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Munchkin mail

Updated: 2018-03-06T07:09:08.706+00:00


When sour becomes sweet: a tale of friendship and sugar


Approximately two aeons ago, my lovely friend Cie gave me a true proof of our friendship. 'Do not kill' said the accompanying note. 'Failure to look after this embodiment of our friendship will bring my wrath and everlasting disappointment upon you.' It didn't of course; Cie is far too nice for that, but when she had to gently rescue Herman the friendship cake sourdough starter she had just given me from suffocation before we'd even left the pub I felt the pressure start to mount.

You've heard of sourdough bread starters? Well Herman is a sourdough cake starter. He is one hungry boy, however, and he also had a very sweet tooth. He needed feeding a whole cup each of sugar, flour and milk every three days, and a good stir on the intervening days. Thankfully he started to grow and bubble quite soon, so I had some regular reassurance that Cie was not going to have to unfriend me on facebook. He is also quite adaptable - my Herman was fed soya milk and a variety of different flours as well. Never able to resist tasting raw cake dough I was initially put off by his sour taste, but as the days went on he got progressively sweeter until at last, a week later, Baking Day arrived.

Herman, after a week of eating a lot of sugar

Herman is a friendship cake because you only use a quarter of the starter to make your cake, and pass the other three on to other people. Herman comes with a recipe for the finished cake, but with plenty of room to play with optional add-ins. I added white chocolate and - you guessed it if you can remember back that far - fresh raspberries. The final touch is some melted butter poured over the top which I must admit made him smell absolutely heavenly.

I took our Herman and one of his Herman progeny to some old college friends the next day. Their children were excited at the idea of their own Herman but didn't like the smell of the baked version - I like to think their foodie noses were picking up on the sourdough yeast smell. We were too full to eat him after lunch, but he got some good feedback later on.

And so, the buck was passed, my friendship with Cie was approved, and a few more of those raspberries met their cakey maker.

The End.

Kiwi treats


Kiwi Family moved house a few weeks ago and when I went to visit I took a couple of treats with me to remind them of their many recent travels. The first was a reprise of a New Zealand biscuit I made for the first time when they were away - Afghans. This time I used a recipe a Kiwi friend recommended, from the charmingly-named website Ladies, a plate. They are darkly chocolatey biscuits which contain cornflakes - which the recipe description says was a way of using up last bits and pieces in the pantry. Well, I don't need to tell any readers who are still left after being so disgracefully neglected for the past few weeks, that this appealed to my 'eke eke' philosophy immediately. The biscuits had a rich chocolate topping as well which I found I had to thin a bit more to spread - but which was very popular with the Munchkin as well as his parents.

The second treat was particularly for Kiwi Bro, who had just started his new job the day I went to visit. I'd remembered that he said he liked millionaires shortbread, so I made a Kiwi favourite tray bake - Tan Slice. Tray bakes seem to be particularly popular in both Australia and New Zealand, often using coconut and condensed milk. I got this recipe from Kiwi blogger Tammy who has posted several enticing variants and favourites. She also has a chocolate version I'm keen to try - and her philosophy of a greater caramel to base ratio has surely got to win all tasters over. It turned out as I made the slice that it wasn't quite what I had assumed when thinking of something like our millionaire's shortbread. Instead it was slightly more like a cake mixture which formed the base and also the top layer. The base didn't need baking before adding the caramel either which surprised me, but makes it all even easier. I was expecting a good response just from the sheer level of sugary goodness in the slice, but it did even better. Kiwi Sis texted me after I'd left to say they were swooning over it, and they had to fend off their dinner guests with pointy sticks (actually I made up the pointy sticks but there was definitely some fending going on).

So thank you to Alexa and Tammy - definitely a pair of Kiwi keepers!

Afghan recipe here

Tan slice recipe here

Urban foraging leads directly to tasty birthday cake


I made this cake twice this week, one for my birthday, and the other to take to visit our Vet Friends to see their new Vet Grub (he's three months old but we were all variously busy before now). Plus both Junior Sis and Junior Bro picked up a clutch of good grades in their AS-levels and GCSEs in the last week, so lots of reasons to make and eat this cake. It was borne from a foraging trip with Lauren last weekend, which resulted in lots of wild urban plums, some sloes (sitting in the freezer to be made into sloe gin later on), and some elderberries. I am always worried about mistaking edibles for something horribly poisonous, but Lauren used to want to be a herbologist (I didn't even know that existed outside Harry Potter and am very taken with it), so I felt safe in her hands.Vet Cat Maggie supervises the eating of foraged plum cakeI found the recipe for this cake while looking for alcoholic recipes that used plums. It had great reviews, and hit a happy nerve as my great-grandmother used to make a German plum cake which Munchkin Granny remembers from her youth. It was very easy and I doubled the quantities to make both cakes at the same time. It turned out to be a gloriously moist and fruity cake - not too sweet (there isn't too much sugar in it, and just an extra dusting with some cinnamon on the top). It wasn't the prettiest but it got good feedback in the pub on my birthday, and from Vet Dad the next day. Definitely a keeper.Festival of Quilts booty - brown spotty fabric to make this dress (thanks, Roisin!); apple fabric to make a bag/apron; bags of felt to make the cute bright cushion cover kit - birthday present from Doc Eco Sis (thanks Doc Eco!); assorted fat quarters for unspecified quilting projectsOn my actual birthday I went to the Festival of Quilts at the NEC with Vicki and Doc Eco Sis. We had a really good day, and I did come away with a bit of a stash of goodies. In the evening we went to the cake-welcoming pub with friends and had more good times :)Giant crochet granny square and small granny square cushion cover (made in Vancouver), sitting with birthday present knitting books from Vet Friends (thank you!)And on the goodies front, here are a couple of other craft projects I've been finishing off recently.Appliqued apron - it used to be a pinafore dress I never wore - recognise the apple from the fabric stash above??Granny star getting stamp of approval from a passing pookPlum cake recipe here (and they have some good fruity alcohol recipes there too)[...]

Raspberry stress meets banana stress - and has a happy ending


I made this cake about a week after the huge all you can pick raspberry trip, and I don't mind admitting that they were beginning to weigh on my mind a bit. I even found myself thinking about what to do with raspberries when I woke up in the night, and over-exposure was even slowing my rate of snacking off them straight from the fridge. To make matters worse, there was a whole bunch of bananas beginning to go over-ripe in the fruit bowl. To avoid a complete head explosion, I searched for some recipes which could use both, and which could then be stashed out of sight in the freezer. This was the only one I photographed but the other one may yet get a feature when I can next face a raspberry muffin.

I found the recipe on, of all places, a mums forum, which isn't somewhere I usually hang out. I made a few tweaks to cut down on the refined sugar - subbing fruit sugar instead, and using coconut oil instead of butter. I also upped the ante with the berries - this was no time to start getting stingy. The original recipe was for muffins, but I made it as a loaf and it worked out really well. The banana flavour was nice and strong, and the berries nice and tart. It also defrosted well when I took it out a few days later for a visit from Kiwi Sis (and a lovely visit it was too :) ). After my double baking session I crammed all of the rest of the berries into the freezer on various cookie trays and then bagged them up (they stay separate rather than form a huge clump that way). I'm glad they won't be wasted, and this way I can get my berry mojo back and appreciate them properly again. In a few months time, maybe.

Banana and raspberry loaf (adapted from askamum)
120g plain white flour
80g plain wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
5 Tbsp fruit sugar
150g raspberries
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
30g melted coconut oil
100ml soya milk
1 ripe banana, mashed

Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Line and grease a loaf tin.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and raspberries.

Beat together the egg, vanilla, coconut oil and milk. Stir into the dry ingredients with the mashed banana, and stir briefly, to combine. THe mixture will be quite lumpy, but there shouldn't be any unmixed flour. Spoon into the tin.

Bake for about 40 minutes, covering after 25 if the top is starting to darken too much. It should be risen and golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Happy Raspbirthday!


Kate made me laugh with a comment on my last post - that she has to read my blog at lunchtime to avoid drooling on the keyboard :) Well, I hope this one has the same effect as it concerns the biscuits I made her for her birthday last week. This took place during my raspberry glut, but it also gave me the opportunity to try out a recipe for some really pretty little pink treats I'd cut out from an old copy of Prima magazine. They're little butter biscuits sandwiched together with a creamy, white chocolatey, raspberry filling. I didn't manage to get too good a photo of them but they did look very dainty tied up in a little bag. I halved the recipe but made the whole batch of filling, since that's where the raspberries came in. I used some of the rest to ice some chocolate cupcakes - also birthday presents for a certain little Birthday Buddy and his brother, Almost Birthday Buddy, whom I saw in Cambridge last weekend. They were much appreciated. And I had a lovely day with my old friends Tracy and Julie, too :)

Raspberry creams (from Prima magazine)
[full quantity - makes 16]

75g butter, softened
125g icing sugar
1 medium egg, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder

125g raspberries
1 tsp sugar
5 Tbsp double cream. whipped
150g white chocolate, melted and cooled

1. Cream together butter and sugar till pale and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla, then mix in flour, baking powder and pinch salt until smooth. Between two pieces of clear film, roll out to £1 coin thick. Chill for 1 hour [I chilled it in a ball and rolled it out afterwards].

2. Preheat oven to Gas 4/180C. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Cut chilled dough into rounds with a 4cm cookie cutter and place on baking tray 5cm apart [cookies don't spread much]. Bake for 6-8 minutes, until very pale gold Cool on baking sheet for 5 mins, then transfer to rack to cool.

3. Blend berries and sugar, then sieve to remove seeds. Whip cream and raspberry juice into white chocolate. Chill for 1 hour. Sandwich cooled biscuits together with berry filling [the filling in the magazine picture was *much* pinker than mine - either use more berries or add a few drops of pink food colouring if you want it really pink]

A very English flapjack


I interrupt raspberry transmission with another blog post for the Norse Goddess. It turned out when we were visiting in Vancouver that she hadn't come across a flapjack before - or not an English type one anyway. So in the spirit of sharing culture, I hastened to make some so I could share the recipe.

(image) Yes, I am pretending I've made M&S flapjack bites. What of it?

I've made flapjacks several times recently but have never actually blogged about them. Plus I've never made the same recipe twice and so don't have a particular favourite. Even Marcus Wareing's (which I mentioned in passing as a gamers' treat) was felt to be 'as good as another flapjack but not outstanding' by my Scientist Connoisseur of All Things Butter and Syrupy. He's quite strict in his requirements for flapjack, which actually, are quite similar to his requirements for trifle: keep it simple. I found a good and simple recipe on the website of Lyle's Golden Syrup - (so many good words) - makers of sugar and syrup, and felt there was no better a place to start my search for the latest offering for the Gamers.

Flapjack, is essentially, melted butter, sugar and golden syrup with oats stirred into it, and baked. You can see why it's a favourite really, can't you? In America, however (as I learnt here) it is a sweet flatbread cooked on a griddle. Madness. It's no wonder the Norse Goddess was confused. The smell of all that lovely golden meltingness does smell pretty alluring even for someone like me who's not so fussed about eating the finished product. This recipe evidently got its proportions just right as the flapjacks were a hit and I am happy to make it my go-to fave. Of course you can add all sorts of extras - dried fruit, seeds, nuts, chocolate all work, and there are approximately a squillion other recipes on the web featuring other goodies. But not if you're eating it in this house, ok?

Lyle's Golden Syrup recipe here

Raspberry parade - jam(ish)


One of the first things I thought of making with my raspberries was jam, and I'd actually just copied down a recipe for raspberry and rose jam from Grandma S's latest copy of the BBC Good Food Magazine. I didn't really want to make too much as we don't get through it very quickly but I had so many berries that I ended up making enough to go with a 1kg bag of jam sugar - about 1.4kg or so. I made it when jam-making expert Cai came round for dinner last Sunday, and must have severely tested my hostessing credentials by hopping up and down at intervals through dinner with a chilled saucer for her to assess how close it was to setting. The trouble was that it started to get close and then it gave up completely and went really runny again. I don't know why this happened - did I heat it too quickly? too slowly? did I annoy it by not offering it dinner? Whatever the reason, I now have eight jars of very runny, and rather overly sweet jam. Cai and Lauren kindly took two jars away with them and I'm considering making it a compulsory leaving gift for anyone else who comes round.One of the reasons I'd wanted to make this jam was because of the rose flavouring, but when I got my bottle out I remembered that I'd bought rose syrup not rose water. I didn't want to add too much more in the way of sugar, so I used less than the recipe called for, which is rather a shame as the flavour wasn't very noticeable. So, not the best use of the berries, but I'm hoping that I'll be able to strain off some of the liquid and use it in baking - in Cai's chocolate nutella cake, for instance, or a Bakewell slice. Perhaps it's not so bad after all :)Raspberry and rose jam (from Good Food Magazine, August 2010)This is the full quantity - I made two thirds1.8 kg raspberries1.5 kg jam sugar2-3 Tbsp rose waterNight before: layer berries and sugar together in a very large bowl, then cover and leave at room temperature.Next day: give it a stir and set aside until you're ready. Put a small saucer in the freezerTip berries, juices and any undissolved sugar into a large wide based pan, and stir in the rosewater. Start over a low heat until the sugar has all dissolved, then bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Turn off the heat and spoon a little on to the saucer. When it's cool, push with your finger. If it wrinkles it's at the setting points. If not, return to the heat and boil in 2-3 minute stages until it reaches the wrinkle stage.Skim off any scum and leave for 15 minus, then pour into sterilised jars. Keeps in a cool dark place for at least 6 months. Refrigerate once openedMakes 8 jars[...]

Raspberry revels - berry salad


This was an early foray in using up my giant glut of raspberries, and was inspired by the amazing salads the Norse Goddess made for us while we were in Vancouver. She used a variety of ingredients in her salads, but they all had three elements which made them stand out:

1. Interesting leaves
2. Some gorgeously sweet fruit - mango was a highlight
3. a tasty dressing - we all liked the maple and mustard dressing from Veganomicon, which I haven't made before.


I've been making lots of versions on this theme since we got back, but this week (obviously) I tried it with raspberries. I wasn't altogether convinced in advance, but actually it was pretty good. The berries are sweet but also a bit tart, which was nice. I'd made a variation on the maple dressing, subbing flaxseed oil, and putting a garlic clove into the jar as well. It sits in the fridge and we just get it out and shake it up every time we fancy a bit of magic salad. I made another version a few days later which had diced raw courgette, cucumber and radish, some cherry tomatoes, some quinoa and leaves, plus the berries. I took it to work in a box and it wasn't pretty by the time I ate it, but it tasted good :)

Raving raspberry mad


We had a lovely weekend just now. We went up to Leeds on Thursday evening for The Scientist and Munchkin Gramps' traditional excursion to Headingley for international cricket. Yes, Munchkin Gramps has five children and three sons-in-law (one more properly an outlaw, which I just like saying), and only one of them likes cricket. I was invited one year but I evidently wasn't attentive enough as the invitation was mysteriously absent the following summer. It was probably for everyone's benefit - I like cricket, but in small doses only. I was glad I wasn't there this year as they came back with terrible sunburn on account of expecting gloom and rain. Meanwhile I spent half the day working, and half with Grandma S and Junior Sis and Bro. We had a nice lunch and went for a lovely walk along the canal, before reconvening for a fish'n'chip supper with the men. Well, fish'n'chips for five, and one sulk from the veggie as the chips are fried in dripping. What do you expect from Yorkshire?The next day Yorkshire delivered more fine weather, and Grandma S, Junior Sis and Junior Bro indulged me in my perpetual love of pick-your-own fruit farms. The strawberries were over, but there were lots of raspberries, and after a discussion on how many we could collectively get through (they are going on holiday next week), I confidently asserted that it was not possible to have too much fruit, and that I would deal with all the excess. Back at home, three HUGE baskets in front of me on the counter, I started to doubt my words. They were so beautiful though - plump and fragrant, and just falling off the canes into our hands. An hour of washing and triaging (jam versus baking and eating) later, I was feeling a bit less enthusiastic and rather anxious about what to do with them all, but I made my own bed, and now I must lie in all my berries (well, that would get rid of a few).Raspberry pictures and raspberry styling courtesy of Junior Bro :)I promised to document my berry adventures for Grandma S, so here is my first foray: raspberry coulis. Simple, yes, but we weren't up for a big dessert after a hot day. Fresh berries are best fresh, and so I made the coulis to accompany a sort of make-your-own Eton mess when Cai and Lauren came round for inauthentic veggie paella last night: meringue nests, raspberries, Greek yogurt and double cream, plus the coulis.The coulis is really easy to make, though somewhat time-consuming to sieve. Place a cup of berries in a pan with a little water and sugar, and heat briefly, just enough to warm the berries and melt the sugar. Blend in a blender, and then sieve to remove the pips. Add sugar to taste, and chill. I've kept the post-sieving pips and mush to stir into yogurt, though I suspect I'll be picking seeds out of my teeth all day. Hmm, note to self: don't eat for breakfast before a day of meetings tomorrow.Raspberry count after coulis and Eton mess: three baking sheets' worth frozen, and one giant bowl in the fridge.[...]

Holiday highlights


We're back from a wonderful two and a half weeks away. We were mainly in Vancouver and the Rockies, with a few days in Boston on the way back, so I could go shopping for baking chocolate. Oh no, I remember the line now: so The Scientist could give a paper at a prestigious international conference. Here are some highlights:First time I've ever seen tofu scramble on the menu in a cafe. It was much nicer than I expected!Lots of time spent in coffee shops (this one, Agro cafe, Granville Island)World famous Japadog stand (in several Vancouver locations). I won't show you the picture of The Scientist stuffing his face with his terimayo dog. It's exactly the same as the photo I have of him stuffing his face with a wurst in Munich, but it had seaweed on it. He said it was amazing. They do veggie dogs too, but I wasn't hungry. Cherries. I ate a LOT of cherries. They were just sooooo good. I envy you your West Coast fresh produce, VancouveritesWe didn't see a bear. I don't mind. I was scaredView down the high street in Banff. Beats traffic and Primark, doesn't it?Saw a lot of waterfalls and took a lot of photos. I'm a bit obsessed with how beautiful waterfalls are. I liked it that I managed to get the rainbow in this oneAthabasca Glacier. Beautiful. Used to be much bigger. This makes me more depressed than almost anything else except the polar bears.And perhaps the best bit: spending time with the glorious Norse God and Goddess - the reason we made the trip over there (and worth every mile :) )Travel's great. But it's great to come home, too. That's my giant crochet granny square under the pook, made after a workshop run by the lovely Roisin. I turned it into a star for a bit of variety.[...]

Off on hols!


We're off on our holidays today, so there will be a break in transmission for a while. Happy baking everyone!!

Trev's requests - cherry choc chip cookies and a new carrot cake


The Scientist went gaming again this weekend, so it was time for me to get baking. I had a special set of requests this time though, as one of the other gamers, Trev, was celebrating getting through a very long period of pretty nasty health-related stuff. The Scientist asked what his top picks would be and he came straight back with carrot cake, and cherry choc chip cookies. Time to go recipe-hunting.I've made a few carrot cakes for the gamers in the past, variously featuring banana, pineapple and (inadvertently) semi-raw dough. This time I looked up whether Nigel Slater had a take on carrot cake as I've just been reading his Eating for England which I'd really enjoyed. He does indeed, right here, and it's a pretty traditional one - no extras except walnuts, which I left out because of the usual nut allergy. Everything went fine with the baking, and as you can see, it was sandwiched together with some gloriously unctuous cream cheese icing. The Scientist took some more with him and iced the top when he arrived. The cake was enjoyed by all, but it was the icing which was the real hit. Definitely a keeper basic carrot cake recipe though - Nigel won true again.For the cookies I decided to go extra decadent and make this red wine and cherry choc chip cookie I'd seen on Cookie Madness. It made an absolute pile of cookies, and while the batter was on the sticky side, it baked exactly as directed. I even made some with no cherries in them to accommodate the no-dried-fruit gamer. I was so pleased with myself - until I found out that Trev really really hates red wine! He did try them and thought they were quite nice, but I know he appreciated the thought. And the others absolutely loved them - the whole pile got scarfed in no time and they've been promoted to the top of the double choc chip cookie list.Nigel Slater's carrot cake recipe hereCookie Madness' post on the red wine cherry choc chip cookies (with link to the original recipe) here[...]

Did the gentlemen prefer blonde 1 or blonde 2?


This post is in honour of two of the loveliest girls I know. The first is Roisin, who lent me THREE gorgeous dresses yesterday AND gave me the most amazing cloche hat which is too big for her. She is seriously one of the most generous and thoughtful people I know and I will make every effort not to get her dresses covered in Scootie hair to show how much I appreciate it.The second is one of my work friends and colleagues, J. J is also one of those people you just simply can't help but love - she's nice and clever and funny and when I found out within a few weeks of meeting her that she has a project to bake a cake every week and give it away, our friendship was sealed. She mentioned last weekend that her cake of the week had been blondies from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook. I have that book but I haven't tried that recipe. However, I do have a copy of the America's Test Kitchen blondie version, and I said I'd give it to her so she could give it a try for comparison.Of course this all got me thinking about blondies, and frankly what a weird sort of idea they are - I don't think I've ever met anyone who has eaten a brownie and thought that what it needed was the chocolate taking out. However, given my liking for a quantifiable challenge, I was taken with the idea of doing a side by side comparison of the two recipes.Getting ready to start testingSources and methodologyNow I have to say straight up that I can't reproduce the ATK recipe here because they police people doing that. So this is a report on a scientifically not very robust experiment. What I can say is that the two recipes were pretty similar in terms of ingredient quantities (hard to say exactly because one was in weights and one in cups). The ATK recipe specified brown sugar but that was about the only difference. However, the methods were very different: the Hummingbird one involved melting butter and white chocolate before adding the other ingredients; the ATK was a more traditional creaming and adding sort of job. As you can see from the pictures I didn't do anything sensible like make one and then make the other; no, I tried to do both at the same time, and it's pretty remarkable that everything ended up in the right bowl.Things are getting crowded already!Method and get-out clausesI should add here a few more provisos to my scientific rigour:1. I didn't have as much butter as I'd thought so one batch's quota had to be topped up with marge. However, this was the batch that won on taste testing2. One batch was baked in a silicone pan; the other in a baking parchment lined regular pan. The silicone pan batch was the winning one.3. The mixtures had different baking times, but the faster one took a lot longer than it was supposed to. This meant that both batches had the oven door opened on them quite a few times. The fast-baking-but-didn't version was the winner.4. The Hummingbird recipe called for nuts. I used chopped chocolate instead. According to the ATK recipe adding nuts would turn them into congo bars which are another thing I'd never heard of.Out of the oven: ATK on the left, Hummingbird on the right.ResultsSo, batches baked, The Scientist stepped up to carry out the 'warm from the oven' test. I know, he has to put up with a lot. The next day I took both batches to the pub (yes, our local doesn't mind if you bring cake - is this the best pub in England??), and got our friends to try one each. Most people said they were too full from dinner, but then ate both anyway. The result was absolutely unanimous: ATK had it, both warm from the oven and cold in the pub.This is not to say that the Hummingbird recipe was disliked - very far from it. That was the one everyone tried first, and I think they all thought it was going to be the favo[...]

Getting creative: embroidered baby bibs


I've decided to diversify from baby quilts for a while, so I get to try some new projects. These bibs were inspired by my book of iron-on embroidery templates, and were made for our Vet Friends' new baby - aka New Grub. I used some fairly sturdy sort of linen stuff for the fronts, and backed them with fun cottons from my stash of fabrics. The foody one used the book templates completely; the dog one has freehand writing and a doggy template; and the poker one is a complete original (thanks to Dr Eco for drawing me a pattern, and to The Scientist for coming up with a suitable poker slogan).

I really enjoyed making these - hand sewing is my favourite thing, and I tried out a few different types of stitches on them. The templates wash off really easily, and for the freehand ones I used a magical water-soluble fabric pen which fades on its own really quickly (and disappears easily with a damp cloth, too). I added a press stud on the back to close them, and used little running stitches around the front to hold them in shape, and for a bit of extra decoration.

I thoroughly recommend this book even if you're a beginner to embroidery. Must find more stuff to embroider now - if it doesn't move, it's getting decorated (watch out cats!)


Waste-not-want-not leftover butter icing cookies


I think that the name of these biscuits may not catch on - not as snapping as 'choc chip' or 'ginger-nut', eh? They were an experiment to avoid having to throw away the leftover butter icing from the cricket tea limey cupcakes (yes, this was a while ago now!). It occurred to me that it's just basically butter and sugar, which are two of the main constituents of baked goods anyway - plus they were already flavoured with lime juice and a bit of vanilla. So I added a bit more of both to give them an oomph, and then added flour to the icing until it looked like cookie dough. I had no real idea if it was going to work, especially without adding egg (which I was avoiding as it conveniently comes in one or none) - but it did! You can see from the pictures that the cookies spread a lot, which I think has something to do with the proportion of butter, and they were quite buttery - in an acceptable cookie way. I was pleased because they still tasted of lime. I took them to my sewing group, and gave the rest to our administrator at work, who has booked a lot of meeting rooms for me this semester! Plus, if you've used non dairy marge, they're even vegan :)

Waste-not-want-not leftover butter icing cookies:
Get leftover butter icing, add flour until it's thick and looks like cookie dough. Rest in fridge, roll into balls, and bake 12-15 minus in a moderate oven (or longer if it needs it - I'm sure this will depend on the individual batch).

Dan Lepard's Easy Bread


Let's talk bread today: easy, almost no-knead, 'I just produced this from almost thin air' bread. I've been trying out some new bread recipes recently, all in honour of a new work project. I've been working with a colleague from another university on a new research project we're planning, and we've evolved a very productive little tradition. She drives over to our house, which is about an hour and a bit from where she lives, but in return, I provide lunch, usually something bread and soup-related. Oh, and we get some work done, too. A few times I've used the breadmaker I bought for a princely £2.50 from the tip shop, but if I can fit it into my morning I like to make my own by hand. This was one I made a couple of weeks ago, inspired by its title of 'The easiest bread in the world'. It's another Dan Lepard recipe, and I do like his recipes (I have him to thanks for the winning entry in the Choc Chip Cookie Research Project after all).The loaf is based on a starter, which doesn't sound too easy, but in fact it means that you get most of it out of the way in advance. I mixed up the starter the night before and left it in the fridge, and then just added the remaining ingredients in the morning. After that you just knead the mixture briefly three times over the course of half an hour, shape and bake. It sounds churlish to complain but I did find the kneading process a bit of a faff since I had to come back downstairs for the third knead. Perhaps Mr Lepard would point out that trying to combine work and breadmaking was outside the remit of what he had in mind when he named his loaf.There are several variations offered to the basic white loaf, and I picked the multigrain and honey one which also just involved a bit of pre-soaking. My dough was extremely wet, so much so that I had to add quite a bit of extra flour, but I would put this down to the fact that I had to estimate the weights of the add-ins, on account of having accidentally dunked our weighing scales in the sink along with the chopping boards it was hidden between. It did not like it. It sulked terminally in fact, and I had not yet been able to buy a new one. Despite this, however, the bread turned out really well. I'm always a bit nervous serving a new bread recipe to a guest, but my collaborator (and I mean that in the best non-sinister sense) is very open to being pleased, and she put this one at the top of the breads I'd made for her. We had it smorgasbord-style, with cheese, salad, hummus and pickles.So, if you want a bread you can whip up on a working morning, this is the one for you. In fact, I'd say this could easily become a go-to bread recipe for any occasion, and it would take all sorts of add-ins and flour variations. I'll definitely be making it again, but in the meantime I might be painting our new scale neon yellow to avoid further risky washing up mistakes!Dan Lepard's Easiest Loaf in the World: from the Guardian Magazine[...]

Carrot, coriander and sun dried tomato sausages


I've been catching up with the lovely photos and recipes at Mangocheek's (don't you love the name?!) Allotment to Kitchen blog. She's an ace veggie gardener and also posts some great photos of her trips around the Glasgow area. A few recipes caught my eye when I was reading about her latest kitchen adventures recently, but there was one I just wanted to go and make immediately - some vegan roasted veggie sun dried tomato and olive sausages. We make burgers fairly often but not sausages and I was really taken with the idea.I couldn't use this recipe exactly though - lovely though it sounded - as it contained several anti-Scientist ingredients. Namely, the olives and the oats which formed part of the filler and also the coating. I also wanted to use up the carrots from our vegbox, but I loved the idea of using lentils and sun dried tomato, and also of roasting the veggies. So I tinkered a bit and was really pleased with the results. The flavours shone through, and the sausages weren't too heavy, as potato-based things can sometimes be. Olives would have been a great addition, but hey, what can you do. The Scientist liked them too - he did say that they could have been less carroty (I pointed out helpfully that they were carrot sausages), and suggested adding some sweet potato another time. I think that would be really good too. I roughly halved mangocheeks' recipe and made five sausages which was just right for us. I served them with some baked potato wedges, dusted with paprika, and also some steamed spring greens, all from the veg box.Guest photograph: The Scientist took this great impromptu shot of our matching pair of pooks just as the sun was starting to go down last night. I didn't even know he knew how to work my camera :)Carrot, coriander and sun dried tomato sausages - adapted from Mangocheeks4 carrots, washed and cut into chunks2 garlic cloves, left whole1/4 cup red lentils150ml stockhandful of fresh coriander, chopped2 sundried tomatoes, soaked in hot waterflaxseed meal and chickpea flour, for thickening and coating - I used about 1 Tbsp of flaxseed meal and about 1/4 cup of chickpea flour.Roast the carrots and garlic at 200C for about half an hour - until softCook lentils in the stock until softPut veggies and lentils in a food processor, with the coriander, chopped sun dried tomatoes. coriander and seasoning, to taste. Blend until well combined.Add the flaxseed meal and enough chickpea flour that you can mould it - it will still be soft and quite damp.Form into sausages and roll in some more chickpea flour.Cook gently in a frying pan sprayed with some oil spray, turning every so often.[...]

Jaffa drizzle cake


I've wanted to make this cake for ages - it was from a supplement to the Good Food magazine ages ago, but it's taken until now to find an opportunity. In the meantime Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes had blogged about how good it was, so its credentials had been raised even further. As usual, the opportunity was The Scientist going gaming, and it didn't take long to convince him it was a good bet (approximately as long as it took to say the word 'jaffa' and 'cake' in fact).


Frankly, this cake has everything going for it. It's about the easiest cake you could imagine - bung everything in a bowl, beat and bake. It's orangey. It has orange syrup on the top. AND it has dark chocolate on the top of the orange syrup. The recipe said it would keep for up to a week but I can't imagine any circumstances where it would need to. I asked The Scientist when he got back if it counted as a 'Gamers' Favourite' and he said a definite yes. Mind you, I haven't found a cake which hasn't been a Gamers' Favourite since I started that label. I love baking for these people!

I'm also featuring the other goodies I made for them: chocolate digestives. I loved the taste of the dough for these biscuits - they tasted exactly like the real thing. I baked them for slightly too long by mistake as I didn't hear the oven timer going off from upstairs, but covered in chocolate they were perfectly passable. And yes, they were Gamers' Favourites too :) BUT - I can't remember where I got the recipe from!! I'm rather upset about this as they were so nice, but if I turn it up again I will definitely blog it.

Jaffa drizzle lof (from BBC Good Food Magazine supplement): recipe here

Cricket teas are here again


I posted last year about taking our turn on the tea rota for The Scientist's cricket club. This year we were picked for an early slot - in fact the first home match of the season (I think that the committee has noticed that I like baking :) ). I was really chuffed that an Australian lady left me a lovely comment saying how helpful my posts about making the teas had been last year, so I thought I'd do a quick update.The Scientist was in charge of sandwiches again, following his production-line success last time. Luckily we read over my post again to remember what quantities of things we needed as we had completely forgotten that I'd noted that we'd only really needed three loaves of bread instead of four. Three turned out to be pretty much perfect. As far as the cakery went, we stuck with the scones, tray bake, cake formula. The Nigella scones I made last time are now are absolute stalwarts in our house, so I didn't hesitate to make a double quantity of those again. It made about 26 or 27 smallish but tall scones, and while there were some leftover when I left after tea, I'm sure they got snaffled after the match. We also did jam and whipped cream with them. Obviously. This is cricket after all.The tray bake I did last time was a chocolate biscuit cake, and I actually didn't deviate too far from that either. I happened to have seen a souped-up malteser version on Ruth's kitchen experiments just a week or two ago, and liked the idea of the whole maltesers so much that I went for that. The chocolate melts off the maltesers so you're left with the crunchy middle bit, which looks rather good when cut, I think. The topping was white chocolate which I did find a bit sweet (also it went a bit gnarly as I melted it - I don't have a bowl suitable for a double-boiler, so I had to melt it in a pan). It did look good in cross-section and The Scientist gave it a thumbs up, but I think I'd probably just add maltesers to my regular recipe in future. Still, it was fun to try an alternative.As to the cake, last time I made a big double-layer lemon drizzle. This time I gave The Scientist a shortlist and he picked a coconut lime cake (spot a citrus theme here?!). I was just a bit worried that a single loaf cake wouldn't feed as many as the big lemon one had, so since I had some coconut milk left over from making a curry, I also made a batch of the coconut lime cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. The loaf cake (which I actually made in a square pan as my loaf tin is too small) was very good, and really easy to make - it didn't look the greatest but got a lot of good comments about its limeiness and moistness, but the cupcakes also had a good following too (I didn't mention the vegan bit - although I have to admit that the icing was a butter one). One person said they were the dampest cakes he'd ever had, and when I asked if that was good looked at me as though I was crazy. We got a lot of really nice comments about the whole tea, and The Scientist's egg sandwiches were particularly praised too :)Coconut and lime cakeThe whole process actually wasn't quite as fun as last year - we'd had to get up pretty early for a Sunday to get it all started, and since I was making an extra cake I wasn't able to help with the sandwich production line which had been the fun part last time. But it was still nice to try out a couple of new recipes, and I had a lovely cycle ride over to the ground to help out. Due to an unforeseen batting collapse I nearly arrived too late and the scones had to stay uncut - but I still got to hang around for the kudos :)Coconut and[...]

Some favourite things


I have been shamed into getting back over here after Caroline pointed out that she had been seeing the same peach and basil muffins for a very long time! I didn't want to do another post until I could respond to an award Johanna gave me though, and that involved actually getting round to photographing some stuff, so that gave me the boost to use the nice spring light this morning and get myself in gear.The award is a 'Ten favourite things' one, which is pretty much as it sounds. Since number 1 is baking, number 2 is crafting, and number 3 is the British countryside I thought I would illustrate my list with some of my recent projects and some snaps of our recent trip to the Highlands of Scotland. So, here goes:1. BakingThe gift I made for the friends whose wedding we were going to in the Highlands: a set of table mats and coasters using some of the Liberty fabric I bought in Stratford. I know it's not exactly baking-related, but I'm it will help to show off some tasty baked goods.2. CraftingSome of my favourite things illustrated in embroidery (using a new book called Sublime Stitching). I know, I should have ironed it. Feminism is about choosing whether or not to do housework in my book.3. Walking in the British countryside (current top three places: The Lakes, Dartmoor, the Highlands)View from the top of Cairn Gorm (we got the furnicular railway; our friends did it properly and walked)4. Should be top really: my house and all who live in it :)Really easy knitted bag - just go round and round and round on circular needles. I need to practise my intarsia stitches, but it was my first time trying5. My lovely friends - especially the ones I made in Cambridge and now in Leamington - plus Eco Sis and Kiwi Sis who don't get any choice in the matter.Knitted mice, who have started a colony on the arm of the sofa5. English tea shops - tea, scones, toasted tea cakes - who needs fancy cupcakes?Beautiful spring day - and snow-capped mountains in the distance. Our friends couldn't have asked for a better day for their wedding6. Second hand bookshops (best one ever: in Chatham, Kent - can't remember the name, unfortunately, but it even kept the Sci Fi-loving Scientist happy)7. Markets - of any description.We may have visited a whisky distillery the morning of the wedding...8. Pick 'n mixes - I have no idea why since I can't eat most of the things in pick 'n mix sweets, but I especially love the ones with dried fruits and wasabi covered peas and things. I even got excited about a salad leaves one in an Aussie supermarket once.Sock toy: yes, he used to be a sock, now he's too cute to give away (though the Munchkin has one of his own, made from a pair of socks that got left behind after Kiwi Family came to visit)9. Curling up on the sofa with The Scientist and a smattering of cats to watch whatever dvd series we're currently hooked on.Scottish castle10. History - makes me who I am. Enough said.Thank you, Johanna, for thinking of me for this meme, and sorry it took me so long!![...]

Peach and basil muffins; do I sound like a gourmet baker yet?


I'm a bit behind with my blog posts: I made these muffins about three weekends ago when I had some friends round for a sewing and alterations session. We altered precisely nada in the end, deciding that Lauren's coat was a perfect length already, and that Caroline's dress was too weirdly put together to change - but we did do a lot of bantering and muffin-eating. I'd made two types of muffin: some apple and cinnamon ones using slightly sweetened applesauce, and these peach and basil ones. I'll post the apple recipe another time - frankly the recipe is all the way in the kitchen and I'm quite comfy here on the sofa. And full of noodles after a post-work trip to Wagamama in Oxford.Both types of muffin were nice and light, though the basil taste wasn't terribly pronounced in these ones. Next time I'll add more. The peaches were tinned, but in season I'd use fresh ones. The recipe was from a book called Muffins Galore, which is definitely my sort of book. It's divided into sections on chocolate, fruity, nut and spice, and savoury muffins, and there's even a separate section on special diets - low fat, low sugar. and gluten free. I have a lot of their other recipes bookmarked, which is good news for my commission of Easter muffins from The Scientist's sister. I'm still torn between lemon and poppyseed, apple streusel, or cinnamon swirl.... Oh gosh darn it, I just noticed that there is even one called Easter muffins, with some cute little eggs on the top. Back to the decision-making drawing board. Sigh. (Still, I'm guessing in the wider scheme of things this is not the worst dilemma I could have)Peach and basil muffins, from Muffins Galore, by Catherine AtkinsonMakes 12 (I halved it and used the other half of the egg in the apple muffins)2 ripe peaches, peeled, stoned and chopped into small dice - or the equivalent of well drained tinned peaches2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil (or more)3 Tbsp soft light brown sugarGrated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon300g self-raising flour1/2 tsp baking powder50g butter80g granulated sugar1 egg, lightly beaten150ml milk1. Place the peaches in a bowl with the basil, brown sugar and lemon juice, and stir to mix. Set aside to stand for about 30 minutes.2. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or line the cups with paper muffin cases.3. Mix the flour and baking powder in a large bowl, then rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the granulated sugar and lemon zest.4. In a separate bowl or jug, mix together the egg and milk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry alternately with the peaches and their juices, mixing briefly until just combined.5. Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin cups, dividing it equally. Bake for about 20 minutes or until risen and golden. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack. Serve warm or cold.[...]

Penguin and mushroom salad


I'm probably inviting all sorts of weird web search results with a title like that - what a world of difference a missing comma makes (as I said to my students this week in a seminar that rather worryingly had to turn into a grammar lesson on how to use an apostrophe). Needless to say, the penguin was only matched with the mushrooms in the course of writing this post, and neither was harmed in the process.The mushroom salad was actually my entry to Lisa and Jacqueline's monthly No Croutons Required event, which was featuring chickpeas this month. Chickpeas are our favourite pulse (is that sad or with-the-moment?) so I really wanted to enter - but busy-ness got the better of me actually posting it before the deadline. I had paired my chickpeas with a marinated and grilled portobello mushroom, serving it with mixed leaves and sundried tomato, and with some home-made blackberry vinegar drizzled over the top. I would have added avocado too if I'd had any - I think that would be a nice additional texture. You can't really see the vinegar in the photo but it gave a nice fruity acidity. I kept the marinade simple as I didn't want the vinegar to get drowned - just a bit of shaosing wine, some balsamic vinegar and some garlic powder.Inquisitive penguinThe penguin was another matter entirely. I started him quite a while ago but then didn't have any orange wool, so he sat rather sinisterly beakless and featureless for several weeks. Then I got some more wool and made him his beak, but didn't get round to attaching his wings or giving him any eyes. So when I finally got him all together I was pleasantly surprised at how cute he was. He's another character from my book of knitted toys, and the reason I was pushed to finally finish him, is because he's one of several ambassadors from my sewing group, to an exhibition of toys in Cardiff. One of our remote members lives there, so she will be taking them in, and hopefully seeing them in situ. They come back to their owners eventually, which I'm pleased about - I felt rather sad squishing him into the postbox to go off on his important errand.Scholarly penguinThe Easter break starts at the end of this week so hopefully I will get a few more posts up - including an award from the lovely Johanna :)Thoughtful penguin[...]

'Just had to' brownies


I'm sure that I'm not alone in bookmarking copious numbers of recipes from other food blogs. Occasionally I even get round to making some of them :) But sometimes a recipe pops up in your reader and you just have to make it right there and then. This happened to me twice in one day last week - once with Wendy's Baked Honey and Mustard Butterbeans which I only didn't make that night because I already had dinner planned (but looking at the picture again just now I still really really want to eat that dish right now!). The other was Alice Medrich's cocoa brownies which popped up on The Wednesday Chef. I don't know quite what lured me in about these brownies quite so irrevocably. It's an interesting recipe, using cocoa powder and no chocolate, and very little flour, but I suspect that it was the chocolatey photos that seduced me. I did go and make a half batch that very evening, and took most of them to my sewing group the next night.

I've made a lot of brownie recipes in the past, and what generally wins me over or puts me off is whether the darn things cook through properly. I like some barely cooked fudginess as much as the next person (who likes barely cooked fudginess - it must be said that this seems to really divide people, as evidenced by the two brownie-eaters in this house). But completely uncooked goop: not so much. These brownies did cook all the way through and firmed up nicely to cut into little pieces. Taste-wise they were very cocoa-ey - actually a bit more than I like, but The Scientist and my sewing buddies liked them. I'm just not too cocoa-y a sort of girl. So while I may not eat them myself again, I will happily make them for other people :)

Now, butterbeans, you say....?

Alice Medrich's cocoa brownie recipe at The Wednesday Chef

Chocolate mousse at Tiffany's


Somehow I have never seen Breakfast at Tiffany's. I think that means I can never be truly sophisticated (as if!). But I felt better when it turned out that several of my friends hadn't seen it either, and it very quickly turned into an opportunity for a film night. I was delighted when they all rose to the occasion: Lauren turned up in a vintage suit and hot pink tights, Kate in a dotty tea dress, Caroline in her new skinny jeans, and Helen - was late. From round the corner. And she doesn't have a blog. But it was lovely to see her :) I wished I wasn't wearing my favourite fleecy skirt which is sadly a magnet for cat hair (but hang on - isn't there a cat in Breakfast at Tiffany's???).Looking sultry and sophisticated - it's obviously seen Breakfast at Tiffany'sWe actually had such a great time chatting and laughing that we didn't get round to watching the film. But I'd thought that with such a sophisticated lady as Audrey Hepburn in the room (even if we did keep her inside her dvd case) we needed a sophisticated dessert. These are coffee chocolate mousses from the Green and Black's cookbook. I served them in some vintage teacups which were my Grandad's and which I like to get out and use in careful company sometimes. I knew that the girls would appreciate them particularly.The mousse wasn't as silky as the one in the cookbook picture, but it was actually a lot less full-on chocolatey rich as I'd expected (a good thing as far as I'm concerned). It also definitely tasted of coffee, but again without being overpowering (a good thing as far as both Kate and I were concerned!). I was so busy trying to photograph the pretty teacups that I didn't really pay much attention to the fact that the mousse looks a bit lumpy. Sigh - unsophisticates it and me both. It tasted good though - I'd definitely make it again, and with vegan marge instead of butter, it's dairy free.Coffee and chocolate mousse (from the Green and Black's cookbook)150g dark chocolate2 Tbsp filter coffee powder60g butter (or vegan marge)3 eggs, separated3 Tbsp caster sugarcocoa powder, to decorateMelt the broken up chocolate with the butter and coffee powder, stirring gently. Add the three egg yolks and stir until well combined.Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form, then add the caster sugar and continue whisking until stiff and shiny. Fold into the chocolate mixture and combine gently until there is no white showing anywhere. This took a little while and I thought it wouldn't combine, but it did.Chill for at least 6 hours, and serve with powdered cocoa on the top. Don't put the mousse back in the fridge once it's been cocoa'd though, as it will meld in and spoil the look of the mousse. Or you can forget to do anything with the cocoa powder, like I did.[...]

Not finishing, but getting there


I didn't register how busy I've been recently until I got home from teaching on Thursday and realised how relieved I was it's the reading week next week. I've been feeling as though I haven't been getting anything done because I haven't finished any of my big tasks, but with a bit of time away from the university, I've reflected that I've actually made a lot of progress on them all. The Scientist has been away this weekend, and so I've made sure to spend time just relaxing. I've made meals that involved minimal cooking, I've watched girly films he'd hate (Sex and the City, and Chicago - last of the highbrow academics that I am :) ), I've done lots of crafting, and I spent a really nice few hours with my friend Jane in Bicester.The flowered tin on the top shelf was The Scientist's grandmother's button box; the one under neath it was my great-grandmother's. And the wooden box on the lower shelf was a present from The Scientist, found in an antiques shop in LewesOne of the other things I did was sort out my crafting bits. I've been looking out for a little cabinet to go at my end of the sofa for a while, as my space is being slowly taken over by an assortment of books, knitted mice, and half-finished projects. This weekend I was doing a volunteering session at the Recycle Warehouse in Leamington, and found what I hoped was just the thing. I brought it back and was delighted to discover that it fitted the space perfectly - and all my bits and pieces fitted it perfectly too. I really can't buy any more craft books now though :) I spent ages sorting out all my embroidery threads and now I feel all happy and organised.Look! Escaped mice!I also pounced on this lovely item at the Recycle Warehouse:It had only just been brought in, and it's full of someone's old sewing things. I wonder who they were, and am a bit sad that no one in their family wanted it (although not that sad, since it meant I got to revel in it instead). It even goes with the cabinet, and for a hoarding social historian it was a perfect addition to my new-look sewing station.While I'm on the topic, I can't say enough good things about the Recycle Warehouse. I volunteer there once a month or so, and it's full of weird and wonderful things that people don't want any more. I usually limit myself to picking up a few books but this time I got a bit carried away. It's just amazing what people bring in (and quite horrifying sometimes too) but I love seeing things find a new home when their old owners had decided they were junk. Someone brought in a little unit about the size of my sewing station this week, but the front pulled forward on a hinge to reveal a chute for coal. It didn't stick around for long - I wonder what the new owners will use it for? Anyway, if you're local I recommend taking a look. It's run by Action 21, who put all the profits back into their other local community and environmental initiatives. And if you want to feel good about yourself and get a discount on all the items that take your fancy, then become a volunteer!And on the craft note, one of the members of my sewing group is having a felt give-away! Have a look at her blog, the Felt FairyThe Recycle Warehouse is at the Princes Drive Recycling Centre, Leamington Spa, CV31 3PH[...]