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. 


Minnie

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. 

Minnie

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. 

Minnie

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. 

Minnie

25 June, 2016

June Journal

Recipe Round-Up

An e-mail went around at work on 1st June: baked goods were being sought for a fund-raiser. Great! I was home early from work but I had to cook the dinner before going out. Somehow I managed to make two batches of scones (one containing sultanas and the other cheese and chives) and a coconut jam slice from Successful Cooking: Slices.

We were planning a quiet bank holiday weekend after the spouse's busy week. Flicking through Doreen Fulleylove's Country Fare I came across a recipe for wine cobbler, the ingredients for which are a bottle of white wine (this book was published in the days when no one was expected to know anything about wine regions), ice cubes, sliced lemon, mint, maraschino cherries (I substituted fresh blueberries), lime juice and a pint of soda water. This quantity was supposed to give you fourteen cups! The spouse and I had about two glasses each before it disappeared. Very tasty and refreshing, all the same.

I also baked a cheesecake. You can't move for designer cheesecakes these days but sometimes all you need is a plain-ish one. I rooted out an old Good Housekeeping recipe, the only flavouring for which is lemon. Topped with soured cream and fresh fruit, it went down a treat, especially with the younger offspring on his return from an evening out.

Almost six years ago exactly I made avocado and rocket soup from The Soup Book recipe. I made it for the second time on 11th June. We didn't have any harissa in the house so I substituted chilli sauce. I also made a parsley and lemon salad from Jill Dupleix's Simple Food. Both were really good. 
Blueberry, lavender & honey cake
just out of the oven

A couple of weeks ago I made banana gingerbread slice from Martha Day's Baking. The younger offspring was away so with only two of us in the house I had to bring the substantial part of the gingerbread into work. It didn't go to waste. 

Cooling down
Five days ago I baked shortbread from Doreen Fulleylove's book in anticipation of the younger offspring's return. However, someone had his flight details wrong, so I ended up bringing the shortbread into work. Not to worry. It gave me the opportunity to make nutty fudge shortbread from a recipe copied from an unknown book. A layer of shortbread, covered with caramel and topped with a mixture of chocolate, hazelnuts and walnuts. I will have to make this again as I am not eating chocolate until September. Why do I torture myself? 

Today I baked a blueberry, lavender and honey cake from Norfolk's Own Cookbook in advance of a lunch party tomorrow. I'm very pleased with it. It's definitely a seasonal cake as you need fresh lavender. Can't wait! 
Sandwiched with fresh blueberries, blueberry jam
and lavender buttercream

Bee Buzz 

Check out this story about bee hives in central Dublin published in The Irish Times (18th June 2016).
 Or this story about a bee hive installation at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew (The Guardian, 17th June 2016). 
Here's a story about a farmer in India using bees to keep elephants away from his property (The Times of India, 21st May 2016). 

29 May, 2016

May Fare

Fete-ful Fudge Fest 

Last year I was asked to make fudge for a parish fete. This year I was asked to do so again and invited to assist at the stall where the fudge would be sold. I agreed to both and the fudge-making began five days beforehand (16th May). I decided to try different recipes: one from a recipe book sold many years ago in aid of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, one cut out of a magazine and one downloaded from a commercial website. All three required different types of sugar, or different types of milk (evaporated, condensed or ordinary) or a combination of two. Altogether I made four batches, including one with fruit and nut. What a blissful week that was! 

This haiku by "Amanda in Scarlet" sums up my feelings for fudge: 


Layers and folds yield 
to pressure, tongue sinks - dissolves 
into soft, sweet bliss.
Training Days 


Wholewheat scones: worthy but dull
I am now preparing for another local event: the baking competition component of a forthcoming horticultural show. I entered last year without checking out the standard and typical fare. This year I will be better prepared. The style is old school so I have begun trying out scones using recipes from Doreen Fulleylove's Country Fare. Last Thursday (26th May) I made Doreen's wholewheat scones - worthy but dull - and her Norfolk scone - now that's more like it but I think it might still be too avant garde for the July baking competition. 
Norfolk scone: too avant garde?

The ingredients for the Norfolk scone include self-raising flour, butter, eggs and milk with a filling consisting of butter, currants, nutmeg and demerara sugar. In an effort to use up ingredients in my store-cupboard I substituted dried blueberries for currants, hence the jammy liquid that oozed out. I may have overbaked this scone but it tasted good all the same. I will try out other recipes over the coming weeks and not just for scones. Expect to read about tea bracks, shortbread biscuits, apple tarts and gingerbread. The spouse is working on sweet peas for the horticultural show. 

Cryptic clue: Theatre Cat in Season 

This luxury vegetable is in season so I thought I would make the torte as per the recipe in the Norfolk's Own Cookbook. I'm afraid I cannot guarantee the provenance of the vegetable that I bought but I doubt it was from Norfolk. 

Oven-ready theatre cat
Ingredients: butter, Parmesan cheese, the mystery vegetable, an onion, eggs, yoghurt (I didn't use double cream as listed in the book) and parsley. Quite fiddly but I did the prep work in stages during the afternoon. The husband and I had the torte for our supper. Verdict: delicious, very tangy. 

Rosemary and Rhubarb

Rhubarb and orange cake
What a fruitful weekend I've had. Yesterday I baked a rhubarb and orange cake from Norfolk's Own Cookbook for a 30th birthday celebration. I haven't tasted it yet but it's looking good. 
Ingredients: butter, golden caster sugar, eggs, flour, oranges (zest and juice), ground almonds, rhubarb and flaked almonds. 

And from my Good Housekeeping Step by Step Baking I made an iced rosemary cake. 
Ingredients: sprigs of rosemary - the thrill of using fresh rosemary from my garden-, butter, caster sugar, vanilla extract, eggs, flour and milk; for the glaze: icing sugar, grated orange rind and orange juice (to which is added rosemary-infused water). Result: glorious, not a cake to rue. 

From Sir Thomas Moore: 
Iced rosemary cake: good for the spirit


As for rosemary, I let it run all over my garden walls, not only because my bees love it but because it is the herb sacred to remembrance and to friendship, whence a sprig of it hath a dumb language.


That's all for now. 

Minnie

02 May, 2016

Roots, Eats and Leaves

Root Vegetable Soup


Chopped vegetables coated in oil and ready for roasting
What else would you do on a cool May bank holiday weekend except make soup? This roasted root vegetable soup from Complete Comfort Food looked interesting. Lots of vegetables to be prepared: butternut squash, onions, leeks, turnip (swede), parsnip (yes, I hate them but surely one parsnip would be overwhelmed by the other ingredients) and carrots. Prep work done and bay leaves, rosemary and thyme interspersed, I popped the vegetables into the oven to roast. I had to leave the house for a few minutes and when I re-entered, the aroma of rosemary rose to greet me. Mmmm! 


Roasted vegetable soup with creme fraiche and cayenne
When softened, I simmered the vegetables in stock and then liquidised them. The soup was a little too thick. We ate it with a dollop of creme fraiche sprinkled with cayenne pepper. A little bland, I thought, but the spouse and younger offspring were very pleased. 


Pea, Ham and Cheese Muffins

This recipe is in the Norfolk's Own Cookbook and I've been itching to make these muffins for weeks. What could you possibly object to in muffins that contain Boursin cheese and chopped ham and are sprinkled with grated cheese? Well, I don't really like peas but I'm ready to endure them from time to time. 


Pea, ham and cheese muffins
 Apart from the cheese, there was no fat in the batter. The consistency was light. The spouse and the two offspring were very impressed but I expected more from the Boursin cheese. Disappointed but not crossing them off my "bake again" list. 

No Peaches, But Plenty of Herbs

The garden was in need of attention. There were weeds to be evacuated, herbs to be replaced and sweetpeas to be planted. The spouse and I took full advantage of the long weekend to review the garden. We don't have much growing space out the front or in the back. The front is exposed to the wind since a line of protective evergreens were cut down several years ago, so the soil tends to dry out. 

I wanted to try transferring a rose in the back garden into a pot and to replace a moribund sage. The sweetpea king wanted to revert to the teepee climbing frame he first set up two years ago. Off we went to garden centre with a short list and returned with more items than intended. 

Happy with my herbs
We managed to get some work done yesterday afternoon (Sunday 1st May) before the rain and this morning before the hailstones. So, in the picture to the left you can see my new sage, parsley and mint. The chives, fennel, lovage and sorrel have been around for some time. And my bee box is still there. 

I don't have much luck with parsley. The slugs tend to get to it before I do. I don't like to use poison pellets and the death by beer method produces bodies to be disposed of. Yuck. I've tried coffee without success. Other ways of killing slugs are too unpalatable to mention so you'll have to look them up yourself on slugfence.com. Those of you with strong stomachs can even find videos on Youtube. I can't look.

That's it for now. 

Minnie