Thursday, 28 July 2011

A Pancake Phase.

I’m going through a phase. A pancake phase. I’m so enthralled by the flat little lovelies that in my head (thank GOD) I just went...STOP....Pancake Time, and did a little jig with my knees a la MC Hammer. I. Am. Cool.

Annnnnd I just realised that today is your day. THE day. The day that you are leaving little sunny Somerset, jumping across the pond and landing in pancake heaven. I hadn’t even thought about the breakfast joy that will be awaiting you. Oh heck. Please eat pancakes as big as your face at least once a week while you’re out there. And post me a few. Aaaand send all the crazy topping ideas, that I am sure are prevalent in NYC, my way. Thanks.

Good good luck little one. I’ll miss you.

Anyway, here is my go-to recipe for good old basic pancakes. Little, fat fluffy ones mind, not skinny, Europe-style crepes, you’re leaving all that behind. These are bland and bouncy and just perfect with about any topping you can think of. My current favourite thing to do is to pick up berries from a supermarket at the end of the day, when they’re a bit too squishy and have that joyful yellow discount sticker on them. Just pop them in a hot pan with a blob of appropriate jam (strawb with strawbs etc)  and let them bubble away for a bit until you get a gleaming pan of syrup. Pour on top of your buttery, breakfast friends, top with some fresh berries and start your day with smiles...With Love and Cake.

A few notes:
·         This is a nice plain recipe; they’re pretty much scotch pancakes or drop scones if you prefer. Expect plenty more recipes with tweaks and twiddles winging your way in the future as my obsession develops.
·         I am the only pancake enthusiast in my house so I tend to make a whole batch and freeze all that I don’t eat straight away. Just stick in the microwave for a minute or so or straight in the toaster to defrost (I haven't quite worked out which makes for the best texture yet), and bobs-your-uncle, pancakes at the ready.
·         The original recipe says it makes 25, but I make them nice and big and fat so it’s usually more like 15.

Makes 10-20
You will need

A nice big pan or a few smaller ones

225g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
25g sugar
1 egg
300g milk

·         Pop the pan/pans on the hob to heat to a medium temperature.
·         Stir together the flour, baking powder and sugar in a bowl, then whisk in the egg and milk. You should have a thick, bubbly batter.
·         Grease the pan with a spot of butter on some kitchen towel.
·         Drop tablespoon-fulls of batter into the pan and cook until you can see bubbles starting to appear on the up-facing surfaces.
·         Remember that the law of physics (or something) states that the first pancake is guaranteed to fail, so don’t be disheartened.
·         Flip and cook for another few minutes.
·         Keep going until all the batter is transformed into pancakey deliciousness.
·         Butter and top with whatever takes your fancy.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Summer Fruit Saviour

Alreeeet me loveeeer,

Do you remember those Eddie Izzard tapes we listened to for the hours and hours that we drove around Ireland for a good few summers? Covered in Beeeeeeeeees. Do you remember the bit about the pears where he explains, in his fabulously contrary manner, how they wait, rock hard, in the fruit bowl. Wait, waaaiiiiit, waaaaaaaaaaaaaait, until we turn our backs and then blllluuuuueegggh, they’re mush. Well that is what has been happening to me.

 Not with pears though but with the summer fruit I’ve been waiting for so patiently. I get over excited seeing nectarines and cherries and peaches and raspberries and strawberries all looking so plump and shiny and juicy looking. So I load up, make them look pretty in their new bowl-shaped home and look forward to juice running down my chin. Well. It doesn't really work like that. They waaait and waaaait and waaaaait, and I either catch them too soon and they are sour and tough or blluueghh; mouldy mush.

 Now I’m of the mind that coming up with a solution to having too squishy summer fruit  in the house is a much more time-efficient way to fix things that solving the problem of buying them in the first place, which would probably require some sort of intervention. It’s compulsive you see, I feel constantly on the hunt for satisfyingly sweet, perfectly pert fruit and not buying any feels like giving in to the stereotype that Scotland doesn't do fruit. I know that is not true.

Solution = Smoothie. And not Dad’s sort of smoothie, the ‘blend all the manky stuff that the fridge contains and consume’ smoothie. No. This old girl is considered; requiring just enough care and attention to make her delicious without being bothersome of a morning. She is the perfect breakfast and really does keep you going till lunch.

Peach and Blueberry Smoothie.
A few notes:
·         I keep the blueberries, milk and honey as the consistent undercurrent to this recipe; the peach part being the thing that I chop and change and experiment with depending on the fruit situation...
·         I therefore buy frozen blueberries from the supermarket, which makes it much cheaper and they’re ready and waiting for you. No need to defrost, just pop straight in the blender.
·         My favourite variation, and one that is lovely to make when it’s not summer but you wish it was, involves subbing the peach for 100g strawberries, which I also often have in the freezer, and adding a blob of peanut butter. Eat with a spoon and thank me after.

Serves one
You will need

A blender

75g blueberries
1 over-ripe peach
150ml your favourite milk
Honey, to taste (start with 1 tsp)

·         Blend.
·         Sip.
·         Aaaah.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Banana Loaf By Request.

Hello there,

I was baking under instruction last week. I got a phone call from a friend, well he wasn’t really calling me, he was just using me as boyfriend’s secretary, but he got me and decided to use the opportunity to make a cake request. You might think such a request is a tad presumptuous but nonono, it is a joy. You see I quite often search for excuses to bake a good cake; a birthday, a party, completion of a PhD (not mine). An event like that means I get to have a whale of a time getting creative in the kitchen, without a hint of ‘You really should get on with those more important things on your ‘to do’ list’ nagging from myself. 

In those circumstances a cake is REQUIRED you see, it is more of a priority than ironing and exercising and those other things that annoyingly call to me when I start out the day. And then, I get to present a friend/party/fun-time with the product of my ‘toil’, and basically it makes me look like a great human being that has selflessly sacrificed time and energy especially for someone else....when really it’s just that I love cake, I love baking cakes and I probably would have been baking whether it was required or not. So a cake request is music to my tinytiny ears.

This friend is doing a lot of travelling up down Scotland at the minute and he told me that one of the things that makes it bearable is the banana bread that he gets from a café on his way up to Aberdeen. He had assumed that as a seasoned baker, banana bread must be pretty much a staple of my repertoire, which isn’t true but may become so from now on. The verdict was that mine was better than the café’s. YESSS. Slightly sweet and just squodgy enough, it isn’t a pudding cake, or a ‘tea and cake’ cake but a lunch box/picnic/breakfast cake, and a great way to use up those blackened bananas that linger at the bottom of the fruit bowl for just a bit too long...With Love and Cake.

Banana Loaf
From Hamlyn All Colour Teatime Favourites...I told you it was good.

A few notes:

·         If you don’t end up munching all of the cake before it goes a bit dry, it might be worth toasting the last few slices and buttering liberally. Add orange juice and tea and you have a rather luxurious breakfast.
·         Another good way of using up old bananas is to slice them into quarters and pop in a bag in the freezer. Then they’re ready to throw straight in the blender for yummy smoothies.
·         I did the rubbing in of the fat part in a food’s just a bit quicker.
·         It’s important to work quickly when the wet and dry ingredients are combined, to ensure a nicely risen loaf.

Makes 1 loaf
You will need

A 23x13cm loaf tin, lined and buttered

1 tsp lemon juice
3 tbsp milk
225g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp cream of tartar
100g soft butter
175g caster sugar
2 ripe bananas, mashed
Zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs, beaten

·         Preheat the oven to 180°c.
·         Stir the lemon juice into the milk and set aside for the minute.
·         Sift the flour, bicarb, and cream of tartar into a bowl and rub in the butter with the tips of your fingers until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs.
·         Stir in the sugar.
·         Mix the lemon zest into the mashed bananas and then stir in the curdled milk and eggs.
·         Mix the banana mixture into the flour, folding until it is all combined.
·         Pour into the loaf tin and sprinkle over a few spoonfuls of Demerara sugar.
·         Pop into the oven and check after 1 hour. If it still looks a bit wobbly leave it baking for another 10 minutes or so.
·         Cool on a wire rack. Yumyum.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Traveler's Treats.

Ohhhh Eem GEEEE, it is sooooon that you go away. Mum asked the other day if I would see you before you swan off to the Big Apple...I hadn't really thought about it but heck, I won’t. That means I won’t have seen you for half a year by the time you’re back in the my time zone; the longest time ever. But thinking about it, we’re much better friends when we’re in different countries than when we’re in the same house aren't we?

So, not being able to provide support in the form of hugs, waves and carrying your bags, I will attempt to hold your hand through the blog-o-sphere. First things first...packing! Now if it was me who was relocating to across the pond in just a week I would be surrounded by lists, and lists of lists, and even lists of lists, but I know that’s not your style and you will do absolutely fine without an ounce of forethought. But I thought I’d lend you my excessive organisation skills/obsessive-compulsive tendencies, just for a bit, to aid you in your packing.

Look at my little butter duck looking out to sea, I love him.

Here’s a list (lists will save the world) of what should be in your hand luggage...
1.       Lounge wear- (must be said in a hoity-toity accent) basically PJs that are acceptable to wear in public; anything to make your bottom a bit more comfy.
2.      Bed socks- chilly toes for 10 hours would be most unsavoury
3.      A big fat scarf- for wrapping and scrunching and folding and sleeping on.
4.      Huuuge sunglasses- for pretended you’re a glamorous celebrity on arrival.
5.      Moisturising facial spritz- it will make your on-board life better, also use on hands, feet and ankles.
6.      Toothbrush and toothpaste- feeling minty fresh will help wake you up when you’re sleepy.
7.       Magazines- a LOT of magazines.
8.      An intellectual book- in case you end up sitting near some cultured looking folk that you fancy chatting to, you can use it as a conversation starter.
9.      Welsh cakes.

Yes welsh cakes. I implore you to knock up a batch of these slightly sweet, slightly spiced little gems and stash them in your bag. You surely don’t want to be reliant on the plane’s ‘veggie’ offering (I’m betting some sort of slimy mush). These would make the perfect snack for munching on between the free wine and peanuts; they are hardy and filling little chaps which makes them perfect for picnics and travelling. Just spread them with a lick of butter, wrap them up and squish them between your socks and scarf. Also, why not make a double batch and stick some in your hold luggage so you’ve got your first breakfast ready and waiting when you’ve just moved in and have nothing in your kitchen cupboard. I hope you do, they are brilliant and easy I promise. In fact I’m just off to knock up a few myself. I really am...With Love and Cake.

Welsh Cakes
From Hamlyn All Colour Teatime Favourites...a wonderful book.

A few notes:
·         I did most of this in a food processor, just stirring in the currants, egg and milk at the end. But I’ll write the recipe so you don’t have to as I know you don’t have that facility.
·         I didn’t have any mixed spice so just sprinkled in a spot of ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon, but actually wished I had added more. Tweak as you fancy.
·         I’m guessing you don’t want to use lard, as the original recipe suggests.
·         The recipe tells you to roll out the dough but I found it easier to press it down and out lightly with my hands.

Makes about 10
You will need

A big frying pan or flat griddle, greased

225g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp mixed spice
100g soft butter
75g currants
1 egg
2-3 tbsp milk

·         Sift the flour, baking powder and spice into a bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture is fine and bread crumb looking.
·         Stir in the sugar and currants.
·         Take a quick break to pop the frying pan or griddle over a medium heat on the hob.
·         Next mix the egg into the mixture and knead in enough milk to bring everything together.
·         Transfer to a clean, floured surface and roll or pat out to a thickness of 1cm.
·         Cut out rounds or around 7 to 8cm and pop in the pan to cook.
·         Cook for around 4 minutes, until the underside is golden and lovely looking and then flip and cook for another 4 minutes.
·         Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
·         Gather up the leftover dough, re-roll, cut and cook, keeping going until it’s all used up.
·         Now eat a couple, spread with melty butter and honey or jam and try and save the rest for your journey. Good Luck.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Stove Top Supper.

Hi Han,

You know I told you a while ago that I’d met a lovely lady who is basically  me but in another body? Well I did, and she is superdooper lovely and shares your passion for tea and mine for cake...everyone of our get-togethers involves both, and a lot of chat about how desperate we both are to learn to knit. She lives in a beautiful little flat in a gem of a spot in Edinburgh which you would love. I already consider her a real proper true friend, even though we’ve really only spent a relatively small amount of hours together. This post is for her.

She’s in a spot of culinary bother you see. It all started when the glass of her oven door shattered, through no fault of her own, leaving a messy hole and no oven. This was a good few weeks ago now and the long and short of it is that it still isn’t fixed (or it wasn’t when I last saw her). She is bOREd of soup and stir frys and desperate for a good old baked potato. I am veryvery sympathetic, mainly because I think if I was left without the use of an oven for any length of time you’d have to cart me off an asylum. Also...I thought this maybe possibly might be the sort of dilemma you face when you move across the pond? So I put my chef’s hat on and did lots of thinking about yummy things that can be had hot off the hob. This is my first offering. It is inspired by my lunch at Easter-time Betty’s and is yummy and healthy and sunshiney and not a jot of sacrifice is felt by the end...promise. With Love and Cake.

Courgette and Spring Herb Frittata with Stove Top Roasties.  

A few notes:
·         It is best to use a non-stick pan for the frittata. If you don’t have one  it might make things easier to line the pan you use with baking paper.
·         If you’re buying herbs especially for this, and therefore don’t want to buy lots of different packets, may I suggest you go for mint. I didn’t use it here because something had cheekily munched my small supply of leaves  but I think it would bring even more fun to the party.
·         I served my Frittata with goat’s cheese and chutney but you could eat it plain or with a whole number of other toppings. How about caramelised onions, feta, mozzarella and tomatoes or even have it in a sandwich with salad and mayonnaise.
·         You need to use waxy potatoes for this recipe, which are small and often labelled ‘salad potatoes’. Floury ones that are used for ‘baking’ will break up to a mush. 

Makes enough for 2
You will need

For the Potatoes
1 glug of olive oil
1 knob of butter
½ onion, sliced
500gish waxy potatoes
Salt and Pepper

For the frittata
1 glug of olive oil
1 medium sized courgette, coarsely grated
A couple of generous handful of springtime herbs, I used parsley, coriander, chives, young rosemany and dill, finely chopper
4 eggs
Salt and Pepper

·         First get the potatoes going; heat the oil and butter over a medium heat and throw in the onion, leaving until softened and golden.
·         Then add the potatoes and lots of salt and pepper and give everything a stir around.
·         Now turn the heat down to as low as possible, pop the lid on the pan and leave for a good 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring every so often.
·         When the potatoes have about 15 minutes cooking left it’s time to start on the frittata, first by heating the oil in the frying pan and gently frying the grated courgette for a few minutes until slightly softened.
·         Tip the courgettes from the pan into a bowl, with the herbs and plenty of seasoning.
·         Next whisk the eggs into the herby mixture and pour everything back into the still warm pan.
·         Leave on a low heat until it looks mostly set, with just a bit of wibblywobbly left in the middle; about 10 minutes.
·         To cook the top, either stick under a hot grill if you have the facility, or flip the frittata over by sliding it out onto a plate, hovering the upside down pan over it, and turning everything over so the wobbly side of the frittata is at the bottom of the pan.
·         Leave to cook for a final 5 minutes turn the heat up under the potatoes for the last few moments so they really crisp up (and go some way to satisfy the baked potato craving, Beth).
·         Serve a wedge of frittata with the potatoes and a crispy dressed salad and any other adornment you fancy. Yum.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Lashings of...

Hiiiiiii far away one,

Apparently, not one of the Famous Five books actually speaks of lashings of ginger beer, only lashings of hard boiled eggs. This is nonsensical, how the heck can hard boiled eggs lash? Cool, bubbly, zingy ginger beer on a hot, sunshiney day...much more lash-worthy. What was Enid thinking!

You might think that making your own ginger beer is a bit too effortful for your liking, and that’s fine, it’s not exactly something you can whip up spontaneously. I just thought that should by some miracle you find yourself with a dead-cert of a sunnyshiney day around the corner and you have an outdoorys thing to attend, this might be a fun and rather smug-making thing to turn up with in hand. Far more exciting than Ok, but still quite exciting.

My first attempt at making this made me sad. It tasted like fizzy yeast water, urrrgh. But the fizzyness impressed me so I tried, tried again...and followed my trusted  motto “if in doubt, add more sugar”. A triumph. Despite the call for a few days forward planning, this is actually a rather easy drink to make, no need for fancy equipment or super accurate measuring. Just don’t let those you serve it to know of that and let the smugness commence. With Love and Cake.

Ginger Beer
Adapted from Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer by Jane Brocket

A few notes:
·         Feel free to use beautiful swing top glass bottles and channel the George and Timmy chic, but a handy alternative is a 2 litre water bottle, which means if you don’t have one already you only need to spend 16p and you can use the water from it (if it’s still) in the recipe.
·         I don’t have an airing cupboard so for the part that says ‘leave in a warm place’ I like to turn one of my electric hob rings on to heat up for a minute or 2, then turn it off, wait for 5 minutes for it to be cool enough to touch, and then stand the bucket or bowl on top of a folded tea towel on top of the hob. But please don’t set fire to things. Thanks.
·         Plan to make it 2 or 3 days before you want to drink it.
·         Tastes better when accompanied by sunshine and sand and adventures involving tunnels, fact.

Makes about 2 litres

You will need...

1 large non-metallic bowl or bucket
2 litres worth of bottles

½ Lemon, skin and pith removed, thinly sliced
300g granulated sugar  
40g fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 ½ tsp cream of tartar
800-900ml boiling water
1 ½ tsp baking yeast

·         First things first, put the lemon, sugar, ginger and cream of tartar in your big bowl or bucket and pour over the freshly boiled water.
·         Leave to cool to lukewarm.
·         Stir in the yeast, cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place for 24 hours.
·         Now skim off any mankyness that has gathered on the top, strain into a jug and bottle. I don’t have a jug big enough to put it all in at once so my process is...ladle some of the liquid through a sieve into jug, pour from jug into bottle, repeat repeat repeat.
·         Make sure you leave about a 10cm gap of air at the top of the bottle to allow for the bubbly expansion.
·         Screw the top of the bottle up tight and snuffle away for 12-36 hours. Though do slightly unscrew the top a few times along the way to allow for a bit of gas to escape, I find this part uber satisfying.
·         Now go forth and drink your homemade lashings with lots of ice and lemon slices, for elegance more that anything.


Monday, 4 July 2011

Super Special Strawbs

Hi there Sunshine,

So it was the Wimbledon Men’s final yesterday. Did you know that? Pretty sure you didn’t, and if you did you most definitely didn’t care. Well...all you really need to know is that they played bat and ball, one man won and he ate some grass. Yep that’s right, actual grass. In honour of said sporting event, and of the fact that here in bonny Scotland we’ve had two consecutive days of proper sunshiney summer which feels like some sort of miracle, I thought we should get our strawberry hats on.

Now I usually don’t consider myself the biggest strawb fan, but that is because, more often than not, they are sooo disappointing. I know there are delish tasting strawbs in the world, so when I see them looking all shiney and pimpley, I buy them thinking ‘maybe these will be the ONES’...but year after year they prove hard and watery and convince me that those that partake in annual strawb worship are deluded. But this year my faith was restored by THE MOST strawberryish strawberries ever. I found them at a little food festival in a little town harbour down the road; the same town in which they were grown. 

They’re deliciousness mean that I will continue to buy boring tasting strawberries for the next 5 years or however long it takes me to find the next batch of the real thing. The food festival berries were too amazing tasting to do anything with other than just munch, sitting in the sun on the harbour wall looking out to sea, and if you find similarly fabulous berries I would suggest a similar tactic, as well as you running to the post office to send me some immediately. But if not, why don’t you make this easy peasy pud, which means you can eat rubbish tasting strawbs in a way that disguises they’re rubbishness, I hope you do...With Love and Cake.

Strawberry Shortcake
Inspired by Delia

A few notes:
·         You could use shop bought shortbread biscuits, which would mean you could whip the whole thing up in a matter of moments.
·         My fellow pudding eater said he would have preferred to have missed out the puree part, but I liked it, so include it or not depending on what you fancy.

Makes enough for 4

You will need

A baking sheet

For the biscuits...
75g softened butter
30g icing sugar
100g plain flour
55g ground almonds

For the purée...
110g strawberries, hulled and chopped
2 tsp caster sugar

For the filling...
225g strawberries, hulled and quartered
300ml double cream
A drop on vanilla extract

·         First make the biscuits, starting by lining the baking tray with parchment paper and preheating the oven to 180°c.
·         Now, in a bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy, then work in the flour and almonds. It may look a bit impossible at first but just keep going, it’ll all come together eventually.
·         Mix to a stiff dough, then rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
·         Meanwhile, sprinkle the strawberries for the purée with the sugar and set aside. You can do this straight into the blender to save washing up.
·         After that, roll out the dough to about half a cm thick and cut out some rounds using a 9cm cutter or an upturned mug of a similar size. Keep gathering up the excess, rolling out and cutting until all the dough is used up and you have at least 8 rounds.
·         Arrange the biscuits on the baking tray, prick each one with a fork a few times and bake for around 10 minutes, until they just start to go golden
·         Leave them to cool on the baking tray first; for around 10 minutes, before moving onto a wire rack to cool completely.
·         Next job...blend the sugar covered strawberries from earlier to a purée, as lumpy or smooth as you like.
·         Now for the filling, whip the cream until it is airy and pillowy but not set too firm. Then fold in the strawberries and vanilla.
·         To assemble the pud, set a biscuit in the middle of each plate, top with some creamy strawbs, followed by some puréed strabs. Finish off with another biscuit and if you’re feeling fancy, top with another halved berry with the green part left on and dust with icing sugar. Yumyum.