The cupboard is bare

Actually that’s not quite true. I know this because I did a stock take the other night to establish what we have/have not as all our various resources are low.  I used up the last of the plain flour on Tuesday night making the Baseline Brownies and can’t justify buying any more until next Thursday as all the bank accounts, those that are not already drastically overdrawn, are dangerously low.

The more serious problem is that I can’t afford to put fuel in the car in order to go to work. My home work journey is 134 mile round trip. I used to do this journey by train but it is 50% cheaper by car. I have negotiated with work that I will occasionally work out of a local office nearer home but somehow I think they would object if I spend all next week in a different office.

We have been surviving this week by creative cooking and lucky bargains from the local co-op.

Monday – end of date sausages and mini baked potatoes. I made more pumpkin soup for my lunches out of the pumpkin my Dad grew.

Tuesday– “hope” omelette, as in “I hope this tastes OK”, primarily leftover potatoes and roast lamb bound together with egg. Husband had the leftover sausages from Monday as his lunch.

Wednesday – Toad in the hole with more reduced sausages and mini bakers.

Tonight I intend to use the leftover potato from yesterday with the remains of the pumpkin to make gnocchi. Using rye flour instead of plain and making a sauce from onions (the only veg left in the fridge), passata (soooo cheap from Aldi) and the meat from the remaining 2 uncooked sausages.

Can still make Toddler some muffins though as I still have SR Flour (along with several other more exotic types of flour) and a big bag of prunes which he won’t touch (doesn’t like the colour) unless I cunningly disguise it as something tasty. I may have to try my hand at bread dough as it is a truth universally acknowledged that children will eat almost anything if it comes in the form of pizza. Suspect that might not include lentils though…


The Boy who grew up out of custard

In Eating for England Nigel Slater said “I am probably the only person in England to regularly buy a couple of custards from Marks who is still in possession of his own teeth”

When I read that I wanted to email Nigel and tell him that he was so wrong, and that not only could I name at least 10 people under 50 (without even stopping to think), who adored baked custards but that one of these was not even 3 yet.

Toddler has been addicted to custards since shortly after going on to solids. He refused sandwiches, but seemed to like pastry, so I’d tried him on quiches and then moved on to custard (after all, milk and eggs are good for you even if there is a healthy dose of sugar involved) as this seemed a sensible alternative than letting him go hungry on the (frequent – as I am less than the perfect mummy) days when I had forgotten to bring Toddler type food with me.

Custard tarts had become so much part of Toddlers routine that we had set his pocket money according to the “custard standard” as they retailed for 52p in the local post office. Long before they knew me in there they were able to greet my boy as he came through the door with his grandma. “Hello Toddler, come for your custard then”

So it came as something as a shock to be informed by a very solemn looking boy holding a new car that “Mummy, I don’t want custards anymore. I have grown up out of them. I have moved on” (yes he genuinely told me he’d moved on).

It would seem that either Grandma or Husband had decided  (rightly) it was about time Toddler learned about finance. He’d asked for a small car in the post office and been informed that it would cost him 2 weeks pocket money. So he had been forced to make a choice, and without complaining about not being allowed both, had opted for the car over the custard.
Now I think that this is a case of Toddler learning to priorities his interests so to test it I am going to try making a baked custard, something I haven’t done before, which in view of the fact that both Husband and I adore them, is rather surprising. But I did make a Tarte au Citron Verte (Lime Tart) at the weekend for Dad’s birthday and I guess the principles are the same…but that was not cheap cooking, using as it did 6 eggs (plus 2 yolks) and almost 7 limes and whereas I can justify some extravagance for a birthday meal, I’m not sure no matter how you spin it that using 6 eggs in one dish is “thrifty” cooking ! The recipe for that is here.

Baking a custard will have to wait as its been a very busy week. Nottingham yesterday for a wedding. Cardiff tomorrow, because I like Cardiff, oh and we may also get to visit the Student (Teenagers older brother).

RECIPE: Sweet Cinnamon-coconut Rice

This is from the Sainsbury’s Magazine (June 1999) and makes a great breakfast, correction, makes a great dairy free breakfast. I wouldn’t say that it otherwise would count as a healthy breakfast option as the pudding rice is white, not brown, coconut milk has a high fat content and it has 110g sugar in it.

If you were looking for a healthy option than have a smaller helping and serve with fruit. It is best served cold but I guess you could eat it warm. For me this does actually count as store cupboard cookery.


2 cinnamon sticks

1 x 400ml tin coconut milk

110g short grain (pudding rice)

110g golden caster sugar

2 teaspoons rosewater

seeds 6 cardamon pods, ground

1. Rinse the rice in a sieve under running water. Place in a saucepan with 450ml water. Bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and leave to simmer until water has almost evaporated.

2. Pour in the coconut milk. Add the cinnamon sticks. Stir gently and bring back to the boil. Turn heat down and let the mixture cook over a low heat, stirring regularly so that it does not catch on the bottom of the pan. Approx 10 minutes. (should thicken slightly)

3. Stir in sugar. Continue cooking and stirring for a few minutes until sugar has dissolved. Add the rosewater and ground cardamom.

4. Transfer rice to a glass dish, leave to cool and then refrigerate. Rice is best if really cold before serving

Serves about 4 people

Zombies Awake

On Sunday morning we were woken by the gentle garlic infused breath of Toddler (Husband had taken Toddler and Teenager to Pizza Hut the night before on the way back from a bonfire display).

We had not had a good night having been kept awake firstly by the wind that had been blowing a Hooley around the house all night and secondly by the sound of Teenager, who’d had an even worse night, having been sick about 4 times. Definitely not a good start to what was meant to be a day of celebration at my parents for my Dad’s 70th birthday.

Things went downhill rapidly as the birthday cake I made for my Dad was not looking too good, the icing had gone wrong. As I’ve mentioned before my Dad does not like butter cream so I’d used a mascarpone based icing. I’d left the cake out overnight, as sponge goes hard in the fridge and would have ruined the cakes texture. As a result the mascarpone had set hard in places and gone almost translucent in others. Fortunately I had a spare tub of mascarpone and some double cream so I was able cobble together a second icing to cover the imperfections of the first and then covered the lot with a later of black sprinkles and jammed a “7” and a “0” candle in the top.

The birthday cake was a simple lemon sponge with a lemon curd, mascarpone and cream filling (idea nicked from Nigella Lawson book)

Toddler and I went off to the party where we had a lovely time with the rest of the family. Husband and Teenager stayed behind gently moaning and dozing on the sofas. I of course was suitably sympathetic, but perhaps I should have kept quite. My comeuppance was that my tummy hadn’t been ready for rich food as a result I’ve been surviving on apples and oxo most of the week waiting for things to return to normal.

I was just about to post this when I realised that my head has been so full of work related things that I’d almost forgotten the reason for this post in the first place – rice pudding. A side effect of this tummy bug is that I am having problems digesting milk and I’ve been searching the cupboards to find things that are gentle on the stomach other than beef oxo.

The result is 2 rice puddings made with non-dairy milk replacements which in my case is coconut milk as I usually have some in for making Thai style curries. The first is a cinnamon rice pudding (sainsbury magazine circa 1998) and the second is Ubud black rice pudding (with banana) from Cook at Home with Peter Gordon – a similar recipe can be found here …I have a packet of black rice lurking at the back along with the semolina and other things no one will eat…

Leftover Chocolate Cake

“Appetite for Cake” is a title borrowed from a chapter in Appetite by Nigel Slater, a book championing escaping from the tyranny of recipe following. The chocolate and hazelnut cake mentioned there is the perfect cake for baking away the blues.

Because I can’t predict in advance when I’m going to feel down and because there is not a lot else I can save money on in my life at the moment, when I bake a cake it often has to be “pot luck” using up whatever is in the cupboard. Nigel’s cake is known in our house as “Leftover Chocolate Cake” because I make it with whatever chocolate I have to hand, including from time to time cadbury’s chocolate buttons!

I have made it at least twice to cheer myself up. The first time was in July. Can’t remember why, but I needed to bake and I needed to taste just one slightly warm slice of Nuttychocolate comfort…if it hadn’t been for the need to bake I’d probably have settled for Nuttella on toast…I left the rest of the cake on the Flapjack Queen’s doorstep, which very briefly made her the envy of friends as they all wished they had a cake fairy.This version had a mix of hazelnuts and almonds chopped roughly and a measure of rye flour as I didn’t have sufficient plain flour.

Second time I made it, the Teenager was staying over. He liked it so much that he asked for the recipe as it reminded him of a snickers bar. This variation was with milk and dark chocolate, white chocolate and some chocolate gingers that have been in the fridge since Christmas plus fair trade mixed nuts donated by the Flapjack Queen who had spotted the blues descending on me. A variation on the recipe is here . According to Appetite it started life as a wholewheat nut and chocolate cake from a recipe by Tamsin Day-Lewis.

It is a rich comforting hug of a cake, especially nice warm and can be varied endlessly depending on the contents of the cupboard, your mood or the nature of the blues. It is a wonderfully forgiving cake too, it doesn’t matter if your ingredient’s are not the freshest (my Rye flour has a 2006 date on the bottom) but nuts must not be rancid, as it’s not that forgiving a cake!

In honour of this cake I almost called these pages “Definitely contains nuts…”

Nigella and I: A tale of love, loss and Morning Glory muffins

When I was much younger and had a lot more money but presumably less of a life, I decided to cook my way through “How to be a Domestic Goddess”Nigella Lawson’s ode to baking. Now, admittedly this isn’t quite in the same league as Julie/Julia and my reason for doing so was a lot less admirable than Julie’s mission to tackle French cooking, and it was certainly a betrayal of any feminist principles I had acquired by that stage.


It was simply that I was trying to keep hold of my man, something I have only realised with hindsight. I had recently moved in with someone who loved cakes, and since I loved baking it was almost a perfect match. He worked in the city. He worked long hours. We had a deal. I would make sure he didn’t have to worry about anything domestic (food, cleaning, ironing shirts…) and he would make it his mission to come home at a reasonable time. I was just trying to make sure that there was cake, so that he would come home and eat it!


A colleague of his and I, had become friends. She, I found out was feeling down in the dumps and a little blue. To cheer her up I made some muffins, probably the best muffins ever invented, they have everything in them but Morning Glory (probably a good thing too since Ipomoea have toxic side effects). I made these little buns of happiness. I bought a posh box, some tissue paper and a ribbon. I sent the boyfriend off to work one day with 12 little baked best wishes wrapped up with ribbon.


I believe she enjoyed them. She probably said thank you. But to be honest I can’t really remember because very shortly after I’d made them my whole “gingerbread cottage’d goddess in the kitchen” ideal came crumbling down around me. As you can probably guess, (because the theory of narrative dictates it should happen that way, or do I mean the law of irony), over the course of the 4 months we lived together his appearance at the door got later and later…because as I later found out he was meeting his colleague for drinks and the reason she was depressed was because he was living with me and not her !


I gave up baking. I put my cake tins into storage. I learnt Spanish. I took up world travel and learnt to scuba dive. I took up rock climbing. In short I rediscovered who I was and reclaimed my life.


Morning Glory Muffins are however, pretty damn good…I do regret all that ironing tho’ !

Hallalujah…The forth, the fifth, the minor fall

My husband texted me last night to say “tape Radio 2 – now !”. It seems that Radio 2 devoted a whole hour to various versions of Leonard Cohen’s Hallalujah… unfortunately his text didn’t arrive until he himself got home at 8.05.

Anyway, if anyone out there was listening to “Elbow’s Guy Garvey examines the Leonard Cohen classic Hallelujah by talking to the artists who have covered it” on Radio 2 at 7pm last night and managed to record it then we would love a copy…unfortunately this one doesn’t appear to be on listen again

The best version, after intensive testing, admittedly fuelled by alcohol, appears to be the one by KD Lang which can be found on her Hymns of the 49th parallel

RECIPE: Cut out Cookies (susan austin)

The recipe is almost the same as the pervasive Nigella Lawson version, but I prefer these because they are ok without the icing…and they freeze well which as a (now) full time employee and Mummy is essential for me. The recipe in the book Frost Bite gives a recipe for icing as the intention is that these should be iced, but I don’t always want to be that nice a Mummy !


100g butter (softened)

100g caster sugar

1 egg

0.5tsp vanilla extract

200g plain flour

40g custard powder

0.5tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 180 deg. Line 2 trays with baking paper

1. Cream butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add vanilla and egg. Beat again

2. Sift together flour, baking powder and custard powder. Add to butter mixture. Gently stir until combined. Add more flour if mixture feels too sticky.

3. You can freeze the dough at this point and take out later to defrost and cook when you are ready. Alternatively you can roll out the dough to 2-3mm thick and cut out with cookie cutters to required shape. (You can freeze when cut out by placing trays in the freezer and putting frozen shapes in boxes)

4. Bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes or so, until lightly browned in at the edges. Leave to cool and ice as required.

Only good girls go to parties…

…and ones who have not spent the best part of the day either in bed or with their head over the toilet bowl !

Yes it would appear that earlier in the week I wasn’t suffering from “performance anxiety” but was about to come down with some sort of stomach bug. Fortunately Husband was enjoying his last week day of freedom so was able to take care of Toddler and take him and Teenager, plus the food to the party…Husband also spent 2 hours in the morning sourcing lollipops to finish off the cake. So a big thank you to him.

Flapjack Queen happens to be the high priestess of make and do, so their house (which I saw this afternoon) really set the mood – honest what she can’t do with some paint and double sided sticky tape really isn’t worth doing.

Husband took round what food I had managed to do before being incapacitated.

  • Ghoul graveyard cake (recipe linked previously see earlier post)
  • jelly pumpkins
  • spider cakes
  • halloween shapes biscuits

The spider cakes were made by Mum with the Toddler from a recipe and design from the Good Food magazine. The jelly pumpkins were made from orange jelly in a circular pumpkin mould that Tesco’s sold a few years ago.

this years version

this years version

Jelly The simplest way to make jelly is to use commercial jelly (chivers, rowntrees whatever). ..that had been the plan as I wasn’t sure whether my homemade jelly would set sufficiently hard to make the pumpkins keep their shape… I once sent Toddler off to lunch club with a small box of home made jelly which had the Pre-school asking what it was, as by the time it came to lunch time the jelly had liquified again.

Anyway, I forgot to buy jelly cubes so I had to fall back on my usual method. I married a man who, when I met him had 3 packets of gelatine in his kitchen cupboards, and 2 children – so I discovered early on that its very easy to make jelly using fruit juice, and a packet of gelatine.

Biscuits – I don’t like the recipe for cut out biscuits in most of Nigella’s book which a lot of people seem to be wedded to, they need the icing that the biscuits are decorated in and sometimes I prefer the biscuits to remain plain – partly because Toddler hates cleaning his teeth, and partly because I am useless at decorating. So I tend to use a recipe from Frost Bite by Susan Austin. The only real difference between this recipe and Nigella’s is a spoonful of custard powder. They also freeze very well uncooked, which means if I need to I can pretty much do an instant party out of the freezer.

Cheesy feet biscuits – from Nigella Lawson’s Feast. These didn’t go to the party. They went straight in the bin as I was afraid they might spread the bug, as I’d made them 12 hours before I was sick.

Anyway, I am now, after 48 hours without food feeling much slimmer, so am sat here with a glass of wine and a slice of ghoul graveyard cake…Husband, Toddler and Teenager are off watching racing cars and fireworks. I have a clean house and a sparkling clean kitchen and bathroom with every surface bleached… I then spent the day making birthday cakes, hence bleaching all surfaces, I didn’t fancy being the cause of my entire family coming down with food poisoning.