Friday, 26 March 2010

Up, up and away...

Today I am mostly doing housework. It's not what I usually spend my blissful free Friday on, but the sprunging of spring made me shamefully aware of just how much dust and dirt was lurking in the flat. I do love the new sunny mornings, but curse them for shining light in all those usually dark corners! I can no longer live in denial. Something must be done.

So, while I dash round like a mad thing frantically swiping surfaces, nooks and crannies, I thought I would share a little piece of spring joy with you: 

I planted these last week on night after work, and they were so keen that by the weekend green shoots were looking promising, and by yesterday they were pushing against the lid of the propagator! All I need to do now is be careful and patient, and pray to the gardening gods that I can maintain some green fingeredness for the whole planting season. 

The large adventurous shoots in the foreground are courgettes and squash, and then coming in a close second with their delicate little offerings are tomatoes. This weekend the first potatoes are going in, and probably a whole load of chilies! 

What are you planting this year?

Friday, 19 March 2010

The sprunging of spring

All over the interwebs, and indeed all over this town, there are hints that spring has well and truly sprung. The light is that little bit brighter, and around for a little bit longer, the thermostat creeps down as the temperatures outside slowly (oh so slowly) creeps up, and today we got some showers. Not the torrential downpours of January, but the gentle pattering of raindrops on the roof.

On Tuesday evening it was light enough when I got home to riffle through the greenhouse and rescue the propagator trays and begin the first round of this years planting. I have high hopes for Our Lovely Garden this year. I feel like every year so far I've learnt lots, but harvested little, I'm hoping (with all my not-so-green fingers crossed) that this year it might be the other way around.
And look, the rhubarb is already trying to prove me right! In a few months this will be begging to be harvested, perhaps just in time for an early summer pie?

When the sunshine finally does rear its pretty little head my baking suddenly takes on a lighter note. I want cakes rather than pies and crumbles, and soon the tart season will begin. Oddly I am not someone who turns to citrus to get me through the winter. Aside from the dark bitter tang of seville marmalade (yes, there has been plenty of that made behind the scenes here this winter!), I shy away from the bright fresh fruit in the colder months. Frankly, I like an excuse to eat stodge!

But the minute the green shoots start to appear, and the winter coat goes tentatively back into the wardrobe I start thinking about lemons, and fresh clean flavours. This year I branched out and discovered how glorious passion fruit are. Okay, I know, not native and so I can't pretend I didn't have to buy imported, but sometimes I think that's alright, and it's not as if my sevilles and lemons aren't brought to me across the sea.

I begin thinking of herbs at this time of year too, and I have to admit that I might have a slight problem. I've become obsessed with rosemary. I've always liked it, but recently I haven't been able to leave it alone, savoury or sweet my dishes have lashings of this tough fragrant herb running throughout them.

And so today I bring you the perfect cake to kick off spring with. It's moist and dense, but with a great crumb and a lightness and delicacy of flavour that hints to the weather and moods that are hopefully smiling away.

Glazed Lemon and Rosemary Loaf - makes one large loaf.

250g soft butter
200g caster sugar
3 large eggs
210g self-raising flour
90g plain flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (or more if you love it like I do!)
4 tbsp milk
juice of another lemon, and then and equal quantity of sugar (I eyeball this), and a large rosemary sprig

Preheat the oven to 170C and line a long loaf tin (mine is 10" by 4") with parchment (it will be much easier to turn the cake out if you line rather than just greasing).

Cream the butter, adding the sugar when it is really soft, and then cream until pale. Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a large spoonful of flour after each one. Then add the vanilla, lemon zest and juice. Fold in the rest of the flour, and then the rosemary. Thin the batter with the milk.

Pour into the lined tin and smooth the top. Bake for aprox. 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean - mine needed a little longer, probably an extra ten minutes, so don't worry if it's not done at a hour. Do keep an eye on it while it bakes, and cover the top with foil if it's getting too brown.

Meanwhile in a small saucepan stir together the lemon juice and sugar and then add the rosemary sprig. Bring to the boil and then remove from the heat immediately.

When the cake is done, remove from the oven and gently prick all over the top with a toothpick, or fork. With a pastry brush, brush the cake with the lemon syrup. This will keep the cake moist and produce a slight glaze and a nice tangy crunch to the top of the cake.

Cool completely, and then slice and enjoy.

This cake lasts really well, and is often better a day after making if wrapped well as the flavours deepen slightly.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Spring Cleaning and Not Cross Buns.

Hello? Anyone still there? Seems I fell off the blogging wagon for a little while there. I needed a bit of time to get back into focus, and whilst doing so it made sense to do a bit of spring cleaning, both literally and virtually. (Sniff of course slept through the whole thing.)

So...ta da! A whole new look. I decided that much as I loved the red and black of old, it was time to lift my head and see some clean bright lines. It felt right for what I hope will be sort of a new start. It's amazing isn't it just how dramatic the impact of sunshine is. It totally controls my mood, and every year I try and pretend it doesn't. I've spoken before about how I used to be such a winter person, I loved the short days and the dark nights to wrap up into, loved the layers of clothes and root veg stews. I still, every year, try and pretend that this is true, and in some regards it is, I love pies, and sausage and mash and hearty stews. I love crumbles and steamed puddings. But the older I get the more I come to realise that the sunshine is crucial, and without a heavy dose I am one depressed little lady. This year it hit harder than every as a long dark winter was combined with a whole bunch of uncertainty and insecurity in my own goings on. 

Things are still mostly uncertain, and I remain as insecure as ever, but the sunshine is making me smile through it. As are wonderful inspirational meetings with new friends, and in lovely places, and with old friends on hilarious outings. 

Oh, and cake of course. Yes, cake is definitely a crucial element. I have baked lots in the last couple of weeks, and so hopefully will have lots to share. I shall start with something delightfully seasonal, a treat that I wait patiently for each year, and then wish I just gave in and made them all the time: Hot Cross Buns. Oh, I love them so, with their hint of spice, and slight tartness from mixed peel and the sweetness of the raisins. Not to mention how unbelievable perfect they are at soaking up melting salted butter. 

These are my "not cross buns" because somewhere along the way I forgot to put the crosses on, and then actually couldn't be bothered, and then realised that I liked them just as much without and it saves a step in the process, not to mention a few more bits of washing up. 

Not Cross Buns - Makes 16 small(ish) or 8 large. 

500g plain flour (in two 250g batches in different bowls)
125ml Cold Milk
125ml Boiling water
10g instant yeast
pinch of salt
2 tsp mixed spice
50g caster sugar
zest of one unwaxed lemon
75g raisins
75g mixed peel
50g melted butter
1 beaten egg 

In one medium bowl (or the bowl of a food mixer) place 250g of the flour. In a jug mix the cold milk and the boiling water to give you a lukewarm liquid. Add a pinch of sugar and then the yeast. Leave until bubbles form and then pour into the flour and make a sticky dough. Leave to rise until doubled, about 45-50mins. 

Meanwhile mix the other 250g flour with the mixed spice, caster sugar and zest. Then add the raisins and peel. Once the wet batter has doubled, add the dry mix to it, along with the melted butter and half the beaten egg and form into a wet dough. It will be sticky, but manageable. Leave this to rise for a good hour, again until doubled. 

Turn out onto a well-floured surface and gently shape into a ball. Divide this into two, then four, and then eight (or sixteen depending on the size of bun you want). Shape these pieces in to slight rectangles and place on a greased and floured (or parchment covered) baking sheet(s). Leave for a final rise of 20mins. Preheat the oven to 200C.

Brush with the remaining beaten egg and place in the oven for 15min, until slightly golden. Then see how long you can hold out before tearing one in half, slathering in salted butter and stuffing into your face. I lasted five minutes, which I thought was pretty good, but then again I wasn't on the ball and hadn't prepared the pot of tea until the last moment. Rookie error! 

Enjoy everyone...