Monday, 30 March 2009

un peu de la vie fran├žaise

I found myself walking back from the local knitting shop not only empty handed, but also empty stomached. Not a good sign. When you take grumpy from lack of sleep, and add grumpy from lack of food. Well, that's a whole host of grump I can tell you.

I was envisaging returning home and indulging in a healthy morning snack, like a piece of grapefruit, or a glass of orange juice, when out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of a pile of sour
dough baguettes in the organic cafe. Before I could stop myself I was through the door and buying not only bread, but cheese and tomatoes too!

With the sun shining, and the pleasant realis
ation that I didn't have to frantically cobble some bread together when I got home (having failed to bake all weekend due to other responsibilites...such as knitting and to cooking a roast for six people!), I suddenly felt light and carefree. I tore off the crunchy end of the baguette and smugly chomped on it all the way home.

Ah, my subconscious wanting to go to Paris manifests itself so subtly doesn't it?!

Needless to say the grapefruit and orange juice is waiting for tomorrow. Honest.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

And it was all yellow...

We took advantage today of what is forecast to be the last sunshine for a little while and went on a long walk, rewarded with a wonderful pub lunch at a random place that will no doubt become a new favourite. It felt like one of those days really, where everything worked out just right at every twist and turn.

As I mentioned before I've never been a big fan of the colour yellow, but it's everywhere I look at the moment, and it kept catching my eye while we were pottering about. So here, as promised, is a post o
f yellow things that have captured my attention.

I quite like the idea of posting collections of things of one colour. I've seen it on design blogs a lot and it's always struck me as really fun. I might try and keep the habit up over summer and see what colours pop out at me.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Mixed messages (and a VERY good cake)

Apparently today is the official first day of Spring, and the weather in London has certainly been in compliance. It's been fresh and bright today, lots of sunshine. The perfusion of yellow continues, as do the smiling faces.

There's only one problem, my brain and body are giving me some seriously mixed messages. Earlier this week I felt rather coldy (a highly unusual thing for me), it started over the weekend and managed to coincide with some gorgeous weather. Fortunately it also coincided with a serious football marathon, so being curled up on the sofa sniffling wasn't all bad.

My brain then seemed to take a leaf out of my body's book, and decided that it simult
aneously wanted light salady spring foods, and yet wasn't quite ready to give up on the warming spice combination of winter. Cue a cooking and baking dilemma.
I was going to fight the urge to cling to these comforting foods, but forces aligned and I was destined not to. So I've been trying to make lighter main meals, and maintain the spices and depth in the baking, that way satisfying both needs and allowing the melding of the seasons (the chilly air from the last winds of winter with the warming sunshine and yellows of spring) to show in my cooking.

I spotted this caramalised onion and goats cheese cornbread on Smitten Kitchen and decided it would be the perfect thing to serve alongside the first roasted tomatoes and bright salad of the season. Oh, and it was yellow too! Ever notice how sometimes you spot a colour in one place, and then suddly start seeing it everywhere? (Hmm...I might do a "yellow" post this weekend) All I needed now was something to show winter I was every-so-slightly sorry to see it go.

I found a Guinness ginger cake on Andrea's Recipes and knew it would be perfect. It not only had the spice I wanted, but it made up for the fact that this year I was too busy watching the football to bake anything for St Patrick's day. Plus, it would fit in my new 9x9" pan. Fate.I adapted it slighty, and threw it together in no time at all while N took a conference call yesterday afternoon. There's something about him working from home that makes me even more prone to baking (I know, as if you thought that was possible!). It was quick to make, and was done in no time (really, make sure you watch while it cooks, it was done nearly 15 mins before time for me) meaning that it was ready and iced just in time for a 4 o'clock cup of tea. Perfect.
At first I wasn't sure it was gingery enough, but then the moist, but delicate crumb suddenly exploded with warmth in my mouth and I was hooked. It's not a ginger cake as for me there's not enough of a ginger flavour, but it is a gorgeously warm spice cake with a subtle touch of Guinness, and the zing of lemon icing really makes it. Definitely one of the best things I've made in a while, and I think it might be a whole lot longer now before I'm able to give up those winter flavours.
Oh, looking at the photos it's just occurred to me that with the white icing the little squares actually look a bit like pints of Guinness! How did I miss that?!

Guiness spice cake, adapted from Andrea’s recipes

Makes a 9x9-inch cake that I then cut into 16 little squares (don’t worry, you can eat two at a time, no-one’s judging you!)

160 ml Guinness Stout
240 g plain flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1-1/4 tsp baking soda
2-1/4 tsp ground ginger
three or four good grinds of black pepper
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
88 g granulated sugar
37 g demerera sugar
60 ml molasses
50ml honey
170 ml groundnut oil

Place rack in center of the oven and preheat to 180C. Grease or line a 9x9” pan. In a small saucepan bring the Guinness just to a simmer then remove from heat. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, ginger, pepper, and cinnamon. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and molasses until smooth. Add the canola oil and whisk until thoroughly combined. Add the dry ingredients alternating with the stout (dry, beer, dry, beer, dry). Whisk abetween additions then mix at the end just until combined. Do not overmix.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. (I actually only needed about 40mins for mine, so keep an eye on it!). Place cake pan on a wire rack to cool. Once cool ice with a lemon glace icing. (I made this by just adding lemon juice to icing sugar, but leaving it very thick so I could spread it.).

Housekeeping: I've added a new link to the blog roll type thing I have. A good friend of ours is desperately looking for a job in New Zealand. In the theme of mixed messages, she had a job, but has told the position is no longer viable in the current climate. She has a visa, and a family who are ready to go, and now no job. Please, please, if you can help, take a look at her blog and read her story and pass it on. Thanks.

Thursday, 19 March 2009


I've never been a big fan of the colour yellow. It's just not very "me." But at the moment, having sunshine after the long dark winter is such a relief, and seems to have put the whole of London in a good mood, so I couldn't help but be delighted yesterday at the rows of daffodils bathing in the afternoon sunshine.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Running (or, rather, knitting) the gauntlet

When my Mum was here we paid a very dangerous - read expensive - trip to the wonderful almost-local knitting shop. Whilst there we found a number of lovely things that invariably made their way into our basket. The fact that this shop is pretty tiny, hold specialty wools etc. and that we had a basket, tells you all you need to know about just how dangerous this visit was. We found many, many a thing. Including this beautiful hand-dyed wool.
We found it because I spotted a pattern on the wall for a rather smart pair of long cabled gloves, called gauntlets. It was clearly meant to be as the previous day I'd had a crash course in various knitting techniques I had yet to master, the chief one being cabling. Both the pattern and the wool soon made their way back to the flat.

It was then that we discovered that the pattern didn't actually involve cables! Instead it was an elaborate combination of stitches to make it look that way. Since it was all rather complicated and defeated the object of me practicing cabling we cast the pattern aside and went freestyle. A quick ponderance of numbers, rows and stitches later we came up with a pattern for these:
I'm so pleased with how they've turned out, and because the wool is really light I think I might still have a few weeks left to wear them before spring really sprungs*.

I really enjoyed the cabling and can't wait to begin another project. An elaborate cowl pattern is apparently on it's way (patiently transcribed and tested for me by my Mum from another great looking, but oddly written pattern also from aforementioned knitting shop trip) as I am somewhat obsessed with cowls at the moment. Hopefully I'll be able to tackle it before the hot weather moves in and I can't wear them any more
(ha! Who am I kidding this is England).

* I know this isn't a word, but is should be, so there. Spring most definitely sprungs here.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Four and twenty blackbirds...

...baked in a..."pie, pie, pie, pie, pie, pie, pie, pie, pie, pie, pie"

Whilst lying in bed with the laptop last night uploading some photos I couldn't help myself from chanting "pie" over and over again. I don't think N could decide if it was hilarious, cute or just downright weird. However, upon discovering that today is "Pi day" in the states (because their dates are written month then day, hence 3.14) I can't help but think I was being channeled by the god of pie in anticipation of this wonderful day.

I can't quite get my head around the American date system, but I can get behind anything that involves pie, and I must admit that I have baked forms of pie twice this week. I know it must seem strange given that the weather has finally begun to feel like spring, the daffodils are out and the sunshine making an appearance almost every day. I should be wanting to make lighter dishes, but somehow pie has been on my brain. I didn't make as much pie this winter as I would have liked. We eat such carbohydrate/root veg based meals that having a pie for dessert seemed like overkill, and in an attempt to constantly wade through the mound of root veg piled in the bowl I made mash, and roasts rather than pie, because I just can't face a pie that is filled with another stodgy thing.

So the pies got a bit lost. A tragedy considering the beauty of my red pie dish and the addition of a pie blackbird to my cooking kit at Christmas. Then a few weeks ago I discovered this recipe for mushroom bourguignon. Having recently come back around to mushrooms (years of slimey, badly cooked mushrooms put me off ever wanting to eat or cook them again, until I discovered that if you do it right they can be wonderful) I decided to give it a go. It was delicious. We had it ladled over mash with some broccolli on the side. However, as I was eating it all I could think of was how good it would taste in a pie if made with a mix of mushrooms.A trip to Borough Market and the amazing mushroom stall a few weeks later and I was set. On Monday I made it and it was a resounding success and I am already trying to work out how many more times I can make it before it really does become to warm and spring-like for a hearty pie dish.

"pie, pie, pie, pie, pie, pie, pie, pie"


10oz plain flour
5oz of cold butter, cut into small cubes
cold milk

cut or rub the butter into the flour until you get a coarse, almost breadcrumb-like, mixture (I admittedly can never be bother to be quite this precise, I just do it until it looks about right, and if there are a few larger clumps so be it.) Add only enough milk to make the dough just come together. I find it various according to the flour, so add a little at a time until it's just right, and sometimes I stop a little on the dry side to err on caution.

form into a ball and place in the fridge until needed.

Mushroom filling

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms. I used Portobello, chesnut and porchini
1/2 carrot, finely diced
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, (I used smoked) smushed in a garlic press.
1 cup full-bodied red wine
2 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons tomato purree
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Heat the one tablespoon of the olive oil and one tablespoon of butter in a medium casserole or heavy sauce pan over high heat. Cooke the mushrooms until they begin to darken, but don’t release any liquid. Remove them from the pan and place in a bowl to one side.

Lower the heat to medium and add the rest of the of oil. Cook the carrots, onions, rosemary with a large pinch of salt and a lots of black pepper, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute.

Add the wine, then turn the heat up and reduce the liquid by half. Stir in the tomato purree and the stock. Return the mushrooms to the pan with any juices that have collected. Bring to the boil and then reduce the temperature and simmer for 20 minutes, or until mushrooms are very tender.

Combine the remaining butter with the flour with a fork until combined; stir it into the mixture. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 more minutes. Leave to cool before placing in the pie dish so you don’t melt the butter in the pastry.

Preheat the over to 200C

Once cooled, remove the pastry from the fridge. Divide in two. Roll out the first piece so that it will cover the pie dish base, sides and lip, with some overlap. Roll out the second piece as the lid and cut a steam vent in the middle. Place the cooled filling in the pastry lined dish, add the blackbird funnel if using. Wet the edges of the pastry with milk then place over the lid (with the steam vent over the funnel) pressing down all around the edge to seal. Brush with milk and then place in the over for 20-25 minutes, or until the pastry is golden.

Remove, serve and enjoy your, "pie, pie, pie, pie, pie, pie, pie, pie!"
As a total fluke my pastry turned out to be really flakey, hurrah!

Thursday, 12 March 2009


My Mum bought me these last Friday. I was amazed they survived the trek around Borough Market and the two bus journeys back (crammed in a bag with the vibrant stash of rhubarb), but they did and after a few hours in fresh water they started to open.
They are named perfectly, I love the almost excitable burst that the heads of the flowers have. It's as if they can't wait to explode into the happy world of spring. They are so wonderfully cheerful and make me grin whenever I see them.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Guest post: When Mum comes to town...

Hurrah! All the chanting seems to have worked and so here is a short piece by my wonderful Mum about her experience in the North London Kitchen. All pictures are hers, with the exception of the scones, which were hastily taken by me to document the tasting of Nicole's delicious Meyer lemon jelly. So, without further ado, I hand you over to my Mum...

Food shopping 'up
west' and at Borough Market, possibly the best coffee in the world (certainly in England), an exciting wool shop, fabric shopping and cutting and sewing, cable teaching and laughing over knitting on dpns.

Buying books, of course, and eating lovely meals in really nice restaurants (thank you N). Two pairs of hands holding hundreds of cast on stitches straight on a circular needle………Sniff being suspicious and wary and then warm on my feet all night. Brilliant focaccia, special cheese and Meyer Lemon jelly (thank you Nicole!) on warm lemon scones.

What a wonderful few days I had in London……………..maybe the best memory being Rebecca’s frown of concentration changing to her ‘light up the world' smile when she realised she could indeed knit cables and in the round and in two colours in a row, and had in fact made a top, and buttons. Thank you most of all to her, From A North London Kitchen did me proud.

aww, thanks Mum. I loved having you here so much, and there's never enough time to pack in as much coffee, cake, gossip and making stuff as I'd like (and only a mother would humour casting on 250 stitches in the round!) Come back soon, please!

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Breakfast with Mum

I'm definitely a Daddy's little girl. Always have been, always will be. I fit very snugly into the "father's and their daughter's" cliche.But my Mum, well she's more like a best friend. A best friend with all this knowledge about making clothes, and knitting and cats (indispensable when we first got Sniff and I was on the phone every five minutes going "now's he's doing this, what do I do?!") and all sorts of useful things like that. And that's just how I like it.Yesterday we had breakfast and proceeded to shop our way around the market, buying far more that two little ladies could carry, before heading home for bread, cheese and lessons in cable knitting. It was the most wonderful of days.
I'm trying to pursude her to guest post, but it's not going that well so far. I think I need to ply her with more wine first!
But rest assured there are all sorts of exciting things to come, and not all of them involve baked goods - shock horror!

p.s. I couldn't resist taking this picture of my rhubarb travelling back on the bus, I thought it so cute the way it matched the rails.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

A day off, food blogger style

The other day I discovered that I suddenly had nothing to do. It was very weird indeed. I'd handed in all my work, done the extra work, produced a handout for some other extra work and even applied for a job. I was footloose and fancy free. I wasn't really sure what to do with myself. Funny that, when I've got a millions tasks that are due in there are a veritable myriad of things that I can find to distract myself. There's knitting to be done, baking and preserving to experiment with, cats to cuddle, books to read. But when the option of actually doing whatever I wanted was presented to me I suddenly found it hard to settle on a task I really wanted to do.

So I did this:

I organised all the cuttings from my recipe magazines and stuck them into my numerous cooking and baking scrapbooks.

I did it with a cup of coffee and some gentle music. It took me a good few hours and it was a few hours well spent, I enjoyed it immensely.

Oddly, although I did end up knitting, curled up in front of a film, the one thing I didn't do was bake. Very strange.

Don't worry though, my Mum officially arrives tomorrow, there will be baking, knitting and gossip a-plenty!

Monday, 2 March 2009

Soupy twist

We welcomed March with a double-whammy of crazy "meals" (cake and toast post-pub at midnight, and an uber-carb-fest for lunch in front of the Carling Cup final) and so when dinner time rolled around N and I were in need of some serious vegetable goodness.

I thought I was feeling pretty tired and uninspired, then I spotted my stash of rosemary, stolen from the huge bush in K's garden, and suddenly an idea came flooding to me. I don't often cook with rosemary, except to put it on the top of focaccia, but the scent of the fresh sprigs conjured up memories of Italy and I knew that at least one handful of the fresh herb was destined for the pot.

I raided the vegetable draw and discovered some leeks and courgettes that needed using. I added to that some plum tomatoes, stock and broad beans and in half an hour we had soup.

I've never really improvised with soup. I'm not sure why. I'm happy to experiment with any sauce I make, and most of our meals involve some free-styling on my part. Yet when it comes to soup I've always followed recipes, with the odd exception of removing cream in favour of soy milk. Then last night something happened, I don't know if it was sheer laziness (the soup book was across the room), or if I was being headstrong, knowing that I probably wouldn't have all the ingredients a recipe asked for, but for some reason I decided that suddenly I knew what I wanted and how to get it.

The result? A veg- and bean-packed soup that was hearty enough for a chilly evening, but somehow light enough to be slurped from a mug in the sunshine this lunchtime. Yes, there was a tiny amount left to be savoured again today, much to my delight, because I was really pleased with how my first soup experiment worked out. N must have been too because he ventured back for seconds.

This is a soup to fix vegetable withdrawl, and is still tasty enough to be a treat. I'm calling it "soupy twist" in hommage to "A bit of Fry and Laurie." Why? Well, because I can. Oh and it's a bit ad-hoc as I wasn't actually paying too much attention. As ever.

Soupy Twist (Italianesque vegetable and bean soup)

Serves four, probably.

A large knob butter
fresh rosemary, chopped (a tablespoon-ish, perhaps)
3 medium leeks, scrubbed and sliced
2 courgettes, sliced into rounds
400g (1 can) broad beans, drained
400g (1 can) plum tomatoes
1/2 pint low-salt veggie stock
white wine
tomatoe puree
dijon mustard

In a large pan heat the butter, over a medium hear, until just melting, then add the rosemary. Fry until the herbs begin to soften in the fat, then add the leeks and turn the heat down. Saute the leeks for about five minutes until they become softened, slightly translucent and beginning to brown slightly. Add a squeeze of tomatoe puree, a teaspoon of mustard and a slosh of white wine and stir to combine and lift all the juices. Then add the courgettes, broad beans and tomatoes and stir gently. Cook for five minutes and then add the stock. Simmer slowly, uncovered for aprox 30min, or until reducing and thickening (this will depend on how thick you want the broth, we had ours slightly thinner than pasta sauce). Check that the beans are cooked and the courgettes have softened and collected the juices. Season to taste. Serve with crusty Italian bread, ciabatta or focaccia.