Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas cake 2010

Well...I think my imagination exceeds my actual skills, but I'm really quite pleased with how it turned out

(I bought the Santa, snowman and robin figures)

I was slightly disappointed that my roll of ready-rolled icing didn't actually cover the bottom of the sides of the cake, and when I tried to tease it out it just tore! Thank goodness for the blue stars!!!!

I used vodka to stick the letters and stars to the cake - I had seen Kirstie and Phil using vodka to stick sugar paste bows together on their Perfect Christmas programme and thought that might be a good idea. Worked pretty well, although I only have large pastry brushes so ended up using a bit too much liquid and the colour in the icing started to run...fortunately not too much. By the time I got to the stars I was using my finger to dab vodka in the points and centre and that worked much better. Also I used playdough cutters for the letters and stars...not too bad but as they're made of plastic they didn't give a very sharp edge and I had to do a little neatening up with a knife afterwards. That said it doesn't look too bad, Zachary enjoyed helping me, particularly the glitter!!! Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Something to try when I'm feeling brave...

A tiny gingerbread house that perches on the edge of your mug! How cool.

Tomorrow sees the icing extravaganza which will be our Christmas cake this year...I am also planning to use some edible glitter - very exciting. Mince pies made today - Rachel Allen, we bow to you for your sweet shortcrust pastry!!

We are hosting Christmas dinner this year for ourselves, Leigh's parents and his brother so once again Leigh will be cooking up a storm in the kitchen! Ham being baked tonight, along with the red cabbage side dish for Christmas dinner. We'll be chopping vegetables and laying the table tomorrow night hoping to minimise the amount of stuff needing to be done on Christmas day itself. Christingle and nativity at church this morning, I now have a glass of champagne in my hand and am starting to feel very festive indeed. I'm hoping to get a picture of the cake up tomorrow, but if not, I wish a very happy and joyful Christmas to anyone reading this.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Storecupboard-friendly Florentines

Except the only item I actually had in my storecupboard was the flaked almonds... These taste great with the chocolate on them, although still chewy rather than crisp. Also the recipe says makes 25, and I only got 16 out of them so clearly mine are too big!!!

85g cornflakes, bashed with a rolling pin to crush them a bit
85g toasted flaked almonds
50g dried cranberries
50g glace cherries sliced thinly into rounds
397g can condensed milk
140g milk chocolate, broken into chunks
140g white chocolate, broken into chunks

1. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4 and line a couple of baking sheets with baking parchment. Tip the crushed cornflakes, almonds, cranberries and cherries into a large bowl, then stir in the condensed milk until all the ingredients are sticky. Spoon tablespoons of the mixture onto the sheets, and leave lots of room for spreading. Flatten each spoonful slightly with the back of a wet spoon and bake for 8-12 mins (I did about 10) until golden brown - if you take the Florentines out too soon and they are still pale, they won't firm up when they cool. Cool on the sheets for about 5 mins until almost firm, then carefully turn each one upside down and transfer to another sheet of parchment to cool completely.

2. Melt the chocolate over simmering water or in the microwave. When the Florentines are cool, spoon or brush the chocolate over the bases of the biscuits with a pastry brush. Leave until the chocolate has set, and serve.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Weekend woes

Last weekend was great and not great. We went to Norwich to see my sister and her family to celebrate her daughter Eleanor's first birthday. Had birthday tea with my Mum and her husband on the Saturday and then lunch with my Dad, his wife and my aunt on Sunday. Lovely. Except...

As we were preparing to leave on Saturday, Leigh got the key stuck in the roof box and when he pulled it out, the entire lock barrel came with it! Fortunately the lid was locked (allbeit with the double buggy stuck inside!) but unopenable. So item number 1 this week on our return was a trip to Halfords where after an hour of messing about they told me it was fixed, demonstrated how easily the key turns in the lock now and promptly pulled out the lock barrel again! A new roof box has now been fitted at no charge to us. Nice.

Item number 2 - Leo got scalded by a very hot cup of tea at lunch on Saturday. Horrible, horrible, feel physically sick horrible. Held his arm under running water (for not long enough) but then realised it was blistering and given the size of the blisters, raced to Norwich A&E to get it checked out. Fortunately it appears to be mainly superficial and the doctor did not think it will scar, but Leo now has a heavily bandaged arm while the open areas heal. Zachary was great staying with my sister and actually, not including the initial burn and resulting pain, Leo has been absolutely amazing about the whole thing. He managed to calm down while we were waiting to see the doctor and since then it doesn't appear to have bothered him greatly. We administered a bit of Calpol on the first couple of days, but I'm now not and waiting to see if he is in pain (don't want to mask anything which might be going on now). He has been fab and everything seems to be healing well.

Item number 3 - Zachary seems to have picked up a strange infection (?) which means he is fine most of the day then gets feverish and lethargic and tired at around 3/4 in the afternoon. He stays hot and bothered for a few hours and then everything seems to clear in the middle of the night. Very odd and this has gone on all week since Saturday. I'm taking him to the docs to get it checked out tomorrow but it has meant some pretty disturbed evenings and nighttimes for us.

So that was our three things this weekend - gladly this week has gone much better and there's the prospect of seeing our friends and the panto at the weekend which I am much looking forward to.

I also had a go at a "Storecupboard Friendly Florentines" recipe today - hmmmm. The basis was cornflakes with dried fruit and flaked almonds, bound together with condensed milk. Now I am a big fan of condensed milk and this meant there was no spoon licking left for Zachary! However they have come out from the oven chewy rather than crunchy and the cornflakes seem to have gone a bit soggy! I'm not sure if this is me not cooking them for long enough, or whether this is the consistency they're supposed to be! I'm blaming the condensed milk...not to worry though, they taste great and I'm now off to attempt to put some melted chocolate on them. Should be wrapping Leigh's presents really as he's out at Toy'R'Us on a mercy mission for Zachary's last present (Amazon have let us down)...but chocolate seems more appealing!!!! (must diet in the new year...)

Friday, December 03, 2010

Getting my vamp on

This is my next Rachel Allen cake - her Red Velvet cake. Initially I had planned to bake it with the boys as I thought it wold be fun for them to bake a red cake (2 tablespoons of red food colouring - yes, 2!), but on re-reading the recipe (at the end of the blog) I realised it was far too bitty and fiddly to manage with them. Cakes with the boys generally have to be weigh out, mix everything together in one bowl and then bake.

The mixing went quite well, although I didn't have the right size tins and I think the cakes were slightly undercooked - certainly the bottom layer ended up pretty stodgy, although that may have been my terrible folding in of the egg whites! One thing I would comment on is that the recipe seems to indicate you should just mix each part in until just combined, but I found that the resulting cake had a kind of swirly pattern in it - like a marbling of the red colour, and the cocoa colour. I think it may have needed more mixing than I gave it. And my frosting was well wrong. It didn't set to a crunchy outside and I think it's partly because I didn't whisk for long enough over the heat (and the sugar didn't dissolve properly), and partly because I used golden caster sugar which doesn't seem to dissolve as quickly and well as white caster sugar.

I think of this frosting as a bit of a challenge now - I'm going to have to make it again to see if I can do it right this time!!

Here's a piccie of the finished cake

and cut open

It is a wonderful red colour - very dramatic. But taste-wise it wasn't as amazing as I was expecting - I'm sure due in part to my sightly dodgy baking! It was okay, but I've made nicer cakes and to be honest I think that it would only be something I'd make if I needed something visually dramatic. But well worth having a go at, and I'm tempted to make it again just to see if it's better if I get it right this time!

150g butter, softened
300g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs, separated
250g plain flour
25g cornflour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp cocoa powder
250ml buttermilk
red food colouring (2 tbsp liquid, or 1/2 tsp thick red paste)
pinch of salt
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Frosting :
2 large egg whites
250g caster sugar
50g golden syrup
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
2 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F, gas 4. Butter and flour the sides of 2 9" cake tins and line the bases with parchment paper.

2. Cream the butter in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer until soft. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and the egg yolks, one by one, beating well after each addition.

3. Place the flour, cornflour, baking powder and cocoa powder in a sieve resting on a plate. Measure the buttermilk with the food colouring and mix together. It should be very red, so add more if needed.

4. Sift one-third of the dry ingredients into the butter and eggs mixture until just combined, then pour in one-third of the buttermilk mixture and mix until just combined. Continue, combining a third at a time, until both are incorporated.

5. Whisk the egg whites and salt in a large, spotlessly clean bowl until stiffish peaks form. Add one-quarter to the batter and mix. Add the remaining egg whites in three stages, folding them in gently with a large metal spoon until just incorporated, leaving as much air in the egg whites as possible.

6. In a small bowl, mix the vinegar and bicarbonate of soda until it bubbles up, then gently fold this into the batter. Quickly pour the batter into the 2 prepared tins and smooth the tops. Bake for 25-30 minutes (I took mine out after 30 mins, although I think they still weren't quite done then) or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean and the cakes feel slightly springy on top.

7. Leave in the tins for 15 minutes then carefully remove the cakes, running a table knife or palette knife slowly around them to loosen them, and invert over a wire rack to cool.

8. To make the white frosting, place the egg whites, sugar, golden syrup, salt, cream of tartar and water in a stainless steel or heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (the base of the bowl should not touch the water). Bring the water to a steady simmer. With a hand-held electric whisk or balloon whisk, whisk the mixture until you have shiny, satiny soft peaks. Remove the bowl from the simmering water and continue to whisk for a further 2 minutes - it will get a bit stiffer. Whisk in the vanilla extract.

9. Immediately ice the middle, top and sides of the cake with a palette knife, fluffing up the frosting to form little peaks all over the cake. You need to work fast to ice the cake, as the icing sets very quickly (but not if you do it wrong like me!). Leave for at least 30 minutes to allow a thin crust to form outside a creamy interior.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Faintly ridiculous

Today has been one of those days where you feel life is slipping every so slowly from your control, but you have absolutely no idea why!

Zachary woke up with 2 bloodshot eyes this morning. Great. Phoned nursery to let them know he wouldn't be in and phoned the doctors for an emergency appointment. I already had two appointments at the surgery for this morning - Leo was booked in for his 12 month booster jabs and then separately I needed a checkup for my (ahem) 'regular medication.' After much wheedling to the receptionist I had managed to get us back to back appointments (even though 'the nurse doesn't do pill checks during vaccination clinic'). Sadly however no such luck with Zachary's appointment. There was no flexibility for me even though I already had 2 appointments booked in and his was scheduled for 10.20. The other appointments were at 11.20. But not too bad - we turned up, had conjunctivitis confirmed, medication prescribed, and got some more bath stuff for Zachary's eczema while we were there. Then went to Asda for a cuppa and pharmacy. Back to the surgery an hour later. Zachary appeared very confused.

My appointment was fine, then at Leo's the nurse said that although they used to just do one set of booster jabs at 12 months and then we would come back for the MMR in a month's time, now it is preferred that they do them all at the same time. So, given that Zachary had a bad reaction to the MMR (fever and listlessness for 4 days) I had mentally prepared myself for Leo to have this in the new year! But hey ho, should all be out of the way by Christmas. Although hopefully Leo won't react the same way. He was brilliant - only cried at the last of the 3 injections, but after a minute it appeared that he was crying more because he wanted to be put down where he could play with the desk keys again than from the jab! He's gone to bed with Calpol so fingers crossed.

I went to the pharmacy to get my medicine only to be told there's some kind of national shortage of the particular brand I take. Boots apparently have heard some 'whispers' (what??!) that they'll be getting some in in the next week but can't confirm. Also they wouldn't recommend I try another pharmacy because there's likely to be a shortage there as well. So as I only have a week's worth left, I need to phone the pharmacy on Friday to find out if they have any and if not go back to the doctor/nurse to get a prescription for something else. Apparently the GP practice is aware of this shortage but is still prescribing. Hmm, helpful.

So a busy morning and then I decided to make some biscuits after lunch. Leigh had made some with Zachary at the weekend from Economy Gastronomy. The mix makes a roll of dough which you can then freeze in clingfilm and use on another day. Now, I have not used biscuit dough from frozen before and the only instructions in the book were that I would be able to freeze the roll, then when I wanted to make more, simply slice biscuits off the roll and cook for 8 minutes at 180C. Sounds easy - grrrr, should have just made a new batch!!!!

I think I must just attract ridiculousness, or else have no common sense at all and make a meal out of things which everyone else finds a doddle. My first difficulty was getting the frozen clingfilm off. It kept breaking into small pieces and one section was entirely underneath the top layer of dough. So I sawed that off, carefully examined the roll under the light and decided that I wasn't going to poison anyone with melted clingfilm in my biscuits! Slicing off biscuits from the roll was a nightmare - I had huge difficulty cutting through the frozen roll, and even when I did manage to get a knife through, no whole biscuits came out - the dough would just crumble and break off in the middle. I also managed to give myself two cuts on my fingers when the knife slipped. And I'm doing all this with Zachary and Leo in the kitchen trying my best to a) not swear and b) prevent Zachary eating all the smarties before I've managed to get anything remotely resembling a biscuit onto the baking tray!!

I'm sure it's me making life harder for myself but I wasn't sure I could defrost the roll and then refreeze. Especially since the book appeared to suggest that the roll could be sliced from frozen. We're choosing to blame an over-efficient freezer!

So here's what the biscuits looked like when they went in

And when they came out

I love the 'super biscuit' made from the melty bits of crappy biscuit all joined together! The biscuits tasted great by the way.

Oh and see if you can guess which film Zachary watched at the weekend from the way he describes it. This'll give you a small insight into the daily guessing games we have trying to work out which TV programme he wants to watch and is desperateley trying to convey to us without using its name...

The one with the man and the mouse
One man and 3 mice
Blue, red and green mice
One man and three mice (pause) monks
Three monks

Yes, it's Alvin and the Chipmunks!!!!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday, Monday

Two interesting things happened today. Firstly I received the photo calendar I'd ordered for Leigh's Nan from Vistaprint..along with 2 other random calendars! As I opened the envelope and saw three calendars my heart sank - ordering too much of something has been known to happen with me and the interwebs!

But as it turned out, it was nothing to do with me - our calendar had been sent along with one belonging to Theresa & Ingo (I know this because their names are emblazened across the front cover) and one of some other babies and children. Of course we had a nosey at the pictures. Now I'm not making any comments here about the attractiveness or otherwise of the subjects of the calendars, but I'm just bemused by the choice of some of the pictures, mainly from the baby one (unless of course the calendars are presents from friends/relatives who only have a limited selection of photos to choose from...). There are photos where the subject is half hidden by a sofa, or is not centred properly and is right at the bottom of the picture or where the camera has focussed on the mobile in front of the baby's face, rather than on the baby's face! But hey, they're not my calendars - I mean I would take care over my choice of photos and certainly not do anything as ridiculous as say, using the same photo for 2 months in a calendar for my Mum or anything...

And the other thing which happened was typical me. I was looking for a birthday card for my niece who'll be 1 in a couple of weeks. Now I was specifically looking for a 'niece' card and I'm usually averse to sentimental, flowery, twee poems in cards. So I found a card I thought looked great from the outside - said 'niece' and had some pics of flowers and butterflies. Great. Came to write it this evening, opened it (yes I know, I didn't check in the shop...) and found these words...

Thinking of you
on your birthday -
with fun memories
of the little girl you were
and with loving pride
in the wonderful person
you are.

Hmmmmm. Not the worst on the words front (although wouldn't usually be my first choice) but I can't possibly send it to a baby!!!! Perhaps I should stick to a card with '1' on it. Can't go too wrong there, surely??

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Stained Glass Window biscuits

I had a go at these for Leo's party too. Leigh tried them last year, but something went a bit wrong somewhere and they didn't end up as they should have at all! I used a recipe I found on the BBC website from Annabel Karmel - ginger biscuits with the little windows of melted boiled sweets. The first batch...

look great. The windows came out really well, although I was slightly concerned that they might have been a bit pale and undercooked. And I forgot to add the sugar. Biscuits came out more like slightly stodgy cake and did not taste good. I was very disappointed, particularly as Zachary had been really helpful and done a huge amount to help make them. But first batch binned, I had another go...

These don't look as pretty and the window parts did not come out as well as the previous biscuits - I think I must have used too much sweets for the thickness of the dough. But the biscuits themselves are much better - nice and crunchy and tasty, if possibly slightly overdone! Must try another time soon to get it right!!!

350g/12oz plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
100g/3½oz butter
175g/6oz soft brown sugar
1 free-range egg, beaten
4 tbsp golden syrup
packet wrapped fruit-flavoured boiled sweets in different colours

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.

2. For the biscuits, mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and ginger together in a bowl.

3. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, then stir in the sugar.

4. In another bowl, beat together the egg and golden syrup, then pour this mixture into the flour mixture and mix to make a smooth dough, kneading lightly with your hands.

5. Crush the sweets in their wrappers using a rolling pin.

6. Roll the dough out on a floured work surface to about 0.5cm/¼in thick, then cut into shapes using a selection of Christmas-themed cookie cutters. Transfer the biscuits to baking sheets lined with baking paper.

7. Cut out shapes in the centre of each biscuit, making sure you leave a good edge all around the biscuit. Completely fill the hole in each biscuit with crushed boiled sweets.

8. Bake the biscuits in the oven for 10-12 minutes, or until golden-brown.

9. Remove the biscuits from the oven. Do not remove the biscuits from the baking tray until they have cooled because the boiled sweets need to harden. Once the sweets have hardened, gently lift the biscuits onto a wire rack with a palette knife to finish cooling.

10. If you like, you can decorate the biscuits with piped white icing, thread ribbons through the holes in the biscuits to make loops for hanging from a Christmas tree.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

3rd time lucky

Hurrah! The third version of the cake (and the one I baked this morning for the party this afternoon) has turned out the best of the three. Same recipe with Nigella, but a few changes - I used fat-free yoghurt instead of our home full-fat yoghurt, used a spray oil in the tin and then tapped it thoroughly to get rid of excess flour. The cake itself actually tasted better too. Great. Here it is unadorned...

and decorated.

This is the best of the 'decorated' pictures although you can't see my clever use of a McDonald's sauce pot as a crow's nest at the top of the mast!

Monday, November 15, 2010

And second attempt...

Okay, I think this will be the one. Had another go at the cake using Nigella's Spruced Up Vanilla Cake recipe from Nigella Christmas. Her recipe suits a 2.5 litre Bundt tin (hers is little fir trees standing in a circle) and it seems to fit this tin too. There were some small patches of uncooked flour on the outside of the cake (you can see that it looks a little patchy in places) so I'm going to use less flour when flouring the tin next time and also invest in some spray oil which might give a more even and lighter coating than brushing round with vegetable oil.

Still need to work out the decoration...but have tonight roughed out some flags and now need to print some Jolly Rogers to go on them - no, I'm not confident enough in my artistic abilities to draw them by hand!

By the way - my favourite instruction in this recipe is number 5. Nigella, I rely on you to be more confident than that!!!

225g soft butter
300g caster sugar
6 eggs
350g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
250ml (250g) plain fat-free yoghurt (I must confess that I didn't use fat free yoghurt - we regularly make our own yogurt with full fat UHT milk and I just used a cup of that. Will buy some fat free for the real thing)
4 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 x 15ml tbspn icing sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas mark 4 and put a baking sheet in at the same time. Butter or oil your tin very very thoroughly (Nigella uses oil-sodden kitchen paper - I brushed oil round and then floured the tin also).

2. Put all the ingredients except the icing sugar into a food processor and blitz together.

3. Pour or spoon the mixture into the greased tin and spread about evenly.

4. Place the tin on the preheated baking sheet in the oven and cook for 45-60 minutes until well risen and golden. After 45 minutes push a skewer into the centre of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is cooked (mine was not - took another 5 minutes to cook through). Let it sit out of the oven for 15 minutes.

5. Gently pull away the edges of the cake from the tin with your fingers, then turn out the cake, hoping for the best (!).

6. Once cool, dust with the icing sugar pushed through a small sieve - representing snowfall on the Alps with this particular tin.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Yay for Clue

Clue has been my favourite movie for ages - a friend of mine on Facebook posted this link today from the AV Club. Finally the world is realising its genius...well, that might be going a little bit too far, but it is a mighty fine film.

Attempt numero uno

We bought a Nordicware pirate cake tin ages ago to use for the boys

and I'm getting it out for a pirate cake for Leo, who will be 1 on the 22nd. Getting family and friends here to celebrate his birthday has been a bit of an undertaking and in effect there will be 3 - yes, count them - 3 parties. Well, opportunities for tea and cake more like.

Having had some difficulty with Zachary's train birthday cake

(it took me 3 attempts to get the cake mix the right consistency, the right amount in each little section and to make sure I'd greased and floured everything sufficiently!), I thought I'd have a trial run today to see how I got on. So here is attempt 1.

Not too bad, but could be better - by the way, all the cake showing at the left side of the cake is where Leigh snagged some for sampling it came out of the tin fine! I'd had in mind to simply put my usual Victoria sandwich mix in the tin and see what happened, but Leigh thought a Madeira cake would be better. Having failed to find a pirate cake recipe on the internet I got out my Madeira cake recipe today only to discover I don't have an ground almonds or a lemon. So back to Victoria sandwich. So, a lot of detail came out well, the cake fairly slid out of the cake tin (thank goodness - that was my worst fear, a sticking cake) and it tastes good, although my 3-egg mix is clearly not enough. I now have this link to read for some help and Leigh found a recipe in Nigella Lawson's "Christmas" book in which she gives her recipe for a tree Bundt tin cake. The tin seems to be similar in approximate size so I'm going to give that a go for a second run through and then make a decision... Hopefully it will also survive longer than the sandwich would out of a tin, and here's a piccie of a suggested decoration.

Oooo - look at all that piping. Hmm...not sure I'll stretch to that - this one looks more manageable!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

And shorn

Went to a great little local hairdressers today called Kidz Kuts to get Leo's hair cut. It's got to the stage now where it definitely needs doing and my hairdressing 'skills' are without a doubt not up to the job!! I keep passing the sign for this place when I go the back way into Spondon so I made an appointment with the hope that they would be well used to dealing with young children and that they might be able to help with Leo. So off we went - it's a very small salon, with just three stations, but the middle one is a car! So Leo was very happy sitting up there, there's a TV screen in front of the chair rather than just a mirror and the stylist had a variety of toys he could just keep on coming as Leo got bored with the last. In all, Leo seemed pretty much unconcerned with what was going on on his head and sat very well for most of the cut - just got to his feet towards the end. At the end of the salon there's a play are with another great selection of toys so Zachary was well occupied and quite throughout the whole visit. Success. And here he is

Monday, November 08, 2010

Big boy pants

Tried and failed. Two wees and two poos in the pants - Zachary seemingly unconcerned by these events and they certainly didn't prompt him to let us know next time he needed a wee. So decision taken to step back from potty training til after Christmas. Although intellectually he seems to understand the process, I don't think he yet really relates it to himself somehow and I'm guessing he still doesn't recognise the signs which tell him he's ready to do a wee or a poo. So we'll see how we get on in a couple of months.

Sunday, November 07, 2010


Had a great weekend, all the better for being at home. Saturday we visited Hobbycraft - always a mistake even with list in hand! Came away with much more than we went for, but all will be useful in time. Several things were returned to the shelves!! Unfortunately my handbag got left in the car park and when I rang the store after we got home to see whether it was still there, I thought for a moment the manager was going to refuse to go and look as she told me 'we are very busy here!' It wasn't there, and hadn't been handed in at the store next door either. So I rang my phone, not really expecting any luck, and it was answered by a kindly gent who had found the bag and taken it with him. Leigh went out to collect it and it is now safely home all complete. Phew!

I should say here that there has still been no progress on the potty front. Was intending to try big boy pants this afternoon, but didn't quite get there. Am going to stay in and try tomorrow morning...

In the afternoon it was the 1st birthday party of the little girl of one of my friends - lots of cake, pass the parcel and presents! Today I went to church with the boys, then we had a spontaneous lunch in Tesco, spent far too much in the toy department, dressed the boys up in their Christmas kits for a photo session when we got home, and then I made a lovely hazelnut cake. The recipe is at the end of this blog.

The next cake in Bake we cooked was actually the coconut macaroon tart

which Leigh made last week, and let me tell you it was absolutely delicious! He put a layer of jam on the pastry under the coconut topping and it was totally brilliant. So next cake is the Italian Hazelnut cake - lighter than you think it'll be. I had been putting this off to a weekend as on re-reading the recipe I realised it was quite fiddly, rather than one of my usual 'tip everything into the Kitchen Aid and beat' cakes! I also found we had enough kitchen gadgets to make the cake without having to wash anything up in between - not sure whether that's good or bad! I ground the hazelnuts in our stand blender, then used a hand-held electric beater to whisk the egg yolk mixture, and the Kitchen Aid to whisk the egg whites. It cooked in the allotted time and is very tasty. Just waiting to see how it is on the second day...

200g hazelnuts (with skins on)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
100g butter, softened
5 eggs, separated
175g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt

1. Grease and base line a 20cm diameter spring-form tin. Preheat the oven to 170C/150C fan/325F.

2. Grind the hazelnuts with the baking powder and ground cinnamon in a food processor until fine. Combine with the butter.

3. Place the egg yolks in the bowl of an electric food mixer or use a hand-held electric beater. Add the sugar and whisk until the mixture becomes slightly 'moussey' and the mix holds a trail when you lift the beater. Add the hazelnut mixture and the vanilla extract and whisk until combined.

4. Whisk the egg whites and salt together in a large, spotlessly clean bowl until stiff peaks form, then gently fold into the nut mixture in three stages so as not to deflate the whites.

5. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, smooth the surface and bake in the oven for 55-70 minutes (it took 55 mins at 150C in our fan oven) or until the cake feels firm and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. The mixture is quite delicate so don't be tempted to open the oven until close to the end of the cooking time.

6. Allow to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then very gently ease the sides of the cake out of the tin using a palette knife. Remove the base after another 15 minutes and leave to cool before cutting into slices.

We served with vanilla ice cream - also homemade!!

Friday, November 05, 2010

In Leo and Zachary world

Today and yesterday no joy on the potty. We read Pirate Pete's Potty and Zachary seemed to connect really well with it - he appeared to understand the concepts, identified with Pirate Pete who has a Mummy, a Daddy and a younger brother (and an older sister, but we glossed over her!), engaged with the pages where he's invited to pick his favourite potty and pair of pants, and loves the page which has a picture of the poo Pirate Pete did in his potty, but still hasn't managed anything himself. One time when I asked him if he needed to do a wee he said "not today Mummy." Hmmmm.

He's also started using an 'f' word. Now I'm not saying it's the 'f' word because it's not completely clear what he's saying, although it sounds suspiciously like it! He seems to use it when he's throwing or flicking things (ah, could it be 'flick?') and gives a really cheeky grin when he says it like he's knows it's dodgy. He certainly hasn't heard the word from us and I hope not from nursery (unless it's another child) so I suspect it's something else that he's just not quite saying properly. At least that's the basis we're working on and trying not to make a huge fuss about it.

Leo can now climb an entire flight of stairs, has worked out posting letters into the wooden post box and can hammer balls into the toy chicken (which is what you are supposed to do!). He's 1 in 3 weeks and I really don't know whether Zachary was doing these kind of things when he was 1. I think he was. But my recollection of Z at 1 is of a child more mature looking than Leo and seeming more grown up - I suspect however that my thoughts and memories are coloured by the fact that he was my first child, and now when I look at Leo I have a 2 year old to compare him against so he may seem much younger anyway.

In my world I've had an annoying time with Mothercare. In the store they didn't have the size I needed in the vest I wanted to buy. So I thought I'd order it through the shop as it then doesn't cost me any postage!! But their computers were playing up so I ordered it from home (complete with £2 delivery charge - scandalous!). The internet said it would be in on 3rd November. So I dutifully turned up to be told that it wasn't in yet - apparently they'd had an audit the day before so there were no deliveries and anyway I should have waited for an email to confirm. But the computer was checked, and delivery the next day was confirmed. I got an email the next morning to say it had been delivered. Went to the shop - shop assistant spent 20-25 minutes in the storeroom with 3 colleagues looking for my item of clothing. No joy. Added to which I had both boys with me who were getting increasingly bored. Leo did not want to sit in the trolley any longer and Zachary was running across the store to fling the toilets door open every so often. We rode the Iggle Piggle machine, ate a cereal bar and played with the display of electronic books which were by the tills. Also by the tills were a large array of chocolate lollipops and jelly lollipops - not tempting in any way at spent another few minutes dragging them out of the grasp of my children and trying to keep the trolley far enough away so Leo couldn't grab them while not blocking the exit for all those lucky people who had actually been able to buy what they wanted.

Not frustrating at all. I was advised to come back again another day - at which point presumably another 3 assistants will spend another fruitless 20 minutes searching through stock. I'm going to ring first.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Still no luck with the potty although Zachary seems happier to sit on it - at times. I've been getting Leo to sit on it as well when they're getting dressed, and did again at bathtime tonight to try and encourage Zachary. He seems to respond to "look, Leo's doing it too," more than "you're doing it on your own because you're the big boy" type stuff. Leo thinks sitting on the potty is hilarious and at bathtime I almost thought he was going to do a wee! Would be one up on Zachary..

Also bought a book today - Pirate Pete's Potty to read with him. But I'm getting more convinced that while the pull-ups are catching everything, he's got no motivation to use the potty or toilet. I suspect that I'm going to need to move on to proper pants soon and see how that goes when he starts getting wet. An afternoon in our kitchen with the tiled floor I think, although it won't be for a few days. Will stick with the pull-ups in the meantime - I don't want to go backwards just yet.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Day 2

Still no deposits in the potty although apparently Zachary did ask to use the toilet at nursery. At which point he declared that the wee and poo weren't coming. Nice. Am trying not to make him fed up of the potty at home before he's even used it - if I ask if he needs a wee, he usually sighs, rolls his eyes and says no. Although I think I caught him unawares this afternoon - he actually said yes, then when I suggested he sat on it, he quickly backtracked!!! I suspect that he thought going to the potty would mean missing Mister Maker! Need to put TV in the toilet...

Monday, November 01, 2010

Girding my loins

Right, well we've decided to start potty training with Zachary. Bit apprehensive about it really, but I have in mind that I'd like to at least have a go before Christmas, with an ultimate aim of having him potty trained in the day by Easter, which is when he will hopefully be starting a different nursery. Now, I know that this may not happen but I feel I need an aim otherwise I'll just keep putting it off!! We've not got any trips away planned for the next few weeks, so it seemed like a good time.

So today I cracked open the pull-up pants, and if all goes well this week hope to move on to training pants next week. Zachary sat happily on the potty for me a few times, but no actual wees or poos made it in there. I'm also asking him fairly regularly if he needs a wee, but I think he's fed up with that already! Tiny steps though and I'm pleased I've made a start, I just need to be patient. See how it goes at nursery tomorrow too.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Off his trolley?

Here is a picture of a magnet we have in the kitchen...

Zachary looked at it yesterday and asked "who's that pushing his trolley!"

Monday, October 25, 2010

Yes, I am working through the cake section of my cookery book!

Today's effort - Mocha Cake :

Hmmm, the 'easy chocolate curls' (not described here but detailed in the book) turned out as 'easy chocolate dust,' and my butter was far too soft for the icing (you can see how it's seeped out the end of the cake!), but otherwise a very delicious cake.

175g self-raising flour
50g cocoa powder
225g soft light brown sugar
175g butter, melted
4 medium eggs, separated
60ml very strong coffee, cooled
3 tbsp water

Icing :
100g butter, softened
200g icing sugar
1 tbsp water or milk
2-3tbsp very strong coffee, cooled
1. Preheat the oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Oil and line a 2lb loaf tin with parchment paper (yay! finally a chance to use my Lakeland loaf tin liners and they performed brilliantly!) so that it comes over the sides of the tin. Sift the flour and cocoa powder into a large bowl, add the sugar and stir to combine.

2. Using a wooden spoon or a hand-held whisk, beat in the melted butter, egg yolks, coffee and water until smooth.

3. Whisk the egg whites in a large clean bowl until fairly stiff peaks form, then gently fold into the cake mixture in three batches making sure there are no lumps of egg white left.

4. Turn the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and smooth the surface. Give the tin a tap to remove any air bubbles. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 160C/gas 3 for the last 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. As I use a fan oven, I reduced the heat to 140C (I usually reduce by about 20 degrees) - however the cake then took a further 40 minutes to cook, rather than the 20 described in the recipe. This sort of thing has happened before, and I wonder whether if the oven temperature reduces below a certain point, I either don't need to reduce it so much, or don't need to reduce it at all.

5. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then lift out by the parchment paper onto a wire rack to cool completely.

6. Make the icing - Place the butter in a large bowl and beat it thoroughly with a wooden spoon until it is very soft. Add the sifted icing sugar and coffee and beat until smooth (as my butter was so soft I didn't need any milk, and even had to add more icing sugar to get it to a consistency where it would actually stay on a cake!). When the cake is cold, remove the parchment paper. Using a breadknife, split the cake horizontally (I also removed the top as it was no way flat enough for the runniness of my icing) and spread about a third of the icing on the lower half. Place the other half of the cake back on top and spread the rest of the icing over it.

7. Decorate as desired - it's best to leave the cake for 30 minutes to settle before cutting.

Okay Rachel Allen - Italian Hazelnut cake next...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Poppy Seed cake

Saw a lovely looking poppy seed cake in Rachel Allen's "Bake" and thought I'd try it today. Firstly, 75g of poppy seeds seem a massive amount!!! The cake went well, although I wasn't sure it had risen as much as it should. That said, it didn't look too different from the picture in the book. The buttercream icing was interesting though - it's essentially a custard whisked into butter. My very helpful and talented sous chef made the custard for me, and the icing came out really well - it tastes very buttery, but creamy, not greasy. I find that when I'm making regular butter icing (butter and icing sugar), if it's too buttery, it just tastes wrong, but this icing here is great and much lighter. Although it was only when typing out the recipe this evening I realised that I had told Leigh to use 3 egg yolks, rather than the 2 of the recipe! Extra rich then!

Here is the cake uniced


And cut open to show the inside.

The poppy seeds give it a grainy texture and a very distinctive flavour, and the icing is a great complement to it.

I have also been spending time making more Caralot goodies this evening instead of ironing...this time, cushions!

I need to tell Jamie that his branding is definitely working - Zachary can recognise the colour and 'a' at 50 paces!

And finally, Zachary was taking some photos from the kitchen table while we were clearing up after dinner tonight - he got this great one of Leo enjoying an apple.

(Rachel Allen - Bake)

150g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
75g poppy seeds
Icing :
150ml milk
125g caster sugar
2 egg yolks
175g butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract (i did not use this as had some vanilla sugar in the cupboard - a jar of caster sugar with an old vanilla pod inside).

1. Preheat the oven to 170C/150C fan/gas 3. Butter the sides of a 20cm spring-form/loose-bottomed tin and line the base with greaseproof paper.

2. Cream the butter in a large bowl or in an electric mixer until soft. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Gradually add the beaten eggs, beating well between each addition.

3. Sift in the flour and baking powder, add the poppy seeds and stir until combined.

4. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, making a slight hollow in the centre with the back of a spoon. Bake in the oven for 25-28 minutes or until it is cooked in the centre and a skewer comes out clean.

5. Allow the cake to stand for 5 minutes before carefully removing it from the tin and transferring to a wire rack to cool.

6. Make the vanilla buttercream icing : Place the milk and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

7. Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl, then pour the milk onto the yolks, whisking continuously. Return the mixture to the pan and cook over a low-medium heat, stirring all the time with a wooden or silicone spatula until it thickens and the mixture just coats the back of a spoon - this may take about 10 minutes. Do not allow the mixture to get too hot or it will scramble (if it does, quickly remove from the pan and pass through a sieve). Pour into a bowl or jug and allow to cool slightly.

8. Meanwhile, place the butter in a bowl (I did this in an electric food mixer) and whisk until soft and light.

9. Gradually add the almost cooled (not cold, but room temperature is fine) custard to the butter, whisking all the time until it is combined. Add the vanilla extract and mix. Cover the top and sides of the cake with the icing and serve.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cakes Galore

So the Christmas cake is now cooked and in storage for the big day - must remember to feed it this year....

I've also made a cake for my brother-in-law with his new business' logo on it. This is the full logo

- I was intending to make a rectangular cake with the full name on, but then saw how much mixture I'd need for a 10" square cake. Yep, so decided to stick to a regular Victoria sponge. And the full name was dropped - my plan was to use thick water icing and pipe the name on, but to be honest, my icing skills are few and far between and the last time I tried to write a name on this size of cake, I started off way too big and the end of the word looked ridiculous!!!! Leigh's suggestion was to just stick to the car logo and it doesn't look too bad. A couple of things though - turning a pack of white royal icing black is not as easy as I thought it would be. Took about half a bottle of colouring to actually get to black - dirty grey was no problem, but black more difficult! And because of the extra liquid being added, the icing became really sticky and unmanageable and I had to keep adding icing sugar. I think it came out okay in the end though.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Watching a Nigella Kitchen from the other night - she's showing us to make a magnificent looking cheesecake and describes how it should look once baked - there should be an inner thigh wobble. Oooooo!

Day at home

We decided to have a quiet day at home today to recover from the festivities yesterday, but still managed to get a remarkable amount done.

I got my fruit macerating for my Christmas cake (macerating is an odd word - sounds vaguely rude or threatening, depending on the mood!)...

peeled and cored a shedload of apples from Leigh's parents' garden. I was going to puree them all up for Leo, but I also made him another batch of dinners (chicken with winter vegetables) today and wouldn't have had enough freezable containers. So the apples have just gone into bags and into the freezer ready for pies/crumbles/anything else appley which grabs us.

And made a Raspberry Bakewell slice which is delicious! Pics to follow. Leigh was also busy - planted up all his bulbs with Zachary this morning, then turned a load of tomatoes from his parents' garden into a pasta sauce for tomorrow, made Mexican strawberry jam (it's got limes in it) with the fruit we had in the freezer, and then turned out a fab risotto for dinner. In between all this we managed to watch Up with Zachary, play a bit of Wii golf and 'supervise' him doing some gluing. Yes, the kitchen is now covered in glitter!

Raspberry Bakewell Slice

375g pack sweet shortcrust pastry (I made my own - the recipe is at the end)
5 tbsp thick seedless raspberry jam (I didn't have any in and used our homemade summer fruits jam instead - strawberry, raspberry, blackcurrant and gooseberry)
100g/4oz frozen raspberries, just thawed (I missed these out altogether as had none!)
25g flaked almonds
4 tbsp apricot jam
Sponge :
200g butter, very soft
200g golden caster sugar
100g ground almonds
100g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp almond extract
4 eggs, beaten

1. Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Line the base and sides of a buttered traybake tin, about 18-20cm x 30cm, with baking parchment. Roll out the pastry to line. Lift into the tin and evenly press right into the corners. Prick with a fork and chill for 20 mins.

2. Bake the pastry for 8-10 mins until it's cooked but not too coloured. Cool for a few mins and turn down the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Dot the jam over the pastry (there's no need to spread) and scatter over the raspberries.

3. For the sponge, put all the ingredients into a large bowl and beat with an electric whisk until soft and very well mixed. Spoon this over the raspberry layer then smooth evenly. Scatter over the flaked almonds and bake for 35-40 mins until golden and firm. Cool completely in the tin. (Will freeze for up to 3 months - overwrap the tin with baking parchment and foil beforehand).

4. To serve, thaw for 4 hrs at room temperature then reheat in a low oven. Melt the apricot jam with 1 tbsp water and brush over the top of the sponge just before serving.

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

200g plain flour
1 tbsp icing sugar100g chilled butter, cubed
1/2 - 1 egg, beaten

Place the flour, icing sugar and butter into a food processor and whiz briefly. Add half the beaten egg and continue to whiz. You might add a little more egg, but not too much as the mixture should be just moist enough to come together. Flatten out the ball of dough until it is about 2cm thick. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for about 30 mins.

Can't wait to try it with custard!

Cracking wedding

So, the wedding for which I stitched the Lowry picture was yesterday and it was truly fab. It was my first civil partnership ceremony and I had a brilliant day. The boys were invited too so we decided to take them with us - it was a bit tiring as you tend to forget as an adult how much waiting around there is and how long they'll have to sit for at the meal, but they were both really well behaved and had an excellent time. Zachary in particular made friends with Rose and Alfie, both of whom shared his passion for stone throwing!

The ceremony was punctuated by live music from a great singing group (much better than CD/iPod option) and it all went very smoothly (despite Zachary managing to remove an handle from a cupboard in the venue which was situated right by my chair and Leo banging his head on the same cupboard as he slightly toppled into it...but disaster averted, no crying!). It turned out that I was one of the witnesses - I put it like that as the first I knew of this was when the Registrar announced that I was one of the witnesses! But we were all friends there and it was all very relaxed. Leigh was best man and gave a speech during the meal, which went down very well (both meal and speech!), and Leo ate his own body weight in food I'd brought from home and pickings from my plate. The cake was designed especially for the couple, incorporating representations of their hobbies and passions, and it was something very special indeed (tasted good too!).

I drove the boys home for bed after the meal - the turnaround took about 2 hours but it was worth it and I was glad I did it. Didn't manage to get a dance in unfortunately, but I was able to witness the might of all the men dancing a fertility dance - which included steps like dancing as a bear, rubbing your back against the wall, and rubbing bums with the man next to you. I think Leigh was glad it was someone he knew!!!! All very virile and manly.

Marvellous day.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Lowry cross stitch

I've just completed a cross stitch picture of a CS Lowry painting - Street Scene. I have really, really enjoyed this project and decided to try and take a photo each week to see how it was taking shape. I've uploaded everything to Flickr here, so I thought I'd just put the link here rather than set out all the piccies again. But here it is after week 1

Once the cross stitching was complete and the back stitch still left to do

And all complete and framed.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Uncle Becki

Have had a great weekend being visited by my sister, her husband and little girl. Zachary well has the hang of 'uncle Jamie,' and 'uncle Ralph,' but seemed a little confused with Becks. Often he called her 'uncle Becki,' and sometimes it even came out sounding more like 'auncle Becki!' Hilarious!

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Was lying in bed last night thinking about my last blog post - hmmmm I do seem to get excited about small things!!! I think all I need to say here is buses.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ebay hooray!

I love selling random stuff on ebay. Had a great time last year selling off a load of my old Guide and Brownie camp badges - which went quickly and successfully. Obviously a big market for those. I also sold a spare waterproof cover we had for the shopping buggy - Leigh was dismissive and thought noone would be interested. From my memory it went for about £10 - brilliant.

Dug out a couple of maternity items I'd never worn yesterday - some pants and some tights. I put the tights on for 99p and nearly set a Buy It Now price of £2. So glad I didn't - they sold for £4.20!! The pants haven't sold (yet - relisted them after the first sale). Mind you I'm not surprised. I bought them, got them out of the pack, realised that they were almost as big as our double duvet cover and decided then and there I would manage with what I already had. Over the bump knickers are not pretty!

Only 4 ratings away from my blue star...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lemon, almond and demerera sugar loaf cake

I wanted to try a lemon cake and found this on Nibblous. It is delicious! My only comment though would be that I assumed that the oven temperature given (160C) was for a regular oven so I reduced the temperature for my fan oven, The cake took about twice the time to cook! So I am now taking 160C as the fan temperature. Uses a 2lb loaf tin.

From Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries via Food Glorious Food.

200g butter
200g demerara sugar
90g plain flour
90g ground almonds
half teaspoon baking powder
1 large lemon
4 large eggs

1 lemon
2 tbsp demerara sugar
4 tbsp water

2 tbsp demerara sugar
the juice of 1 large lemon

Pre-heat oven to 160C. Line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper.

Make the topping: slice the lemon thinly and put into a saucepan with the 2 tbsp sugar and water. Bring to boil and simmer for around 5 minutes until most of water have evaporated and the lemons are lovely and sticky. Set aside.

Make the cake: cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Mix flour with almonds, baking powder and zest of the lemon. Set aside.

Beat eggs lightly and add to creamed butter and sugar. It will curdle a little but fear not - it comes good in the end! Gently fold in the flour and almonds by hand with a large metal spoon.

Scrape cake mixture into the prepared tin and lay the lemon slices on top, overlapping. Bake for approx 45 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.

Whilst cake is baking, prepare the syrup: stir sugar into lemon juice and stir until partially dissolved. Spike top of warm cake and spoon over lemon and sugar.

Leave to cool in tin and then wrap in foil.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hols in Yorkshire

Just got back from a lovely week's holiday in Yorkshire. We stayed in a little cottage in a village called Ellingstring, which is about 4/5 miles outside Masham (home to the Theakston brewery), and we found it was perfectly placed to go out and about with the boys. The cottage was great - all mod cons but still cottagey and very cosy. Zachary had a great time bouncing on all the beds to test them out and Leo was in his element - lots of drawers on his level to open and explore. Thanks to Nanny, we've also recently become members of the National Trust and made good use of our membership!

On Sunday, we took a trip out to Harrogate where we discovered Bettys (where I could easily bankrupt us!), and the beautiful Valley Gardens. The gardens were lovely and there was a great play park there, not to mention wonderful Ripley ice cream in the tea shop. We also took a trip to Ripley itself (about 3 miles out of Harrogate), took a turn round the town and bought lots of sweets and expensive sausages.

On Monday we went to Fountains Abbey in the morning and discovered that we could walk round and through the ruins, which was ace. Zachary was fully wellied up and spent the entire time searching for muddy puddles. He found lots! In the afternoon I'd booked us into The Forbidden Corner, which is quite indescribable but really great. It was a bit difficult getting round with the pushchair, and even when we dumped that, carrying Leo was not easy. So we'll be going back in a few years' time when they can both walk round. It's a big kind of garden with lots of hidden doors and tunnels, and underground rooms and chambers, and all sorts of hidden goodies. Well worth a visit.

On Tuesday we went to York - just over an hour from where we were staying. Used the Park and Ride which worked really well. We visited the Jorvik centre, the Minster (but didn't go in - £8 each!!!), walked along the Shambles and found the Travelling Man (board game shop). Also bought some very expensive (but very delicious) fudge from The Fudge Kitchen.

Wednesday saw us attempting a visit to Masham in the morning which was quickly abandoned due to a poor market and very blowy weather! Went instead to the Wensleydale Creamery at Hawes where we could basically eat our own weight in cheese in the sampling room. Back to Fountains Abbey in the afternoon and we explored the water garden and deer park as well. Plenty of exercise for us both pushing the double pushchair!

On Thursday we went to Brimham Rocks in the morning, which was fab. The weather started out iffy but was glorious by lunchtime and the views from the rocks were amazing. There was also a very handy pushchair path which was appreciated! We stopped at a new ice cream parlour called G&T's on the way back to the cottage and then went to Harrogate again in the afternoon for more play park.

A very busy week, tiring but great. And we managed to watch the entire 4th series of the US Office in the evenings - hilarious! All the holiday pics are on Flickr, but here are some good ones

The cottage

On the swings in Valley Gardens


Fountains Abbey

Brimham Rocks

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Economy Gastronomy

Leigh bought the Economy Gastronomy book recently and we've been trying out some of the recipes. Now, I confess that I haven't read the introduction to the book and just am just relying on what Leigh has told me and what I've picked up from the recipes as to the ethos behind it. The way I understand it is that the book shows how you can make a joint of meat, or other base meal (like the chickpea one we tried today) last for 2 or three dinner meals and save you some cash because you can make it go further. We try to be pretty good about making food go further than one meal, but it does tend to be fairly basic fare - so making our spag bol last 2 meals rather than just one.

However the recipes in this book are not particularly simple and use quite a few ingredients I wouldn't normally have in my store cupboard, so although the base mix/meat goes further, I still had to spend on the additional ingredients. We tried the poached chicken base last week - so from a whole poached chicken we made chicken and sweetcorn pies (6 small pies, each one enough for a main meal - yummy), coronation chicken (tasty but had no dried fruit in it, so not quite sweet enough for my taste, but easily resolved when made again), and got about 3 litres of chicken stock. Half of this went into the pies and I used the other half in a sweet potato risotto, which was very tasty. The book's suggested third meal is a hot and spicy soup with the stock, but we went a different way.

Today's foray was into the world of chickpeas. The third recipe is coming tomorrow, but so far they've been what Leigh calls 'weekend' recipes - that is, they are a bit fiddly and time consuming - ideal if you have a weekend afternoon free to spend in the kitchen. So not ideal for me to be making with the 2 boys running around, but I was able to make good use of Leo's nap times today and got the base and houmous made in the morning and the pie made well ahead of dinner time. I was concerned about getting the pie done because that itself (not counting making the base) was estimated by the book to take 35 minutes to make and 50 minutes to cook. Fortunately Zachary has been glued to the new series of Show Me Show Me this week so I was able to pop him in front of that while I cooked (bad mother that I am! Although I did ask if he wanted to help me, but the answer was no ... probably because there was no egg cracking involved!).

So here we have the chickpea base

Which made red pepper houmous - delicious

And Othello's Chickpea Filo Pie - ready for the oven

And out for the table

Hmmm. The writers of the book rave about this pie but we weren't too sure. It's okay but not fantastic - not sure if the problem is me not seasoning it enough (something I'm guilty of a lot) or whether it's going to be one just not to our taste. Essentially it's a filo pie, bottom layer being the chickpea base mixed with toasted coriander seeds and ricotta cheese, then pastry, then a layer of grated courgette with ricotta, pepper and lemon zest. Although the pie doesn't look too bad, I had a bit of a mare with the filo. It was the first time I've used it, and to say that I and my cooking aren't known for their delicacy and elegance would be an understatement! A lot of my cooking looks on the rustic side of agricultural, so trying to get to grips with really fine, cobweb-like pastry was fiddly!!! But I got there - maybe needed some more melted butter though as it tasted a bit floury when it came out.

Tomorrow, all hail the Anytime Spicy Chickpea Loaf. And then we need to decide on our next meat - ham??