Posts tagged ‘baking’

July 24, 2013

Three Good Things: Week Two

The first week of Three Good Things was so well received and I have been completely delighted by how many people got involved. It seems that I’m not the only person who wants to slow down and practice a bit of gratitude for the small things in life.

We may not live perfect lives – I know I definitely don’t –  but there are a lot of things to be grateful for. Things that bring a bit of joy to the everyday, a spot of sunshine and a smile. I want to document them and be reminded that, although my life is not perfect, it is my life. And I’m incredibly lucky to be living it.

So, here we go…

One: My sweetpeas

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The first thing on my list this week are my sweet peas. More than any other flower I know, sweet peas demand to be picked. The more flowers you pick, the more flowers the plant produces, in the desire to ensure its own survival. Added to that, if you choose one of the older varieties or perhaps Matucana (the original sweet pea) you are rewarded with an incredible fragrance from so few flowers. And, if that’s not all, they’re incredibly easy to save seed from. Just allow the pods to dry well, and pop out the large, dark seeds. Keep them somewhere cool and dry and they’ll be fine for sowing next year. Just remember that if you choose an F1 hybrid variety, the saved seed will revert back to the parent, and so you might well end up with a colour you weren’t expecting. But, hey, that’s part of the fun of gardening…

Two: Bun making with my daughter.

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I’m not the kind of parent who does lots of craft activities with my kids. Something I’m going to attempt to change this summer. But I do cook with them. This week, we made buns. Not cupcakes or fairy cakes. Buns. That’s what my mum calls them, and so that’s what I call them. Anyway, these ones, with too much icing and a mountain of mini marshmallows on each one, were lovely.

Three: New perfume!

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This week I was reminded that delated gratification can lead to far greater rewards. For about a year now, I’ve longed for a new perfume. One specific perfume, to be precise. 34 Boulevard St Germain, by Diptyque. I don’t know about you, but every time I see something that I’d really like, I say to myself ‘on payday, I’ll buy that’.  Of course, each payday comes and goes and I don’t buy lovely things. I pay bills.

This month, however, I did buy it. After a year of wishing that I could have this perfume in my life, I finally do. If you see me around, expect me to smell of it! It’s a complicated and quite unique fragrance, inspired by the flagship Diptyque store in Paris. As the store sells a myriad of perfumes, candles and home scents, you could be forgiven for thinking that it would be a tangled mess of a smell. Not so. It starts off with green top notes, then the mid notes are floral and then dries down to  the lingering woody, earthy, rich and perfect base notes. I love it. Adore it. And it feels more special to me because I had to wait for it. I doubt I’d be treating it with the same reverence if I was just able to buy it on first encounter without having to really think about it.

So, that’s my three good things for this week. I’d love you to share your Three Good Things, either in the comments or in a blog post. Here’s a little round up of all the fabulous people who wrote a post last week – do go and read them!

Hello Kirsty  – In which we learn the Spanish for ‘we are turtles’ and see a glimpse of the best birthday party dress ever. Brilliant.

Espresso Coco –  More language fun in this post. And some of my favourite things from one of my favourite people and collaborator on a brand new blog! It’s about TEA. You’ll love it.

Leeds & Me  – Isobel has greener fingers than she thought! And because of this post, I’ve a new book on my reading list.

A Hell of A Woman – This blogger is one of my online best buddies and in this post she shares news of a great new project.

Lady Lugosi – This post made me laugh out loud and again, there’s a brilliant project included.

Spider’s Filthy Assistant – I love this post. It’s sexy, optimistic and has made me want to pay a return visit to Edinburgh this year.

Nyssapod – A post from one of my  favourite online friends. I’m coveting the phone case in this post! And I’m going to listen to the money-saving Audioboo.

Looking at this list of posts has made me smile the biggest grin. I probably shouldn’t have it as one of my Three Good Things for next week, but it’s tempting…

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June 1, 2012

The Secret Tea Room

As part of my 35:35 Challenge, I recently spent a wonderful afternoon in the company of the wonderful Lynn Hill and a table full of strangers.

Lynn Hill is a bone fide celebrity these days. Founder of Clandestine Cake Club, creator of The Secret Tea Room, she is all about the cake. You might even recognise her from TV! The Secret Tea Room is a pop-up afternoon tea, held in a (you guessed it) secret location in Leeds. Lynn sent out the menu a few days before we all arrived and it whetted my appetite immediately: finger sandwiches, homemade savoury tarts, followed by a selection of different cakes, Yorkshire tea loaf with Wensleydale cheese, and plain scones with clotted cream and strawberry conserve…mmm.

I arrived on my own, to be met by a table full of nine people, all of whom knew one other person, but not the whole group. It didn’t matter. There is nothing quite like a table groaning under the weight of home-made afternoon tea treats to get the conversation flowing.

We chatted throughout the whole two hours and managed to work our way through the wonderful food. I loved all of it, but I surprised myself by loving the plain scones with clotted cream and jam the most – I ate two on the day, and was inspired to have a go at making my own afterwards (which you can see below) as part of my own Cookbook Challenge. The Secret Tea Room was such a lovely experience. The pop up or underground food experience seems to be well and truly established now and often involves talented people inviting strangers to dine in their own homes. Having enjoyed this so much,  I’m going to investigate other places to visit and eat. There is something truly interesting about dining with people you don’t know and the addition of food ensures that there is always something to talk about.

I might even join my local Clandestine Cake Club too – which is now a global phenomenon with 126 clubs dotted all over the world, including some amazing places such as Barcelona and the Grand Cayman! Perhaps Lynn should do a CCC World Tour…

If you have any food recommendations, I’d love to hear from you!

May 28, 2012

Cookbook Challenge

Recently I made the rather startling discovery that I’ve amassed a collection of 64 cookbooks. They sit on shelves in the kitchen and sitting room gathering dust, while I reach for a jar of pesto again and again.

Cookbooks are clearly something of an addiction for me. The sheer beauty of them, the gorgeous photography and styling and the promise they offer of a slightly better life, if only you try some of their recipes, draws me in time and again. Yet, I rarely cook anything different. Partly because of a lack of time, partly because my kids are stuck in a place where they refuse to try new things to eat and partly because of the ease with which I get stuck in the pasta pesto routine.

So, in an attempt to make my ownership of 64 cookbooks seem a little more sensible (and urged on by some lovely Twitter friends) I’ve started a mini-challenge, which is to cook something from each of my cookbooks. Originally, the deadline was to cook 35 new things before the end of my 35:35 challenge. However, as I’ve realised that there is a distinct possibility that  I’m going to fail in my challenge (something I’m not thrilled about, but hey, that’s life) I have now given up on that self-imposed deadline and now I’m just going to try to cook something from each of them.

To record this, I’ve set up a Tumblr account which will just have a photo each time I cook something, together with the information about the book it is from.

I’m hoping that this will re-ignite my interest in food, get the kids to try some new things, improve my diet and health a bit and make far better use of my lovely organic veg box and home grown fruit and vegetables. I’ve completed about half a dozen recipes now, and I’m really enjoying it. I’m hoping to focus my attention on things that are relatively quick to make, so I can easily cook them in the evening after work, rather than only making an effort every so often. I want this to be the start of a longer term change in my cooking and eating habits and I’m hoping it will have a positive effect on the rest of my household too!

One thing I’ve noticed though, is how many books about baking I have and how weighted in favour of a handful of authors my collection is. I seem to have every book that Nigel Slater has written, and a fair collection of Nigella, Rachel Allen and Jamie Oliver books too. However, I have not a single book about Thai, Chinese or Malaysian cookery, something I only realised after searching in vain for a Beef Rendang recipe the other day. So, perhaps once I’ve legitimised my collection by actually using it, I can start to add to it and fill the gaps – starting with a book about Asian cookery.

If you’ve got any cookbook recommendations, do let me know. I’d love to hear from fellow cookbook addicts!

November 14, 2011

German Friendship Cake: part two

So, I promised that I’d tell you what happened when I finally baked Herman the friendship cake. After 9 days of living with the mixture bubbling away in the kitchen (because you can’t put it in the fridge, otherwise you’ll kill off the yeast) I finally divided it up into quarters, and used one quarter to form the basis of my cake.

Adding diced apple, sultanas, cinnamon, eggs, oil and a bit more sugar and flour, I ended up with an enormous amount of mixture, which looked like this.

Raw cake mixture

Given that raw cake mixture is one of my favourite foods of all time (even though I’m pretty sure it doesn’t actually count as a food stuff) I did have a little taste – and despite the fact that it had been sitting around for days, and some of it (the bit I was initially given) for a lot longer, it tasted pretty good!

So, the next issue was finding a cake tin big enough, which was a bit of a challenge. I ended up using my giant Le Creuset roasting dish, which last held a shepherd’s pie, because none of my cake tins were big enough. After a long while cooking, I ended up with this massive slab of lovely cake. It tastes really good, which is a bit of a relief, given all the effort it took to make it! The stab marks you can see in the cake below are just from me testing it to see if it was cooked. It’s got a great taste, and the little chunks of apple studded through the cake remain nice and juicy in the cooking.

The final result - yum!

Apple chunks...

Thankfully, it freezes well too, so I’ve put a large chunk of it in the freezer, basically to stop me eating it for breakfast every day…

September 13, 2011

Autumn: A new start

I love the changing of the seasons. One of the best things of living in Britain is that we still have distinct seasons, bringing different foods, activities, and changes to our natural environment. Autumn is one of my favourite times of year. Partly because it’s the time for apple harvesting,watching the leaves turn colour and sitting on the sofa under a cosy blanket, but also because it means a new start. Although Spring is the usual time for us to think about new beginnings, I think Autumn, with it’s memories of new school terms (and new books, blank white pages of paper and fresh pens) is a great time to think about what is coming next.

For me, it’s looking forward to the lovely run up to Christmas, with Apple Day, Halloween, Bonfire Night and Eve’s birthday all to come before then. Now that I’ve completed one of the biggest physical challenges of my 35:35 Challenge, it’s time to take stock. I have got a long way to go to make all 35 and not all of them can be as brutal as Yorkshire 3  Peaks or I might not make it. So my thoughts are turning to challenges based around the gentle arts – baking, making, and craft-type activities that seem to suit the early days of Autumn.

‘Katy’ apples on my allotment

As the recent winds have given me rather too many windfall apples, I won’t be able to keep them for eating, so apple recipes are needed for a start.

I also have a desire to learn some new crafts – I am very good at thinking up ideas, but pretty awful at completing things. I can spend hours dreaming over Jane Brocket’s book, ‘The Gentle Art of Domesticity’, (or actually all her books and blog, I think she’s wonderful) but I rarely make anything – apart from endless baking with Eve, sometimes from Jane’s book ‘Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer’, which, in a work of genius, combines food and children’s literature – two of my favourite things!

Anyway, I digress. In order to complete a few ‘gentle’ challenges, I am looking for a teacher. I hope to attempt a bit of crochet, perhaps knitting, who knows? So I’m on the hunt for people to teach me some of these things. To start with though, I’m going to try to find a simple dressmaking pattern and use some of my old Liberty fabric to make something!

If you’ve got any fantastic apple recipes, simple dressmaking patterns or other Autumnal loveliness let me know!

August 17, 2011

Stylish and sweet.

Fashions come and go with food as much as they do with skirt lengths or trouser widths.

The American muffin has never quite recovered from its unfortunate associations with the bit of untrained stomach hanging over the top of a waistband, now fetchingly referred to as a ‘muffin top’. We have moved on, through the cupcake, to the whoopie pie. I’m still a cupcake fan myself, although do prefer the name ‘fairy-cake’ or plain old ‘bun’, which must of course, be said with a Yorkshire accent for the correct effect.

One food that has never been unfashionable is the macaron. French, light and beautiful, they come in the colours of the rainbow and sophisticated flavours such as rose and pistachio. Parisian favourite Pierre Hermé is as much part of my annual Parisian pilgrimage as Chanel. The grande dame of the macaron, though, is of course, Ladurée. The company has several locations across Paris and now the you can order online from Harrods in the UK, making them a treat accessible for me on a more regular basis, hurrah! Although I’ve indulged in these beauties on many an occasion, I’ve never attempted to make one.

Until today.

It has taken two days (although a considerable part of that was leaving things to rest in the fridge) but I have finally finished my attempt to make the beautiful macaron. I used a recipe from Ladurée, which was published in the Paris edition of Stylist magazine. Ladurée Macaroons Citron / In This Week’s Issue / Stylist Magazine.

Although mine don’t quite look like the ones in the magazine, I’m still pretty pleased with them!

Macaron a la Margot and Barbara...