The plan today was to pick friends up from Heathrow and whisk them back up the motorway to our house and their car and then give them the option of staying overnight.  In case they did want to stay and needed feeding the plan was to make a stew and stick it in the slow cooker. Simple plan ? Yep, and although there are lots of things that can go wrong with a plan it’s always the thing that you don’t anticipate…

it’s not the fact that the braising steak I took out of the freezer turned out to be on the turn. No, that wasn’t a problem, it just gave me an excuse to head over to Lidl and check out the wool sale…and whilst there spotting the hobgoblin special ruby ale for Halloween. Bought a bottle for Husband and a second to pour over the beef and onions…

Nosing through Appetite:Nigel Slater I was inspired to chuck 2 tins of chopped tomatoes in with the beef and ale… I grabbed 2 green and white tins which are Asda’s budget line for tomatoes. It was not until I opened the second tin (and emptied it into the saucepan) that I realised that just like Tesco and Sainsbury’s, Asda use the same packaging for their baked beans as they do for their tomatoes…

I cooked it up anyway figuring that the sweet tomato sauce would just vanish into the sauce during cooking. It did and you wouldn’t notice that there were beans in it if someone hadn’t mentioned it (foolishly) in the hearing of Teenager who then said “urgh, beans” in the hearing of Spider, who then decided he didn’t like stew.

Shame really as they’ll just have to like it cos I’ve got a big batch made up and the friends we cooked for decided all they wanted was lots of coffee, a bacon butty and to hit the long road home to Cumbria as soon as possible…

Bread Therapy

Sometimes I like to make bread by hand, its not something I do often as I rarely have the time during the week, not unless I stay up til gone midnight to take the loaf out of the oven. Not a glorious prospect for someone whose wake up call is 6.30am

To which most people (well bread machine evangelists at any rate) say “what you need is a bread machine, it makes life sooooooo much easier !”. Now I would never under any circumstance knock the joy of a freshly made loaf from a bread machine – in fact I melt into the floor with delight every time Flapjack Queen sends her husband round with a plate of freshly made bread slathered in lemon curd – and yes, a homemade loaf, even in a bread machine, beats the hell out a chorleywood process plastic loaf but I want more than just the bread.

Bread is therapy. Making it can be calming – I love the sensuous feel of the dough beneath my fingers, to gently knead and fold – or it can be anger management, many cook books cite the joy of working out your frustrations on the dough with intense kneading, stretching, slamming the dough back down on the surface.

I even enjoy watching people making bread – there is a fantastic scene in channel 4’s Real Food series where Nigel Slater makes bread with Emily Green – he has a wonderful, infectious excitement over the feel of the dough, and a childish glee when finally consuming it as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich !

Earlier this year I decided as part of the economy drive to start making bread and bought in a new tin of dried yeast, white and brown strong bread flour. Since then I’ve made bread exactly twice…its because we haven’t bought a full price loaf of bread since march – honest ! OK so its honest we haven’t bought a full price of bread, but not “honest that’s the reason I haven’t made bread”. Basically I haven’t yet mastered the art of the loaf, I keep making mistakes…oh, and as mentioned I lack time in the evenings. [The secret to low price bread is that Husband has been buying end of date bread and filling the freezer with it,we take it out slice by slice as and when needed].

The loaves I have made have been fun though. The first was based on the idea of the Milk Roll which I remember from the ’70’s, roughly following the recipe in Apples for Jam: Tessa Kiros…it made me feel like a proper Mummy (the sort that is not at work from 7-7). Came out a bit yeasty, but slightly sweet. Toddler loved it (which is all that mattered really).

Second one was following recipe from Appetite: Nigel Slater for basic white loaf but following the instructions from Emily Green from the Real Food programme (see above) which involved rolling and folding to keep the air in the bread rather than slamming it periodically on the table and wow what a revelation ! This loaf really really rose. It was a very tall loaf, and sort of resembled a brain in shape. Lovely fresh taste, fantastic texture. No yeasty taste this time, but slightly doughy as I took it out of the oven to early – too desperate to taste it I guess.

Bread, no prescription necessary

Bread, no prescription necessary

Postscript: Found the time to make the first two recipes from The Bread & Bread Machine CookBook: Ingram & Shapter, one white, one brown, both were a little on the sweet side (too much honey or sugar ?) and the white still had too much of a yeasty taste.

The Brown loaf worked quite well except for the fact I got the tin measurements wrong and it ended up in too shallow a tin…very surprised it worked in view of the fact it required less than 1/3 of the usual kneading time.

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…”