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...