A cake hiatus

21 03 2012

I decided a few weeks ago that I needed a cake break. While that normally conjures up relaxing with the feet up and a slab of decadent cake to gorge on, this was a different type of cake break. After a few months of multiple cake jobs I had become overwhelmed. Even doing more than 2 or 3 cakes in a month is too much when you’re holding down a full time job, living in two places without your OH and taking over your parents kitchen (and dining room) A decent novelty cake takes me 3 – 4 nights and they tend to be during the working week. I had got to the point where I was making toppers or buying supplies at the weekend, drawing up a design then spending every evening baking, cooling, filling and decorating. I was running myself into the ground. I had to make the difficult decision to give myself a 2 month break. I had 2 cakes booked for Mar & April so I kept those in my diary and announced that I wouldn’t take on any other jobs until May. It might seem totally non dramatic to most but baking is my outlet. It might have created a lot of it’s own stress but once I was in the cake zone I loved it. While I’m loving the break I miss the cakes, I’m thinking about them all the time anyway and it seems wrong to not be working on one.

Despite it being strange, I’m happy that I made this decision and am really looking forward to working on some smaller baking projects, baking for fun and even some DIY/ Craft projects over the Easter break. It will be my first time in a few years that I’m not committed to something over a holiday.

To tide you over, here are a few of the cakes I created before I started this much needed break.

A very simple Engagement cake

A small 6 inch cake for a cat lover. I was really pleased with how the painting turned out on this one.

A retirement cake for a keen Marathon runner. I didn’t have his Marathon number so improvised with the date of his retirement. All the detail on the number and finish line is handpainted. The trainers are rice cripsie treats covered in fondant.

And finally, a Wizard of Oz themed cake for a 3 year old boy. His only stipulation was that it featured either the Wicked Witch or The Wizard. I went with the witch as I think she’s a much more interesting character to model and I had to include the yellow break road and Emerald City.

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The Barking Dog, Belfast

21 03 2012

An impromptu visit to The Ulster Museum on Sunday meant that we were looking for somewhere to have a late lunch/ early dinner. I put it to my twitter friends that I was looking for a reasonably priced meal in a restaurant that was a step up from the usual chain or carvery fare. I received many replies but one place that was repeatedly mentioned was The Barking Dog  I had heard of this restaurant and even read a few great reviews but I’m rarely at that side of Belfast so hadn’t yet visited.

A quick search online brought me up their website, very easy to navigate, all the menus are available and they were open on Sundays (amazingly many of the other Belfast restaurants I searched for were closed on Sunday) I called and booked a table for two for 4pm. Although it was only a small gesture I appreciated hearing the person on the phone saying that they looked forward to seeing us. So often when I call to make a reservation the person at the other end of the phone seems to want me off the phone as soon as humanly possible.

We enjoyed our afternoon at the Museum but we finished a lot earlier than I thought we would so we decided to chance it and walked up to The Barking Dog. We arrived at about 3.15 and were able to get a table despite our early arrival. The place was buzzing. We were seated in the back just off the kitchen, I admired the décor of old crockery and bone handled cutlery. They reminded me of my gran’s kitchen yet complimented the pale green period paint and exposed brick.

Our server was quick to bring the menus and ask if we would like a drink or have a few minutes to peruse the menu. He then suggested a jug of iced water while we wait. I really do feel that all restaurants should offer a jug of water. It seems to be the norm in other countries; I’m not sure why so many places in Northern Ireland have been so slow to take up the custom. Perhaps we fear it’s rarely warm enough to warrant the need for a cool glass of water. Or I have been informed recently that some people fear it lengthens the time our body takes to digest our food. I ordered an Appletiser and the wife ordered a fresh orange juice which she was extremely happy to find was properly freshly squeezed as she adores that tart, bitter taste. 

We had been told that the crispy pork belly bites were a must so we ordered a starter portion to share. This was a big leap for me; if there are desserts to be had I will ALWAYS ignore the starters. I have never been so glad to go against my usual instincts. The pork was the perfect balance of crispy fat and soft, fall apart pork. The smooth apple puree gave it a sweet note while the pickled carrot provided a sour punch.

I had read a review of the Beef Shin burger online while making our way to The Museum and when we were trying to choose our mains I couldn’t decide between the burger or the Roast Beef. The wife pointed out that I had nearly drooled while reading the review and I would probably try to steal her meal if she ordered the burger and I didn’t. In the interests of our relationship we both went for the Burger. 

I’ve tried a variety of so called Gourmet Burgers. Some don’t even have the right to call themselves a burger never mind Gourmet but this one is a cut above the rest. The marinated, slow cooked beef shin is wrapped in a layer of burger meat laced with garlic and herbs. Every bite combined with the caramelised onions, chunky tomato and melted cheese to create a taste sensation. The burger is so big I did have to tackle it with a knife and fork rather than attempt to get my (rather large) mouth around the whole thing at once. The accompanying chunky chips were the perfect balance of crisp exterior and fluffy interior. I had been tempted to add a side dish to our order but the waiter kindly informed us that it wouldn’t be necessary with the size of our main meal. Although I would have liked to try their cabbage and bacon combo I’m so glad I didn’t as I fear I’d still be sitting at that table now, unable to move from over consumption.

A quick internal battle ensued as to whether I should order dessert. I was intrigued by the clotted cream and fudge ice cream that came with the Brownie so figured I would have to indulge. The wife ordered a Passionfruit cheesecake. This is not one for the faint hearted; she adored it as it was extremely sharp, a little too sharp for my sweet tooth. I’d not be a proper baking fan without critiquing the Brownie. It definitely scored highly with me for being gooey and not a dry brick that some restaurants serve and dare to call a Brownie. I’d say this one was verging on the border of too gooey in the centre; it was almost a fondant, although the warmth combined with the rich ice cream was a great combo.  To finish we had a tea and cappuccino. I was happy to receive a decent yet not lagoon sized cup of coffee with a great foam to milk ratio.

My overall impression was one of fabulous food, well priced & portioned with lovely surroundings. Service was prompt without being rushed and attentive without being overbearing. The Barking Dog is on my list of places to visit again and one that I’ll be promoting to anyone that asks (and even those that don’t!)

Fresh Squeezed Orange – £2.50

Appletiser – £2.30

Crispy Pork Belly Bites – £5.50

Two Beef Shin Burgers with chunky chips @ £11.95 each 

Brownie with clotted cream & fudge ice cream – £4.95

Passionfruit Cheesecake with roasted Pistachio Nuts – £4.95

Cappuccino – £2.75

Pot of tea – £1.30

Total cost – £48.15

The Barking Dog, 33-35 Malone Road, Belfast