Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

Things to do before you’re 40

It’s my 40th birthday in December, as I’ve mentioned before, and obviously it’s an important event.  Unlike some people, I’m not unhappy about it (a school friend recently posted on Facebook that she was “drowning her sorrows” in the face of turning 40!) and do want to mark the occasion, but maybe not in the “bucket” list (how I detest that term!), once in a lifetime experiences you see suggested on the internet, like doing Machu Picchu or swimming with dolphins.

Whilst  I haven’t had an official list of Things I Must Do Before The Big Day, I’ve made a couple of significant (to me) achievements.  The first is that I have now attended concerts of the whole of Wagner’s Ring cycle. My best uni friend and I have been meeting up once a year in Salford Quays for the last four years to see Opera North perform the Prologue and Trilogy of  operas that make up the sequence. I wasn’t sure what to expect when we first started but we’ve both really enjoyed the experience and feel that it’s a suitable induction into Real Adulthood!

The performances are different from what you would usually get in an opera, as they’re in a concert setting as opposed to a fully staged setting, meaning that the singers are not in costume (although sometimes they wore something to give a clue to their character or to use as a prop, such as a red handkerchief which would be pulled out of a pocket if the character was killed) and stand or sit at the front of the stage, rather than acting, and also with the use of a video display behind the performers which added extra atmosphere, with footage of water or fire or trees, etc, depending on the scenery.  This display also shows some narrative text, to keep the audience following the story (in the absence of any real acting) and all the surtitles to translate the German into English.  I really liked this setting and found it helpful, as well as enjoying seeing the orchestra on stage with the singers (although it was sometimes a bit of a squash, especially in Götterdämmerung when a 50-person choir was also required!).

For each performance we both found that it took a while to “get into” the story and the music, but that after about 20 minutes or so we became more immersed in it.  One performer we really admired was Mati Turi, an Estonian who played Siegfried in both Siegfried and Götterdämmerung.  He was so involved in his character and his face showed such life and feeling it was hard ever to look away, even to read the surtitles!  I was really pleased that he returned for the final opera, as he hadn’t been going to but the original choice pulled out, and it really made the night for me.

It’s been so much fun having our little weekends away that my friend and I plan to carry on having them, and are now looking for ideas of what to do or see next!

My second achievement is to have visited all six branches of Bettys. Bettys Café Tea Rooms are a Yorkshire-based company started in the early 20th century and have retained their Edwardian atmosphere and standards. It’s always a real treat to go there, which is why I’m having my birthday celebration there in a few weeks. That will be at the larger York branch, my favourite Bettys, but I realised a little while ago that there were several I hadn’t visited. Southern Daddy took me to the original Harrogate branch on a day out when we were newly-married, and growing up I used to go quite often to York with my family. I finally visited the Ilkley branch a couple of years ago (that’s a particularly lovely place, especially if you can get a table with a view out of the window), which left three.

Southern Daddy and I called into Northallerton after dropping the girls off at camp this summer. We were lucky to find only one family queuing ahead of us – I don’t know if this is usual here but it’s certainly a change from the hour + waits you can expect in York and Harrogate! Northallerton Bettys won the Tea Guild’s “Top Tea Place” award in 2012 and it’s certainly a great place. It has the feel of a Georgian summer house or garden room, older in style than some of the other branches, and it felt very relaxed despite being full and busy to the extent that they had run out of scones!

The next branch we tried was at RHS garden Harlow Carr just outside Harrogate, at the end of August. We were returning from a weekend at my sister’s on the Bank Holiday Monday and decided to make the detour for tea. When we arrived, later than we’d hoped, we wondered if we’d be able to get in as it was less than an hour to closing, but actually we were seated with no queuing (!!) and treated as if everyone had all the time in the world, finally leaving a full 20 minutes after the stated closing time. In the busy world we inhabit, where everyone has something else to do and even National Trust café staff are putting chairs on tables around you if you outstay your welcome, this was a real pleasure. My only disappointment was that we didn’t have time to make our usual visit to the shop for take-home goodies, because it was closed by then, of course.

Finally, we visited Bettys of Stonegate, York (formerly known as “Little Bettys”). This week just gone was the half term holiday for us and, after another visit to my sister’s to see our Gran on her 90th birthday, we had an afternoon out in York, taking in a bit of shopping and a trip to the Treasurer’s House, too.  We decided we’d try and get lunch in Bettys, so we joined the queue for about half an hour before being shown to our table.  This branch has its tearoom upstairs and shop downstairs, and it has a very quaint and cosy feel to it.  We chose sandwiches and tea, and afterwards viewed the cake trolley to select something for our dessert.  It’s not cheap but it’s definitely a lovely treat and worth the wait.

I have had other ideas for things to do before I’m 40, such as watching a film I’ve never seen for every year of my life, but I just haven’t had the time!  I have exactly 5 weeks to go now, so I’m open to suggestions if you have an idea I could do quickly!

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Stuff and nonsense

I realise it’s been a while since my last post (a different season, in fact, with a different blog background!) so I thought I’d do a bit of a round-up of things I’ve been enjoying lately.

 

First of all, I’d like to introduce you to my new kettle.  As you probably know, I’m a big fan of tea and this is, in my opinion, the ultimate tea-drinker’s kettle.  It’s a lovely kettle in itself – very sleek and shiny and silver, and has useful features like a lovely spout that pours really smoothly, a slow-opening lid so you don’t get splashed with hot water if you need to refill it soon after use, and a transparent water measure so you can see from every angle how full it is, even when looking inside.  However, its most useful feature is its variable temperature options.  Like all cordless kettles, it sits on a base which is plugged into the wall, but in this case the base is host to a range of buttons which control the final temperature of the water, in order to bring it to the perfect temperature for various different teas.  The fact is that the younger the tea when picked (green tea is the youngest, black is the oldest), the more readily it gives up its tannins, and if the drink becomes to tannin-heavy it tastes bitter, so a cooler temperature is required to get the best flavour.  The instruction booklet includes a page listing dozens of different drinks and their ideal brewing temperatures, which I’ve photocopied and stuck inside the cupboard above the kettle for easy reference.

Now I’m expecting a couple of  negative responses at this point: the first being “Surely it doesn’t make that much difference to the flavour?”  Well, after a few weeks of research (I bought the kettle over Easter weekend) I have come to the conclusion that for me, it does.  Even the teapigs’ Mao Feng green tea, which I’ve raved about before as being nicer-tasting than other green teas, tastes better when brewed at the correct temperature – before I was just boiling the kettle, leaving it to go a bit off the boil and then adding the water so it was usually still too hot.

The second objection I’m anticipating, from those who have now googled this appliance, is “That’s a lot of money for a kettle!”  And it is, there’s no denying that (I received an unexpected windfall and we decided to buy it out of that).  But would a lover of coffee meet with the same reaction when treating him/herself to a gorgeous, state-of-the-art coffee machine with all the available bells and whistles, or would the response be more of a “Lucky you!”  That’s the way I’m looking at it – a machine to make myself the best cup of tea I can get, whatever kind of tea I want.  I don’t drink coffee as it makes me ill (and, actually, even before when I did used to drink it I always found it a slight disappointment because the taste never lived up to the beautiful aroma!), so teas are my “thing”.  And since my kettle features a “coffee” button too (95C) I feel it’s far more hospitable than a prejudiced and exclusive coffee machine!

 

As a result of this purchase I’ve been introduced to two new kinds of tea.  The first is Oolong, which I can recommend if you’ve never tried it!  There’s an “Oolong” button (90C) on the kettle and apparently this is the only kind of tea which brews at that temperature, so to make full use of my kettle’s features I decided I needed to try some.  I was placing a repeat order of Mao Feng so I added a sample pack of teapigs’ Tung Ting Oolong to my order and my only regret is that I didn’t order a bigger pack!  It is truly delicious.

A few days later a friend, who had noticed my Oolong recommendation on Facebook, handed me a packet of teabags and told me that if I liked green tea and Oolong, I needed to try these.  The tea in question is Kukicha, or Japanese roasted twig tea.   Sounds… unusual, doesn’t it?  I have to admit I was dubious, especially when I read that it really is made of twigs (specifically, the stems of the tea plant rather than the leaves), but I do really like it.  I totally disagree with my friend’s recommendation based on similarity to green and Oolong, because I don’t think they’re at all the same (despite the fact that Kukicha is classed as a green tea).  For me it’s actually closest to coffee, in a strange way, because of the definite aroma and flavour of roasting that it has.

I’m pleased, anyway, to have added these two teas to my range, not least because I’m trying to restrict my calorie intake for a little while following a period of over-indulgence (in passing, the Hilton Gateshead gets an impressive Cream Tea award score of 17) and very little exercise over Easter, and I find that drinking a large mug of milkless tea is a good way of preventing snacking.

 

Apart from drinking tea I’ve been pursuing other interests, including continuing to enjoy our subscription to Amazon Prime Instant Video (formerly Lovefilm Instant).  I’ve finally been able to catch up with the second series of Once Upon A Time, which was every bit as good as the first (if not better for the inclusion of some new characters) and which I’m not ashamed to say I completely raced through.  Now that’s over (till series 3 appears in the dim and distant future) I’ve returned to my habitual film night on Wednesdays whilst Southern Daddy is out at his church housegroup.  I usually go for a rom-com but there have been some included in the list which have turned out to be more than just a generic girl-meets-boy story, such as The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill And Came Down A Mountain which I saw last week.  I felt it had a perfect combination of touching team spirit, historical interest, romance and general daftness!  We’ve also enjoyed some films as a family, including Mrs Doubtfire (which I suddenly realised my children had never seen) and Frozen which they bought on DVD with some Easter-gift money.  I’ve heard it said that it’s the best since The Lion King for a combination of story and music and I can see why.  The songs in particular are very good and (we thought) reminiscent of  the work of Ashman and Menken in earlier Disney films such as Beauty and the Beast.  And on the subject of Frozen, here’s something I enjoyed – hope you do too:

 

The Bookworm and I are still enjoying a bit of one-to-one time together on our journeys to and from piano lessons on a Saturday morning and have been taking advantage of my Audible subscription to provide entertainment en route.  We’re about to start listening to a dramatisation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere tomorrow, but recently we’ve enjoyed Welcome To Our Village, Please Invade Carefully starring Julian Rhind-Tutt as a very polite alien commander who’s observing human life in an English village before he rolls out his invasion world-wide, and before that four series of Elvenquest, a Lord of the Rings parody with Stephen Mangan and Alistair McGowan.  And Southern Daddy and I were able to see Mr McGowan in the flesh a couple of weeks ago, appearing in Pygmalion at the Theatre Royal.  Once again we received theatre tokens for Christmas and the only difficulty has been narrowing down the choice of plays to see this year.  We thoroughly enjoyed our first selection – particularly McGowan’s energetic Henry Higgins – but are still choosing between The Mousetrap and Jeeves and Wooster later in the year.  In the meantime, though, we are planning to see The Handle Bards again.  Unfortunately they are doing their UK tour in reverse this year, which means that by the time we’re further south, where we caught them during last year’s glorious summer, they’ll be in Scotland, but they’re appearing near us in early July so we intend to treat the girls to a late night and see The Comedy of Errors.  I strongly recommend you see them if you can, so check the dates on the link above and see if they’re appearing near you!

 

That’s all, I think, for now – I’ve been working away at my Magimix experiments with mixed success, so look out for another post on those soon.

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Magimix cooking part 1: successes and disappointments

So, as planned, I’ve managed to try a few recipes in my food processor over the past month. Four, to be precise.

The first one was to try my usual chocolate chip cookie recipe (from the Hummingbird Bakery book) in it, rather than using a hand-held mixer. This was a relative success, although it didn’t go exactly to plan.

I chopped the chocolate in the small bowl, which was good as it usually takes much linger to do by hand. Then weighing up the ingredients and the instructions (which are really for a stand mixer), I decided to use the dough blade in the main bowl, so put in the starting ingredients and got to work. The dough blade, for some strange reason, has very short blades, which meant that a lot of the mixture was left round the edge and not picked up by the blades. I changed part way through to the regular metal blade (a bit of a messy procedure, but worthwhile) and continued: the remaining mixtures was caught up in the dough after that and it worked fine. When I came to add the chocolate, however, where a dough blade would simply have folded it in, the sharp blade of course shredded little bits off it at the same time, mixing lots of chocolate crumbs into the dough along with the bigger pieces. This turned out ok in the end, though, as they flavoured the biscuit part of the cookies and made them a bit more chocolatey. Probably not better, but no worse either.

On balance I shall probably not use the Magimix for cookies again, as it didn’t really save me any time over my usual method with my hand mixer being pretty powerful. I might use the small bowl for chopping the chocolate though.

My next experiment was to make dough for scones. I would say this was an unmitigated success. I was amazed how quickly the ingredients were whizzed into fine crumbs (the booklet suggested the dough blade for scones, but after the cookies I eschewed that in favour of the sharp blade), especially as I’d forgotten to take the butter out of the fridge in advance so it was still cold. I added the liquid through the spout as the motor was running and the whole thing was ready in moments. I was concerned the scones wouldn’t be as light as usual, as the mixture wasn’t as wet, but I needn’t have worried. They probably benefited from not being handled quite so much.

Cream tea for two!

Cream tea for two!

I made heart-shaped scones for a Valentine’s afternoon tea. The recipe I used would have made 6 large scones, but I made 4 large and 4 small as I wasn’t sure how they’d turn out. I processed 8oz (225g) self raising flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, 1.5oz (37.5g) butter and 1oz (25g) caster sugar until they were fine crumbs (really quick!), then, with the motor running, poured a beaten egg (minus 1 tbsp reserved for glazing) made up to 5floz (150ml) with milk down the spout to bind the mixture. I turned it out onto a board, flattened it with my hand and cut out my hearts, which I glazed with the reserved egg and baked for 15 minutes at 200C (in the Over-Zealous Oven this made them very brown, but they weren’t burnt or dry).

 

 

Heart-shaped scones

Heart-shaped scones

 

They came out unusually rounded and bun-like for scones – not sure if this was the heart shapes or the food processor preparation, but as I’d broken my maxim If you’re going to tweak a recipe, make sure you only tweak one thing at a time, there was no way of working that out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next thing I made was the most disappointing, not least because I’d made it from the recipe book that came with the machine. The Butterfly and I decided, as it was half term, to try a plaited brioche. We followed the instructions about dissolving the yeast in warm milk, making sure it wasn’t too warm, then adding it to the other ingredients and processing. All went well with the proving and plaiting but then we hit a snag. Prove for a second time in a very low oven, said the recipe. But what is a very low oven? I know from previous baking projects, involving Mrs Beeton recipes and the like, that very low often means about 110-120C, but that seemed a bit warm for proving bread, so I went for 50C, which is the lowest setting on the O-Z O. After half an hour (as stated in the book) I removed it – not looking very different – egg-washed it and returned it to a hotter oven for its allotted baking time, but when it came out it looked rather sorry for itself. We let it cool and then I sliced it and found – as expected – it was rather dense-looking and under-proved. It didn’t taste bad, and we are it with jam for tea, but it was much less sweet than we’re used to and had a rather doughy, steamy flavour. Undeterred, I’ve been looking at alternative recipes and plan to try another one soon with longer, slower proving at room temperature. On the plus side, the dough blade did prove effective for this one!

Finally, today I made an apple crumble on the spur of the moment.  I was making pot roast beef* for Sunday lunch and, as I’d put it all in the slow cooker overnight, there was only the Yorkshire pudding to be made (Southern Daddy always does the steamed veg at the last minute) and I found I had time to think about a pudding.  I used Delia Smith’s recipe, but made my own adjustments – I used eating apples (because it was all I had), I didn’t add any almonds to the crumble (because I hadn’t any), I did add sultanas to the apples (because I like them) and I made half the amount of apple mixture but the full amount of crumble (because we were only four for lunch, but I like a good thick layer of crumble with my fruit!). I could probably have used the slicing attachment and the medium bowl for the apples, but I only thought of this after I’d done most of them!  But I made the crumble in the large bowl really easily and was very pleased with the way it turned out – much quicker than rubbing in by hand when you’re doing something on a whim and don’t have much time.

So, that’s my first Magimix report. I already have plans for a focaccia loaf next week, as well as the second brioche, and I’m constantly on the look-out for more ideas!

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* If you are interested in a recipe for the slow-cooker pot roast, this is what I used.  It’s an amalgam of Delia Smith’s and Martha Stewart’s recipes, adapted to suit the veg we had in.  Serves 4ish.

In the bottom of the slow-cooker dish, mix 1 tbsp cornflour in 2tbsp cold water.  Put in 6 shallots, peeled and halved, 2 parsnips and 2 sweet potatoes, all peeled and chopped, and 2 celery sticks, each cut into 3.  Season with salt and pepper and toss with the cornflour mixture.  Season a 600g brisket joint and sit on top of the vegetables, then pour over 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce.  Put on the lid and place the dish in the slow-cooker.  Set to Auto.  (I cooked mine for 15 hours and it came out nice and moist and completely cooked through.  Obviously if you’re desperate to have your meat rare you’ll have to cut down the cooking time).  Remove the brisket and leave under foil to rest for 30 minutes before carving.  Keep the vegetables warm and bring the liquid to the boil in a pan and serve as gravy.  If you want more gravy you could press the vegetables through a sieve into the juices.

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New Christmas recipe

Happy Boxing Day!

I’ve been rather quiet of late, I know. It’s been a difficult few weeks for me – I always struggle this time of the year with feeling low and lethargic and slightly bewildered, but some years seem to be worse than others, and this year seems to be one of Those Years. So I’ve struggled with doing more than the basics, and of course it’s been a time when more than the basics has been required of me – come to this carol service/Nativity play/concert, order presents/a turkey/tickets to things, write Christmas cards and letters (and I confess that my Christmas cards this year were written with very little joy or good will), remember birthdays which people keep on having, even though it’s Christmas. I feel I might well be part-human, part-small aestival creature when part of my brain seems to be bellowing Just hibernate – HIBERNATE, for goodness’ sake! from late October onwards. Although this year I, and a couple of friends, have noticed that this experience has had a later onset, which I put down to the beautiful summer weather we had – it appears that we can store up so much sunlight to last us further into the darker times.

Ann Voskamp‘s book The Greatest Gift, and her advent posts in her online journal have helped me enormously by reminding me to keep turning my focus back to Jesus when things get fraught, remembering that he’s what it’s all about – all the time, not just at Christmas. Something she said that really struck me (and I might be paraphrasing here as I’m typing this on my phone and it’s hard to crosscheck) is that whatever we do/don’t do, we’re not “ready for Christmas” until we’re ready for Christ.

But even with that in mind, gifts do need to be given, and especially to those to whom we’re really grateful for all they do. Southern Daddy and I have felt truly blessed by the school our girls attend and by the effort and sheer hard work the teachers so obviously devote to encouraging, challenging and enthusing the children in their learning (so much so that we’ve had to work quite hard ourselves seeking a suitable secondary school for the Bookworm next year that’s as similar as possible. But that’s another story for another time). Each year, as I’ve said in the past, I try to make or bake something special for them as a Christmas gift, and again in summer, to express our gratitude. This year I had the particular challenge of catering for a teacher who is gluten-free and another who is dairy-free. One or the other would be quite straightforward, but it’s much easier and more economical to whip up a couple of batches of something and give the same to everyone, so I worked on a gluten- and dairy-free recipe and was quite pleased with my final result (particularly as I’d been putting off trying it for so long I’d reached the point where if it hadn’t worked I’d have been in trouble!). Based on Mary Berry’s recipe, it’s a shortbread with (I think) a Christmassy twist that uses gluten-free flour, polenta as a gluten-free substitute for the semolina which gives it crunch and a combination of dairy-free margarine and vegetable shortening in place of the butter (as I felt the margarine on its own would not have provided the shortness you’d get with butter). I’d read that those fats would provide a rather less enjoyable flavour than butter, hence the inclusion of my Christmassy flavourings, which, at a different time of year, could be substituted with something else, such as lemon zest or lavender.

Spiced Satsuma Shortbread

225g/8oz gluten-free flour (I used Dove’s Farm)
100g/4oz caster sugar
100g/4oz dairy-free margarine (I used Pure)
100g/4oz vegetable shortening (I used Trex)
50g/2oz polenta
50g/2oz cornflour
Grated zest of 2 satsumas (and possibly the juice of 1)
Ground cinnamon and cloves, to taste (I used about 1tsp cinnamon and a pinch of cloves)
25g/1oz Demerara sugar

1.Grease a tray bake tin of about 30x23x4cm/12x9x1.5″ and line the base with a sheet of foil if you are worried about marking it with a knife. Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/G3. (In the Over-Zealous Oven I do it at 140C, this may be a good guideline for fan ovens in general but you know your own oven!)

2.Rub the flour into the margarine and shortening, then add the other ingredients and work together to form a ball of dough, or process everything together in a food processor.

If it’s not coming together add the juice of one of the satsumas (more likely with gf flour as it requires more liquid).

3.Press the dough into the tin and spread it as evenly as possible. Sprinkle the top with Demerara sugar.

4. Bake for 30-40 minutes until pale golden and cooked through. Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then cut into about 30 fingers. Lift out and finish cooling on a rack. I do recommend you try at least one warm, as there’s nothing to beat the delicious crumbliness of fresh shortbread straight from the tin!

There are no photos of these at present (another casualty of my bleak mood, I’m afraid), but in appearance they are not so different from ordinary shortbread. Everyone seems to have enjoyed them and I had a lovely email from one teacher (the dairy-free one) to thank us for considering her.

I’ve also had a couple of goes at 2-ingredient fudge from Beth Woolsey’s blog. I was skeptical about fudge you made in the microwave but I’ve now tried it twice (once with whisky and once with crushed candy canes) and it really is as good as she claims and useful for handing out to delivery people over the festive season!

Do share your Christmas cooking discoveries with me, I’m always on the lookout for new ideas!

Thankful for

The readings and the friends that sustained me through the busy, difficult weeks

The chance for a big rest for all of us!

Hearing my girls playing together and having the chance to “just be”

The sunshine in between the abundance of grey weather

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Spring things

Despite the fact that I dreamed last night that it had snowed (which for some could be a dream and for others a nightmare, and I am firmly in the nightmare camp), it seems that spring has finally arrived in the UK. Apparently we’ve experienced one of the driest Aprils for some time and are even in danger of facing a drought. (Those of us who remember what happened after they said this last year will now be starting to laugh, partly at the irony and partly with a certain amount of nervous hysteria).

But to look on the bright side, I was able yesterday to hang out my first load of washing this year (our garden is to the north of the house and gets very little sun so line-drying is a difficulty) and was out in town at 9pm after a rehearsal, wearing cropped jeans, Crocs and a sweatshirt. And as the temperature climbs, albeit slightly at the moment, we’re able to contemplate a different menu.

I love my slow cooker and throughout the winter it’s frequently pressed into service producing soups and stews to warm us after a busy day or coming in from church. But the rest of the year it doesn’t really see much action and I’ve been thinking recently what a waste that is. On Wednesday I experimented with a more spring-like recipe which went well, so I thought I’d share it with you.

Leek and Lemon Chicken with Tarragon Dumplings

Serves 2 adults and 2 children (approx – I was actually cooking for a small woman, a normal sized man and a tallish guy in his 20s for whom I’m always worried I’ve not made enough food!)

1 pack of chicken thighs and drumsticks (the ones I buy contain 2 of each so that’s what I’m assuming)

1 lemon, quartered

3 leeks

about half a head of celery (I was improvising this recipe so I didn’t take exact note – when it was chopped there was about the same amount of celery and leek)

For the dumplings (optional):
4 oz self raising flour

2 oz shredded suet (I always use vegetable)

A pinch of salt

1 tbsp dried tarragon

4ish tbsp water

Brown the chicken pieces and the quartered lemon quickly in a pan and then arrange at the bottom of the casserole dish.

Rinse the celery and chop into 2 inch lengths. Arrange in a layer on top of the chicken and lemon.

Trim the leeks and chop into 2 inch lengths, then halve them longways before washing thoroughly in a colander. Arrange these in a further layer on top of the celery.

Put on the lid and set the slow cooker to Auto. I cooked mine for about 8 hours but you could do it for longer.

About an hour before you want to eat, mix the flour, suet, salt and tarragon in a bowl and add water little by little until it all comes together, then shape it into 8 dumplings with your hands. If you add too much water and it’s too sticky, sprinkle in some more flour to make it manageable.

Arrange the dumplings on top of your casserole. At this point I like to scoop some of the liquid round them so it flavours them a little and the excess flour adds to the sauce (in this case the sauce is a thin broth but very tasty!). Replace the lid and turn up to High for 30-45 minutes.

Serve alone or with boiled rice, depending on how hungry you are!

You could no doubt make this in the oven too but you’d (obviously) need to reduce the cooking time and add some liquid – chicken stock would be fine, or a light white wine, or even just water – and keep an eye on it. After many years of making stews in the oven it took me a long time to accept that slow cookers do not need liquid as the ingredients produce enough themselves!

 

My other Spring Thing is a recommendation. Having lost a significant amount of weight before Christmas, I’ve realised recently that I’ve adopted a bit of an unhealthy mindset when it comes to diet and exercise. Obviously, I want to maintain my new weight, but the pressure always to do a little bit more, to lose a little bit more, to feel guilty if I’m not exercising (even when the exercise would be aggravating a medical problem) or if I’m having any kind of treat, had got a bit out of hand and I’ve been taking steps to get back to normal. One thing that’s helped is a feature in the June issue of Good Housekeeping magazine, called Be happy, not perfect and contains a list of tips for becoming more content with a slightly imperfect body. Amongst other things, it reassured me that my weight and shape is fine (a woman with a waist measurement of less than 31.5″ coupled with a BMI under 25 is a healthy size) and that it’s OK to use miracle swimwear if you’re not sure you have a “bikini body”, and advised the consumption of Greek yogurt and green tea to help trim the waist and belly (it’s the calcium and the catechins that do it, apparently).

I decided to try this and immediately added Greek yogurt to my weekly Tesco order. I intended to order some green tea bags too, but first checked my tea and coffee cupboard and found the samples I’d guessed might be there (whenever we receive sachets of tea, coffee, etc from supermarket promotions or as gifts with orders of something else, they go in the cupboard and get forgotten)! I spent the next couple of days trialling various different green tea brands and concluded that one was infinitely better.

Teapigs produce a variety of teas which are for sale online and in some stores. Their difference from other brands is that they use whole leaves, housed in a large, pyramid-shaped bag (sort of like putting leaf tea into one of those dangly metal ball things, but without the faff!) which they call a “tea temple”. The green tea sample I had (which I think came from Joules a while ago) tasted fresh and cleansing, unlike most of the others which were quite bitter. I lost no time in ordering a pack from their website, which is very easy to use. As I usually do when placing an online order, I googled round for any promotional codes which might be running, and found one for 15% off. On typing it in I noticed that it registered at the checkout as “15% off for bloggers”, so I decided the best thing to do in return for the discount was to share with you my enjoyment of the tea and my experience of ordering from them.

The order was placed on Sunday afternoon and by Wednesday lunchtime my tea had arrived. In the intervening time I had received plenty of contact on how my order was progressing, so I felt very up to date. The delivery charge of £3.50 seemed a lot for a packet of tea, but it was sent by Royal Mail Tracked which meant that they, too, contacted me about my delivery and I knew the exact date it was arriving.

The parcel included a sample of their peppermint tea and a couple of leaflets about their products. I was also glad to read extensively on their website about their ethical commitment, both to the environment and to the social development of the areas in which the tea is sourced. This reassures me and gives me confidence in the brand.

I’ll definitely be buying more tea from Teapigs (I’m investigating their local stockists to see what their ranges are like!) – I don’t know if anyone will ever tempt me away from Twining’s English Breakfast, but I’m certainly a fully-fledged fan of their Mao Feng green now!

Thankful for…

The continuing spring weather

Rehearsals for upcoming choral events

Time with good friends

A chance to rest and recharge today

A good laugh

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A break, a recipe and a tip (and lots of links!)

Well – it’s been a while!

Since my last post life has been super busy – the Easter holidays descended upon us and we found lots of ways to fill them.  We:

  • Ate chocolate
  • Went shopping*
  • Visited a museum*
  • Saw my parents, who came to Northumberland for a holiday
  • Ate scones (supplied by my parents and procured from a lovely bakery in their hometown)
  • Travelled first class on the train (well, I did – it was FAB!)
  • Bought second hand books
  • Watched DVDs
  • Washed all the duvets and pillows (well, again, that was just me but it was a useful job to get done while the Bookworm & Butterfly were away staying at their grandparents’ holiday apartment!)
  • Baked cupcakes
  • Learned to pipe buttercream from a piping bag (me)
  • Immediately passed on that new-found knowledge to several other women who attended our church’s ladies’ evening at the end of the holidays (me again)

*These two activities were undertaken in the company of my elderly and very deaf grandmother who was visiting for a few days, which made them equally more hilarious, more frustrating and more exhausting.  The anecdotes from her visit are becoming more humorous the more times they are told, so eventually I might believe we had a good time, despite the various nocturnal escapades and the 2-day migraine I suffered following her departure!

So, you can see that all that left me very little time to blog (I won’t mention the squandered minutes on a silly but addictive SIMS-style game I discovered on my phone).  Also, I didn’t really feel I had that much to say, so I took a break during the break (that would obviously work much better if we called it Spring Break, as someone tried to introduce a few years ago when we had an Easter holiday which didn’t include Easter, but clearly more people didn’t like that than did as it’s never been repeated, no matter how early or late the festival).

Now that we’re back into term-time again, my usual cycle of group meetings has resumed, as has the baking that goes with them.  This last week I discovered a new recipe which I thought I’d share.  A few weeks ago, when ordering my weekly online grocery shop, I discovered that several baking products (about 80 pages’ worth, in fact) were on a 3-for-2 offer.  Now I needed a couple of boxes of flour, but I couldn’t see anything else on the list that I was really short of, so I ended up choosing a jar of cherries in Kirsch as my third item.  Having them in the cupboard I then decided that perhaps a sort of Black Forest recipe was in order, so I searched for something suitable online.  I came across this one which, according to the submitter, comes from America.

Obviously my ingredients were slightly different, as I was using cherries in Kirsch (it did occur to me after I’d mixed it just how much more alcohol I’d used than the original recipe, having made the cherry purée with the Kirsch, in addition to what was in the cherries and the 60ml I used as the cherry brandy ingredient, but there is no noticeable taste!), but apart from that I followed everything closely.  I was surprised just how watery the liquid ingredients became when I’d mixed them in the pan, and then with just 4 tbsp dry ingredients and an egg obviously the resultant batter was still quite runny (I wished I’d made it in my big jug-bowl so’s it would be easier to get into the cupcake cases, but the scrudle I got in my Christmas stocking sufficed to transfer scoops of it without too much mess!).  You’ll notice (and one of the reviews points out) that there is no instruction for the halved cherries.  I decided not to go along with Southern Daddy’s suggestion that “set aside” implied “for later consumption” and mixed them into the batter last of all, which seemed to work OK – most of the cupcakes had at least one cherry half baked into it.

Unfortunately, because I was referring to my phone for the recipe, I missed the instruction to fill the cases right to the top (and the reassurance that the cakes hardly rise at all) and ended up throwing away some of the mixture, but the cakes came out big enough anyway.  I tasted one to check alcohol levels and consistency and found it delicious – I disagree with the review which calls it “claggy” and whole-heartedly agree with the other one which calls it “moist and dense”, which would be exactly the words I’d use.  Not cakey like a British cake, but then it’s not a British cake and given the ingredients we shouldn’t expect one.

There is no instruction about topping the cakes, which I think is essential for a cupcake (I don’t know what the technical difference is between a cupcake and a muffin, but for me a cupcake should be decorated in some way, whereas a muffin should be unadulterated, or at most – in the case of a fruit muffin – have a light dusting of sugar added to caramelise during baking).  I decided that anything bearing the name “Black Forest” really ought to involve whipped cream and resolved to pipe a swirl on top of each cake to keep my hand in now that I’ve learned.

[Random learning to pipe story, for those interested: I was asked to run the “cupcake stall” at the ladies’ evening, you see, which involved anyone who wanted to piping buttercream – or having it piped – in their chosen flavour, adding decorations and taking home their finished cupcake in an individual gift box.  The only drawback was that I’d never piped buttercream before.  After an unsuccessful rehearsal that afternoon, this video popped quite by chance into my Facebook feed.  I watched avidly – twice through – and then proceeded to go off and do it many times over that evening! Amazing!]

I bought my cream and then began to worry.  Could you pipe whipped cream?  Was it difficult?  Could you, in fact, only do it out of one of those gas-canister contraptions which allow you to make your own “squirt-squirt” (as we used to call it)?  My panicked online searching revealed that the answers were yessometimes and no – but that whipped cream can only hold its own shape for a certain length of time, which is longer or shorter depending on the temperature and humidity of the day.  To counteract this problem, the cream needs to be stabilised, as is done by bakers, confectioners and caterers, by one of various methods.  Gelatin can be whisked into the cream, but it can’t be hot as it would normally be, so needs to be “bloomed” which sounded complicated.  Cornflour can be used, but sometimes gives the cream a grainy texture.  Icing sugar can be added if you don’t mind your cream being sweetened, but having coated my kitchen in a fine layer of white dust the previous week, I was keen to try and avoid it if I could.  I’m not a fan of icing sugar.  I can appreciate the purpose it serves, but honestly!  The mess!  You’d have thought someone would have come up with something better by now!

And then I found another stabilising method.  It’s so easy I’m amazed that anyone bothers with any of the others:

You take large marshmallows – one per cup of cream to be whipped (a 300ml pot is between 1 and 2 cups, so I used 2 marshmallows).

You whip your cream to soft peaks.

You put your marshmallows in a little bowl in the microwave and heat on full power for 5 seconds at a time until they start to inflate.

You stir the marshmallows and scrape the resultant viscous liquid into the cream.

You continue to whip the cream to stiff.

And that’s it!  You can’t even tell that the marshmallow is in there – honest!  It looks and tastes like whipped cream and, once piped, mine stayed in exactly the same position and shape for over 24 hours, sitting in the fridge in a plastic container, sitting out on a counter in a warm room, being lifted in and out of my car and carried in a box, bumping against my leg, on the mile’s journey home from school.

Here is one after enduring all of that, about 27 hours after I piped it (the chocolate is just a small amount of Green and Black’s Creamy Milk, chopped into shards with a sharp knife).

Black Forest Cupcake

Thankful for…

Time to be refreshed

Family

The excitement of summer plans

The improving weather

A Krispy Kreme doughnut with my lunch!

Some clarity about what’s important in life, and what’s not

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SnickerWHAT?

You might not expect a recipe post to be Jane Austen-related, but this one is.  Sort of, anyway.  Because since I’ve started watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries I’ve started to hear the word snickerdoodle all the time*.  Episode 48 bears the word as its title, and they’ve been referred to a few times since then.  And then I started hearing it in other places, too – The Big Bang Theory, for example – and in the end I decided I needed to know not only what they were (Jane refers to them as “cookies” in episode 47, so I had a bit of a clue), but what they tasted like.

To this end I hot-footed it to my go-to baking blog for American recipes, smitten kitchen.  It was here that I discovered the wonderful pumpkin muffins, amongst other delights, so I was confident that I’d find what I was looking for, and sure enough, there it was!  Now, I know this sounds ridiculous, especially when you click on the link and see the picture right there under the title, but I was using my phone and eager to get the recipe to add to my shopping list, and I actually managed not to look at any of the photos.  So I still had no idea what snickerdoodles looked like.  You’ll see why I’m telling you this in a minute.

The ingredients are fairly standard and I had them almost all in, but to the best of my knowledge I had never used cream of tartar in my life before, so Southern Daddy popped out to ASDA to procure me some.  Once he was back, I set off.

DoughI prepared the dough by creaming the butter and sugar, beating in the eggs one at a time and then adding the dry ingredients (I have to confess to having stopped sifting flour etc when it is destined to be beaten, after hearing Michel Roux and Mary Berry agreeing that it’s  an unnecessary hassle if you’re going to knock all the air back out of your carefully sifted mixture with a whisk).  I then took the tip of chilling the mixture in the fridge for an hour to make it easier to form into balls for the next stage.  Having read all the information about ice-cream scoops and their numbered sizes, and discovered a helpful Wikipedia page on the subject (who’d have guessed there were so many? – I’d really like to see a number 6!) I concluded that whether or not my ice-cream scoop was the right size, it was not the right kind, having no device for the easy removal of the contents, and I therefore decided to use a spoon.Photo 4

As directed, I took spoonfuls of the mixture and rolled them between my hands to form small balls, which I then rolled in the cinnamon sugar until they were well coated, and then arranged them on the tray.  I thought they resembled tiny little doughnuts, and as I slid them into the oven and set the timer I envisaged delicious little bites of crispy, sugary doughnut. (Yes, OK, I know they’re referred to as cookies, but loads of things are, of all shapes and sizes…)Photo 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine my shock when I opened the door 5 minutes later to rotate the tray and discovered my lovely little morsels had apparently MELTED!

Photo 6

(On that first occasion, which wasn’t the one I photographed, my balls of dough were also too big/not far enough apart/both and so had melded, as well as melted.  They were easily separated cooling, however, and tasted just as good).

Anyway a quick google during the snickerdoodles’ second 5-minute blast reassured me that this was, in fact, their intended shape, and we had devoured almost a whole tray of hot cookies approximately 15 minutes later.

They are gooood!  Especially if you’re someone who likes cinnamon, which until recently I thought was the entire population of the world, until I discovered that a friend of mine who visited yesterday whilst I was making them can’t stand it, and that it also makes her sneeze repeatedly.  Strange.  Fortunately for me she’s on a diet so I didn’t have to be concerned for long over the fact that I had nothing to feed her on.  But generally I feel that this quotation from Jerry Seinfeld is pretty spot on:

Cinnamon. It should be on tables in restaurants along with salt and pepper. Anytime someone says, “Ooh, this is so good – what’s in this?” the answer invariably comes back, “cinnamon.” Cinnamon. Again and again.

Initially they are very airy (“deceptively light”, as another friend – this time more pro-cinnamon – described them yesterday) and put me in mind of the cake/biscuit part of a Jaffa Cake (I remember hearing a lot about that cake vs biscuit VAT debate but never any definitive outcome).  After 24 hours in a tin they are just as delicious, just as more-ish, but slightly more sunken and chewy in a cookie-like way.

When I introduce people to them, the first response is usually “SnickerWHAT?” followed closely by “So they’re made out of Snickers, then?” (which is what I’d envisaged myself before I saw the recipe).  Try as I might, I can’t find a definitive etymology for the name – some people seem to think they’re German or Dutch in origin, from a word describing a snail, whereas others believe it’s a name from folk tales.  Still others just think it’s one of those silly words people make up to describe a new recipe.  But whatever their origins, most people seem to agree that they’re a favourite once you’ve tasted them.

The only thing is, I can’t seem to stop wondering about crispy little spheres of doughnut, coated in cinnamon and sugar – I might have to investigate that idea further…

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*Not in a weird, need-to-see-a-psychiatrist sort of way – I just mean it seems to be mentioned quite a bit.

Thankful for…

Better weather – hurrah! Despite the frost this morning and the fact my feet are quite cold now, it seems spring might be on the way.

Our boiler, which broke down on Friday night, was able to be fixed very quickly and we now have information about getting a new one without a lot of expense.

I am really, really enjoying following the Confident Mom planner and her other tips and advice are working for me too.

Alice’s latest post on combating the judgemental, perfectionist side of ourselves which makes us feel perpetually inadequate, and also for the Better Voice itself.

My continued involvement in my daughters’ school.

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Christmas greetings

So – I meant to post yesterday but, as Christmas Eve is a real day of preparation for me and I had hardly any spare time until we collapsed on the sofa to watch The Polar Express just before the girls’ bedtime, I didn’t get round to it. So I’ve stolen a few moments whilst everyone watches the last bit of Strictly to wish you a happy Christmas and share some foody thoughts with you.

So, we made it to the end of term, despite viruses (viri?), bad weather and tiredness. I was especially pleased with the way the teachers’ presents turned out this year – I was given a new run truffle recipe by a friend which is cheaper to make on a large scale (using cocoa and syrup instead of chocolate), have a longer shelf life and, although different in texture from my other recipe, was very well received!

Melt 1.5oz butter, 1tbsp syrup, 1tbsp milk and 1tbsp rum together in a pan. Then remove from the heat and mix into 6oz icing sugar and 1oz cocoa. Once they are combined, beat hard for a few minutes and then allow the mixture to set a little in the fridge. Scoop out small amounts and roll into balls, then coat in chocolate strands and refrigerate again to firm up. They’ll keep in a sealed container in the fridge for a few weeks (if they’re around that long!)

I bought some little boxes in Lakeland (intended for baking and presenting cakes but equally good for sweets etc) and piled in my truffles – some coated in chocolate strands and some in gold lustre dust – and then put them in a cellophane bag. When I tied on the ribbon I also added the Christmas tree decoration the girls had chosen for each teacher.

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For the Sunday school teachers I found some gorgeous little boxes. I can’t link to them as they’re a discontinued product, which is a bit of a shame as they’re really cute and I hope there’s something similar next year. They’re designed for presenting a single cupcake or other small gift, so I chose cookies as I thought they’d go better in the boxes than the truffles. I used Cherry Menlove’s White Chocolate and Cranberry Cookies recipe, but made smaller cookies to fit into the boxes by using a teaspoon of mixture instead of the golf ball directed in the recipe and a shorter cooking time (I estimated 10 minutes but in fact in the O Z O it took 7!). This way, instead of the two dozen large cookies the recipe yielded a whopping EIGHTY small cookies of a regular biscuit size. I am therefore giving them away to anyone who comes nearby!

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The problem of what to give our small army of window cleaners was solved when Southern Daddy answered the door to the Chief Window Cleaner guy and paid him the regular rate! If they come back this week they’ll get cookies. All the other service providers have had truffles, apart from the bin men who once again had to go without on the grounds that we’re invariably either still asleep or out of the house when they come round.

So finally we reached Christmas Eve. Despite planning pretty much the same Christmas Dinner as last year, I made a few changes to my preparation as I decided to have a go at my own stuffing and made Delia Smith’s Eighteenth Century Chestnut Stuffing (a doddle, apart from chopping the chestnuts which is boring and takes ages – I kept reminding myself how much worse it would be if I’d had to peel them too!) in addition to the gravy stock and the cranberry sauce.

I also departed from my usual habit and, inspired by Mary Berry on the Great British Bake Off Christmas programme, made royal icing for my Christmas cake instead of the usual sugarpaste. What a boon that turned out to be! Firstly you don’t have to get your marzipan smooth and most importantly you don’t have to worry about rolling, ripping or unevenness. I intended to use Mary’s own recipe from the show, but as that was online and Delia Smith’s recipe was in my book in the kitchen I began using that. I mixed the egg white and icing sugar and then beat the mixture on the top setting of the electric mixer for AGES but without success. I then reverted to Mary Berry’s recipe, whereupon everything started to come together. It turned out that if you use pasteurised egg whites, as I was, it takes much longer to get to the stiff-peak stage and one website even went so far as to say lemon juice must be added to achieve the stiff peaks at all. My icing made, I anointed the marzipan with vodka and spread the mixture over my cake – taking about 2% of the time I usually do to ice a cake – and added my new decorations (as we’re not a traditional “snow scene” household we had to get decorations but I found some suitably retro ones in Lakeland!). Later, when the icing was set, I finished it off with a ribbon.

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So, that’s all I have to tell you, really! Today was lots of fun, from the annual panic that the turkey won’t be in the oven soon enough to turn the temperature down before we went to church, to the carols and quizzes at church and the presents and food and family games (Bananagrams!) back at home! I’ll sign off here for 2012 and settle down to listen to the last ever episode of Bleak Expectations.

Happy Christmas, all of you. See you in the New Year!

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Recipe: Spicy autumn vegetable soup

I totally forgot to tell you what I did with the rest of the butternut squash!

Once I’d finished boiling, mashing and singeing the bits I wanted for the ersatz pumpkin muffins, I made soup.  It was something I made up as I went along but I thought I’d record the recipe in case I or anyone else wanted to replicate it.

  • approx 3/4 of a butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks (if you’re not making muffins, you could probably just use the whole squash!)
  • 4 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 tsp each ground ginger, coriander and cumin
  • 1 pint vegetable stock

Put all the veg into a large pan and heat gently without adding any butter or oil (if you don’t care about fat content then you could add some, but this was for me and my friend who’s on a pancreatic diet, and it tastes great without fat!)

Once the vegetables start to heat, stir in the spices.  Stir in extra ginger because it all came out suddenly  if you want it nice and spicy.

When the vegetables are coated with the ground spices and the heated spices are smelling… well, spicy, add the stock.

Refill the jug you measured the stock in with boiling water and add until the vegetables are well-covered (I used about 1/4 pint).

Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Blend to smooth.

Serve with warm crusty bread.  I’m currently getting through a lot of Weight Watchers Petits Pains.

You can add fromage frais/yogurt/cream/whatever you like before serving – in fact you can put more or different spices or vegetables in, depending on what you like.  Chopped chilli might be quite nice on a cold day.  But that’s how we ate it and we both really enjoyed it.  There was one portion left over which I have put up for Southern Daddy’s lunch tomorrow.

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Considerate baking

I have long experience of cooking and baking for those with particular dietary requirements.  A good friend of ours has grown up with a deadly peanut and almond allergy, which has, on occasions, seen him fighting for breath on his way to hospital in a severe state of anaphylactic shock (things have improved slightly since his marriage, as his wife is more diligent about carrying an EpiPen in her handbag, to guard against such emergency journeys).  This sort of allergy can be inherited genetically – and, inconveniently, can appear worse or differently in different people –  and so each of their four children has had to be kept away from nuts and seeds in general, along with their “traces”, until such time as they are old enough to be medically tested for allergies of all kinds.

The Bookworm has a reaction to pineapple or kiwi (and other, more indeterminate, food substances) which causes a red rash on her face.  We’ve been told it’s not life-threatening and that she might grow out of it, and thankfully they are easy foodstuffs to avoid (apart from the ones we don’t really know about, but we’re narrowing it down!).  Another friend has Coeliac disease and can’t eat gluten.  My brother-in-law was diagnosed a couple of years ago as whey-intolerant, which means he has to avoid dairy foods (even those such as buttermilk and some cheeses, which many lactose-intolerant people can manage to eat because of the manufacturing processes which break down that particular sugar). As my sister is vegetarian, and they have two small children, you can imagine how much planning goes into meals at their house!

All of these present challenges in baking, but they are pretty surmountable, provided one is careful in checking ingredients labels and being aware of substitutes (excellent muffins, for example, can be made with oil instead of butter or margarine and water or juice instead of milk, if you don’t want to invest in a dairy-free version).  But I have never been more stumped than when faced with the prospect of entertaining someone who cannot eat eggs or dairy, as is the case with several of my friends’ children (it seems to be a growing childhood problem, although most become able to eat both as they get older).  As I’ve said, I’ve done dairy-free many times, and it’s a useful baking fact that milk can be substituted for eggs (this came in handy during the war, I believe, and there’s a very good recipe here from the queen of wartime cookery, Marguerite Patten.  I’ve made it before when I’ve been out of eggs, although it does kind of rely on your being the sort of household which has golden syrup constantly in stock!).

But how does it work if both eggs and milk/butter/etc are off the cards?  The answer is to ask a vegan, or someone who does a lot of vegan cooking.  Last year, when I was expecting a visit from one of my friends whose little boy is egg- and dairy-free, I consulted a Twitter “friend”, Julie, known as @bohomumma.  She very kindly shared a recipe with me which I was able to make for my friend and her family.

The recipe calls for a rectangular tin, although I made it in two round 7″ sandwich tins without trouble.

This is the recipe, exactly as she sent it to me:

Makes one 20x30cm (8 x12 in) rectangle cake

175 g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
125g veg marg
125g light brown sugar
150ml soy milk or rice milk (I use rice dream – get it at tesco or sains in the longlife milk bit)

Preheat oven to 180 line cake tin

Cream marg & sugar. Sift flour & baking powder together. Then add sifted ingredients alternately with milk. If goes lumpy beat well til smooths out. (It is pretty runny compared to normal cake mix). Pour into cake tin & bake – book says for 20 mins but I usually find takes at least 10 mins longer – I just do til golden & sponge springs back when press down (sometimes turn down to 150 for additional time)

When I first made this cake I was amazed at how flat it turned out!  I thought I must have done something wrong.  It didn’t rise at all and looked rather unappetising, as I’ve plenty experience of what a cake that flat is like inside.  I put it in a tin and had another go, this time being very careful to include every tip I’ve ever learned for ensuring a good rise – only using metal spoons, cutting and folding rather than mixing and stirring, etc – but to no avail!  The two cakes turned out as flat as the previous pair.  To make the best of a bad situation I used all four of the layers, sandwiched together with plenty of strawberry jam, and kept my fingers crossed about the taste.

We were very surprised at how moist and tasty it was.  It’s kind of like making brownies in that it’s just a completely different kind of cake, with a different texture and appearance.  Once you get past the idea that flat = dry and tasteless, you’ll be a lot better off!

Next weekend the same friends are coming again, on their way up to Northumberland for a holiday, and I thought I’d make another recipe which Julie sent me at the same time: Honey Spelt Biscuits, which are actually suitable for those who can’t have egg, dairy or wheat*!  I was assured, however, that they taste good even if you haven’t got a dietary restriction.  As I can’t eat any myself yet (with a different kind of dietary restriction, for weight-loss-related reasons) and therefore can’t adopt my usual method of trying before I serve, I used my Bible study group as guinea pigs today!  They all said they enjoyed them and that they have a lovely flavour, although Southern Daddy (who was around too, working from home) suggested they would probably be best served with a drink as they are slightly dry – presumably because of the spelt flour, which resembles whole wheat flour in appearance and texture, so I suppose has a similar composition in terms of the parts of the grain it contains.

Here is the recipe:

200 g spelt flour

1 tsp of baking powder

1 tsp of cinnamon

100g honey

100g sunflower oil

Mix all, put teaspoons of mix on baking sheet with room around to expand, bake in preheated oven @ 190c for 8 mins/til golden

I planned to make a batch today, to feed to my Bible Study today and mosaic friends tomorrow, but on mixing the first batch I found that the quantity was not great and when I spooned it out resulted in 15 golf-ball sized scoops on the trays, so I decided to make up another batch just in case.  For reasons of mess space availability I was only able to fill one tray at a time, so the first tray went into the oven on its own (NB I oiled the tray, despite its not being instructed in the recipe, and I’m glad I did – my trays are honeycomb finished non-stick and the biscuits still stuck slightly).

I’d expected my golf balls to spread out in the same way cookies do, but when I removed them they had only expanded slightly and looked more the shape of the Viennese shell biscuits you sandwich together with buttercream.  I don’t know if this is meant to happen but I did wonder if it was because I’d used set honey, because it was what we had in, rather than the runny honey usually called for in baking.  So for the subsequent 3 trays I spread the mixture out slightly with a spoon, pressing it down into a vaguely circular shape, and this seemed to work better.

Other tweaks that I made to the recipe were to turn the temperature only to 170 C (the standard 20 degree drop for a fan oven) and to leave the first couple of batches in for 10 minutes, rather than 8, for them to get nicely golden.  As is the way with the Over-Zealous Oven, however, by the time I was ready to cook the last batch they only took 8 minutes because everything was a bit hotter (wonder if I should get that thermostat checked!)  By the way, the biscuits are soft when you take them out, and crisp up as they cool, so let the colour be your guide!

These biscuits are really easy and would be good to make with children.

A little tip about measuring the honey and the oil: if you put a small bowl on your scales and weigh that, then add the 100g of honey, that’s the easiest way.  Add as much of the honey as will come out into the main bowl with the dry ingredients, then put the small bowl back on the scales and weigh out the 100g of oil.  When you tip the oil into the main bowl you should find the remainder of the honey can be scooped out much more easily with the help of a spatula.

If you’d like to read more about spelt as a substitute for wheat in baking and cooking, I found these pages interesting: Baking Bites, BBC Food, Wikipedia.

Photos to follow at the weekend when I make more biscuits… it was a hectic morning and I completely forgot I was blogging the recipe!

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*N.B. Spelt is not suitable for those on a strictly gluten free diet (e.g. Coeliac patients) as it still contains gluten; however, the protein is easier to digest and can therefore be eaten by those with a wheat intolerance.  If you are looking for gluten free flour, Dove’s Farm, whose spelt flour I bought, also offers a range of gluten-free options.

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