I came home the other night to discover that the book fairies had been and left a parcel under the wheelbarrow. I had been muttering about buying the Toddler the collection of “Harry and his Bucket full of Dinosaurs” books from the Book People and had been persuaded by my Mum to order them direct as she wanted to get my nephew the same books and “oh, I saw a cookbook there I thought you might like, could you get that too”.

I had spotted that the Leon cookbook is being sold at a discount by the Book People and I had been planning on getting it and reading it on the quiet. You see I am not supposed to be buying anymore cook books until we are solvent again (which is why I keep having to renew the Ottolenghi book I have on loan from the library).

Anyway, it has arrived. I have handed it over to Mum and now have to wait until Christmas before I can peruse it. I did sneak a peak though and it looks fantastic. The book is divided up into 2 halves. The first half is a sort of introduction or guidance to ingredients, when they are in season, varieties, cuts of meat written in an informative but chatty style. The second half is recipes, primarily for food served in the restaurant but with additions from members of staff who were asked to contribute recipes which had meaning for them.

The book itself is beautifully designed and I’m not sure I would actually want to cook from it in the kitchen and risk it getting into the usual splattered state of all my other well used volumes. The only complaint I do have is just a general one about Allegra Mcevedy’s recipes which do tend to have a long list of ingredients

Anyway only another 57 days until Christmas. In the meantime if I need a dose of Allegra there is always the Guardian’s website once a week. The library unfortunately only has The Good Cook

Are pre-school children scarier than being in debt ?

I received a very expensive hug from Toddler this morning. He was overenthusiastic and uncontrolled, his arm hit my eye and PING out went my contact lens to the further reaches of the bedroom. Twenty minutes of searching and nothing, left Husband carrying out a fingertip search of the bedroom, and I was late for work.


That horrid constricted feeling is back in my gut. It’s not the money though. Yes getting the car fixed did cost more than initially anticipated, (much much more L). But I had this feeling on Sunday night and didn’t know about the car until Monday morning.  So either I am allergic to beer (unlikely, as I split a bottle of Bombadier with Husband Sunday night), or…the thought of having a Halloween party for small children is haunting me !


My nice neighbour, the Flapjack Queen reassures me that its going to be a small affair.  Food does not need to be elaborate as after all 3 year olds are not as harsh critics as 4 year olds. So the menu is biscuits cut in Halloween designs, orange jelly pumpkins, sandwitches, crisps, melon monster eyeballs, possibly pizza and the monster cake, by special request from Toddler who remembers it from last year… may need to be a bit creative as can’t find the lollipops. M&S only have chocolate lollipops, John Lewis has some great characters on top of rice crispy clusters but at £1.50 a pop, so that’s not an option.


Still have that tense feeling…I think its fear of letting the Toddler down…his Mummy is making a cake for his friends…can I measure up to his requirements ?

Birthday Party: Small numbers are best…

I have had a lovely day (saturday). I was invited to a birthday party by a young man… OK Toddler was and I was just the chauffeur. But I made a new friend and Toddler had fun.

I have also agreed to help with a Halloween party which is no big hardship as I love Halloween, especially as I bagsied the helping with the food… anyway, in expectation of a cake overload at the end of the week I give you, meatballs ! The other week a friend came for dinner, and despite serving her the apple cake mentioned below, which has had the most hits so far on this site, our friend would like the meatballs recipe…

These meatballs are from the Ottolenghi cookbook. Below is the recipe as stated in the cookbook. However, the variation today used coriander instead of parsley as that is still alive in the herb bed. Turkey mince was replaced by chicken breasts as they were left over from yesterdays stir fry (had to add an extra slice of bread as the mix was too runny due to blitzing the chicken breasts in the food processor).

Other changes are that I didn’t do the red pepper sauce as the family won’t eat chili. I didn’t oven cook the meatballs either as I dropped them in a home made tomato sauce that I made, to cook until ready (onions, passata and a spoonful of Rals el hamout or whatever its called)…oh and we served it over rice. I made 2 thirds recipe as there were only 2.5 of us for tea and only 300g of chicken leftover from yesterday.


100g sweetcorn kernels (fresh, frozen or tinned)

3 slices stale white bread (crusts removed)

500g turkey mince

1 egg

4 spring onions

2 tbsp finely chopped parsley

2.5 tsp ground cumin

1.5 tsp salt

1/5 tsp black pepper

1 garlic clove, crushed

sunflower oil

If you want the sauce also

4 red peppers

3 tbs olive oil

1tsp salt

25g coriander leaves and stalks

1 garlic clove peeled

1 small mild chili, deseeded

2tbs sweet chili sauce

2tbsp cider or white wine vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 200 deg c. Quarter peppers with a knife, shave off white parts and seeds. Put in roasting tin. Toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and .5 teaspoon salt. Roast in oven for 35 minutes or until soft. Transfer peppers to bowl. cover with clingfilm. Once cooled. Peel peppers. Place in blender with roasting juices and remains of sauce ingredients. Process. Add more salt if necessary. set aside.

2. Place corn kernels in non stick frying pan. Toss them for 2-3 minutes until blackened. Remove and leave to cool.

3. Soak bread in cold water for a minute then squeeze well and crumble into a large bowl. Add the rest of the meatball ingredients except the sunflower oil. Mix well

4 Roll mince into small teaspoon size meatballs. Fry 5mm of oil in frying pan. Fry the meatballs in small batches. Fry until meatballs are golden brown. Transfer to an oven tray. Place in the oven and cook for about 5 minutes. Serve hot or warm with pepper sauce on the side.

We had this over rice, which I just can’t seem to cook properly at the moment without it going stodgy.

Toddler and I have had another chat about the importance of letting Mummy have at least one lie in per week, especially this sunday morning if no other…

My crimes against cooking: Allegations of Bad taste

Woke up in a bit of a grump this morning. The Toddler came into our room at an early hour demanding company and then started accusing me of waking him up ! So to cheer myself up on the journey into work I started remembering past times in the kitchen – but got distracted by memories of culinary experiments, some of which were quite funny, which at least made me giggle and got me into a better mood.

As mentioned I do have Form for slightly eccentric cooking. Show me a recipe with unusual ingredients and I find it hard to resist the temptation to try it.

The charge sheet

Minty Pea Pops (from The Toddler Cafe) – these are meant to be ice lollies made of cream cheese, chocolate drops, pureed peas and peppermint essence. These were not a success, the Teenager now, after having experienced these, asks me everytime I offer him cake or something he hasn’t tried before asks “It hasn’t got peas in it has it ?”. Toddler was not impressed either, and he loves peas. I tell myself that his rejection was based on his dislike of mint (insists on strawberry or banana toothpaste, boy will he have problems cleaning his teeth when he’s older)

Sweet Potato and Marshmallow from Feast (Nigella Lawson) This is just cooked sweet potato, with some lime juice baked with a layer of mini marshmallow across the top which gets kinda baked and caramalised and slightly toasted. Having thought that this was the sort of thing that both Toddlers and Teenagers couldn’t get enough of it turned out that neither of them would touch it.

Creamy Carrots –(Apples for Jam – Tessa Kiros) sounds innocent enough but it was not appreciated in this house. My fault, I didn’t have any parsley so I used tarragon. But to be quite honest I think carrots are nice enough without adding cream, you just need butter and black pepper.

Beetroot Cake This one worked, as long as I didn’t tell anyone what was it it before they tried it. I guess it’s the same principle as carrot cake, but because in the UK beetroot is usually eaten soaked in vinegar, its difficult to overcome people’s fears and get them to try it. It came from Nigel Slater’s Observer column and I carried the newscutting around for several months before I did it, fresh beetroot is not something it is easy to find in the shops out of season (because there’s no demand for it), so I guess this cake wins on the food miles stakes too. It was too tempting to resist as it also had orange blossom essence in it, so how could I not make it ? The thing that I don’t like about it is the linseeds, but that’s just me. I don’t like the sensation of small hard seeds in my teeth so no dried figs in my christmas pud ! If I did it again I’d just up the amount of sunflower and pumpkin and leave out the linseed.

There are no doubt many many more crimes and I’m sure that if the Toddler could read, or I pointed the Teenager at this site they would remind me of many more eccentric mixtures I’ve tried out on them. But these are the ones that I can remember over the past 2 years, and besides sometimes the journey to work is only 15 minutes long.

An orange coloured day…eventually

Despite my comments earlier in the week about how much I love the Autumn, I must confess to being a little down, or rather a lot down, it was an indigo day in fact. I am suffering from a lot of stress and tension related to our financial situation. Because, although having returned to full time employment as of the 1st October our human resources department still has not completed the paperwork. Furthermore unless they do it by the beginning of November then the chances are that I’m not going to feel the benefit of the extra days pay until the middle of December.

In order to meet bills we are having to watch our finances very carefully. I am running out of places I can save money, other than food that is and we’ve never really wasted that. Anyway, today I feel the hole we are in, I feel it in my whole body. I feel blocked, I feel constrained and I feel it in my gut, in my belly, in my intestines and my bowels. It is a taut string running from the top to the bottom and it cripples me, I can’t think and therefore I can’t work.

Food in the house the last few weeks has been very much comfort food. Husband has been serving up big bowls of pasta, tomatoes and cheese or sausage and mash. A bag of pudding rice has appeared. The Atkins diet has no place in this household, its carbohydrates all the way.

Tonight I need something simpler though, something my gut can deal with, that will cheer me up and comfort at the same time, something that looks happy in the bowl. Coincidently my kitchen has been dominated by the presence of a very large pumpkin, hoping to end its days as something more than a lantern on the 31st… I also have some cream that needs using, as do most of my spices which spent 6 months in storage during the house works.

I follow vaguely a Nigel Slater recipe for pumpkin soup, which can be found here but is also in Real Good Food which is a book compiled from early articles from Nigel’s Observer columns. This incidently is one of my earliest cookbooks. The soup recipe was possibly one of the reasons I bought the book (that and his description of BBQing sweetcorn). Hopefully, the remains of it will do for lunch for what’s left of this week…when my mind needs soothing I cook cake, when its my body that is in crisis I need more than sugars.

postscript The lovely Mrs Zee with whom I work has found a human in the cyber department our human resources has become and has persuaded them to press the right buttons on the computer so that I get paid the right amounts in November, even if the paperwork follows later.

It seemed like a good idea at the time

Have you ever looked at an illustration in a recipe book and thought, that looks easy, that looks yummy I’ll give that a go? Have you ever been seduced by the name of a recipe. If so, then may I introduce you to Tessa Kiros Rosehip jam…If you go down this road then please learn from my mistakes.

One of the joys of this time of year is the potential for foraging. If you are that way inclined then there are all sorts of ingredients hiding in hedgerows waiting to be used.

I have been desperate to do something with rosehips for over 12 months now, since reading in our village’s monthly news letter some reminiscences about life in the early 20th century when village children would get paid for collecting rosehips from the hedges.

I was not brought up on rosehip syrup but I love the images it conjures up. Sweet smelling and decadent, memories of Turkish delight and syrup drenched baklava. I couldn’t think of a use for rosehip syrup in our house but Jam, well that’s a different matter. The Toddler would live on jam sandwiches given the choice.

The illustration of the Rosehip Jam in “Apples for Jam” is delightfully old fashioned and the jam itself shines out from the page like rubies (if they’d been crushed and marinaded in twice their weight in sugar). The recipe is straightforward enough rosehips, water, lemon juice and sugar. Pick 200g of rosehips, freeze them if you are not going to use them immediately. When you are ready, cut the rosehips in half and scoop out the seeds…simple

If you try and cut a frozen rosehip the knife has a tendency to slide off the hip cutting a sliver of rosehip off, alternatively either the knife bounces off completely or the hip pings away from the knife and to the otherside of the kitchen. If you leave the hip to defrost then ease of cutting is sacrificed to loosing some of the rosehip pulp whilst extracting the seeds. Whichever method you choose, removing the seeds is a very sticky experience and you end up with itchy seeds everywhere. Best result was obtained from freshly picked rosehips, prepared as soon as you get them home.

Before I was halfway through I’d had enough. You are talking some 40-50 hips total, it gets quite tedious all that scooping. So I simply smashed the rosehips (well it works for Hugh Fearlesslyeatsitall !) and left them to soak in the pan. If you opt for this method then you need to put your cooked pulp through a jelly bag, otherwise you end up with teeny tiny bits of seed hair in your jam…something I didn’t find out until much much later.

The smell in the pan however almost makes up for the hassle, it has a lovely general fruity smell, similar to rhubarb cooked with sugar. The resulting jam is very very sweet and as yet I haven’t been able to persuade anyone else to try it. Toddler is suspicious of things that don’t come from the supermarket and admittedly he does have reason to be suspicious as Mummy has form for weird combinations aka the minty cream cheese pea pop…(from The Toddler Cafe).

Autumn Spirits: Cake before Prozac…

The reason for starting these assorted ramblings was that I desperately needed something to focus on other than the contents of my bank account, and how I could juggle quickly dwindling pots of money, avoiding bank charges which caused already stretched resources to be further depleted.

I figured that if I had something else to think about I would be less prone to attacks of the blues. I am not depressed, and I am not sufficiently deluded to think that a good slice of carrot cake can cure depression. But I do think that a warm slice of a home made cake made by a friend can stop a pale blue mood descending into something that makes you reach for your guitar.

Here’s the twist. Firstly having been financially crippled all summer, there is now hope on the horizon that our finances may improve and secondly, the autumn is probably the one time of the year where I find it impossible to let anything get me down. In the autumn I am a regular little Pollyanna shouting “hello sky, hello trees, lovely day”.

I love the orangeredyellowbrown baked crisp rustling leaves as they shiffle shuffle under your feet. I love misty mornings and sharp October sunshine. I love pumpkins and rosehips and food for free. I love watching my Toddler pretending to help pick blackberries and then deciding he would be more help in quality controlling the ones in the box… I love Halloween, but not trick or treat, I love bobbing for apples and toffee apples, I love the explosion of black and green and orange that hits the shop window displays and I love the food – although partly this is an extension backwards from Bonfire Night.

Both Halloween and Bonfire Night are perhaps more notable for savoury delicacies than for sweet stuff (aside from treacle toffee that is), although last year having finally laid my hand on jellied lollipops I treated the Toddler to Nigella Lawson’s Ghoul graveyard cake.


Toddler was more impressed by the lollipops than anything else . The cake should anyone else think of doing it is a lovely moist chocolate cake, the icing is very sweet and if you can borrow the sprinkles from someone else – its been a year and I haven’t used them for anything else.

Remembrance of Walnut Whips (15th October)

My Nana passed away earlier this year, at Easter. Had she lived then today (15th October) would have been her 100th Birthday. Coincidentally had my Grandma lived, then today would have been her 106th birthday (she died the christmas before her 100th birthday).

Now, my Nana was a fantastic cake baker, she had a real talent for cake decoration. I’m told that she was still a pretty mean decorator even after she had a stroke (20years ago) and despite being paralysed down most of her right side managed to teach herself to do most things with her left !

My Mum taught me to cook. My first cake was Victoria sandwich cake. I had always assumed that it was a recipe that Mum had inherited from her Mum, and so today, when trying to decide what to make to celebrate what should have been I decided to cook a Victoria, as it sort of felt like a “legacy cake”. Anyway, I mentioned this to Mum and it turns out that she probably got the recipe from the Kenwood cook book and that if we have an inherited recipe going from Nana to Mum to Me then it is probably for pickled onions…

Pickled onions didn’t seem right as a memorial, so I used the sponge recipe as a basis and made a Coffee and Walnut cake instead because Nana loved Walnut Whips. I remember once, at about the age of 10 buying her a packet of 3 walnut whips as a christmas present – it was the same year that I bought Dad a packet of McVites Digestives (50p pocket money still didn’t go very far in the early 80’s, and we didn’t have that extensive a choice of biscuits).

Ingredients – given in imperial for sentimental reasons

6oz (175g) Margarine, Stork or Echo if they still sell it – I used butter as its what I had in the house, but my first cake was definitely marge

6oz (175g) Caster Sugar (If I’d had it in I would have used unrefined cane sugar as it works so well in a C&W)

6oz (175g) SR Flour (sieved)

3 Eggs

Coffee – I used 3 tsp of instant dissolved in a little water, but you could use camp coffee or even fresh brewed – just don’t use more than 2 tbs of liquid as you don’t want the cake batter to be too runny

Walnuts – optional – I don’t add nuts to my C&W but if you like texture then you could add about 50g of chopped up walnuts to the batter

* preheat oven to 180 deg C. Grease and flour (and line if you want to) 2 sponge tins of approx 18-20cm diameter.

1. Cream the butter/Marge with the sugar until all combined and mixture has a soft spreadable texture. You can beat it by hand or use an electric mixture – my preference is to use the K Beater of a Kenwood mixer, especially as for part of my childhood the Kenwood we had was one we had inherited from Nana – but as my Kenwood blew up about 12 months ago I opted for the manual method of a wooden spoon (which is probably why my cake hasn’t risen as well as usual)

2. Add 1 egg and a little flour to the sugar/butter mixture, mix until well combined. Do the same for each of the other 2 eggs.

3 Add in some of the coffee flavouring. Mix until well combined. Then sieve in any remaining flour. Beat well until combined. Taste the mixture, add more coffee if you like a stronger flavour. At this point add walnuts if using and combine well.

4 Put half the mixture in the first tin and the remaining mixture in the second tin. Smooth the mixture over and place in the oven. Cook for 30 minutes. Its cooked when the top of the cake springs back when you press on it. Remove from oven and leave to cool slightly, then remove from the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack

The Topping

A coffee flavoured butter cream is traditional and is what I would normally use. Smooth half in the middle and then the rest on top, decorate as you see fit with chopped walnuts (can provide a butter cream recipe if needed). Butter cream however makes my Dad feel ill, so I’ve tried a variation in the hope that it won’t upset his stomach.

I found this variation on butter cream in a sainsbury’s magazine circa 1998 but I don’t know who’s recipe it is…

3 level tbs instant coffee

12oz (350g) golden icing sugar

3 tbs whipping cream

4oz (110g) butter

5 Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and set aside. Dissolve coffee in 2 tbs boiling water.

6 Put butter in saucepan and melt over gentle heat. Let it bubble slightly (no more than 3 minutes or until it turns a light gold brown) – if you are lucky you should smell a smell reminiscent of butterscotch.

7 Add the butter to the icing and then quickly the dissolved coffee, and finally the cream. Beat all the ingredients together in the bowl until the icing is shiny and smooth. Leave the icing to one side for 20-30 minutes to thicken slightly.

8 Spread some of the mixture on the top of one of the sponges. Place the other sponge on top and spread the remaining icing over the top and sides. Decorate with any bits of walnut you happen to have in your cupboard.

9 Eat preferably with a good cup of proper leaf tea

*I made half quantities of the icing and added more cream after waiting the 30 minutes, firstly because it was a bit too set and secondly because the coffee taste was VERY strong

No photo as its a very brown cake, it wouldn’t be very visually attractive even if I had inherited Nana’s talent with the decoration…

Postscript A quick google brings to light the fact that you cannot get coffee flavoured walnut whips anymore – however it does appear that they were first produced in 1910 which I guess is as near to Nana’s birthday as I’m going to get !

THAT apple cake…hallelujah!

This Wednesday another meeting, this one in Bristol with 2 changes of train. Took my MP3 player along for once, not used it for awhile so had forgotten that it was chock full of the downloads from the evening we decided to find the definitive version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.

So I had 2 hours of the same song over and over again, however in amongst the warbling were a couple of Nigel Slater Podcasts. I exited Temple Meads station on a happy cloud of foodie thoughts having had the joy of Nigel extolling the virtue of Autumn produce…despite his recommendation for Autumn cake being coffee and walnut (nuts being in season) I still have that apple cake lurking around in my head… I am also now in a “good place”, no blues despite it being 10 days ’til pay day and despite having sat through the same Leonard Cohen song (interspersed with the Sugar Plum fairy and the theme from Shaft played on a ukulele) for 2 hours straight.

So that Apple cake then ? Well I made it, and well it wasn’t a very restful experience, having come home in a good mood I was feeling distinctly frazzled by the end…

Firstly it turns out that I could have made this one last Wednesday when I was fantasising about it… it seems that I accidentally turned a page or two and had started reading the recipe for the carrot cake, secondly I messed up separating eggs as I was trying to concentrate on keeping the kitten out of the batter (omelette tomorrow then ?) and then finally, as I was smoothing out the batter across the top of the cake tin and fretting that I might have used slightly bigger than stated apples, I realised that my plastic spatula was half the size it was when I started the cake… anyway, all sorted now, cake is cooking gently in the oven and I wish I could say the house was filled with the sensuous smell of apples marinade in cinnamon, but truthfully all I can smell is virgin olive oil, but I guess I should look at the bright side, it could have been the acrid smell of sauteing plastic !

Recipe to follow tomorrow with a verdict as we have a friend for dinner (actually we have meatballs, as eating people is not recommended)

Dead Slug Baking

I was in a meeting last wednesday when I was struck by a need to make cake. I just knew that if I didn’t go home and make a specific cake then I would not be able to get through the rest of the week without shouting at someone or bursting into tears.

And WHAT a cake ! On Tuesday I collected a library a book I had ordered, The Ottolengthi Cookbook (Ottolenghi for those of us who don’t live in London is a dei/cafe who make some truly amazing cakes). I devoured the book in one sitting on tuesday evening, read it cover to cover and spent the rest of the night trying to decide which of 3 cakes I would try first…and who I would give them to as all 3 are gloriously sticky, oozy and fattening.

The rest of the day was a blurr, the 2.5 hours on the motorway were hardly noticed. Ten miles from home I dived into the supermarket and bought cream cheese, apples and butter, stopped at my parents to borrow maple syrup, put Spider to bed and got the ingredients out…I was inspired.

Now with some cakes I follow recipes to the letter and this was to be one of them (needed to be). It was here that I hit a problem. I had no ground cloves. Glumly I put everything back in the cupboard and sat back on the sofa to sulk.

Not for long though, I felt too twitchy to sulk. Returning to the kitchen I went hunting for things that needed using. For once nothing, except some unrefined icing sugar that had gone solid and needed blitzing in the food processor…this gave me an idea.

I have made Nigella’s Winter Plum cake before without the icing and hadn’t been overtly fussed about it, however since she specifically states that it needs the fudgyness of the unrefined icing I thought I’d give it a go, substituting ground cashew for the almonds and guessing the amount of almond extract using some measuring spoons Toddler had got out of a christmas cracker.

Verdict: Cake itself nice but uninspiring, but then I’d spent the day dreaming of cake nirvana and this brown blob clearly wasn’t that, it wasn’t even “Miss Amelie’s famous plum cake”. The problem was the chopped tinned red plums, the sensation they left in the mouth was of eating cold dead slugs. The almond essence was overpowering but when I checked the cracker measures later I discovered I’d underestimated not over…the occasional chunk of not quite ground cashew added a note of interest. All in all a let down. Personally I think I would serve this hot as a dessert, substitute dark sugar for the light and add spices. As the family are still eating this cake almost a week later I am not going to post the recipe !

Postscript: Searching through Nigel Slater’s “Kitchen Diaries” last night for a pumpkin recipe I came across his version of plum cake which was very similar to the one above. I tend to trust Nigel’s judgement and descriptions of things so I was very surprised. I can only assume that using fresh plums and the addition of walnuts makes a significant difference.