17 March, 2017

February Feasts

A Sliver of Silvia

Silvia cake
My first bake of February was the Silvia cake from Hygge and Fika. Buttery batter and coconut topping: it had to be good. I was rather disappointed by the cake's blandness. I've checked a couple of other recipes for this cake, none of which stand out as making it more interesting or flavoursome.

Spinach and Spice Loaf
Spinach and spice loaf

This is more like it. Spinach, chilli, cumin, garlic and pinenuts provide rich flavours and texture. Definitely to be made again. 

Rabbitting On

A new recipe from an old book was Dorset rabbit from Doreen Fulleylove's Country Fare. Our butcher had a couple of rabbits for less than €10, so why not have a go? Jointed and covered with a layer of breadcrumbs and suet, this was a tasty meal. 

All Square 

Hazelnut squares
One weekend I made raspberry squares from Hygge and Fika and hazelnut squares from Martha Day's Baking. I've had my eye on the hazelnut square recipe for a long time. I tried the "simmer with sodium bicarbonate" method of skinning the hazelnuts, which was very effective. The resulting squares were like brownies. The hazelnuts reserved for the topping were to be scattered over the still soft batter. I think by the time I remembered to do this, the batter was crusting over so the hazelnuts remained unanchored on the top. 

Raspberry squares

I liked the pretty raspberry squares. They were very sweet - you couldn't eat a whole one. 

Curry Night 

The younger offspring will be participating in a charitable venture very soon. This has required him to raise funds for his trip and for the project. The spouse and I hosted a curry night and provided a veritable feast. He prepared pakoras, onion bhajis, rogan josh and dhal, while my contribution consisted of spiced pea, potato and carrots, and Himalayan fruit salad, mango kulfi and pear and caramel upside-down cake. A great evening. 

That's it for now. 


05 February, 2017

January Jottings

Butternut squash and shallots
roasted with smoked paprika and caraway seeds

Puffed Up with Pride

My first new recipe of 2017 was from Norfolk's Own Cookbook: Everything Stops for Tea. The book practically fell open at "Sausage rolls with roasted vegetables." There were some unused shallots and carrots in the fridge, smoked paprika, and a few of the other listed ingredients in our cupboard. At the butcher's I asked for sausagemeat and was given the choice of having the meat removed from prepared sausages or a lump of frozen meat. I chose the former but not happily. 
Sausage and roasted vegetable rolls

Butternut squash - the tough nut of vegetables. You have to batter through the skin with a sharp knife. Then the dicing begins. Carrots are grated. Oh, the anxiety! Will I sever a finger or break a nail? Phew! I got through the prep work with no mishaps. 

I can't remember when I last used puff pastry. I thawed out a packet for the sausage rolls - who has time to make puff pastry from scratch? Although I used more than the quantity specified in the recipe, I didn't think I was going to have enough. I needn't have worried. The end product was really tasty. A little fiddly but worth the effort. 

Re-Pearing the Damage

Chetna Makan provided me with the first sweet recipe of 2017: pear and cardamom caramel upside-down cake. In April 2016 I had difficult time with a different pear and caramel cake: the caramel was too hard and the batter refused to cook. On this occasion I was much more successful. 

Crushing the cardmom seeds - the aroma is indescribable but the sight and smell reminds me of my childhood and my parents' delicious curries. The cake was very good. Not too fiddly. I would have like the sugar in the caramel to have dissolved but the spouse and the younger offspring were happy with the caramel as it was. The spouse has put this cake on the "make again" list. 

Pear and cardamom caramel upside-down cake

A day later the cake is still lovely and moist and the cardamom has worked even more magic into the caramel and beyond. 

My second Chetna cake in January was her carrot and banana spiced cake. One of my colleagues asked to bake something for her to cheer her up so I agreed. She wasn't the only one to benefit. People may be cautious about the butter and sugar but it hasn't held them back from sampling the finished products. 

Soups to Try

This recipe for green peppercorn and lemongrass coconut broth by Anna Jones sounds good. It was published in The Guardian (7th January 2017) and I found it on line on The Sunday Times website (3rd January). 

Dipping back into The Soup Book for inspiration, I made sausage and bean soup and Mexican chilli bean soup again. Very good. 

Yeast is Yeast 

Right. To overcome my fear - a slight exaggeration - or nervousness about baking with yeast, I've decided to start reading about it. The spouse and I were on the brink of culling our cookery books as our kitchen shelves are overflowing with them. The spouse has four books by Elizabeth David, one of which is entitled English Bread and Yeast Cookery and was first published forty years ago.  In the chapter about yeast there is a section on buying and storing dried yeast. I was amused by her comments on the American custom of date-stamping dry yeast packages with the recommended final date of use and the cavalier attitude of some British bakeries to the stocking of yeast: 
Although this doesn't necessarily mean that the yeast isn't still active ... the system does provide a useful protection for the customer. Given our [British] traditionally carefree attitude to such matters, it would be surprising if any similar rule were ever enforced here. Even without it, to have a supply of dried yeast in store gives a welcome sense of security and of liberation from those bakery ladies who sometimes will and more often will not sell fresh yeast. 
I have now bought a small supply of dried yeast and a bag of strong flour. I should take it from there.

Scandi Treats

Another new cookery book on my shelves is Fika and Hygge by Bronte Aurell. The first recipe I tried was for brownies. Instead of walnuts you can substitute dried fruit, chopped Daim bars, liquorice allsorts ... I chose coconut ice which made the brownies a little too sweet. Still, no one complained. 

So, that's it. I've already started on my February baking. It's a short month. 

Bye for now. 


02 January, 2017

2017: Let a New Year of Baking Begin

Review of 2016

Berries and cream celebration cake for New Year's Day, 2017
Last year was a bonanza year for baking. I made a total of fifty different baked items, including a berries and cream celebration cake on New Year's Eve for a special lunch on New Year's Day. This total was achieved because of the baking competition I entered in July, a fund-raising coffee morning I co-hosted in November, and various other occasions during the year. Some items didn't work out well or didn't taste as good as I'd anticipated, while others were ambrosia!

Here's the big list for 2016:

Ale fruit loaf17-Jan2016
Broccoli & Gruyere tart23 Jan2016
Fig and apricot scones30-Jan2016
Marbled peanut butter brownies3-Feb2016
Cup cakes3-Feb2016
Spicy biscuits13-Feb2016
Lemony cookies13-Feb2016
Apple crumble cake18-Feb2016
Vintage cheddar & walnut scones18 Feb16
Morning muffins3 Mar16
Pistachio & white chocolate shortbread4-Mar2016
Rocky road muffins10 Mar16
Sticky pear & ginger cake16-Mar2016
Raspberry Bakewell tart9-Apr2016
Pea, ham & cheese muffins30 Apr16
Wholewheat scones26-May2016
Norfolk scone26-May2016
Rhubarb & orange cake28-May2016
Iced rosemary cake29-May2016
Norfolk County asparagus torte29-May2016
Traditional scones (fruit, cheese and chive)1-Jun2016
Coconut jam slice1-Jun2016
Blueberry, lavender and & honey cake25-Jun2016
Raisin and orange scones15-Jul2016
Tea brack15-Jul2016
Apple tart15-Jul2016
Deep American fudge cake15-Jul2016
Blueberry scones24-Jul2016
Mushroom tart (with bacon)10 Aug 2016
Coffee, cardamon & walnut cake13-Aug2016
Rapeseed oil. lemon & blackberry cake10 Sept 2016
Rocky road crunch bars15 Sep 2016
Farmhouse biscuits24 Sep 2016
Carrot & pineapple cake1-Oct2016
Jammy coconut tarts2-Oct2016
Rich chocolate cake with lemon and orange2-Oct2016
Carrot cake15-Oct2016
Fruited buttermilk cake22-Oct2016
Molasses, prune & walnut teabread28-Oct2016
Amaretti plum cake29-Oct2016
Rippled date & banana loaf29-Oct2016
Christmas morning muffins12-Dec2016
Ginger chocolate chip cookies12-Dec2016
Festival cake18-Dec2016
Bitter chocolate and kirsch cherry tortes23-Dec2016
Crusty lemon bake23-Dec2016
Berries and cream celebration cake31 Dec 2016

I've highlighted the items which were particularly well received or that I especially enjoyed. The downside of tasty baking is the calories. Fortunately, my work colleagues are happy to help me share that load. 

Just in case you're wondering, I also made eight new soups. I haven't forgotten the original raison d'etre for this blog. 

Plans for 2017

This year I want to overcome my fear of baking with yeast. I also want to continue working my way through the Norfolk Cookbook. For Christmas I acquired two new baking recipe books: Scandikitchen Fika & Hygge by Bronte Aurell and The Cardamon Trail by Chetna Makan, so expect some spicy reports. 

Wishing my audience (however small) contentment in 2017. 


05 November, 2016

Autumn - Season of Fruit-Filled Cake!

Carrot and pineapple cake
Oh October!

Last month we hosted a teenage boy from overseas for two days and so what do teenage boys like? Cake. I made coconut and jam tarts and carrot cake from the Norfolk cookbook and a rich chocolate cake with orange and lemon from Gill MacLennan's Chocolate. According to my note in Chocolate, I last made that cake about six years ago. When making carrot cake I usually use the Good Housekeeping recipe from 1989 and I think I'll go back to it. The Norfolk recipe included a lot of sugar both in the cake batter and the cream cheese topping. The coconut and jam tarts were a big hit. 

Now for November
Amaretti plum cake

This morning the spouse and I co-hosted a coffee morning fund-raising event for the younger offspring. He'll be heading off to sunnier climes next year to take part in a charitable project. What an opportunity for me to engage in a bake-fest! 

From the Norfolk cookbook I made the morning muffins which I first made back in April. Everything else was from Good Housekeeping's Step by Step Baking. I think this is the only one of my baking recipe books that advises on freezing cakes - very handy when you want to bake a lot of cakes but don't want to wear yourself out on one day. 

I made amaretti plum cake (gorgeous!), iced rosemary cake, carrot cake (from the 1989 recipe), fruited buttermilk cake, molasses, prune and walnut teabread, and rippled date and banana loaf. Yum. 

I missed this year's annual honey show which takes place in a nearby church hall. I couldn't be in two places at once. Obviously. 

Date and banana loaf

Book Buzz 

I recently read Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. There is a bee connection but that's all I'm telling you. 

I referenced Ode to Autumn in the main title so I'll finish with the opening stanza, just because bees get a mention: 

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Until next time. 


25 September, 2016

The Rocky Road through September

September: it's all back to school, sunny days and increased traffic volumes. Then someone injures himself and earlier events fade from the memory. But there's always baking.

My fifteenth recipe from Norfolk's Own Cookbook was for lemon and blackberry cake. The key ingredients were grated lemon zest, rapeseed oil, sugar, ground and flaked almonds and sugar. The blackberries were added to the top for the last fifteen minutes of baking.

I have to admit I didn't pick my own blackberries. I bought these ones and I am not a fan. Next time I will put my boots on and scramble among the brambles. 

 As it was the younger offspring's birthday earlier this month I made him one of his favourites: rocky road muffins from Gill MacLennan's Chocolate recipe book. He was appreciative. Then as a treat for when he was in hospital I made him Nigella Lawson's rocky road crunch bars

Yesterday I reverted to The Soup Book and made a lentil and vegetable soup that I first made in April 2010! For our second course I made Selma Hage's chicken rice and tomato. I had to make up my own Lebanese seven spices seasoning. Selma lists the ingredients as ground allspice, pepper, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground nutmeg, ground fenugreek and ground ginger but you'll find other ingredients given by other cooks. 

Book Buzz 

Ruth Rendell and/or Barbara Vine has been one of my favourite authors for over thirty years. I recently read and enjoyed Grasshopper, which was first published sixteen years ago. At the climax of the story there is a reference to three people being smoked out of thier home "like bees from a hive". I can't say any more without giving away the ending. 

So that's all I have to write for now. I'll end with a photo of hives taken this morning at the National Botanic Garden in Glasnevin. 

Until the next time. 


14 August, 2016

August - The Wickedly Lazy Month

Pottering and Potting

I'm still cooking away and trying out new recipes, perhaps not as frequently as I might. My excuse: it's August and everyone's on holiday. That said, I made potted shrimps and strawberry ice cream with shortbread biscuits from the Norfolk cookbook for a family lunch earlier this month. I loved the potted shrimps and the ice cream wasn't bad. Would you be surprised to learn there was freshly ground pepper in it?

Strawberry ice cream in preparation

A former colleague presented me with homegrown courgettes quite unexpectedly. They're not my favourite vegetable so I knew I'd have to make something interesting with them: charred courgette with tomato and bean salad from the Riverford Farm Cook Book helped to brighten things up. 

A couple of days ago I got home from work earlier than I'd anticipated and so had time to make a mushroom tart from a Martha Day recipe. (I strayed from Martha's path by making wholewheat pastry and adding bacon to the mushrooms.)

Coffee, cardamon and walnut cake

Coffee, cardamon and walnut cake
I love home-made coffee and walnut cake - and home-made by other people is even better. Not that I come across it very often. For some reason I have been yearning gently for coffee cake with cardamon. I found a couple of recipes but chose this one for coffee, cardamon and walnut cake by Fiona Cairns. Both the cake batter and buttercream are flavoured with freshly ground cardamon. The smell from the ground seeds is rich and exotic and reminds me of my childhood. I was a little surprised by the very small amount of powder yielded from the seeds and I had expected more flavour from the completed cake. It was delicious nevertheless but I will be more heavy-handed with the spice next time. I will also try to caramelise the walnuts more neatly. 

Bee hospitable

The spouse and I enjoy cooking and we enjoy inviting people to our home to share our food and catch up with their news. The rules of hospitality are vague and intangible but my basic tenets include making guests feel welcome and feeding them well. My hospitality extends to the bees who are making the most of the lavender in my front garden. Suck it up, girls, because next month I'll be cutting the plants back. 

In the context of hospitality it's apt to mention that I'm currently reading Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See. One of the protagonist lives in a house in Paris called the Hotel of Bees, which had been the home of a wealthy privateer who "gave up raiding ships to study bees in the pastures outside Saint-Malo, scribbling in notebooks and eating honey straight from combs." The Hotel of Bees is described as having crests above the door lintels featuring bumblebees carved into the oak, a fountain shaped like a hive, an hexagonal bathtub and ceiling frescoes portraying giant bees. 

And so back to laziness. 


24 July, 2016

Honeyed Words

Baking and Boasting

Last year I entered a local baking competition for the first time. There weren't many entries and I achieved a couple of seconds and thirds ... out of twos and threes! I decided that I would re-enter this year, having identified that the competition is quite old-fashioned and that the judges don't seem to require anything too fancy. Fortunately, I was on leave in the run up to the competition so had the time to prepare and make seven entries: shortbread, tea brack, scones, gingerbread, cupcakes, apple tart and a deep chocolate fudge cake. 

Shortbread (Norfolk recipe)
I tried out two shortbread recipes: one from Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course, the other from the Norfolk cookbook. Delia's book was first published in 1978 and my copy was a twenty-fifth birthday present from one of my siblings. I have to state that I was not twenty-five in 1978 - I was still a teenager. The Norfolk cookbook was a more recent present from my other sibling J'Zo. In case you're wondering, the Norfolk shortbread was much tastier and that's what I entered in the biscuit competition. Third prize for my shortbread. 

I looked at the tea loaf recipes in Martha Day's Baking before thinking that I should just look up an Irish tea brack recipe. I found one on this Irish website. It turned out really well and ... came first in the tea brack competition. 
First prize for tea brack

Last year I made banana gingerbread for the competition from Paul Flynn's recipe. I have been using this recipe for years and it never goes wrong. This year I thought I would make a plain gingerbread loaf. I don't have any recipes but eventually found this one on the All Recipes UK website. It was very nice and came second.  

Second prize for ginger bread
My cup cakes came second and the three remaining items came third. I was very pleased with myself. 

Blueberry scones
I can't rest on my laurels. My scones need work so today I made blueberry scones using a recipe from my Good Housekeeping Step-by-Step Baking. They tasted quite sweet and were a little soft, but I think I know where I went wrong: too much milk. 

Bees and Verse

Recently I selected a lovely book of poems as a birthday present for one of my brothers-in-law. Windharp: Poems of Ireland Since 1916 is a lovely anthology edited by Niall MacMonagle.

Here are some of the bee references.

The Lost Heifer by Austen Clarke
I thought of the last honey by the water
That no hive can find.

The Stare's Nest by My Window by W B Yeats
The bees build in the crevices 
Of loosening masonry, and there 
The mother birds bring grubs and flies. 
My wall is loosening; honey bees, 
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

A Winter Solstice by Peter Fallon
The days will stretch and we survive 
with losses, yes, and lessons too, 
to reap the honey of the hive 
of history.

And with those honeyed words I'll finish for today.