So I’m not sure if 6 months between posts is a record for me, but it has certainly been a long time. I’ve thought a few times during that period that I should write something, but then I’ve realised I don’t really have anything to write about.
My best laid plans to build a robot, develop a Windows Phone 7 app, and anything else, have all fallen by the wayside. There’s not really much point developing further for Windows Phone 7 anyway, after it became clear it’s been a well disguised beta test for Windows Phone 8. Any adopter, early or late, is now left carrying a device that can’t be updated to Windows Phone 8, and is less likely to have more apps, as I doubt the major app develops would see now as the time to start widely supporting it!
It’s been 18 months, almost 2 years of me trying to be positive about it, to encourage people it is a worthy smartphone platform, but I can’t in good conscience continue now. In reality it’s been more like 18 months of suffering, particularly with a horrendous on screen keyboard, and being left in the cold when it comes to lack of apps. Lets hope Windows Phone 8 gets more than a sprinkling of apps, and gets the ones people want when they want them, not years after the rest of the world has moved on.
Fortunately last week, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a Google Asus Nexus 7 tablet, when they were sold out almost everywhere. Thanks go to Currys Reserve and Collect service and my local store getting stock in just at the right time. While I’ve had just a week using Android properly for the first time, I am definitely a fan. I know it’s on a tablet, not a phone, but it really does put Windows Phone 7 to shame.
Just the home screen alone, allowing you to mix app icons and interactive widgets beats Metro’s basic combination of Live Tiles (no interaction) and an app list. Come on Microsoft, pull your finger out! At this rate, I’ll have changed phones, probably to a HTC One X, before you can say Windows Phone 8. Android has always had better hardware available, and now I definitely see that they have the better software too.
My baking has continued in the last 6 months. I have made my classic Bacon Brownies a number of times, mainly on request – at Christmas, for friends and for a summer barbecue (after their success last year). But I’ve made other things too. I found the Carrot Cake recipe from The Hairy Bikers tastes great, and really easy to make.
But the next recipe definitely blows that, and anything else, out of the water. After two recent events with the Scouts – a Cub Camp and our Scout Groups 80th Anniversary Celebration, I have found my new favourite baked item thanks to one of the parents – Monkey Bread! The recipe itself is from Lakeland, but if it weren’t for trying some on Cub Camp, I may never have found this delicious combination of cinnamon and sweet dough. I made this for the summer barbecue earlier this month, and although it didn’t turn out perfectly, it was definitely a success. One to make again in the future.
More recently I have done what I set out to do in my current job, and that is complete the graduate scheme. It was this that has kept me there after early on I realised I didn’t like the job. After 6 months, I didn’t want to leave having completed some of the modules, so made the decision to stay at least until the end. Now I’m finally here, and while it makes no difference to my day to day work, it does mean I am in a better position to look for other opportunities. Plus having now worked for 2 years in a large technology company, having some experience should be a benefit should I apply for other jobs.
The next few months are going to be extremely busy, so it may be later on in the year that I start thinking about changing jobs. By the end of October, I will have volunteered as a mentor at Young Rewired State, been on the week long Essex International Jamboree with the Scouts, hopefully moved house, and got married. All of that is likely to take priority over any potential job hunting, especially since there is still wedding planning to do.
Perhaps by next year I’ll be doing a job I enjoy, whether it’s through the ongoing changes where I’m working now (less likely) or elsewhere. I may also have finished building the robot and some of the other stuff I said I would do. Who knows. Next year is a long way off.
As you may have seen from my post last June (Bacon + Chocolate = …?), I attempted a recipe which some of you wouldn’t dare go near. That was of course the now infamous ‘Bacon Brownies’. Even at that point I had made them for a number of occasions, some by special request. I took some to Ian Nunney’s (http://ian.nunney.me.uk/) annual summer Barbecue last year, and they went down a treat. So much so, that I was asked this year to make some more.
Now I believe that cooking should be about experimentation. Yes you may need a recipe as a starting point, but you don’t need to stick to it 100%. Try to vary some ingredients, add something different, or swap for alternatives. You don’t have to stray to far to end up with something just as good, if not better. Clearly I was going to try that here, to ‘spice things up’.
I made 4 batches this time round, each based off the original recipe yet each different. For each batch I used different combinations of Dark Brown Muscavado Sugar, Light Brown Muscavado Sugar, and Caster Sugar. Don’t ask me to tell you how much of each, because I can’t. I just made sure each batch had 12oz/360g of sugar in total. I changed the chocolate around a bit, using dark/plain chocolate for 2 batches, and milk chocolate for the other two. I also used more bacon, with around 8 rashers of smoked streaky bacon in each.
Now came the good part. Having cooked with mixed spice before, I knew it would work well. So to one batch of milk chocolate, I added two teaspoons of mixed spice. Taking my cue from a ‘chocolate chilli cake’ I once ate, to a batch of the dark/plain chocolate I added something much stronger. One teaspoon of Cayenne Chilli Pepper. Now while not to everyones taste, I liked how this turned out, as did others at the party. It gave a deep warm spiciness followed by a kick of chilli. Next time I may use less or milder Chilli Pepper, but the idea was good.
As expected, the brownies were once again well received, in all their forms. The mixed spice ones became a new favourite, perhaps because it masks the bacon slightly for those who are unsure but still want to try them. I did get one piece of advice though, from Skalligrim Ericsson and Fenris Sais Saionnai, Vikings of the Bifrost Guard (http://www.bifrostguard.co.uk) :-
“This needs more Bacon”!
Those who know me will know that recently I discovered a new recipe which, despite some thinking it’s ridiculous, has become a favourite among friends. I can’t take credit for the recipe, that goes to Elissa from 17 and Baking. Nor can I take credit for finding it, that goes to my good friend Amy, a fellow baking enthusiast who tweeted it some time ago. But I can take credit for being the one who dared try it, with great success – Bacon Brownies!
When I first knew of the recipe, I didn’t intend to make them. It was later after getting a strange request from Ben asking if I knew of a recipe for “bacon cake” when I gave it a go. Apparently a colleague at work was leaving, who loves bacon, and Ben wanted to combine it with cake. So I tried it, making quite a few, for Ben and his colleagues at Microsoft to try. There was mixed reaction, I think they’re like marmite; you either love them or hate them.
Since then, I’ve made them for a number of occasions, parties and social occasions so my friends have been able to try them, and other times for Ben to take into work. This week was another of those, with a special request via Ben from Steve Beswick, the Director of Education for Microsoft UK, a big fan, who wanted a large batch for Microsoft’s Fun Free Friday for Schools. This was a day for Microsoft to show off it’s wide range of free and fun software available for schools and education, accompanied by freebies, including my bacon brownies!
For those who want to try it (avoiding the American ‘Cup’ measurement), here’s the recipe:
- 4oz/120g Dark Chocolate
- 4oz/120g Unsalted Butter
- 12oz/360g Caster Sugar
- Pinch of Salt
- 2 Tsp Vanilla Extract
- 2 Large Eggs
- 5oz/150g Flour
- 2 Tbsp Cocoa Powder
- 1 Tsp Baking Powder
- 4-6 Strips of Bacon (Smoked Streaky works best!)
Start off frying the bacon until it is extra crispy. It’s alright for some to be chewy, but it works better if it is crispy. Put this aside on top of some paper towels to cool down and to drain some of the fat. Melt the butter and chocolate together, either in a glass bowl sat in a saucepan of hot water, or if careful, in the microwave.
Let this chocolate mixture cool slightly, and whisk in the sugar, salt and vanilla (you may need to do this in a bigger bowl). Then add the eggs one by one, stirring until the mixture is smooth. Sift in the flour and cocoa gradually, mixing thoroughly each time before adding more. I find 1 teaspoon of Baking Powder helps the texture and make them nice and chewy.
Now break the bacon up into small pieces, the size is up to you, but around the size of a penny or smaller works best. It should break up easily if it is crispy. Mix these pieces into the mixture. Grease up a 9″ x 9″ baking tin and pour the mixture in, spreading it evenly.
Bake at about 170°c (maybe lower for a fan-assisted oven) for 30-40 minutes. After 30 minutes, keep checking the brownies by inserting a cocktail stick or something similar. If it comes out clean, they’re done, if there’s still any uncooked mix on them, leave them for a few more minutes. As always, experiment, change a few things, try a different type of sugar, or different chocolate, and see what results you get!