Friday, 30 May 2008

Sniff gets an ultimatum

We've had Sniff for a week now. It's strange to think that it isn't longer, as it certainly feels like it has been, both because it's hard to imagine our life without him, and because of the amount of "cat-stress" he has caused! We started off feeling really sorry for our timid little cat, the big eyes wreaking havoc on us. Now we're beginning to think that actually he's been fine the whole time and has us totally pegged as the big softies we are, using the "big eye trick" to land himself a treat - and yes, it works every time!

He's finally beginning to show some real character (particularly the mischievous side) and it's wonderful to both see his personality emerge and to see him getting more confident in the flat. However, he is an inconsistent little blighter, and this is why we're convinced that it's him training us, not vice versa. On Sunday, only two days into cat ownership we were totally spoiled. He allowed us to pick him up, carry him out of the study and lay on the sofa with us for the whole day watching the cricket. Since then, he won't be picked up, and seems to have become completely inseparable from my desk chair (aka "the hug chair") and he will only allow strokes if he's sitting on it, running away from affection in any other part of the flat, and then looking out from the study with his big eyes as if to suggest we're cruel and evil to not be in there giving him all the strokes in the world.

So this morning, N having dragged himself out of bed after a restless night of work-stress and being shunned by Sniff decided that the time has come to issue an ultimatum: it's been a week, we've been all affectionate and understanding, now it's time for the cat to start returning the love! I think his exact phrase (whilst looking at Sniff perched just outside the study door, comtemptuously licking one paw) was something along the lines of "well Sniff, you'd better buck up and start showing some love or that's it, you're out."

In the cold dreary light of this morning the whole thing was hilarious, and we've spent the whole day giggling about the episode. Especially as it comes after a week of me stressing about whether of not Sniff is settling in, worrying that he doesn't love me (because he wouldn't come up to me) or might love N more, complaining that he wouldn't sit on my lap etc etc etc (and etc). After three days of this N's quiet soothing hugs and calming comments changed to a dead pan "yeah, our cat's rubbish, he's not working, let's shoot him." The shift in tactic clearly worked as it meant I couldn't stress for laughing.

Poor cat. We gave him some "dentibits" (his favourite treat) just to prove we loved him. Like I said, total softies.

Editors note: no cats were harmed before, during or after the writing of this blog, and the owners may have had to pop to Tesco to re-stock on an already depleated supply of dentibits.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Any excuse for cake, or; "merci Madame Trellis pour le gateau"

Okay, so the heading of this post is slightly misleading as it's unlikely that I will even actually need an excuse to make cake. I find them all the time, and eventually it stops being having an excuse and becomes simply, making cake.

However, I did come up with a rather good excuse this week to try making fruit cake, a cake that has been on my mind for some weeks now, and with baking day a few weeks off yet, and me desperately trying to stick to the only baking treats once a month resolution (yes, I know I haven't quite got it yet, but I'm getting there), there was definitely going to be an excuse needed. The whole obsession with fruit cake started on our drive down to Brighton a couple of weekends ago. We were in the car waiting for Test Match Special to start and there was an interview with Henry "Blowers" Blofeld, the famous cricket commentator, on to fill the time. They were asking him about his experiences on Test Match Special, and how the now-tradition of them receivi
ng cakes in the commentary box came about. He was talking about the different sorts of cakes and mentioned fruit cake. This immediately transported me back to the summers of my childhood when my father would mark exam papers listening to the cricket, and during his break in the afternoon would enjoy a cup of tea and a piece of my mum's fruit cake. I haven't had her fruit cake since the first year of living in London, when, one holiday at home I mentioned how much I liked and missed it, and she, being the wonderful doting mother she is, and knowing that I wasn't actually all that happy going back, dutifully baked and wrapped a cake for me to return with.

So there I was sitting in the car thinking back to the days of fruit cake, and what did I do? I immediately send a message to my mum asking her to email me the recipe! There had to be some way that I could get around to making it, even if I had to wait until baking day.

As it happens I didn't wait that long. This week with our Abel and Cole order we were getting Stilton, and I just had an inkling that a ploughman's lunch of pickle, Stilton, salad and a hunk of fruit cake would be a winning combination: the sourness of the Stilton and the tartness of the pickle softened by the sweet, but not too sweet, cake. We just had to try it, didn't we. Like I said any excuse!

I had originally planned to make the cake the night before, leaving it over night to cool. However, it required eggs, and they, like the Stilton, would not be arriving until the following morning. I'd just have to make it as early as possible to allow it to cool before lunch (and with a baking time of 1 1/2 hours, that meant pretty early!)
With this decision made, I cast aside any other preparation and went to bed. Meaning that there I was on Wednesday morning at 9am frantically scouring cupboards in search of potential dried fruit options, and glace cherries! Ah, ever the prepared baker me. I had to do a little tweeking, most out of necessity, some out of choice, but in the end it turned out fine.

It didn't taste quite as nice as my Mum's, but then again, nothing ever does, does it? However, I really enjoyed it and was reminded immediately of lazy afternoons listening to the cricket, as well as causing me to curse myself for not having investigated making it sooner. Yet another one for the "make lots more of please" list. In fact, it has occurred to me that the next baking day happens to coincide with the third test match between England and New Zealand. Then I really wouldn't need and excuse, and there can just be plenty of cake!

Anyway, here's the recipe, courtesy of my Mum, according to whom it is from an old Stork margarine packet. I adapted this original recipe slightly. Firstly, I halved it so I could just make one small cake that we could eat in one go, keeping the amount of cake consumption to a minimum! I then cut down the fat by half, and used apple sauce as the other component. It worked perfectly, and didn't affect the flavour, I would be tempted to try it completely without butter next time just to see. Also, in my halving of the recipe I choose to use just one medium egg. Due to making these changes I added slightly more baking powder (literally just a dash more) to insure that the cake would rise properly. All in all the consistancy and rise was fine, and baking it for the same amount of time as the larger cake was needed and provided a lovely crunch outside and dense moist inside. Oh, I just remembered I didn't have glace cherries so I settled for some maraschino ones kicking around in our cocktail cupboard. They added a more particular flavour, so next time I'd wash and drain them thoroughly, however they helped keep the cake moist.

All-in-one fruit cake (makes one large cake)

6oz margarine
6 oz sugar
6 oz plain flour
1/2 level teaspoon baking powder
1/2 level teaspoon mixed spice
3 large eggs
10 oz mixed dried fruit
2 oz mixed cut peel
2 oz glace cherries

Mix all ingredients together. Place in greased and lined 7inch round cake tin and smooth top. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 F, Gas Mark 3, on middle shelf for between one and a half and one and three quarter hours.
Leave in tin for 2-3 mins. Then cool on a wire rack.

Monday, 26 May 2008

I'm all about the dough

You'll be pleased to know that my adventures in bread making ares still going strong. I tend to stick to the favourites most of the time because it's easier, and a lot of the time recently I have been throwing bread together at night to try and have it ready for the next day. However, every so often I throw caution to the wind and try something totally new.

This week I tried something I have been wanting to attempt for a while; fig and orange bread. As I think I mentioned in a previous post Mildred's, my favourite veggie restaurant here in London, does fantastic bread, and every time we go I must order the bread side order, if only to get the fig and orange bread.

I wasn't quite sure how to go about it, so did my usual trick of guessing and hoping for the best. I'd bought some malthouse multigrain flour and decided to mix that with some plain white to form the base of the dough, then I added figs, orange zest and substituted orange juice for some of the orange juice. The result was absolutely delicious. A lovely moist bread, with a hint of sweetness that went really well with cheese. A total winner that I think will become a regular treat for us. We've got some Stilton coming this week so I think it may well get made even sooner than we anticipated.

This would make a great picnic bread, or one to share, if you can bring yourself to!

Recipe: Makes one large loaf

300g Malthouse multigrain flour
200g Strong white flour
10g yeast
10g salt
200g dried figs (as dark and soft as possible)
zest of one large orange
juice of aforementioned orange,
enough water added to the orange to make it up to 350ml

Put the yeast in a large mixing bowl, then add the flours and mix together well, then add the salt and orange zest, mix again and then add the water/juice mixture. begin to mix the dough together and whilst doing so add the figs. Mix it all together until a sticky dough is formed. Form it into a ball and leave to rest for 1 hr. After resting scoop out of the bowl again, and form into another tight ball, rest for five more minutes, then place on a flat baking tray, leave in a warm place to prove for an hour. Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 220C. Once the dough has doubled in size place in the oven. Bake for 5 mins at 220C, then turn the over down to 200C and bake for a further 30 mins. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Nuffin' beats a muffin

Sitting around worrying about Sniff has meant that not only have I been driving N up the wall, but I have failed to update the blog with food-related posts, despite actually having been rather busy in the kitchen over the last few days.

We had friends over for dinner on Friday and whereas deciding what to have as the starter and main course was a no-brainer (homemade bread, salad, pasta) figuring out the dessert, as usual, proved difficult. I never really know what to do for desserts, I didn't want anything too elaborate or
heavy or complicated, but equally, wanted something tasty and homey. I finally opted for the easiest option: ask N. He pondered for a while and then suggested raspberry and white chocolate muffins. Apparently he'd been thinking about how much he enjoyed them when I used to make them quite a lot for his breakfast while we were in Surrey. Not quite as dessert-y as I expected, but light, summery and comforting. Plus it not only involved baking, but would allow me to try the mini-muffin pan I bought a few weeks ago.

I decided to make six regular size muffins for dessert and twelve mini-muffins for snacking. I also wanted to try something I'd had in the US, which was a struesel topping. Basically like having a bit of crumble on top. I thought it would work well with the fruit and chocolate combination. I used a topping recipe from the Delia Smith Vegetarian collection that would have topped a spiced apple muffin cake, cutting it down to half and topping all the large muffins and half the smaller ones. It worked really well. It was nice to have a bit of crunch to top the moist raspberry goodness of the cakey muffin.

I used frozen raspberries, that I put straight into the batter without thawing so they'd hold their shape whilst cooking, and retain as much moisture as possible. I used Green and Blacks white chocolate that has vanilla in it. Since white chocolate is sweeter than other chocolates I also reduced the amount of sugar in the recipe and didn't add any additional vanilla extract since the flavour in the chocolate is quite enough. The chocolate melted slightly into the mixture, so while there were the usual chunks of chocolate to bite into the flavour was carried all through the cake. All in all I was really pleased.

Recipe: Adapted from a magazine article that my Nanna sent me once.

Makes 12 large, or 6 large and 12 mini.

60g unsalted butter, melted
200g raspberries (frozen, not thawed)
300g plain flour
1tbsp baking powder
100g golden caster sugar
pinch mixed spice
2 eggs
250ml milk (i used unsweetened soy milk)
100g white chocolate
1tsp vanilla essence (if the chocolate doesn't have added vanilla)

Preheat the oven to 200C and line or grease however many pans of either size you plan to use.

Combine all the dry ingredients (except the raspberries) in a large mixing bowl. Whisk the wet ingredients in a jug until well combined, then add to the dry ingredients and fold together. DO NOT OVER MIX, lumps make for better muffins. once all the dry ingredients are worked in together, but the batter is still lumpy slowly fold in the frozen raspberries. Spoon the batter into the cases or pans and then bake until golden and risen. Aprox 20mins.

I added the following struesel topping, adapted from Delia Smith's vegetarian collection. This meant that they took longer to cook and I just had to do it by testing with a toothpick.

25g chopped pecans
1.5 oz plain flour
1.5 oz cold unsalted butter
large pinch mixed spice
1tsp water (or more depending on texture)

combine the flour and mixed spice and then add the butter crumbling it together until the fat is combined with the flour and spice. Then add the pecans, mix and then add enough water to make a clumpy crumble mixture. Top the muffins and bake.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Cats make me a "big silly." (Warning: long cat annecdotes to follow!)

I am typing this using one hand because my left arm is trapped under a very purry Sniff who is curled up on my lap. It's so wonderful to have him finally relaxed enough to actually not only tolerate being cuddled, but enjoying it, that I can't bring myself to attempt to claim my arm back.

We had friends round for dinner last night, and I spent the whole time worried that Sniff, who is currently housed in the study until he is settled enough to explore the rest of the flat, would be hiding and terrified by us having a good time. N did point out that in order to truly bring Sniff out of his shell we need to act as naturally as possible, and not creep around, otherwise we'd just compound his timidity. So we went in before going to bed for lots of relaxing strokes, settled him down, and then retired ourselves. Less than half an hour after having turned out the lights we started hearing Sniff crying and yowling. We're big softies and just can't hack the tough love approach, so out came the air bed, and there I was sleeping in the tiny study to keep him company! It worked, and although I didn't get much sleep, Sniff seemed very rested this morning.

He still hadn't eaten anything however, and despite having curled up happily purring first thing when I stroked him, once I left the room and returned with food all his timidity seemed to have returned. He flinched away from me, hid under the desk and looked terrified. This, combined with two nights of very little sleep and my worry about Sniff not eating, (and being hungry myself) set me off crying and being all stressed and worried. Poor N, he thought that having a cat would make me really happy and constantly excited, and here I was standing hugging him in the kitchen crying about whether we'd made a bad decision. I really am a "big silly" as he would say.

So N came in with me and Sniff and made the executive decision to try picking him up. We know that he'd come from cruelty and very little handling, hence his worry whenever we try to touch or stroke him. We'd been told that we needed to handle him as much as possible, but had been worried about forcing him to be picked up. N however decided that the only way to get him used to us, to both show him who's boss, whilst also showing him how much we love him, and that picking up will only lead to cuddles, was to just have a go. It's one of the best decisions we''ve made in two days. He struggled at first, but soon settled down in my arms and even started purring, and since then he's allowed us to pick him up and hold him, and has spent much of the afternoon purring in my lap. It was such a huge relief, not only for me, but for N because as soon as Sniff settled down, so did I!

Since then Sniff has at least eaten a few mouthfuls of food, expressed an interest in the squirrels in the garden and allowed himself to be carried around the room by N. I think it's going to be a slow process, but progress is being made, and, as N says "everything is going to be alright"

In other news, Sniff is at least going to be a cat with taste; he's really rather enjoying listening to Test Match Special. So we know he's a cricket fan, all we need to instill is a love of The Arsenal and he'll be set for life!

Friday, 23 May 2008


We'd like to introduce you to the newest member of the North London Kitchen: Sniff the cat.

He's a little bit shy at the moment, but I'm sure he'll warm up to the camera in no time and soon this blog will be inundated with Sniff pictures and anecdotes!

A photo essay: the perfect weekday breakfast.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Spring treats

I love spring, I really do, because it marks the beginning of the rhubarb season. That's not the only reason of course, the days are longer, brighter and warmer, the other plants in the garden are growing madly ready to produce (fingers crossed) large batches of veggies for us and you can start walking about without three million layers on.

However, the rhubarb alone makes these months pretty ace all round. I love it's tartness and the fabulous mix of bright pink and green flesh. As I think I might have mentioned before, the rhubarb plant in our garden is only just ready for harvest, and I have been putting it off as I want to make something really rather special with the first crop to come from our North London garden. So I have been relying on Abel and Cole for my rhubarb fix. They have been very obliging and yesterday morning I opened our fruit box and was greeted by a nice big bunch of the stuff.

I wanted to use it as fresh as possible, which is always best with food that is picked like rhubarb is, but I didn't want to make another compot as I though N might get a bit sick of them. I explained to him about wanting to use it fresh, and wanting to save our own for something special and he replied "as long as we get at least one crumble I'll be happy." And there is was; a perfect treat for a spring evening and my new food adventure.

I've never made rhubarb crumble before, and when N said that if I made one he'd have to go out and get custard I raised the stakes and said "no problem, I'll make custard from scratch, how hard can it be?!" Hmm...

The answer is...not that hard! Whoo! I misread the recipe and didn't add the right amount of sugar, so it wasn't as sweet as it should have been, but apart from that it went really well. I used a Delia Smith recipe from her complete cookery course that is basically just cream, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and corn flour. Very easy and I shall no doubt break it out again sometime, perhaps with that second teaspoon of sugar.

Ah, there is nothing quite so comforting as homemade rhubarb crumble and custard. I hadn't had it since I was a kid and it was wonderful.

While I am posting, I might as well mention our main course, since I don't post enough about the savoury things we try. I wanted something light since we were planning on eating dessert and so suggested salad. Knowing salad alone wouldn't fill N up we had it with bruschetta. It was lovely. Nice, light and another great reminder of the vegetables and flavours that spring and summer will yield.

p.s Sorry about the naff pictures today. The camera wasn't keen on focusing for some reason so they came out a little blurred, plus I was in a hurry to eat everything so I couldn't be bothered to take loads to get the perfect shot!

A photo essay: Aftermath

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Healthy cake - I kid you not! or; it's easier and tastier to be vegan than you think

This weekend I was mostly baking...vegan cakes!

I have a very dear friend who is vegan. I don't see her anywhere n
ear as much as I would like, which is silly considering she is only in Brighton. Annnyway, this Sunday we were off to visit friends in Lancing to catch up and continue our game of D&D. Lancing being only eight miles from Brighton it seemed rude not to pop in on Q. I had raved to her a little while back about the vegan cheesecake I had tried out, and promised to make her one for the next time I saw her. Not being one to break such baking promises I knew that even though we'd only be seeing each other for a few hours, and that would be over dinner, it just wouldn't do to turn up empty handed. So a vegan cheesecake had to be made. Oh, what a hardship says the baking obsessive!

I then decided to go one better. The tradition for D&D sessions is th
at whoever is the visitor brings cake. I'm not sure quite how is started, but last time round we were presented with a beautiful carrot cake, and when the five of us couldn't finish it, it was kindly left behind. I wanted to return not only the favour, but the cake tin! and so set about trawling recipe books for something suitable. Having been so concerned about the fat in my diet after a holiday of such weird food and some twinching sciatic moments, I wanted something as low fat as possible, without any compromise in the taste. A tough ask I know, until I stumbled on this site. I couldn't believe it. A fat-free vegan recipe for chocolate and orange cake. Perfect. I could even make one big cake, and steal out some of the batter to make a mini one for Q. She'd get two tasty vegan treats, and we'd get a healthy cake. Yep, a healthy cake. Sconto!

The outcome would also allow me to use the two mini cake ti
ns I'd bought earlier in the week, totally justifying their purchase! hehe.

I won't post the recipe for the chocolate-orange cake as I used it exactly as the site says, and you can just enjoy browsing there. The only difference was that I used an 8" deep cake pan rather than a bundt tin, as I couldn't find one anywhere in time. It worked well to start with, but whilst cooling it sank. The mixture was clearly too light to hold up all the way through. I probably should have split the mixture and made a layer cake. However I iced the cake anyway and it didn't make any difference to the taste, except that the icing that pooled in the middle looked interesting and made it more moist. Despite the sinking it was alright, more moist than I expected, not gooey, but moist with fruit juice (and icing!). However I did think it was slightly chewy and although there was certainly no way you'd be able to tell it was fat-free I couldn't help thinking a regular chocolate cake might have been a better idea. It might be one to experiment with. Hmmm...

The vegan cheesecake was very well received and is fast becoming one of my new favourite desserts. Since it's made with tofu and yoghurt it's lower in fat and calories than normal cheesecake, but still tastes great. It's also so easy to make. Unlike my last attempt at a tofu cheesecake which only needed to be egg-free, this one had to be fully vegan so I did make some changes to the recipe I had. I couldn't get vegan cream cheese, so used soy yoghurt instead. This actually made a much better texture and was, of course, even lower in fat. I also needed a base that was fully vegan, so opted for store bought vegan digestives, mixed with toasted hazelnuts and blended with apple sauce. I had some left over blackberries so whacked those in with the the tofu mix, topped the whole thing with a blackberry puree and voila! Vegan blackberry cheesecake!

I think that my next vegan cheesecake experiment will be chocolate. I think the combination of really dark chocolate and the creamy tofu will work perfectly. Again I won't post the recipe because it is essentially the same as the previous one except with yoghurt rather than cheese and the addition of blackberries.

Hurrah for vegan low-fat baking!

A photo essay: yesterday we were mostly watching...

Friday, 16 May 2008

"Have a ba-cookie!"

Bill Bailey has a lot to answer for in this house. N can't eat a banana without one or both of us launching into the "cockney leitmotif" of 'have a banana!" Now, it's seeping in to other things as well...

This afternoon we had my PhD supervisor over for drinks and a general catch-up and de-brief of the LA trip. (okay, okay, I know I still haven't posted much about it.) It was a wonderful afternoon with the wine and conversation flowing very freely indeed. I'd made a batch of fig and white chocolate cookies to keep the hunger away for us all, and soak up some of the wine. I'd bough a packed of very moist dark delicious looking figs before going away and hadn't found the appropriate recipe for them. When we got back I suddenly found myself craving figs. Which is odd considering that I very very rarely have figs in things, have never cooked/baked with them, and, I shall admit somewhat shame-faced, have never had a fresh one! So why I would crave them is anybodies guess. But I did, and there was a packet of them in the cupboard teasing me every time I reached in for the condiments.

Although I planned to make fig and orange bread like the stuff I adore from Mildred's, and was fully planning on cutting down my baking tendencies once we got back (to save our waistlines and curb what is fast becoming a total obsession), I did want to have a little something as nibbles on the table to go with the wine if people wanted it. I decided that in order to cut through the dryness of the wine a sweet small sized cookies would be more suitable than bread. I also knew that if I made nice bread we'd gobble up the whole loaf and none of us would want any dinner!

As an aside; I do fully intend on trying fig and orange bread later this week, so watch this space!

So I adapted a recipe, dug some white chocolate out of the cupboard, opened the sumptuous packet of figs and off I went.

I was really pleased with how they turned out. Crunchy around the edges, soft in the middle with the gooeyness of the figs and the sweet slightly harder chunks of chocolate. Unfortunately I made them nice and small which meant that polishing off three or four in a sitting seemed perfectly reasonable. It certainly satisfied my fig craving, meant I got to do some (at least vaguely justified) baking and definitely helped soak up some of the wine. I think the only difference I would make next time it to chop the chocolate into finer pieces and perhaps even add more figs.

Since we'd had cookies in the afternoon we decided to be good and have a smaller dinner, using up a vegetable lasagna from the freezer. Unfortunately, this righteousness just meant that at midnight N decided that a cup of tea and a snack was in order. There, sitting temptingly in the cupboard were the final few cookies of the batch. We tried to resist, we really did, but what is more tempting than a midnight snack of tea and cookies.

N, trying to be at least slightly good (I had written that off altogether) reached into the fruit bowl and plucked out a banana. We were both already giggling as we burst into song;
"have a banana!" He offered me a bite, (knowing I wouldn't want one, but being chivalrous all the same) and as I shook my head he held out the box with the cookies in and instead said "have a ba-cookie!" We both fell about laughing and it has, of course, already become something of an in-joke.

There is no way I will be able to make any form of cookie now without it being a "ba-cookie." Oh dear.

And so, without further ado, here is the recipe for fig and white chocolate "ba-cookies"

Makes between 10 and 20 depending on how big you want them.

1.1 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
50 g white chocolate, finely chopped
50 g dried figs, chopped
112 g butter, at room temperature
1/3c sugar
1/3c brown sugar
1 egg
1tsp vanilla extract

Mix flour, baking soda and salt. Add the chocolate and the figs, and mix well.

Beat butter with both types of sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg, and beat well. Add the vanilla.

Gently fold in the dry ingredients, and mix carefully. Cool the finished batter for at least two hours. If it's not cold enough, the finished cookies won't be as soft.

Preheat the oven to 175°C. Roll walnut-sized balls and place with plenty of room in between on a lined cookie sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes.

Thursday, 15 May 2008


We had a little trouble with the name, but the concept went down very well, and despite having to wait 45 minutes for it N liked his "clememrermefoutis" very much this evening!

This food adventure was born as a result of various conspiring events. Firstly,
while we were away my mum took the opportunity to "borrow" our flat while she was in London for a long weekend break. It was the perfect arrangement: she didn't have to pay extortionate hotel prices, and we got someone to take in the post and water the plants. There were also some other added bonuses that hadn't occurred to me until we got back to a sparkling clean flat (and more importantly - oven!) and a bag of goodies she'd purchased during her shopping trips. It was far far too generous, but very lovely and certainly gratefully received.

Having the same obsession with kitchenware that I do - which is of course where I get the infliction that means a simple trip to a cook shop for a 6' sandwich tin will consume whole afternoons - there were more than a few culinary goodies waiting for me. Some of these will have to wait until later posts to be discussed (as I am sure they will appear), some were dealt with swiftly (like the deliciously indulgent Montezuma's chocolate...mmm...) and some were screaming to be used immediately, and yet I wasn't quite sure what for. Such as the beautiful bright red gratin dishes she bought for us.

Then the second conspiring event occurred; Abel and Cole delivered our first boxes of fruit and veg since we'd returned from the holiday. Ah, how I'd missed good, wholesome fruit and veg (more about that to come. I promise you will eventually get some tales, both gastronomic and cultural, from our travels). I unpacked our huge delivery with such glee and gusto. When we'd left it was snowing and still felt like winter. Root veg was still the staple of the box, and N was getting more than a little fed up with me insisting he help out with the kiwi fruit surplus. We arrived home to glorious sunshine, which reminded us that we have finally passed into another season, and so to different fruit and veg. The Abel and Cole delivery confirmed our excitement; cherry tomatoes, radishes, and courgettes in the veg box, and pears, dates and mangoes in the fruit box. And of course one of my very favourite things in the fruit world; rhubarb. I love it so much and was dismayed to discover that the plant in our garden is still not quite ready yet. I am so desperate to proudly yank the stems and make things with something from our very own garden. However that moment will have to wait. At least I can start enjoying rhubarb though now thanks to our fruit box.

There are so many delicious things to do with rhubarb that I wasn't really sure where to start; crumble or compot? cheesecake or fruit filled cake? Then I remembered that I have been wanted to try making clafoutis for ages now, but had never really had the right fruits around. We always had plenty of apples, but no berries or softer more strongly flavoured fruit. Rhubarb seemed perfect, the tart bite of the fruit cutting through the sweetness of the batter. It just had to be done. And what would I serve it in? The two gorgeous bright red gratin dishes my mum had so thoughtfully bought us.

I had to do a bit of fiddling with the recipe (when don't I?!) to make it the right amount and the right flavour for what I wanted, but as you can see the three events conspired perfectly to give us a wonderful spring dessert. It has turned slightly chilly once again after the bright sun and heat of the past week, and so a warm dessert was a comfort, but with the rhubarb and lemon keeping the spring present. It was delicious and I shall definitely be making it again, and will certainly experiment with other fruits. I think the only change I would make would be to add more fruit. Although N said he liked the amount I think I wanted a touch more, but I can always add it to mine and not his in future!

So, here's the recipe. I took the basic batter from Tartelette and adapted it slightly, adding more lemon zest and juice as I like it as a stronger flavour and thought it would accompany the rhubarb well.

Roasted Rhubarb Clafoutis (Serves two)

3 medium sticks of rhubarb, washed, trimmed and cut into 1cm pieces
1-2tsp golden caster sugar

1.5 oz plain flour
0.5oz cornflour
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
0.5oz melted butter
2 oz sugar (I used vanilla sugar as it would compliment the other flavours and add more depth)
zest of one lemon
juice of half lemon

First, prepare the rhubarb and toss in the sugar. Then place in a roasting pan and roast at 190C for ten minutes, until just soft. Set aside to cool before dividing evenly between the gratin dishes. Drop the oven temperature to 180C to preheat for the cooking of the dessert.

To make the batter; mix the dry ingredients in one bowl (including lemon zest) and the wet in another, making sure each is well combined. Then pour the wet into the dry whisking to make sure you get as few lumps as possible. Continue to whisk until thoroughly combined, then divide between the gratin pans, pouring gently over the fruit.

Place the dishes on the middle shelf of the oven and bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. For me this took about 45 mins, but will vary according to the dishes used.

Removed from the oven and allow to cool slightly, enough for the dishes to be touchable, but the clafoutis to still be warm. Dust with icing sugar and then eat. Mmmm....rhubarby!

post script: How great do those dishes look! They were so wonderful to eat out of and match our other red kitchenware, but I just viewed the picture on the post and was oh so chuffed at how great and cute they look. Thank you mum, you're the bestest.

A photo essay: retail therapy North London Kitchen style

A photo essay: one of the many many reasons why my boyfriend is amazing.

A photo essay: one of the many many reasons why my boyfriend is amazing.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Everyone's a winner!

After trawling through all the entries to my blogging competition I have decided to announce the winners!

First prize goes to L who successfully (and speedily) deduced that the two miscellaneous plants are indeed potatoes. We thought we might have planted some!

D is the lucky winner of the bonus prize for his handy tips ab
out what to do with them next. As soon as we make it to the garden centre we'll be buying bigger pots so we can "earth up" the plants. How exciting.

So, it seems that everyone's a winner. L and D on the blog, and us because it looks like we've got some nice healthy potatoes on the way! Prizes will be on their way once I decide what they're going to be *ponders.*

In other North London Garden news, the pesky slugs eat our lettuce and had a good ole bash at the courgettes. N's hurried move to put the pots in the greenhouse one evening (after I stupidly left them out after dark) was coupled with the shout back into the flat of "eurgh, it's slug-city out h
ere!" Needless to say on the aforementioned garden centre trip we will also be buying gravel and little dishes to rest our pots in, with the hope of being able to sustain pre-ventative measures rather than more cruel, but possible more deserved, death-based techniques.

Anyway, the slug attack has at least prompted me to get back on the planting case, and now it's a bit warmer (and we're actually here to look after them) the need seeds I sowed today will grow up nice and strong. I planted new courgettes and lettuce, pumpkin (a variety called "Becky" - I couldn't resist), peppers and spinach. Fingers crossed.

Whilst on the subject of flora and fauna, I did promise some tales and
photos from our trip, which I haven't managed yet. I will get around to it, I promise. Until then I will leave you with a couple of photos in the plant and animal theme. Firstly a view across the Mojave desert showing the Joshua trees in the aptly named Joshua Tree National Park.

Then a cheek
y lizard perched on the rocks in Joshua tree, who was perched quite happily bobbing up and down in the midday sunshine.

A photo essay: Total bliss, or; al fresco dining in Our Lovely Garden (tm).

Saturday, 10 May 2008

It's competition time! Name that plant...

Before we went away N and I eagerly started the planting for our modest North London Kitchen Garden. The plan being to try growing some of our own veg, fruit and herbs. We dutifully sowed, propagated and labeled a whole series of plants in the hopes that despite neglecting them in one of the key months we might return from our trip and still have some potential successes. During this potting up phase we clearly got a bit blaze, planting a few things and saying to ourselves "yeah, of course we'll remember what they are, we don't need labels."

Yesterday whilst enjoying the gorgeous weather and sorting out all the plants that have made it (a remarkable amount considering) N pulls two huge plants from the depths of the greenhouse and holds them up looking perplexed. "Which ones were these again" he remarked. I, of course, had no idea. They were both in big pots, which means we had planned for them being large plants/vegetables, and clearly expected them to be recognisable. Oops!

So here's you're chance to win a prize! I am going to post pictures of the two plants below (neither of which are the same, or at least we don't think they are...bear with us please, we're very new to all this!) and if you can successfully identify them you will win a prize. I haven't decided what it'll be yet, but it will be somehow veg/garden related, easily post-able, and no doubt hilariously witty and apt (yeah, right!). Bonus points will also be awarded to entries that tell us how best to continue dealing with these pesky prolific plants. And what do points mean?!...Prizes!

Ladies and Gentlemen I bring to you my first blog competition "Name That Plant!"

Plant A:

Plant B:

Friday, 9 May 2008

The perfect welcome home - finally!

As you might have gathered it's all been a bit quiet in the North London Kitchen. That's because we've been away on a bit of a tour taking in the sights of Los Angeles (work not fun) and Cuba (fun not work). We are however back in Our Lovely Flat (tm) and feeling very very pleased about it. We're not usually people who are desperate to come home whilst travelling, but this time around we really felt the need to be back in our own place, with a comfortable bed, and most importantly our own food.

We had to do the return in three stages, since the ridiculous United States insist on enforcing trade embargoes on Cuba and so we couldn't travel direct between LA (where are return flights to the UK were from). This meant an arduous journey going from Havana, to Cancun, then Cancun to LA before we could fly home. This would have been fine under usual circumstances, but being the awkward thing it is my body finally decided to complain about the bad fibre-free-veggie-hating Cuban/Mexican diet on the flight back to LA. We'd already had an awful flight to Cancun since Cuba can clearly only afford to supply tin cans and amateur pilots to their airlines. So having emerged a little green in Cancun we planned to relax on the beach for our brief 24hr stop and then head back to LA suitably refreshed the next evening. It wasn't to be.

I arrived at Cancun airport feeling fine, but about half an hour before boarding my stomach started complaining. Quietly at first, and then with increasing insistence. I thought this might just be nerves and adrenalin as I have never been the most enthusiastic flier and after the previous experience it is understandable that my body might be a bit reluctant to get on a plane again so soon. I took a travel sickness pill, and sternly told my stomach where it could put its uncomfortablness, I wasn't having it.

Oh, but I was. An hour into the flight and I was getting worse, and having disturbed the woman sitting next to be on several occasions for trips to the toilet she finally (and very kindly) went and spoke to the Spanish flight attendant for me explaining I was feeling ill. I was promptly whisked (with a worried looking N in tow) to the front of the plane and asked numerous questions about what I had eaten and drunk in the past few days. Visably relieved to discovered I hadn't eaten on the plane (and so couldn't be ill as a result of them) he then fished out a box of medications and gave me two pills and a glass of water and coke to try and settle my stomach. This was clearly exactly what my stomach had been waiting for, and promptly and violently made its discomfort known to everyone (ah, thank goodness for the invention of airsickness bags!)

The flight continued for the rest of the five hours very much in this vein with poor N having to look after a rather shell-shocked me. (I haven't thrown up since I was about five, so the whole thing came as something as a shock to me, perhaps even more so than it did to N and the flight attendant!).

We were so glad to finally touch down in Los Angeles, that it didn't occur to us that the evening could get worse! We managed to flag down a cab and after a somewhat bumpy ride (eek!) arrived at our hotel. It had a "no vacancies" sign up outside, but that was fine, we assured the cab driver, we had a reservation. Oh no we didn't, not according to the hotel, who hadn't been informed of our booking. I nearly cried at this point. The guy was so nice though, and even let me log into my email on his machine and show him the booking (we hadn't been able to print it off in Cuba.) He then phoned a motel in a better location, who had rooms and would let us stay for the rate already agreed in our booking. All we had to do was get another cab across to it and check in. It wasn't the greatest looking place, and was clearly priced according to location rather than quality, but at we were only going to be there one night, and at this point anything would do ut.

It was midnight by the time I was finally able to collapse in bed, and at the sound of breaking glass a block away soon after we turned the light out we could only laugh - albeit through rather resigned gritted teeth.

After a nice lazy day pottering around in Santa Monica, me nursing a very tender stomach and not really sure of putting anything in it and certainly not fancying anything we headed to the airport. The final stretch was upon us, all we had to do was make it though the ten hour flight, get on a tube and we'd be home. Yeah, right, like it would be that simple.

I still couldn't face much food on the flight, but managed to force down a bread roll and a glass of apple juice. Of course, as soon as I had braved this the turbulence started. It has been a little bumpy already, but not so much to make me worried, but when we hit the thunderstorm it was the final straw. I hit total and almost hysterical despair. Poor N spent half an hour just holding me trying to calm me down. I think I spent the whole time quietly mumbling "I just want to go home."

Fortunately it ended, and he managed to distract me for an hour with a game of scrabble. I then took one of the tablets a pharmacist in LA had given me, which would both sooth my stomach and make me drowsy. It totally knocked me out for four hours. Thank goodness.

I have never been so pleased to arrive and drag myself through Heathrow, and to top off the amazingness of being back on English soil, we were greeted with stunning weather. Sunny and warm. Hotter, in fact, than it had been in Santa Monica. We arrived home to a luscious green garden with many of our vegetable plants thriving with the sun streaming through the trees which had leaves on again. A total change of scene compared to the snow we left in.

It was the perfect welcome home.

More tales from the trip (more cultural and less intestinal!) to come with some photos too. Just wanted to share our (in hindsight) hilarious trip home, to let everyone know we're still here and very very glad to be back.