of criteria had to be met including portability, deliciousness and thoughtfulness.  Below is what I came up with.  I hope it inspires you to do the same for your partner or for someone you care about this valentines.

For all the recipes I am giving you enough to make more than just one packed lunch.  No point going to all that effort if you can’t enjoy some of it too.  You could even invite a friend over for lunch on the day you make it all to join in with the enjoyment and impress by pretending that this is the sort of lunch you eat every day!

You can be as creative as you like in packaging it all up.  A ribbon and a tag would be a nice finish I think.

Blood orange, walnut and goats cheese salad with avocado hearts

This salad uses ingredients that I love and means you can justify buying lots of blood oranges which are amazing but only in season now for a short few weeks.

What you will need:

Salad

  • packet of ruby gem lettuce, or any other lettuce with red in
  • 100g goats cheese
  • 4 blood oranges
  • 50g walnuts chopped
  • 1 avocado (needs to be fairly large)

Dressing

  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp blood red orange juice
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp walnut oil
  • 1 tbsp runny honey
  • Small heart cookie cutter

How to make:

  1. Wash and chop your lettuce and arrange in the bottom of a Tupperware dish.
  2. Cut the ends off your oranges and then use a knife to cut off the peel and pith working from the top down and round the orange.  Cut into chunky slices and arrange on top of lettuce.
  3. Crumble a portion of the goats cheese and sprinkle on top of salad, then add some of your chopped walnuts onto the salad.
  4. Cut your avocado in half, skin and take the stone out then cut thin slices.  There should be the fat bottom bit on each slice.  Use this to cut out your hearts and place on top of the salad.
  5. Finally, to make the dressing mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl or dish then pour over the salad using as much as you think it needs

Sundried tomato, basil and cheese rolls

Keeping with the theme of valentines, I thought these rolls would be perfect as when the lucky recipient cuts into them they will find a gorgeous red inside.

Makes about 8 large rolls (freeze any you don’t use)

What you will need:

  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 200g strong wholemeal bread flour
  • 7 sundried tomatoes chopped
  • 3 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 sachet of 7g dried yeast
  • 75g grated cheddar cheese
  • 450ml hand hot water – not too hot or it will kill the yeast
  • Sunflower seeds for top (optional)

How to make:

  1. Put the flour, salt, tomato puree and yeast into a bowl
  2. Add water and mix with hands until a dough is formed.  Remove from bowl and knead for 10 mins.  Alternatively, use a dough hook on an electric mixer for 5-6 mins
  3. Use your hands to push the dough out flat onto your work surface and put cheese, sundried tomatoes and basil in the middle on top. Fold the edges of the dough back over the cheese, tomatoes and basil and then lightly knead for a few minutes until you think everything has been incorporated into the dough.  You might find that bits fall off as you go but don’t worry just pick up and place back into the dough and you will soon start to see that most it has been mixed in
  4. Once you feel the cheese, tomatoes and basil had been evenly mixed into the dough, put it back into the bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for an hour, or until doubled in size
  5. Gently take you dough out of the bowl and gently knead to punch the air out of it and then make 8 or so small rounds of dough and place on a baking sheet.  Cover with cling film again and leave for another 30-40 mins somewhere warm.
  6. Preheat the oven to 200c/400f/gas 6.  The small balls should have grown into bigger rolls.  Don’t worry if they are slightly misshapen, I think this adds the homemade appeal.  At this point I put a sunflower seed heart on top of my rolls and then placed them in the oven.  Feel free to miss out the sunflower seeds if you wish
  7. Bake for about 20-30 mins.  Timings will depend on the size of your rolls but you are looking for a crusty top and a hollow sound if you tap the bottom

Red velvet mini heart cakes with orange cream cheese frosting

I adapted this recipe from my Hummingbird Bakery cook book.  I used natural red colouring (mine was Dr Oetker), and found the silicone heart shaped bakeware in my local Sainsburys, (and I was extremely chuffed too).  If you cant find the heart moulds, small round cake tins would be fine as well.  I hope you are getting the red theme here folks 🙂

Makes 4 small cakes

What you will need:

Cake

  • 60 g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 10g cocoa powder
  • 20 ml red food colouring
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 120ml butter milk
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar

Frosting

  • 300g icing sugar
  • 50g butter, room temperature
  • 125g cream cheese
  • 1 tsp orange extract
  • A few sprinkle decorations of your choice. I used white chocolate stars and mini chocolate stars, both found down the baking aisle of my local Sainsburys

How to make:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170c/325f/gas 3). Mix the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the egg and mix until incorporated
  2. In a separate bowl mix the cocoa powder, red colouring and vanilla extract to make a paste
  3. Add the paste to your butter, sugar and egg mixture and mix well
  4. Then add half the buttermilk and mix, then half the flour and mix, then the remaining buttermilk and mix and the remaining flour and mix
  5. Add the salt, bicarb of soda and vinegar and beat well for a couple of minutes.
  6. Pour mixture into your cake tine and bake for 25 mins until the top is slightly firm to touch and a knife comes out clean.  Take cakes out of their tins and leave to cool on a wire rack
  7. To make the frosting mix the butter and sugar together in a bowl with an electric whisk.  Add the cream cheese and orange extract and beat until smooth
  8. Ice your cakes with the frosting using a palette knife if you have one and then sprinkle our chosen decoration on top

Present on Valentines morning, and expect a few ‘nom, nom, nom’ texts throughout the day…for the sake of my lovely blog readers, my husband got his packed lunch early!

I’m also entering this into Cakeboule’s virtual valentines craft and bake competition 2012.  Looking forward to seeing all the other entries too.

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20/01/2012. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Homemade gifts, Savory Baking, Sweet Baking. 6 comments.

Individual Apple and Rhubarb Tart with Lavender Frangipane

Baking in season is something I try hard achieve, but this time of year is probably when it is most difficult. If I’m quite honest I am a bit fed up of root vegetables, brussels, satsumas and the like yet with no signs of the much longed for spring just yet I was looking for a bit of inspiration. Then on a trip to my local supermarket I spotted British Bramley apples and rhubarb, and snapped them up in an instant. I did not know what I was going to do with them but the colours alone put me in a good mood and both of my daughters were excited to see me buying ‘pink sticks’. For the rest of that day and evening my mind was buzzing with ideas. I felt a bit sorry for my husband who was half asleep lying next to me at 11.30pm, and I was sitting up right pad and pen on one side and Ipad on the other asking him if he thought apple and rhubarb went with this or with that. By the time my eyelids finally closed, (thankfully not too much later) I’d got the foundation of a recipe. When I woke up the next day I was really excited to bake my idea. I found it a bit nerve wracking to make as so much time, effort and energy had gone into it already that failure was not really an option. I have of course dealt with many failures before and I get over them (in the end) by putting it down to experience, but this time I really hoped for success. So what did I do with my apple and rhubarb? Well I added another British ingredient, lavender, and included my current favourite tart filler frangipane to create an apple and rhubarb tart with lavender frangipane. The fruit and floral combination is unique but as I hoped it really works. I mean really, really works. When I ate it I tasted spring and this made me very happy indeed. I love the name of the tart too. Sophisticated I think, and would look great on a dinner party menu.

It is true that there are quite a few steps to this recipe but one way to make it a bit easier is to buy shop brought shortcrust pastry which would be a very suitable alternative to making your own. The lavender sugar can also be shop brought, (here is an example, but just note this is granulated sugar not caster sugar so will need a quick whizz in the food processor first for this recipe) or you can easily make your own by combining 500g of caster sugar with 4 heaped tbsps of dried culinary use lavender (example here) in a sterilised airtight glass container. It is best left for 6 weeks or so but can be used after 2 weeks. The dried lavender can be from your own garden if you are lucky enough to have dried some from last year as long as it is any variety of lavender augustifolia (best for use in cooking). If not it is well worth drying some this year to make some lavender sugar. I have recently brought a new cook book called Prepped by Vanessa Kimbell (@vanessakimbell) and there is a whole chapter of recipes using lavender both sweet and savoury.

What you will need

  • 6 greased individual tart cases, preferably with the loose bottoms (mine were 10cms diameter)
  • baking beans
  • rolling pin

Pastry

  • 175g plain flour
  • 100g cold butter
  • 25g icing sugar
  • 1 free range egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp icy water

Frangipane

  • 125g butter, softened
  • 125g lavender sugar
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 2 free range eggs
  • 1 tbsp plain flour

Fruit

  • 3 Bramley apples peeled and cored. Half cut into slices and the other half into small cubes
  • 400g rhubarb
  • 160g sugar
  • 200ml water
  • A sprinkling of toasted flaked almond for each tart (optional)

How to make

  1. I make the pastry in a food processor. It is easy and quick and has so far produced lovely pastry. Put the flour, butter and icing sugar in the food processor and mix until it starts to look like breadcrumbs
  2. Then add the egg yolk and water and mix until a soft dough is formed
  3. The dough should come out smooth, if not just knead it gently once you take it out then cover with cling film and put into the fridge for at least 15 mins. I left mine for a couple of hours and it was fine. Come out feeling rock hard but very quickly becomes soft and workable
  4. Now prepare your rhubarb by adding it to a large saucepan along with the sugar and water. Simmer on a low heat for about 30 mins until soft and cooked. Put to one side to cool
  5. To make the frangipane mix the butter and lavender sugar in an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Then add the eggs and mix until they have been combined. Then add the ground almonds and flour and fold in with a large metal spoon. Put to one side.
  6. Pre heat the oven to 180c/350f/gas 4. Now get your pastry out of the fridge and break off a small ball, and start to roll out with your rolling pin.
  7. One of the best tips I took away from watching the Great British Bake Off last year was to place the loose bottom of my tart tin under the pastry, roll over it so I can see it through the pastry. Then in your mind add another 3-4cms onto the diameter of the bottom of the tart tin and cut round in a circle. Then lift the cut out pastry with the bottom of the tart tin still underneath, and place in the tart tin case. What you should have is enough pastry to cover the bottom and now the sides of the tart tin, with hopefully no cracks or patchwork needed
  8. Spend some time carefully pushing the pastry into the grooves of the tart tin as this will stop the pastry from folding in when it is blind baked. Then make a few prick marks on thebottom with a fork, place a small round of greaseproof paper on top of the pastry and a few baking beans. Then, when all the tart cases have pastry in them, put in the oven for about 12- 15 mins
  9. Prepare your apples by peeling, coring and cutting them up, and strain your rhubarb by pushing through a sieve until you have pushed as much liquid out as possible. Need to make sure of this to avoid a soggy bottom in your tart
  10. When the pastry cases have come out of the oven turn it down to 170c/325f/gas 3. Remove greaseproof paper and baking balls and let cool for about 15 mins. Then put a layer of rhubarb on the bottom, sprinkle some of the cubed apple on top of the rhubarb, fill the tart with the lavender frangipane, and finally place some sliced apples on top in a circular fashion to create a pretty pattern. I then sprinkled a few toasted flaked almonds on top to finish if you wish
  11. Place in the oven and cook for about 30 mins
  12. Best eaten warm and served with cream or ice cream

Final thing for me to mention this week is that I am blatantly looking for votes for the Dorset Cereals Little Blog Award this month. The blog with most votes at the end of the month wins some Dorset Cereal goodies (most needed in our house as we are cereal monsters) and the coveted winners egg cup! Thanks to everyone who has voted already and those of you who have not I would be very grateful if you enjoy my blog to just pop over and give me your vote. I’ll let you know how I get on. 🙂

Dorset Cereals little blog awards

09/01/2012. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Sweet Baking. 4 comments.