Sweet and Mallow

So, marshmallows. Great for toasting over a campfire, dropping in hot chocolate and…….. and, ermmmm *scratches head*, not much else really. Step forward then, local company, ‘Pommallows‘ who have decided to give the humble marshmallow a bit of a facelift, by which I mean they cover them in chocolate and other yummy things – works for me!

With treats starting from 50p, for the surprisingly satisfying ‘Pomstick’, going up to £4 for a bag of 22 Poms, there’s something for everyone’s taste and pocket. The discerning buyer also gets to choose the chocolate and topping or, if like me, decision-making isn’t your strong point, you can opt for a lucky dip.

Admittedly, when my Pomstick arrived it had clearly suffered at the hands of (my long time nemesis) Royal Mail being, as it was, a smidgen squashed. Not to matter because it tasted great – the mini bonbons with the chocolate and the light fluffy centre made for a totally different type of sweet and kept me munching for a while and smiling for a great deal longer.

I’ll can definitely see me turning to this company again when I’m on the look out for a sweet pick-me-up or a kooky confectionary gift for a friend. If you fancy giving them a go, keep an eye out for them at local markets, check out the online store or have a chat with chef Kate on Twitter – they run regular competitions, so you may even be lucky enough to win a free sample!

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Easter cupcakes

Cupcakes seem to be the ‘in’ thing at the moment and, while I’ve never been a particularly avid follower of fashion, I don’t need much encouragement to make cakes. Last month I bought a load of cake decorating bits – food colouring, marzipan, coloured sprinkles, plain and coloured fondant icing – with the intention of expanding my decorating repertoire (which has never really got beyond basic buttercream) but inspiration had forsaken me until this week.

As it’s the Easter holidays, I’ve got a sweet-toothed, hollow-legged, fridge-bothering fiance at home as well as lots of friends and family dropping by, so it’s always handy to have something yummy to keep them all happy (Nigella, eat your heart out!).

I made a big batch of vanilla cupcakes and split them into three. The first batch I decided would be birds’ nests – a swirly topping of chocolate buttercream, a few Mini Eggs, the odd chocolate birdie and some chocolate sprinkles, et voila.

Next I thought I’d give the coloured fondant icing a bash. This stuff is a bit fiddly but practise makes perfect – lots of icing sugar on the work surface and rolling-pin, and a bit of patience is all that’s needed. I’d intended to make them all into Easter eggs, using Dr Oetker Writing Icing (who knew he lived in Leeds?!) but I got bored after three and decided to showcase my ‘artistic talent’. I’ll let you be the judge of if I managed to pull it off! Please note – I did drop the rabbit on the cooling rack so that’s why he’s a bit mangled (honest!).

Accepting that fondant icing maybe wasn’t where my talents lay, I went back to buttercream but decided to have another go at bunnies. Using green food colouring and a thin piping nozzle I made grass (that does look like grass, doesn’t it?). Colouring a small piece of marzipan orange (with red and yellow food colouring – like being back at primary school) I fashioned four carrots (with a tiny piece coloured green for the top). Then I used fondant icing sugar to make the rabbit tails and feet (they’re disappearing down a hole – can you not tell?), a bit of fondant icing coloured pink for the foot pads and a bit more writing icing for claws and there you have my marzipan carrot and fondant bunny cupcakes.

Not bad for a first time effort with no cook book or previous experience to refer to, even if I do say so myself.

I have to confess though, I did make two ‘special’ cakes which had a rather secret and special Eastery ingredient, added at the baking stage. Topped with vanilla buttercream, Haribo Fried Eggs and some green sprinkles, they look pretty normal from the outside.

But anything Heston Blumenthal can do, I can do better (well, not really, but you get the idea). Want to see what’s inside?

Yep, it’s a Cadbury’s Creme Egg. Well, if my Scottish brethren can fry the little beauties, I don’t see why I can’t put ’em in cakes. Actually, it worked quite well, they didn’t explode or leak and if you ignore the fact that they may actually be illegal due to OBSCENE calorie content, they’re pretty nice. I’m glad I only made two though. Sickly isn’t the word.

To forgive is divine, and so are brownies

I’ll be the first to admit this, I’ve had somewhat of a strained relationship with Wales. While I realise you shouldn’t judge an entire country, people and culture on a few incidents, it’s only natural to form an opinion of a place on the experiences you have. And my experiences have been mixed to say the least.

In the positive column – I met my first proper boyfriend on a carefree, ‘endless summer’ type, school camp in Anglesey. I had an extremely fun night in Aberystwyth involving an Australian rock band, about 600 sweaty students, some policemen and a Santa’s Grotto. I’ve also got nothing but love for Ivor the Engine, Dylan Thomas (any man who liked to eat liquorice allsorts in the bath is alright in my book), Portmeirion and, of course, the glorious Manic Street Preachers.

But I’ve also had a number of Withnail and I-esque “We’ve gone on holiday by mistake!” moments in Wales too. In South Wales, I (and my colleague at the time) was robbed of a quantity of stock (probably while I was distracted by a Samwise Gamgee look-a-like who decided I should be his girlfriend because I made the mistake of saying I liked his Bill Hicks badge). Also, while on a different trip, I was relieved of my handbag (and my favourite ever pink phone *wails*!) by some of Swansea’s finest tealeafs and ‘pretend held hostage’ for my pin number. This being the same trip that the car broke down and had to be towed all the way back to Yorkshire (by some genuinely lovely RAC men – another tick in the positives). Oh, and I’m 99% certain a Welsh waitress phlegmed in my curry once, which gave me food poisoning leading to me concussing myself on the hotel en suite door in the middle of the night.

So, yeah, ‘mixed’ is probably the right word.

However, I’ve discovered something that means Wales will forever more be held by me in nothing but the highest esteem. Short of kidnapping my entire family (actually, scratch that – it would go in the positive column!) there is now literally NO wrong that could be done to me by the country or its people.

Let me explain. One of the reasons I love comping (aside from the obvious ‘owt for nowt’ incentive) is I’m introduced to some great products (and also people) that I wouldn’t otherwise have known about. About a year ago I noticed a competition on Twitter from Gower Cottage Brownies – the name rang a bell with me as I’ve visited the area and it’s really beautiful, even though I did get robbed (see – ‘mixed’!). I tweeted an entry (@Gowercottage) and the next day I found out I’d won. “Yey! Summat for nowt!”, I thought, but little did I know just what kind of ‘summat’ I would be getting. To paraphrase Mr Marks and Mr Spencer, “These aren’t just any brownies, these are Gower Cottage brownies.”.

As soon as I opened the box I knew I was in for a treat – the smell (even for someone as olfactorarily challenged as I) was divine. Nestled inside were 12 icing sugar dusted portions of (at the risk of infringing Thorntons copyright) what I can only describe as chocolate heaven. I could throw around words like delectable and moreish or ambrosial and luscious but they could never do them justice. I will say, however, that the on-box suggestion to try these little beauties warm with ice cream should also come with a strong health warning because the experience was SO uncommonly good that I was rendered speechless and possibly drifted off into a temporary, deliciously blissful, fuzzy round the edges, gooey, fudgey, utterly gorgeous chocolate induced coma.

I do my fair share of baking and I’ve been making brownies since I was knee-high so I’ve had 20-odd years to perfect my recipe, which, as it stands, is pretty damn good but putting my brownies next to these is like comparing a Pot Noodle to a meal at Nobu, there’s just no contest. There’s a half-serious consensus in my house that, given the sublime quality of these parcels of deliciousness, Kate Jenkins (Queen of the Gower Cottage kitchen) may, in the nicest possible sense of the accusation, actually be some kind of witch. A thoroughly lovely, very good, sent to do good things (though, not necessarily for the waistline) kind of witch, but someone who has powers which are not of this earth nonetheless.

Since winning that first box, I’ve had a tendency to view the balance of my PayPal account in terms of how many boxes (at £15.99 each) I could buy with the available funds which, I’m pretty sure, is one of the main signs of addiction. Still, somehow, I’ve manage to exercise restraint, only buying more boxes as gifts for special people who I thought deserved a slice of, what I’ve come to think of as, brownie crack. Clearly my appreciation hasn’t gone unnoticed as my cat (with, I imagine, a bit of help from my OH) bought me a box for Mother’s Day. I would have shared but cats can’t eat chocolate – shame.

So, while it may be a tragic cliché, it doesn’t make it any less true in this case – chocolate does indeed make it all better. Such is the power of these brownies that Wales is well and truly forgiven for every past indiscretion against me and any future faux pas and injustices that may yet still be to occur. Sticking with the theme of bastardising advertising slogans, I’ll finish by simply saying that, “Carlsberg don’t make brownies, but if they did, they’d be made in The Gower Cottage kitchen.”.