Snake Sixth Birthday Cake

I have been a bit lazy on the blogging and cooking front lately-what with the heat and holidays and everything but the other day I made a 6th birthday cake for my niece. As she´s not really that keen on cake, I decided to bake a plain sponge cake, Yellow Cake which had a subtle hint of lemon and vanilla. I got the idea for the cake from a book called Tartas de fiesta infantiles-I don´t think it´s bad for a first attempt at a more "elaborate" cake!! However, I still need plenty of practice at cake decorating.

The recipe called for a round cake tin of 20cm but even though I looked everywhere could I find one, could I heck so had to settle for a 26cm cake tin. In order to save time, I used a bought Swiss roll for the arm of the six and only baked the round sponge. I then made a simple buttercream, reserving 1/2 cup of it, and experimented with food colouring to make a nice green colour and iced the cake. I ran out of buttercream though and had to make up some fresh buttercream, then use more food colouring till it was the exact same colour as the first. I started to rush towards the end as the party had already started and I still hadn´t finished the cake so it got a bit sloppy towards the end, it wasn´t as smooth as I´d have liked!

I also cut off part of the Swiss roll for the snake´s head. I then used dyed 2 teaspoons of the 1/2 cup of remaining buttercream violet (although it looked more black) and used the piping bag to pipe the eyebrows. I then dyed the remaining buttercream a lighter green and again using the piping bag(for the first time in my life!)piped a kind of V shape for the snake´s scales. They were a bit blobby in places but not too bad for a first attempt. I then used liquorice sweets for the eyes, tongue and for further decoration.

The cake seemed to be quite a success even though I´m not sure if my niece tried it but some kids went back for seconds! There wasn´t much left of it so it must have been ok! It took me almost all day to make it and I was exhausted by the time I´d finished it!!The kitchen also looked like a bomb had hit it!!


Touring Vietnam & discovering it´s cuisine Part 2- Hoi An & Hue

After Halong Bay, it was back to Hanoi to catch a plane to Danang and then on to Hoi An.It was a long day especially as we were both still recuperating from the previous night´s upset stomachs! I forgot to mention that near Hanoi there are restaurants which serve dog.However, we didn´t come across any of these restaurants luckily as I don´t think I could eat a poor little dog. Mind you, we do eat little lambs and piglets (roast suckling pig) so I suppose it´s not so different!
Hoi An is a sharp contrast to Hanoi with its much quieter and laid-back streets full of little shops. We visited the Japanese Covered Bridge, the Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation, Tan Ky House and then wandered round all the shops stopping of course at Yaly, one of the more famous shops, which makes tailored made-to-measure clothes of any design and with the material of your choice. I settled for a black and white flower patterned dress. We also took in the sights and strange smells of the market of all the local delicacies from dried shrimp and other dried fish to all kinds of exotic fruit.

In the evening we found a lovely restaurant called The Secret Garden, which our guide had told us about, but it was definitely very secret as it is hidden away down a side street and is very difficult to find. However, it was worth searching for as the restaurant is set in a sort of terrace outside in a beautiful garden with a pond.It is very beautiful and romantic especially at night when it is all lit up. There is also traditional live Vietnamese music playing while you are eating. We opted for a set menu for 2, which if I remember correctly consisted of: white rose (Bánh Bao Bánh Vạc)-a kind of dumpling filled with meat and prawns or toppd with them (delicious), Rice Pasta Rolls ( Bánh Cuon) -a type of spring roll filled with pork and mint and coriander (very fresh tasting due to the mint and coriander but not my favourite) and beef curry (CaryBò). The beef curry was divine, melt in your mouth tender beef, star anise, potato, carrots and some other vegetable or something which could have been taro.The flavours combined to make a really tasty dish. However, it wasn´t a curry as I know it as it wasn´t at all spicy, to me it was more reminicscent of a type of beef stew but anyway the main thing was that it was absolutely delicious! Dessert was a more simple affair of pineapple and watermelon. For me, this was one of the best restaurants we went to on our trip to Vietnam. The Secret Garden also does cooking courses but unfortunately time was short otherwise I´d have loved to have had a lesson in Vietnamese cuisine.

We also visited My Son, the ruins of an ancient Cham temple and the Marble Mountains. On route we stopped at a farm where they made rice pancakes and the owner showed us how she made the pancakes and we were even given the opportunity to have a go!

After Hoi An, we then travelled to Hue, Vietnam´s former imperial city, where we visited the Citadel, the impressive and beautiful Imperial Enclosure and went on a boat trip on the Perfume River. We were going to eat at this floating restaurant on the river, very near the bridge but everything we asked for, they didn´t have so we decided to go somewhere else. We found a lovely (but empty) restaurant set in a beautiful garden again . I think it was very late by the time we wanted to eat. We weren´t very hungry so only ordered a salad and banh khoai, a typical speciality from Hue, which consists of a rice flour pancake filled with prawns,pork and bean sprouts and fried. The food in the restaurant was of high quality and was quite expensive for usual Vietnamese restaurant prices. The banh khoai was absolutely delicious but very filling however I think because we weren´t that hungry we weren´t as keen on the salad and couldn´t eat much. I think we ate the banh khoai again during our time in Hue but the one from Rendezvous was definitely the best. We didn´t realize until we went in that the restaurant belonged to the Morin hotel but I´d definitely reccommend this restaurant as the food was exquisite and again a lovely and romantic setting. It was just unfortunate that we weren´t very hungry and didn´t like our choice of salad. We also ordered beef with lemongrass which was also delicious but we were just so full we couldn´t eat it. Unfortunately we don´t have any photos of the banh khoai.

I can´t remember what this is-prawns in a crispy panko type batter with a cute penguin/snowman made out of cucumber that we ate in a different restaurant!
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