Friends, family and colleagues have mentioned my lack of posts recently - which also indicates a lack of attention to baking and cooking in general on my part - so here is what I made at the weekend [all gone now] - coffee and walnut cake from the Peyton and Byrne cookbook.
for the cake
200g walnut halves 200g unsalted butter 200g caster sugar 200g self raising flour 3 tbsp instant coffee dissolved in 2 tbsp of hot water 4 eggs
for the topping
300g cream cheese 50g light brown sugar
Heat the oven to 170C/gas 3 and butter a springform or loose bottom tin and line with greaseproof paper Spread the walnuts on a tray, toast in the oven for about 7 minutes [my fan oven only took 5 minutes so keep an eye out for them] Allow the walnuts to cool then put half aside for your topping and crush/chop the other half for the cake mix
Cream together the butter and sugar
Then add the eggs one by one, mixing really well between each one
Beat in the coffee and then fold in the flour and the crushed walnuts
Pour the mixture into the baking tin and pop in the oven for 45-55 minutes Remove the cake from oven and allow to cool in the tin for about 5 minutes [the book says 10 but I find this too long and the greaseproof paper sticks]
Run a knife around the inside edge and turn the cake out onto a wire rack The cake needs to completely cool before you add the topping - this can take around two hours - so factor it in if you are making it for an afternoon tea For the topping, beat the cream cheese and sugar together in a bowl until fully mixed and creamy - spread it over the cake, cover with the whole walnuts and dust with icing sugar
I was a bit suspicous of the topping - sugar and cream cheese and no coffee? - but it worked really well and stopped the cake being too overloaded with the flavour of coffee. And just to be contrary I had my coffee cake with a big pot of tea.
This year I got three very good but very different cookbooks and I am only now really getting round to trying out some of their recipes.
The Two Greedy Italians satisfies my love of all things Italian and contains a recipe combining two of my favourite ingredients - broccoli and anchovies.
Casa Moro gives me Sam and Sam Clark's second book of middle eastern inspired food. I find their recipes very light and refreshing even though I often find this style of food heavy in restaurants. One of my favourite recipes is Turlu Turlu from their first book. I have already given the Moroccan eggs a go and I can see them becoming a staple supper dish - or indulgent late Sunday breakfast.
Larousse Gastronomique satisfies my inner geek - discovering the history of food and the practices that surround how produce moves from field to table.
It also gives me a new source of recipes to test, try and become favourites. Christmas and New Year this year were wonderful because it is the first one in the new house and with my amazing new kitchen but I was so busy on the run up that I stuck to recipes and meals I knew well. So now I want to do a bit of culinary exploration.
I also want to come up with some good dishes as my London colleagues will be up in Scotland in March and will be visiting me. I have spent a lot of time working in our London office recently and I have been taken care of in great style by many of my colleagues. Now that they will be up in Glasgow for our annual conference I have the chance to repay the favour. So the search is on.
My wee sister came up last weekend and so I did some baking. I had bought the Peyton and Byrne 'British Baking' book which is a wee beauty. Simple, recognisable British baking - no fuss here, just good, solid recipes.
I went with the Gingerbread Men recipe as I always love biscuits that mean I get to use my biscuit cutters and because they last for a week - most baked goods need to be eaten pretty quickly but I was doing prep work as I would be working the day Emma arrived. This turned out to be a very good thing as I ended up being very ill and was in no fit state to bake or cook anything so at least there was some home baking already sorted! Ingredients
350g plain flour 1 tbsp ground ginger 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda 100g cold unsalted butter 150g light soft brown sugar 1 egg, beaten 4 tbsp golden syrup
The recipe says the prep time is about 15 minutes - I would say nearer 25 - unless you are super duper fast.
Preheat the oven to 180c/gas 4 and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Sift the flour, ginger and bicarb powder into a bowl.
Rub in the butter - or do what I did and use a food processor.
Stir in the sugar.
Whisk the egg and syrup in a bowl then add to the flour and butter mixture. Licking the golden syrup spoon is a nice treat!
Mix it all well to form a dough.
Flour a surface and roll out the dough. I divided the dough into two balls for this bit. The recipe says 3mm thickness - I like a thicker biscuit so went for nearer 5mm.
Dip your cutter in flour then cut out your shapes and transfer them to the tray. You can make eyes, nose and mouth using a knitting needle or sharp knife. You can also add currants for jacket buttons and eyes too if you like.
Bake for about 10 minutes or until a lovely golden brown. When ready let them cool for 1-2 minutes then transfer to a wire rack.
Store in an airtight container - they will last up to a week.
We have been getting a veggie box delivered each week and it has meant we are a) eating with the season and b)responding to what has arrived and thinking up recipes to use up the food rather than planning what we want to eat then shopping for the veg. This has been quite good because it forces you to look out new recipes.
This week we had a glut of potatoes and onions [white and spring]. It is still too warm to go into proper winter food yet so I searched my cookery books and my brain for a solution. The result - two types of potatoe salad and Nigella's onion tart [page 392, How to Eat].
Now, I cheated a bit. I left out the nutmeg because I really don't like it, and swapped the marsala to red wine. And, the tart calls for a pastry case and I have been really busy so I bought one.
Ingredients 30g butter
Drop of oil
500g white onions, sliced very thinly
1-2 teaspoons of sugar
4 tbsp red wine
1 egg yolk
300ml creme fraiche
Melt the butter with the oil in your frying pan and then add the onions.
Stir and cook on a medium to low heat for about 10-12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Stir in the sugar and reduce to the lowest heat and cover [with a lid, foil or, as I did, a large dinner plate].
Leave to cook for about 20 minutes. The onions should be all tender and almost going to mush.
Add in the wine, turn up the heat and cook for about 8 minutes. Keep stirring so it doesn't catch.
Remove from the heat and leave to cool a bit.
[you could also do this bit in the morning or the night before]
If you are using a homemade pastry case, make it while all the onion prep is going on.
Make a custard by beating the eggs, egg yolk, creme fraiche and half a teaspoon of salt together.
Add a good grinding of pepper - I like a lot so it is more like several grindings.
Take your onions and line the pastry case with them.
Then carefully pour over your egg mix - Nigella gives a good tip at this point - don't fill your case right up with the liquid - leave some aside and top up once you have it on the rack in the oven to avoid the wobbly, shaky, drippy trip from surface to oven.
Nigella doesn't say this but if you have a pastry case that isn't in a tin/foil [because like me you bought it!] place it on a baking sheet with a strip of greaseproof paper underneath it. This means that when you come to remove it you can lift it and slide it onto a plate without breaking the pastry.
Grind some more pepper on the top.
Bake it at Gas 6/180 degrees for about 35 minutes or until it is golden on top. It should be set but not rubbery and overly firm. It will cook a bit still as it cools down.
Remove it from the oven and let it cool for about 10-15 minutes before slicing up and serving.
For the potatoes As many potatoes as your local veggie box man has delivered![about 750kg in my case...]
A jar of good quality mayonnaise
A tbsp of mustard
A glug of oil
A large handful of chopped spring onions
Salt and pepper
Potatoe salad needs cold potatoes so either boil them while doing the onions or do them the night/morning before.
The first thing to do though was to scrub the soily potatoes - which Andy really enjoys...
When cold, divide them between 2 bowls.
In one bowl add two tbsp of good mayonnaise and the spring onions - mix well.
Some like lots of creamy mayonnaise so once you have done the first two tbsp judge yourself what you would like. Grind over some pepper and give it a final mix.
In the other, add the mustard and the oil and mix well.
I also served some cherry toms mixed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar with some salad leaves which I thought cut through the dairy centred nature of the rest of the dish.
I had my wee brother Theo over and needed some easy peasy recipes that would fill up a 15 year old with, apparently, hollow legs.
I picked up this recipe from Jamie Oliver's 'Jamie at Home' - I didn't follow it quite to the letter but here is my version.
Two punnets of cherry tomatoes
2-3 sprigs of Thyme
2-3 sprigs of Rosemary
2-3 garlic cloves - crushed and chopped
A tbsp of crushed Oregano
You will need a large roasting tin and the oven preheated to about Gas 6, 180 degrees
Foil for the baked potatoes
Prick the potatoes all over, wrap in foil and start to bake in the oven immediately
Slice up the cherry toms in half and place in a large roasting tin
Scatter the herbs and garlic over the tomatoes
Glug 3-4 tbsp of olive oil and 1-2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar over the herbs, garlic and tomatoes
Now for the messy bit...
Dump the sausages on the top and with your hands mix everything up until the sausages are all coated
Before putting in the oven, arrange it so the sausages are on top
Bake for 30 minutes, then turn over the sausages and divest the potatoes of their foil so the skins bake crispy, and bake for another 15-20 minutes
I made this the day of the Bridge of Allan games - torrential rain ensued. To save time I baked my potatoes in foil at breakfast time - I sometimes find that although usually they take an hour you might need longer and I like my skins really crispy. I also prepared the toms and sausages in their seasoning and left them in the tin covered in cling film. This meant that dinner was even quicker and easier and the food kept fine like that until it was time to bake it. And if you make this quantity just for two there will be enough for two nights or, in our case, for a hungry person to have as a rather nice packed lunch to reheat at work.
I am starting to blog again - slowly - but after a break it's hard to get back into the swing of it! I have also started a new blog - it is for my political/newsy stuff as I want this blog to be pure fun and food and funky cool stuff.
One of the best bits of my job is meeting people living with diabetes and hearing about their experiences. Sometimes I don't get to meet them in person - sometimes it is a patient survey or letter or email. How people talk about their diabetes and deal with it is diverse and fascinating. Joe Freeman - our social media guy - pointed me in the direction of the Diabetes UK blog - which I knew about but hadn't made time to go and see [bad me]. The first post I read was about a person who wanted to know what they looked like when they have a hypo. What an amazing thing - it wouldn't have occured to me that someone would think of that and yet it makes perfect sense. Knowing your condition includes knowing about how it manifests itself and as the blogger notes how it looks may not automatically mean people know it is a hypo. I know of people who have been assumed to be drunk or on drugs when having a hypo - of people being picked up by the police or thrown out of shops/restaurants etc for being disorderly. Hearing directly from people with diabetes reminds all of us that raising awareness and making sure everyone knows about diabetes is really important. And that being let into a persons experience is a real privelege. Go read it!