Thursday, 31 December 2009

Where I've been...

Nearly 2010? What!? Where did the year go? As someone in the office commented a few weeks ago "it can't be nearly 2010, that's the future!"

I was hoping I'd make it to 300 posts before the year was out, but it tu
rns out the fates were against me, so I shall finish the year on 298, with some reflections on where I've been, and a totally random recipe for some damn fine ice cream. Because despite what N says, there is no weather too cold for ice cream, especially not when it's your first ever homemade batch, it's rather tasty, and you're tucked up on the sofa with cricket highlights!It's been quite the year here in the North London Kitchen. It was the year I went public with the blog, and as a result I have met some really special and lovely people. I thank you for coming into my little corner of the interwebs and coaxing me out of my comfort zone to meet you, or write to you. It goes without saying that this blog wouldn't be what it is without the people who pop in and say hello. You have made the year very special indeed. Thank you.

In the wider world of the North London Kitchen it's been quite the year as well. I managed to travel to three countries, sell my products on Covent Garden, watch one of my closest friends get married at the most beautiful wedding, and then watch the newly married couple cut a cake I had made in fr
ont of their guests. All the while in the background I was hurriedly battling with words to meet my PhD deadline (done! wow!), whilst trying to learn even more about gardening, and thinking about where on earth my future might take me. I got my first ever 9-5 job, and somehow still managed to learn how to quilt and continue on my knitting and sewing quest (don't ask about the knitting, I still have yet to make a successful garment, although my scarves and gloves are coming on some!).

I'm not sure how I managed it all, and reading that back I'm beginning to understand why by body has given in to a bad cold and forced me into bed for the final day of the year. Now I get why I feel exhausted!

This week I made my final and controversial act of the year, which perhaps implies where I might go next. In a dramatic change of form I had my hair cut. Not just trimmed, but chopped off a full eight inches! It went from my waist to just below my shoulders. If I'd have done that this time last year I'd have cried and cried to see it gone. But right now it feels like the right time.And on that note I give you ice cream, because it's always the right time for ice cream!

I was very lucky as Father Christmas (the northern branch) left me a Kitchenaid ice cream bowl for Christmas. It is something I had long admired, and so have spend a year collecting any and every ice cream recipe from magazine, "just in case." My patience won out, and on Boxing day we tucked into fresh homemade damson ice cream! I had damsons tucked away in the freezer for such an occasion, but if you don't you could use plums, or any deep rich berry.
This recipe if very loosly adapted from a Nigel Slater one. What's below is for a very small batch, but it can easily be doubled.

Damson Ice cream - serves 2 generously

250g damsons
2 large egg yolks
100g caster sugar
125ml double cream
125ml natural yoghurt
2 tablespoons of champagne or dry white wine

Place the damsons and wine in a pan and cook over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes, or until you have a good amount of juices. Push the mixture through a fine sieve until you only have the stones and skins left. Leave the puree to cool completely.

Beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy. Warm the cream in a saucepan and then add to the egg mix, stirring constantly. Rinse and dry the saucepan, and then return the egg and cream mixture to it, and heat gently to form a custard. Stirring constantly so it doesn't get too hot. It is ready when just thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.

Immediately transfer to a bowl in shallow sink of cold water, again, stirring the whole time. This will stop it curdling. Leave until cold.

Mix together the damson puree, custard and yoghurt. The pour into your ice cream maker and freeze as per the instructions and then transfer to the freezer. If you don't have an ice cream maker, place the mixture in a tupperware and put in the freezer. Remove every hour and beat the frozen edges into the middle until desired consistancy is reached. It won't be quite as creamy as that made in a machine, but it will still taste great!

I found that it needs to be removed from the freezer a good 30 minutes before serving, in order to be soft enough to scoop.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Old traditions, new traditions.

It was three years ago that we first started having our Christmases together, alone, in Our Lovely Flat. It was quite the revelation of calm, and something we'd both find it difficult to give up now. The family visits are lovely - perhaps not accompanied by the best weather or travel conditions, but lovely nonetheless - we get to see each others in the two weekends before Christmas, delivering presents (when they're not forgotten! Oops!) and enjoying long lazy evenings of wine and chat, and if I'm particularly lucky N's parents will break out the card games, and then thrash me at all the one they know and I don't. Cribbage? "fifteen two,fifteen four" what's all that about then?! We just like being able to do our thing.

But what is that thing?!

That first Christmas in our flat was quite the revelation in other ways too. There was a conflict of traditions, and much confusion about how to resolve them. We shared stories in the run up to the big day of how each of our families played out Christmas morning. In N's family presents were opened immediately, in pyjamas and accopanied by glasses of Bucks Fizz. In my family however, it was quite different. My stocking, kindly left outside my bedroom door by Father Christmas, was allowed to be opened in secret, in pyjamas, and then shown off downstairs in a haze of excitement. The presents under the tree however had to wait. Everyone must be washed and dressed, all food prep done, and the all important clincher, it must be done whilst eating mini-sausage rolls, mince pies (in exploding pastry - aka, very short shortcrust) and sipping hot fresh coffee.

There were other conflicts too, N and his brother always had chocolate advent calendars, I on the other hand always had beautiful old fashioned ones with windows and pictures. Oh, and don't get me started on what you had to eat on the day!

We weren't quite sure what to do about these traditions. We knew Christmas wouldn't feel quite like Christmas without them, but somehow it didn't feel right to pick some over others. This, of course, led to an inevitable stumbling into Christmas with no clear plan at all. And it all worked out wonderfully. Some traditions have been kept, others discarded, and naturally new ones have evolved over three years to become our very own, and I couldn't be happier!

We have lazy Christmas mornings, and open mini-stockings in bed with coffee, and then carry that coffee to the tree, spread a quilt on the floor and open big presents, with Buck's Fizz, mince pies, and coffee, all in our pyjamas! As for the advent calendars? Well, I still have one with pictures, and N still gets chocolates, albeit homemade and tucked into a fabric calendar.

Old traditions and new traditions, all good traditions. The food has also evolved over the years, as we have gradually come around to the idea that you should only eat what you want to, no matter what anyone says about brussel sprouts being The Law. So, we have nut roast, potatoes,stuffing and stir fried carrots and broccoli. The latter is not very festive, but it's a darn sight nicer than watching two people push sprouts round their plates trying to hide them!

And so, here, I finally come to a recipe to share with you. Nut roast. We're seasoned veggies, and have been around the ring with many a nut roast in our time, more than a lot of which have been mediocre at best. This one is not. We have it every Christmas, and every year we complain that we eat it and then forget about it for another twelve months, as it's so good. I can also tell you that it feeds 4-6 people, but that it's always best to make more, so you can have nut roast and gravy sandwiches on Boxing day. No really, make it just for that, a wonderful sloppy indulgence that has officially been added to next year's list of traditions! (This image is just before I heaved the sarnie onto the plate and dumped a load of onion gravy on it, oh yes!)

Luxury Nut Roast

My exact version of this is a very closely guarded secret, and I'm afraid I'm not sharing all, but this is what I start with before the tinkering, and it is hands down, delicious. Make it, even if you're not veggie. I made this for a bunch of meat eaters for Sunday lunch once, and there wasn't a scrap to be seen.

I should warn you that I've never successfully turned this out in a loaf shape, instead I scoop it from the pan onto plates. Frankly we don't care that it doesn't look pretty because it tastes so good, but if you're looking for presentation, you might want to reconsider!

Also, I make mine the day before and leave it to rest overnight in the fridge. I swear that this makes the flavours much better, and it saves time on the day.

Serves 4-6 (just!)

2oog mixed nuts (use whatever suits you, walnuts, hazels cashews, brazil, peanuts and any seeds go well in this)
75g dried cranberries
100g shallot (I use basically half an onion and it seems to be fine)
400g tin chopped tomates, drained in a colander for 10 mins
1 large egg
100g strong cheddar, grated finely
dash of dried mint
dash of dried sage
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp marmite, mixed with 1tbsp red wine and a 1tsp orange juice
pinch of salt, and lots of grinds of pepper
tsp mustard

Grease a large loaf tin and set aside.

Lightly toast the nuts in a frying pan until just becoming fragrant. Remove and cool, then whizz in a food processor until finely ground.

In a large bowl mix all the ingredients together thoroughly. Place in the prepared pan and leave overnight in the fridge, or for at least an hour to let the flavours deepen.

Preheat over to 180C. Cook for 45mins to an hour until firm and golden. Serve with cranberry sauce and onion gravy.

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas, and are bounding towards the new year with happy thoughts and outrageous resolutions.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

"one day we'll all look back on this and laugh..."

..So, apparently things get worse before they get better.

new flight delayed by five hours...flight home flight booked, again, then a text to say it was cancelled...finally arrived home a day late, to discover I wasn't paid this month.


Not quite the relaxing stress-free run up to Christmas we had hoped for. But we are thankful for the small things, and the not so small things, like not having been booked on the Eurostar, having family to entertain us with card games and whiskey, a cat who loves us despite the fact that we couldn't get home to him, a friend and a neighbour who were happy to look in on the cat and be messed around because we were, friends who listened to us moan, and bought us drinks, and made us laugh all night.
And being home on Christmas eve, in our lovely flat, with a beautiful tree full of decorations that remind us of people and places that we love.

The halls are decked, and so it's time to bake the gingerbread, mull the wine, have a bath and let the relaxing festivities begin.

I hope you are all surrounding by the friends and family that you love. Have a very merry Christmas, and thank you for reading my little corner of the interwebs. Normal service will resume after all the mince pies have been eaten and the recycling put out!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Out of Action

Sometimes you just have days (ahem, weeks) when the world seems out to get you. I had plans for lovely posts this December, but it seems to be the 19th, and my blog remains sparse. Why? Well, it started with work getting incredibly busy, throw into that a round of pre-Christmas parental visits, and a list of outstanding Christmas presents long enough to make even the saner amongst us weep, and you begin to get an idea of how my December has been shaping up. Now, granted, this is probably exactly how everyone else's is going. But I haven't gotten to the good bit yet!

Last weekend, whilst potting in my parents brand new beautiful kitchen I started playing with some settings on my camera. I decided to do some black and white, and I was really pleased with them. So, after the six and a half hour drive home I eagerly fired up the laptop to blog about them. Oh no, my memory card had other ideas! No pictures to be found. Not only were the black and whites missing, but about a hundred others, including the ones of the delicious port and prune brownies I was going to include in said post. I was not amused.
So I was nervous about using that memory card to take pictures, and of course, could I find my spare, of course I couldn't. Almost a week passed before I was able to do anything.

Then yesterday was the final straw. Trying to fly out to Europe over Christmas is always a tough haul. Especially when the flights you have are with a budget airline, because they were the only ones you could get. Add snow into the mix, and you have total chaos. Trains don't run, planes don't fly, and heaven forbid anyone should be on hand at the airport to help you. We waited and waiting, and were finally told that all flights were cancelled and we should go home. Cue a battle back across London and a whole bunch of upset family members. Then we made the mistake of getting online to claim our compensation, only to discover our flight had actually taken off.

Angry doesn't cover it. So today, we try again. Different airline, different airport. And goddamnit I don't care how long I have to wait, but we are getting to France tonight, no matter what.

Er, yes, so that's why I haven't posted. I will have to leave you today with the only festive picture I have managed to snap, and the promise (yet again) that there is more on it's way next week when I finally get to breathe again.

I hope you're all having better runs up to Christmas, and in the midst of your own baking/shopping/entertaining chaos, you are managing to enjoy a huge glass of mulled wine and a whole host of chocolate goodies.

p.s. During the writing of this post my computer crashed. Seriously, the world is against me right now!

Monday, 30 November 2009

A change of heart; or, a realisation of limitations (at the moment).

Alas, I come to you today with a downcast look. I have something to admit, and I'm not quite sure I'm okay with it yet.

I won't be opening the shop tomorrow. In fact, I won't be opening this year.

I was jubilant, I was baking, melting, mixing, packaging and photographing like mad, and then slowly amidst this haze the reality began to hit. There was no way I was ready. I wanted it so, so badly, I've been clinging to the idea with all my strength as I am desperate to start my road to working from home and working for myself. But sometimes you need to stand back, and see things from a distance and admit to yourself that you were wrong, and now is not the time.
Last week threw up a chunk of extra work. Not entirely unexpected, but the amount of which has caught me a little off guard. Coupled with this I will be organising Christmas at home this year as a working lady for the first time. I no longer have hours in the house, pottering around getting everything just so, or browsing the markets for that perfect little gift. Instead I will be joining the hordes of shoppers battling with the besieged high street in the rain after work. So this weekend when the sudden realisation hit, that actually, diving headlong into a business venture, just three weeks before Christmas might not be the best idea I've ever had, for once I stood back and decided to say "no". I don't like it, but the reality is that when I do this, I want to do it right. I want to have lovely photographs of products I really and truly believe are worth (hopefully) shipping all over the world. I can't do this at a canter in the middle of trying to buy presents, bake/sew/knit gifts, and spend two weekends out of three on pre-Christmas parental visits.
So, it will be a little longer until I try and take over the world (ahem, my little corner of the web at least), but I promise you it is my goal of the new year, and it will be bigger and better than it could have been before. Plus, shipping might be a tad more reliable once this pesky Christmas malarkey is over!

I hope you will bare with me, and I hope if you do it will be worth it.

Phew, now I've got that off my chest I feel a little better. I'm hoping a prune and port brownie will help me relax even and recipe tomorrow!

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Empty plates

I have a real thing for empty plates. I seem to photograph them all them time. Often, I find them more appealing, than plates full of food. Weird, I know. Perhaps it is because usually the food that once occupied the plate in question is invariably in my stomach, and making me feel smug. Perhaps there is just something about the tines of a fork (because more often than not my empty plate shots involve forks). Perhaps it's just that I have no patience, and so my documentation of food becomes uselessly after the fact.Tonight, it was an empty bowl that caught my eye. This time, satisfyingly empty because the risotto that was in it was entirely my own recipe, and as a result gobbled down even more smugly than usual. Fortunately I made far too much than two could possibly eat in one sitting (although we tried, we really did) and here is plenty more sitting on the stove waiting to be packed into the fridge for frying into risotto cakes tomorrow.This is a nice autumnal dish. A hint of sweetness, a touch of spice, and an unctuous creaminess that balances well with a dry rose wine. Winter is fast approaching, but I refuse to give in the hearty meals entirely, instead I think you need something which can occupy the "in between" space, hence the rose. I hope you all enjoy this too.P.s. Who's stupid idea was it to attempt opening shop in one of the busiest months of the year? Eek!

Spiced Butternut and apple risotto (probably serves four (ish) )

1 small butternut squash
2 medium-sized sharp apples (I used bramleys)
one large leek
2 cloves garlic, minced
150g risotto rice
1 pint of good vegetable stock
2 tsp cumin
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried sage
glug of olive oil
glug of cider
pinch of salt
freshly ground pepper
freshly grated parmesan

Preheat the oven to 190C. Peel the squash, cut it into quarters and scrap out the seeds. Douse with a smidgen of oil (I used chili oil to add a hint of heat to the eventual risotto) and roast until soft. Mine took about 20 mins, but it'll depend on your oven and the size of the squash. Remove from the oven and cool.

Slice the leek and heat a large glug of oil in a deep frying pan. Gently sweat the leeks, being careful that they don't brown. Once they begin to glisten, add the minced garlic and fry for another minute. Then add the sage, cumin and risotto rice and another small glug of oil. Coat the rice with oil and heat for two minutes and then begin adding your stock. You want to add this a ladle-full at a time, and wait until it is absorbed by the rice, before adding more. Meanwhile, peel, core and quarter your apples. Blend together with the roasted squash in a food processor. When you are three quarters of the way through adding the stock (eg. when there is only a quarter of a pint of stock left to be added) add the pureed squash and apple mixture to the pan, with a large pinch of salt, a grind of pepper, the bay leaf and a generous glug of cider. Wait until the liquid has been absorbed, and then add the final stock. When this is cooked down, check to make sure that the rice is soft, but retains a slight bite.

Serve immediately, topped with a generous helping of freshly grated parmesan and a large glass of dry rose!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

It's begun.

Preparations are well under way here in the North London Kitchen.

Cakes have been baked, and puddings have been steamed. Oh yes, "stir up" Sunday produced a flurry of activity, none of which the cat agreed with. As far as he was concerned, all attention should be focused on the sofa, the first One Day International cricket match between England and South Africa, and, quite frankly, giving him as much attention as possible.
Alas, I was not obliging. Instead I have spent the majority of the day aproned-up covered in puffs of flour and icing sugar, in a haze of steam, attempting to get test products baked and photographed before the inevitable disappearance of natural light.

Wait a minute! Test products? I hear you exclaim, I thought this post was all about Christmas preparation.

Well, it is. Sort of. You see I've been in a bit of a slump. I have grand p
lans, I really do, but am a bit unsure of quite how to go about them. So a while ago I decided that baby steps were the only way to kick me out of stasis and get me going. And of course what better time for me to choose than the run up to Christmas. Nothing much going on around that time is there!

You see, I've decided to try my hand at opening a little online shop over at Etsy! I'll be selling handmade and homemade baked goodies, and hopefully the odd piece of knitting or sewing. Oh and a print or two. I have spent the last couple of weeks thinking about and testing products, and hopefully on December 1st I'll go live!


I thought you'd all like the sneak preview and heads up. If you fancy a spot of festive foodie goodness, head over on December 1st and you'll see what's up for grabs. I might even throw an offer or two into the mix.

In the midst of this I have of course also been trying to get more personal Christmas things sorted. Like the making of puddings. Last year we had the Great PhD Pudding Stir-Up. This year it was just me. Needless to say I had to adapt the recipe somewhat so I didn't end up with twenty puddings! Instead I have just two and they smelled rather lovely steaming all afternoon. I did of course stir and make a wish, and asked N to do so too. Last year I shared the ingredients list for all twenty puddings, this year I thought I would give you the scaled down version. Okay, a little late to make your pudding on stir-up Sunday, but I highly recommend it. There really is nothing quite like producing a homemade pudding at Christmas, aflame with hot brandy.
Oh, and don't forget to give it a stir and make a wish. They taste better holding wishes, I promise.

Christmas Pudding - Makes two 700ml puddings.

This is my own take on a traditional recipe. You can swap in and out things you like. For example, although I love nuts, I just can't abide them in my pudding, so I don't bother. But if you want them in there, who am I to stop you. (wrong as you are!)

Also, you need to start this the night before as the fruit needs soaking. Just to warn you.

Before you start you will need either two traditional ceramic pudding bowls, lined with first buttered parchment paper, and then muslin, or two plastic modern pudding bowls well buttered. You will also need two disks of parchment paper, with a fold in the middle go on top of the pudding basins while they steam (the fold allows for expansion).


175g sultanas
88g raisins
88g cranberries
75g figs
63g mixed peel
50g unsulphured apricots
38g dark glace cherries
80ml brandy
1 apple, grated (but you don't have to peel it first)
juice/zest of one orange
3 eggs
125g vegetable suet
175g light muscovado sugar
125g brown bread crumbs
88g self-raising flour
1 tsp mixed spice.

Firstly, put all the dried fruit in a bowl, pour over the brandy and leave over night. The liquid won't cover the fruit, but don't worry, just give it the odd stir.

In a large bowl mix together the apple, orange juice and zest, the eggs, suet, sugar, breadcrumbs and flour. The add all the dried fruits and any remaining liquid. Stir together (whilst making a wish), and then divide between the two pudding basins. Place the disks of parchment over the top and tie down with string around the edge. Steam for three and a half hours (!) and then leave to cool.

When cool seal the pudding basins. Do this with a double layer of cling film across the top of the plastic basins before popping on the lids, or by wrapping the traditional pudding basins with parchment and then foil (I do this to make doubly sure they'll still be okay by Christmas).

On the day you'll need to heat them for further three hours of steaming, or if by heating in a microwave for 3-5 minutes depending on your wattage. To serve turn out onto a place, douse with heated brandy and light! Bring to the table aflame, and then serve with lashings of brandy butter and clotted cream. Yum!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Sunday's are brilliant because... can totally justify eating oatmeal cookies for breakfast, then go out for brunch, and still have a slice of cheese on toast at 4pm. You can also knit in front of the football, and finish a project in ninety minutes, discover you can make a hat, and learn that you like port. did I not discover you and your fortified winey goodness earlier?

This week I promise to make more things, and try and post more about them. I miss this little space.
I'm sure I'll get the balance right eventually. But right now there is a mushroom bourguignon waiting to be eaten...

Thursday, 29 October 2009

It's all in the crack

Well, yet again it's been a while. Still trying to catch up with myself really, and to find the balance between work and home. It's pretty tough, as oh-so-many of you know.

I find that there is one sure-fire way to make things a little calmer, to bring a pause, a bubble of niceness, into the mania of the answering of emails, the printing and reviewing of documents, and the ridiculousness that is trying to book a room for an event.
Biscuits. And knitting (preferably munching on the former whilst steadily, soothingly, progressing with the latter).
Tonight I needed a little space of calm to curl up in, so well before bedtime I donned the old dressing gown, rolled up the sleeves and perused a cookbook. Ah, it felt like old times, and because of this I wanted an old fashioned recipe. A biscuit from my childhood. Gingernuts. As soon as I fell upon the recipe in the suitably 1970s "Delia Smith's Book of Cakes" I knew all other suggestions were going out the window and this biscuit just had to be it.

They've just passed the taste test of my harshest critic whose response was "it's a proper biscuit!" followed by "sometimes what you really want is just a biscuit." How true that man is.
I have a feeling these will be just the thing at work tomorrow, around eleven, with a cup of tea.

So, here I give you a recipe for a "proper" biscuit. Not a cookie. No, it's a biscuit, and a rather nice one at that. I would also like to dedicate this post to Siri, as a far too belated congratulations, and a huge thank you for the particular excellence of the postcards that have graced our flat recently. I have a whole backlog of things to post on the Mavens site (including wonderful and much needed warnings on tsunamis and bears - Molly, you crack me up),but frankly, nothing quite beats a Norwegian milk maid riding a pig, or a 1950s bikini-clad water skier. I have long drooled over some of Siri's ginger recipes, and so here,finally, is one of my own...

Gingernuts - adapted from Delia Smith's Book of Cakes

Makes 15 aprox.

4 oz self-raising flour
1 heaped tsp ground ginger
1 level tsp baking soda (on reflection I'd use 3/4 tsp, I feel one is a bit much)
1 1/2 oz muscovado sugar
2 oz cold butter, cubed
2 oz golden syrup

Preheat the over to 190C (375F) and line two baking trays with parchment.

Whisk together the flour, soda and ginger. Stir in the sugar (I would use a spatula, it'll come in handy later), and then rub in the butter until it is the texture of bread crumbs. Now add the syrup, and stir with the spatula until it begins to come together in a paste. You can then help work it together with your hands.

Form 15 equal balls of the mixture, and place them on the baking trays. Allow them a little space as they will spread. Press them down slightly to flatten them a little.

Bake for 15 mins, until the tops are cracked, and they are a dark golden colour. Cool, and enjoy with a nice strong cup of tea.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Tonight I have been mostly...

...mourning the loss of blog followers due to my lack of posting.

...enjoying new faces in the comment section.
...catching up with close friends.
...sewing together bits of fabric I had previously cut up.
...listening to John Coltrane.
...eating nutella with a spoon straight from the jar.
...pondering the future, and sheep called Eddie and Bill.
...remembering to do things because I love to, not because I have to.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Ups and downs

Well, it's been quite the time of it here. Bit of a baptism by fire in the new job, lots of hours, lots of things to take in and get to grips with, and lots of things doing battle in my head.

Oddly, I think the biggest thing I've struggled with this week was the fact that I miss being home so much it hurts, and yet I love my job. It's such a strange feeling. If I hated my job I could almost co
pe with the pining for domestic life, but in fact I don't want to give up my job, because it's great. Weird.
So this weekend I went a little bit mad! I'm just so desperate not to lose the hobbies and interests in the new mess of working life, so I crammed my weekend with all sorts of manic activities. I might have over-compensated a tad. Something I'm trying to learn, with lots of help from N, is that sometimes you just need some time off, and I shouldn't get too het up about time that isn't "productive" as rest is productive too.
And indulgence is definitely something that aids rest, and sometimes you need the simplest dessert to curl up with on the sofa on a Sunday evening, in your dressing gown, whilst watching recorded cookery shows.

The trick with this is to use the best cream you can, and the ripest berries. I add a sprinkling of granola to add a more autumnal feel.

Raspberry "fool" - Serves four (or two,
really generously!)

200ml double cream
200g raspberries, so ripe they're almost dripping (I just used two small punnets)


cinnamon/spice of your choice
Toasted oats/granola

In a medium bowl place a large pinch of caster sugar and one of whatever spice you prefer, I'm a cinnamon lover myself, but I think star anise would go well, or ginger for a hint of warmth. Add the cream and whip lightly. When it just starts holding it's shape stop whipping and add the raspberries, and smush them into the mix. Serve topped with a few berries and toasted oats/granola.

Eat immediately...
and relax...

Sunday, 4 October 2009

What would Hemingway do?

Most people don't have to know me long before realising that Mr Ernest Hemingway is a huge influence (ahem, obsession) in my life.

Yet perhaps only one person truly understands just how motivating it is, on a dark grey autumnal Monday morning, to drink my espresso from a Cafe de Flore cup, just as Mr H himself would have many mornings in Paris.

It's going to be a good week (and tonight I'm putting things in jars again so a recipe post is right around the corner)

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Into the thick of it.

How on earth do you working people blog so prolifically?! I'm sending out some serious respect to all of you working bloggers, especially those who are dedicated enough to be managing things like this!
Yes, I am now in the realms of work. Not exactly the nine to five, as it's more 8.30 until whenever things get done. But I'm loving it, which is a good sign. Okay, I'm only two days in, but they've been long days, with a steep learning curve, and so far so good. I'm hoping that once my body gets over the initial shock I'll be right back to the ridiculous amounts of baking and preserving that have graced this blog in the past.But, no fear, I do have a recipe for you today, and lots of other things to share. Firstly, I shall admit to spending the five days after hand-in very well indeed; in the beautiful sunny hills of Italy. We ate too much food, and drank far too much wine, and it was fabulous. The perfect little treat.As ever my photos were mostly food, and frankly with produce as stunning as that from Italy who can blame me. It wasn't quite autumn there, but the gourds were already out in force, showing off their deep oranges and dusky yellows. The grapes were heavy on the vines and the coffee and pastries divine. Mmmm....I also have seven things to share with you as hinted at in the previous post. I was very kindly given the kreativ blogger award by Liz, whose lovely blog occupies this corner of the web, and I think it's about time I share the seven fact about myself. Hmm, it's hard thinking of these things, but I'll give it my best shot. I just hope they're vaguely interesting.

- By the age of 11 I knew I wanted to do a PhD, and by the age of 14 I knew what I was going to do it in. Weird huh?!

- One of the reasons behind wanting a PhD was so that when I was a great rock and roll bass player people I could be called Dr, like Dr Dre or Dr John, and I'd actually be one. I haven't even picked up my bass for ages.

- I don't mind rodents or spiders, I love snakes. However, I am terrified of s
lugs and snails. They freak me out, and I have been known to freeze and squeal at the sight of them. I kid you not.

- One day I want to own two sheep. One called Eddie, the other called Bill.

- I'm bit odd about white and yellow foods. Eggs are only okay if cooked into cakes, I don't like bananas, and am very particular about creams and custards. It's a texture thing. Blah, slimy.

- I have competed in a national fencing competition. I came second to last.

- I'm not a huge fan of potatoes, or any other carb apart from fresh pasta or bread, but I crave good chips rather more often than I admit to.

And speaking of which, I give you a recipe:
These were perfect just before we went away. Baked rather than fried and seasoned with lashings of salt, pepper and paprika. Amazing. They may seem simple, but try them.

Baked paprika chips.

One large potato per person
2 tsp oil per potato + 2 tsp (I used olive)
black pepper
smoked paprika

Preheat the oven to 220C. Coat a large roasting pan with 2 tsp of oil and place in the oven as it warms.

Slice the potatoes into small strips, making them like fries rather than traditional British chips. Once the oven has reached temperature spread the chips out into the pan and drizzle the remaining oil over it, grind some pepper and salt over them and toss. Return the pan to the oven and cook until the chips are golden brown and crisping. You'll need to toss them about every fifteen minutes. Mine took about 45mins.

Remove from the oven. Douse in paprika to your own taste (I like a lot). Return to the oven for two minutes to bring out the flavour of the spice and then serve tossed with more salt and pepper.

See, I've finally given you a recipe! I promise more, honest. Apparently there's a tradition in the office that every Friday someone brings in some sort of cake. Guess who's getting in on that immediately!

As for passing on the award, I have a theory. So many of you out there are creative and blogging, that passing it on to just seven people would be a little cruel, and as it happens I know many of you have already either received the award, or something similar. So, I shall instead just try and pass on my enthusiasm and love of all things creative and hope to continue reading about all the amazing things you are all already doing that inspire me daily and make me realise that no matter how long the days at work, coming back to this little space makes me grin and motivates me. Thank you everyone, for your reading, and for your writing.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Beating a retreat, smugly.

Ta da!

Gosh, I can't quite believe I've done it. It's all done.

For now at least. I still have to sit the exam in a little while, but right now I am going to revel in the fact that it's handed in and I can relax. Well, until next Tuesday when I start my first ever 9-5 job.

Don't worry, I'll be making the best of it until then.

See you in a little while...

(p.s. sorry, photos from my phone so not the best quality)

(p.p.s. I promise I'll get to the lovely award and other things, I just need some space for my head to explode, then I'll be back!)

Thursday, 10 September 2009

When in doubt, make pie.

In my usual bleary-eyed early(ish) morning email and blog checking I suddenly noticed that it had been ten days since I'd posted. Ten days! How on earth had that happened? Then I mentally tracked back across those hours and it gradually became clear. What a ten days it has been.

There's been a flurry of strange happenings around here lately and as a result the last week or so has disappeared never to be seen again.

First, Sniff decided that since the tiny bird clearly wasn't impressive enough, he needed to try harder. Enter the rat. Yes, I did say rat. Now, it was a small one, but still twice the size of a mouse, and Sniff conveniently herded it into the study, the smallest, most full, room of the house. Great stuff Sniff, thanks for that. Cue a frantic hour and a half of trying to chase, maneuver, and encourage said rodent out of the place. The relief of its final exit was brief as I returned to absolute carnage. Books off shelves, fabric from my stash on the floor and a broken bobbin case. It was not a good afternoon.

Then after that debarcle came the big stuff, about jobs and all sorts. Followed
by stressing over some teaching.

So, what did I do to ease these troubled times? I did the only thing I could. I made pie. On the first of September it was as if the god of weather himself had flicked the switch and made it autumn. The air was chilly, the leaves beginning to crisp and fall, the afternoon light slightly weaker. Great! I thought, now I can get back to pies and sausage and mash, and roasts. Then came the curve ball, it suddenly got warm again. Talk about messing with my seasonal excitement.

So I made the pastry, and it sat in the fridge and went unused, until I couldn't stand it any more. I needed pie, I needed hot fruity bubbling pastry-enclosed reassurance on a plate, covered in cream. I needed something homely and comforting to remind me that despite the rats of this world things are indeed very good.

Now, my only issue with this little pie (well, galette really as I was trying to cut down pastry consumption) is the filling wasn't quite as bubbling and fruity as I expected. Probably by fault as I just adapted the filling of something else. However, when we had it the second day it was much better. Weird, but good of course!

My real delight came from the pastry. I wanted something a bit different
, and my experiment worked perfectly. I can't wait to make it again, this time to use with a proper pie filled with British apples.

As a result, I recommend you try the pastry, but use with your own filling recipe, just to make sure. I used 2 cups of blueberries (with some raspberries to make up the amount) 2 tbsp of cornflour and a dash of lemon juice and it just wasn't quite right. In fact it was very much "alright" and next time I'll be back to good ole apple pie, and no messin'

Cinnamon pastry (makes enough for one 8" galette, but could easily be doubled.)

3oz cold butter, cut into small cubes/chunks
6oz plain flour
1 tbsp caster (superfine) sugar
1.4 tsp cinnamon

In a medium bowl, place the flour, cinnamon and sugar and mix. Rub the cold butter with your fingertips so that it resembles coarse breadcrumbs (I used my new pastry blender, and I'm so in love!) The slowly add a little milk at a time until the pastry just comes together - I make it so it still seems a little dry.

Wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for at least an hour before using.

Alternatively you can make it in a food processor, but I'm afraid I don't have one, hence the hand instructions.

oh, oh, oh, how could I almost forgot, I won an award! Thank you Liz! So, in the next post you'll get seven things you might not know about me...(and I promise it won't take as long this time around!)

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Rescue mission

Some days I'm trying to be a domestic goddess, some days I'm trying to be an academic, some days I'm just trying to stay awake, and then some days I'm trying to rescue tiny birds from the jaws of a ruthless cat.

This tiny tiny thing was brought in by Sniff today. He was stroked and soothed by me the best I could (I have no experience with birds, but hoped that very gentle stroking would calm it down) and the with Sniff locked in the flat the bird was taken outside. I think he was okay, no obvious wounds other than a little redness where Sniff had carried him. He tried to fly, but was fluttering on the ground and then disappeared under the fence into the grass next door. I keep telling myself that it will be okay, and so far Sniff as returned to the flat empty-jawed, which I can only hope is a good omen for such a sweet little bird.

I love Sniff so much that my heart aches when he eeks unhappily, and bursts when I wake up with him sleeping full length on my chest. But there are times when I wish I could explain to him just why I'm not pleased with his presents. Poor thing looked so sad when I took his toy away.

Things are manic right now, and for once I've been so busy I haven't busted out the baking tins in more than a week. A week, people! A tragedy, I know as alas, not even a three day weekend yielded the usual flurry of activity in this north London kitchen. But I promise I'll try harder, and hopefully have a recipe up in a couple of days.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

House hunting

While visiting my parents last week I decided to do a spot of house hunting. The first was quite small, only eight or so bedrooms, open courtyard for afternoon tea and a drawing room with only enough room for one piano. Cramped, but cosy, we'd cope, but it might be a struggle. It's saving grace however was the beautiful walled garden and large greenhouses. Definitely something that would be worth compromising for.

Then I saw this, large with the grandeur that befits our cat (because yes, he is the head of the household). It comes not only with cottages for the staff, it's own hydro-electic power station and a large kitchen with downstairs scullery, but with a whole separate room for making jam. Now that's what I'm talking about.

In all honestly the prettiest places we saw were indeed the staff cottages.

I could just see us in one of these, N curled up writing, and me sewing or knitting, Sniff lounging in front of the fireplace or pottering in the garden.

One day....

Ah, I love the National Trust.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

The taste of summer

The last couple of days here have been glorious sunshine, the kind of summer I long for now. I think I've mentioned before that I didn't used to be a summer person, and in some respects I still thrive in the autumn (like Siri, it's the spiced warm flavours and more wintery recipes that dominate my repertoire), which is probably why our shrugging off of the hot weather here and holidaying in the New Zealand winter felt more like a bonus season than a missed opportunity for beach trips and sunbathing.

However, there are many things about summer that draw me in every time, and make me realise that what I really want is a true mix of seasons rather than the seemingly eternal "blah" that most people associate with the British weather (it's not that bad. Well, not always at least). There are two things for me that would make me wish for longer summers, and that's tomatoes and bread. Throw basil into that mix, perhaps with a dry white wine and you've got me, hook, line and sinker.

You can probably guess that we spend most of the summer combining tomatoes and bread as much as possible. Okay, frankly I tend to force this into the depths of winter if I can, so it's not strictly a summer thing, but we all know that those summer tomatoes beat everything else hands down. Usually I roast a bunch of tomatoes whilst making bread and then we have dinner that involves dipping bread into warm roasted tomatoes and their juice. Then suddenly last week I was hit with inspiration, and honestly, I can't believe I hadn't done it before. This time I took some semi-dried tomatoes, chopped them up with some of their oil, tore a whole load of basil and mixed them together, then poked the mix into my rising dough.

The result? Heaven! N said he thought it might be the best thing I've ever made. Fortunately I'd made a huge batch, so for lunch the next day I sliced the pieces in half and made sandwiches. Oh-so-good.
So, before the summer is over, before those light evenings disappear, make some of this, pour yourself a glass of wine and relish that vitamin d while it lasts.

Semi-dried tomato and basil focaccia - makes lots.

I cut it into probably 8 pieces, and careful it is very hard to resist not stuffing your face with all of them, there was nearly a fight in our flat over the portions. N won, in case you're wondering, because coming between that man and food is a dangerous business and no mistake (it's almost as bad as coming between Sniff and food, and you don't wanna go there).

500g strong white flour (or plain if you're out, like I was)
15g fresh yeast (or 10g dried instant)

50ml olive oil (the better the quality, the better the bread)

320ml water (I weight mine for accuracy)
Large handful of basil

semi-dried or roasted tomatoes (it's up to you, I used some from a local deli, but next time will just roast my own: punnet of cherry tomatoes, halved and laid cut-side up in a roasting pan, spray with oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar if you like it, sprinkle of salt and some more basil, cook at 190C until just going black at the edges, which will depend on the size of your tomatoes, usually about half an hour for me)

Place the flour and yeast into a bowl with a pinch of salt and stir (if it's fresh yeast crumble it over the top of the flour), make a well in the middle of the flour mix and pour in the oil and then the water. Mix until just coming together and then turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and kneed for about ten minutes, until it is smooth, elastic and no longer sticking to the work surface. Alternatively, place in a mixer with a dough hook and mix until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place bag into the bowl, slightly oiled and leave to rise for about an hour in a warm draft-free place, covered with a cloth.

Meanwhile, oil a large sheet baking tray (like a shallow swiss roll pan).

Once the dough has doubled in size, knock it back gently and then place the dough in the centre of the oiled pan and gently spread it out to the sides using the balls of your hands. You can oil your hands it if helps. Leave to rise for another 45mins or until almost double again.

Meanwhile tear the basil and place in a bowl with either a dash of olive oil, or oil from the semi-dried/roasted tomatoes. How many tomatoes you use is up to you, I like to have lots, so used a large handful. Chop the tomatoes into about thirds and toss with the basil. Leave to stand for five minutes.

Preheat the over to 200C. When the dough has risen, gently poke bits of the tomato and basil mix into it reasonably evenly all over it, any leftover oil rub over the dough. Then cook for 25-30mins until just going golden at the edges. Remove from the over and stand for five minutes before eating.

Friday, 14 August 2009

It's time for cake.

There's about to be a celebration. Just a little one, it'll involve going to the pub and drinking some very fine organic cider and ale. It will probably involve stopping on the way at the luxurious knitting shop and buying purple wool.

What's there to celebrate, I hear you ask? Well, a collection of little things that are about to coincide. Firstly, I think today I will finish the main writing of my thesis. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but I think there are only a couple of hundred words left to write. Quite the achievement for me, especially considering how much baking I've managed to fit in around it! Secondly, I'm going Up North next week to visit the folks. They've just returned from the most amazing holiday ever, and I haven't been back since December, so it's time. I want to swap holiday photos, knit and sew with Mum and steal as many of my father's amazing photography skills as possible! Finally, it's about to be the weekend. It may seem silly, but it's been "one of those weeks" and not having to get up early tomorrow is such a great and wonderful thing that I think it warrant a raising of glasses. Many glasses!

I think you should all celebrate with me, and so I bring you cake. Yep, this is the very recipe I used for the wedding cake. You should make it, you should treat yourself this weekend because I think y
ou deserve it. It's rich, chocolatey, incredibly moist, and doesn't involve any boiling of eggs! Go ahead...

I'm afraid aside from the finished cake I don't have many photos as I was a little tied up in making everything as perfect as possible to grab the camera - and those sticky chocolatey fingers weren't going anywhere near my nikon! I have however got a couple of the filling and icing process which I'll share because for large cakes the technique I used was really helpful.

Super Sexy Chocolate Cake
- serves you! (and maybe a friend or two if they're very lucky)

This recipe makes a large three layer cake, and made up the smallest "tier" of the wedding cake. To make the larger ones I just made lots and lots of this batter and hoped for the best. I also baked it at a lower temperature for longer. I totally recommend you indulge in the cake and share it with friends. Trust me, those will be friends for life! The other alternative is to make a simple two-layer cake and freeze the remaining batter. It freezes and thaws so well that it could mean in a few weeks time, when you're craving chocolate cupcakes, you've got the wherewithal sitting waiting!

I did everything in my mixer (because otherwise my arms would have fallen off I made so many batches,) but I've written it out for mixing by hand because frankly it's such an easy cake turning on
the mixer might seem like effort!

3 cups plain flour
3 cups caster sugar
1 1/2 cups cocoa powder

250ml Buttermilk

3 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
12 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups freshly brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line three 8" round tins (or two and keep some batter aside)

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and cinnamon, until combined. Add the butter and buttermilk and stir slowly until moistened. Once you're now longer puffing clouds of chocolatey flour in the air (I speak from experience, don't try this on high on your mixer!) you can start stirring faster until it's light and fluffy.

Whisk the coffee into the beaten eggs (the coffee must be cool or you'll cook the eggs, a big no-no!). Then add to the batter in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating only until blended after each time. Divide the batter among the prepared pans; each tin will take about 3 1/4 cups of batter if you're using three tins,

Bake for 38 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove and cool completely before taking out of the pans (these are really moist cakes, so heed this instruction!).

When stacking I filled mine with a layer of swiss meringue buttercream and then strawberry jam. To avoid over-spill of the jam I piped a ring of buttercream around the edge of the top of each layer, like this:

This not only stopped the strawberry jam escaping, but helped with the stacking and overall icing.

I used the following icing recipe and loved it. I was worried because lots of people say it doesn't work, but if you keep mixing it does. You definitely need an electric hand whisk, or better yet a mixer for this as you need constant whipping action. If you don't have one, and don't need the cake to last long (as if it would!) then I highly recommend whipping cream by hand into peaks and then icing the cake with that. It'll make it like chocolate, strawberries and cream, oh yeah!

Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream

1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
12 oz butter, softened (the softer the better in my opinion)
1/2 cup of melted dark chocolate

4 tablespoons cocoa

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a big metal bowl over a pot of simmering water (I actually used the mixer bowl as it made the whole thing quicker and easier in the long run) until you can’t feel the sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers.

Move the bowl to the mixer and whip the mixture until it turns white and about doubles in size. Watch for any steam or condensation, you do not want that getting into the mix or it won't whip properly (I put a tea-towel around the bowl as I lifted it to make sure)

Add the vanilla and whip to combine then add the butter a bit at a time whilst whipping (I was putting in about a tablespoon each time, I know it takes forever but it's worth it), then pour in the melted chocolate and the cocoa. Whip, whip, whip! It might seem like it takes forever to come together, (and you'll know when it does) but stick with it and you'll have a great icing and one that can withstand all sorts of pain (like travelling in a hot car!).

Monday, 10 August 2009

Just because...

...I can make a wedding cake, doesn't mean I can boil an egg!

Hatred of soft-boiled eggs (or any form of cooked eggs other than rock hard ones mashed with salad cream) + getting distracted by playing with the cat = strange alien egg formations in an over-boiled saucepan. Nice.

Back soon with a recipe for the most delicious chocolate cake ever (yep, it's the wedding cake one) and more "oh aren't I crazy to take on so much" confessions.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Let them eat cake

Are you ready?

Last Sunday N drove very very carefully from North London to Cambridge, with three very fragile, moist and decadent chocolate wedding cakes nestled in the boot and backseat of the car. I winced at every slight acceleration, every tiny curve in the road, and at every traffic light that flipped to red at the last moment (it was a lot people, the traffic light gods were not on our side). But we made it, without incident, and after the slight panic over cake stands, and only one minor disaster, the cake was be-decked in ribbon and flowers and standing proudly ready to go.

And here it is:

Many apologies for the not-great photos. I'd had a few classes of champagne by this point, to quell my nerves, and drink to perhaps the most perfect couple I know tying the knot. (I managed not to blub during the ceremony, but it was a close call!)

The florist is the one who did the great job with the flowers, so I can't take credit for that, but the cake and ribbon is all me, and I have to say I was a little bit proud. There are two moments that stand out for me. The first was when people started walking into the hall and taking pictures of the cake. I never thought that something I made would warrant other people taking photos. I mean, yes, I take pictures of the things I make all the time, but to see other people doing it during ooh's and aaah's really made my heart swell a little. It made me ponder how perhaps I could do this sort of thing after all.

The other moment that really got me was when the bride, my amazing friend D, cut the cake and then leaned in, put her nose milimetres away from it and took in a huge satisfied nose of chocolate fumes and grinned. It was at this point that I knew it would all be alright. She was happy with it, and that's all I wanted. I stressed during the whole thing that it wouldn't be perfect enough for their big day, and I didn't want to let them down. I got that big sigh and grin from her and knew I'd done okay. I relaxed, and took a large satisfied gulp of wine. Everything was okay.

I'm so pleased I did it. It was worth all the stress and worry just to see D eagerly scoffing a piece of chocolate cake in her beautiful dress with a massive grin on her face. She'd been so relaxed about the whole thing (seriously, I've never heard of a bride who says things like "as long as we've got a cake made by you that tastes good we don't care what it looks like" and actually means it!), and I think that's the only thing that made it possible. I'm not the world's greatest cake decorator, in fact I'm not that great at all, and know I could never actually make wedding cakes professionally, but to do something to make a friend happy is something that makes me happy, and I'd do it all over again for her.

I'd crack, separate and whip 14 egg whites to make four batches of icing, I'd chop over a kilogram of chocolate and melt it, I'd cover myself, the flat and every available surface with batter, strawberries, cocoa, and swiss meringue buttercream, I'd discover splatters of jam on parts of my arms days later despite showers, I'd blue-tak cake bases into boxes so they don't move in transit, I'd even tie 112 bows of ribbon (more on that in another post). I'd do it all because that smile of genuine pleasure on a friend's face is the best reward I could ever have.

Thank you D and A for trusting me with your cake. (and thank you N for putting up with a flat full of chocolatey mess, and an exhuasted stressed little me, and still being good enough to drive me to the wedding after having been at another wedding the night before - seriously, how much is this guy amazing?!)

p.s. - I'll post more about the process in a couple of days. I know it's Thursday, but believe me I'm still recovering from the carnage!