Monday, 24 May 2010

All you knit is love.

These hands are mine. Knitting in Barcelona. They could, however, quite easily be the hands of my mother, or indeed my grandmother. I have clear memories of seeing a photograph of my grandmother in a very similar setting, also on holiday, also in the sunshine. She is sitting on a rock (I think) knitting in her hands, in a beautifully stylish dress, looking at the camera with a little gleam in her eye. She is on her honeymoon, the person holding the camera is her new husband, and I believe she is knitting something for him, even while they are walking in the countryside.

It makes me smile to think of that picture, and to think of how proud she would be to know that I now share her love for knitting (and her wish to do it whenever and wherever). She never saw me knit. She tried patiently to teach me when I was younger, but I was more interested in climbing trees and pretending to be Columbo than sitting patiently forming stitches. But here I am now, having learnt from her daughter, and taken on what feels like the inevitable love of the craft that the women in my family have.

It's lovely, because every time I look down at my hands holding my needles I think of my grandmother and I think of my mum, and I smile.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Would you like another cookie?

I increasingly find myself baking cookies these days. I think because working six days means I have lost my lazy Sundays of baking, and my weeknights are taken up with either frantic knitting to finish projects (I've become newly obsessed, and last week stayed up until 2am and got up at 8am just to finish something in time to wear for work! - more on this in another post...) or crashing out on the sofa trying to keep my eyes open and my cat happy with some cuddles.

As time has become precious, I want quick fixes. I still want to bake and cook, but am aware that the window for doing so is a lot smaller, especially with all the other things that also get missed and need doing in my snatches of time.

Cookies are perfect, you can whip most recipes up in one bowl, and either cook then and there, or rest the dough in the fridge overnight and pop them in the oven the following day.

This is one of the reasons I chose today's cookie. It meant I could whack it all together last night at ten, and get home to ready mixed deliciousness to be formed into balls and baked. Perfect. There is nothing quite like the smell of cookies baking after work, with the late afternoon sun gently dipping across the garden, and a breeze coming in through the open patio doors. It would be completely idyllic if it wasn't for the stack of washing up on the side, the drying clothes on the rack (and still piles of dirty ones loitering in the bedroom) and the mountains of fur that are beginning to taunt me as I'd rather be baking than hoovering!

Cookies are also a great little gift, a nice homemade thing to say thank you. This weekend I shall be sharing them with a lovely girl I work with at my new job. She makes brilliant cups of tea, humours my love of sport, helps with my knitting disasters and is the perfect company on a rainy Sunday afternoon when work is quiet and we are knitting and nattering. She rocks.

Some shall be going to someone else too, who's husband very kindly presented me with a Ottolenghi cookie a few weeks ago, as he didn't want me to miss out. How lovely is that?! I shall pass on a batch for her and the family as a thank you (She's also the wonderful woman who got me the job, there will be a lot of cookies (and the curd I promised) going her way!)

I borrowed the recipe from Nicole, who adapted it from the ever-great David Lebovitz.

I made a few changes, mostly due to necessity than will. I couldn't bare to part with my entire chocolate stash, so only used a scant two cups (200g) and I used only one cup of nuts, pecans, as I didn't have any more. I also sprinkled them ever so lightly with salt to balance the flavour. I won't pass on my version as Nicole and David have already done such a good job and deserve the credit. I have to admit too that I still found these a little disappointing, and I wonder if my changes are the fault (which is the most likely reason frankly). Don't get me wrong, they are a very good cookie (*nods and munches from the background*), but I still feel like I am searching for my "perfect"  chocolate chip cookie. Perhaps I should just give in and buy the book so I can give the original a go? And really, I don't mind having to bake a few more cookies in the quest for the perfect one. We're troupers in this flat, we'll do out best to try as many cookies as it takes!

Monday, 17 May 2010


There has been a lot of talk about books around the web at the moment. About old favourites, new favourites, and of course everyone's favourite, the public library.

So I thought for a bit of fun I would share with you just how out of hand my little cook book library is getting. We live in a small flat, and are both book obsessives, and so books are on shelves, on floors, on books, in cupboards, and always, always in hands. We have many genres, and are not snobs, "bath books" (those deemed comfort reads that do not suffer from damp fingers, rather revel in them) are tucked alongside classics, both new and old. My PhD related books take up almost the entire spare room (which is mostly to do with having to have at least three copies of all works by the author I was writing about, one for reading, one for annotating, and one first edition - oh and sometimes ones in languages I can't read, but simply wanted for the novelty!)

But it is the cookbooks that pose the most problems. They are of unusual and uneven sizes, and so do not uniformly suit one shelf. Nor is there space enough for all of them in the kitchen, so they are spread out all over the place like a grazing flock. And they move around. They go from being presents on show (in the living room), to bedside reading, to much splattered and in use, to pausing on the kitchen table before they make the rounds again. They are often found in cahoots with the craft books, conversing with the gardening section, or hanging out with the fantasy literature.
I dream of a house where I can have them all in one place, and yet I know it's much more fun this way.
Where do your cookbooks hang out?

Friday, 14 May 2010

Because you can put jam in everything.

The Jamvangalist strikes again! The cake I bring you today is a wonderful way to use up the dregs of marmalade that might be taking up several rooms space in your house cupboards. Okay, so I'm sure you don't actually have that problem, but when I am trying out new marmalades the half-full tester jars gradually stack up in our "breakfast" cupboard and because I try and eat nice boring healthy museli in the morning and so only have toast at weekends, I need another way to re-appropriate the half-filled jars.

I discovered this cake when doing all sorts of research in the run up to Food Junctions. In the spirit of "isn't preserving amazing and versatile" that I was trying to get across in my presentation I wanted not to have tasters of just jams and marmalades, but examples of the things you can do with them other than spreading them on bread. As a result I spent the evening and then morning before the talk frantically whipping up cakes, biscuits, tarts and slices all of which used jam, marmalade, curd or other preserves. It was the marmalade cake that was the first to go. It's moist, and whilst it doesn't taste too strongly of bitter orange marmalade, it does have a wonderful background hint of it, and a great depth of flavour.

It was so good that one participant actually prized the cake paper out of my hand and stood scraping the crumbs off it!

So today, I bring you my newly-found go-to marmalade cake. I used my "dark side" Seville marmalade, which is made with bitter oranges, all dark sugar (making it almost black, and very treacly in flavour) and a nice dash of smooth Irish whiskey. I also intend to make a version that uses my lemon marmalades. In fact, I might even try using other jams, as I get the impression it is highly adaptable and will suit many preserves and many tastes. It is adapted from a Nigel Slater recipe (of course) and so all credit must go to him really. Except I like my cake a bit darker and so have used light muscovado sugar instead of white, and didn't add orange blossom water, or any additional orange, or icing as I don't think it needs these extras. That said, a dash of lemon juice and perhaps some zest would probably make this cake really sing, but I shall leave that up to you.

Marmalady Cake - makes one large loaf cake.

175g unsalted butter, very soft.
175g light muscovado sugar
175g self-raising flour
3 large eggs
75g marmalade

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease or line a large loaf pan.

Cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs a little and then add to the creamed mixture a little at a time, beating well between each addition. You want to make sure that you do this really well, I would probably even use a whisk next time because the dark sugar is less easily incorporated (or so I find). Next add the marmalade. I also chop the peel a little so you get nice bits of preserved peel all though the cake. Finally, in a swift firm action fold the flour into the batter until it is fully mixed, trying to whip in a bit of air as you go.

Pour the batter into the lined tin and bake for 40mins or until a skewer comes out clean. Mine was 40min bang on.

Leave to cool in the tin before turning out. Serve in thick slices.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Cake is coming...

A big thank you to everyone for voting. I promised cake, and you shall have cake. One that got rave reviews at the Food Junctions event. However, I need to make it again, and take photos, as the only proof I have is an empty tin and the full bellies of the people leaving my talk with suspicious crumbs around their mouths. 

We have just returned from a whirlwind visit to Spain. Five hours sightseeing followed by three days of family chatter in bars, and at train stations (an awful lot of time was spent here it would seem). Fortunately the ash only delayed us by an hour. Thank you Joe.

I shall bake this evening, and photograph and bring it to you with smiles and more thank yous. I also have some cookies to share. But tomorrow...until then I shall leave you with photographic proof of why I love my new job (and why I won't be going anywhere near a bikini this summer...) 

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Cast your vote?

It's election night, and it's going to be a long one. So let's have a little fun...why not vote for me instead?

Dorset Cereals little awards

Maybe you could ask your friends too?

Pretty please, I'll bake you a cake...

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Is there a Doctor in the house?

Yes there is!  

As of yesterday it's official, I've had the confirmation of award, and so the thesis is finally, finally complete. No more waiting for paperwork, it's all done, finished. Forever. 

Weird. It's a strange process, and I have to say it's left me with a feeling of anti-climax. I think in part because I am so tired at the moment, but also because the process at the end of a PhD is a bit like that. I did the examination at the end of November, then I made all the required changes by early January, and since then I've been hanging around waiting on a piece of paper to get passed to the right person. When this was eventually produced it got lost in the internal mail. It got to the point where I really thought the world was trying to tell me something, and that the damn award would never be given. 

But last week the paperwork finally fell into the right hands, and so the thesis made it's way from my desk draw to the relevant office, and yesterday a headed piece of paper confirmed that it was done, months after the actual writing and editing and work. 

So now I'm not just a jam lady, I'm Dr jam lady! (Wow, wouldn't it be amazing to have a PhD in jam?! Perhaps that should be my next aspiration?) 

For all the relief that it is finally done, there is now a huge gaping hole where it used to be. I know people who have spend years battling with their thesis, and when they finish it is with a cheer that they say goodbye to the project, and often to academia as a whole. 

I don't have that. I wish I was back at the beginning, starting over again, about to embark on wonderful years of reading and research. I miss it so much, and I want it back! I am beginning to realise that perhaps finishing early wasn't something I should have aspired too, and that I should have spent more time stretching it out. 

I have spent most of my life waiting for the day when I would be awarded my doctorate. Pretty much my entire education was planned with exactly this in mind. Now I've run out of plan and I'm at a bit of a loss. 

I think I might go home and make jam...

Monday, 3 May 2010

The Jamvangelist

So according to my sources the talk went well. Okay, so my sources are mostly my Mum and N, but I'm fine with that. People laughed (in the right places) people asked questions, and it seems I might even have inspired a few to make their own jam. Oh, and everyone raved about the jam and preserve based-cakes which was great. (Well, kind of, I was slightly hoping I'd have more to bring home, rather than the odd curd tart case and cookie crumb!)
I'd say that's a successful piece of jamvangelism, wouldn't you?!

Speaking of which, for those of who you might be reading and want to know more about preserving, I thought I would recommend a few things. I'm sorry that they will be UK specific in most cases, but that's just what I know, and I only want to recommend things I use and trust.  This book has all the basics, and some very good adaptable recipes. You don't need to get bogged down in all the technical stuff, but it explains it all. It doesn't have big glossy photos like modern books, but I've found it an excellent tool whilst learning to preserve. The only thing I would say though, is to ignore some of the things she says about setting point. Trust your instincts on it. Oh, and if it doesn't set the first time, whack it back in the pan and try again. What she says about how if you don't get the set right the first time meaning all is lost is rubbish. Trust me, I've re-boiled many a time in the pursuit of the perfect set!

Another great option is this book. This time with pictures, and a wonderful guide to what fruits are available when (well, when in the UK). I have made many many recipes from this book and only once was I disappointed (my redcurrant jelly was brick, not jelly as I found the estimate for set just wrong). It's good because it has a good range of preserves, and so not that many recipes for each, but techniques for jam, jelly, curd, chutney, bottled fruits and fruit drinks.

I now have a ridiculous collection of preserving books. It's outnumbered by the baking books, but only just! Each has it's own charm, and each has favourite recipes in, but the above two are what I started with, and helped a lot getting the basics down before I moved into the realms of experimentation (which has been interesting, and featured many a preserve that hasn't made it onto the blog for obvious reasons!) 

As for equipment, I'd stress that you really don't need to spend lots of money. For small batches all you really need is a heavy-based large saucepan, a wooden spoon and a cold plate (to use for testing set). You can recycle old jars as long as you wash and sterilise both the jar and the lid. However, if you do decide it's something you'd like to pursue more, then the easiest and best place for UK jam equipment in my opinion is Lakeland. You can order online, they are very affordable, and have the best customer service I have ever come across. I would say however, that I can't recommend the sugar thermometer they stock. I had one and after two washes the numbers had washed off. Instead, try and get a brass one which has the numbers etched into it. Harder to clean, but will last you forever. BUT, you don't have to have a themometer, and I no longer use one when preserving, I do it all by instinct, and the more you make the more you will too, I'm sure.

I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who came and listened to my tales of jam making, blogging and packaging jam to send across the world. I really hope that I managed to express just how much fun preserving is, and how great the people are that I've met through the jammin' jelly exchange, and all the other random jam connections I have made.

If nothing else I managed to inspire myself, and have had recipes running around my head for days! It's clearly time to dust of the preserving pan and get going again. Who's with me?...