JamMK header

JamMK header

Friday, 20 December 2013

Don't Buy It - Make It

I came across a page on facebook the other day called "Don't Buy It - Make it" and it appealed to me. The page is all about sharing ideas and, as the name suggests, making things rather than buying them and that is exactly what I like to do, especially if it means I can share the process with my girls. Although it is possible to get a buzz from shopping, there is a more satisfying feeling to be had from creating something yourself. I often find that when I'm out on the High Street or at craft fayres, I'm shopping just as much for ideas I can take home as for physical products.

Although I would encourage you too to keep your eyes open and look for ideas when out and about I would say that it is important not to vocalise your intentions when at a craft fayre as this may cause offence. I have been on the other side of this so know how insulting it can seem, even if it is not intended. Having someone glance at your products, toss their nose in their air and say, "No, we don't need jam, I make that myself," quite frankly makes me feel like I was some kind of idiot even to think I should offer my jams for sale. Or, having inspected some crafty wares, if a person were to say, "We could make that ourselves for half the price," it can easily be misinterpreted by the stallholder.

I am sure, on the other hand, that the same stallholders would be pleased to know that their products have inspired someone to try and make something similar at home. I, for example, share my experiences and recipes in books, blogs and talks and am really pleased when someone is inspired by my words, tips and advice to have a go. Similarly when my girls saw Allymadethis at a craft fayre, they were inspired to go home that same afternoon and dig out their Fimo to re-create things they had seen on her stall. I'm pleased to say that Ally liked the photo I sent her of my girls' creations that she had inspired.

You could as a stallholder feel threatened by "inspiration". After all, what is the difference between someone being inspired by your ideas and downright stealing them?! And surely that person who, rather than buying your products has gone home and made their own, is a sale lost. Well, yes, you could see it like that and you could spend your life behind closed doors, protecting your ideas and keeping secrets. But what is to be gained from that? You cannot both promote and market yourself and keep secrets and in trying to do so you lose more than you gain. Not least a loss of sales from not getting your ideas out there, but also the pleasure of sharing and being part of group of like-minded people.

And, you know what, if I didn't share my jam recipes people would still make jam. There will always be other people out there doing similar things to you whether on a commercial basis or as a hobby. And I, on occasions, will dabble now and then into the realms of other people's businesses. I sometimes make fudge, cakes and bread, for example. But just because I can make these things doesn't mean that I don't ever buy them. Sometimes making something makes you really appreciate the products that other people sell. Honestly I can't stand the tension of making fudge, wondering whether it will burn or not set so I'd much rather buy a perfect batch. Similarly, having just dabbled in the world of sourdough bread I now know it takes a week to nurture the starter and then a whole day of proving etc. before one loaf is created. Knowing that means I'm more likely to appreciate why the price of a sourdough loaf is more than a loaf of sliced white supermarket bread. Spend a whole week making a loaf of bread then mess it up at the cooking stage or hand over £2.50 for a perfect loaf? No brainer!

Sometimes creating something as a one off project makes you realise that that particular craft is not for you. As much as I love baking cakes, for example, the thought of endlessly putting in that much effort and energy into a product that I'm not going to eat is too much of a put-off for me to consider cake making as my career. Other people, I know, will occasionally turn their fruit tree glut into a batch of jam and proudly give jars away to friends and family but then feel that their jam making is over for another year. And never mind all the rules and regulations that come with selling food to the public! Back to the day job and leave that to the dedicated crafters and appreciate their efforts all the more for it.

So, I say to you, feel free to browse for ideas and to give it a go. Enjoy the making process and stand back and proudly admire your creations. Then, the next time you're at a craft fayre don't forget to appreciate what these people have managed to achieve and when you are pushed for time or short of energy you'll happily hand over your cash to buy something amazing and really appreciate all that has gone into it.

Here's a Christmas idea I saw on the Don't Buy it - Make it site. It was just a photo so I had to work out a recipe for myself but here's my recipe should you wish to give it a go too.

Reindeer Cupcakes (makes 12)

The snout of the reindeer are made of biscuit. You could buy biscuits for this to save time but they would have to be small biscuits so I'm not sure what brand that might be. Instead, I decided to make gingerbread using the recipe below. It makes considerably more than you need for the reindeer cakes so you could halve or even quarter the quantities. However, gingerbread is a great Christmas recipe anyway and the dough keeps well, wrapped in Clingfilm in the fridge for a few days and the cooked biscuits keep for several weeks so can be turned into gingerbread men, tree decorations, a gingerbread house etc.

For the gingerbread
4 oz (110g) dark brown sugar
4 oz (110g) golden syrup
2 oz (55g) butter
8 oz (225g) plain flour
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 heaped teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan until just melted. Set aside to cool. Sift the flour, spices, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl.  Add the melted mix to the dry mix and stir until combined into soft dough. Wrap the dough in Clingfilm and refrigerate for half an hour. Preheat an oven to 190 °C, 375 °F, gas mark 5 and grease a baking tray. Taking small pieces of dough at a time, roll it out. To make suitably small biscuits I used a screw-top wine bottle lid as a pastry cutter. Transfer the biscuits onto the baking tray and cook in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes until the biscuits have browned. Cool on a wire rack then decorate if desired. You will need to make 12 biscuits for one batch of cupcakes but you could make more for future batches whilst you're at it. It is fine to do this step the day before or several days in advance.

For the cupcakes
3½ oz (90g) soft margarine
3½ oz (90g) light brown sugar
2 eggs
3½ oz (90g) self-raising flour
½ tsp ground mixed spice

Preheat the oven to 190°C, gas mark 5 and put paper cases into each hole in a cupcake tin. Cream together the margarine and the sugar then add the eggs one at a time and mix in well. Sift in the flour and spice and stir until well combined. Spoon the mixture into the paper cases then bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the tray and cool on a wire rack

For the decoration
6 oz (175g) icing sugar
1 oz (25g) cocoa powder
Smarties or half glace cherries (for the noses)
Raisins (for the eyes)
Pretzels (for the antlers)

Mix together the icing sugar and cocoa powder in a small bowl with just enough water to form a smooth, spreadable paste. Once the cakes are completely cool, top each cake with a layer of icing. Press a gingerbread biscuit into the icing to form a snout. Stick a Smartie onto each biscuit using a little more icing to form a nose. Add raisins as eyes. Break the pretzels in half (quite tricky!), and press this into the icing to form antlers.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Sort out your kitchen for Christmas

There is a lot to do in preparation for Christmas but one thing that should not be overlooked is getting your kitchen ready for the festive season. This is particularly important if you are to host a Christmas meal of some description. You really want to be sure that you have all the food that you need, that you know which bits of equipment you will be using and that you have space to put stuff down. Some of this organisation can be done closer to the time but it worth thinking about this now as, firstly, Christmas supermarket delivery slots need to be booked now if you haven’t already done so, and chances are sometime in the next day or so you will have your last rubbish collection before Christmas so make sure you have thrown out what needs throwing out before that happens.

So, first job, if you usually get your shopping delivered and you haven’t already booked your Christmas delivery slot then do so now. Just bung any old thing into your trolley and check out then come back later and have a proper think about what you need. Before that last shop load of food arrives, make sure that you have somewhere to put it. It is time to sort out your fridge and your food cupboard.

Not only is this a good thing in terms of hygiene, but cleaning your fridge and cupboards will allow you to get everything organised. You can throw out some stuff, rearrange what's left into neat rows and know for sure what you have in there. This will stop you buying stuff that you actually had lurking at the back of the cupboard and make sure you buy stuff that you were sure you still had some left of but actually don't.

I clean the fridge about once a month so I never get too ghastly a surprise but I usually stumble across something like the soggy end of a piece of cucumber or similar that I have missed in the meantime. It is important to keep your fridge clean and I think in many kitchens it probably contains the least wiped down surfaces. When I tackle the fridge cleaning I start at the top and work my way down, placing the contents of each shelf in turn on the worktop, removing the shelf, cleaning it, drying it and returning it before replacing all the food that is still edible. Cleaning the fridge now before it is stacked up with turkey, sausages, ham, sprouts, cheese, trifle etc. will be a lot easier.

I tackle the food cupboard about twice a year and Christmas is one of those times. Again I work from shelf to shelf, top to bottom. Out of date food is thrown away, the shelves are wiped down and things are returned in a lovely ordered arrangement. Oh how I wish my cupboard always looked like this! It also gives me chance to review the odds and ends of jam and chutney that I seem to accumulate throughout the year as I make batches for sale. Although full jars of jam and chutney will keep for about two years unopened, my odds and ends come from scrapping down the pan at the end of a batch and don't fill a jar so are more prone to losing colour or flavour or even going mouldy. Having discarded these I'm left with a lovely selection of chutneys to go with the cheese board, and jams for breakfast. Something to be proud to offer with no embarrassing surprises lurking amongst them.

When deciding what food to throw away and what to keep, bear in mind that if it is past its "use by" date it could potentially cause food poisoning. However, a best before day just means it was probably better before that date. It is "stale" rather than "off" and you can use your own judgement as to whether it should be thrown away or if you can still use it up. Having nearly broken a tooth testing to see if a Liquorice Allsort was still edible, I soon realised what "best before" meant in that case! If you are throwing food away, think about the container it is in and whether it can be re-used or recycled. It does add a bit of time to the process, but spooning the contents into the food bin then washing and re-using or recycling the packaging is better for you and the environment. Saving these containers might be useful for putting leftovers in over the next few days. As you go, don't forget to put things on your shopping list as you think of them.

My final job is to go round to the allotment. Firstly, I can empty my past-their-best vegetables into the compost bin and secondly I can check to see what veg I might have available for the Christmas meal. This year I seem to have a glut of swede and beetroot which might need some creative thought but I'll need to put sprouts on the shopping list. By the end of this process I know exactly what I need to buy at the supermarket and can go back to the random basket full of shopping I'd hurried booked online and adjust it to suit. And when it is delivered it will almost be a joy to put away in my newly organised spaces. For a day or two I shall bask in the organised glory of my kitchen knowing that come Boxing Day it will look like a bomb has dropped.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Using up the odds and ends

When I make a batch of jam or chutney, it is unusual that it fits perfectly into the a complete number of full jars. As a result, I always have a selection of little tubs of odds and ends of jam and chutney for my family to use up.

A consequence of this is that I usually encourage my children to have something for breakfast that involves jam. Sometimes this is as simple as toast but often I try to make it a bit more interesting

Having made Pear & Chocolate Jam the other day I decided that vanilla waffles would be the best way to make the most of this new invention. Pears have very little pectin and even with added apple pectin the jam sets very lightly. This, however, makes it perfect for dolloping onto waffles.

Vanilla Waffles

250g plain flour
7g baking powder
20g caster sugar
5g salt
475ml milk
2 eggs
30ml vegetable oil
A few drops of vanilla extract

Mix all the ingredients together and leave to stand for a while or overnight. Cook in a waffle maker. Serve hot with jam.

Another breakfast favourite is brioche. Often I just buy a loaf of brioche but occasionally I feel inspired to make some. Sometime back I had the brainwave of putting a teaspoon of jam into the centre of brioche rolls before baking them. My girls liked this but I felt that, although the jammy centre was lovely, there was quite a lot of brioche that didn't have jam with it.

Then the other day I made some Cheddar, beetroot and bacon rolls to have with our dinner. These worked out beautifully and I liked the way the tasty filling was in every bite.

Cheddar, Beetroot & Bacon Rolls (makes 12)

200ml water
50ml milk
300g strong white flour
150g plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp yeast
25g butter
150g cooked beetroot, grated
100g grated Cheddar cheese
40-50g crispy smoked streaky bacon, in small pieces

Place the water and milk into the bottom of a bread machine then cover with the flours. Place the salt, sugar, yeast and butter in separate areas on top of flour. Set the machine to "dough" and start. In the meantime, boil the beetroot if raw and cook the bacon until crispy. When the dough is ready, knock back on a floured surface and roll out into a rough rectangle. Sprinkle over half the cheese then add the beetroot and bacon and then the remaining cheese. Roll the dough up tightly along the longest edge then cut into 12 rolls. Place each roll, cut side up, into a greased muffin tin. Cover with oiled Clingfilm and leave to double in size. In the meantime, preheat oven to 200°C, gas make 6. Cook the rolls for 30 minutes until risen and cooked through. Serve warm.

This made me wonder if the same technique would work for the brioche rolls. That's to say, could the jam be rolled all the way through each bun? Well, the answer was yes. Another jammy breakfast success.

Brioche Jam Swirls (makes 12)

30ml (2 tbsp) milk
2 eggs
225g (8 oz) bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp caster sugar
55g (2 oz) butter
1 1/2 tsp yeast
2-3 tbsp jam

Pour the milk and eggs into the bread machine pan then put the flour on top. Add the salt, sugar, butter and yeast in separate areas on top of the flour then set your machine to the dough setting. When the dough is ready, knock back on a floured surface then roll out into a rough rectangle. Smear the jam over the dough then roll up the dough along the longest length. Cut into roll into 12 pieces and place each piece, cut side up, into greased holes of a muffin tin. Cover with oiled Clingfilm and leave to double in size. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 200°C, gas 6. Bake for 15 minutes until golden and well risen. Serve hot or cold.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

My Love Hate Relationship with Brambles

Brambles have got to be the worst weed in the world. They grow ridiculously quickly, they take root wherever a stem comes into contact with the ground and they are viciously thorny. I sometimes wonder, if humans suddenly died out, how quickly the world would be overgrown with the stuff.

I constantly battle with brambles that sneak in amongst my soft fruit bushes. The lovely redcurrant doesn't have thorns and should be a delight to harvest. But no... I reach in to grab a handful of ripe currants only to snag my hand onto some hideous unseen bramble branch winding its way through the bush.  And try as I might, I can't obliterate the stuff from my plot. Even with thick leather gloves on, the thorns can get through, or the stems can swing round and whip me across the face as I try to pull them out. Year after year it grows back despite my efforts.

They are ugly plants too when they invade other shrubbery. Garden hedges interwoven with bramble branches quickly start to look like something more suited to surrounding Sleeping Beauty's castle. The bramble that grows through my neighbour's hedge that overhangs the road scratches my car every time I drive past and threaten to take my eye out when I cycle past. The brambles that grow along the redways grow so quickly and so menacingly that I have been know to carry secateurs especially to chop them off and make the redways safe again.

But just at the point when I'm ready to declare out and out war on this weed, September arrives and the bramble breaks out into fruit and all is forgiven. Suddenly it seems to remind us all that it does deserve a place on the planet after all and out we go with our plastic bags and pick. Blackberrying must be the only form of foraging that every kid in the country as been introduced to at some point. They are the only wild berry that everyone can safely identify. And no autumn would be complete without an apple and blackberry crumble.

This year has been a particularly abundant year for blackberries so there are plenty for everyone. No excuse, get out there and pick yourself some and take advantage of this free food. You may as well because it won't be long before all we are left with are the horrible, invasive, spiky weeds that we all hate.

Just remember to take care because the blackberry may produce lovely fruit but it doesn't give them up without a fight.

Apple & Blackberry Crumble

2 lb (900 g) apples – peeled and sliced
1 oz (25g) soft light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 oz (85g) blackberries
2 tablespoons water
4 oz (110g) wholemeal flour
4 oz (110g) oats
4 oz (110g) light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 oz (85g) butter

Place the apples, sugar, cinnamon, blackberries and water in a large pan and cook with the lid on for twenty minutes until fluffy – stir occasionally. In the meantime, preheat oven to 180°C (gas 4). In a bowl, add the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder and butter and use finger tips to rub into crumbs. Spoon the apple mix into a suitable ovenproof dish and layer the crumble mix on top. Level it off then bake in the oven for 30 minutes until golden brown. Serve with custard.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Putting the currant into Eccles cakes

When you grow a glut of something, you find yourself coming up with more and more inventive ways of using that particular fruit or vegetable to make the most of it and avoid becoming sick of it. I remember once, when faced with a glut of plums, racking my brains for new ideas for using them up. Having already made Plum Jam, Plum & Cinnamon Jam, Plum & Mulled Wine Jam, Plum & Orange Mincemeat, plum flapjacks, plum crumble and plum upside down cake I was beginning to struggle. Hmmm... what about plum pudding? Little Jack Horner sat in a corner, eating his pudding and pie. He stuck in this thumb and pulled out a plum and said, "What a good boy am I?". Plum pudding, a dish as old as the hills... but sadly, not made with plums it turned out on further research - just dried mixed fruit.

On another matter, I happen to be a huge fan of Eccles cakes. Always have been, even the ones you can buy in supermarkets (which are actually rather good). The other day when delivering some jam to Woodstocks Artisan Bakery, Matt asked, "Do you want to get anything whilst you're here." Silly question! And as they had Eccles cakes for sale the choice wasn't that difficult.

Then later, having polished those off I found myself fancying some more - well, you would, wouldn't you? But it was August and I usually only make Eccles cakes in the autumn when I can grate some apples or pears into the filling and neither of these fruits were ready. However, I was up to my eyes in a blackcurrant glut at the time so, hey, why not put some actual currants into them - not just those shriveled up grape things that call themselves currants.

And you know what? It really worked. Just 2 oz of blackcurrants was all that was needed to add to the dried fruit mixture and, my god, what a flavour revolution! Distinctly blackcurranty but not too much so, adding a depth of flavour not possible with dried fruit alone. I'm pleased to say that it made a large batch and I was able to freeze some so I have been enjoying them all over again this week and will certainly be making some more with the glut of frozen blackcurrants in my freezer.

So, that's the currants into Eccles cakes sorted... just need to crack the plum in plum pudding now the plums are ready...

Blackcurrant Eccles Cakes (makes 18)
1 oz (25g) butter
9 oz (250g) mixed dried fruit
4 oz (110g) light muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground all spice
Juice of one small lemon
2 oz (55g) blackcurrants
1 block of ready-made puff pastry
Demerara sugar

Preheat oven to 220°C, gas 8 and grease a baking tray. Melt the butter in a pan then stir in the blackcurrants and cook for 10 minutes until the juices are running. Add the dried fruit, sugar, spices and lemon juice and cook for a another 10 minutes then leave to cool completely. On a floured surface roll out the pastry. Use a large biscuit cutter (about 10cm in diameter) to cut out circles in the pastry. Place a teaspoon of filling into the centre of each pastry circle then bundle the pastry up over the filling. Turn the pastry bundle over and flatten with a rolling pin to make a thick oval biscuit of pastry with the fruity filling just showing beneath the surface. Slash the biscuit 3 times with a sharp knife then brush with beaten egg and scatter with Demerara sugar. Gather up the pastry trimmings and repeat until all the pastry is used up. Place the Eccles cakes on the baking tray and cook for about 20 minutes until golden brown. Alternatively, place the Eccles cakes on a tray and freeze raw. Can be cooked from frozen for about 25 minutes.

To make pear or apple Eccles cakes, substitute the blackcurrants with 2 whole fruit, peeled and grated into the dried fruit mixture.

Friday, 30 August 2013

So what on earth are mirabelles?!

This week I made my first every batch of Mirabelle Jam and what a delight it is too. The fruit cooked beautifully into jam-consistency mush in just a few minutes, it came to a delightful set with ease, it had a beautiful colour and the flavour is just gorgeous. But when I proudly tell people I have made Mirabelle Jam I'm mainly met with blank expressions and queries of, "What's that?".

I have to admit that until about two years ago I didn't know what mirabelles were either. As many of you know, I'm always keen to take surplus fruit and veg off people's hands in exchange for a jar of something yummy from the Jammy Cow stores. And it was in a conversation with someone offering me plums from their tree that I was introduced to mirabelles. They lived in Loughton and said there were lots of mirabelles growing in the hedgerow and that I really should come and pick some for jam making. Unfortunately, I was away on holiday just at the critical harvesting moment and I never managed to get to Loughton to pick them. Still, I had by this point Googled mirabelles and discovered they are a member of the prunus family so related to plums, cherries, gages, peaches and apricots.

Having had mirabelles brought to my attention back in 2011, the following year I once again found myself wondering about visiting Loughton for some mirabelle picking. But with the picking season falling within the school holidays I somehow never made it out there but I did begin to wonder if the yellow fruits along gridroads could in fact be mirabelles and not some sort of weird yellow cherries after all.

This year I was determined to crack the whole mirabelle mystery and became progressively convinced that the yellow fruits I was seeing absolutely everywhere were mirabelles. Not only to be found in Loughton, I realised! So, at the weekend I took my girls out for a short cycle ride, with telescopic picking tool strapped to my crossbar, with the intention of picking mirabelles. I knew where I was going because I had seen the bright fruit from the car all week. And sure enough, there they were, glowing yellow and so ripe they jumped eagerly off the tree with the slightest touch. Soon we had a bagful and could head home, to chop and remove the stones ready for jamming.

The fruit looked beautiful before I started but I had no idea they would create such a lovely jam. I gave my girls a taste the day I made the jam and they liked it so much they requested it on their toast for breakfast the next day. I gave a friend a spoonful to try and she took a jar home with her. It looks like it should taste like marmalade but instead it is sweet and fruity and nearly plum-like but altogether different. It is fantastic on toast but I can see it would work well between sponge cakes or instead of apricot jam under marzipan or icing on a cake.

I quickly realised I needed to go out and pick some more but sadly the mirabelle season is short and is now over but be sure I shall be raiding the hedgerow again next year.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Lemon Layer Drizzle Cake

Back in June I received my weekly delivery of "family essentials" from Farmison. Along with the selection of fruit and vegetables and meat, there were a couple of "pantry" items. The slab of butter was most welcome, the jar of lemon curd was not. In a household overwhelmed with homemade preserves, a jar of preserve was not required.

Still, I'm not one for food waste and it occurred to me that my brother's birthday would be the ideal opportunity to use up some of the lemon curd. He had, I remembered, always been a fan of lemon curd, enjoying it in tarts even back in the day when it was bright yellow and had probably never even been near a lemon (what happened to food during the 80s?!). So I saw this an opportunity to make a Lemon Layer Cake using the recipe from my daughter's set of Usborne Book recipe cards.

Usually with recipes I can't help but fiddle and tweak as I go along, often reducing the sugar content to match the lack of sweet teeth in our household. However, this was destined for a large 40th birthday party where there would be an audience of sweet teeth, so I left well alone.

Lemon Layer Cake

225g (8 oz) margarine
225g (8 oz) caster sugar
4 medium eggs
1 lemon, zest and juice
225g (8 oz) self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Lemon curd

1 lemon, zest and juice
125g (5 oz) icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180°C, gas mark 4 and grease and line 2 x 20cm round sandwich tins. Cream together the margarine and caster sugar then mix in the eggs one at a time and then add the lemon zest and juice. Sift in the flour and baking powder and mix until well combined and smooth. Divide equally between the two tins then bake for 20 minutes. Cool in the tin for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, smear a generous heaping of lemon curd onto one cake and place the other one on top. Next mix the juice of the other lemon with icing sugar and pour the icing over the top of the cake. Finally, scatter the lemon zest on top.

This proved to be a triumph of a cake. It both looked and tasted gorgeous. However, when I asked my husband what he thought of the cake he admitted that he found it too sweet and particularly didn't like the layer of white icing on top. Still, I had lemon curd left to use up so a few weeks later I made the cake again. This time, I took an ounce of icing sugar out of the icing layer and this turned it into a drizzle instead of an icing. To my mind it kept much of it fabulous character (although arguably it didn't look so appealing) and Steve was much happier with it too.

Then this week, Nicola from PicNics asked me if I could make something lemony for them to use as a filling in their cakes. "Maybe one of your lemon marmalades," she suggested. I pondered this and decided that my Honey & Lemon Marmalade would work well if it wasn't so lumpy. So on Thursday I set about making a fine shred version of this popular marmalade, which I'm pleased to say looked very promising.

As Friday was Steve's birthday I decided this was the perfect opportunity to try out my new lemon cake filling and once again tackled the lemon layer cake recipe. This time, with Steve in mind, I removed 2 oz of the caster sugar from the sponge layer, glued the layers together with a good dollop of fine shred Honey & Lemon Marmalade, and created a drizzle using 3 oz of icing sugar. And wow! what a revelation... the flavour of the lemon really taking centre-stage and no overdone sweetness. Yep, this is the one to add to the family recipe notebook. Steve, by the way, went back for seconds... but, hey, it was his birthday!

Lemon Drizzle Layer Cake

225g (8 oz) margarine
175g (6 oz) caster sugar
4 medium eggs
1 lemon, zest and juice
225g (8 oz) self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Honey & Lemon Marmalade (fine shred)

1 lemon, zest and juice
75g (3 oz) icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180°C, gas mark 4 and grease and line 2 x 20cm round sandwich tins. Cream together the margarine and caster sugar then mix in the eggs one at a time and then add the lemon zest and juice. Sift in the flour and baking powder and mix until well combined and smooth. Divide equally between the two tins then bake for 20 minutes. Cool in the tin for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, smear a generous heaping of lemon marmalade onto one cake and place the other one on top. Finally,mix the juice and zest of the other lemon with icing sugar and pour the drizzle over the top of the cake.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Late spring bring elderflowers in June

One of the things I find frustrating when I flick through preserving recipe books is when a recipe requires ingredients that are not available at the same time when growing your own. Blackcurrant and apple may be a classic combination but I do not have apples ready when the blackcurrants are out. I saw a recipe the other day for a jam using rhubarb and apple. Fail! There are about 4 months between these two ingredients (at least in my world!).  Fortunately, with the use of the freezer it is possible for me to freeze some blackcurrants to use when the apples are ready and so I do make Blackcurrant & Apple Jam.

Another classic and delicious combination that requires the intervention of the freezer is gooseberry and elderflower. These two seem to miss each other by a matter of days, with the elderflowers finishing by the end of May or early June and the gooseberries ripening sometime from mid June to July. So rather than risking missing that special moment when both are available (although arguably not at their best), I pick the elderflowers in May and freeze them until the gooseberries are good and plump. Having said that, with the late spring this year the elderflowers have only appeared since the arrival of the warmer weather in June. And the gooseberries are already forming so maybe, just maybe, this will be the year when the two occur at the same time!

I don't grow elderflowers myself but they feature frequently in the hedgerows and municipal planting of Milton Keynes. We pass many bushes on the school run each morning in fact. Once you have your eye in you'll spot them all over the place. Although it may not be your eyes that notice them first, as the heavy scent is often so strong that your nose lets you know too.

There are other whitish cream blossom flowers out at the same time so if you do decide to collect elderflowers please make sure you know what you are doing. The result really won't be the same if you collect the wrong flowers and I guess there is a possibility you may poison yourself! Below is a photo of a blossom that isn't elderflower.

Elderflowers grow on shrub or tree sized plants and have an umbrella shaped blossom made up of numerous tiny cream flowers. The leaves are typical leaf shaped, fairly large and grow in collections of 5 or 7 leaves on one stem. If you think you have found the elderflower then smell it. It should have a lovely strong sweet perfume. If it has no perfume or stinks like sweaty donkeys then forget it! Below is a photo of what you are looking for.

Most recipes call for 20 large flower heads so aim to collect at least that many. They can be snapped off with sharp fingernails or snipped off with scissors. Back home, give them a good shake to remove any bugs. You may also wish to wash them. I always use my elderflowers in recipes as a flavouring so they usually get strained out of the finished product. This means there is no need to fiddle around with snipping each flower from the head. They can be used fresh or frozen. If freezing them, pack them into freezer bags, squash out as much air as possible and seal then pop them into the freezer until needed. They will probably go brown on thawing but they will retain their flavour and this is the key thing. They can be used from frozen to flavour jams and desserts as well as to make things such as elderflower cordial.

Elderflower cordial makes a lovely summer drink and is a nice non-alcoholic drink to serve at garden parties and barbeques. At this time of year, I make up a 2 litre bottle with elderflower cordial and a mixture of chilled still and sparkling water to make a slightly sparkling non-alcoholic drink to take to an event instead of a bottle of wine. It goes down well and is suitable for all. A couple of weeks ago a boy about 12 years old decided to give my sparkling elderflower drink ago and liked it so he came up to me and asked what elderflower were. Not only was it a flavour he'd not tried before but he didn't even realise that the flowers themselves were growing in the street in which he lived.

Usually at this point in June you would have missed the best of the elderflowers but they are just coming into their prime so make the most of it and make some elderflower cordial.  It is dead easy and tastes delicious. As well as diluting it to make a drink you can use it to flavour other things such as butter icing for fairy cakes, yoghurt or panna cotta. Whatever you decide, if you want to use elderflowers then get out there and pick some now because before you know it they’ll be gone for another year. And, even if you don't want to make anything then go out there and find some elderflowers and have a good smell - it is a beautiful scent. Better still, take children with you and teach them how to identify and use elderflowers so that we don't lose the art of foraging.

Elderflower Cordial (makes about 1.4 litres)

2lb 4 oz (1kg) sugar
1½ pints (900ml) boiling water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon lime juice
about 15 large elder flower heads
1 lemon, sliced
1 lime, sliced

Put the sugar in a non-metallic bowl with the boiling water and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the lemon and lime juices. Wash and flick dry the elder flower heads then snip off the flowers into the bowl. Add the sliced lemon and lime. Stir then cover the bowl with Clingfilm and leave to stand for 24 hours. Scald a jelly bag and drain the mixture through it into a clean bowl. Funnel into sterile bottles then refrigerate. Dilute to taste with still or fizzy water. Will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 months.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Steak & Ale Pie

I don't know if you have ever played a Mr and Mrs type game where you have to see whether you can guess what your spouse gave as the answer to questions about themselves. Despite knowing my husband for 18 years, I'm not sure how many of these questions I would get right but one thing is for certain, if I was ever asked what he would choose off the menu in a restaurant I know the answer would be a fish dish. He, on the other hand, would know that I would always go for the meat pie.

I remember as a child giving the answer of meat pie in response to the question: what is your favourite food. In particular, it was my grandad's homemade steak pie that I adored. And my love of steak pie has continued into adulthood. So when I'm out and there is a steak pie on the menu I shall opt for it. Steak and Ale pie, as is so often offered in pubs, is equally as good an option, particularly when it is a dish of pie filling with a slab of puff pastry on top. Yum.

However, for a long time I have struggled to replicate such wondrous pies at home, much to my disappointment. Then, last week, I received my first order of a box of butcher's meat from a food box scheme. It contained a selection of meat that I was happy to receive but which I had not specifically chosen. Amongst this was a pound of casserole steak. Hmmm... I would rather casserole lamb if I'm honest so I pondered whether it was worth trying again with the elusive Steak & Ale Pie.

Having googled several recipes and blogs on the topic, I pulled together some ideas and set about making up my own recipe, using, of course, ale from the local Concrete Cow Brewery, and shallots from the garden. Several hours later, delicious smells wafted from the kitchen and my optimism grew. Despite the tempting smells, we were having chicken for dinner that night and the pies were destined for the freezer but later that week I retrieved a couple and we gave them a go.

So, this week when my butcher's box of meat arrived I was excited to see another batch of casserole steak inside for it meant a chance to restock my freezer with these yummy pies. Once again my kitchen smells delicious and I'm eagerly anticipating pie night.

Steak & Ale Pie (make 3)

500g casserole steak, diced
20g seasoned flour
65g pancetta or bacon lardons
100g finely chopped shallots
200ml ale
200ml beef stock
1 dessert spoon dark muscovado sugar
A dash of balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder (yes, really!)
Half a block of ready-made puff pastry

Preheat over to 160°C, 150°C fan, gas mark 2. Toss the steak in the flour then brown all over in a hot frying pan. Spoon into a casserole dish then add the pancetta/bacon and shallots to the pan to brown. Add these to the casserole dish then put the remaining ingredients (except the pastry) into the frying pan. Stir, and scrape the bottom of the pan, until hot. Pour the liquid over the steak and place a lid on the casserole dish. Cook, covered for 2 hours then uncover and cook for a further 30 minutes until thick. Spoon about 150g of pie filling into suitable ovenproof contains/dishes and cover each one with a lid of puff pastry. It should make about 3 pies. Glaze the pastry with egg or milk and make a couple of steam holes in them. Freeze until required. Cook from thawed for 20-25 minutes at 190°C, gas 5, until the pastry is puffed and golden. Serve hot with potatoes and vegetables.

Meat & Potato Pie

My husband is from the north and from the sort of poor background where they used to eat corned beef hash for dinner and the corned beef was so heavily diluted by the potato that it only appeared as the occasional pink thread. Coming from such a background, he prefers to eat Meat & Potato Pie - with those made by Hollands being a particular favourite. So he requested I padded his pie out with potatoes. To do this, I took 150g of the pie filling out once cooked and added it to 350g of finely diced, boiled potatoes. This I then made into 3 individual pies with a puff pastry lid.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Mushroom Stroganoff

When my daughters were in their first school, mushroom stroganoff was offered on the hot dinner menu and my youngest particularly liked it. However, for years now they have been in a school where this isn't on the lunchtime menu and she misses it. I have looked around for a suitable recipe so I could make it at home but they all seem to contain white wine, which I'm pretty sure a dinner in a primary school wouldn't have done. Anyway, recently I came across a recipe that didn't include wine so I thought I would give it a go.

Last week my husband announced that he would like to eat less meat each week so it seemed like a good time to dig out that mushroom stroganoff recipe. However, he finds diary products difficult to digest so I thought it would be best to substitute the suggested soured cream for soya cream. It also called for Worcester sauce (or vegetarian alternative). Well, then, that could mean only one thing... my homemade Worcester sauce - or Moo-ster Sauce as I call it. And so, there we had it, not only a vegetarian meal but a vegan one too!

It was a very tasty and satisfying meal I'm pleased to say and one that sat so calmly on my husband's stomach that he asked if we could have a non-meat meal again the following day. Can't be bad.

Mushroom Stroganoff (serves 2)

Olive oil for frying
1 onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons paprika
1 garlic cloves, crushed (or a spoonful of Wild Garlic Pesto if you have it!)
300g mushrooms, sliced
Half pint vegetable stock
1 tablespoon Moo-ster Sauce
3 tablespoons of cream (or soya alternative)

Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan and fry the onions for about 5 minutes until soft. Add the paprika and garlic and cook for one more minute. Add the mushrooms and cook on high heat for 5 minutes. Pour in the stock and Moo-ster Sauce and bring back to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes or so until the sauce reduces and thickens. Remove from the heat and stir through the cream. Serve with rice and fresh vegetables.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Wild Garlic

Itching to get the season started despite winter’s reluctance to release its grip, I was pleased to come across a recipe for wild garlic pesto during March. Wild garlic really comes into season from the end of January to April so it was something I could forage when everything in the hedgerow was still sleeping.

Wild garlic tends to grow in damp woodland, often under oak or beech trees. Indeed, it is something I've always come across at Easter when we go up to Lancashire to visit my mother-in-law, where it grows in abundance.  When walking through woodland, you become aware of it first because you suddenly find yourself enveloped in the garlicky aromas of the newly emerged leaves. Then, a few weeks after the leaves first appear, hundreds of tiny white flowers cover the woodland floor.

Knowing that it grows in abundance in Lancashire meant that I was somewhat surprised when I asked my husband where in Milton Keynes would be a good place for us to go and pick some. He looked at me blankly and said he didn't know. Then, searching around the internet, I discovered that wild garlic, or ransoms as they are also known, are in fact locally rare in Buckinghamshire. I’m not entirely sure why this should be the case – probably a matter of underlying geology and soil type. However, it gave me pause for thought. If it was rare, should I pick it at all?

Usually, the types of things I forage are in huge abundance – dandelions, elderflowers, blackberries and crabapples. Taking a few of these for my own use seems perfectly fine because it doesn’t make a dent in their supplies and there are plenty left for anyone else who would wish to forage too. I wouldn’t dream of taking anything if I thought it would spoil the enjoyment of others.

So what to do?

Well, I reviewed the law of foraging on the internet and discovered that I was within my rights to take any non-protected species of fungus, foliage, fruit or flower from open access, non-protected, land for non-commercial consumption. Indeed, it is a matter of common sense – you don’t take the whole plant and you don’t take all that is there.

With a bit more determined search I discovered that wild garlic does indeed grow in a small number of locations within Milton Keynes. One of these is a protected wildlife site so taking from there would not be acceptable but in the other areas the ransoms grow in abundance and to such an extent that it’s just not possible to pick the whole lot even if you wanted to. So, on Good Friday, we went for a family walk and filled two small sandwich bags with leaves (the 100g required for the recipe), and later I made the pesto. Then the next day, following the idea from the Tiny Bakery, I mixed a small amount of it into bread dough to make wild garlic bread – delicious. As only a small amount of pesto is required in any recipe, I think my jar full will last for quite a few weeks and I can confidently say that I left plenty still growing should anyone else get the urge to go foraging!

Wild Garlic Pesto

100g freshly picked wild garlic leaves
50g shallot
50g pine nuts
200 ml olive oil
50-60g finely grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon sugar

Place the wild garlic, shallot and pine nuts in a food processor along with 150 ml oil. Blitz for about a minute until finely chopped. Fold in the grated cheese, salt and sugar. Pack into a clean jar, pressing down firmly with the back of a spoon then top up with oil so that it is fully submerged beneath the oil. Place in the refrigerator. It will keep for several weeks if you top up with a covering of oil each time you use it. It can also be frozen in small batches.

It can be used in any recipe where you might use garlic. A few teaspoonfuls can be added to bread dough at the knocking back stage to make wild garlic bread. Half a tablespoon mixed with cubed pieces of bread and then baked for 10 minutes make very tasty croutons. It can also be added to pizzas and pasta. This week I mixed a teaspoonful into the dough for our family-sized pizza, and tonight I mixed half a teaspoon into some mushrooms to make garlic mushrooms. It is proving to be a very handy ingredient.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Jam filled croissants

My girls like freshly baked croissants for their lazy Sunday breakfast. Well, who wouldn't?! I do have a recipe for making croissants in my bread making recipe book and wow, what a palaver that is! When reading it I have visions of French bakers getting up at 3am in order to ensure they can get them made in time for their customers' breakfast. Delia Smith once said that life is too short to stuff a mushroom. Well, I do stuff mushrooms but life is definitely too short to make croissants from scratch!

I feel the same way about making puff pastry. Short crust pastry, yes, I can and do make that because it is simple, quick and tastes better than the ready-made stuff. Puff pastry, no, it's time consuming and fiddly and doesn't turn out as nicely as the shop-bought stuff. So for this I turn to a block of Jus-Rol. It was whilst re-stocking the puff pastry that I stumbled upon the whole range of other stuff that Jus-Rol now do, including croissants.

I remember as a kid buying an apple turnover kit in a similar cardboard tube and how when I began to unwrap the tube it suddenly popped its seams under dough pressure. It amused me then and I figured it would amuse my two girls too. So now, Sunday breakfast usually starts with the popping of a tube of dough. Then, once opened, the girls just need to separate the six pieces of dough and roll each one up before placing them on a baking tray for cooking. 15 minutes later they are tucking into hot croissants.

Then last week we decided to experiment and this time, after separating the pieces of dough, they spread each one with some jam first then rolled them up.  15 minutes later they were tucking into hot jammy croissants! Can't be bad!

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Unobtrustive Jam

Have you noticed that when jam is required in a recipe as a glue or a glaze, it is always Apricot Jam that is suggested. You know, for using to stick royal icing to a cake or as a glaze on sticky buns. The reasons for this are obvious, of course. Apricot Jam is unobtrusive in both flavour and colour. These are occasions when the jam is not the star, merely a helpful tool so something like Blackcurrant or even Raspberry Jam would just not be appropriate.

I don't make Apricot Jam due to a lack of apricots. I did plant an apricot tree about 3 years ago. I knew it would be a challenge to grow apricots because we don't really have the climate for it. For two years, it  blossomed nicely, formed little fruitlets and then all but about 2 of the fruits would fall off. Of course, the weather in recent years hasn't really been ideal for apricot growing but it matters little as last year my apricot tree died completely when the root stock suddenly started to grow instead of the grafted tree on top. Unfortunately, I didn't realise what was happening straight away and by the time I did, the vigorous root stock tree (whatever that was) had smothered the more delicate apricot graft part of the tree.

So, with no Apricot Jam to hand, what do I do when a recipe calls for it? Well, there are several jams that can be readily substituted as they too have a pleasant but not domineering flavour and little colour. The most obvious choice is Apple Jam, although Apple & Ginger Jam can also be used. Pear and Vanilla is also excellent. This week, when looking for a jam to glaze my batch of hot cross buns, I discovered that Greengage Jam can also fit the bill nicely. So, as sad as the loss of my apricot tree is, at least there are other jams willing to fill its role.

Hot Cross Buns (makes 12)

250ml (9 fl oz) milk at room temperature
1 egg, beaten
450g (1lb) strong white bread flour
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp caster sugar
55g (2oz) butter, diced
1 1/2 tsp yeast
110g (4 ox) mixed dried fruit
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp milk
1 tbsp flour
Jam to glaze

Put the milk and egg into the bottom of the bread pan of a bread machine and cover with the flour. Place the spices, salt, sugar, butter and yeast in separate hollows in the flour. Set the machine to dough. 5 minutes before the kneading cycle finishes, add the dried fruit and lemon zest. Once finished, knock back the dough on a floured surface and cut into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a ball and space out on a large, greased baking tray. Cover with greased clingfilm and leave to double in size. In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 190°C, gas 5 and mix together the milk, flour and water and decant into a food bag. Snip the corner off the bag and pipe a cross on top each bun. Place in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until cooked. Transfer the buns onto a wire rack to cool, but whilst still warm, brush each bun with a little warmed jam to glaze. Serve hot, cold or toasted with butter (and jam).

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Belgium Buns for Red Nose Day

If you ever find yourself singing "Five currant buns in a bakers shop" what is the mental image of those buns? I realised the other day that my mental image is probably a Belgium bun and at the same time I realised I had never attempted to make them. A quick search on the internet confirmed that they are indeed very much like a Chelsea buns but with icing and a cherry on top. As I am no stranger to making Chelsea buns, I concluded that Belgium buns would also be fairly straightforward so I gave it a go.

Often when I make Chelsea buns I make a plain sweet bread then use some of my Jammy Cow mincemeat within the whirl to add the fruity yumminess. The Belgium bun recipes, however, often seem to feature a smearing of something like Lemon Curd with a scattering of currants within the whirl. Well, I don't make fruit curds. Two reasons: 1) I can't grow citrus fruit in Milton Keynes, 2) the use of egg within curds only give a 6 week shelf-life. I do, however, have a variety of lemon-themed marmalade in my cupboard right now so I thought a smearing of Honey & Lemon Marmalade would do the job nicely.

Having successfully made a batch of these cheery buns it occurred to me that with their silly cherry topping, they would make the ideal bake for a Red Nose cake stall so thought I should share my recipe. With Red Nose day a week away, stock up on some bread flour and some glace cherries and get ready to bake.

Belgium Buns (makes 12)

100ml milk
1 egg
225g strong white flour
½  tsp salt
2 tbsp caster sugar
55g butter, diced
1 tsp fast-action dried yeast
2-3 tbsp Lemon Marmalade (or curd)
A scattering of currants or other dried fruit
100g of icing sugar
12 glace cherries

Whisk together the milk and the egg and put into the bread machine pan. Put the flour on top to form a complete layer. Put the salt, sugar and butter into separate corners of the pan and the yeast in the centre. Set the machine for dough. Once the machine has finished, remove the dough from the pan and place on a floured surface. Knock back then roll out until about 1 cm thick. Smear the marmalade over the dough then scattered over the currants, leaving about 1cm around the edges. Start at one edge and roll up completely. Cut the roll into 12 equal slices and place each slice onto a well greased large baking sheet so that the swirl is horizontal. Cover and leave to double in size. Bake in a pre-heated over at 190°C, gas mark 5 for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden. Remove from the tin onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely. In the meantime, mix the icing sugar with a small amount of water to make a sloppy icing. Spoon icing onto the top of each bun and finish with a glace cherry in the centre. Leave in the air until the icing has crusted over.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Growing Peanuts

I wrote this article for my contribution to the bi-monthly lifestyle ezine Time Aside. There are 5 of us who got together to create this email magazine and we are now on our 15th issue. It is a great mix of subject matters with my gardening/recipe slot, Mrs Paintbrush's home decorating tips, Gareth's fitness advice, Clare's look at  how to achieve what you really want from life, Mark's film reviews and Angela's reiki and crystal healing perspective. We honestly write it for the love of our subjects, it's completely free to receive and there is no advertising associated with it so if 6 times a year you would like to receive a chatty and informative email please sign up here http://timeaside-ezine.blogspot.co.uk/p/subscribe-now.html

There is very little that can be done in the garden in February. Every now and then the sun comes out and I find myself getting prematurely excited by the prospect of spring. Then the next moment I find myself cycling home with stinging rain being lashed into my face by a north wind. And then I remember that it is still winter and I need to hold my horses.

Having said that, there are 3 jobs I usually try to get done sometime around the February half-term. I usually sow a few leek seeds in trays as they are incredibly slow to grow and if I don’t start early they won’t be big enough to plant out by summer. The second is to sow 4 or 5 tomato seeds in pots to get a head start and hopefully provide me with a few early tomatoes in the summer. And the last job is to sow a few peanuts.

The British weather is not really suitable for growing peanuts it has to be said and for the last couple of years the weather has been particularly unhelpful. However, I like a challenge and have been giving it ago for the past 4 years. Originally, I bought my peanut seeds from a seed catalogue, for which I would receive 3 monkey nuts, containing 6 or often only 5 peanuts. At £1.65 per pack they were quite pricey and not the sort of thing you would want to waste. Sadly, however, I often found the germination rate was poor and the seeds were prone to rotting if over watered, or drying out if under watered. So last year I decided to see if it was possible to grow any old monkey nuts and bought myself a bag of unroasted (obviously!) monkey nuts from the supermarket. At £1.50 for about 200 seeds it was at least a good deal cheaper!

From my 400g bag, I shelled 3 monkey nuts and planted 6 peanuts and a week later 5 of them had germinated.  I had to keep the seedlings on my windowsill until the weather was warm enough in June. They do, however, make rather attractive houseplants whose leaves fold in on themselves every night as the light fades. During the summer the plants produce small yellow flowers very similar in shape to pea flowers. This is not surprising as peas and peanuts are related, both belonging to the legume family. If the flowers are pollinated then, unlike any other plant I know, a long stem grows out of the dying flower and heads downwards until it finds the soil. There it buries itself and in due course a new monkey nut forms underground - hence the other name: "ground nut". As an adult I found this whole process fascinating but my kids loved it!

To be honest, I have never yielded more peanuts from my plants than the number of peanuts I started with but I love trying and I’m always optimistic. Surely, this year we are due a proper summer!

As for the rest of the bag of unroasted monkey nuts, these I roast as a single layer on a large baking tray in a preheated oven at 180°C, gas 4 for 25 minutes. My husband declared these the freshest and tastiest roasted monkey nuts he'd ever tasted! Well, hopefully only until we harvest our own bumper crop in the summer!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Pancake Cake

Today it was pancake day and it was my birthday so I was left with the dilemma of deciding whether to cook pancakes or make a birthday cake. Or was it possible to combine the two?

I first contemplated this a couple of weeks ago and asked around a bit to see if anyone had ever tried to make a "cake" from pancakes. I was quickly presented with a few links to recipes on the internet and it was obvious that this in fact was not a new idea. It seemed quite common to stack pancakes up, interlayed with creamy stuff, often including chocolate.

I mulled these recipes over for a few days but wasn't sure. After all, what I (and the rest of my family) particularly like about pancake day are the crepe-type pancakes as opposed to American or Scotch-type pancakes, and, of course, the combination of lemon and sugar. I thought my family would be extremely disappointed if I deprived them of their annual pancake experience, so what to do...?

In the end, I found a Jamie Oliver recipe for pancake cake which used what seems to be a slightly thicker than normal crepe recipe, stacked up with chocolate, cream and hazelnuts. From this I took the pancake part of the recipe and then substituted in my dead easy lemon cheesecake filling. So I managed to maintain the traditional pancake texture and flavour.

After blowing out my birthday candles, I sliced the stack as you would any other cake and served them to my eager audience with a splash of single cream. My daughter commented that the crunchy texture of granulated sugar was missing so maybe a sprinkling of this when serving could be added but other than that it was the perfect fusion of birthday- and pan- cake.

Lemon Pancake Cake

375g self-raising flour
A pinch of salt
720ml milk
3 large eggs
A little oil for frying
500g mascarpone cheese
2 lemons
75g icing sugar
Orange & Lemon segment jelly decorations

Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Whisk the eggs and combine with the milk. Gradually mix the liquid into the flour until a batter forms. Heat the oil in a suitable frying pan - the pancakes should be 15-20cm in diameter. Add a ladle-full of batter to the pan and swirl around. Fry on one side for a couple of minutes then flip over the cook the other side. Cool on a wire rack and repeat until all the batter is used (should yield 12 pancakes). Next, put the cheese in bowl then add the grated zest and juice from the lemons and then the icing sugar and beat well until smooth. Now stack 8 of the pancakes up, spreading each one with lemon cheese mixture as you go. Finish with a coating the cheese mixture and decorate with the jellies. Cut into wedges to serve.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Pudding for Breakfast

Do you have a food that you would really like to like but just can't? I feel like that about bananas. They look as if they should be so tasty and I know they are really good for you and make an ideal snack but try as I might I just don't like them. I feel the same about porridge too. It is such a good food - nutritious in so many ways and warm and filling. But no, I just don't like it.

My dislike for porridge is a real shame because I would love to eat something like that for breakfast. My husband makes it for himself every weekend morning and then manages to go right through until about 3 o'clock before needing to eat again. What an amazing food - managing to keep you satisfied for so long and being good for you.

Porridge (serves 1)

1/2 cup jumbo oats
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
pinch salt
2 heaped tsp oat bran

Place all the ingredients in a pan and stir. Bring it to the boil, simmer for 5 minutes. Serve hot with a little extra milk, sugar, dried fruit or jam.

So instead of enjoying porridge, I have been bumbling around trying to find something porridge-like that I would actually like to eat for breakfast. This is why I decided to start making my Lemony Pudding recipe and eating it for breakfast.

Lemony Oat Pudding (serves 8)

1 pint (660ml) semi-skimmed milk
6 oz  (175g) oats
3 oz (85g) caster sugar
1 lemon
3 medium eggs (separated)
4 oz (110g) sultanas

Preheat oven to 190°C (gas 5). Boil the milk in a saucepan then add the oats and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly until thick. Add the sugar, lemon zest and juice then remove from the heat. Beat in the egg yolks and sultanas. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold them into the mixture. Spoon into a greased ovenproof dish and bake for 35 to 40 minutes until risen, firm and golden.

I looked at the recipe for a long time, trying to work out why it wouldn't be a good food to eat for breakfast but in the end I couldn't come up with a reason. It is, after all, heavily based on something very much like porridge, just with added eggs and flavours. I have no objection to eating eggs for breakfast as they are an excellent source of protein. And even if I made porridge, I would have to add some sort of flavour to it. My husband usually scatters brown sugar, raisins and dried cranberries over his porridge. I think I would probably spoon on some jam.

So I have been making this pudding for breakfast since Christmas. It makes a tray full that can be sliced into 8 pieces and each morning I just have to remove another slice. I like to eat it cold but it is very easy to re-heat in the microwave. It also lends itself nicely to variations and I have tried things such as substituting the lemon for oranges and adding a bit of mixed spice, or adding cloudy apple juice instead of lemon juice and adding a pinch of cinnamon. 

The only downside I have found is that keeping the tray of it in my fridge can be tricky when my fridge is stacked up with other food. So when I have other demands on my fridge space, I have to turn to another solution. And this week that solution is rice pudding. Yet again another "pudding" for breakfast but when you think about it it is just a grain (rice), some milk and a little sugar which is pretty much what breakfast cereal is. It is also very economical and ridiculously easy to make.

Rice Pudding (serves 2-3)

A little butter
50g pudding rice
12g caster sugar
500ml milk

Preheat oven to 160°C, gas 3 Grease a shallow ovenproof dish then sprinkle in the rice and sugar. Pour in the milk and stir to combine. Grate over a little nutmeg. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 2 hours until a brown skin has formed. Remove the skin and check to see if the pudding is thick. If necessary, return the pudding to the oven for 20-30 minutes more to thicken. It should be creamy but still slightly liquid when ready.

I have found that this recipe makes enough rice pudding for 3 breakfast servings. I have reduced the sugar in the recipe so that I can flavour it with sweet ingredients without making it overly sweet. In the morning, I spoon a portion (about 125g) into a small bowl, add a little extra milk and microwave for a minute, stirring half way through. Then I add something like raisins or a dollop of jam. The question then is whether to eat round the jam until the last mouthful, or stir it through the pudding before starting!

So if you are looking for an alternative breakfast then why not try something from this blog posting. Or you could try the puddings as a healthy dessert if you prefer. 

Thursday, 24 January 2013

A French Breakfast

My girls have never been particularly keen on cereal for breakfast, preferring instead to have toast, crumpets, pancakes, waffles or brioche. I guess you could say they prefer a continental-style breakfast. So when my daughter came home from school, talking about doing a school project on French culture I explained she part way there when it came to breakfast.

In the next few days she did a bit of research into French food and we had fun cooking some French recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Chicken Provencal for dinner, Croque Monsieur for lunch and pain au chocolat for breakfast. Then last Saturday morning I whipped up a plate of French Toast brioche for their breakfast, complete with a little portion of jam for dipping. I have to say it was dead simple to do, only took a few minutes to cook and went down a storm! I think this might feature regularly on the weekend breakfast menu.

Brioche French Toast Soldiers with dipping jam

For 2 people

4 slices of brioche
1 egg
A splash of milk
Oil for frying
Jam to serve

Crack the egg onto a dinner plate and add a splash of milk. Whisk the egg and milk together carefully. Heat the oil in a large frying pan then dip each piece of brioche into the eggy mixture until coated on both sides and all the mixture is used. Fry the pieces of brioche on one side for a couple of minutes until golden then flip and cook the other side until golden. Remove from the pan, cut into soldiers and serve with a tablespoon of jam for dipping.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Devonshire Splits... don't mind if I do!

Ooh... I do love a decent cream tea but quite honestly I'm a bit rubbish at making scones. And a rubbish scone ruins a cream tea. I have tried... but somehow they always turn out on the dense side and hard work to wade through. No good at all.

At the weekend, my daughter was thumbing through my bread machine recipe book and oohing and ahhing at the possible things we could bake. Eventually she came across a recipe for Devonshire Splits that I had previously bookmarked.

"These look yummy, can we make these?" she asked.

But why had I bookmarked them but never made them? It usually means I didn't have one of the ingredients to hand when I last considered it. A quick scan down the page revealed a remarkably simple recipe for the splits themselves but a serving suggesting with clotted cream and jam. OBVIOUSLY it wasn't the jam that was the problem but the clotted cream.

I put the cream on my shopping list then and there then after this week's shopping trip had a go at making a batch. They are in effect just a slightly sweet bread bun but they work really well. And the combination of clotted cream with my Strawberry and Vanilla Jam is just divine! So much better than a rubbish scone any day.

Devonshire Splits (makes 8)

140ml milk
225g white bread flour
25g caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp easy-blend dried yeast
Clotted cream, jam and icing sugar to serve

Place all the ingredients into your bread machine in the order stated in your instructions and set to dough. Once finished, remove the dough from the bread machine and knock back on a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough into 8 pieces and shape each one into a round roll. Place on a baking tray and cover with greased Clingfilm. Leave to rise for about half an hour. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 220°C, gas 7. Bake the buns for about 15 minutes until golden. Place on a wire rack to cool completely. To serve, cut in half and fill with clotted cream and jam and sprinkle icing sugar on top.