Monday, December 31, 2007

apron dress


I'm hanging up my apron in 2008. I am going to try and stop escaping into the kitchen for frequent sugar highs and instead start making items of lasting value.

I have started by making a apron-dress for the girls with some old Ikea fabric I've had for years. It's lined with bright lime fabric for contrast and it ties at the shoulders. It absorbs all the spills and dribbles a toddler/child makes, and it also looks practical and dare I say it, a little charming.

I'm thinking of making it Evie's school uniform, just whizz up a set of various colour-way gingham aprons, so to avoid the daily scrummage of  'what to wear - where to find it - and will she wear it if it's not pink.'


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

candied orange peel


Christmas just wouldn't be complete if I didn't candy orange peel to dip in chocolate, and also make fig salami. And if you are one of the lucky recipients, I hope you're not bored of them yet!

My slight obsession for candying orange peel started when I worked at Yetman's  Restaurant, I think the recipe we used was from a Jane Grayson book. We would add the peel to biscuits and also dip it in dark chocolate to serve with coffee. Although the recipes we used then was good, the peel never lasted long. We would always find it had gone mouldy even in an air tight tin.

I've tried many other recipes since, often concocting my own methods with OK results but more often, it would turn out too hard or too soft. But the one recipe that has worked the best is from the excellent book, Preserved by Jonny Acton and Nick Sandler. The reason this recipe seems to work, is because it takes about 5 days of  consuming huge amounts of sugar and also has a dose of glucose syrup in the final boil up.

I often struggle to follow a recipe and that, combined with my inability to understand anything numeric, means my food measuring can be a little hap-hazard. The quantity of peel required in the Preserved book is a little on the industrial size, so I have subtracted and divided to the best of my ability and come up with a recipe that seems to work just fine.

Candied Orange Peel

Approx 6 organic or un-waxed oranges, scrubbed and quartered. The peel should weigh about 600g.

Approx 1 kg sugar (granulated or caster)

Approx 150g glucose syrup

Day 1

  • Cut most of the flesh from the peel. I like to leave some flesh on as it makes the strips more succulent once they are dipped in chocolate.

  • Add the peel to large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to boil and simmer for 15 mins.

  • Drain, and repeat above process.

  • Drain again. Keeping the peel in pan, and add approx 600g sugar. Cover with water until peel is just submerged. Heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved and simmer for 30mins.

  • Turn off the heat and let the peel cool in the pan with a lid on.

Day 2

  • Remove the peel with a slotted spoon and add 100g of sugar.

  • Bring to the boil then return the peel to the pan.

  • Turn off heat and replace lid.

Day 3 and 4

  • Repeat above process

Day 5

  • Repeat above process, only you use 150g of glucose syrup instead of sugar and boil rapidly for 20mins or until reduced by half. Then place the peel in the pan and leave for a few a few hours.

  • Using tongs, remove pan from peel and lay out on drying/cooling
    racks or silicone paper to dry for up to 4 days or until it's lost a
    lot of it's moisture. You can also place in very cool oven if you want to speed things up.

  • Wrap it in a silicone paper, then put it in air tight box and store somewhere cool - it should last for months.

  • If you want to try tempering the chocolate to get that glossy, professional chocolatier look, good luck. To my utter annoyance, I seem to fail every time, and I do try every time.


Saturday, December 8, 2007

dense chocolate brownies


Some months back I stumbled across the blog Coco & Me,  at the time I was searching for a recipe for those perfect pastel macaroons when I clicked on a link to Coco & Me's step-by-step guide. Tamami's food instantly grabbed my attention and I often look at her blog, she is achieving something I have always thought about doing myself.

Tamami runs a chocolate and cake stall at Hackneys Broadway Market and her food looks amazing. She manages to bake from home for the stall on the days leading up to Saturday's market. She also has a toddler and is expecting another. I'm impressed. 

This week I was asked to provide food for a 'work' lunch for a good friends business meeting. She enjoys my food and I thought it would be a fun if a little hectic thing to do. So with the help of my wonderful parents in the house distracting the girls from 'helping', I did manage to provide what I had hoped would be a pleasing lunch for all.

I decided not to make sandwiches, (although it would have been easier) but instead I made a sweet potato, feta, onion and cumin tart;  lamb kofta's, pita, tzatiki, houmous. Slices of fresh melon and pineapple and grapes, home-made cookies and chocolate brownies for a price of £10 a head. I know I would have been happy to eat it and I believe everyone was, except the boss who wouldn't even try anything and instead, sent his secretary out for a white bap. I know he was peeved at the cost, he could have "bought in lunch for much less", but I couldn't help but feel deflated, annoyed that the boss didn't try my food and also slightly embarrassed that I had prepared something a little different and possibly charged too much. Yet I know the time and effort I took deciding, cooking, shopping and delivering not to mention the quality of ingredients that went into the lunch.

But it was a good learning curve. It reminded me of a post a few months back on Coco & Me where at Broadway Market, someone had challenged Tamami about the cost of her tarte tatin (but still bought it) and left saying “I should remember never to buy cakes from you.” 

On a brighter note, I think the  chocolate brownies I made were pretty delicious. They are wheat-free but certainly not fat-free. Moist and dense and they would last for days and days in the fridge if they weren't so damn tasty. I think I always under-cook my brownies, I  prefer them fudgy to cakey but I realise fudge isn't everyone's cuppa tea. If you prefer them cakey, just cook them for longer.

With this batch, I forgot to add the toasted hazelnuts until the mixture had been in the oven for a few minutes. Rather than omitting them completely, I threw them on the top of the slightly baked mixture and then put the tin back in the oven. I now actually think I prefer this look than them being concealed inside the dark cake.

Dense Chocolate Brownies

190g salted or unsalted butter (I like salted)

190g good quality (74%  cocoa solids) chocolate ( I swear Lidls is the best!)

3 large free range eggs

250g caster sugar

150g ground almonds

150g toasted hazelnuts or walnuts

17cm x 26cm tin lined with silicone parchment paper

Heat oven to 150ºc

  1. In a heavy based pan, heat the butter and chocolate on a very low heat until melted.

  2. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar with a balloon whisk

  3. Pour the slightly cooled chocolate mixture into the egg and sugar mix and beat until combined, thick and glossy.

  4. Gently stir in the ground almonds and whole nuts (or leave nuts for throwing on top) and pour into lined tin.

  5. Bake for 30 - 40 mins or until the top starts to puff up and crack.

  6. Place the cake tin on a cooling rack and leave to cool completely until cutting. (Cutting the brownies with a wet, hot knife makes it look slightly neater).

  7. Heat and eat with ice-cream or cut it into small pieces, and like me, eat it straight from the fridge when the girls aren't looking.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

feisty food thrower


Last week, Matilda threw a spoonful of  soggy Bran flakes onto the right hand corner of my laptop (Urrgghhh) while Evie was familiarising herself with some simple games on CBeebies website. Yes, jealousy is Tilda's favourite game. In the past, the laptop has escaped a few minor sploshes and it's consumed a number of biscuits, but this sticky dollop has killed my delete key and muffled a speaker. I know I can cut and paste but it's eally very annoying not having a delete key. I never had to confront the fact that my typing is so utterly bad until now. I miss it and want it back. But I don't think that is possible unless I go down this route of  keyboard autopsy which I confess, I would love to do. Sad? Yes. Geeky? Yes but... No, I just relish the thought of sitting still for 6 hours.....

Sunday, December 2, 2007

millionaires cupcakes


The other week, heavily pregnant Mia arrived with a bag of irresistible millionaire's shortbread. In the bag, were four individual chocolate topped shortbread in large muffin cases. I was inspired. What a great way of  serving the often messy to cut indulgence. Better still, she told me she just whizzed up a packet of shortbread fingers, added some melted butter and just pressed them into the white paper cases. So, last week I gave it a go. I think my shortbread base was too thick but Stu, being slightly Scottish loved it. With the caramel, I couldn't decide whether to boil the condensed milk in the tin, in a vat of water for several hours and risk it exploding, or, to use the other and quicker method - heating it in a pan with butter and sugar. I went for the later, I wanted full fat, billionaires shortbread.

And congratulations Mia and Sam, who have since given birth to a little girl called Mali -  very perfect and very beautiful.

Mia's Millionaires Cupcakes

1 packet 'all butter' shortbread fingers
50g melted butter

...for the caramel
120g butter
120g soft brown sugar
397g tin of condensed milk
large pinch of sea salt flakes

200g  chocolate (70% cocoa)
1 tsp sunflower oil

  1. Empty biscuits in food processor and whizz.

  2. Melt butter and pour in to whizzing crumbs.

  3. Press the biscuit mixture evenly into the 12 (or more) cup cake / muffin cases.

  4. Empty all the caramel ingredients into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring constantly until starting to caramelise. You want it to be a toffee colour although that is not essential.

  5. Place the muffin tray in the fridge.

  6. Break chocolate pieces into a bowl and heat over a pan of hot water.

  7. Once melted, add a teaspoon of sunflower oil. This is suppose to add a gloss to the chocolate like tempering but It didn't really work for me, but neither does tempering, but that's another story....

Thursday, November 8, 2007



Last month I took delivery of roughly, 10 carrier bags full of
quinces.  I have baked some, given away plenty and thrown a few due to
mould, but last week, I finally managed to boiled, puree and reduced at
least 4 bags of the beautiful fragrant fruit to a sticky paste to
end up with a relatively small amount of Membrillo.  I don't know
what I'm going to do with the remaining fruit? Perhaps quince-meat for
next years mince pies or quince vodka for next months celebrations. I'm even considering another batch of Membrillo - it's a great excuse to stand still for 90 mins.


Membrillo - Spanish Quince Paste

(Taken from Jane Grigson's Fruit Book)

  • I used about 2 kilo quinces, washed, de-fuzzed and roughly chopped

  • granulated sugar

  • small, shallow baking tin lined with silicone paper

  1. Wash quinces and wipe off the grey fuzzy fluff  jackets they wear.

  2. Roughly chop and put into large heavy based saucepan or preserving pan and cover with cold water.

  3. Simmer until the fruit is tender.

  4. Leave to cool, then drain the fruit from it's liquid and puree using a blender.

  5. Weigh fruit puree and then match it's weight with granulated sugar.

  6. Heat together, stirring constantly. I managed to listen to the Archers Omnibus and Desert Island Discs, that's at least 90 mins.

  7. During this time the colour of the puree will darken to a deep amber. It is ready when the paste is so stiff, you can hardly stir it, but don't let it start caramelising or catching the bottom of the pan.

  8. Pour into a 2" deep small baking tin, lined with silicone paper.

  9. Leave to dry in airing cupboard or low oven until you can cut it with a hot knife.

  10. Cut into smaller squares and wrap in more silicone paper (not foil as it could tear when removing later). Store in cool dry place or in a box of granulated sugar.

  11. Eat with Spanish Manchego cheese, add small amounts to fruit crumbles and pies, gravy's and sauces, tagines and curries.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Crown Prince


Tamsin, I found a picture of a Crown Prince squash I took a few weeks back. If you ever see any at the side of the road or in farm shops, buy them all! You can get at least a weeks worth of meals out of one (well, almost) and they store in a cool place for months. In fact I think I had a couple in store until Spring last year which I bought from a side of the road Halloween Pumpkin stall near Potter Heigham almost a year ago today. I decided to go again today to stock up on them, only I couldn't for the life of me find the farm stall from last year. I did, however manage to get three beauties from the excellent HFG farm shop in Blofield Norwich so at least my family now know what they will be eating for the winter months ahead - again!

Friday, October 26, 2007

china spiced soup


Crown Prince squashes, in my opinion have the best taste and the best look. Pale duck egg blue with the deepest orange flesh. I made this soup with a quarter of a squash I have been hacking hunks off for the past two weeks.  The soup turned out to be delicious and velvety smooth with the peppers and star anise really adding to the flavour.

Squash Soup

  • 50g butter

  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped

  • 3 sticks celery, roughly chopped

  • 2 garlic cloves

  • 2 red peppers, de-seeded and roughly chopped

  • 1 inch fresh ginger, chopped

  • 1/4 crown prince squash, skinned, de-seeded and roughly chopped

  • roughly, 2 pints fresh chicken stock or veg stock - marigold bouillon is good

  • 1 tsp Chinese Five Spice powder

  • 2 star anise

  • 1 cinnamon stick    

For garnish

  • handful of cashews mixed with a little oil and sprinkle of Chinese Five Spice and roasted for 5 minutes in moderate oven.

  • a chunk fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced

  1. Melt butter in heavy based large saucepan and fry onions and celery until soft.

  2. Add garlic cloves, red peppers, ginger, five-spice, star anise, cinnamon and squash. Stir for a few minutes to stop veg sticking to base of pan.

  3. Add stock and simmer until reduced.

  4. Blend soup mixture until smooth. No need to sieve.

  5. To serve, add sliced ginger and spiced cashews.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

beach babes


Cold? Autumn? Clothes? Naaaa

These photos were taken on the sunny Sunday just gone at Sea Palling beach with lovely and highly entertaining friends, Lorna and Steve. It's a beach we rarely go to as we usually intend on going to Winterton, but for some reason, we get the two confused and ended up here instead.

It's a great beach, well it was on Sunday with the bright blue sky and warm sun, but I imagine in the summer, the tranquil sound of the sea is drowned out by the irritating hum and roar of the jet-ski brigade doing endless laps around the rock sea defences.

Staying on the beach theme, I took the girls along to the Cliff Top Cafe at Overstrand last week and ate the most delicious lamb shank followed by friends shared offerings of treacle sponge and custard. Yum, so tasty. One of the best value and flavourful meals I have had out in a while - hopefully heading there again soon.



Monday, October 15, 2007

spinach and ricotta parcels


Evie and I didn't make pizzas the other day, instead she helped me make spinach and ricotta parcels. She loves painting so I asked for assistance in brushing melted butter over the paper thin filo pastry and what with the pastry being paper thin and Evie being typically eager and a little heavy handed, we had quite a few splits and cracks to patch up adding to their rustic charm.

Spinach and Ricotta Parcels

  • 1 bag spinach

  • 1 tub ricotta

  • 1 onion, finely chopped

  • 2 sticks celery, finely chopped

  • handful black olives, sliced

  • handful roasted pine-nuts

  • grated nutmeg

  • salt & pepper

  • butter - lots

  • 1 pack of filo pastry

  • sesame seeds

  1. Put a large pan of water on heat and bring to boil. Preheat oven to 180 ºc

  2. Melt butter and fry both onions and celery until soft but not brown, then tip into a bowl to cool.

  3. When water is boiling, add spinach until just wilted - about 20 seconds - and tip into a colander running cold water over it until it is no longer warm.

  4. When onions and celery are cold, tip in the ricotta, 1/2 a grated nutmeg, chopped olives, pine-nuts  and plenty of seasoning.

  5. Squeeze as much water out of the spinach as possible,  roughly chop then add to ricotta mixture.

  6. Unpack the pastry and lay it flat on a table and cut it in half length ways.

  7. Cover one of the lengths with cling film to stop it drying out while you are working with other half pile of pastry.

  8. Paint a strip of filo with butter, set aside then layer them on top of each other. (You can use one sheet, but I think 2 layers is better).

  9. Put a dessert spoon of ricotta mixture into the top corner of the pasty strip, then fold down in to a triangle shape until all the pastry has been wrapped.

  10. Cover with more butter and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

  11. Place on baking tray. When tray is full, bake for approx 15 mins.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

waffling on...


I seem to have lost my direction with cooking and baking. I had an almost empty
fridge yesterday which is rare thing for me. I said to Stu how I felt
quite liberated by the lack of provisions - no pressure to cook and
almost an excuse not to.

Usually, I make cakes, biscuits and bread, every other day if
not every day, only I have hardly baked a thing for months now, except
for some almond macaroons last Thursday which were tasty but not as tasty
as my new favourite biscuit, the Caramel Wafer/Waffle. It is the fault
of these addictive, crumbly, chewy, cinnamon flavoured biscuits that
has put my cookie cooking on hold.

I have known about these treats for decades and use to love eating
them when visiting Mum and Dad in Antwerp. I  also buy them
occasionally in health food shops (why they are in health food shops
baffles me, when 3 waffles contain just under 20 grams of fat, that
figure alone should ease my addiction) but now Asda sells them and at a
bargain price too, I can not resist. Someone else is also gorging, I went
in last week purely to restock my supply but the small space where they
are usually stacked was empty like my fridge.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

the drizzle has arrived


Evie started full time pre-school on Monday, so instead of the staggered and occasional session of the past 3 weeks, she will now be going every morning. I've been both excited and a little hesitant about her going to pre-school. Hesitant, as I can no longer stay undressed until lunch time, but pleased as it means she is getting some good simulation in the form of umpteen activities at the nursery. She seems to love going, has never shed a tear, even when I said "see you tomorrow" when I dropped her off at 8.45 this morning. But she does come home with a attitude that makes Vicky Pollard look princess like. The damp weather today hasn't helped, no space for any of us to escape. It dawned on me today, that this is what the next few months will be like. So I'd better get my activity hat on and get creative with toddler entertainment. So today we made play dough, yellow and pink to remind us of our favourite flavoured Cornish ice-creams. Tomorrow, we're making pizzas or loll-pop stick puppets or going mad with frustration. To be decided...

Saturday, October 6, 2007

human ant-ics


Te!he! what a laugh The Insect Circus was. At one point I had tears running down my cheeks. No one else had except Sophie - we had the attack of the teenage giggles.

The Insect Circus, came to Norwich Playhouse and is a cabaret act of about 9 people. Some dressed up as insects, some in less creepy costumes. The insect couture was  brilliant - moths, bluebottles, butterflies, may-fly, dust mites, wasps and ants all made with fabulous detail and humour.

It was the humour of the acts that baffled us, it wasn't quite spoof (except one act), and it wasn't quite laugh out loud, it was just oddly funny and very inventive - surely there can't be many shows like this?

Tomorrow Stu is going to see it with Evie. Evie will love it and will want every costume, every girl, in every act wears. I wish I had gone with Evie, I think seeing her delight and expressions throughout the show would have changed my perspective of it. Anyway, it will be interesting to hear what Stu thinks of it - I have given little away.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

back to the blog


Yee-Haaa! I've managed to finally do something with our holiday snaps. I missed writing and posting photos while we were away especially as there seemed so much I could blog about. But since being home, with the Internet at my finger tips, I have been a little reluctant. This has been partly due to my post-holiday rule of bed by 10pm which is now longer. It lasted just two weeks, about as long as my slight sun tan.

Our two weeks in Cornwall and Devon, a day and night in both Somerset and Monmouthshire were just magical. I can't wait to go back. More photo's here.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

a fishy request...


Pictured above, Chris and Prince(ss) Jude and Evie

Lovely Chrissie, you asked for something fishy,

You want something to spread,

On toast or pitta or a wheat-free fritta

For a boat trip on the med (ergghhh- broads)

Dearest Chrissie, as requested, the mackerel pate you like so much.

Mackerel Pate

  • 1 large packet of smoked mackerel fillets

  • 500g tub of reduced fat cream cheese (like Philadelphia)

  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped or 1 bunch of spring onions

  • bunch of chives chopped - optional

  • handful chopped parsley

  • 1 heaped dessert-spoon mayonnaise

  • 1 heaped teaspoon horseradish sauce

  • juice of 1 lemon

  • freshly ground black pepper

  1. De-skin and de-bone fish fillets and break into a large bowl

  2. Add all the other ingredients and mix with fork

  3. Delicious with freshly grated raw beetroot, lemon juice and salt and pepper .

Friday, August 24, 2007

very greengaging


Greengages, the sweet, thin skinned, short seasoned plum-like fruit that often passes me by each year. My sister Amy is a big fan of greengages and hearing her talk about them, earlier this week, made me go and find some.

Once I bought them I wasn't too sure what to do with them. When I buy apricots, I usually bake them gently with amaretto or make a compote or crumble. I do the same with plums but with the greengages, I thought I'd make a cake and for some reason I thought I'd make a pecan cake with greengages - quick, simple and very tasty and seemed a big hit with my parents (or was that the custard and ice-cream?)

Greengage and Pecan Slab

  • 4 oz unsalted butter, soft

  • 4 oz soft brown sugar

  • 2 oz spelt flour

  • 2 oz self raising flour

  • half tsp baking powder

  • half tsp vanilla extract

  • 2 eggs

  • 4 oz pecans, roasted

  • approx 10 greengages

  • dark muscavado or Demerara sugar

  1. Place all the ingredients except the nuts into a food processor and combine

  2. Add half the nuts and pulse until they are broken down - but not ground

  3. Half and de-stoned the greengages and lay on the bottom of a lined tin

  4. Pour batter into lined small, rectangular baking tray

  5. Top with remaining broken pecan nuts and a good sprinkle of muscavado sugar and bake for 20 mins at 160º  c

  6. Cool on wire rack for 10 mimutes then remove from tin


Thursday, August 23, 2007

fruit sherbets


Jamie Olivers, Jamie's Italy cook book has appealing, simple earthy recipes. There are two pudding I've been meaning to cook for the past year, bolognese polenta and apple cake one Florentine rice tart. The tart appeals so much as I want it to taste just like a rice tart I use to love in a patisserie near Mum and Dads apartment in Antwerp and I'll never know unless I try it...
One recipe I have tried from Jamie's Italy is the extremely simple and zingy lemon sherbet. What makes it a sherbet and not a sorbet is the addition of mascapone which enriches it slightly. So far I've used the base recipe to make raspberry, mango and lime and as picture above, blackberry and apple. I've noticed that the blackberry's in the countryside aren't ripe until the end of the month but for some reason, the city bramble bushes over the road, along the river are ripe at the beginning of August. I experimented a bit with the apple sherbet, adding half a cucumber and a few mint leaves - I think  it works well but I'm not sure if others will.

Blackberry Sorbet

  • 7fl oz water

  • 7 oz sugar

  • 250g blackberries, gently simmered, pureed and sieved

  • half tub mascapone

  1. Heat the sugar and water and boil for 5 minutes or until it is clear then leave to cool in a bowl.

  2. Add the fruit puree and mascapone, beating until it's all blended.

  3. Pour into a tub or pre frozen metal dish and freeze.

*If making pure lemon sherbet, use 7 fl oz of lemon juice and rind of  2 lemons. Taste and make sure it's sharp enough, then freeze.

Apple Sherbet

  • 4 granny smith apples

  • half cucumber

  • 4 mint leaves

  • glug of apple or pear liqueur

  • 7fl oz water

  • 7 oz sugar

  • half tub mascapone

  1. Make sugar syrup as above

  2. Wash and core apples then chop and add to blender

  3. Wash cucumber, chop and also add the blender

  4. Add liqueur and a dash of water and sprig of mint

  5. Whizz until completely pureed adding the mint leaves at the last second

  6. Pass puree through large mesh sieve and add to sugar syrup

  7. Add mascapone and whisk well, pour into tub and freeze

Cheeky cockney geezer recommends breaking sorbet up with fork every few hours but I forgot and it seemes fine.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

adore dora's knickers


Evie seems to have sadly forgotten about Grandma Dora's dresses. Perhaps they were getting too tight or perhaps they are just too far at the back of the wardrobe to reach, so, for the time being are forgotten treasures. But, the great (and bad) thing about having two girls is the endless re-cycling and identical outfits I can dress Matilda in. These beautiful handmade knickers were made by Grandma Dora. The photo doesn't do the lace trim and neat stitching justice and as ever, I would love to have a go making a pair. I have fabric, I have the workroom, I have a fabulous old and borrowed sewing machine, but I just can't seem to find the uninterrupted time. But I will, I have to before Matilda starts getting as fashion fussy as her big sister.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

a portrait


Evie draws, paints, glues and creates something every day. Over the past few months her drawings have really started to look representative. They are usually faces consisting of lop sided eyes and a smile but todays portrait in my note book (ergghh) has, for the first time, legs, big eyes and all over body hair. I say nothing.

Saturday, August 11, 2007



I'm spending today cursing the BBC's often inaccurate weather forecasting. Last weekend was spent camping in what can only be described as perfect camping conditions; slight warm breeze, Cote d'Azur blue sky, cool nights and day temperatures that makes everyone just smile. Having had such a relaxing and tear free weekend (me), we thought about trying to repeat the idyll this weekend only this time, we weren't going to camp at popular Wells-Next-Sea but instead, a tiny, dreamily unspoilt hiding, not too far away. And no, I wouldn't dream of disclosing where...

Earlier in the week, BBC's meteorological expects where forecasting northerly winds of up to 24 mph and being a fair weathered camper, it didn't appeal much so I cancelled the romantic idyll.

So, I'm sitting in the garden with my two restless girls trying to catch up on a little typing - it's going slowly and I'm getting distracted not just by them but nasturtium berries growing over our superb new decking,which I have just discovered taste deliciously peppery. And as for the decking...


it's bloody lovely.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

new books and cafe


On Monday I turned 34 and then I turned into a bad tempered, irrational mother (again). Is there a remedy for intolerance?

Also on Monday, I ate the most delicious lunch at the just opened
Wiveton Cafe, cooked by wonderful friend and fabulous chef, Ali Yetman. The
Cafe is a delight; brightly coloured inside with views over looking the
growing seasonal vegetables Ali cooks with and part of the North
Norfolk coastline. I've written a more detailed post here.

As with the nature of birthdays, lovely gifts are received and as with most of my
birthdays, books are welcomely received and usually from my in-laws and
brother Matt - thank you. This year I received cook books; Angela
Harnetts Cucina and Clotilde Dusoulier's  Chocolate & Zucchini inspired by the well known food blog of the same name. I'm looking forward to having a closer look and baking something. I haven't baked for ages  (perhaps that's my problem...)

The other book I received from my in-laws was Lotta Jansdotter's Simple Sewing- perfectly timed to encourage me to create in my new and already untidy 'studio' ( I use that term very lightly).


Monday, July 23, 2007

blackcurrant jam


I made endless jars of blackcurrant jam last week. The fruit was purchased from the small fruit farm outside Horsford for only 50p a lb. Seemed stupidly cheap.

Recipe reference for next year.

  • 6 lb blackcurrants - de-stalked and unwashed

  • 5 lb 12 oz granulated sugar

  • 1 1/2  pint water

Place the blackcurrants and water in preserving pan or large saucepan and bring to boil.
Simmer for 15 mins, removing fruit-scrum as it bubbles.
Add sugar and boil for 30mins, stirring frequently to stop it catching on the bottom of the pan.
Blackcurrant jam always sets without any problem, but to check, place a small amount on a chilled plate , leave for a few minutes and see if it 'wrinkles' when pushed. If it does, it will set.
Pour into sterilised jars, I used the dishwasher then warmed in the oven.
Then seal with wax discs and jam pot covers.

third batch


Mum - you asked me this week if I could move on from the macaroons....and finally, I will. Phew. But first I must say that I made a third batch. And, had I bothered to sieve the ground almonds rather than not, they would have looked less lumpy-rustic. Still,  they did look good, only I now think that simple-to-make-bog-standard macaroons using Nigella's recipe, tastes so much better than these airy, sweet, faffy, piped, filled creations. Yes, they look good but they just don't seem to satisfy my almond cravings. Even after eating 10-20 with fillings ranging from lemon curd to peanut butter, they just weren't hitting the mark. Is there something wrong with me?

latitude and gratitude


Last weekend we all went to Latitude Festival, Suffolk. We camped, walked (lots), danced, laughed, ate and drank. We we were invited along as guest with Uncle David and the crew of the kids puppet theatre group doing The Peddlar of Swaffham which was one of the best shows there - I am biased, but comedians Marcus Brigstocke and Dylan Moran even spoke highly of them in their stand up set. I've blogged about the event on All Things Considered so I won't go on... but it's definitely a great festival to take kids to.

On the culinary side of things, I've been quite busy. Fruit picking, jam making, vodka/gin fruit infusing, baking endless types of bread and also I packed off my first baked parcel to my cousins wife Claudia who had just given birth to Marmaduke Gerry. Stuffed in a box were, the 3rd attempt macaroons (I hope she likes them), chunky ginger biscuits, chocolate salty sables and chocolate coconut mini-muffins and topped with a child style, left-handed home drawn card. To my delight and surprise, Claudia is planning on putting in orders for her just-birthed friends. I knew the post birth sugar hit would be a winner.

Friday, July 13, 2007

second attempt macaroons


Having eaten too many of the sugary, crisp macaroons the other night, I lay
awake worrying and wondering about everything and anything for much
longer than I wanted to. So, come the morning, I was rather tetchy
which wasn't soothed by immediately scoffing more of the now soft
biscuits. I was happy to discover, the crispy, toast like macaroons had improved over night and even more so, when I sandwiched with some chocolate Dulce de Leche (which I imagine to a macaroon zealots, is bad) between two biscuits. Oh well, I thought it inventive, it tasted bloody good and involved no washing up.

The recipe I used for Alan Bennett's favourite cup of tea accomplishment, was from Insanity Theory blog which I came across per chance. She uses the Italian meringue technique which is used by adding hot sugar syrup instead of  caster to the egg white. It makes a much more solid 'soft peak' (bit of a contradiction). I've no idea what a pavlova or small meringues would be like made this way, I'll try and find out one day.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

latest obsession(s)


I did it. I actually went for a run this evening. Music in ears, hideously unfashionable trainers on and off I went up the hill, around the park and up another hill and finally down one home. I was gone away 15 luxurious lonesome minutes. Whether or not I can keep this up is another thing. If there are noticeable improvements in my moods, my energy levels and my desire to do house work, then running is a good thing and I will endeavor to continue.

So, feeling revitalised, I set to prepare myself a quinoa, cashew, feta and watercress salad (... I know), whilst also trying my second batch of the 2006- blog-trendy, French macaroon. Multi tasking is not one of my strong points.

They are sitting in the oven as I write this and some of the macaroons 'feet' have appeared. Phew. My last batch didn't grow feet which means I failed. It's quite a complex but quick procedure, and every blog that had a recipe conflicted with the other. I've mentioned previously about Pierre Herme, the French king of exquisite biscuits and cakes, who makes some of the most attractive macaroons (see image) is the inspiration behind the popular blog topic. Anyway, just checked mine, the feet are stunted and the second tray to be baked, are totally over cooked and crisp like melba toast (see what I mean about multi tasking?) Perhaps it's my appallingly distressed and over worked oven that is failing, but I doubt it, although it will be interesting to see how our brand new oven (it's been sitting boxed for 5 months) will fair in comparison. I hope to find out one day soon.

creating energy


I wish I could blog daily like other folk but the truth is, I can't. Well I do, but that's another story....

During my days of wearing ear plugs to protect myself from frequent whinging (Evie does have chicken pox so moaning is allowed), I conduct verbal banter with myself about what I'm going to waffle about. Then, when it comes to finally sitting down and writing something, my mind goes blank.

I sometimes wonder if I should set time limits on the use of the laptop - it can be quite destructive. I find the World Wide Web just exactly that. A web so vast and wide, with so many people with so much talent totally daunting. The further I click, the further I get woven in, the further I'm inspired and the further I think I should  just leave blogging and surfing to others as in many ways, not having the time to create is worse than being inspired.

But hey, I've also been considering exercise today. I need to energise my tired body and mind and I think that some sort of exercise/dance could be the solution. The other week I received an email from someone who'd come across the The Bee Hive. Cassie actually lives nearby and has been writing a blog, Rectors Wife Revamp since January about her progression and transformation since getting a personal trainer. Cassie is now getting hooked on running and the photos of her before and after, are inspirational - as I said in my reply email, my trainers are out of the cupboard - a step further to being worn for the first time in 3 years and a second time ever to pound the pavements (maybe...)

Back to food, the thing I'm comfy with, the photo above is of our supper. Broad beans and spuds form our garden, preserved artichokes from last months arduous preparation and goats cheese and b'roo from Asda (the shop people hate but I love, but more on that another day). Why my beetroot hasn't grown this year is a mystery, I have planted seeds four times with nothing appearing but a fashionably minuscule red stemed leaf. Very disappointing.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

ginger & chocolate biscuits


This hideous weather isn't just making my emotions damp, my eyes weep irratically like a semi broken water feature, but it's also making me want to bake, bake and bake. I counted 9 different types of flour in my cupboard the other day. Is that excessive? And if I don't have flour, eggs, sugar, chocolate and unsalted butter in the house I feel uneasy. I can't work out if it's the constant rain, or the wheat/butter/sugar addiction I have that's getting to me, or just that I'm a mother with two small children trapped indoors during the summer months....

However, I made some buttery ginger biscuits the other day, very similar to my favourite chocolate salty sables from Foodbeam taken from Pierre Herme who incidentally, could be the most stylish baker I've ever come across. The biscuits are quick, easy, freezable and damn tasty and I've now got to add crystallised ginger as another must have security ingredient. Have you ever tried a mug of chopped ginger and hot water? Delicious.

To make the biscuits, weigh out:

  • 175g plain flour, rice flour or 50/50 of them both - rice flour makes a crunchier biscuit

  • 125g softened unsalted butter

  • 50g light brown sugar

  • 75g crystallised ginger

  • 50g plain chocolate, chopped (optional)

  • Maldon sea salt

Preheat oven to 150ºc.
Using a food processor, add the butter and the sugar and pulse until combined.
Add flour, continue to pulse then add ginger cubes. Pulse until you have the ginger to the size you like. Bigger is best in my opinion.
Take out blade and add chopped chocolate.
Scrap dough out of processor and halve.
Roll each half into a sausage and wrap in cling-film.
Place in fridge until firm enough to slice. (Freeze the mixture at this point if  wanting to use later).
Slice into rounds, sprinkle with sea salt, place on a baking tray lined with silicone paper, and bake for 10-12 mins or until a light, golden colour.
Cool on baking sheet then transfer to wire cooling rack.

If you don't want to add chocolate to the biscuits, you could cover them with melted chocolate instead.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

lacey leaves


The filigree leaves of my cabbage and cauliflowers are irritatingly pretty. This evening, I counted 12, fat, juicy caterpillars feasting happily on the luscious rain sodden plants. A few years back I grew brassicas, it took a day or two to realise where the beautiful display of cabbage white butterflies come from. I'm now wondering why I didn't get the net curtaining out, as usual by good intentions failed me.

On a more positive and fruitful note, the broad beans are ready for picking and I'm pleased to say, pest free. True to  tradition, these will be munched with pancetta, garlic, parmigiano and plenty of fresh herbs and olive oil. The excellent food magazine Waitrose Food Illustrated has some tasty broad bean recipe suggestions worth trying.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

snail gazing


Evie's latest obsession is capturing snails. This obsession has meant we have numerous snails of all shapes and sizes  living a gluttonous life on our green scraps in a container outside. At one point the box came inside and the biggest and fattest became a permanent fixture on Evie's hand.

I am convinced this very snail keeps wondering back towards the house. Is it asking to be purged? I did sprinkle some oats into the box and have contemplated adding a handful of fresh thyme and rosemary, securing a net over the top and purging them for a feast with garlic and toast -  not for the snails but for us. Do they taste great? I have seen the purging process on a recent food programme and I'm getting more curious the more often I see Mr fatty approach the door...


summer pudding


I've discovered a PYO fruit farm just outside Norwich which sells the most delicious strawberries, loganberries and gooseberries. Unlike most strawberries, these ones are grown in grow-bags raised off the ground, so are a perfect height for picking, especially 3 year olds.

With this batch of red fruit I've made a summer pudding and with the gooseberries, I think I'll make a crumble or fool. Summer pudding has to be one of the tastiest fruit puddings and one of the simplest to make. I'm sure it's not everyone's idea cup of tea - eating soggy white bread drenched with fruit syrup, but to me, it's so traditional and summery and perfect with a hefty helping of double cream.

I used frozen blackcurrants, red currents and raspberries along with some fresh raspberries, loganberries and strawberries. Using frozen fruit is ideal as they produce more juice then fresh fruit, it was also easier as not all of the fruit is in season yet. I don't think the bread I used was really stale enough, a two day old pre-sliced, white sandwich bakery loaf is your best best. Using those pappy, bagged loaves is pointless, they go moldy before they go stale due to the amount of preservatives in them.

I've got no idea about quantities, you basically need enough fruit to fill the pudding basin you are using. Using glass bowl is best, you can then see if any of the bread is still white and not yet fruit drenched.

I think I roughly used:

  • 1/2 lb hulled and halved strawberries

  • 1/2 Ib fresh raspberries

  • 1/2 Ib frozen raspberries

  • 1/2 Ib frozen blackcurrants

  • 1/2 Ib red/white currents

  • 1/2 Ib loganberries

  • 1 white loaf, sliced with crusts removed

  • 2-3 tablespoons of caster sugar

Gently heat the blackcurrants and add the sugar and a little water. Then tip in the frozen raspberries and remaining currents and gently mix.
Tip in the rest of the fruit and check for sweetness and quantity of juice - you need a quite a bit.
Line your chosen pudding basin with the bread, overlapping the slices.
Once you're happy with your bread layout,  take it out remembering the order it goes back in and dip each piece into the pan of  fruit.
Put the bread back in the bowl, juice side down.
Once all the bread is lining the bowl, tip in the fruit and top with more bread.
Find a suitable sized plate and place it on top of the pudding followed by a weight.
Refrigerate for  8 hours or overnight.
When ready to eat, run a knife around the pudding, place a large plate on top, turn upside down and shake until it drops on the plate.
Eat with as much cream as your guilt will allow.



Saturday, June 23, 2007

artichoke fest


The above box of artichokes is waiting to be dealt with. If you have ever dealt with artichokes, you will know that it's not a quick task.

When I worked at Yetman's Restaurant, Ali, Shirley and I would great the arrival of Desmond's artichokes with both glee and glum knowledge that the succulent little globes would take a while to blitz through. We would call it the 'artichoke fest'. If we were lucky and the weather was being kind, we would sit on the grass in Ali's beautiful cottage garden surrounded by beagles, bowls of water, rubber gloves, endless lemons, very sharp knives, vegetable peelers and chopping boards.

As I remember, we would often have a conveyor belt system going on, one person peeling, two people trimming.  I tried to entice Stu into helping me deal with the first batch I did last week, I failed and did it alone...

The artichoke's I have are from Wiveton Hall, a blissfully idyllic farm on the North Norfolk coast between Cley and Blakeney. These artichoke's, like last weeks, will be preserved in herb infused olive oil and should keep indefinitely ready for eating with salads, stuffed with lemon and pancetta or heaped on top of toasted ciabatta and goats cheese. The recipe I used to preserve them can be found here.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

cupboard love



Here I am running up the steps of our virtually finished stairs. No
longer do we need to climb the ascent on the uneven, narrow planks as
now we can leap up on the deep, thick and sturdy oak treads.
Grandparents, you can almost rest,  just the balustrades needed now...

Enough about the steps, how sleek does this beautifully curved, hand
crafted, tailor made, store-cupboard staircase look? Stu, you're bloody brilliant.
Every single piece of space under the staircase is being ulitised. The
cupboards open with a gentle push so reveal totally disorganised badly
ulilised cupboard space (my fault).

So, this week the house has had a new lick of paint inside, some of the
kitchen cupboard have doors on for the first time in 3 years , the
stairs are pretty much finished and the yellow balau decking is being
laid at the weekend.

Here's a taster of the new not-so-yellow balau decking planks (it's the stuff on the left...)


Thursday, June 14, 2007

exposed cupboards


The cleverly concealed cupboards built under the staircase are now exposed again revealing all the dust and clutter I forget I collect.

The reason for the removal of the fascias is that they are now in the safe hands of Donny the lacquerist (?) who will transform them from grubby MDF to a bright and dazzling matt white surface.

... another step closer to 'getting there'.

lips the colour of the sky


Ever since I wrote about our stunning April the weather has been far from seasonal. Even as I type this, it's chucking it down - big flashes of lightning and  grumbles of thunder. Tonight I'm not too worried about the rain as I arrived home just before the storm hit and today I planted some plants and seeds so these will certainly benefit from the soak even if my washing won't.

I was pleased to have been in Cley yesterday when it was sunny having just missed a local storm. I sat with the girls in Fran's garden watching them watching a tortoise whilst eating blue paint the colour of the sky.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

alliums and others


My two and only alliums grown this year are nearly over - gone to seed. I knew I should have gone shopping for bulbs early in the autumn instead of leaving it to the very last minute. I was lucky to find the two I did; a big giant stemmed purple pom-pom and the beautiful, firework schubertii.

This year, in a few months if not sooner I'm going to purchase a
bulk load. I was looking online the other night for some bulb varieties
and foud a site selling 50 odd bulbs for £24 - not bad.

Alliums on mass look fabulous, they never fail to please. I've
realised through my first year of 'border' gardening that I have a lot
to learn but have learnt a bit. Next year I will buy more of the same
varities instead of lots of many different varieties. And having walked past the deeply packed groups of plants and over flowing flower beds in Waterloo Park (Norwich) today, I've realise that's what I have to do.

The flower beds are stunning (apparently some of the longest herbaceous borders in the UK...ummm?) with clusters of achillea moonshine, artichokes, sage, fennel, poppies, alliums to name a few. The park also has an old bandstand and large, renovated pavilion. I found this photo of the wisteria clad pavilion terrace on flickr, it sort of sums up Waterloo Park.


Monday, June 4, 2007

a step closer...


Over the past week Stu's been making the oak treads for our staircase and yesterday, to my excitement (and safety) he has almost finished them.

They look fantastic and having something new and improved in the house has spurred us on. In fact, when I came back from Mum and Dad's after a tearful and frustrating day with Dad's new iMac's hard-drive crashing, causing me to loose an important spreadsheet, I was so comforted and
pleased to see the solid treads fitted that I failed to notice that Stu had also painted a kitchen wall in a colour called 'squid ink'. I then noticed a borrowed copy of Kevin McClouds Colour Palette book on the table and it all made perfect sense.