Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Recipe for a Merry Christmas

Take one family and a few time-honoured traditions. Add: a tree that touches the ceiling
a crib complete with moose, signpost and plenty of camels
a big bird (roasted)
root veg chopped with precision and a few elegantly gift-wrapped placemats 
 plenty of fudge
a strudel
and some amaretti paper flying fire fun!

Serve with as much good will to all men as you can muster and a steady stream of silly games. 'Tis the season to be jolly after all. 

Monday, 15 November 2010

Pear Hazelnut and Chocolate Cake

No story. Just one darn tasty cake. Try this recipe from BBC Good Food out next time you have a few spare pears knocking around. Grown-up tasting and great for naughty breakfast. 

Monday, 1 November 2010

Spooky Shortbread Fingers

As excuses for parties go, Halloween is by no means my favourite. Make new friends with people with monster masks and faces dripping with fake blood? Frankly, I'd rather not. Halloween as an excuse for a spot of themed baking? Now we're talking. 
A Halloween baking session left the kitchen covered in witches finger biscuits. A bit scary. Click here for the recipe. 

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Mad Men Soiree

We had a Mad Men themed party! The food looked a bit like this... 
A sixties-inspired spread: onion dip, vol au vents, cheese straws and banana salad!
Cheese Straws (in ounces for authenticity)
4 oz plain flour                         1 egg yolk
pinch of salt                              2oz Cheddar cheese
dash of Cayenne pepper         1 tablespoon water
2 oz butter
Rub together butter and flour until the mix resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the finely grated cheese and bind with the egg yolk and water. Knead lightly and roll out. Cut into lots of strips and a few rings if you feel like some extra faffing for presentation purposes. Bake in a hot oven for 7-10 minutes. Cool and place the cheese straws into rings for serving.
"Cheese Straws, in neat little bundles slipped through pastry rings, make delicious cocktail savoury snacks." 
~from Woman's Own Cook Book (1964)

sixties banana salad
A faithful reproduction of a pretty exotic sixties salad. It might be an acquired taste but I think its rather handsome. 

Monday, 18 October 2010

Silver Darlings: a day of herring inspired fun

I have many guises. On Saturday 17th October I was wearing my puppeteering hat. Its quite a new hat! Dark Squid Inc. (Susie, Rosie and I) performed 'Secrets of the Sizewell Sea', an underwater tale involving nuclear waste, mutated sea creatures and everything in between, to an appreciative audience of toddlers, parents and grandmas at  Tide museum Gt. Yarmouth's annual herring day. Herring-related activities of every manner imaginable were the order of the day, and it was great.

We have big ideas and exciting plans for new shows and performances at different venues. Watch this space!
Stars of the show Vilma the Whale and Stephen Seahorse

No prizes for guessing what we had for lunch... 
Herring Frying
Herring in a roll £3.00! 
The problem with herring is that it is an attention seeker. Not satisfied with a whole day to celebrate its history and influence on the economy of Gt. Yarmouth if you have herring for lunch you will still taste it at dinnertime. 

I made a picture!
I was more than a bit excited about this picture I made for my Mum. 

Can't wait until next year for more herring-inspired fun? Get yourself down to Gt.Yarmouth's Time and Tide Museum already!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Oat and Raisin Consolation Cookies

Cookies and wheels are both round. Here endeth the similarities. Cookies I can cope with. I win at cookies. Wheels are another matter. Every summer I set out to conquer the wheel. The bicycle, the car, I aim to tame. Too often they defeat me with their tyres and their gears and their anti-brake locking systems (don't ask, actually bicycles almost definitely don't have those). As such last Tuesday I failed my driving test for the second time. Lucky I've got my legs and a bus pass. Unlucky no car has cookies for wheels. 

Cookies of the oat and raisin variety

Heather, Maud and I watched the hilarious His Girl Friday and had tea and cookies. This film is a top laugh, so good it will make you forget about any misfortune, any mis-success.  If you haven't seen it, seek it out! 

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Pumpkin and lentil soup-stew-pie

I made Nigel Slater's Pumpkin and lentil stew-soup and it was good. The colour combination of earthy green and luminous orange is more than a bit groovy. The next day with the addition of some puff pastry, spinach and feta I turned my soup into a pie and it was (even more) good. If this recipe was a toy it would be a transformer car-robot-plane. 

To transform soup-stew into pie:
preheat oven to 220 C - roll out puff pastry to make pie lids - place on a baking tray and bake for 10 minutes - meanwhile, take a bowl of the soup and reduce it simmering for 10 minutes - mix a teaspoon of flour and a glug of milk in a mug then add to the saucepan - stir in a handful of spinach and a handful of feta cheese - spoon pie filling onto a plate and top with the pastry lids - enjoy!

Pie time!

Monday, 27 September 2010

The first roast of fall and an apple cake

Heather had the gang over for a roast. She's good like that. I had planned to go blackberry-picking in the morning and make crumble but the weather was miserable so I made an apple cake instead. This recipe for Swedish Apple Cake, billed as foolproof and fabulous, lived up to its promising description. It was super-tasty and there was enough for all 12 of us.

Swedish Apple Cake
Sweet apple-y goodness!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

A soujourn in Sevilla

I went to Sevilla on a little adventure . I stayed in this hostel full of panic-stricken Erasmus students having difficulties finding accommodation and a hilarious Yorkshire-man with sunburn caught on a win-deh beach who managed to convince me that Machieavelli was a pragmatist.

Here are few things I saw / encountered / ate:
Arches upon arches at the Alcazar palace

 A peacock unsure of himself crossing the road at the Alcazar gardens.  

Such a lot of  jamón 

A game-bird tall at Mercado de Triana
This made me want to learn how to pluck and prepare a bird / skin a rabbit. I was filled with fake nostalgia to thinking of skills lost in our sanitised supermarket-society. 

Churches with congregations! Wah? Plaza de San Lorenzo
This seemed like a novelty to me. The other week an American couple asked me if they would have to queue for evensong at the Cathedral and I struggled not to guffaw. It appears there is little else to do at 7 o'clock other than go to mass. 

This vicar will look after your scooter while you pray
My view as I sat eating espinicas con garbanzos (garlicky spinach and chickpeas) and sipping beer at a little tapas bar. This is how I would woo someone. I felt wooed.

Nuns sells cakes through this hole in the wall at the Convento de Santa Ines. No word of a lie.  

When my eyes were open, this was my view from my chosen bench in the Parque Maria Luisa. The sun shone and my worries burned away. I like siesta time, culturally legitimized napping, dozing on park benches without feeling like a tramp.

There was a free projection of Carmen on the patio of the city council building just minutes away from my hostel. Check out this clip of Antonio Gades' flamenco to set your heart a-fluttering. Look at him go! Flamenco, tap dancing with knobs on.  

Almost the end airport tapas - notso hot but not as sad as sandwiches. 

P.S. I ate some amaaazing ice-cream. There are no pictures because I was too busy scoffing it before it melted, duh! Interesting flavours included: caramel pine-nut, profiterole, pistachio, cinnamon and tiramisu. 

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Rosie and Rachel in the Secret Garden.

It sounds like the title to children's story doesn't it? Well, us almost-grown-ups are entitled to some wonderment also. Rosie and I set to work mixing up some olive and feta bread and then sneaked of for a frolic, complete with tea and cake, in a secret garden. Part of me wants this secret garden to remain just that but everybody knows sharing is good so pay the Plantation Garden a visit soon. Despite its 'secret' status it is actually highly accessible, close to the city centre just a little way along Earlham road. Go seek it out!

Rosie's (unorthodox) kneading technique

tea and cake!
Tea and cake for £2.00!


Monday, 30 August 2010

A Sunday in Solitude

In an introduction to his poem Life of Sundays, which you can read or listen to here on the poetry archive, Rodney Jones writes:

"I think I could recognise Sundays from any other day if I came back from the planet Mars."

I feel the same way. Sundays can be oppressive. This week I chose to surrender to the atmosphere of the day. I baked. I wandered. I was aimless.

Onion Poppy seed bread
Freshly-baked Onion and Poppy Seed Bread.
I am quite pleased with how this turned out. I made some top class cheese sandwiches with this loaf and used the rest to mop up beetroot soup.

Wild mushrooms on a windy day
I took a walk along the Marriott's way and spotted lots of mushrooms on the verges of the path which was once a railway line. I want to learn how to forage for wild mushrooms. Teach me?

View of the city from New Mills

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Pizza-shaped stress relief

I've been tempering some low-level but increasingly nagging anxiety with some serious "look after yourself why don't you!" behaviour.

Home-made roasted vegetable pizza. In bed. The final of Celebrity Masterchef.

Yes please.

I used this recipe and left it in the fridge over night to prove. I forgot to halve the amount of yeast and spent a few moments at various points of the day worrying that there would be a burgeoning dough monster lurking next to the milk on my return. There wasn't.

Monday, 23 August 2010

When things get messy grate beetroot.

My weekend was nightmarish. All you need to know is that the sort of catastrophe occurred that led to a phone call to Blockbuster Drain Service, the plumbing equivalent of Ghostbusters.

Anyway, I have been meaning to make these Beetroot fritters with lemon and saffron yoghurt from Yotam Ottolenghi's column the New Vegetarian for a while. The house was in such a mess I didn't think grating 250g of cooked beetroot then squeezing out the juice (the sort of activity that back home would have sent my Dad's blood pressure rocketing) was going to make much difference. Attempting to dry out the beetroot was tricky. To make the fritters bind together and fry effectively I ended up adding a couple of tablespoons of flour. That was a much more sensible solution, though I admit I relished the Lady Macbeth-like drama of beetroot blood on my hands.
Take these things...

I did some substituting on the fresh herb front because I'm pretty challenged on the keeping-green-things-alive front so I replaced them with a healthy shake of dried oregano. Also, lacking saffron and lemon I made a tasty sauce with tahini lime and with yoghurt instead. So that is quite a bit of tweaking but fundamentally this flavour combination is ace: earthy, tangy and sweet.
and make this!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Ghent: architecture, art and flexitarianism

So, Mum and I have been trying to organise a trip to Ghent for a while now and the other week I finally got an opportunity to tag along. With my shifts at the cathedral shifted and my apologies made to the Greens I was able to take a break from incessant smiling and letterboxes for a few days.
On the Eurostar as we hurtled through the countryside and into the city we spotted some spectacular rainbows.

I don't know if you've noticed but in Norwich there are 12 iconic buildings (the Castle, Cathedral, St. James Mill... the ones worth noticing) that are linked up with 12 buildings in Ghent, a city that shares some common features, as part of an EU funded project called Shaping 24. I was keen to track them down like a pirate looking for architectural treasures, or more accurately, a big kid. The lady at the tourist information desk had never heard of Norwich or this initiative, but she helped me out marking the sites on the map, no doubt thinking I was a bit of a nutter. I managed to visit or spot 9 out of 12 buildings (75% explorer success rate!) including: two abbeys, a cathedral, a church, an old monastery, a museum of fine art, a city hall, a bell tower and a castle. Their Castle of the Counts looks even more Disney than ours on account the flags on top and St. Bavo's Cathedral was a bit spooky, too many tombs and a crypt full of bling and tat. The Beguinages monastery, however, where religious women the sign defines as "widows or spinsters who wished to live and independent but committed life outside the recognised orders with their vows of fidelity and poverty", was well worth tracking down. I wandered around the monastic buildings weighing up the likelihood of my being one of those women and came to the conclusion that a nun's life would seem like emancipation in comparison to a life of perpetual childbearing.

I also spent some time nosing around the S.M.A.K contemporary art gallery. They had an exhibition about installation art and the new challenges it brings to curators. Its interesting to think about the order behind what appears to be chaotic, the huge files of information about dimensions, materials and even dust that you wouldn't otherwise know existed.
at the S.M.A.K
Installation by Honoré d’O

Apparently, Ghent is the 'Veggie Capital of Europe'. I don't know who gave them that accolade, especially considering this statistic from the campaign website: "In Belgium we eat an average of about 1,800 animals during our lifetime: 891 chickens, 42 pigs, 5 cows, 789 fish, 7 sheep, 43 turkeys and 24 rabbits and other game. With one veggie day a week you can save 250 animals in the course of your lifetime!" Perhaps this prize is for good intentions and progress. The campaign emphasises the benefits of "flexitarianism", an umbrella term that provides shelter for vegetarians who occasionally eat meat and meat-eaters who are keen vegetarian food and reducing their carbon footprint. I think its really important that making green choices becomes a natural part of people's lives. I reckon the spirit of compromise central to flexitarianism is vital if greener ways of thinking are ever to become just thinking.

I had lunch at the Soup Lounge a café where you can get a bowl of soup and with bread and an apple for 4 euros. The décor was pretty swanky, all white benches and orange stools and funky lighting. I sat slurping tomaat soep by the window watching people walk by a cobbled street. Amusingly enough despite my tomaat soep sounding vegetarian I didn't experience Donderdag Veggiedag (Veggie Thursday) in action the chef man piling a generous helping of not particularly welcome greyish meatballs into my bowl with a flourish before serving it up to me!
I went to Ghent. It is a medieveal city. Ignore the crane.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Builders, Bread and a Bishop

A lazy Sunday alone. I had to stay in to make tea for some builders who were coming to take fix some stuff. At 8:00am I made aforementioned tea, still in my pyjamas. By 8:30am I was dressed and ready to remind them to have a look at the droopy pipe (don't ask!) but...they had disappeared. I decided that maybe they had gone to find some building materials/a bacon sandwich and I would await their return. In the meantime, housebound, I would bake some sesame bread from the W.I Bread book.

Baking bread makes me feel like I have nurtured something. I like how it grows, how it transforms. Yeast + time = fun. FACT

Sesame Bread

The builders never returned. Lesson learnt: don't be such a prude. You can give people instructions in your pyjamas. Demand respect at all times, whatever you are wearing. But hey, at least I had a fresh loaf of bread to show for my morning.

In the afternoon I finally got round to paying the Bishop's Gardens a visit. They are walled and only opened to the public on certain Sundays during the summer to raise money for charidee. The Bishop has the most enviable vegetable garden going: beetroot, rhubarb, soooo many types of lettuce. And, fig trees as in Eden. Take a look at these raspberries in this big old net so the birds don't get'em and the view of the Great Hospital in the background...I'm a bit jealous. Do you think if I asked nicely he'd share his produce?

Also, the other night I made these cookies. They aren't much to look at but they have chunks of white chocolate and dried fig and the combination is a winner. The recipe was from an article in the Times with extracts from The Popina Book of Baking which I think I will have to get my hands on some time soon.

Here is the recipe:
50g butter - 80g golden caster sugar (I used have white and half brown) - a dash of vanilla extract - an egg - 70g soft dried figs chopped - 50g white chocolate chopped - 130g plain flour - 1 1/2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 160 C - Cream butter and sugar - Add vanilla and eggs - Mix in figs and chocolate - Fold in flour and baking powder - Spoon and flatten mixture onto greased baking trays spaced well apart - Bake for 25 minutes-ish until golden - Cool - Enjoy.

white chocolate and fig cookies

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Mozart-dodging in Vienna and Salzburg

The nigh-on holy trinity of art, trams and coffee-houses makes Vienna one of my favourite cities. I only have one problem with the city and that is the men dressed-up as Mozart who are wont to harass you whenever you are near the the Opera house or the Stephansdom. As ever the rule is: do not engage.

Anyway, whilst Mutti worked I mooched around galleries, the Belvedere and the Leopold. I also had a great picnic in a sunny spot in Karlsplatz, tomato-mozzarella-rocket sandwiches, apricots and apfelsaft gespritzt from the Naschmarkt.

Highlights of the trip included:
Statues of lion-ladies with wings, boobs and plaits at the Belvedere. Who's idea was that?

Wine in tankards!
We caught the tram out to Grinzing where there are still vineyards on the edge of the city. The town is full of heurige, wine taverns that sell the wine they produce to locals and tourists alike who drink it by the jugful.

Salzburg was like being inside a postcard; a string quartet play Mozart in the square, you should be entertained but you just feel like you are being held on the line. Mum and I ate roast pork and gravy with dumplings and sauerkraut in the blazing sun. I suppose it would have tasted better in winter. Guess what? I wasn't that struck, but I couldn't help eating the dumpling out of carb-craving curiosity.
I reckon its illegal to escape Austria without buying some Mozart Kugel as a souvenir. These chocolates with pistachio and marzipan are actually quite tasty and I bought some to take back for a friend at work... just in case. The thing is, I like Mozart but the kitschification of him is totally naff.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Blueberry muffins and a moral

My housemate Izzy is off to America to study at Reed college for a year. I will miss our chats about food/uni/people, her gingerbread men, her sense of humour, the duffel. To say goodbye I baked her blueberry muffins. The baking operation was not entirely successful. When our oven isn't fierce it is FEROCIOUS. If it made a noise it would probably roar.

The story goes a bit like this...

Sometimes things will go right. You will smile.

You will be proud. You will be pleased with yourself. You will make and do things and want to share these experiences with people.

Sometimes things will go wrong. You will feel like a plonker. You might forget how great things were going less than 20 minutes ago. You may suffer from feelings of mild despair.

But wait! Just as they say every cloud has a silver lining, under every burnt muffin top there is... some salvageable muffin! Really, its fine, it tastes good! So what if the topless muffins are feeling exposed next to their golden-crusted counterparts?

Yes. Scraping of the burnt bits is an essential life skill. Go, go! Make the most of every opportunity.