Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I found this lovely website the other day and was very impressed by all the photos of the snowflakes. Not that I shall be expecting to see any in South Africa!!! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone! Happy 50th Zabeena!!! Happy 30th Sally!!! AND happy 60th Dad!!!!!!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Gevulde speculaas

I found the recipe for this at the Hollandse Pot website and after a quick translation here is the recipe that I followed:
250g self raising flour
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons speculaas spices - available at the German Christmas market at the mo!
150g golden caster sugar
150g butter
2 teaspoons milk plus a little for brushing
250g marzipan
50g sliced almonds
In a mixer place flour, salt, sugar, spices and butter. Blitz to breadcrumbs and then slowly add the milk as if you were making pastry (I needed a little more than 2 teaspoons in the end). Then I would suggest leaving it to rest in the fridge for 30min or so as I tried to roll it out straight away but it was a bit soft. Roll out the marizpan to about 1 cm in depth and then roll out the dough to twice this size. Place the marizipan inside dough and fold over so that it is totally encased in dough. Stick down the edges with a little milk and brush the top with milk also. Scatter over the sliced almonds and bake in a preheated oven at 150°C for 30 to 40 min. Allow to cool and then enjoy with a cup of tea or mulled wine!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The hats are out there!!!

On the way to see James Bond last night (which is excellent!!) I popped into the Sainsbury's on Broad Street and was very excited to see these little woolly hats atop the innocent bottles!!!!!!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Following on in birthday style we all met up in Stavanger for the weekend. Dougal had planned out lots of visits and the picture above is from our first stop at the rock carvings at Fluberget. We also visited several glass makers which is always gorgoeus and ate like kings at Craigs kjokken and bar and at the oil museum restaurant Bolgen & Moi. Both did set menus and at Craigs we had the most delicious pumpkin soup with a smoked ham 'sausage roll', halibut on a cauliflower puree, pork loin on spinach with pasta and mushrooms, apple and bacon and sausages with pine nuts. To finish there was a light tiramisu with mandarin granita and lime marshmallows!! In the oil museum the starter was scallops with a tangy lemon hollandaise and then halibut on saffron rissotto with jerusalem artichoke foam (very yummy), duck with red cabbage and smoked aubergine puree (the fire alarm kept going off so may be they were smoking the aubergines in the kitchen!!) and finally creme brullee with strawberry sorbet! Wow!!!! Just as well we took a walk in the woods too!!

Friday, November 24, 2006

le pain quotidien

On Thursday I took the day off work and went down to London to spend the day with Mum as it was her birthday. We had a superb day pottering about, visiting the Cockpit arts open studios in the evening and then eating at Le Pain Quotidien down by the Festival Hall for dinner. It was simple fare but exceedingly good - tasty 'pot' and hearty chocolate tart and crumble!!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A trip to Liverpool for work and I got to pop out and glimpse the Liver birds at lunchtime.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Witlof met ham en kass

This is something I remember from when we lived in Holland, chicory (witlof) is used much more in cooking there. I simply wrapped the chicory in two pieces of ham and then covered with cheese sauce. Then cooked in the oven at 200°C for 10min covered in foil and then another 15min without foil.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Funghi sott'olio

Back in August when I was leaving Italy I picked up a magazine on preserving in the airport. I have been trying ever since to get some exciting mushrooms to try out a little preservation, but it wasn't until last weekend that I found some girolles in Waitrose. So last night I set to with a mixture of chesnut mushrooms and girolles, the recipe called for porcini but these were the next best thing.

1 kg mixed mushrooms
Half a liter of white wine vinegar
2 cloves of garlic
4 bay leaves
Half a teaspoon black pepper corns
Half a liter of extra virgin olive oil
Teaspoon of salt

Clean the mushrooms with a damp cloth, leave small ones whole and cut larger ones in half. Heat a casserole containing the vinegar, a liter of water, the salt and pepper, the garlic segments sliced and the washed bay leaves. When a few bubbles break the surface add the fungi and simmer them for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and cover them with a cloth and leave them to dry for a day. Arrange them in a jar, putting them with the cut side towards the wall, in order to optimize the space, and making sure not to break them. Tap on the work surface to remove any spaces and fill with the oil. Seal hermetically, wrap in cloth and arrange them in a pot, cover them with water, so that there is 4-5cm above the jar and sterilize them by boiling for 20 min. Cool them, then store them in a cool dark place. Leave them to rest for a month before opening them. They should keep for 8-9 months.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Petits Fours

Jeanne over at Cook Sister is hosting Sugar High Friday this month: petits fours. Now this is a challenege to my cookery skills because as you may have noticed that I don't really do little and pretty things, though I do try. But the picture of four little gorgeous cakes on her website made me think I could at least have a try. So last Friday I did a little research in Waterstone's to make sure I was thinking of the right things (the Larousse was one of the only books to have any petits fours in it) and on Saturday morning I rifled through a selection of my cook books to find suitable recipes to make tiny edible delights. I came up with lemon creams, chocolate tarts (from Gary Rhodes' Sweet Dreams) and meringues (just a standard recipe). I duely bought all the ingredients I didn't have and set to in the kitchen on Sunday morning. By the time I sat down at 1 o'clock I was exhausted but seemed to have created what I thought of as petits fours - the lemon creams may be slightly larger than anticipated because they spread in the oven but nevertheless a good effort. However, the slightly more slap dash approach I normally employ will be back in service soon, much less stressful if you don't care how big your biccies are going to be.

Lemon creams
I can't remember where the recipe for these came from but I have it scawled down in a note book along with vienese whirls and vegie burgers

110g unsalted butter
60g caster sugar
grated rind of 1 lemon
140g self raising flour
30g ground almonds

for the filling
40g unsalted butter
85g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Cream together the butter and sugar and then fold in the lemon rind and almonds. Mix in the flour to make a stiff dough. Roll out to 3mm and then cut out 5cm diameter circles. Chill for 5-10 min and then bake for 7-10min. Cool. For the filling blend together the sugar and butter and then use to sandwich together the biscuits.

Chocolate tarts

For the pastry
225g plain flour
pinch of salt
150g butter
75g cater sugar
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk

In a food processor put all the ingredients except the eggs and whizz until you have fine breadcrumbs. Then add the eggs and whizz briefly to combine. Work everything together and put into the fridge for about an hour. Then roll out to 3mm and cut rounds out to fit a small bun tin to make mini tart cases. Then bake at 200°C for 15min. Cool.

For the filling
200g plain chocolate
100ml milk
150ml double cream
2 whole medium eggs

Melt the gently chocolate in a bowl over simmering water. Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl. Heat the milk and cream until boiling. Then pour the milk/cream mixture into the eggs whilst beating. Then add all this into the melted chocolate. It'll go very thick. Then spoon a little of this mixture into each tart case and bake them at 100°C for 20min. Cool.

This recipe size makes lots and lots and lots, I ended up making many little ones and one big one when I felt I'd had enough of making little ones. The big one needed 45min to set the chocolate mixture and about 25min for the pastry.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

My EBBP parcel has arrived

The weather has turned cold and gloomy over the past week but I have something very special - a parcel from Meeta at whats for lunch honey filled with tempting autumny smells wrapped up in beautiful little packets. Inside I found all the wonderful tasty treats I associate with the German Christmas market that comes here in December - chocolate and hazelnut spiced honey breads, little marzipany chocolatey domino dice, chocolate butter cookies, ferraro chocolate kisses and stollen, which is a favourite of mine! Fabulous and now I shall have to slink off for a cup of tea and a wonderful mouthful!

Monday, October 16, 2006

World Bread Day

Bacon and prune bread

In enthausiasm for World bread day I have created this rather tasty bread - with salty smoked bacon and squishy prunes. To make it simply take a wholemeal bread recipe and add the extras and if you're lazy like me and have a bread machine you could use this recipe below:

200g strong wholemeal flour
200ml water
150g strong white flour
1tsp salt
1tsp sugar
14g fact acting dried yeast

5rashers smoked back bacon
100g ready to eat prunes

To make the dough put all the ingredients except the bacon and prunes in your pan and set to the dough setting. Meanwhile cook the bacon in a hot oven (190°C) until crispy, cool and then cut into small pieces. Chop the prunes. Once the dough is ready kneed in the bacon bits and prunes and then shape and leave to rise in a warm place. Once doubled in size bake in the oven (190°C) for 35min or until it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

1066 Re-enacted

On Saturday we all went down to Battle, near Hastings to see the re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings (I wonder did the word Battle come first or the place?......) 2000 or more people dressed in clothing of the era, carrying weapons to match, fought for 2 hours on the battle field outside Battle Abbey. It looked like incredibly hard work, carrying all the chainmail and wielding pikes and broadswords and being rained on by arrows.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Hot footing it around Athens

With the summer school over John came all the way to Athens for the weekend! I met him at the airport on Friday night and after finding a decent hotel we went in search of dinner - fabulous chicken in a 'secret' creamy sauce. On Saturday we wandered around the whole of Athens it seemed, taking in the Temple of Zeus, the Roman forum and the Agora, squeezing in a lengthy lunch out of the baking sun! We found a little restaurant in a side street for tea and were very lucky it wasn't busy because the heavens opened and all the clientelle could sqeeze inside from the al fresco seating. Then saving the most popular for last we trekked up the Acropolis to see the Pantheon with hordes of folk. But it was worth it at the top to see the ancient ruins and particularly to sit in the Theatre of Dionysus.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Greek cyclamen

The organisers let us have the afternoon off on Tuesday and they took us around the island on a boat and deposited us on Anagiri beach for a few hours. I wandered round the headland to the cave there and came across many beautiful cyclamen poking up through the scorched earth. (There must have been a vicious fire last year.) They really were very beautiful. And then yesterday Helen and I skived off the afternoon tutorials and took bikes around the island - wonderful, if a little sweaty!!! The summer school is nearly over with just the final dinner to go.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Summer School

This is the sunrise that greeted me this morning from our hotel on the Greek island Spetses. I'm here for a summer school for work and what a spectacular setting. We arrived on Friday in Athens and then caught the boat out here yesterday. With registration not until later in the afternoon I had planned to cycle round the island with Khujesta and Rajit but in the heat we got down to the lighthouse before getting too hot and just had to have a paddle in the sea to cool off. This morning our work starts in earnest and won't let up til 8 tonight - phew!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Coeliac friendly cheescake

I had a bit of a disaster on Sunday night whilst trying to make Nigella's Butterscotch Cake. She asks for large quantities of cream cheese and butterscotch to be mixed together to make the icing for the cake but when I did this I ended up with large quantities of cream cheese soup. I didn't want to throw out all this delicious stuff but couldn't use it to ice the cake either so I whisked into it 3 eggs and 3 egg yolks and a little vanilla essence to transform it into cheesecake. Helen, who works with me in the office, is a coeliac and I thought it would be great to make a coeliac friendly cheesecake so that she could have some. So my brainwave was to use a chocolate ricecrispy base made in the same way as for chocolate cripsy cakes and then pour the cream cheese custard on top. With fingers crossed I then baked it all in a bain marie (Nigella London Cheesecake style) for 60min. Luckily it all turned out well and tastes wonderful!!! (The sponges for the butterscotch cake have gone in the freezer for further cream cheese topping later)

Market goodies

It was Moseley farmer's market on Saturday and I popped down to see what seasonal delights I could find. And plenty there were - I wandered about before deciding on just a few items for tea. So I bought two of the lovely squashes above - the brilliant red one and a yellow one, some horse mushrooms and some cobnuts and damsons. The mushroom seller said that the mushrooms should taste vanilla-y but when I had them in a omlette last night they tasted just rather meaty - pleasant and a change from supermarket blandity. The cobnuts are wonderful - still fresh and crunchy once out of their husks and rather like hazelnuts but more fun! The damsons were used to make damson jelly with a little sugar and some Vegel to set it, extremely tasty and a good way to clean the palate after squash ristotto. So to the squashes, the yellow one, which I think is a pattypan, had very thick waxy skin that was a bugger to get off, was used to make a delicious risotto, and the red one, a red kuri I think, was roasted in wedges with the skin on for 30min. These wedges tasted just like potato wedges - yummy - and made a very scrumptious 'potato salad' with mayonaise for last nights tea.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Innocent hats

Over on the innocent website the knitting frenzy has started! They are requesting that we knit hats for their smoothies and drinks bottles and for every bottle sold with a hat between the end of November and Christmas in EAT and Sainsbury's, they will give 50p to Age Concern. So I have learnt to knit and here are my first two offerings. I wonder how many I can knock up?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Pomp and Circumstance

After our trip to the Proms at the end of August I hatched a plan and invited Sarah and Juul over for dinner with J and me to celebrate the last night of the Proms. Sarah brought her Union flag along and there was much merriement and flag waving - but whatever happened to the well known tunes - I didn't find out. It seems that the BBC's scheduling cut off the end of the broadcast from the Albert Hall. A shame but it didn't detract from our evening. I had been perusing my cook books for something quintessentially english for dinner and what better than a really good bit of roast beef and yorkshire puds!! Waitrose did us proud with a beautiful piece of sirloin that just melted in the mouth. For starters I played around with Delia's recipe for feta and courgette cakes to make them a little less fatty and for pud a fabulous golden plum rataffia crumble (no photo of this one as we ate it all!!)

Courgette and feta cakes

3 courgettes
2 potatoes
200g feta cheese
200g cottage cheese
6 spring onions
2 red chillies
1 egg
handful of fresh mint leaves

plain yoghurt to serve

Preheat the oven to 220°C.

Grate the courgettes and potatoes together and then finely chop the spring onions and chillies (removing the membranes and seeds if you don't like it reall hot, like me) and roughly chop the mint. Put everything in a bowl and add the egg and cheeses. Mix everything together with your hands until well mixed but the feta is still a little chunky. Then dollop tablespoons of the mixture on to baking trays and cook in the oven for 15min. Remove from the oven and turn over the little cakes. I actually let mine cool down at this point and then flipped them over and cooked them on the other side just before I was ready to serve them as a starter but you could cook them straight away too. Serve them with a little plain yoghurt for dipping.

Golden plum rattafia crumble

700g plums
75g dark brown sugar
55g plain flour
55g rattafia biscuits
55g butter
30g soft brown sugar

Preheat your oven to 180°C. Cut the plums into bite sized chuncks removing the stones too. Then layer them in the bottom of a large baking dish. Sprinkle with the dark brown sugar. In a blender whizz the butter and flour together and then add the rattafia biscuits and whizz again until they are crumbs. Stir in the sugar. Use this mix to cover the plums. Then bake for 35min. Allow to cool and serve warm with vanilla ice cream, yoghurt, custard...... the choice is yours.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Have you found out about Perplex City yet? What fun - I am totally addicted and particularly liked card numvber 118 - Chemistry experiment, embracing both science and cooking!!! What more could a girl ask for......

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Last Wednesday I was lucky enough to get sent to Stresa on Lago Maggiore for a little buisness presentation and taking full advantage of the oppurtunity I have stayed on for the weekend in Milan. Imagine a hot autumn day surrounded by well dressed Italians and a sprinkling of tourists and you have pictured today. I got up early at the suggestion of my guide book (evil thing) and headed off to Navigli on the metro. A man got on a stop after me and sat directly opposite me and proceded to clear out his nose with his little finger! He got off after two stops and the lady next to me exploded into an italian rant - much gesticulating - so I just nodded and smiled. I had a superb walk through the relative cool of the morning along the canal (why can't ours be as clear as this one was?) but never found the saturday morning market that was supposed to be there. However I did find a clutch of gorgeous shops just opening and drifted along. I pottered into San Lorenzo and San Ambrogio to look at the 4th centurary mosaics, and inadvertantly saw a little of a wedding too. Happily I found a tiny bakery and bought extremely tasty tomato foccaccio for a light lunch. My business days had involved eating an awful lot so this was very welcome. I ate lunch in the shade of Castello Sforzesco before oggling the fishies in the Acqauiro. This was particulary impressive - the fish and the architecture. Then for another long wonder down the shopping streets to the Duomo, which is still/once more in scaffolding - I came several years ago and it was in such a state then. However the bits not enshrouded did look sparklingly clean so I think it must be worth it. Feeling rather hot by now I am headed back for a siesta, keeping a beady eye out for potential dinner spots. Last night I ended up in a fabuloud little trattorria run by Nico, a poet and a brilliant restaurant owner! His tiramisu, recommended by him, came with meringue on the top!
So after my siesta I went in search of dinner. I wandered down towards the centre again but found nothing - evrything had eluded me and when I pottered back to the area I was staying many of the restaurants were closed. Which is kind of funny for a Saturday night. So I went back to Nico's, who welcomed me and then seemed impressed that I was going to partake in a relatively Italian meal even if I had no-one to share it with, which seemed to be the major concern of the female staff. The antipasti were delicious and my hot sizzling lamg cuttlets were succulent, and the lemon sorbet was the best I have had! I wended my way back to my shoe box of a room very replete.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Norwegian style strawberry jam

Last year when I visited Dougal he had just made a batch of strawberry jam. But this was no ordinary strawberry jam but one that required very little cooking and was kept in the freezer. As my strawberry jam always takes an age to make I was very interested and brought home with me one of the packets he had used. The packet from 'Jam' promised less sugar for more berry flavour and contained vitamin C, calcium phosphate and pectin. All I had to do was take 2kg strawberries and the contents of the packet and bring to the boil for 2min. Then add the sugar and stir until it had dissolved. I actually had a phone call at this stage so the fruit and sugar mixture boiled for five minutes too. Then the jam went straight into hot sterilised jars, from the oven. And it had set in a couple of hours as it cooled. As easy a that - fantastic, no messing about trying to get the jam to set, just strawberries from my garden, some sugar and a packet of Jam! And as it is actually in a cupboard and doesn't need to go in the freezer - may be this is down to my extra boiling.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Pesto spaghetti squash

While I was pottering through the vegetable isles of the supermarket yesterday I chanced upon a spaghetti squash and thought I would buy one and see what it was like. I hunted throught my recipe books but found nothing about it, so as it was the size of a butternut squash I thought I would cook it in the same way. So I cut it in half and scooped out the seeds to leave a somewhat hard flesh in the beautiful speckled yellow shell. I put both seasoned halves into a roasting pan and filled the pan half full with water. I then carefully lifted it into a 200°C oven and placed a flat baking sheet on top - I had forgotten to buy any foil! - and cooked the squash for 40min. Then I removed the pan and retrieved the squash halves. I scooped out the succulent soft flesh - all stringy like spaghetti, the name did not lie - into a bowl and added 2 teaspoons of pesto sauce and mixed it in well. Then I put the flesh back in to the shells and topped them with a handful of breadcrumbs and dotted with butter and placed the halves on the baking sheet. A further 15min in the oven and my dinner was golden brown and smelling gorgeous - and tasting too!!! This has got to be good for the waistline - hardly any fat!!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

tiny fishies

Ok so this is not the best photo in the world but that fish is tiny - about 1mm high and about 10 long!!! I found this little chap along with about 10 brothers and sisters in my old fish tank. I had just come back from an early morning run (this allows me to go out and nobody to see me plod along the canal) and was sat on the step in the garden and thinking that I really should take the old tank down to the tip - snails and all - when I saw something dart about. My immediate thought was - thats a bloody big mosquito larvae and so got down on my hands and knees to peer in through the slightly grubby glass at the 5cm of water in the bottom. It then occurred to me that they would have to have been very cunning mozzies to get into the tank with the lid on. But, low, this was fish life not insect life. The white cloud mountain minnows must have laid eggs in the old tank and now that they are with the other fish in the new tank there was nothing to eat their progeny in the old one! So I am now the proud surrogate-parent of a whole new set of fishies!!! I just have to figure out how to get them into the new tank and ensure they don't get eaten, and all before it gets too cold for them to live outside!!!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Happy Foodies: Gladmat in Stavanger

Last week I spent a wonderful few days in Norway with Dougal, Wampe and Rolf. We headed off to the hills straight from the plane in the blazing sunshine. Having completed the Kjerag bolt and been on a couple of shorter wanders over a couple of days, we headed back into Stavanger for the food festival - Gladmat (which literally means happy food in Norwegian).

It took us three trips to get round most of the stalls but even so we couldn't sample anything - though we had a jolly good go. The first evening we tried scallops, giant prawns, norwegian pranws in great piles, hardanger lamb with nutmeg infused mashed root veg, italian antipasti, calzoni and crepes filled with deliciously sticky strawberry jam and chocolate sauce...... in fact we could hardly move by the end of several hours of feasting and gently pottered home through the dispersing crowds.

To increase our apetites on Saturday morning we spent a couple of hours kayaking round Stokkavatnet in the glorious sunshine. And so it was with empty tummies that we headed once more to the harbour for lunch - more scallops, vietnamese prawns and spring rolls, tandori and curry with naan bread stuffed with cinnamon and drizzled in garlic butter, sausages, barbequed corn, Craig's BBQ sandwich (which was in fact a wrap containing BBQed pork), waffles and custardy pastries (which I think might have been called sunbreads).

After lunch we strolled back through Gamle Stavanger and had a sit down on Dougal's balcony - a much appreciated rest. Then later on we went and caught the final couple of hours at Gladmat, this time only having room for scallops and barbequed pork with some creme brulee to finish. And just because we were in Norway we had a tradtional pancake with lashings of strawberry jam. The food festival was fantastic, though I shall have a slightly enlarged waistline for a while, I would highly recommend a trip to Gladmat 2007!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Ting ting

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The happy sound of sheep bells in Fidjeland.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Orkney and Shetland by thigh power

These are just a selection of photos from our trip to the very north - in fact the picture in the bottom left is Muckle Flugga and you can't go much further north in the Bristish Isles than that!! The participants were John and his bike Marion (she's a Marin) and me and Whistler (he whistles in the wind!!! and there was plenty of that) and we peddled 400 miles around the two archipeligos. While everyone was sweating throught the summer weather back in the south we enjoyed gorgeous 20°C weather, though there was a certain amout of sweating - particularly uphill and on occasion downhill into the wind!!!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Pistachio heaven

While searching for last month's IMBB I found this fabulous idea by Sam of Sweet Pleasures - an ice cream event. My ice cream maker has been lanuishing in the cupboard all winter and what better time to get it out than now as I am gently melting in the summer heat! After making Joanna's pistachio and date meringues I was in pistachio mode so knocked up a little pistachio ice cream and a very delicious prune frozen yoghurt, and why not go the whole hog and stuff some dates with a pistachio paste!

Pistachio Ice cream
150g pistachio nuts - without shells (!) and unsalted
500ml semi-skimmed milk
2 eggs and 1 eggs yolk
140g caster sugar

I tried to remove the skins of the pistachios by blanching them in boiling water for a minute and then rubbing with a coarse tea towel - but this was not the most successful thing to do! May be gently roasting them would be better. I ended up picking off the skins from most of the nuts by hand - only to be done if you really love a green ice cream as its fairly time consuming. So once you've prepared your nuts put them with the rest of the ingredients into a liquidizer and blend until smooth. Then pour through a fine seive, to catch any lumps of nut, into a pan and heat gently until the custard thickens slightly. Cool it off - I actually put mine into the freezer to get fairly cold - and then churn in a pre-frozen ice cream maker.

Prune frozen yoghurt
250g ready to eat de-stoned prunes
juice and rind of one lemon
500ml greek yoghurt

Put the prunes into a pan with enough water to cover them and bring to the boil. Simmer for a couple of minutes and then cool. Liquidize with the yoghurt and lemon juice and zest. Chill and churn! Couldn't be simpler!!

Pistachio stuffed dates
230g pistachios (unsalted and shelled)
230g icing sugar
1 egg white
Dates (de-pitted) - lots!

Place the pistachios and sugar in a blender and whizz until finely ground. Then add the egg white and mix until a dough is formed - I had to add a little water too. Then cover and chill overnight. Use a broad bean sized amount of the paste to stuff the dates. (The recipe for the pistachio paste was actually from the Food TV website and was recommended as a base for making ice cream but I found it was too coarse and very sweet for that purpose but makes excellent stuffing mixture!!)

Friday, June 16, 2006

Gardener's World

Yesterday I had the day off and went to oggle at the plants and gardens at the NEC - and how fabulous they all were, I managed to come away with only 6 new plants which were bedded in last night while everyoneelse was watching the footie - I could here the roars when the goals were scored!! The shows on til Sunday - resist if you can!!!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Bacon burgers

An inspired idea by what I had left in the freezer! Blitz together 3 rashers smoked back bacon and 500g lean minced beef with 1/2 an onion, a handful of breadcrumbs and one egg. Make into 4 patties and fry until golden on both sides. Then pop in the oven (150°C) for 10 min. Serve with coucous made with summer vegetables lightly fried with fajita spices and chicken stock.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Seedy Buns

I made these last week and they were promptly demolished by hungry cyclists, so I forgot all about putting them up here on the blog. I had lunch in the Orange Cafe a while ago and had bread with caraway seeds to munch on while we were waiting. It was really yummy so I thought I would try to re-create it - however my early attempts didn't really hit the mark. These buns were great though. I tried lots of different spice seeds and all worked well apart from the fennel which was a bit strong.

Wholemeal bread buns with spice seeds
200g strong wholemeal flour
200ml luke warm water
150g strong white flour
7g fast acting yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon corriander seeds
1 tablespoon onion seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds

In a bread maker add all of the ingredients apart from the seeds in the order stated. Then program the machine to make dough. When its ready take out the dough and knock down. Then divide it into 12 small balls. Mix 1 tablespoon of caraway seeds into two balls and so on for all the dough. Two can be left plain. Place on a greased baking sheet and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 30min. Brush with a little egg beaten with water, then bake at 200°C for 15 min. Cool on a wire rack.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

I have been searching the IMBB site the last couple of weeks expecting to find something on the latest IMBB event - I usually start a little late on this!! But I always want to take part. And it is only this afternoon while I wait for my Western blotting to finish at work (yes I am 'weekend working' which is why there has been such a lack of blogging of late - the joys of having a job during the week and doing my own research in my spare time) that I found that I had completely overlooked that IMBB had joined with Wine Blogging Wednesday and that I have missed it!! Whoops!

Me and My Girl

As it has been just over a year since I started blogging on Hecticium it has also been a year since the last show by the Queensbridge Musical Theatre Company. So last night I found myself sat next to John in Solihull Library Theatre once more feeling immensly proud of young Paul as he took the lead in Me and My Girl. And what a performance he gave - he had us laughing our socks off once more!!! Fabulous!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Joanna's Pistachio and Date Meringues

Today is Helen's and Anna's 30th Birthdays! They both caused great panic on Tuesday when they announced that they weren't going to be coming into work today. So there was a flurry of late night activity in my kitchen as I knocked up a batch of these yummy meringues for them and I gave them to them yesterday. The recipe comes from Joanna, who I met at the blog party at Christmas, and is exceptionally simple. I used my new mixer to whip egg whites for the first time and mustn't have been quite patient enough as the mixture was a little sloppy and so ended up with meringue cookies, which were delicious nevertheless!

6egg whites
375g icing sugar
300g pistachios, roughly chopped
300g dates, chopped

Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks and then gradually whisk in the sugar. Then stir in the nuts and fruit. Put dollops onto a baking tray and cook for 1 hour at 100°C and then leave in the oven overnight. Couldn't be easier!!!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Chihuly in Birmingham?

As I cycled along the canal in the rain I came across this 'water sculpture' and thought (fleetingly) that I was in for a treat - that Chihuly had come to Brum to excite our eyes with a display on the canals. Sadly there were on two clusters and the second was deflating rather fast in the rain.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Yesterday's Bread IMBB # 25

I thought this month's IMBB from Derrick of An obsession with food was a brilliant one as I always have the end of a loaf going solid in my bread bin. But what to cook? I pondered serveral ideas for a while but thought better of bread and butter pudding. So I called in reinforcements in the shape of my great grandmother's recipes. My Mum has an old red exercise book filled with the family's inherited recipes, with additions of her own. She provided Nana Davies's Queen of Puddings, which Mum cooks on occasion, and one I had never had before: Ginger Pudding. Luckily I had most of the ingredeints in the cupboard and fridge, although I didn't have any suet as required for the Ginger Pudding so I thought I'd use vegetable fat, which is supposed to be for pastry but did the job nevertheless.
But, with all this sweetness I required something savory to make a whole feast from yeserday's bread. A little bit more thinking and I came up with crunchy lemony scallops with a lemony caper butter sauce and watercress, rocket and spinach salad - what a dinner!

Crunchy lemony scallops with a lemony caper butter sauce

For 2 people
6 scallops
4cm lemongrass, finely chopped
zest and juice of one lemon
handfull of breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten
100g butter
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tablespoons capers, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil

watercress, rocket and spinach salad - I bought a ready prepared bag, but you could easily mix up your own

Melt the butter very gently and add the crushed garlic. Leave to gently cook for 5min. Then add the lemon juice and the capers. Mix tohether the lemongrass, lemon zest and breadcrumbs. Dunk the scallops in the beaten egg and then into the breadcrumb mix. Fry in the olive oil until cooked through, though still moist. Then pile on top of the salad. Spoon over a little of the butter sauce and use the rest to dress the plate rather than the leaves.

Nana Davies's Queen of Puddings
1/2 pint milk
1 oz butter
2 oz sugar
4 oz breadcrumbs
2 eggs
2 tablespoons jam (I used rhubarb but raspberry seems to be more tradional)
grated rind of a lemon

Heat the milk and butter together. Then pour over breadcrumbs and half the sugar. Add egg yolks and grated lemon rind and mix well. Pour into buttered pie dish. Cook until set in a moderate oven. Spread the top with jam. Then top this with meringue, made from the egg white and half the sugar. Bake until meringue is set.

As Mum says "Nana presumed we knew what she was talking about and didn't spell things out!!" So this recipe serves about 4 people and a moderate oven is about 180°C, it took about 30min to set the bottom and then 15min to cook the meringue.

Nana Davies's Ginger Pudding
3 oz self-raising flour
3 oz suet
1 1/2 oz breadcrumbs
4 oz warmed golden syrup
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Add dry ingredients together in bowl,add warm syrup and pour into buttered basin. Steam for 2 hrs. This was incredibly easy to make and very moist and yummy, though I guess not for the calorie conscious.

I served it with a dollop of Greek yoghurt, which cut through the sweetness very nicely.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Out Now and Coming soon......

Since going on the felt making course with Mum I have been busy creating - felt and lampwork bead necklaces!!! The first went on sale on ebay earlier on this week and the others will follow soon! Just use felt and lampwork to search and it should come up!

STOP PRESS: Or visit my NEW shop on Etsy!!!!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Fat Bottomed Chuck

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Here's a bit of fun from the tent bound in Cornwall last week!

Saturday, April 22, 2006


....afternoon tea in the garden with fabulous cakes from Maison Blanc!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Cornish Cycle

I’m suffering from culture shock today. I spent the last 8 days either in or getting to and from Cornwall. It was my first trip so far south in the British Isles and it was wonderful. As I sat on the train going south last Wednesday I felt slightly disappointed that the countryside still looked ever so British. I suppose I have been spoilt because I normally travel 5 hours to some exotic destination rather than within my own country. My travelling companion was John, who after a month of trying to buy a bicycle, then borrowing one from his brother and suffering a rather nasty mishap, only got his brand new and sparkly Marin (nick named Maid Marion) 18h before the train departed!

We met up at New Street station and descended into the bowels of the sub-platform level so that we could get our bikes on to the platform without lugging them the stairs. Then up onto the Virgin train and its intriguing bike hanging system. We nervously sat in the seats closest to the bikes and kept checking they were still there, by the time we came back on the train we were a little more blasé and J had his light nicked – by a fellow cyclist! At Exeter we changed for a local train and watched the landscape sway by. Near Exeter it seemed quite flat but soon the hills rolled into view. Paul, cyclist extraordinaire, had mentioned that Cornwall was rather hilly. J looked on with a slightly worried expression – he’d only clocked up about 6h in the saddle ever, never mind on his new steed! At St. Austell the sun was shining and we struggled out of the train with our heavily laden bikes. Changing into padded shorts seemed a safe option for the 4miles to Pentewan but getting out of St. Austell seemed like hard work (one car actually grazing the side of J’s leg) and we were eventually stopped by a policeman for cycling the wrong way down a one way pedestrianized area. I asked the way for ‘Pent-e-wan’ to which he laughed and said ‘Pen-tew-an’ and pointed us in the right direction. Thus eventually we found the blissful cycle route down to the seaside and our camping spot for the night. We bowled along beside a little stream and I was delighted to see Lysichitons growing in the mire! We set up camp in the campground under the shelter of some trees which we discovered later were the nesting grounds for some very noisy rooks! Then skiddaddled down to the beach for a spot of shell and seaglass collecting. Dinner was a magnificent chicken kiev affair with crème de menthe and chocolate steamed sponge for pud in the Ship Inn.

The morning dawned grey and we stuffed ourselves full of porridge, though stopped at the wee onsite shop for chocolate spread filled baguettes before heading off to the hills. These arrived very quickly in the shape of Heligan woods and as I came to the top I looked back and saw J pushing his bike up the hill, cursing the Cornish countryside! But we were rewarded with a great cycle path, which seemed the norm for much of the national cycleways we followed (nos. 3 and 32), that was downhill all the way into Mevagissy and we stopped for a quick picture and jelly sweetie before tackling the next of the many hills we covered that first day. I was rather proud of myself to get up the first chevroned hill but sadly pushed up the next double chevroned number. We stopped again in Caerhays, just up from the beach with the view of the rhododendrons in flower around the castle. It was the first day of opening for the wee café and we had fine sausage rolls before a wander on the beach, hunting in the rock pools for sea anemones and in the caves for smugglers. Back on the bikes we peddled on quiet roads towards Truro. I had hoped that we could catch a ferry across the Tresillian river but we found a notice saying it wasn’t working due to a re-fit. The sign was held up by rather rusty pins but looking underneath there was a note saying they wouldn’t take bikes anyway, so we didn’t even risk the down hill stretch and took a 4 mile diversion to get into Truro. We were very tired and fairly grumpy by the time we got there. But luckily we found a Co-op still open and bought lots of bananas, I had been worried that Cornwall was going to be a banana free county, which would have been a disaster as bananas are a bicyclists best friend! We also bought lots of other stuff, the lady at the checkout was worried about putting anything more on or bikes but I assured her that we would eat most of it there and then but still managed to strap and significant amount more to my already bulging pannier rack. The last 4 miles to our campsite in Shortlanesend seemed a hard slog and J collapsed on to the ground before we got the tent up and was happy not to be astride his rather uncomfortable saddle. I whipped up a three course dinner with packets of food that just needed water adding and some boiling – chicken noodle soup, cheese and ham pasta and finally bananas and custard. That certainly did the trick! Then hot showers and to bed!

The following morning we creaked out of the tent and after fuelling on porridge once more made our way towards Newquay. But the weather wasn’t smiling on us and the leaden grey skies eventually started to emit a fine mist that wasn’t drenching but was certainly wet. J seemed to enjoy it as he said it kept him cool. As we came up a hill past Trerice J shouted don’t stop – and felt very proud for getting up the hill, only to be faced by another as we rounded the corner, to which he said words to the effect that he was getting off to push! Not feeling particularly excited about seeing the sights of Newquay we stopped on the curb outside a school to catch our breath and eat a banana and some more sweeties before plowing onwards. Coming through St Columb Major we popped into a pub for a sarnie but they had stopped serving so just got 4 bags of crisps and several pints of orange squash to keep us going. The weather remained unpleasant and we could only just make out the sails of the nearest windmill on the wind farm near St Eval even though it was only 100m away. But as luck would have it as we came down an unused track, brilliant for cyclists, outside Padstow the sun came out. The tent went up and we walked into Padstow for a well earned fish and chip supper, which we ate to the strains of a singing guitarist. This was followed by delicious blackcurrant and clotted cream icecream – though the extra clotted cream was a bit much on the top! I was amazed by the numbers of people pottering about this town – I had expected folk but I had not estimated this many. The rowing club was heading out for a potter on the water too – and drew a big crowd as they launched.

After another well earned night’s rest we pottered back in to Padstow and had morning bacon, leek and cheese pasties for 2nd breakfast on the harbour front. The sun shone brightly as we walked down to the beach and along as far as we could go. Ten, flopped on the sand, we watched two guys in buggies flying kites zoom up and down the sand. As the sun went behind some clouds we wandered back, picked up the ingredients for a salad and headed once more for the tent. A wonderful day off from the cycling. In the morning we took the camel trail down to Wadebridge and then to Bodmin. It was Easter Sunday and to celebrate we had Easter porridge – porridge with a crème egg stirred in – what luxury!! The cycle path was brilliant – all paved and not a hill in sight, but everyone seemed to have decided to hire bikes and J was happy to (pretend to) joust them out of the way as we pottered along. Past Wadebridge we came across the Camel Valley Vineyard and decided to go in for a try of the wine. The Bacchus Dry was magnificent – full of passionfruity flavours, and ever so pale. Back on the bikes the going had become tough – even though it was still flat – must have been the wine addling the muscles, rather than the brain for once. Bodmin was only a stones throw away but it took us an age to find the campsite up a steep hill. Dinner that night was courtesy of Nivals, which seemed to be the only place open and serving food. We had a massive plate of onion rings, mushrooms, garlic bread and chicken satays to share before launching into pastas too! Almost too full to move we dragged ourselves back to the campsite past a little ruined chapel and its beautiful trailing purple flowers in the graveyard of a bigger church.

Once more a good night’s sleep left us ready to tackle the day ahead - the last of the major cycling back towards St Austell. This was a truly brilliant day and I really enjoyed coming past a Tor and then through a secluded forest – very ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’. Then past the Eden Project and to our campsite, which had a magnificent view over Par sands. Round our feet lots of chickens clucked and scratched in the grass, much to my amusement. We unloaded the bikes and cycled down to the beach where we both flopped on to the sand and actually caught the sun some what.

The following day we were up ready to take the bikes to Eden, where we got in for £4 less just for turning up on them!! J purchased a hat to prevent the sun from doing more damage and then we pottered through the gardens. By 11 we were starving and had jacket spuds and Danish pastries before heading into the humid biome. Wow it was hot and humid – it was just like being back in Brunei or walking into a sauna! I knew lots of the plants already and enjoyed our rather sweaty stroll. Then out and into the temperate biome – much more tolerable but the plants weren’t nearly as exciting. Ice creams were called for as I was flagging somewhat and then into the noisy Core before heading to the shop and out again. After taking the bikes back to the campsite we wandered down to Par and the Four Lords Inn for magnificent sausage and mash for tea!

So all that remained was for us to get back on the train yesterday and make out way home. I was pottering quietly up the Stratford Road thinking how easy the cycling was when a moron in a car came racing down the wrong side of the road towards me with his full beam on. Scared out of my tree I stopped with nowhere else to go and shouted what did he think he was doing?! Luckily he stopped too and wound his window down and then spat at me. Aghast I cycled round the now stationary vehicle and continued home rather shaken. And so I spent the evening questioning my choice to live in a big city. After a week of blissful cycling and low impact holidaying it has all come as rather a shock to the system to be back at home once more. Our total mileage must be around 120miles.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Mason Mayci

A few weeks ago I found a new boulongerie in Kings Heath: Mason Mayci. The exterior of the shop is simply painted in cream gloss and there are tempting jars of cookies in the window. But once inside there is a cabinet full of tiny patisseries! My first visit was while I was waiting for the finishing touches to be put to my new bicycle but on Saturday I went back to buy a few cakies to take home. So I ended up with the selection above. All of which were devine - a caramel mousse on a rich dark cakey base, a coffee cream enrobed in chocolate on a crisp pastry case, a beautifully smooth custard studded with tart raspberries and a wonderfully balanced lemon tart! Magnificent and all four for only £2!!!!!! What a bargin! The shop seems to be run by a real Frenchman, unless he can put on an extremely good accent over many days!! Judging by the busy interior this place has already become a success - long may it stay that way!

I have been waiting for this tree to burst into bloom for what seems like ages and when I saw it last week I couldn't resist taking a picture. This morning on Breakfast they said that Birmingham had the same quality of life as Los Angeles and I wondered if this was a good thing or a bad thing......

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Spring risotto

Yesterday on my way to the university on my bike I came across this beautiful patch of crocus. What better sign to say that spring is here! In fact after weeks of cycling in as many clothes as I could reasonably wear yesterday I was happy to peddle along in my shirt sleeves! As I went thorough the main doors I came across a ladybird (may be on its way to an OU course) and smiled to myself. Down at the markets there were lots of fresh looking veg so I thought I'd whip up something full of the fresh flavours of leeks and purple sprouting broccoli. And so a spring risotto - I wanted the leeks to impart as much flavour as possible so I started with them in the pan - though if you fancied something a bit more vibrant in the green department you could add them half way through the cooking.

knob of butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
220g risotto (arborio) rice
3 leeks sliced
1 small glass of wine (for the cooking not the cook)
salt and pepper
hand full grated parmesan

4 griddled chicken breast and purple sprouting broccoli to serve

Melt the butter in a heavy based pan with the oil and then add the leeks. Cook very gently for a couple of minutes and then add the rice. Have a pan of stock barely simmering and ladle a spoon full at a time into the rice allowing the liquid to absorb before adding more stock. I had about a litre on the go and blanched my broccoli in it too. Once the rice is just about cooked (20-30min) add the wine and allow it to absorb too. Then season to taste and stir in the parmesan. Pile up in a bowl and top with the chicken and broccoli! This will serve about 4 as a light meal.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

What a weekend!

Indeed what a weekend (and what a week so far.....its been rather busy hence the late blogging about the weekend). As you may have gathered it was my birthday last week! And to celebrate in style I bought tickets for a few friends to go to a ceilidh on Saturday night. First, ten of us piled into Buonissimo in Harborne. This splendid little restaurant is at the end of a road where I lived as a student, not that it was there then, and so I was a little nostalgic as we dashed in (I was fashionably late!). Though quite a small menu, the food was delicious - lots of piatti and less pasta which was rather nice for a change. The puddings were great too though I think we managed to share my Baileys and Sambucca cheesecake between three as it was rather rich! Then on to St Mary's parish centre for a Bard ceilidh - traditional scottish dancing (or irish or english these days). Our band for the evening the Flos Headford band and our caller was Flos's wife Sheila Mainwaring. They had us whirling round the dance floor and generally throwing ourselves into it with gusto! The three hour dance went by in a flash and soon it was time to rest our weary feet.
On Sunday Dougal, Wampe and I meandered round the Olton resevoir to get the blood pumping again, spotting a gold crest zipping about in the undergrowth. Mum and Dad joined us and we had more cake (a very yummy bannoffee variety, in fact birthday cake number 5!). For dinner we pottered into town to Cielo - where we were welcomed warmly and looked after very well all evening. I had zingy fettuccine al limone, melt in the mouth halibut al vino blanco and finally macedonia di frutta with a little glass of Eylsium! How fabulous!! (The pictures are of Dougal's tea - prawns, sea bass and tartufato) I'll have to turn thirty more often!! Lastly a big thank you to all my friends and family for a fabulous time at the various celebrations over the last week and a special one to J for getting me home in one piece on Tuesday night!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Fairtrade Brownies

Monday saw the start of Fairtrade Fortnight. So I got myself a fairtrade pack from ZeroPointZero and invited some friends round for tea and coffee, Geobars, Fairbreaks and mini Divine chocolates. There were also lots of leaflets and recipe books in the parcel - so I have dutifully been handing them out! I hope that just a few more Fairtrade goodies will be purchased! I also made Fairtrade brownies with spices and berries. The nutmeg I used was bought from the lady who actually owned the tree in Sulawesi and the chocolate was the very tasty Fairtrade Divine! The recipe is adapted from one of Nigella Lawson's. And I am sure that there must be Fairtrade sugar and flour and probably vanilla essence out there!

125g butter
250g white chocolate
4 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
350g caster sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
300g plain flour
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
170g mixed berries

Melt the butter and chocolate together, being very careful as the white chocolate can easily catch on the heat. Whip together the eggs and sugar and then add the vanilla essence. In another bowl mix together the salt and flour. Cool the chocolate mixture and then whisk into the eggs. Fold the dry ingredients, spices and berries in to this mixture. Pour into a 20 by 30cm greased baking tray/ roasting tin. Cook at 170°C for 35min. Cool in the tin and cut out about 20 brownies. Enjoy with a cup of Fairtrade tea or coffee!

Monday, March 06, 2006


After discussing the writing journals while on holiday recently, someone asked if I ever went back and read them. Well, yes I do and while I was rifling through one from my holiday to far eastern Russia I found this recipe for Oladi - a sort of yeasty drop scone. I remember well sitting round the fire one morning while we were camped near the beach and Vladimir making these. They were delicious - hot straight out of the pan and dripping with condensed milk. One of the other local breakfast specialities was prawns with the local beer!

15g yeast or two 7g packets of instant yeast
225g flour
150ml warm milk
1 egg
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
25g butter
oil for frying

condensed milk to serve

Mix the yeast with the milk, flour and sugar and then leave in a warm place until doubled in size. Then mix in the egg, salt and butter. Squidging it with your hands seems to work best. Then leave to rise again. Once you have a big dome of yeasty mixture heat a frying pan over you camp fire, or on your hob if you're at home! Then fry tablespoons of the mixture in a scant amount of oil until golden brown on both sides. Drizzle with condensed milk and try not to eat all of the oladi by yourself!!

I knew I'd find it eventually - here is Vladimir cooking oladi over the camp fire!
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