Monday, 26 April 2010

Eight days a week....

"ain't got nothing but love babe, eight days a week..." 

This tune has been running round and round my head for about a fortnight now. I don't think I heard it anywhere. I think it just appeared around the point at which I made a potentially controversial, and quite possibly completely mad decision. 

I've given up my lovely relaxing four day week. Yes, I've relinquished my Friday of Freedom in favour of returning not to five days, but six. Yes, I know it sounds like insanity. That's probably because it is. But an opportunity arose which was too good to pass up, and so I've taken a second job. It's different, and fun, and somehow I've still managed to keep lazy mornings. But gosh it's tiring!

I have no idea how long these six day weeks will last, as the situation in one job is rather precarious, and the second did in fact start as potential contingency for the first. But for now my weekends are down to one very very precious day. 

I'm really hoping it won't mean things slow down here (well, more than they already have), but please be patient if the updates aren't quite as thick and fast as in the old four day week times! 

I have been baking during my few spare hours. Lots. I made bread, and cookies and roasted rhubarb. I've potted up plants and planted more, and gave some serious quality time to Sniff. None of which got photographed. Instead I have littered todays post with pictures taken while we were away during Easter. Yes, we kept that quiet didn't we! A very lovely jaunt into the country, with lots of peace, lots of quiet, and more than a bit of walking through beautiful surroundings in search of pubs. It was a fabulous break, and feels even more deserved now than it did then. 

It also showed where my head truly is most of the time. We packed four bags of food, including pre-measured ingredients for baking, and when we got there I discovered I hadn't packed the toothpaste! Such is the life of a food blogger...

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Food Junctions

 So, it would seem that I'm not the only one obsessed with interested in jam. A little while ago I spotted an email calling for people who were into food to suggest presentations or talks that they might give at an event that was taking place. 

I hummed and hawed, and pondered, and after about three seconds sent a ridiculously enthusiastic reply. A bit of too-ing and fro-ing later and I had the idea for a presentation figured out, and then suddenly a potential date, and the oh, look, my name in a programme and a 30 minute slot. 


Food Junctions is a massive two-weekend event (this weekend - 24/25th April, and next weekend 1/2 May) that explores all sorts of different aspects of food and food production. It's part of the Kings Cross Reveal festival and sounds like it's going to be not only really interesting, but masses of fun. 

And on May 1st at 2.30pm I'll be there, talking about jam, and blogging, and blogging about jam (and jamming about blogging), as part of the "Cultures of Food" presentations.

The website is There are events going on throughout the weekends, plus a seed and recipe exchange, best recipe competition, free breakfasts and all sorts. 

Come along and say hello...and please don't laugh at my presentation or I might cry. (and if you don't laugh there might even be some free jam...)

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Dump the grump.

I have days when I get a bit self-indulged with grumpiness. I sit tired in front of spreadsheets wallowing in "woe is me." Which is exactly what happened yesterday. You see, I got bitten by what a friend, looking at the size of my red swollen maddeningly itchy arm, surmised, was a horse fly. As a result I had taken about a gazillion anti-histamines in order to quell the irritating fire that seemed to have taken over my right forearm. The result, a grumpy, itchy and now very sleepy me. Turns out I hadn't thought that anti-histamines make you drowsy. Oops! 

Add to this the usual "what am I going to do with my life" existential crisis, and you get what in hindsight is a very ridiculous me.

So I was in the weirdest mood when I got home, and for some strange reason felt almost completely unable to keep my eyes open! I decided that there was clearly only one thing to do. 

Make cake. 

Because let's be honest, you can take all the medicine in the chemist and nothing quite hits the stop like a delicious easily thrown together bit of baked goodness. 

I wanted something light, and low in fat, and fruity, to be the utter antithesis to my droopy, indulgent mood. I wanted a reminder of the spring sunshine, and a kick up the behind to stop being so gosh, darn, silly about everything. I pondered a typical Victoria sponge, but decided I wanted something a bit different, and less daunting than a two-tier monster that only two people would have to consume. 

In the end I decided on a buttermilk cake. I had spotted Molly's a while ago, and as soon as I started wracking my brain for a light spring cake solution to my grump it appeared from the depths of my memory.  I adapted it a little bit, using blueberries, and adding a topping of cinnamon and sugar, and also using curdled milk as I didn't have buttermilk on hand. The result was a lovely light sponge, wih a great crumb and a delicious moist vanilla flavour, speckled with deep purple blushes of blueberries and a cinnamony-sugary crunch. We nearly demolished it in one sitting, and you're lucky I managed to snap a few pictures this morning as I know it'll be gone in no time tonight. 

I am now officially calling this my "dump the grump" cake. It won't be the last time I need to pull myself of out silliness, and so won't be the last time I make this fact I rather hope I am being a grump again soon...

Dump the Grump Cake - makes one 9" cake (or two servings! hehe)

1 cup plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
2 oz softened unsalted butter
2/3 cup and 1 tbsp sugar, divided. 
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 large egg
1/2 cup of milk 
juice of half a lemon
3/4 cup blueberries (fresh or froze, but not thawed)

Preheat the oven to 200C and line or grease a 9" cake tin. 

Add the lemon juice to the milk and leave to stand for a few minutes so that it curdles.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Beat the butter and 2/3 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Then add the vanilla and egg and beat well. 

Add the flour mixture to the batter slowly, alternating with the milk, begin and end with the flour. Mix until just combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Scatter the blueberries over the top. Combine the remaining sugar with the cinnamon and then sprinkle as evenly as possible over the top of the blueberry studded cake. 

Bake until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes, then turn out onto a rack until fully cool. Invert to right side up and serve. 

We didn't feel the cake needed any embellishments, but I'm sure a dollop of cream or creme fraiche wouldn't go amiss if you fancied it.

Saturday, 10 April 2010


Last week my Mum, saint that she is, very kindly taught me to crochet....over the phone. It's even harder than it sounds, believe me, I'm sure she can vouch for it given the slightly hungry hook wielding daughter that was on the other end of the line grumpily attesting that NO, it DID NOT look anything like the picture in the link she sent me! 

Three phone calls, several clarifications of what exactly constituted "a triple" and a few late night text messages, and I seem to be on my way. Only another elebenty billion more squares to go and my blanket shall be complete!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Kneading is so yesterday

I know, I know, no knead bread, the brain child of Jim Lahey, has been kicking around the interwebs for years now. Forgive me for being so late onto the bandwagon. I can't remember where I first saw it mentioned. I thought it sounded really interesting, and then promptly forgot about it. Then I saw it somewhere else, and my ears pricked up, I remembered the first mention, read a bit more. And then promptly forgot about it.

You see, I already have a bunch of really good bread recipes, and I know that once I start getting more and more into bread making, I will get buried in the subject, never to return. I used to think this might be a bad thing, but given just how much I LOVE bread (I definitely think it's a genetic thing, my father is the same, it's more of a compulsion for bread than a love), I am beginning to realise that actually this could be the best thing ever. I keep wanting to try my hand at sourdough, but have always been too scared in case I kill off my starter, or come home to a kitchen that has been taken over by a huge bubbling mass that looks like something from a The Blob.

So I swing from "let's start a starter this weekend" to steadfastly ignoring the numerous books I have on the subject. Then I saw this. Seriously, how good does that loaf look?! It was at that point, quite literally about four and a half minutes later, that I began my love affair with the no knead bread.

I am now fully on the wagon. So far on the wagon in fact that I have made this bread five times in the last week and a bit. Call me crazy, call me obsessed, and I will say, yes! Because it's just so darn good! I should also point out that I have no only made this loaf five times, but I have adapted it each and every one of those times. First off I didn't have any walnuts, so I decided to draw on a loaf I'd had in Italy once and add some ground fennel seeds. Delish! Then I made cranberry and pecan, with a little bit of wholemeal flour, then fennel and black pepper...the list goes on.

This loaf is easy, amazingly tasty and can be adapted to pretty much whatever you have in the house as far as I can tell. This is my new go-to loaf, I shall be forever thanking Tracy for opening my eyes to the truth and starting a whole new bread adventure in Our Lovely Flat.

No Knead Bread - My favourite way (so far) 

3 cups bread flour (I sometimes use 1 cup of wholemeal in the mix)
1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 3/4 tsp salt (I never measure this, I'm lazy, I just throw in a large pinch)
1/2 cup raisins
2 tsp fennel seeds, slightly bashed in a pestle and mortar
1 1/2 cups water. 

The night before mix all the ingredients together in a medium to large bowl, it should form a dough, but be a sticky one. Leave, covered with a tea towel until the next morning (aprox. 12-18 hrs). 

Flour your work surface. Turn the dough out in one piece and gently form into a ball, tucking the corners in underneath it to form a nice tight shape. Liberally flour a tea towel and place the dough in the centre, and wrap the edges around it. (I usually place the towel and dough back in the bowl to help hold the shape as you can see in the pictures!) Leave for another hour or so, until doubled in size. 

Half an hour into the second rise preheat your oven to 240C and place your casserole or dutch oven inside for half an hour, with the lid on. Then once the bread is ready, gently turn it from the tea towel, into the hot pan, and return, covered, to the hot oven. Bake for 30 mins, and then remove the lid and bake until the shade of golden brown that suits you most! Remove the pan from the over, and gently tip out the loaf and allow to cool before cutting and eating.

Monday, 5 April 2010

eggscellent cupcakes...(groan, I know, but come on, it's Easter!)

Two years ago for Easter I made some cupcakes. They were good cupcakes, with some very good icing. I kept thinking that next time around I would make them again, kind of like an Easter tradition. Except I didn't. Instead I spent last Easter making hot cross buns (see that tradition did stick!) and learning about patchwork. The whole time-consuming posh icing, nice presentation, thing went out of the window. 

Then this Easter I very nearly didn't make them. I was thinking we should be good, that we should be thinking ahead and trying to shed pounds for Summer and eating better. Then I let on to people at work that I had this recipe up my sleeve, and the inevitable happened, I spent last Tuesday night elbows deep in ganache trying desperately to evenly and beautifully ice a set of cupcakes for my co-workers. 

I also upped the game this time around. Last time I had vanilla cupcakes with chocolate icing, however, I know the ladies in my office, and given the choice of vanilla or chocolate, chocolate wins. And so on Wednesday morning last week I braved my bus journey to work, with my elbows out and scowl on, cradling a cake tin filled with carefully iced and topped chocolate Easter cupcakes. It was worth it. The office loved them, and it was nice to take a little something special in as everyone has been working incredibly hard in the run up to the break.

I think these would be the perfect little treat for anyone over Easter, especially if you've got a bunch of dark chocolate and mini-eggs kicking around. I made both large and mini-cupcakes as they are seriously rich, and sometimes all you need is a little bite of sweetness with a mid-afternoon coffee. (and yes, you can totally justify eating three small ones in one mouthful go)

I won't post the cupcake recipe, as I got it from the lovely Rosy, over here. She is right, they are amazing, dense, moist and with a lovely depth of flavour. I made two batches, the first to get exactly 8 large cupcakes, and the second to split between a few more large and a whole host of mini ones. I had 11 large and 11 small in the end, and the batch of ganache I made was enough to generously ice them all. 

I will share my whipped ganache again, in case you missed it last time around. It's my go-to chocolate icing recipe for both cupcakes and layer cakes, as it is beautifully soft to pipe or spread, and firms up well to hold it's shape. Careful though, this stuff is incredibly rich!

Whipped Ganache 

You can easily halve this recipe and it'll be enough for eight cupcakes, or there abouts.

8 ounces dark chocolate
3/4 cup double cream
1/4 cup soft butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Chop chocolate and transfer into a heat proof bowl. Heat cream until bubbles form around the edge of the pan, pour cream over the chocolate. Let sit for 1 minute then stir until combined.(if, like me, no matter how small you chopped your chocolate the whole lot won't melt, then you can place the bowl over barely simmering water and stir like crazy to get it to melt. You have to be really careful though as if you get it too hot you will split the ganache and it will be gone forever, I speak from bitter experience, one that left me in tears at 11pm on evening a few months beware!) Add butter to the chocolate (make sure its soft and at room temp) and stir until combined (you can also do this in the double boiler situation if you're still having trouble getting everything to melt together - do remember as soon as the ganache is smooth to remove it from the heat and continue stirring to avoid over-heating).  Whisk together sugar, salt, milk, and vanilla in another bowl until combined.Pour the sugar mixture onto the chocolate mixture, then stir until combined and smooth.  Let sit at room temperature until thickened.  Beat with an electric mixer until fluffy. Pipe onto cupcakes when they're completely cooled. Lick bowl. 

Friday, 2 April 2010

A very good Friday.

Right now I am in bed with a cup of tea and breakfast. Yes, I know that it's already past eleven, but I make no excuses for my laziness, in fact this weekend week I will be embracing it to it's maximum potential. 

It seems incredibly generous that society has felt it only right and proper to bestow on me two extra days of holiday this weekend, and it seems even more gracious that work should operate "closure days" on the Thursday and Tuesday that bookend this already wonderful four day weekend, turning four, into six, relaxation days. 

As a thank you, I am going to share my breakfast with you. More hot cross buns! Having admitted in my last post about them that I really wish I made them more, I wondered what exactly was stopping me? This ponderance, coupled with the spotting of this recipe, forced my hand, and in the last week I have made them twice more, and I think I am ready to admit that this new version trumps the old one, hands down.

What was the clincher? I could say it was the addition of the subtle blend of spices, rather than the simple mixed spice, and yes this is definitely a factor. But really, since I am honestly confessing to my laziness I might as well admit that it was the use of tea and stout. 

The addition of a teapot in this household at Christmas has almost turned me from a staunch coffee drinker to a tea fanatic, and I have begun to truly realise that a good cup of tea is not simply a good cup of tea, but a Good cup. And that tea is without doubt the most wonderful comforter, restorer and general hot drink equivalent of a duvet. 

And a can of Guinness is often the same! 

So this week, I have been mostly making and eating these. I think you should too. Take some of that lazy time this long weekend and reward yourself. It's two-fold too as you're not only blessed with the most delicious afternoon tea or breakfast, but your whole house will smell amazing! 

Very Good Friday Buns - Adapted from Dan Lepard.

Having made these twice now I have come to the conclusion that I personally like a bit less fruit than Lepard, and that you can easily add a bit of wholemeal flour with no ill effect, in fact I preferred the slightly nuttier flavour and more equal quantities of peel and raisins. I mention this by way of saying that this is a pretty adaptable recipe, so feel free to tweak as is your want. 

Be warned your really need to start this the day before you bake, as the fruit is soaked overnight...

Makes 10-12 depending on how accurate your weighing is (mine, not so much!)

162ml Stout (Guinness is my poison)
3/4 tsp each of ground ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg
3/4 tsp instant yeast
163g wholemeal bread flour
275g strong white flour
88g raisins
88g mixed peel (or other dried fruit if you prefer)
125ml hot black tea (make a pot and have a cup in the process!)
1 large egg, beaten then divided in half (or as close as you can manage)
25g melted butter
25g sugar (golden caster is best I think)
3/4 tsp salt

The night before put the peel and raisins in a small bowl with the tea. Stir and leave to soak. Then place the wholemeal flour, stout, yeast, and spices in a deep bowl (if you have a mixer you can place them in the mixer bowl). Combine and then leave, loosely covered, overnight.

The next day at add the melted butter and half the egg to the fruit mixture, stir and then mix into the stout starter. Then add the white flour, sugar and salt. Mix until it just comes together, then leave for ten minutes. Mix for ten seconds, then leave for ten minutes. Repeat. Then leave for an hour. 

After an hour turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Line a baking sheet with parchment, or silicone liner. Divide the dough into roughly 100g pieces (mine were 122 as I'm greedy) and form into balls, then lay, touching, on the baking sheet. Cover with a tea towel and leave for 90 mins. 

Mix 1 tbsp of flour with 1 tbsp of water to form a paste. 

Preheat the oven to 200C. Mix the remaining egg with a dash of milk, and then gently brush this mixture over the risen buns. Then dab the past over the buns to form crosses (Yay, I remembered and bothered this time!) Bake for 20-25mins. Then allow to cool, if you can wait that long!