Saturday, 28 February 2009

Apples and dancing (I was told there might be dancing)

I am off to visit the wonderful Lady K today for some belated birthday revelry and of course I didn't feel I could arrive cake-less. For my birthday last year my parents gave me a card which had the words "birthdays are nature's way of telling you to eat more cake" on the front. I couldn't have put it better myself. Birthdays should always have cake.

I didn't feel like making a layered chocolate cake this year (and if I've remembered correctly I made K chocolate cupcakes last year) so I decided to go a bit off piste and do something completely different. Plus I need to be able to transport it easily on a bus for a few hours and a towering chocolate frosted masterpiece just spells disaster. So whilst curled up in front of the cricket on Thursday I pulled all my cookbooks one by one off the shelf looking for the perfect cake to make. Strangly, nothing struck me as being quite right. Then I happened to glance up at the television and catch the apple-filled fruit bowl in the corner of my eye and remembered this recipe.

I had apples, and it looked like I'd be able to get it safely on a bus, and having been given free-range by K to make whatever I thought would be a good I decided to go for it. I'm so glad I did, the smell of the apples coated in rum and spices filled the flat with the most tempting aroma.

I adapted the recipe slightly - no alcohol, now come on, if there's one thing that birthdays have to have as well as cake it's alcohol, and if you can combine the two all the better - and didn't have a tube pan so used a springform pan instead. Oh, and I changed the sugar and spices. I also made a sneaky test cake for us to have as dessert last night. Seriously, you have to test things that are presents for other people to make sure they're okay! The result? A nice dense cake lightly flavoured with vanilla and rum, topped with slightly caramalised spiced apples. The large version also has apples inside which I think will only make it more delicious. I think it would be very nice served warm (or cold) with a rum-raisin or vanilla bean ice cream. Ah, for the want of a KitchenAid ice-cream making bowl!
Here's the recipe as I made it. It makes a dense, not too tall, 23cm cake, probably quite a few servings, but for a birthday gathering it'll be just right.

Spiked spiced apple cake

6 apples,
1/2 tablespoon mixed spice
1/2 tablespoon nugmeg
dash ground ginger
5 scant tablespoons brown sugar
Rum (probably between one and two shots (25-50ml)

2 3/4 cups flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup blood orange juice (I also added a dash of lemon, of course I did!)
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
50ml rum

Preheat oven to 180C. Line and grease a springform pan (mine is about 23cm). Peel, core and chop apples into chunks. Toss with spices and sugar and pour over the rum. set aside.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In another bowl, whisk together oil, orange juice, sugar and vanilla. Mix wet ingredients into the dry ones, then add eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl to ensure all ingredients are incorporated. Then add the rum and stir until combined.

Pour half of batter into the pan. Spread half of apples over it (make sure you include some of the spiced rummy juices too). Pour the remaining batter over the apples and arrange the remaining apples on top (again adding the final juices from the bowl). Bake for about 1 then cover with foil to stop the apples burning, the apples should be slightly browned by this point, then bake for aprox 45-50 more mins, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Leave to cool before turning out.

I hope you have a good weekend, I'm off to deliver cake and throw some shapes on the dance floor...(there were rumours of dancing, but I think I might just be seated in the pub, my shape throwing really isn't up to much)

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The art of giving things up.

So, Lent starts today. This is the time when people give something up for forty days. Now, N and I aren't religious, but it's always good to indulge in the holiday spirit (and pancakes), so last night we made pancakes and decided what we might give up for Lent.

I've decided I'm going to give up my attempts to be healthy* and just accept that I like baking, and the results taste good.

N has decided to give up giving things up.

Sniff has decided to give up any attempts to keep his eyes open for more than an hour at a time and has dutifully curled up on the sofa for a nap. He's a trouper that cat, he really is.

So far we're all doing pretty well.

While we might be a household that (sort of) believes in moderation,
in fact as N says, ""everything in moderation, including moderation." we're just not that good at will power. Oops.

* I'd like to point out that I actually think we do eat pretty healthily, loads of fruit and veg and fibre. But I do like a bit of cake and in moderation I think that things that make you happy are good.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

On a lemony roll, or should I say scone?

The wonderful goodness of the recent Meyer lemon experiments got me thinking about how I don't actually bake enough purely with lemon. I adore lemons and yet searching through the recipes I've made and posted I think there are only a couple that actually use lemon as the main flavour, and that's just not right.

So when I found us without bread for breakfast on Sunday morning I couldn't resist making something with lemon again. I hunted out the amazing scone recipe that has been handed down from my grandmother, to my mother and now to me, and decided that the light texture and wonderfully quick and easy recipe would match perfectly with my desire for lemon and growling impatient stomach.

This time I used a normal lemon, but I think the sharpness was just what I needed as I find things that are too sweet a bit much in the morning. I made a half match which wielded four triangular scones (rolling and using round cutters was just too much), perfect with coffee for Sunday breakfast. We were having brunch as it happened so these scones were added to other things, and so got a dash of maple syrup across them. Oh yes, do that, it's lovely.

These are some seriously delicious scones, so be warned you might scoff them all in one sitting without noticing. I'm so glad I only made four. Oh, and they really don't keep well so you just have to eat whatever you've made in one day. I wish I could lie and say that's a shame, but it really isn't!

Lemon Scones - makes four (but can easily be doubled or tripled for more)

4 oz self-raising flour
3/4 oz caster sugar
1 oz butter
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
zest of two small lemons, or to taste (I like mine pretty lemony)

Preheat the oven to 230C and line a baking sheet with parchment or silicone

Mix all the ingredients together, rubbing the butter into the flour so it becomes like crumbs. Add enough milk to make a dough. Roll out into a rectangle (don't roll too thin as they won't rise much) then cut across the diagonals to make four triangular scones.

Place the scones on the baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes (until they are just golden). Serve slightly warm with a tiny drizzle of maple syrup, or opened with lashing of butter and lemon jelly.

See, I told you it was easy!

p.s. I'm a little slow on the uptake, and have only just discovered this wonderful little bit of software that makes your pictures like old school polaroids. I'm totally in love with it and thought this recipe perfectly suited such a quaint picture.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Meyer lemon time!

I don't think it was a Meyer lemon that Nicole sent, but sunshine. Nicole has commented in emails that when her Meyer lemons arrive from her Lemon Ladies it is like a box of sunshine has arrived on her doorstep. I think this is exactly what the Meyer lemon brings, and in the case of this little doorstep it seemed to happen quite literally, upon the arrival of Nicole's package the sun has begun to shine and there has been a definite hint of spring in the air. Hurrah!

Armed with sunshine, a lemon burning a hole in my mixing bowl, and N working from home, I decided on Thursday that it was time to tackle the difficult question of what to make with my yellow bounty.

Having eagerly read all the lemon posts on Nicole's blog I de
cided that if I could get as much zest and juice as possible from the lemon I could probably make two things. Lemon bars and lemon butter cookies. So I set about very, very carefully zesting my lemon.

I don't think a lemon has ever been so carefully and methodically zested in history. I was determine to get every single last bit of usable zest, and I think I managed it. I was so impressed at how much I managed to get, that I will be more precise in all my lemon zesting in future!

Once I'd done that I rolled the slightly warm lemon (from being in my hands) along a chopping board a few times and then cut it open to juice it. The warming and rolling trick is one from my Mum, she uses it when making lemon curd (yet another thing on my "to make" list this year) and she says that if they are slightly warmed in a microwave or in your hands and/or rolled on a counter top they give more juice. Once again I very carefully got every possible drop out of the lemon, and it turned out to be just enough for the lemon bars. Perfect.

I stupidly didn't save the seeds to plant my very own tree, but given my history of killing off perfectly good fruit trees (my lemon from last year didn't make it through the winter) that's probably for the best.

Having gotten as much as possible from the lemon it was time to get on with the baking action. I did indeed have enough to make both the bars and the cookies! I was so pleased. I adapted the recipes ever so slightly, taking the sugar in both cases, mixing it with the lemon zest and whooshing with my hand blender. This little trick is supposed to get as much oil from the zest as possible (and the oil is where the flavour is) and impart it into the sugar for a stronger flavour. It's not something I've tried before, but wanted to get the most from my Meyer lemon I figured now was the time to try. I have to say both recipes were very Meyer lemony so it probably worked.

I think my bars were a little shallow, probably because I didn't have an 8" square tin and so had to improvise. I also think I might have either over-mixed the topping, or cooked it too long, because it had a slightly white, crusty, almost merengue top. I have to say that I rather liked this about them, as it was very slightly like eating a Meyer lemon version of my Mum's lemon merengue pie (which is delicious in case you were wondering).

The cookies I made in two half batches, one vegan and one non-vegan. I have tucked the dough for the non-vegan away in the freezer so we can
draw out our experience of the Meyer lemon for as long as possible (ie until my Mum gets here in a few weeks) and I baked up the vegan version for immediate indulgence. Due to the vegan margarine they were a lot softer than expected, even with a bit more flour added. Even after chilling the dough didn't really firm up enough to slice cleanly, and would probably have benefitted from being rolled and cut with cookie cutters. They also didn't have the short-bready quality that the ones Nicole sent me at Christmas did, again I think because of the marg. They were slightly soft in the middle even after baking and cooling. I still really enjoyed them though, and the flavour was lovely. I'd definitely make them again with ordinary lemons (or Meyer of course if I can source them here) and can't wait to try the all butter ones.

I'm not going to post the recipes because they're there on Nicole's blog and you should head over there an see all the other lovely things she's made with Meyer lemons too.

I will however have another lemon recipe of my own appearing soon which I think would be equally good with Meyer lemons, and that I plan to serve with Nicole's Meyer lemon jelly to celebrate my Mum's visit (can you tell I'm a bit excited about some mother-daughter time?!)

Friday, 20 February 2009


This afternoon, London (well, my bit at least) was treated to a little taster of what spring was like. Proper sunshine, not weak winter sun, streamed into the garden and for the first time in ages I was able to open the doors and windows for the pleasure of soft breezes rather than just an obligatory airing with freezing gales.
Sniff not only tentatively venture outside today (after days guarding the sofa and the cricket), but even managed to catch some rays.I like winter, it's comforting stodgy meals, cuddling up on the sofa under blankets and enjoying hot chocolate (especially vegan hot chocolate from Alaska!), but I'm definitely ready for Spring to begin being sprung.


Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Now I get it; or, when life gives you a lemon...

I get the hype, because I got one of these:
That, ladies and gentlemen, is my very own Meyer lemon! Oh yes! Shipped to me from Alaska, although originally from here.
My baking career and foodie experience will be forever indebted to Nicole for this, the amazing sending of lemony goodness. I think we might be blogging dopplegangers (dopplebloggers? Bloggergangers?), what with all the lemon appreciation and banana troubles and such like. I was lucky enough to draw Nicole in the Jammin' Jelly Exchange last year, and then by a stroke of blog-fate she got me in the Christmas Cookie Exchange. It was like our friendship was meant to be. Having sampled the delicious Meyer lemon butter cookies in her christmas package I was delighted that she suggested a sneaky swap: some of her Meyer lemon jelly for my Seville marmalade.

So last week (or maybe the week before, I forget) I wrapped up a bunch of little treats to post off to the other side of the world, and waited eagerly for a package to arrive here. I was extremely intriguied when Nicole emailed to say she'd sent it quickly because she was concerned about the time limit of some of the contents. I was secretly hoping a few cookies might have snuck in the box. I'd never have guessed that there, nestled perfectly in yellow tissue, wrapped in ribbon and encased in bubble wrap would be a Meyer lemon for my very own.

You have to understand that this is not only a special thing for me to receive, but a very special thing to send, as I know that Nicole orders hers all the way from California, and so for her to part with one to send to me is so lovely.

It's sitting proudly on the table and every time I walk I pick it up and smell it. It has the most wonderful aroma, lemony, but not quite, a little sweet and almost flowery. So now I have a problem. It's such a beautiful thing that I daren't make something with it, because it will feel like such a shame to zest or cut it. But I know I must. I have been searching on Nicole's blog for the perfect things to make and think I've come up with some ideas from the myriad she's tried.

Tomorrow, when I have lots of time I shall spend the day using and appreciating my wonderful gift. N is also working from home, so I will be able to share the whole experience with him. Look out North London Meyer lemony goodness is coming your way.I know this post has really been all about the lemon, but that should in no way detract from the other fabulous things Nicole posted. As promised there is a jar of her Meyer Lemon jelly, which I am going to save for a special occasion (like when my Mum, the origin of the lemon love, comes to visit - yes Mum, you'll get to try some!). There were also two sweet little pots of Meyer lemon marmalade from her Lemon Ladies (I couldn't resist and cracked one open straigh away so I could try the Meyer lemon flavour again. Delicious). On top of all of this there was a huge tub of non-dairy organic hot cocoa (oh yeah! perfect as I still have six homemade marshmallows left and it will help our cutting down of dairy), two little chocolates to go with it (I'm hoping we'll get to share those tonight) and some more of the North Pole coffee that I so liked from her last time. All of this was packaged so beautifully and the coffee and chocolates were tucked in such a cute little drawstring bag which I am going to use to hold some of my knitting bits.Am I a lucky girl or what? Nicole I cannot thank you enough.

p.s. I noticed that two days ago marked a whole year of this blog! I think Nicole's parcel was the perfect present. It's allowed an expansion of my baking as well as signalled how welcoming the food blogging community has been. Long may it last.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Goals, finally (and a quick-fire cookie too)

Last night we went to the Arsenal vs Cardiff FA cup match. I was pretty confident about it, right until we entered the stadium, then I got nervous. Which is what usually happens. All thoughts about home advantage go out of the window and I get jittery and jump up and down lots (and not always because of the cold). But last night I saw some of the most beautiful football I've seen from us in a very long time, why? Because our long lost striker Eduardo is back. He was horrifically injured last year when he has his leg broken whilst tackled, and his return has been a long time coming. Worth the wait though, oh yes.

But, I know, you're not really all that interested in Eduardo's amazing performance
, and the lightening connections he made with the midfielder, Nasri. You want to know about these:
It's become tradition to have something to keep us going at half time, and at five last night I suddenly realised I hadn't baked anything and had to leave in an hour and a half. NO! I frantically threw on an apron and began opening cupboards, and browsing blogs for inspiration. I came across these. They sounded pretty simple, but tasty, and easy to throw together with few ingredients and little time on my hands. So I propped the laptop on the side, whacked the oven on and began assembling ingredients. That was when I discovered I'd used up the last of the plain flour over the weekend when making pancakes (recipe coming I promise). I had also used up all of the strong white making bread (which sometimes sneaks into recipes when I use up the plain flour). What now?

Improvisation is my friend. Since I can't help but adapt any recipe that crosses my path I decided to do the same with this one. I only needed a half batch (I am desperately trying to cut down the tempting treats in the house...then again, when am I not!) so I only needed a cup and a half of flour, problem is, I didn't have this of any one flour. The result? A mixture of wholemeal, self-raising and ground almonds! I have to say I think the result was rather nice, and at least made it a teensy bit healthy with the wholemeal in there. They were more moist though, and since I didn't have time to chill the dough before rolling (except about ten minutes in the freezer) it did need more flour than usual when rolling out, and needed a palet knife to get them onto the baking sheet in one piece.

They still need a bit of work (probably with the flour ratios, I don't know, I'm just guessing, hehe), but they went down well last night and I packed some up for friends today and they seemed pleased. I'd like to experiment with adding spices too. So many ideas, so little time.

Brownie Cookies - Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

My mix made about 20 medium cookies.

1/2 cup wholemeal flour
1/2 cup self-raising flour
1/2 cup ground almonds

pinch baking powder
pinch salt
1/2 softened butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 180C and line two baking sheets with parchment.

Whisk together the flours, almonds, baking powder and salt. Then, in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the egg, butter, cocoa and vanilla until combined well. Gradually add the flour m
ixture and continue mixing until the mixture is smooth and combined. It might be a bit wet, so feel free to add a bit more flour - I would have added plain. Chill the dough for an hour in the fridge, or fifteen minutes in the freezer (I recommend the fridge if you have time, I didn't). Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface and cut into shapes. I used circles. Place on the lined baking sheets and bake for about ten minutes, or until the edges are just hardening and they've risen slightly. Cool on a wire rack, then enjoy.

I will probably return to this recipe and fine tune it...

p.s. coming soon perhaps? The "From a North London Kitchen" shop. *ponder ponder ponder*

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

'ave a banana. No really, please eat one. Or two, or three, I'm begging you.

Do you ever get that feeling that there are far too many things in your head and not enough time to get them onto paper, or into the oven, or cast on to the needles, or traced onto fabric? That's exactly how I'm doing at the moment. I keep thinking of things and can't quite manage to keep one thing on my mind long enough to actually do it. It's like I'm too inspired. Sounds stupid, right?

There is one outcome of all of the above though, one I'm really good at. Mess. I actually left washing up for two days. Two days. That's just not right. And I haven't seen the dining table in a very long time. I'm sure it's there, under the papers, and fabric, and wool, and jars, oh so many jars!

There was something else that got left behind too. The bananas.

I'm not a fan of bananas. In fact if any one asked I'd have to be honest and say I don't like them. Used to. Used to eat them all the time. Perhaps I bananed myself out. Which, incidentily is ex
actly what I've managed to do to N. Apparently, "bananas are a great fruit, so tasty and easy to eat" doesn't mean "please add one to my lunch everyday." Oops. I did the same with kiwi fruit last year and now N won't go near one.

Last week I noticed we seemed to be leaving the bananas behind. They were floundering in the fruit bowl, ripening everything in their wake, and then being shifted to the fridge where they could turn black and lurk, like black lurking bananaery things. Eventually the waft of over-ripe banana smell every time I opened the door got to me and I decided to try my hand at banana bread, or rather banana bread in muffin form. With added blueberries, because what the hell, N loves them too and we have some.

Baking banana bread has several advantages; it uses up bananas, it gets N to eat aforementioned fruit without it feeling like a chore, and I don't like it. Oh ye
s. I won't even be tempted to have "just a tiny piece" - which so often ends up being three or four tiny pieces and a potentially increasing waistline. The supposedly delicious moist bananery smell eminating from these was enough to make me leave the kitchen, and voila, no more tempting baked good for me (yeah, like that'll last, we all know what chocolate dipped holiday is hovering).

The down side of course is that I haven't been able to taste these little "blunana" muffins, and so can't tell you about the results. They look appealing, and wholesome, and I promise to report back when N has tried them tomorrow.

Oh, I forgot to mention, they're low fat and vegan too.
I made ten large muffins (they're supposed to be for breakfast) out of the following bread recipe, but you could easily bake it in a loaf tin for about 45-50 mins and slice it instead. I just wanted the easy servings to push into N's hand as he dashes out the door in the mornings.

Blunana muffins/bread

3 very ripe bananas
1 1/2 cup blueberries (I actually just used three small handfuls)
1/4 cup apple puree
1/4 cup groundnut oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup wholemeal flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon mixed spice (or cinnamon, but at the last minute I realised I'd run out and it was raining so there was no way I was leaving the house, yes, I'm lame, I know)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a muffin pan with ten papers, or line a loaf pan

In a large mixing bowl, mash up the bananas really well. Add the sugar, apple puree, oil, and molasses, and mix to combine.

Sift in the flours, baking powder, spices, and salt. mix until the wet and dry ingredients are just combined, then gently add the blueberries - mine were frozen so it was easier.
Add a quater of a cup of batter into each muffin case, top up if you have left over.

Bake for aprox 20-25 mins, or until the tops are browning and a toothpick c
omes out clean. Cool and then eat.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

How to weather the weather

Got this?
Get this:
Oh you want this, you know you do. I certainly did as soon as I saw Molly's post about it. Reading Molly's blog also make be realise the true insanity of the fact that London came to a complete standstill on Monday due to a mere half foot of snow. I mean, come on, does a "heavy" snowfall really have to result in all the buses being cancelled, eleven out of twelve tube lines disrupted and the ballet cancelled - I'm more than a little sore about this last one as I missed seeing it last year due to a massive cock-up and my own stupidity (bought tickets, forgot to put it in the diary, booked something else and completely forgot), so having finally managed to not only have tickets, but to have remembered that I did, calling it off due to some frozen precipitation was more than a little irksome.

Other countries have snow, proper snow in large amounts, for months. Yes, months, not days. And they still get along with everything, albeit with cold feet and wood fires etc. I know that England doesn't get this type of weather very often (though I swear it used to be more common) and so when it does actually occurr it's all very exciting and unexpected, but why can't we have something in place - like some salt, or perhaps some infrastructure - to deal with it?BUT, I shouldn't complain. We both got a day working in the warm, laughing heartily at Sniff experiencing snow for the first time (which went along the lines of "oh, something's ruined my garden, I'm not going out" *sulk*... "I'm not going to give in to this white tyranny, I'm going out anyway," *loud disgruntled stomping through catflap* "OHMYGOD this stuff is cold and wet" *see above annoyed face which was followed by a frantic dash back through catflap into warm* ... "oh wait, I have a fur coat and this fluffy white stuff is actually rather hilarious to run about in, plus I can go in and out lots and put wet paw prints on everything...this is BRILLIANT") and of course I had an excuse to make these:

Double-chocolate biscotti, or; "Batter-splattered's blizzard spurners." I had to adapt Molly's recipe slighty, I veganised it, and used hazelnuts because I didn't have any walnuts. I also halved it because I knew how quickly two coffee-loving biscotti scoffers would get through this no matter how much I baked, and munching through a whole batch wouldn't do my waistline any good at all, particularly as the weather meant I wouldn't be going anywhere soon.This is my version of the recipe, but for the non-vegan walnut toting full-batch goodness head to Molly's blog. Check out her packaging too, there are some very lucky ladies out there if they're getting some of this in the mail. I know I won't be sharing mine anytime soon, I'm just not that nice when it comes to the need for chocolate in snowy weather.

Double Chocolate Biscotti

Makes about 15 (ish)

1 cup plain flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons vegan margarine
1/2 cup sugar
20g egg replacer powder (+ 55 g soy milk) - or whatever you choice of egg replacer suggests for one egg.
1/2 cup hazelnuts
50g dark chocolate, coarsly chopped
1/2 tablespoon confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 180C and line a baking sheet with parchment or silicon stuff

In a bowl whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, egg replacer powder and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the soy milk and beat and then add dry ingredients and beat until combined well. Stir in nuts and chocolate chips.

On prepared baking sheet with floured hands form dough into a slightly flattened log, about 12 inches long and 2 inches wide, and sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. Bake log for 35 minutes, or until slightly firm to the touch. Cool for about 5 mins

Remove from the tray and nn a chopping board cut the log diagonally into 3/4-inch slices. Arrange the slices cut sides down, on baking sheet and bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack. Biscotti keep in airtight containers 1 week and frozen, 1 month, but they last about five minutes in reality because they're so darn tasty.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Snow Day

This is central London people, central London. Weather like this just doesn't happen. All buses cancelled. ALL.
Guess who's working from home...