Monday, 18 October 2010

More purple carrots

This weekend, we went purple carrot crazy, and harvested them all before the frosts.

Below is proof - purple carrots on the outside, orange carrots on the inside!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Mousse au Chocolat

Chocolate Mousse has been on my 'To Cook' list for a long time. I read somewhere that everyone should have a chocolate mousse recipe in their repetoire, but I hadn't had a suitable occasion to make one, and I wasn't about to spend a fortune on good chocolate and ages separating eggs for nothing special.

However, this weekend, we were invited to Sunday lunch with my sister and brother in law, who love good food, and Tim volunteered me to make a dessert. This was my opportunity.

The recipe I followed was very simple, following Raymond Blanc:

Mousse au Chocolat

225g Dark Chocolate
8 egg whites
25g caster sugar

Melt the chocolate over a saucepan of boiling water.

Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks. Fold in the sugar.

Fold a third of the egg whites into the chocolate to loosen the mixture. Then fold the chocolate mixture into the egg whites. Chill for at least 2 hours.

Beware! This mousse is very rich, so you only need a small amount. If I didn't have to transport it, I would have served it in tiny bowls or espresso cups. As we had to take it in the car, I served it in a big white bowl and it was delicious, even if I do have a slight anxiety about eating raw eggs.

Saturday, 11 September 2010


This was the August Fresh from the Oven challenge. Surprise surprise, I didn't manage to get it done in August. I did, however, manage to get it done in the first week of September, I just haven't had a chance to blog about it until now.

When I was about 8, my mum took a cookery course at the local college. For a few years, every Wednesday night, we would not know whether to look forward to dinner with anticipation or trepidation. Mostly it was good. Some were just weird.

One week, the topic was bread, and mum brought home a hand-made brioche. It was, quite simply, the most delicious bread I had ever had, and although I distinctly remember loving it, I have eaten it only rarely since, and have never made it.

So I was really pleased when brioche was the challenge for August. It's a sweet, egg-rich bread, which is delicious with jam. The recipe is taken from The River Cottage Handbook: Bread by Dan Stevens and I have copied it below.

I confess to using a mixer for the dough , as flour seems to aggravate my eczema, but I have to say, this was the most successful challenge I have done so far. We ate most of one loaf, and finished up the last slices with French Toast this morning. The other loaf went in the freezer - I'm already looking forward to defrosting that one and using it for bread and butter pudding.


400g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
5g powdered dried yeast
10g fine sea salt
90ml warm milk
2 tbsp caster sugar
100g butter, softened
4 medium free range eggs, beaten

To Glaze

1 medium free range egg
2 tbsp milk

to knead by hand: mix all the ingredients in a large bowl, and bring it all together to form a dough. Knead for about 10 mins, until smooth and shiny.

Or, to use a food mixer: fit the dough hook and add all the dough ingredients to the mixer bowl. Mix on low speed until combined, and leave to knead for about 10 mins, until smooth and shiny.

Shape the dough into a round, place in a bowl and cover tightly. Leave in the fridge overnight.

The next day, divide the dough in two and form into the shape of your choice. Lightly flour the loaves, lay them on a wooden board or linen cloth and cover with a plastic bag. Leave them somewhere nice and warm to prove until almost doubled in size; this could take 3 or 4 hours, as the dough is cold.

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. For the glaze, beat the egg and milk together. Transfer the risen loaves to a baking tray and brush all over with the glaze. Bake for about 10 mins, then lower the oven setting to 180C/gas mark 4 and bake for a further 30 mins or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 2 small loaves

River Cottage Handbook No.3 - Bread

Friday, 3 September 2010

A visit to Chatsworth

On Bank Holiday Monday, my friend Jen and I went to visit Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. Apparantly, according to my mother, I have been there before, but personally I think that before the age of about 25, every single country house/National Trust place blends into one, and I can't remember any of it.

The house was beautiful and interesting, with the only real disappointment being that we weren't able to see the kitchens, only to read a tantalising display board about them. But the real fascination lay in the gardens. There were acres and acres of formal planting, sensory gardens, fountains and ponds, and a yew maze, which was mildly entertaining. And then we discovered the Kitchen Garden.

Vegetable and fruit gardening is hard to make interesting and attractive to look at, but at Chatsworth it was fascinating. Not only that, it was also quite encouraging - slugs had been at their swiss chard, for example, but was also a really good example of how a garden should be maintained - green manure was planted where a crop had been harvested, even if it was only a small space.

Another area which was lovely to look at was the cottage garden - literally, a smaller space, bigger than my entire garden, but not much bigger, had been planted as a cottage garden. What was very interesting here was how the colours had been used - with the purple and blue-toned flowers were the purple cabbages, the black kale, and the darker vegetables. The bright chard had been sown alongside marigolds and nasturtiums. Very interesting.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Purple Carrots

They started off as a joke, but who is laughing now?!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake

Perhaps it was the weather. Perhaps it was the back-to-school feeling in the air. Or perhaps it was the self-imposed frugality following our holiday. Whatever the reason, I really, really wanted to make a chocolate cake today. A rich, decadent, indulgent cake, that you can't even look at without feeling those calories.

So, having made most of Nigella's other chocolate cakes, I chose the Sour Cream cake in How to be a Domestic Goddess. A quick trip to the supermarket for the sour cream, and I was content, whisking, baking and icing.

The cake was, as chocolate cakes mostly are, very simple to make. It was also one of the less pricy of Nigella's cakes, using cocoa instead of 70% dark chocolate. The sponge itself is very light, while the icing is probably the best chocolate icing I have every tasted - rich and unctuous, yet without that sticky cloying that you get with many icings.

The sponge method, however, is unusual - the butter is mixed with the dry ingredients, almost like a crumble, and then the eggs, sour cream and cocoa are mixed separately, like in a muffin mix. Apparently, this is a modern chocolate cake method.

Sour-cream Chocolate Cake with Sour-Cream Icing


For the cake:

200g plain flour
200g caster sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
200g soft unsalted butter
40g cocoa
150ml sour cream
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 x 2cm sandwich tins, buttered and lined

For the icing:
80g milk chocolate
80g dark chocolate
75g unsalted butter
125ml sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon golden syrup
300g icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon hot water


Preheat the oven to 180C.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarb and salt in a large bowl. Use and electric mixer to add the butter. In a wide-mouthed measuring jug, whisk together the cocoa, sour cream, eggs and vanilla, then slowly add this cocoa mixture to the ingredients in the bowl, beating until thoroughly mixed.

Pour the batter into the tins and bake for 25 minutes; when they're ready the cakes should be starting to shrink back from the edges of the tins. Leave for 10- minutes in their tins on the racks, then turn out to cool.

To make the icing, melt the chocolate and butter in a microwave, or in a bowl over hot water. Let cool a little, then stir in the sour cream, vanilla and syrup. Add the sieved icing sugar and a little hot water, blending until smooth. When you've got the texture right, ice the cakes, top, middle and sides.


Tuesday, 17 August 2010

My new favourite cookery book

I know it's a bit cheesy, and I know she can be a bit OTT with the pouty, flirting with the camera, but I honestly think that Nigella Lawson is one of the best food writers around today. I'm seriously pleased that How to Eat is in the Observer Top 50 Best Cookbooks of all time.

Forever Summer is a book I bought about two months ago, and I can't stop reading it, and have tried several recipes already. I normally buy cookbooks, try one recipe and then they sit, languishing on the shelf until I get bored again.

The book is awash with lemon, and is particularly fresh and exciting because of it; also, the ingredients are easily available, and the processes are not particularly hard. If they are considered difficult, for example, using gelatine, as in the Chardonnay Jelly recipe, Nigella seems to make it seem accessible. There is also a wide enough variety of recipes so that you can find something to inspire you even if the weather is damp and drizzly, like today.

Highlights so far include the Fa'attoush salad, made with toasted pitta bread; Chicken with roasted garlic and lemon; courgette and bean salad (using up some of the courgettes that grew madly while we were on holiday), Slut Red Raspberries in Chardonnay jelly and lemon cupcakes.

From Nigella's website, here is the jelly recipe:

Slut-Red Raspberries in Chardonnay Jelly


1 bottle good fruity Chardonnay
300g raspberries
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
5 gelatine leaves
250g caster sugar
double cream to serve

Serving Size : Serves 6.

1. Place the wine and berries in a bowl and allow to steep for half an hour. Strain the wine into a saucepan and keep the raspberries to one side. Heat the wine with the vanilla pod until nearly boiling and leave to steep on one side for 15 minutes.

2. Soak the gelatine leaves – which you can find in the supermarket these days – in cold water for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, after removing the vanilla pod, reheat the wine and stir in the sugar until it dissolves; allow to boil if you want to lose the alcohol.

3. Add a third of the hot wine to the wrung-out gelatine leaves in a measuring jug and stir to dissolve, then add this mixture back into the rest of the wine and stir well. Strain into a large jug.

4. Place the raspberries, equally, into six flattish, clear glass serving bowls, and pour the strained wine over the top.

5. Allow to set in the fridge for at least 3 hours, though a day would be fine if you want to make this well ahead, and take out of the fridge 15 minutes before serving.

6. Serve some double cream in a jug, and let people pour this into the fragrant, tender, fruit-jewelled jelly as they eat.

Monday, 16 August 2010

And so to France...

After last year's mostly successful camping trip to Cornwall, where the highlight was Rick Stein's St Petroc cafe, this year we decided to hear where the weather was slightly warmer. So, armed with a big tent and a vat of sun cream, we headed to the land of croissants, fromage, and, of course, wine.

Our destination was Argeles sur Mer, a Coastal town in Catalunya, close to the Spanish border, but we broke the trip up with a short stay in the Champagne region. And, of course, we did indulge in some champagne tasting. I'm definitely not a champagne connoisseur, not by a long way, but the whole process was absolutely fascinating.

I'll see if I can summarise the process from memory, as we did the tasting after the tour of the cave. Champagne is made up of 3 grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Pinot meunier. These are harvested and pressed separately, and then tasters perform the complicated problem of choosing how to blend the grapes. The bottles are then filled with the blend and left to ferment, between 18 months and three years. Here's a good tip I learned: you can keep a bottle of champagne (or any wine I suppose) for as long as it was fermenting in the cave. So, if a bottle has spent three years fermenting, you can keep it for another three years.

Anyway, when the fermenting time is up, it's time to get rid of the sediment that has collected at the bottom of the bottle. This is either done mechanically, or by hand (for the really large bottles). The bottle is tipped and tuned, a little each day, until the bottle is vertical, neck down. Then all the sediment can work its way to the cork. Now here comes the really clever part- the neck of the bottle is frozen, the cork and sediment extracted, and the bottle is topped up and re-corked, ready to be labelled and sold.

As I said, I'm not a champagne connoisseur, but now I am an admirer.

Friday, 13 August 2010

French Food

We had our holiday in France this year, and enjoyed a lot of good food and good wine.

We visited a Champagne cellar...

Ate Cassolet in Carcassonne (the town was lovely, the cassolet was far too greasy for me)...

And ate seafood in Argeles sur Mer (the first time I have ever eaten a whole crab)...


Saturday, 19 June 2010

Planting Leeks

The garden is flourishing, giving us salad and spinach crops until we cannot eat any more, and peas and broad beans are surely not too far away.

Today I had some leek seedlings to plant out. They didn't look like leeks, more like chives, and I had around 40 of them stuffed into a medium sized flowerpot. They needed attention.

I knew that leek seedlings had to be treated differently - something about watering in a hole - but I wasn't sure how. Looking it up, the BBC website says you have to make a hole 20 cm deep with a dibber, put the seedling in and then water it in. I tried this. I don't have a dibber, so I used the back of my trowel. Making a hole in the ground was a little tricky when you're pushing onto the blade of a trowel. So most of the holes were more like 10 cm deep. Then I watered them in. They floated! Soil was not pulled down into the hole, as the website promised! I gave them a little more help - replanting them and then pushing some soil into the hole - and I'm hoping they will be forgiving. I love leeks, and love the thought of pulling them straight from our garden. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies

As you can see from the picture, today was another damp and dreary day in the North West of England. Tim had an extra Bank Holiday day (something about working for a local council), so we went for a walk in the Peak District. Although we climbed to the top of a very big hill, we couldn’t see very much!

When we got home, I was pottering about on the Internet, and decided to Google “Amazing Chocolate Chip Cookies.” I love chocolate chip cookies, particularly the large, chewy, soft centred ones you can get in the supermarket, and have tried to re-create them several times at home. I decided to give these a go, and was not disappointed – they are pretty good! It’s the combination of white and brown sugar which gives the cookies the chewiness.

As a birthday present a few years ago, I was given an American cup measure, which I used for this. You can find cup calculators on the internet to give you the grams if you like. I also didn’t have any chocolate chips in the house, so popped over to the local shop. They didn’t stock chocolate chips (a first – I’ve managed to find almost everything else in there, including clothes pegs!), so I used Giant Cadbury’s Buttons, and broke them up a bit first.


• 2 cups plain flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
• 1 cup packed brown sugar
• 1/2 cup white sugar
• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
• 1 egg
• 1 egg yolk
• 2 cups milk chocolate chips


1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

2. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand using a wooden spoon. Drop cookie dough 1/4 cup at a time onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be about 3 inches apart.

4. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the edges are lightly toasted. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

I'll post a photo tomorrow when my Internet connection is a little more reliable!

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Fresh from the Garden

Here in North West England, it's been a pretty miserable Bank Holiday weekend so far in terms of the weather: yesterday it poured with rain pretty much full stop, and today it's so windy it's horrible. Still, no rain today, although I'm constantly checking out of the window because I've got the washing on the line.

Mind you, the rain was desperately needed, and it's made everything grow in the garden so much quicker. The sunshine last weekend had given the spinach and rocket a bit of a growth spurt, and I've just been to check on the other veg. The beans are shooting up, and needed re-tying, as are the sweet peas. Down in the South West, my mum already has flowers on her sweet peas. Most of mine are struggling to get over two feet tall, and some are struggling at one!

We've been eating salads from the garden for about three weeks now. Firstly it was lettuce which I bought as plugs from the garden centre, then home-grown rocket, and pea shoots, and finally the spinach is ready to be harvested. I'm hoping to keep on top of them to save them getting Popeye-like! I'm going to have a go at some successional sowing as well.

There are also some carrot-tops showing, and they look like carrots! These have had the hardest time, as they are purple carrots, which Tim bought the seeds for last year. I planted them, not really sure if they would germinate, in one of our deep planters. The soil in our garden is particularly stony, so I thought the deep bed, which is totally filled with compost, would be a good place for them. But they did germinate, and I obediently thinned them out on a still day, to avoid carrot fly.

Two days later, I noticed that the bed had been disturbed. One of our neighbourhood cats had clearly been for a little dig! The carrots seemed to have been totally submerged under the soil and some had been uprooted. I did what I could to repair the damage, but held little hope.

However, against all the odds, my little carrots are showing through the soil again, their feathery tops wafting in the breeze. I don't know when they'll be ready to harvest, probably not for ages, and I don't actually know if purple carrots are my thing, but they'll be worthy of a blog post.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Fresh from the Oven: Pizza

This was such a good Fresh from the Oven challenge, probably my favourite so far. Tim and I both love pizza, but we don't often have it. In fact, when Tim ran the London Marathon earlier this year, the one thing that motivated him was the thought of a large stuffed crust pizza afterwards!

This was a good pizza. An amazing pizza in fact. At least, that's Tim's opinion.

I followed the instructions carefully, as described below, by Lauren from Coffee Muffins. They were incredibly helpful, and stretching the dough was really tricky. Maybe it's easier if you're making a massive pizza, but for two small individual ones, I found a rolling pin actually worked better!

We added our toppings, carefully selected from tomato sauce, leftover sausage from the barbeque the day before, parma ham, mushrooms, peppers, mozzarella and pineapple. Tim's pizza was placed carefully in the oven for the required time... "It's brilliant!" He raved on tasting it. "You couldn't get this at Pizza Hut."

So my pizza, carefully topped, went into the oven. I checked it and turned it after a couple of minutes, as suggested. And finally, peeping through the glass of the oven, I could see it was perfect - the cheese was turning gently golden.

I opened the oven door, so excited, and so hungry.

Alas! Disaster struck! The pizza tumbled out of the oven and landed, topping side down, on the oven door and floor. Not my finest moment in baking history.

But the base seemed fine. So, I scraped the topping off, reloaded, and baked again. So my pizza base was a little crispy. But I'm going to value Tim's opinion more than ever. And always open the oven door very, very carefully.

The recipe amounts make 6 9-12 inch pizzas, which I think is rather a lot, even if you can keep the dough in the fridge for 3 days or in the freezer for 3 months! I made a third of the recipe, which was enough for two perfectly sized individual pizzas. The amounts for 1/3 quantities are given in brackets.

•4 1/2 cups or 20.25 ounces (6.75 ounces) of unbleached high-gluten bread flour

•1 3/4 teaspoons or 0.44 ounces (0.14 ounces) of salt

•1 teaspoon or 0.11 ounces (1/3 tsp) of instant yeast (if using active dry yeast you will need to increase this by 25%)

•1/4 cup or 2 ounces (0.67 ounces) of olive or vegetable oil, optional

•1 3/4 cups or 14 ounces (4.67 ounces) of ice cold water

While you don't need any special equipment for this recipe (I don't have any of the following) a pizza stone and peel may help with the final outcome. Oh and if you have an electric mixer with dough attachment that would be good - but if you don't you can do it the old fashioned way, just like me!

Stir together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a large bowl. With a large metal spoon (I used a wooden spoon and it didn't seem to make any difference) stir in the oil and water until all the flour is absorbed.

To do by hand, you need to stir with one hand and turn the bowl in the opposite direction with your other hand. You need to do this for 5 to 7 minutes, occasionally changing the direction as to really help develop the gluten. This method of mixing is actually quite a difficult task, sort of like rubbing your tummy while tapping your head, but as long as you are mixing the dough it should work out ok.

To do in a mixer, make sure you are using the dough hook attachment and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes.

Either way you mix you should end up with a smooth dough which is a little sticky. It should clear the sides of the bowl but not the bottom. If it isn't clearing the sides then add a little more flour and mix again. If it clears the bottom then add a couple of drops of water, and mix again.

The finished dough should be springy, elastic and sticky but not tacky. If you use a thermometer it should register somewhere between 50 to 55 oF.

Now prepare a sheet pan with baking parchment and spray oil. Flour your counter and remove the dough on to the counter. Using a metal dough scraper (or your hands) create 6 equals sized pieces of dough. (I only made 2 using my 1/3 ingredients).
Flour your hands and shape each into a ball, if your hands stick add more flour and try again. Place each ball onto your sheet pan, spray each piece of dough with oil. Once all pieces of dough are on the tray, enclose it in a food-grade bag and pop it into the fridge.
Because I was only making a small quantity of dough, I didn't use a tray at all, I just added each ball to a food-grade bag which I had sprayed the insides with oil. Then popped each bag into the fridge.

The next day a couple of hours before you want to cook them remove the dough from the fridge. Dust your counter with flour (and your hands) then spray oil on top. Place each ball on the counter and then gently press each into a flat disc about 1/2 inch thick. Top each with a little flour and oil and cover with another bag. Let rest for 2 hours.
At least 45 minutes before cooking put on your oven on at it's maximum temperature (mine goes up to 250 oC, which worked ok) up to 800oF. If you have a baking stone put it in the oven now. If you don't have a stone then you can use a normal baking sheet, just don't preheat it first.

Now comes the tricky part to stretch out your dough, dust your peel or sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal. Coat your hands in flour including the backs and your knuckles. Gently lay the dough on to the top of your fists and carefully stretch it by bouncing the dough in a circular motion. As it starts to spread out you can move to the full toss method (flinging it above your head and hoping it doesn't fall on the floor - good luck!). If it sticks to your hands at any point lay it out flat and redust your hands, continue stretching until it is the desired width.
With my dough I found it really hard to stretch my dough this way (as it kept tearing) so I stretched it gently on a well floured work surface. You can also roll it out using a rolling pin, but this isn't quite such a good method for working with the dough.
Once you have reached the desired width place the stretched dough on the peel or baking sheet.

Now you can top it as you wish.

Now that your oven should have preheated, transfer the pizza to your oven. It should only take between 8 and 10 minutes to cook. You might want to turn it 180 degrees after 2 minutes, if you think it might over cook on one side.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Banana Bread

This is the cake that I probably make more often than any other. Not because I am particularly obsessed with it, but because I am fussy about how I eat my bananas. I will only eat them when they are yellow with a slightly green tinge at the ends. I know that's technically unripe, but that's the way I like them.

So when the bananas have passed that point, even if they have only one brown spot on them, I don't like them. Hence, this recipe. Its the perfect way of using up bananas, and it's really easy to eat. It's great at any time of the day because it's not ridiculously sweet or gooey, but just nice.

100g sultanas

175g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
125g unsalted butter, melted
150g sugar
2 large eggs
Up to 4 small, very ripe bananas (about 300g weighed without skin), mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

23 x 13 x 7cm loaf tin, buttered and floured or with a paper insert

Serving Size : Makes 8–10 slices
Preheat the oven to 170ºC/gas mark 3. Put the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt in a medium-sized bowl and, using your hands or a wooden spoon, combine well.
In a large bowl, mix the melted butter and sugar and beat until blended. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then the mashed bananas.
Then, with your wooden spoon, stir in the sultanas and vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture, a third at a time, stirring well after each bit. Scrape into the loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 1–11/4 hours.
When it’s ready, an inserted toothpick or fine skewer should come out clean. Leave in the tin on a rack to cool, and eat thickly or thinly sliced, as you prefer.
I have adapted this from a Nigella recipe, she soaks the sultanas in rum and adds walnuts. I prefer a simpler cake from time to time (plus I don't like walnuts).

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Lemon Marscapone Cake

Its not often that I bake a cake of my own choosing. More often, I am baking for someone else, or to use up what we have in the house. But this week I am leaving my workplace of 5 years, and someone suggested I make a cake to follow the special lunch some of my colleagues are putting on for me. So this was my choice.

It is, as are most of my cakes, adapted from a Nigella recipe. I haven't tasted it yet, but I'm definitely looking forward to it.

Lemon Marscapone Cake

225g butter
225g golden caster sugar
225g plain flour
4 eggs
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp baking powder

200g marscapone cheese
100g good quality lemon curd

Blitz all the ingredients in a food processor, and divide between 2 20cm cake tins. Bake at 180C for about 20 minutes, until the cakes are coming away from the sides of the tin.

Stand the cakes on a wire rack to cool.

When the cakes are cool, place one cake on a plate. Beat the marscapone cheese in a bowl so that it is smooth, and spread over the cake. Top with the lemon curd, and place the second cake on top. Sprinkle with golden caster sugar.

By the way, Tim completed the London Marathon in 4 hours, 28 minutes. I'm very proud of him!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Carb Loading

Tim is running the London Marathon on Sunday, so this week he (and therefore I) am carb loading.

Carb loading is a way of boosting endurance when exercising for longer than two hours. As Tim will be running for at least 4 hours, he thought it would be useful.

There are conflicting views about carb loading. This article gives the science behind it: basically, the body can only store a limited amount of carbohydrate, so carbohydrate loading trains the body to store the carbohydrate in the muscles and liver.

In the first part of the week, carbs are limited, and protein is high. As the week progresses, more and more of the meals are made up of carbohydrates, up to 75% in the final three days before the race. This is supposed to give optimum performance.

So far, we've had steak, chicken and tonight its salmon. I've got to say I'm not disappointed. I think the best part of it is that the foods that are recommended are really healthy, and the psychological effects are huge - even though the actual science behind carb loading is debated, Tim knows he is giving his body the best possible chance to do well.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Garden Plans

I know this is a cooking blog, but gardening and food are going so much more hand in hand in our society, and I have caught the gardening bug.

This being the first year I have had a proper garden of my own (I did grow courgettes last year in a pot on my front doorstep), and I've been sowing seeds like they are going out of fashion. Few have germinated so far, but I keep checking!

So far,  my garden contains:

  • Mixed salad leaves
  • Rocket
  • Broad Beans
  • Spring Onions
  • Spinach
  • Purple carrots
I'd like to grow things that you can't get easily in the supermarket, or that are really expensive in the supermarket - fresh peas, swiss chard, sugar snap peas and so on.

I've had some success with flowers this year - I grew some sweet peas from seed that came free with Gardener's World magazine, and they all germinated. This week, I've hardened them off and planted them outside - I hope they survive. A rose I bought a couple of weeks ago is flourishing.

This marks a real change for me - I've always been interested in food, and always had a sense of pride in what I cook. But this year, I've started planning trips to the garden centre, reading gardening books and even watching Gardener's World. I just hope some of my seeds grow.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Easter Biscuits

I have to credit this recipe to my mum. She used to make these biscuits every single year, and they were legendary. Then, when I moved out, I took the recipe with me. When I first met Tim, he couldn't believe they had to be restricted to Easter time, but they are now starting to become legendary in our home.

Oil of Cassia is a traditional ingredient in Easter Biscuits, which apparantly come from the West Country, where I'm from. It's really difficult to get hold of, mine is from The County Stores in Taunton, but apparantly you can also try chemists or the internet.

So, with all credit going to my mum, here is the recipe. Apologies for the metric measurements!

6oz Butter
6oz Castor Sugar
10 drops of Oil of Cassia
1 Egg
10oz Self Raising Flour
2 oz Custard Powder
4oz Currants

Preheat oven to 180C and line at least two baking trays with baking parchment.

Cream together the butter and sugar with the Oil of Cassia. Work in the egg, then fold in the sieved flour and custard powder. The mixture will become very stiff and you may need to bring it together with your hands.

Add the currants and knead together.

Roll out to 5mm thick. Using a round cutter, cut out 8cm rounds.

Bake in oven for about 8-10 minutes - you barely want them to colour, so keep an eye on them!

Sprinkle with more caster sugar when you take them out of the oven. Leave for 3-5 minutes for them to firm up, then transfer to a wire rack.

You will probably get about 25 biscuits from this mixture.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Lemon Almond Cake

Almond-based cakes are great for us because they last so much longer than a normal sponge cake. I made this three days ago and it will be good for the rest of the week. A sponge cake just wouldn't do that.

I made this on a bit of a baking frenzy, as I was so pleased to have the oven back, so almost every meal this week has involved use of the oven, and I have baked most days. That's why teachers need such long holidays!

Lemon and Almond Cake (based on a recipe by Nigel Slater)

200g butter
200g demerara sugar
90g plain flour
90g ground almonds
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 lemon
4 large eggs

Line a loaf tin with baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 160C degrees.

Cream the butter with the demerara sugar. It takes a bit longer than with caster sugar, but demerara gives a more complex sweetness to the cake.
Mix together the flour, ground almonds and baking powder. Zest the lemon, and add the zest to the flour mixture.
Beat the eggs and add them to the butter and sugar. Fold in the flour with a metal spoon (you need to use a metal spoon as otherwise it will knock the air out).
Scrape the mixture into the tin and then bake for about 45 minutes. Sprinkle with demarara sugar when you take it out of the oven, and leave the cake in the tin to cool.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010


Finally, I can bake again! After over 2 months, our oven has been fixed, and although the thermostat is still very dodgy (the oven is generally 50 degrees above what it should be) I have been able to indulge in my baking passion once more.

Having no oven has meant that I've missed the last two Fresh from the Oven challenges. This is the one for March, and seeing as though the oven was only fixed yesterday, I thought I'd blog about it quickly now.

Kringel is an Estonian bread, and can be made sweet (with chocolate) or savoury (with cheese). Due to my previous experiences with bread and chocolate (see this post), I went for the cheese option.

The dough was fine, no problems at all there, although I did just use one whole egg instead of two egg yolks - mostly because I didn't want the egg whites hanging around. The problem, as you will see from the photo, comes from the shaping. This is what it should look like:

And now for my attempt (remember I went for cheese, not chocolate):

Hmm. Not what was intended. Actually, I had to put it back in the oven after this photo was taken because it wasn't quite cooked!

The bread was quite tasty, and I definitely prefer cheese bread to chocolate bread... Choosing savoury over sweet is a very rare occurance!


Ingredients (Makes 1 Loaf)

•40g fresh yeast
•1tbsp sugar
•250ml milk, lukewarm
•2 egg yolks
•50g butter, melted
•600-700g flour


•100g butter, softened
•3 handfuls of raisins
•10 tsp sugar


•150g dark chocolate (at least 50% cocoa solids)
•75g butter


Mix the yeast and sugar in a bowl. Add the lukewarm milk and egg yolks, then mix in the flour and melted butter and knead well. Shape the dough into a ball, cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 200°c/Gas 6. Dust your work surface with flour. Take the dough out of the bow, knock it back and roll out to a thickness of 1cm. Spread the softened butter evenly over the rolled sheet of pastry, then sprinkle with raisins and finally sugar.

Roll up the dough like a swiss roll and cut it in half with a sharp knife. Starting from the uncut end, plait the dough, lifting each half over the other in turn. Finally, shape the plaited bread into a B shape and transfer to a buttered baking tray. Bake for about 25 minutes or until golden.
In the meantime, prepare the chocolate topping by melting the chocolate and butter in a bowl over boiling water. Once out of the oven, let the bread cool down a bit, place on a serving plate and drizzle with chocolate sauce.
Cheese Kringel
To make a savoury version, leave out the raisins and sugar and sprinkle the Kringel with grated cheddar instead. Add more grated cheese on top instead of the chocolate sauce.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Valentine's Meal

The oven is broken. Disaster. Every time you try to switch it on, it beeps and dies. So when it came to Valentine's Day, and it was my turn to cook, we swapped our kitchen for my parents-in-law's brilliant kitchen in North Wales. Space, a dishwasher, and a gorgeous aga-style cooker, perfect.

I was very nervous about this menu. I had tried to go fairly simple, but I was constantly aware of how much the food, particularly the beef, had cost. So I was pleased when it seemed to turn out ok. The only disaster was a red-wine sauce I attempted: I totally forgot about it and it burned to black in the pan.

So this was the menu. My camera had run out of batteries so I haven't got any photos of my own.

Pan-roasted scallops with tomato salsa
I served the salsa in the scallop shell - might be a bit cheesy but we liked it!


2 tbsp Olive oil
100g cherry tomatoes
40g pitted, drained black olives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ bunch coriander, leaves only
½ bunch basil leaves
1/2 lemon, juiced
6 scallops (hand dived if you can get them), coral removed.

Method: How to make pan-roasted scallops with tomato and herb salsa

1. First, place a small saucepan over a gentle heat and add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Chop the cherry tomatoes in half and add to the oil. Add the pitted black olives, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir over a low heat for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

2. Hold the stalks of the coriander and basil together and slice down with a sharp knife to shave off the leaves. Discard the stalks, gently roll the coriander and basil leaves into a ball and chop. Add the coriander and basil to the salsa and stir to combine.

3. Roll the lemon on a chopping board to soften it and release the juices and then chop in half. Add the juice of half a lemon to the pan, stir and set the salsa aside to allow the flavours to infuse.

4. Heat a large non-stick frying pan over a high heat until smoking hot and then add one tablespoon of olive oil. Lay the scallops out on a board, pat dry with kitchen paper and then season one side with salt and pepper.

5. Think of the frying pan as a clock face and add the largest scallop (seasoned side down) in the twelve o’clock position. Continue adding the scallops clockwise working your way round 1,2 3 etc until you get to 12 again. Season the unseasoned side of the scallops and after 1-2 minutes or when the underside is turning golden brown, with a palette knife or spatula, flip over the scallops starting with the scallop you placed in the twelve o’clock position. Squeeze the other half of the lemon over the scallops and give the pan a good shake to ensure even cooking.

6. After 1-2 minutes or when the scallops are golden brown on all sides, tip the pan onto a plate lined with kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil.

7. To serve, lay out four small plates and place a large spoonful of the salsa in the middle of each plate, arrange 3 scallops on each plate and serve immediately.

Beef Wellington
This is really delicious with the parma ham, which kind of melts into the pastry. Make sure the beef is rare and well-rested.


400g Beef fillet
400g Flat mushrooms
4 slices Parma ham
English mustard for brushing meat
200g puff pastry
2 Egg yolks
Approx 8 Charlotte/New potatoes
1 Clove garlic, crushed
1 Sprig thyme
Purple sprouting broccoli

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

Mustard vinaigrette, optional

Method: How to make beef Wellington

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200c.

2. Heat some oil in a large pan and quickly fry the seasoned beef all over until it's brown. Remove and allow to cool. The point of this is simply to sear the beef and seal all those juices in, you don't want to cook the meat at this stage. Allow to cool and brush generously with the mustard.

3. Roughly chop the mushrooms and blend in a food processor to form a puree. Scrape the mixture into a hot, dry pan and allow the water to evaporate. When sufficiently dry (the mixture should be sticking together easily), set aside and cool.

4. Roll out a generous length of cling film, lay out the four slices of Parma ham, each one slightly overlapping the last. With a pallet knife spread the mushroom mixture evenly over the ham.

5. Place the beef fillet in the middle and keeping a tight hold of the cling film from the outside edge, neatly roll the parma ham and mushrooms over the beef into a tight barrel shape. Twist the ends to secure the clingfilm. Refrigerate for 10 -15 minutes, this allows the Wellington to set and helps keep the shape.

6. Roll out the pastry quite thinly to a size which will cover your beef. Unwrap the meat from the cling film. Egg wash the edge of the pastry and place the beef in the middle. Roll up the pastry, cut any excess off the ends and fold neatly to the 'underside'. Turnover and egg wash over the top. Chill again to let the pastry cool, approximately 5 minutes. Egg wash again before baking at 200c for 35 - 40 minutes. Rest 8 -10 minutes before slicing.

7. Par boil the potatoes in salted water. Quarter them and leave the skin on. Sauté in olive oil and butter with the garlic and thyme, until browned and cooked through. Season. Remove the thyme and garlic before serving.

8. Serve hearty slices of the Wellington alongside the sautéed potatoes and purple sprouting broccoli.

Molten Chocolate Babycakes


350g dark chocolate, good quality
50g unsalted Butter, softened, plus a little more for greasing
150g caster sugar
4 large Eggs, beaten
1 pinch Salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g plain flour, or Italian 00 flour
1 carton double cream


1. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6 and place a baking tray into the oven. Lay 3 dariole moulds on a sheet of baking parchment, draw around them, remove and then cut the discs out as marked. Then press them all into the base of the tins.

2. Melt the chocolate and let it cool slightly. Cream together the butter and sugar and gradually beat in the eggs and salt and then the vanilla. Now add the flour and when all is smoothly combined scrape in the cooled chocolate, blending it to a smooth batter.

3. Divide the batter between 6 moulds, then whip the baking tray out of the oven arrange the tins on it and replace in the oven. Cook for 10-12 minutes. Then take out and place on either a small plate or shallow bowl.

4. Serve with a dollop of double cream.

I don't know what separates this from a chocolate fondant, but this was really easy, it did work just as the recipe (a Nigella) said it would. I had to use a muffin tin (what are dariole moulds????) but they worked fine! Now if only I could learn to take food photos like this...

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Chocolate Buns

This was the January challenge from Fresh from the Oven. I was very nervous about it: I had never made creme patissiere before, let alone anything that you had to roll up and slice before baking. But I loved the idea of the chocolate buns and was pretty excited to have a go.

I was very grateful that the instructions were so reassuring about kneading the dough. I probably had to knead this for at least 20 minutes before it was manageable, but it did eventually get there. It needed a lot of space - I had to clear the toaster, the fruitbowl and the bread bin off the work surface to get it all laid out.

The creme patissiere was great, much easier than I thought it would be. Having done some research, I've found that the flour stabilises the eggs so they don't curdle. The vanilla pod just makes it really lovely. I didn't add the cocoa to the custard because I wanted the creaminess, and I thought it would be a bit too chocolatey.

The other thing I found was that there was so much creme patissiere, I only really needed half. Perhaps I didn't stretch the dough out wide enough though. And chopping the rolls up was messy.

But the biggest reason why I won't make these again is that I don't know when to eat them! They're not dessert, they're too rich for breakfast and too big for a snack! The best time was on a Sunday morning with a cup of coffee when you're having a late lunch. But that's only once a week. And I made 24!

Chocolate Buns

250g full fat milk
15g fresh yeast
500g strong bread flour
60g unsalted butter at room temp
40g caster sugar
10g salt
2 large eggs
25g good quality cocoa powder
200g chocolate chips, milk or plain, or a mixture
2 eggs beaten with a pinch of salt for an egg wash

Creme Patissiere (recipe follows)

15g cocoa powder

Pour the milk into a pan and warm gently until it is about body temp - it should feel neither warm nor cold when you dip your finger into it.

To mix by hand, rub the yeast into the flour using your fingertips as if making a crumble. Rub in the butter, then add the sugar and salt, then the eggs, milk and cocoa powder. With the help of a plastic scraper, lift the dough onto your work surface. Even though the dough will feel quite soft and moist (and look like thick, sticky porridge) do not add any flour to the work surface.

Begin to work the dough, slide your fingers underneath it like a pair of forks, with your thumbs on top, swing it upwards and then slap it back down, away from you, onto your work surface (it will almost be too sticky to lift at this point). Stretch the front of the dough towards you, then lift it back over itself in an arc (to trap the air), still stretching it forwards and sideways and tucking it in around the edges. Keep repeating this sequence.

As you work the dough it will start to come together and feel alive and elastic in your hands. Keep on working until it comes cleanly away from the work surface, begins to look silky and feels smooth, firm but wobbly and responsive.

Now you can flour your work surface lightly, place the dough on top and form it into a ball by folding each edge in turn into the centre of the dough and pressing down well with your thumb, rotating the ball as you go. Turn the whole ball over and stretch and tuck the edges under. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rest for 45 mins in a draught free place.

Make the creme pattissiere.

Once the 45 mins are up, use the rounded end of a scraper, transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and, with a rolling pin, gently flatten it into a rough rectangle. Spread the chocolate creme patissiere evenly over the dough and sprinkle on the chocolate chips. Starting with one of the longer edges, roll the dough up until it resembles a Swiss roll. Using a sharp knife, cut the roll into 2cm slices and place them on their sides on a baking tray. Glaze with a little egg wash and leave to prove for 1 1/4 - 1 3/4 hours until the buns have roughly doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 250C.

Glaze again and put into the preheated oven, turning the heat down to 180C. Bake for 10-15 mins. As the chocolate dough is quite dark it can be difficult to tell when the buns are properly baked, and you need to take care not to under bake them - the best way to tell when they are ready is to lift one gently with a spatula and check that it is firm underneath.

If you don't want to bake the buns all in one go, you can freeze some. When they are cut, just before proving, put them on a small tray in the freezer and when they are hard put them into a freezer bag. To use them, take them out, leave to prove overnight and bake in the same way.

Makes 24 buns

Creme Patissiere

In a bowl whisk together 6 egg yolks, 70 g caster sugar and 50g sifted flour. Put another 70g sugar into a saucepan with 500g (500ml) full fat milk, a vanilla pod split lengthwise and seeds scrapped in and the remaining cocoa powder. Place over a low heat. Leave until the first bubble appears, then remove from the heat. Whisk 1/3 of the milk into the egg mixture, then add the remaining 2/3 of the milk and stir again. Pour back into the pan and put back on the heat. Bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of mins, stirring constantly to ensure that the cream does not burn on the bottom. Pour into a dish to cool. Sprinkle a little icing sugar or flakes of butter on top to prevent a skin forming.

from 'Dough' by Richard Bertinet

Sunday, 10 January 2010

A spicy chilli for a chilly day

Yesterday, we went into the Peak District to enjoy the snow. In Manchester, it's getting grey and sludgy, but out in the hills, there is a pure, white, unspoiled blanket of snow. It curves and undulates, creating a bleached, almost desert-like landscape. The sky was a clear, bright blue, and the brilliance of the snow was spectacular. We climbed up Mam Tor, where we could see right out across the hills. Gorgeous.

We got home tired, wet and very, very cold. Tim's scarf had actually frozen in place. So we needed something warming and filling. Chilli it was.

For a long time, I wasn't keen on chilli. Maybe it was the spice, maybe it was the beans. And although I wouldn't say it's my favourite now, it has definitely grown on me.

I also made a cornbread, which is something I have wanted to try making for a while. I saw the packed of cornbread flour in Tesco's, and threw it in to the trolley. It made the chilli a real treat.


2 onions
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
2 cardamom pods, crushed slightly
1 red pepper
500g miced beef
1 tin chopped tomaoes
4 tbsp tomato ketchup
4 tbsp tomato puree
125ml water
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 red chilli

Chop the onions and fry them gently in some olive oil. Add the garlic and the spices and let it cook for a couple of minutes. Chop the pepper and add to the onion. Add the minced beef, breaking it up in the saucepan. Brown the minced beef and then add the tomatoes, the ketchup, the puree and the water. Bring the mixture to the boil. When it boils, sprinkle over the cocoa powder and stir well.

Leave to simmer for at least an hour. Around 10 minutes before serving, finely chop the red chilli and add to the meat, reserving some to sprinkle on top of the dish.

Serve with rice, and cornbread if you like. Scatter some finely-chopped chilli on top of the meat.


1 egg
125ml yoghurt
2 tbsp oil
30g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp salt
250g cornmeal

Whisk together the egg, yoghurt and oil. Then sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Finally, fold in the cornmeal. Pour and scrape the mixture into a tin (I used a 20cm round silicone tin, which was perfect) and bake for 25 minutes at 200C.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Cranberry and Orange Muffins

I had these on my 'to-bake' list over Christmas, but after spending most of Christmas Eve in the kitchen, I couldn't face doing them. The snow has kept me off work today and yesterday, so I had a chance to make them.

I made them with 150g fresh cranberries, which was delicious, mostly because I had the packet in the fridge. The muffins themselves were really light and not too sweet. I had run out of muffin cases so I buttered the inside of the muffin tin. It seemed to work and at least you don't get the rubbish!

Christmas Morning Muffins

200g plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
75g demerara sugar
good grating fresh nutmeg
1 clementine or small orange
approximately 50ml milk
60g unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
150g dried cranberries

12-bun muffin tin

for the topping:

2 teaspoons demerara sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/gas mark 6.

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, bicarb and sugar, and grate over a generous amount of fresh nutmeg.

2. Squeeze the orange or clementine juice into a measuring jug, then pour in milk on top till it comes up to the 150ml mark. Add the melted butter and the egg, and beat to combine.

3. Pour the jug of liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir till the ingredients are more or less combined, remembering that a lumpy batter makes light muffins.

4. Last of all, lightly fold in the cranberries and fill the muffin cups. The amount of cranberries specified here makes for heavily fruited muffins; if you want them sparser, use half the amount.

5. Mix together the demerara sugar and ground cinnamon and sprinkle over the tops of the muffins.

6. Stick them in the oven and bake for 20 minutes

Saturday, 2 January 2010

The Thali Cafe

I was listening to Radio 4 yesterday and happened to catch a repeat of their Food and Drink awards. When the award for Best Takeaway was announced, I was really pleased to hear that the Thali Cafe in Bristol had won.

The Thali Cafe has a brilliant take-away system, which we enjoyed when we visited my sister-and-brother-in-law last year: when you buy your curry, you buy a 'Tiffin' Take-Away tin, which holds three curries and a portion of rice.

What a great, eco-friendly idea! No waste, no sticky leakage, and the food stays hot. Plus, the menu and the food are delicious. If you're in the Bristol area and fancy a curry, please go there!

Friday, 1 January 2010

New Year's Resolutions

Or, rather, a post on hopes, dreams and plans for the next year.

Last year was crazily busy. This time last year, I wasn't even engaged, let alone married. Over the course of 2009 I've got engaged, planned a wedding, got married, been a bridesmaid for my sister, moved house and done all the normal things of having a fairly stressful, high-pressure job. For most of the year, I've been running around looking slightly like a headless chicken, sorting out venues, invitations, furniture, plastering walls, planning, marking, rushing, rushing, rushing.

So this year, I would like a little bit of consolidation. A little bit of stability. A little bit of rooting. Not that I want to sit around and be boring. But a chance to spend my free time doing things that I am interested in, looking at the options, trying new things. I would like to make the most of my evenings, weekends and holidays. All the general stuff that fills up the weekends, like sorting out your car insurance or cleaning, I want to get that stuff out of the way so that I can do stuff I really enjoy. I guess it's about time management. I guess it's about prioritising. I guess there is a little bit of organisation hidden in there somewhere.

There are a few areas that I want to focus on. They don't mention losing weight or getting fit. It's more about expanding horizons. I'd like to take control of our garden. At the moment, it has some lovely decking. And then it has a long stretch of scrubby, scruffy grass. With a shed plonked right in the middle of it. Even if it only means I have something more interesting to look at when I'm doing the washing up, it'll be better than it currently is, and it might mean that I gain some skills in the process.

I'd like to climb a mountain. Not a particularly big one, but one that I've chosen to climb, rather than be dragged up it by parents or teachers. Perhaps it's a sign I'm becoming a grown up.

I'd like to become a more adventurous cook. There are some things that scare me in the kitchen: Oysters, Souffles, Jams, Offal. So I'm going to try to tackle these fears.

And I'd like to become a slightly better blogger. I'm going to aim for twice a week, but I may not make it. After all, I can't let it take over my life now, can I?