Friday, 28 January 2011


Yep, I'm a slacker and still haven't ordered my new scales. I know what they will be, I just need to drag myself to the other computer and click "order" but it's been a long day at work, and right now the sofa and a borrowed computer in from of the sports news is about all I can handle.
So instead of a recipe I shall direct you here. Don't be fooled by the simplicity, everyone in the shop went wild about them today, I will be making many many more this weekend. Nicole, if I put on pounds and pounds I'm blaming you!
And instead of pictures of food, I give you my hipsta-cats. They seem to get cuter by the minute.
Have a happy weekend all...

Monday, 24 January 2011

Baking through adversity

This week disaster struck.
Over Christmas I lost my baking mojo. To such an extent that the Christmas cake, that has been my go-to recipe for four years, failed me. It was baked and fed and iced and promptly thrown in the bin. Tragic, and not something that is taken lightly in our house as we hate waste, and do not throw food away without good reason (many a meal has been made up of random ingredients simply because they all need using and we cannot bare to even compost them instead of using them).
I'm not sure how I did it, but that cake was absolutely awful. Not only did it taste, not bad, but simply wrong, but about an hour after eating it we both felt a little weird. It was the same recipe I make every year and yet somehow I managed to get everything thoroughly wrong.
And so I haven't felt like baking much in the new year. I think the Christmas pounds that insist on sticking around on my tummy, despite being back at work and up and down stairs everyday, haven't helped. But mostly I just haven't trusted myself to risk expensive and lovely ingredients on even a classic recipe that clearly I am perfectly capable of ruining.
Then suddenly I was hit by inspiration. I was reading Nicole's post and knew that I just had to do something with orange and rosemary to ease our S.A.D. British winters are glum, glum, glum. Not bad, but not good. An all-round dirth of grey, and so anything to lift the spirits, especially something that involves the smell of baking filling the house, is more than welcome.
I got everything ready, picked up my scales and.....nothing. No display, no hint of life. I feared the worst, but hoped for the best and the next day whilst at work hunted out the right batteries and prayed to the god of kitchen gadgets that it would be enough. It was not. My scales are broken. Kaput.

This is not a good thing for a baker at the best of times, but for a skint baker with no back-up analogue scales this is disaster. Especially as I was perfectly inspired to bake something new and wonderful to get my mojo back.
I will get new scales*, but for now I am reduced to doing iffy conversions between ounces, grams and cup measures, which makes me even more nervy about breaking cakes in the process. So for a little while it might be even more sparse on recipes here.

I did however manage to knock out the cake I was hoping for, and it filled the house with the most wonderful smell, and paired perfectly with my afternoon tea and knitting. I feel it will be rather nice tonight with some ice cream too - because it's never too cold for ice cream with a warm piece of homemade cake.

I hope this lifts your winter spirits too...

Orange and rosemary hazelnut cake - serves 8-10

250g soft butter
200g hazelnuts
125g caster sugar
125g light muscovado sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
65g self-raising flour
1 tablespoon of finely chopped fresh rosemary
zest of one large orange

Preheat the oven to 160C and grease and line a 20" round deep tin.

Place the sugars, butter, rosemary and orange zest into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat like mad until it's light and fluffy (this can take a while if your kitchen is a bit chilly and the butter isn't soft enough, but have faith, it'll get there).

While it's beating, lightly toast the hazenuts in a frying pan over a low heat, and once just golden and fragrant remove and using a food processor, or pestle and morter, grind until they are like coarse breadcrumbs (I usually like to have mine at the point at which some is very fine, but there are still some chunky bits as this add texture).

Gradually add the beaten egg to the sugar/butter mixture, making sure you scrape down the sides of the bowl so it's all combined. Add the hazelnuts and mix, and then gently fold in the flour.

Put the batter in the tin and smooth the top. Bake for aprox 45-50mins, covering the top towards the end if it looks like it might be becoming too brown. Remove from the oven and cool for at least ten minutes before removing from the tin.


*thank you Christmas bonus that I was going to spend on something ridiculously frivelous and yet can now treat me to the perfect pair of replacement scales. I just need to do the research and actually drag myself to the shops.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Respite en France

This past weekend we went on a flying visit to France for a birthday bash and a bit of respite from the cold, grey, dismal January we're having in England.
It's amazing what a bit of sunshine and fresh sea air can do for one's outlook (cake and wine helps too of course!)
We've returned refreshed, full of new ideas, if only we can get a bit of sunshine here to help us out.
I forgot my camera, and so had to snap away on my phone, but am quite pleased with the results. I hope you enjoy them too, (perhaps during a break from all that marmalade making?) and I'll be back soon with a nice recipe to help ease those January blues.

p.s. whilst there I got referred to as "madame" I guess that clears that one up doesn't it!

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

It's that time again

I often feel that the time between Christmas and new year passes at a leisurely gait, and so when the new year finally starts it feels like it needs to up the pace. The first twelve days of this year have flown past for me. It's been busy; starting back at work, exploring some new avenues (more on this next week probably), and getting to grips with the fact that the pretty fairy lights are no longer up to distract us from the wintery gloom.
And of course, in this gloom there is a flash of sunshine. Marmalade! Yes, another reason that the last few days have been so busy is that it's marmalade season again, and although we still have a few jars (ahem, three boxes full) left from last year's ventures, I just can't let the season pass without making just a few batches. Seville oranges have such a short period, and I adore the heady smell that fills the house as I boil them. It's unlike any other citrus as it's not an especially fresh, clean or clear smell. Instead it's perfectly fitting with the drizzle outside. It's homey, almost spicey, and permeates the house for hours.

Yesterday I made my special Seville and Single Malt, and today it was my Seville and ginger (phew, that's going to pack a punch this year once it's matured!).
I know I should stop there, that we really don't need any more marmalade in the house, but I have a feeling there might be a few more Sevilles on our shopping list next week!
If you can get your hands on them I can highly recommend a day of marmalade making. It's not swift like jam, and takes a bit more patience, but I think it's worth all the work. I don't make marmalade with "normal" oranges as I find it too tooth-achingly sweet, but this recipe does work with them so if you fancy it by all means have a go.

Seville Marmalade - Makes aprox. 450g jars.

1k Seville oranges, buttons removed (and scrubbed if they were waxed, gently washed if not)
2kg granulated sugar
100ml fresh lemon juice.

Place your washed oranges, whole, in a large pan (that you have a lid for) and add 2.5 litres of water. Cover and bring to the boil, and then simmer gently for aprox 3 hours, or until the skins can be easily pierced with a fork. Leave to cool enough to handle. DO NOT DISCARD WATER.

Place a sieve over a bowl and one by one gently cut the oranges in half and scoop the insides out with a fork, allowing the bowl to catch any liquid. Place the orange halves on a chopping board and cut into slices of the thickness you prefer (we're a chunky household).

Measure the remaining cooking liquid, with any caught from the orange halving. You should have about 1.7 litres. If not, make it up to this amount. (if you have too much, simmer it down).

Place the orange slices in a preserving pan with the liquid, sugar and lemon juice. Heat gently and stir to dissolve the sugar. As soon as the sugar has all been dissolved whack up the heat and get it boiling as soon as possible. You want a steady "rolling" boil. DO NOT STIR - this disrupts the temperature and means it takes longer to reach set.

It will probably take between 10 and 20 mins to reach set. I always test mine on a cold plate as I find I find it more accurate than my thermometre.

Once set is reached, leave it in the pan for aprox. 1o mins so that the peel will distrubute evenly when potting up. Gently skim any scum, and then pot into hot sterile jars and seal immediately.

I always leave mine for at least a month to mature before eating.

Happy preserving!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

I've reached a point in my life...

...where "Ma'am" and "Madam" have clearly become appropriate terms of address. Which is weird.

I look young for my age. I'm not boasting (although I might be if this trait sticks around for another ten/twenty years or so!), it's just a fact. I used to hate it and think it was embarrassing, and I still get annoyed when people make assumptions about my ability/knowledge/understanding/experience based on the fact that I often get confused for five or tens years younger than I am. But frankly, it is a good thing, and one to embrace while I can.

From my journey into work this morning

So imagine my intrigue when around the time of the student demonstrations in London I was Christmas shopping, and stopped a policeman to ask for directions around a blockade. I got "Now is not the time, Ma'am" from him, and a hasty "sorry madam, we're just a bit busy" from his colleague.

Then a little while ago at the shop a man came in looking for a gift and said "excuse me madam, but could you suggest something for my wife?"

This evening, I was sitting on the train, deep in thought as I battled to count the stitches on the scrumpled up graph paper of my scarf pattern, and the conductor came through the carriage checking tickets. Upon presenting mine the conductor responded with a very serious, "thank you ma'am" accompanied by a very serious nod.

Now, really, I know I've recently had a birthday, and okay, I haven't been getting as much sleep as I usually would (thank goodness the Ashes are done and dusted, as it's positively rude to hold cricket matches in a time zone that means I have to stay up all night to watch them!), so those dark circles around my eyes are a bit darker than usual, but is it really time for me to embrace "madam" and "Ma'am"?! I was hoping I had a good few years to go!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Start as you mean to go on

Happy new year!
The end of 2010 featured a lot of reflection for us, and so when the new year rolled round it was hard to find resolutions. Like last year, when they did appear in my mind, I felt myself being drawn to larger more abstract things that I'd like achieve this year.
2010 was a big year. It was busy, and stressful, and wonderful, and ended sadly. It's always hard to predict what a year will bring, but overall I'm hoping that 2011 will build on the new phase of life we've started in our new house.
So I've put together not resolutions, but hopes for the year ahead. I certainly started as I mean to go on, with a new knitting pattern (and a new favourite yarn), a new batch of jam (made with my beautiful new knife) and an old batch of pancakes (gotta start the year off with a full satisfied stomach) and of course our new(ish) kitty wreaking havoc, as always.
In 2011 I hope to:

1. gradually reduce the chaos in the house and garden, formerly with storage, latterly with time, work and ambition! If I work really hard I might even be allowed chickens in 2012!
2. pursue the things I really want in life. I feel like I'm not quite where I should be (work/career wise), and I need to continue to push towards where that might be. This year *will* be the year that some serious business begins.
3. up my (crafty) game. A good friend of mine once pointed out that if you're in your comfort zone you're not growing, and so I need to continue to do things that intimidate me. I want to make this the year that I not only solidify my craft skills but push them, get better and learn more.
4. be more thankful. The end of the year made me realise how fortunate I am. I want to make sure that those around me know how much I value them.

Wishing you a wonderful year to come...