Sunday, 31 August 2008

England's double winter.

South African cricketer Shaun Pollock commented this week that England was a nice place, it was just a shame about the double winter: one from October to March and then a milder one from April to September. He's so right.After yesterday's tease we're officially back in autumnal territory. How do I know this? We're eating soup and hot bread and the red wine is getting drunk considerably faster than the white. Boo. Nigel Slater even commented in his column today that he hasn't managed to eat a long lazy evening meal in his (beautiful) garden once this year. And as we all know Nigel Slater is the fount of all knowledge when it comes to the gardening, cooking and seasons malarkey.

So, as we moved towards another resounding cricket victory, the light failing, the rain threatening, and Sniff whinging I took to the kitchen with root vegetables and a blender. It's still August people! How is this allowed?

The result? A spicy butternut squash soup with still-warm malted bread and a hunk of cheese. Good hearty food, perfect for that late August evening meal (I hope you can feel the sarcasm dripping from that).

Nevertheless, lack-of-summer bitterness aside, it is a lovely soup and one that will disappear from the bowl quicker than a sunny day in Britain - and boy, that's fast!

Serve with a good brown bread and either a swirl of sour cream, a dash of chili sauce or plain with a piece of strong cheddar. I adapted the recipe from one D gave to me, mostly because I didn't quite have everything on hand.

Spicy squash soup - serves two, very generously!

1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 jacket-sized potato, peeled and cubed
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced into rounds
3 small onions, chopped
1 pint vegetable stock
1 tsp hot chili powder (or to taste)
1 tsp smoked paprika (or to taste)

Place a good amount of oil in a large heavy-based saucepan and bring up to heat. Add the onions and fry until just softened, but not brown. Add the spices and fry for a minute to released the flavour. Add the veg and stir until it is completely coated and fry lightly for a minute. Then add the stock and bring to the boil (covered) for fifteen minutes, or until soft.

Allow to cool. Drain (retaining the liquid) and blend slightly with a third of the cooking liquid. Don't overdo it or it'll be too gluey. Add more liquid to get the consistency you like. Return to the heat to warm through, season to taste and then serve immediately.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Sunshine and culture

London finally got some good weather today. It was a bit of a shock after what seems like weeks without seeing any sunshine at all. It was perfectly timed too as N was off for a stag day in parks and pubs and I was planning to take my new camera down to the south bank and visit the Tate Modern.

Since it's so warm here today (hurrah!) I can't face doing any baking, and so there isn't even going to be any food in this post. Instead I'm leaving you with a picture from a lovely meal we had on Friday night.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Far too righteous...quick! hand me that chocolate.

Wow, that's purple! No, it's not blueberries, blackcurrants or blackberries. It's beetroot. Yes, you heard me right. Beetroot. Sounds crazy, but it's actually rather nice. I mixed it with pink grapefruit and lemon and got a citrusy earthy drink, and a very purple mouth! I wasn't sure if I'd like it when I started, but N had mentioned that he likes beetroot juice and we had a massive beet going soft in our veg bowl from last week's organic box. I know we won't eat it over the next couple of days, so why not juice it? It's supposed to be a super food too, so the benefits must be amazing (I'm sure I'll be feeling them any second...)

So in the juicer it went. I have drunk half of the drink and am going to have some later as an afternoon pick-me-up.

Another reason for juicing righteous things was because I needed the immediate sugar hit you get from fresh juice. All the hype is definitely right, I feel loads better for having drunk fresh juice these past few days. I usually get a real afternoon slump and feel like a nap, but the past few days I have pushed on through and been rather productive with my work.

Problem is, it's hard to tell whether it's the influence of the healthy natural detoxing hit of the juice, or the uber sugar hit from the amount of malteaser slab I've also been eating. Perhaps one is just cancelling out the other and the lack of nap is pure coincidence.

I got slightly sidetracked there as I was supposed to be telling you why I needed a sugar hit. Well, I needed it
because this morning I went on a cycle. I've been wanting to get out on the bike more, and generally improve my fitness, so I have decided that every other day I am going to go for a trip out on Oscar. I think he likes it too as sitting in the flat gathering dust must be rather depressing for him.

So this morning I headed off to attempt the cycle into Uni. I wasn't going to try the full route - I need to work up to those sorts of distances, plus I didn't want to miss too much of the cricket! - I just wanted to do a bit to see how I coped with the hills. I was so chuffed that I managed it. I made it, paused for rehydration, then turned round and cycled back. Apart from the stop for a drink and route consideration I did the whole journey without stopping. Evening managing the uphills which is something I live in fear off. According to google maps it's three miles each way.

A six mile cycle first thing in the morning, at least half of which is uphill. Not bad eh? Hence I needed the sugar hit to prevent my blood pressure plummeting so much that I couldn't stand up in the shower! (and boy did I need a shower!).

All this righteousness was far too much, exercise, detoxing juice and even spinach in my sandwich. I couldn't take that level of beng good. So I had a half a piece of malteaser slab as "dessert" to ready me for the afternoon. It's only fair I think.

Ah, if I keep up this cycling malarkey think how much cake I can eat. *smug giggling*

Before I go, I do want to leave you with one last thing. I am aware that I rarely post my savoury dishes.
Partly because I by the time we get round to eating them I am too hungry to pause to take photos, and partly because I am not nearly as adventurous as I wish I was in this department. I think because if I mess up a cake, then fair enough we don't have a treat to indulge in, whereas if I mess up our dinner, then that's it! Anyway, I am trying to get better at this, and once N's work calms down and our routine returns I will be able to time dinners and thus be more adventurous.

I started this last night. I bought figs from the fruit lady at the station and decided I would make a nice salad with them. This would be a simple and quick dish to put together so it wouldn't matter what time N made it home, it could be ready with very little prep. The adventurous part is that I have never eaten a fresh fig until last night! I don't know why, I think because they've never been on a menu I've been choosing from and it's not something that would usually catch my eye when grocery shopping. But the other day they looked so tempting at the fruit and veg stall that I couldn't resist. No time like the present to give them a try.

I read up about flavour pairing and decided to serve them on a simple bed of leaves, with a sheeps cheese and a balsamic reduction dressing. in the end I also decided to bulk this out a little bit with some sliced of raw mushroom (another revelation for me that means I can eat mushrooms again - I haven't eaten them for ages because the cooked texture has always put me off. Love the flavour, hate the slimeyness) and some red pepper. It was really nice.

recipe: Fig salad with balsamic reduction.

slice two ripe figs per person and lay over a bed of leaves. Add a handful of chopped sheeps cheese (like young Pecarino) and sliced raw mushrooms and chopped red pepper. To dress; reduce a god quality balsamic vinegar and some light muscovado sugar over a medium heat until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and cool thoroughly before pouring over salad. Use aprox 1 scant tsp sugar to 2tbsp vinegar.

So in the last two days I have discovered that I like beetroot as a juicing vegetable, I like fresh figs and I can cycle further uphil than I ever imagined. Not bad for a couple of days in August.

Now, where's that chocolate...?

Thursday, 28 August 2008

There's hope yet.

The weather this summer has been awful. I mean to even call it summer is an insult, because aside from three days in June the whole period has been a wash out. We were so looking forward to a summer of mornings drinking coffee on the decking, browsing the paper in the sunshine, and then perhaps doing some plant and vegetable tending in the early afternoon. Oh no. Everything's been against us, from N working 24/7 to the weather deciding to skip the good stuff this year and plough straight back into the damp dingy greyness.

Then, on top of this, when we finally did make it into the garden to tend the overgrown veggies and make an inspection of potential autumn crops we discovered that all our pumpkins, squash and courgettes had mosaic disease. Brilliant, yeah, thanks for that.

As a result the only gardening we got to do was ditching a bunch of virus ridden plants in the compost. It's to late now to plant more too. It was so disheartening. Okay, so perhaps we haven't been the most attentive gardeners, but I have been out there watering and attempting to keep off snails, the least we could get in return is just one or two plants with healthy crops.

Oh well.

However, not all is lost. As the pictures show, the rhubarb is thriving and we might still get some late tomatoes. *crosses fingers and toes.* If we could just get some tomatoes I will be very happy indeed.

I also bought radishes and turnips today in the hope that if we plant now we can still have a few things produced of our very own. I am hoping that we might even be able to grow some things indoors to prevent the pesky squirrels getting them.

WIsh us luck.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Juice the thing.

We got a juicer! It's so exciting. I didn't think that just juicing fruit could be such fun, but it is. In goes fruit, peel and all, and out comes delicious liquid. Our relationship with fruit will never be the same again. Gone will be the days of fruit festering in the fruit bowl, and frantic searching for recipes to use pears that went ripe when no-one was looking. Into the juicer it'll go.

I think it's even more exciting because the juicer came courtesy of our landlord so we didn't even have to buy it! A total sconto moment. However I already fear the inevitable need to purchase one when we move as we'll have been so addicted to juicing!

It arrived on Friday and so on Sunday morning we collected up some fruit that had been sitting around and decided to start our juice experiments. Employing the "techno-joy" approach (throw away manual and get stuck in) we basically turned it on and chucked in a whole bunch of random fruit: pineapple, pear, apple, and in my case lemon. The result? Joy in a glass. It was so wonderful, totally different to the stuff you get in cartons. No added sugar, no preservatives, just a whole load of lovely juice, topped off with the foamy goodness produced by the juicing process. I posted the picture of our first experiment the other day as part of a photo essay, but I shall post it again, because yes is it as tasty as it looks!

We got straight back on the juicing wagon on Monday morning, frantically searching for other things we could put through the crazy whirring blades. We came up with a mango, more apples and pears and a banana. Now the banana wasn't too successful (it clearly didn't get the brief about it needing to come out the juice end not the pulp end - oops!), but some of the flavour still got through into the juice and once again we had tasty goodness in a glass. It was so nice I drank it before I could take a photo!

Today I did some more experimenting, this time using a pink grapefruit, apple and nectarine. It wasn't as good as the first two attempts - too much grapefruit so it dominated - but still a lovely juice.

I can't wait to start trying all sorts of things. I'm not sure whether I will be trying anything too experimentaly, like weird vegetable juices with odd herbs that offer the "ultimate detox" (yes the super juice recipe book really did promise that, my response of course was to reach for the chocolate), but I reckon pretty much any fruit will make it into a glass in this flat at some point from now on.

In other news, the Malteaster tray bake has indeed been made far too many times since the first attempt. Not great for the waist line, but oh-so tasty. N made it (shock horror!) on Saturday afternoon, this time using dark chocolate instead of milk. It was amazing. So much better than the milk chocolate, richer with a greater depth of flavour and not as sickly. Today I have made some as a half-time treat (we're off to see the mighty Arsenal at the Emirates this evening) this time using half dark chocolate and half butterscotch. We shall see, but I think no matter what, it's going to be a winner!

Saturday, 23 August 2008

I've usurped the Queen of Posting!

I didn't mean to usurp her position, it just happened. I wanted to show my Mum a good birthday, so I did the natural thing that any crazy devoted baking obsessed daughter would do. I sent a cake in the post! I mean, it's just not a proper birthday without a cake.

Thing is, I couldn't stop there. I had to send a present too. Now this year I had totally failed to find anything in the shops that I thought she'd like, and having no help whatsoever in the form of hints I had to fall back on the "I promise I'll get you something nice when we're on holiday" promise. Which still didn't help the fact that I didn't have much to give her on the day. Then I came across some blackcurrants. Sconto!

My Mum LOVES blackcurrants, and second to having them in a pie, blackcurrant jam is her favourite way to enjoy them. Now I wasn't about to attempt pie-posting - that really would require some extra special posting skills - but I reckoned that a jar of homemade blackcurrant jam would be do-able, and just the thing.

So I set off on a jam making adventure! It was lots of fun, and the smell in the flat was amazing and more than made up for England's continued inability to play decent football.

I simmered the fruit with some water:

Meanwhile sterilizing the jars:Then added the sugar:
and brought it to a rolling boil:
Then when it reached setting point I but it in the jars and sealed it, adding labels and preparing it for postage!

I packaged it with the cake and sent it off, relieved to hear the next day that it had arrived in one piece. I then had a lovely text this morning saying how pleased Mum was with the presents and cake and how I must now be crowned the Queen of Posting!

Well, I will accept the title for now, but I'm sure it won't be long before the real Queen of Posting (my Mum, who else!) will be back.

Friday, 22 August 2008

More please.

I have no will power. I was supposed to hold off and not make these until the weekend. But this week has been a tough one. N and I have both been pretty exhausted, he's been working late nights again and I've been finding the writing difficult. So on Wednesday afternoon in celebration of having actually written a decent amount I decided that we needed not just a little treat, but a huge sugar rush!

These no-bake malteaser slices are evil and wonderful, so much so that N asked me to make them again, soon and not to stop! He's very supportive of my baking obsession and always compliments me on whatever baked good I put in front of him, however it's rare that I get an outright request for more of what I've made immediately.

This time I got "these are such a winner,*munch munch munch* you should make more of them, *munch, munch, munch* you should make them all the time
, *munch munch swallow smug grin*"

If I'm honest I thought they were a bit rich, even after I'd used a darker milk chocolate and less butter. But it didn't stop me from polishing off half of one at lunchtime yesterday, another half with a mid-afternoon coffee and then shared another with N as dessert. See, I told you they were evil.

I might try the next batch with dark chocolate, because yes, there will be a next batch, N says so! It may be that I finally manage to get N to "bake" something all by himself as I don't think it would take much persuading to get him to make more of these!

Malteaser tray bake - Makes lots as you'll need to cut them small, they're so rich. Also, I quartered this recipe in the hope of not eating too many. Clearly I should have made more!

400g milk chocolate (I used green and blacks which is less sweet than other brands)
200g unsalted butter
4 tbsp golden syrup
250g digestive biscuits
175g maltesers
250g white chocolate
50g unsalted butter
1 tbsp golden syrup
75g maltesers, crushed

Crush the digestive biscuits to make fine crumbs. Melt together the milk chocolate, 200g butter and 4 tbsp golden syrup. Mix in the crushed biscuit and maltesers and stir well. Spread out in a brown pan and compact the mixture in the pan. Melt together the white chocolate, 50g butter and 1 tbsp golden syrup. Pour the white chocolate over the top of the compacted biscuit mix and spread evenly. Pour on the crushed maltesers and spread over the top pushing gently into the melted chocolate. Leave to firm up in the fridge for a couple of hours then slice into portions.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

The loaf pan strikes again.

I did warn you that the loaf pan had been getting rather a bit of use in the flat this week. A while ago whilst browsing the archive of posts on one of my favourite food blogs I came across a recipe for "lemon yoghurt anything cake." On the post the cake had included blueberries, but it was pointed out that it had adaptability to such an extent that pretty much any aspect of the recipe could be changed and the results would still be amazing.

Hmm...almost limitless adaptability? That sounds like exactly my sort of thing! I'm sure it's clear enough by now, over 100 posts into my food blogging "career" that I just can't leave recipes alone. If there is any wiggle-room I'll find it and use it.

Knowing this about me, it will probably also strike you as rather strange that when I made the lemon blueberry yoghurt cake from the post I changed absolutely nothing. It just looked so damn good I didn't want to fiddle. Okay, that's not entirely true, I didn't have quite the same size loaf pan, so used my trusty bread one and hoped for the best. The result? A gorgeous moist cake backed with citrus and bursting berries that sat perfectly throughout the cake without a single one sinking!

I took it to our weekend Dungeons and Dragons session in Lancing and it went down very well. So much so that despite having had ice-cream and banana cake for dessert after lunch us adults whacked the kettle on for another cup of tea, if only for the excuse to break out the second cake! This is alas the reason why I don't have any pictures of inside the cake. It got carried to Lancing and then eaten so fast I didn't have a change to whip out the camera. Now there's an excuse to make another if I ever needed one!

The only problem with the cake - and it's not really a problem - was that it took ages longer to cook than the recipe sugested (over an hour and half!). I think this is because the loaf pan I used was a lot deeper. However it didn't seem to affect the flavour or texture of the cake. Once the top had browned, but the middle not cooked, I dropped the temperature to 150C and if I'd have had it I would have put a bit of foil over the top to stop it cracking quite so much. Then again, these cracks were rather pretty in my opinion and were perfect for hording the syrup you pour over the cake as its cooling.

If you want a nice summery cake, refreshing, moist and delicious, this is the one for you!

I won't post the recipe because I didn't change it at all, and it'll give you an excuse to visit Smitten Kitchen and browse a great blog.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Good writing = good muffins (or is it the other way round?)

Apparently the key to good writing is the promise of being able to make muffins. At least that's what works for me. On Friday I was having problems with a section in the writing and just couldn't seem to get my mind to it. It was going really slowly and there was no good argument coming, and at one point I was worried that I'd managed to write everything from the conclusion without having produced any evidence to support my claims.

Then I thought about how much I'd like to be baking rather than sitting in front of the computer banging my head against a psychotopographical brick wall.* Suddenly whilst flicking through my notes for the millionth time I stumbled across the most amazing quotation from Brian Jarvis that would not only back up my argument, but reminded me what it was in the first place. Even better, it pushed me over my word limit target for the day and voila! I was suddenly free to bake muffins.

Since N and I were planning to go out I decided to make a batch of large muffins for breakfast and N's lunch and a batch of mini-muffins to be secreted in my bag for stragetic munching if we got peckish whilst out.

Mum had mentioned that she'd had a lemon and poppyseed muffin whilst on holiday and how nice it was, and it reminded me of how much I love that combination. It's a good breakfast muffin as it's not too sweet and has the added goodness of the seeds. Plus the refreshing lemon is good for waking me up!

Since I was in a celebratory mood I used bright shiny papers for the mini-muffins and my new animal papers for the large ones. I know it seems a bit childish, but come on, what could be bad about smiling lions and zebras when you unwrap your breakfast!

Lemon poppyseed muffins - Adapted from Muffins Galore by Catherine Atkinson

Makes twelve medium muffins and six ickle ones, or twelve large.

zest and juice of two lemons
225g caster sugar
300 Self-raising four

2 tbsp poppyseeds
1 egg, beaten
225ml milk
60g butter, melted

Preheat oven to 200C and line a muffin pan with 12 cases

Mix 2 tbsp lemon juice and 2 tbsp of sugar and set aside

Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and combine well. Place the wet ingredients in a jug, beat to combine. Add the wet to the dry, stiring until just combined - lumps are good in muffins, it gives them their texture.

Divide into the lined muffin tin and bake for 20 mins, or until risen and golden and a toothpick comes out clean.

When still slightly warm brush the lemon and sugar mixtre over the muffins so it soaks them through and slightly
glazes the top.

* I've decided that a psychotopographical brick wall would be one that would get harder or softer depending on the extremity of your emotions. See what's happened, I've become so involved in the PhD that I'm inventing features of hypothetical psychotopographical architectural elements.

Monday, 18 August 2008

All hail the loaf pan!

The loaf pan has been mighty and victorious in the North London Kitchen recently.

I have finally realised that the key to the perfect loaf is the perfect pan and having made this discovery I don't think I'll ever look back. At the end of last week I made another attempt at a plain white sandwich loaf. Previous attempts had been rather disappointing, yielding either long flat loaves, or even the dreaded mutant bloomer. I was thus understandably wary or trying yet again. However, having had success with the spelt loaf in the newly discovered pan (okay, it should be re-discovered as it has been in the cupboard unused for eight months), I figured one more try wouldn't hurt.

I measured, proved, rested and baked and three hours later this is what I had:

A delicious, tall almost fluffy loaf with just enough crunch to the crust. Whoo!

I'd like to think it was my skill and precision as a baker, but we all know that my skills are still somewhat limited and I have never managed to be a precise baker. So the credit must go to the pan.


10g yeast
500g strong white flour
10g salt
350g water

Put all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and combine, then add the water and work into a dough. Once the dough has come together well enough to no longer stick to your hands form into a ball and leave in the bowl covered with a tea towel to prove for an hour, or until doubled in size.

Once the dough has doubled, knock it back and place it in a loaf pan gently spreading it to fill the pan, cover again and leave for an hour or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 200C.

When the dough has doubled in size again place in a middle shelf in the preheated oven and bake for 35mins.

Remove from the oven and when slightly cooled turn out from the pan and leave to fully cool on cooling rack.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Full body armour needed

I like beetroot. This has been one of the many revelations during the past eight months of food adventures. Others include my new-found love of Stilton and my wish to never see another root vegetable during February having been cooking dutifully, seasonally and endlessly since November!

But let's get back to that first revelation: beetroot. I never liked it before, particularly the smell of the unnaturally bright red vegetable swimming in pickle. Then suddenly it arrived in the organic box and I had to find a solution for it. I consulted the master of making vegetables exciting - Ottolenghi - and discovered the notion of roasting it, then tossing it in red wine vinegar before chopping it and serving with feta or goats cheese in a salad. I was an immediate convert.

There was only one problem, having done the roasting, peeling and chopping everything around me, hands, chopping boards, surfaces, was stained a rather annoying shade of magenta. Grr. I have since resulted to only dealing with the pesky pink vegetable on a red plastic board whilst donning latex gloves, and a dark apron; a sight that brings much amusement to N.

I had this technique down and we've eaten many a roasted beet salad in the last few months, so when a stack of four apple-sized beets arrived last week in the box I decided it was time to branch out and try something different. I was planning ciabatta for the weekend and it had been pretty cold and rainy so I thought that a beetroot soup would nicely use up all of the bunch. Plus, it's a superfood so how righteous we could feel having scoffed whole bowls of it (before heading to the pub of course!).

So I patiently peeled, chopped and boiled the beetroot, highly smug that not only would we be eating some delicious (I hoped) healthy food all produced at home, but I had once again thwarted the attempts of the beets to stain our entire flat pink.

I should have known, pride comes before a fall, or should I say splatter?

With the beets cooked and seasoned and the stock evapourated I whipped out the magic whoozsher (the name for the brilliant hand blender/whisk/processor that N's Mum bought him for his birthday) and placed it carefully deep in the soup ready to puree it. You can tell what's coming can't you. Why oh why was I so smug so soon. I pressed lightly on the lowest setting and promptly splattered pink juice all over myself, and anything in a three metre radius. Even the recipe book, cunningly placed in it's perspex guard didn't escape unharmed! I had to resort to pureeing small amounts at a time in the small jug that came with the blender, transferring it into another saucepan once the desired mush had been reached.

The result was a rather chunky, but very nice beetroot soup, served with hot ciabatta by a somewhat pink-splattered me! It was a good job I looked in the mirror before heading out the the pub as I'd managed to cover my entire face in small, but bright magenta and thus very noticable, splatters.

It was a good soup, but I'm not sure how often I'll be attempting it, and I certainly won't give it another bash before I've hunted down some suitable full-body armour!

Beetroot Soup (serves four)

4-5 medium red beetroot, peeled and diced
1 onion
500ml vegetable stock
100g apple puree
glug of chili oil

Put some chili oil (or plain olive oil) in a deep pan and on a medium heat. Once it's hot add the onion and sweat them for a couple of minutes. Add the beetroot and mix for a minute, then add the stock and a small amount of seasoning. Cook until the beetroot is tender - around 15 minutes depending on how small you dice it. Take off the heat and stir in the apple puree. Place in a bender - with a lid! - and blend until smooth. Return to the saucepan and re-heat adding seasoning to taste.

We also added some chili sauce to give it a nice kick.

Serve with hot bread and feta cheese if you have it.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Black and white cockney leit-motifs

As I have pointed out before the cockney leit-motif of "have a banana" has seeped into the cookie experience in Our Lovely Flat. Now I cannot make the aforementioned baked item without N and I referring to it as a ba-cookie, not only is it a ba-cookie, but it is said using the tone of the song, you know what I mean, I know you're doing it in your head now. Once it's there it just can't be removed, which is much the same as the wish to make ba-cookies. The idea gets into my head and cannot be shifted until I've got a batch cooling and the bowls soaking in the washing up. It's a dangerous situation.

I can't remember how ba-cookies came up this week, but they did. I think because I was craving something sweet and N asked if we had any biscuits in the house. Needless to say we didn't - why would I buy some when I could use not having them as an excuse to get the mixing bowls out?! - but that put the itch in my mind. I had spotted a recipe for white chocolate and macadamia nut cookies on a blog I read. I'm not one to usually fancy cookies - as you will have seen I am much more likely to make muffins or cakes - but the recipe tempted me. I think I liked the idea of a pure white cookie, with the sweetness of the chocolate and buttery nuts. Then N got the ba-cookie idea in my head and I knew the inevitable was going to happen.

I stopped at a fruit and nut stall whilst in town on Thursday to pick up the nuts and was distracted by the fact that they had dried sour cherries. Now I LOVE cherries, and dried sour ones are so delicious. I have fond memories of first discovering them in Italy on a market near Florence. I could eat them by the handful all day. When I saw them I just couldn't resist, I had to buy some. As I was asking for them an idea suddenly popped into my head, I could make dark cookies with cherries in too! Then I would have black and white ba-cookies to accompany our trip to the Oval to watch the cricket.

So suddenly I had managed to persuade myself to once again bake at the weekend, and to make not one thing, but two. So much for my "eat less baked things over summer" resolution, so much for my "only bake on baking day" idea. Black and white ba-cookies it was.

I found a recipe for dark chocolate cookies and adapted it to suit the cherries (adding
melted chocolate to the batter as well as cocoa to make it darker and richer, and adding large chunks of dark chocolate along with the cherries so match the idea of the white chocolate and nut recipe). I then adapted the white chocolate and nut recipe to use plain (rather than roasted and salted) macadamia nuts, to cut down on the salt in the recipe.

Although both ba-cookies turned out well it was the white chocola
te and macadamia nut that were the real winners. They were perfectly indulgent, yet not too sickly - a worry I have with white chocolate. They also coped well with being stored, whereas the dark ba-cookies became slightly too chewy after a day in a tupperware. I think this was because the batter was too dry, N pointed out that if they had rum in they'd be much better so next time I will be dutifully soaking the cherries in rum! The darker ba-cookies were a slightly larger batch so I have frozen a bunch of them and plan on serving them warm with a rum sauce at some point in the future. I'm sure that'll help them be more moist!

Here are the recipe's I used for the ba-cookies:

I made really large ba-cookies, so my baking times were almost double those for the tablespoon sized ones:

White chocolate and macadamia nut ba-cookies.

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup light muscovado sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white chocolate, chopped into large chunks
1 cup chopped macadamia nuts

Preheat oven to 180C

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside.

Beat butter and both sugars until creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla until well combined. Add flour mixture and stir just until blended. Stir in white chocolate and macadamia nuts.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoons, 2 inches apart, on two ungreased cookie sheets. Bake until golden around edges, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating cookie sheets between upper and lower oven racks halfway through baking. With wide spatula, transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Dark chocolate and sour cherry ba-cookies:

1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup golden caster sugar
1 egg
1 ounce melted dark chocolate
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 chopped dark chocolate
3/4 cup dried sour cherries (feel free to soak these in rum overnight!)

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

Sift together the flour, baking soda, cocoa and salt.

In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg, vanilla and melted chocolate until combined. Slowly blend in the flour mixture until combined, stir in the cherries and chocolate. If the batter is too stiff add a little milk to thin it slightly - or if you're using rum soaked cherries add a very little milk and a little rum!

Place tablespoons of dough a few inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes; until cracks form on the top of the cookies.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

"They're so purple!"

It was quite the exciting evening here last night. We harvested the first of our own grown vegetables! I know we've had rhubarb and herbs, but this was something we'd planted and grown ourselves from scratch, no help from friends (the rhubarb crown was a gift from friends trying to cut down their ridiculously prolific plant), no sneaky growing from things started in pots at the garden centre (most of our herbs). This was all us!

What was it we harvested? The uber potato! Remember the two random plants we discovered growing manically when we got back from LA? The ones that we had no idea what they were? Well according to my parents they were potatoes, and needed "earthing up." So we bought two massive half barrel tubs and dutifully re-potted and earthed them up. I thought t
his would stop their manic growing, or at least slow it down. Oh no, they continued to take over their part of the garden. We had no idea whether we'd actually get potatoes, whether we'd earthed up in time, or if it would turn out to be just one immense potato that would one day burst out of the tub sci-fi style.

been looking at them for a while wanting to investigate whether we'd been successful. After having had gorgeous home grown potatoes whilst at my parents, and knowing we planted our before them we figured it must be about the right time to poke about and see what we'd managed.

So last night, with N home from work before seven for the first time in three weeks, and the cupboard looking a bit bare we decided it was time. Armed with the strength gained from a pint of Guinness N began the battle with the uber potato. He poked around in the soil and suddenly little purple potatoes started surfacing! It was so exciting. We'd grown those!

What was funny was that the huge plant clearly got a little too carried away producing leaves as the massive plant only produced six mini-potatoes. However, they were shiny perfectly purple potatoes and we were very proud indeed.

We carried them into the kitchen, scrubbed them and then boiled them to be served alongside a veg and bean stew. They were light and fluffy, almost buttery in flavour. I'm not massive on potatoes, but if they're are going to be like that bring them on! I want to plant more, right now.

It was so wonderful to eat something we'd grown ourselves, especially as the purple ones are an unusual variety and apparently quite hard to grow. I can't wait to
see how they other plant did, and then to start seeing the results with our other veg (assuming the squirrels actually leave us something).

I'm totally hooked to this gardening malarkey now, bring on the next round of planting!

Monday, 4 August 2008


"The strange thing is that novels aren't written by young have to wait for your mind to catch up with whatever it is it's working on; then you can write a novel" - James M Cain.

I've finally done it.

Ta da! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, after eight months of experimenting with bread I have finally managed to produce a loaf that has risen fully and produces full sized slices for sandwiches. I am so chuffed. I think it was all about the loaf pan. Before I was using a longer pan and so getting long, but shallow loaves. This time I used a shorter higher pan and look how great it turned out! It tastes great too. I used some wholemeal spelt flour given to us by my Mum, it has a slightly nutty flavour and is great with cheese and pickle as I discovered this lunchtime. I highly recommend it and will probably hunt out the flour myself.

Spelt bread - one loaf

10g instant yeast
10g salt
500g wholemeal spelt flour
350g water

Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and combine, then add the water and mix until you get a ball of dough (about five minutes if you're doing it by hand). Shape the dough into a tight ball and leave to rest in a warm place, covered by a tea towel, for about an hour, or until doubled in size. Knock the dough back with your fist, and place in the loaf pan, gently shaping it so it fits the whole pan. Leave to prove for another hour, or until doubled in size. Place in an oven preheated to 200C for 35 mins. Take out of the tin when cooked and leave to fully cool on a rack.

p.s. I think the bread looking so good is also helped by my shiny new camera! Our food might not always taste amazing, but at least it'll look brilliant!

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Baking Day! (August) - roll out the rhubarb.

Yesterday was Baking Day. I wasn't really in the mood to bake lots of things - I know, sounds crazy doesn't it, but yesterday just turned into "one of those days" and grumpy baking just isn't fun.

However, on Friday I did fancy making us something special for a baking day breakfast. It's been a while since we had a special breakfast and I had a couple of bits in the fruit bowl I needed to use up. The result? rhubarb and cinnamon breakfast rolls.

I used the same dough that I used when making the cinnamon rolls earlier this year and filled it with a rhubarb compote. I then sprinkled the rolls before baking with a sugar and spice mix.

The result? A rather damp and doughy breakfast but a tasty one nonetheless. I think I cut them rather too large and didn't think about the fact that the rhubarb was so wet. It was a nice experiment though and we managed to polish them off with no complaint. I think next time I'd cook down and strain the rhubarb so it isn't as wet, and bake them at a lower temperature for longer.

One to work on...

Friday, 1 August 2008

Playing the game

Type the answers to the questions into Flikr.
Choose a picture from the first page of the results
Place it into the mosaic maker

Answers: Rebecca, bread, Nunthorpe, blue, Trent Reznor, coffee, Italy, cake, academic, N, eclectic, Boo*

Questions: name, favourite food, where did you go to school, favourite colour, celebrity crush**, favourite drink, dream vacation, favourite dessert, what do you want to be when you grow up, what do you love most in life, one word to describe you, flikr name.

* They didn't have any search results for this one so I had to play around a bit.
** I don't have a celebrity crush so I used one I admire.