Friday, 29 April 2011

Love Thy Neighbour - how terribly British. Celebratory Union Jack Cake

I'm not a Royalist  (Kate, it should have been me), I'm a Neighbour-ist.  I always cringe at the phrase 'I'm lucky enough' but I'm going to have to use it.  I'm lucky enough to live between neighbours who I now count amongst my closest friends; we share wine, barbecues, bin duty, heck, even holidays.  They say you can't choose your family; you cant really choose your neighbours either, but if I could have, I'd have chosen mine

So when I was asked if I wanted to attend a street party for Kate and Wills (It should have been me) Wedding, I jumped at the chance; not so much to celebrate the Royal Wedding (It should have been me), but to spend time with my friends, to celebrate being British, to eat cucumber sarnies, drink Pimms and to make a bloody good cake.  And, most importantly, it's my Godson's (and neighbour's!) 2nd birthday - a right party to be had here in Cheshire.

Yesterday morning, I landed from holiday in Cuba at 6am and, after a visit to the shops, I got down to cooking.  I was floating about in the pool in 33 degree sunshine last week, trying to think of a delight for the party that would not include butter cream swirls (fiddly and so terribly American - nothing against Americans, but this is celebrating the English!), was not a cupcake (see previous) and was down right British.  Enter a cake decorated like the Union Jack flag, with lots of cream and fresh fruit.  OK, here I lie.  I used butter cream.  Whilst freshly whipped cream would have been quintessentially British, the kiddies prefer it this way - that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.  

Husband enjoying cake
With the Union Jack Flag hanging out of my bedroom window and adorning my lovely vanilla cake, I made my way into the street to celebrate my friends.  Yes, to celebrate Wills and Kate's (It should have been me) nuptials - who doesn't love a good wedding? - but mainly to celebrate the eccentricity of being British, the green and pleasant land of the UK (for a change - a Pound for the person to tell me when St Georges Day is without using Google) and to spend time with my friends.  Who knows, I might make some new ones who can share in bin duty!

And of course, a Big Happy Birthday to a very, very special, gorgeous, smiley two year old boy (who's had a haircut for the occasion, no less!)

I hope you all had a fabulous day, whatever you chose to do, whatever you chose to celebrate.

P.S. It should have been me.

Union Jack Cake

For the cake

  • 280g unsalted butter
  • 280g caster sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 280g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the sugar syrup

  • 5 tbsp water
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the butter cream

  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 250g icing sugar

To decorate 

  • Raspberries and blueberries (about 400-500g each)

1. Preheat the oven to 180 and line the base of a 18" x 12" baking tray with straight sides, about 1" tall.

2. In a mixer, beat the butter and caster sugar together until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

3. With the mixer going on a slow setting. add the eggs one at a time, slipping in a tablespoon of flour about half way through to stop the mixture from curdling.

4. Sift in the flour and mix until just combined and then stir in the vanilla.

5. Tip into the tray and spread to cover the base, and bake for 15-20 minutes until the top is golden and the sponge springy to the touch.

6.  Meanwhile, make the sugar syrup.  Place the water and sugar in a pan and bring to the boil over a low-medium heat.  Remove from the heat an leave to cool before adding the vanilla.

7. While the cake is still warm, prod all over with a skewer and spoon the syrup over the cake.

8. Leave to cool.  Once cool, you can remove from the tin, but it is tricky.  You can't see the tin so I leave it - it's also easier to transport this way.

9.  Make the butter cream by sifting the flour into an electric mixer and mixing with the butter for at least 5 minutes.  Once it is light and fluffy, mix in the vanilla.

10. Spread the butter cream over the cake.  You do not want to see any cake, as this will form the base of your flag.

11.  With a blunt knife, gently draw four lines on your butter cream - right to left, top to bottom and corner to corner on both sides.  on either side of the lines for the vertical and horizontal cross, place a raspberry so you have two lines of fruit going down, two from side to side.

12.  Place one row of raspberries on the lines making the corner to corner crosses. 
(if you want to true Union Jack representation, place the raspberries below the line on the right hand side and above the line on the left hand side).

13. Finally, will between the red lines with blueberries.  This will create the blue background and the butter cream will create the while outline on the red crosses.
(Again, if you want a true representation, be sure the keep more white space below the red diagonal lines on the right hand side and above them on the left.  If you are unsure, have a look at a Union Jack flag here to see what I mean).

I know it's not a competition, but....


Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Home made Hummus with Lamb and Pomegranate

I’m lucky to live in a part of Cheshire with nice restaurants just down the road. Lovely hubby and I will often come home, look in the fridge, look at the cooker and sigh. Then, our shoes will go back on and off we’ll trot. Something that always hits the spot for me is hummus topped with griddled lamb, and luckily, it is readily available within a 5 minute walk of my house – my ever expanding waist line is testament to that. I love it; the garlicky creaminess of the hummus mingling with the juicy meat just does it for me, all mopped up with some warm fluffy but crunchy pitta bread; well, you just can’t go wrong can you? Perfect.

But then I always believe you can improve on perfection so I gave it a try at home – and it’s so quick, you can go from chickpeas-in-whizzer to deliciousness-on-plate in just 10 minutes (plus marinating time). I try to use the best quality ingredients possible, this way a little goes a lot further. Homemade hummus should only be made with extra virgin olive oil and proper sea salt – you will notice the difference.

There is something poetic about lamb and hummus. The fresh tasting succulent lamb with the earthy chick peas, and add the fruity crunch of pomegranate seeds (which I might add is something my local restaurant do not do – take note) and you have all the sense and tastebuds covered.  

I served this with the Salty Shortbread with lemon and thyme, purely because I forgot to get ingredients for pitta, but it works well together thanks to the thyme and lemon marinating the lamb and the salt and lemon juice in the hummus. But I’m so greedy, I ate most of it with a spoon before hubby even got a look in! Oh well, next time be quicker Col. 

If you’re not drooling just reading this then get in the kitchen and make it. Barbeque your lamb tonight and pop it on your hummus for tea and bask in the sunshine as you do so – you could even be in Turkey!


Home made Hummus with Griddled Lamb and Pomegranate 

(serves 4 as a starter)

For the lamb:

  • 250g-300g lamb rump, cut into large chunks. 
  • 1 tsp thyme, leaves picked 
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed 
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (use the juice in the hummus) 
  • Approx 2 tbsp Olive oil 
  • Salt and pepper. 

For the hummus:
1x 200g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed.
Juice of 1 lemon (use the zest on the lamb)
1 crushed garlic clove
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp tahini
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp water
Sea salt to taste

Pomegranate seeds to decorate

Note – Making hummus is a guessing game and a matter of taste. I like mine quite chunky with lots of olive oil and not too much garlic. Change to suit you.

1. In a small bowl, mix the thyme, garlic, lemon zest olive oil and a little salt and pepper Add the lamb and coat in the marinade. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes whilst you make the hummus.

2. In a blender, place the chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, tahini, 1 bsp olive oil and 1 tbsp water and whizz until you have blended it all together but with a nice chunky consistency.

3. Taste the hummus and add salt to your liking. With the blade going, add more olive oil (or a combination of lemon, oil and water, if you aren’t an olive oil fan, but why wouldn’t you be?) until you get the consistency you like. For me, this is 1-2 tbsp more of olive oil.

4. Taste again and adjust the seasoning.

5. Get your griddle so hot it is smoking and add the lamb, reserving the marinade in the bowl. How long it will take will depend on how big your chunks are and how you like your lamb cooked. I like mine pink in the middle and my meat was cut into roughly inch square chunks, and it took around 5 minutes, approx 2.5 minutes on each side.

6. Tip the lamb back into the marinade dish with any juices and leave to rest, covered, for 4 or 5 minutes.

7. Place the hummus in a serving dish and top with the lamb.

8. Pour any juices and marinade left in the bowl over the lamb and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.


Monday, 18 April 2011

Salty Goodness - Salty Shortbread, with Lemon and Thyme

I'm a simple soul who likes home and locally grown food, not only to be 'green', but also to get my little mitts on the best produce possible. But when I saw two jars of hand-harvested sea-salt from the Pacific on an Online Bake Sale to raise money for Second Harvest for Japan (from Linda at Salty Seattle), my morals went out of the window and I couldn't resist bidding high and making a purchase. The little white crystals may have had to travel far in their glass jars and bubble wrap blankets, but they made it safe and sound on Friday, just crying out to be sprinkled, pinched and shook onto my food. Does the donation wipe out the food miles? I hope so.

So I took a little time to think about some recipes in which these tangy crystals, that taste like nothing I know (thanks to a childhood of Saxa Salt), could star in. It had to be something that celebrated salt in it's own right, not just uses it to develop the taste of other ingredients. Something that would allow you to celebrate it's health giving qualities, not shy away from it, as we've been trained to do with the constant health scares of this precious mineral.

While I'm here, I might as well get on my high horse about this.  

There is no doubt that too much salt is bad for you - but too much of anything isn't great!.  Salt is one of the most important minerals to humans and animals - we just can't function without it. We're mostly water, but do you realise, we are mostly salt water? Each little cell is like a salty ocean in itself, which exchanges incoming energy with outgoing depleted energy. Without the salt in our cells, our energy would cease to exist. Yet we have become terrified of what this mineral will do to our bodies.  We only really know salt through past generations attempting to make over-boiled cabbage and badly reared chicken taste like something we'd want to eat.  And we wonder why Britain had a bad food rep.

But we aren't there anymore!  We don't need to mask our food with salt!  We don't need to bring out what little flavour we had with heaped teaspoons of the cheap stuff!  With the quality of our food getting better and better, the best it's ever been in fact, we can begin to celebrate salt, use it with respect, in it's own right as an ingredient again - heck, the main ingredient, if you please!  And we can save the Saxa to clearing the ice on our front paths (well, some things never change).

Sea salt is so special that you don't need a lot of it to be smacked with the tangy, almost spicy taste, so a sprinkling a little here and there is all that is needed, and you can buy the better, more expensive stuff if you need less (I won't tell you how much mine cost - but it was for charideee). Let's celebrate the Bake Sale for Japan, and this little condiment that does so much more for us than stop our greens being tasteless when over-boiled.  

I baked these savoury shortbread in a leap of faith, with it's sprinkling of sea salt resting on the dough as if they were the rocks it was formed on.

And I did use thyme from my garden.  Green points there then.

Savoury Salt Shortbread, with Lemon and Thyme.

  • 280g plain flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • Finely grated zest 1 lemon
  • 1-2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme
  • 160g unsalted butter
  • 2 egg yolks, mixed with one large egg and 2 teaspoons water.
  • Fantastic quality sea salt/rock salt

1. In a large bowl, mix in the flour, salt, lemon zest and thyme, before rubbing the butter in wit your fingertips to create a yellow, rocky, crumbly mix.

2. Make a well in the middle and add all of the egg mixture, reserving 1 tbsp for washing with later. Using your hands, bring the mixture together.  It may still be a little crumbly; if so, turn the mixture out onto a floured surface and knead briefly until it comes together.

3. Pat into a round about an inch thick, wrap in cling film and leave to chill in the fridge until firm, about 30 minutes.

4. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a rectangle, trimming the sides and cut into fingers - mine were about 4inches by half an inch.  Place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment, brush with the remaining egg.

5. Sprinkle the fingers with a little salt on each (you may want to try the salt before - my hand-harvested salt is very strong, so I only needed a little), and bake at 180 degrees centigrade until the shortbread is golden.

6. Leave to cool on a wire rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

These lovely shortbread fingers are great served on their own with drinks, with hummus or other dips, or just as a snack.  Perhaps you could try cutting the dough into circles as a base for canapés - let me know your ideas.


Sunday, 17 April 2011

Sowing Sunday - Week 3

Well, all my little seeds have germinated and are currently basking in the glorious sunshine we have in the North West (as am I!)! My strawberries have started to develop what will soon become flowers, and there are little buds on my blueberry bush.  My teeny little radishes are a couple of inches high now, and, very excitingly, my box has started sprouting!

Let me clarify.

As mentioned in my last post, my folks gave me a mystery box of seeds for Christmas that you plant 4" deep and wait for little veggies to appear... and appear they have!  I'd really appreciate it if you could comment and let me know what you think they are.  I think I spy a little lettuce (bottom left) and yet another radish (top right), but other than that, I'm stumped.  Help!

My random box of seeds - but what's sprouted?

Yet again I have garlic breath (the reason for which will become clear in a following post!), but it seems my little veggie babies like the smell of garlic as I continue to breath on them (Ta Anna!), especially the lettuce - look at it go!  

My oregano is starting to look like a bad afro from a 70's porn film, but I kinda like it.  Clearly I need to think up some oregano recipes - my thyme and rosemary is quickly being used up, but this is out of control!

Oregano Afro

To top off my garden adventures for this week, I've planted some dwarf beans in a little bag.  Nothing exciting to report here just yet, but watch this space.

No post next week, this green fingered girly will be on her holidays!  I'm sure my garden will miss me.

Until next time....

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Review - Bake & Decorate, Fiona Cairns

I can't resist a good cookbook, especially the pretty ones that line the shelves in my kitchen, but I have to admit, I'm a bit sick of cupcake books showing plain old cake with a variety of fanciful swirls, painstakingly moulded flowers and icing decorations (who has the time? the inclination? can resist not eating the cakes whilst fiddling with the icing!?) so when this book was given to me as a gift, I marvelled at how beautiful it was, but groaned inwardly at another book load of basic cakes with fancy decorations.

I was wrong (add that to your favourites and note it down. This never happens).

Fiona Cairns has produced a book that is full of imaginative cake recipes that can be decorated any which way, as she demonstrates in the second half of the book. And whilst Cairns dares to show you how to make a delicate rose from icing, she also does it my way - get edible flowers from the garden, brush them with egs whites and dust them with caster sugar to create a stunning display for your cake, all very local. Fabulous.

Bake & Decorate by Fiona Cairns, published by Quadrille
Photography ©LAURA HYND
As well as this decoration technique, I have a sweet-spot for the cake tooth-achingly decorated with all the sweets from my childhood, not to mention the fugdy chocolate cake covered in Gold leaf (surely this should be the Midas Cake?) It looks fabulous. Every page is adorned with something more spectacular, and achievable than the last. No fancy tools needed, just a little imagination, creativity and the ability to read, and a joyous cake is yours.

With the book having flown over this hurdle, I flicked with trepidation to the front of the book for the cake recipes. Not a bland sponge in sight. My particular favourite is the Sticky Toffee Cake, swirled with salted caramel buttercream. Not one for swirling, I slapped the buttercream on the first one and realised this cake needed due care and attention, so out came my icing bag and nozzle to create 11 more delicious cakes, as sweet and salty as the dessert - better, perhaps, as they don't have that cloying sweetness you can get with the pudding.

The marvel of this recipe was the caramel for the buttercream. Whilst you can buy dulce de leche in a tin, I love to experiment so gave the homemade version a whirl. I stood, transfixed as I added the cream to the sugar mixture to get a bubbling mass that turned into sweet and salty smooth caramel. Never will carnation get my money again.

This book is a triumph and to discover that Cairns is designing and baking one of the Royal Wedding Cakes was music to my ears. They've gone for the fruit cake. My plea to Wills & Kate - go for the Sticky Toffee, it will make your day.

I love this book, so much so that it's now covered in cake mixture, crumbs and icing. A hard back copy is on order to keep all pristine and nice - this one's a keeper.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

For the Love of Tea - The Tea Palace

I was always a girl who wouldn’t stray far from a cup of Tetley tea, sure as I was of it's elixir of life qualities, and the ability to make or break a girl with a hangover after overdoing it on the vino the night before. That was until we took my grandma for afternoon tea for her 83rd birthday two years ago, and they served REAL tea, with a very, very cool swively tea strainer. At the time I was having a new kitchen with fancy shelves for displaying things and I just had to get my hands on that tea strainer. So, you see, it wasn't the posh tea that got me, it was the accessories (come to think of it, wasn't it a very cute cookie cutter set and a sexy kitchen aid that got me into baking? Believe so). 

I asked nicely. I flirted shamelessly with the waiter. I even tried a small crocodile tear but I could't quite bring myself to do that. Flirting has so much more decorum, don't you think?  But to no avail.

I searched high and low online for that tea strainer, but google didn't return results for 'swively tea strainer.' I searched in tea shops in Cheshire. Nothing. And then, one sunny weekend in London, I happened across The Tea Palace in Covent Garden, and there, like a beacon in the window, was my swively tea strainer, apparently called a Revolving Tea Strainer. I prefer swively, much more descriptive.

Then, to compliment my new swively tea strainer I needed some loose leaf tea, posh of course... and this is where my new found tea obsession begins.

It does help that the staff at The Tea Palace are so helpful, knowledgeable and polite and that the shop itself is a treasure trove of stunning tea pots, cups, strainers and all things tea. The aroma in the shop is like nothing I have experienced before- not the headache inducing, man-made fake smell of certain cosmetic and beauty stores, but a subtle whiff of something delicious passes you by as you wander round in awe, when people open the little tester tins of loose leaf tea to have a good sniff and decide on their purchase, not to mention the glass tea pots of sample teas to try (beware the delicate nature of these tea pots - not for the faint hearted).

That first time, as I was feeling a little green around the gills from sampling the best of London nightlife the evening before, I went for Peppermint Green and Morning After teas on the recommendation of the Tea Masters (I need, no, want, that job).

I chose Peppermint Green thanks to the sensation on the nostrils of the pure peppermint leaves when you pick up the tin, just what my poor head needed. The leaves are blended with chinese gunpowder tea, which I always have at the local Chinese so I knew I would like it (told you I was a novice). I was advised by the tea master that the tea is also good for you, full of antioxidants from the green tea as well digestive benefits of peppermint! Who knew?

Peppermint Green Tea
The name of Morning After was attractive to both me and my husband at that moment in time and we were again advised, very knowledgeably, that the organic tea was a blend of ginger root, ginseng and lavendar, all of which have the medicinal properties to ease aches and pains and boost energy - just what I needed to deal with the dry mouth, achy limbs and sore head. 
Morning After Tea
As I was paying for my teas, strainer and a crown tea pot (couldn't resist) I was also given a little 'Lemon Myrtle' sample tin, I'm yet to open this delight but when I do, you'll be the first to know.

I left begrudgingly (well, was dragged actually) but as the bell tinkled as the door shut behind me, a notice for Bespoke Blends caught my eye. My husband loves Chinese Tea and received a cast iron Chinese teapot for Christmas.  A suitable gift for Valentines Day was a bespoke tea blend, lovingly designed by his one true love (me... just a reminder in case you read this, love). From a simple email to The Tea Palace asking for advice, a very helpful lady, Sarah Vardy, replied almost instantly with questions, advice and recommendations. With her help I decided on a blend of Gunpowder tea with lemongrass and vanilla, creatively named by me as 'Col's Blend'. The tea comes in a distinctive dark purple caddy, with a personalised label on the front and a message of your choice on the back, above the brewing instructions (which is a whole other post on it's own), all presented in a dark purple satin bag. The tea itself, whilst not really my thing (current favourite is English Rose - just like me) smells divine and is so loved by hubby there's only a little left. The whole pieces of lemongrass and vanilla (no extract is good enough for my man) give off their aroma and taste the second the not-quite-boiling water hits the bottom of the tea pot.

Fabulous tea, service, packaging and store. I love this place. Next time you are in the Big Smoke, pop in.  If you live elsewhere, you can buy online or email for your bespoke blend. I still go back to my Tetley every so often, by my heart now lies with The Tea Palace.


Monday, 11 April 2011

Gorgeously Good Granola

Breakfast, for me, is the best meal of the day - the first morsel of food to pass my lips is one to behold. My husband and I make a point to have breakfast together everyday - even if it is standing up in the kitchen, so can be one of the most sociable meals, too. It's when your house comes alive from the stillness of the night; when you feed your friends bacon sandwiches after feeding them wine the night before; when the smell of coffee awakens the senses, the sight freshly squeezed orange awakens the eyes, and the crunch of granola awakens the taste buds.

Erm, hang on.  Granola? Dry, bland, rabbit food, I hear you cry? How about Delicious? No? Well, read on.

My husband swears by this granola, eaten like other cereals at breakfast with milk, will see him through to lunchtime without reaching for the biscuit tin. He swears this is how he lost weight. For me, with a dollop of yoghurt and some fresh fruit, it's the perfect start to a summer morning. For my friend at work, by the handful to stop afternoon munchies.

This granola works wonders for a gorgeous breakfast with no artificial colours, flavours or annoying adverts and, best of all, you can completely customise it. Pecans, sure! Dried Blueberries, why not!? Chocolate drops? Well, everyone deserves a little (a lot?) of what they fancy. It's so good in fact, that I've put it up for sale in Bloggers Bake For Hope Bake Sale (well, it is delicious. That and the fact that a lot of the people taking part are in the USA and I needed something I could ship!).  The sale goes live on 4th May and lasts until 6th May. This, taken from the Bloggers Bake for Hope blog:

All items will appear on this blog at 12:01 (EST) on Wednesday, May 4th. If you would like to bid on an item, leave a comment with the dollar amount you would like to bid. All bidding will start at $15.

So, give it a go, tell me if you like it or not and what combination of ingredients you used. If you can't be bothered to get your bake on, then just bid on this item.

So, to the flavour combinations. The basic recipe will stay the same, but the nuts, seeds and dried fruits can be tailored to your taste. My favourite combination is in the recipe below, but chop and change to suit yourself and your loved ones. It does cost a little to buy everything you need the first time you make this, but you get so much from the ingredients, it does work out so much cheaper than buying ready made granola, not to mention tastier and healthier.

I've no idea where this recipe came from. I've been using it for years and adapted it to my taste. Thank you to whoever inspired this recipe (and sorry I cant acknowledge you!)


  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 120ml maple syrup
  • 300g rolled oats (invest in the rolled oats - a little more expensive but make all the difference).
  • 140g seeds (I use 50g sunflower, 50g pumpkin and 40g sesame, or a bag of mixed seeds is cheaper and just as nice).
  • 100g nuts (I like use a mixture of flaked almonds, whole macademias and chopped pecans, but I generally go for whatever is in the house at the time)
  • 100g dried fruits (for me, a combinations of raisins, dried blueberries and dried cranberries).
  • 50g dessicated coconut

1. Pre-heat your oven to 140 degrees celcius

2. In a large bowl, measure out the vegetable oil, honey, vanilla and maple syrup 

Quick Tip - measure out the oil first, then the honey will slip right off the spoon and into the bowl. It's a little bit sexy when it does that!. 

3. Add the oats, seeds and nuts and mix until combined. Spread onto two baking sheets and bake for 12 minutes, until going slightly golden.

4. Remove from the oven and mix in the dried fruits and coconut (note, if you are using chocolate, add once the granola has been taken from the oven and is cool). Return to the over for a final 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, leave to cool and place in an airtight container.

Quick Tip - when you remove from the oven, place the baked granola into a different tray to cool. This will stop it sticking as the melting sugar won't bond with the hot tray. If you don't do this, don't worry - you can scrape it off the tray with out detriment to the granola).

Breakfast - the best meal of the day - Enjoy!

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Sowing Sunday

It's been a gorgeous weekend here in England, so pleasantly surprising for April.  I've seen my friends, eaten fabulous food, drank far too much wine and vodka (I didn't even realise you could get a magnum of vodka!) and have just spent the last few hours pootling around my garden, breathing on my veg (my German friend, Anna, who came for the weekend, is convinced that breathing on your plants encourages growth; I'm not sure the radishes and lettuce appreciated my garlic breath, but it's worth a try).

I love the summer and the fresh, local produce it brings. How fresh and local can you get than from your own back garden? I don't have a large garden, but my lovely dad made me a 'trough' for my baby seedlings to grow in. I blogged about this trough when it was built two weeks ago, here, and I'm going to document the progress of my veg garden on a Sunday, Sowing Sunday, ending with some dazzling recipes when it all comes to fruition.

So, to us start this off, here is a definitive list of how my garden grows:
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Mint (perfect for those Pimms afternoons)
  • Coriander
  • Parsley
  • Basil
  • Bay
  • Chives
  • Sage
  • Tarragon
  • Rosemary
  • 4 types of lettuce
  • Rocket
  • Spinach
  • Radishes
  • Onions
  • Spring onions
  • Beetroot (this is especially exciting as it's a stripy variety!)
  • Carrots
  • Runner beans
  • Dwarf Beans
  • Strawberries (where would the English be without strawberries in our fields and gardens?)
  • Blueberries (should be the first year these babies fruit. Very exciting).

Phew, that's quite a list, add to this the tomatoes and cucumber plants that are currently being kept warm in my Uncle John's greenhouse and you have a complete list of my summer garden, and I can't wait. I also have a 'surprise' box of seeds, I have no idea what will come from that, so watch this space.

Please let me know if there is anything else you think I should be planting, and what your recipe ideas are. I may have a veg gardening giveaway coming up and I'm really looking forward to hearing from you all.

So let me give today's update with photographic evidence of my growing success to date. My radishes are coming along at quite a pace, already nearly 2 inches high - not bad for two weeks work!

Radishes - growing at a pace, from a seed only two weeks ago.
The beetroot are on their way up and the carrots and onions are peeking through the cracks of the soil to reach that delicious sunshine. The lettuces and spinach are bursting through and the strawberries and blueberries are beginning to reveal their bright flowers. The herbs are springing back to life, making the most of the gorgeous weather.

I've got a bit of a thing for herbs, the way they can transform something relatively basic, normal and even bland, into something that is a feast for the senses. The same can, and should, be said of spices, but then the fragment leaves in my garden are just begging to be picked, I can't help but bring a few into the kitchen and let my creative side take force. The orange and rosemary cake worked a treat, and I have an idea for a savoury, salty shortbread that would work wonders sprinkled with thyme.... More to follow, as I hope you will follow me on my culinary, green fingered journey.

Until next week....

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Rosemary and Orange Yoghurt Cake

Spring has sprung and a little walk around my garden and a gust of wind in the right direction blew the scent of the rosemary right in my direction. I have so many herbs growing in my garden that, this year, I'm determined to find something different to do with them, starting with this aromatic, delicate and light cake. Made with yoghurt and olive oil instead of butter, scented with the zing of orange zest and the aroma of finely chopped, fresh rosemary, it really is a feast for the senses and very, very easy to make.  

Go on, impress your friends with this sophisticated little cake.

Rosemary and Orange Yoghurt Cake

  • 2 eggs , lightly beaten
  • 200g plain yoghurt 
  • 150g caster sugar sugar
  • 125ml olive oil 
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract 
  • Finely grated zest of 1 large orange 
  • 1 tbsp rosemary leaves, finely chopped 
  • 250g self-raising flour 

1. Preheat oven to 200°C and grease an 8" cake tin with a little butter. 

2. Mix the eggs, yogurt, sugar, oil, vanilla, orange zest, and rosemary together.

3. Add the flour mixture to the yogurt mixture and mix together, until just combined.

4. Pour into the tin, making a small dip in the middle of the batter to ensure it doesn’t ‘dome’ too much in the oven. Bake for 25 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the centre of the cake. 

5. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm with yoghurt or orange buttercream, with fresh orange segments on the side.

Please do leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  Enjoy!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Perfect Roast Lamb

Mother's Day in my house calls for a perfectly roast leg of lamb, my mums favourite. Of course, there was something white and dry for me, cooks privilege!

You can't go wrong with a traditional Sunday lunch, unless, of course, you go wrong! Lamb was the order of the day and a full leg, organically reared, was sat waiting in my fridge. To give the lamb extra flavour, I pierced the meat all over and filled each hole I made with a small sprig of rosemary. I'd usually add a slither of garlic too, but my dad really doesn't like it. Make sure you take the meat out of the fridge for at least an hour before it goes in the oven.

To ensure your lamb is cooked to perfection, just follow the timings guide below (all temperatures are degrees centigrade).

220 for 20 mins plus:
  • For rare meat, 190, for 30 mins per kilo (internal temperature of 52 when cooked)
  • For medium meat, 190 fr 40 mins per kilo (internal temperature of 60 when cooked)
  • For well done meat, 190 fr 50 mins per kilo (internal temperature of 70 when cooked)
These timings also apply to veal, beef and venison.

Following these instructions will mean you end up with something looking as delicious as this:

Be sure to cover with foil and leave the meat to rest for at least 20 minutes before you carve.

Science Warning :-) You must the allow the meat to rest to ensure it is juicy and tender when you serve it. The muscles and fibres in the meat tense when hit with heat so by allowing it to rest, the muscles relax making the meat more tender. You'll also notice that when the meat is transferred to rest, a lot of juice will be released. When you look again, after 20 minutes, the meat will have re-absorbed all those lovely juices, making it more juicy when you serve.

This gorgeous piece of meat was served with all the trimmings - cauliflower cheese (secret ingredient - a little mustard powder in your cheese sauce goes a long way!), carrots, long stemmed broccoli, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes (roasted in goose fat) and honey roasted parsnips... not forgetting the mint sauce!

This will also be perfect for Easter Sunday - enjoy!

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Bake Sale for Japan - Update!

You may have read my post Bake Sale for Japan, about a wonderful lady, The Tomato Tart who took on the mammoth task of creating an online Bake Sale to raise money for Second Harvest Japan, who give food to those that need it most as a result of the awful events in Japan.

Well, she rose an amazing $8,269

I really wanted to bake something for the sale but, as a newbie to blogging, I was a little late in finding out about it. However, I joined in by bidding on some delights and won! I can't wait to receive my wares of Maple Walnut Fudge and Maple Syrup (from Susan of The Spice Garden) and Homemade Sea Salt (from Linda of Salty Seattle).  Thanks Ladies, and I'm looking forward to joining you in the next sale!

Oh la la! I couldn’t possibly…. OK, maybe just one….

The Skinny French Kitchen By Harry Eastwood. 

I’m not one for low calorie cooking, and, if we’re being honest, I only bought this book for one reason: the author was in Selfridges signing when I popped in for a couple of bits, and I love a signed book. Eastwoods first book was a triumph, but a book on being skinny? Where’s the joy in that?

But joy there was.

Be taken, firstly, with the stunning, elegant cover that suggests anything but ‘Low-fat’ - you shouldn't judge a book by it’s cover, but a quick scan of the pages shows you that, in this case, you can. The recipes looked and sounded like a butter covered dream; even if the book fails in low-fat, it would succeed in stunning photography of delightful recipes to make you drool. 

The Skinny French Kitchen is more like a food memoir of a girl who, through her own 
admission, tends to pile on the pounds, but loves French food. Leaving England, she moved back to Paris, having grown up there, in a 7th floor flat (with no lift!). The aim was to create recipes traditionally French in taste and nature, but without the traditional fat content. And Mon deur, has she done it!

And how has she done it? By bringing French recipes into the 21st Century. By keeping true to the recipes but not going overboard – by not using 2 tablespoons of cream when a teaspoon will do, by using 50g of strong cheese instead of 200g of mild. By not trying to change something that can not, should not, be changed (Eastwood refuses to include a proper tart tatin – it should be rich, sticky with sugar and slick with butter; it would be sacrilege to change it and to her credit, she doesn’t try). Clever tricks that, when it all adds up, makes slimmer food without compromising on taste. In short, she has made traditional French food modern and light (and, if we can take her word, has converted the French too as only recipes approved of by her butcher/grocer/concierge made the cut!) 

Secondly, the warm, friendly nature of an author who loves food comes across in this book, aided by the wonderful photography throughout; however, as lovely as the photos of Paris and Eastwood are, they out-number the photographs of the food itself, particularly the savouries. A real shame, particularly given how lovely the photographer has made these delightful recipes look – like you could just eat them from the page.

Even if you are not dieting, invest in this book. It will give you the ability to create menus that read like they’re heavy and coronary inducing, but in fact will allow you to eat your meal and continue to polish off that (case of) Burgundy without having to go off for a nap.  And I'll be testing this theory out over the next couple of weeks when I cook the quintessentially French Boeuf Bourguignon followed by Crème Caramel.

This isn’t a diet book; this is delightful, elegant, modern book on French food.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Easy Welcome Home Dinner - One Pot Pan Fried Duck

10 months after we were married, my husband moved to the big smoke for work, coming home on Friday nights and leaving again on Monday mornings (at 5am!!). Tonight, he moved back home for good. I'm a happy girl, and to welcome him home, I decided to cook his favourite - duck.

Duck is very often overlooked in the butchers, but I urge you to think again. Duck has to be free range; it isnt suited to intensive battery farming, but this makes it more expensive than, say chicken, but is comparable in price to free range chicken (especially the legs). It's also amazingly high in all of the B-Vitamins so surprisingly good for you, especially if you remove the skin and stir fry the breast.

But we wont be doing that here; we will be pan frying those lovely duck breasts and then making the side dishes in the same pan, in all those lovely juices; the ultimate one-pot dinner party meal and perfect for tonight - who wants to do lots of washing up after a house move!?

One Pot Pan Fried Duck

(Sorry for the not-great picture; it was taken on a phone as my camera battery went - I couldn't let the duck go cold whilst I waited for it to charge).


  • New Potatoes - 500 - 600g
  • Two Duck Breasts
  • 1 fat garlic clove
  • Handful flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 6 rashers smoked, streaky bacon
  • Savoy cabbage washed and shredded
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1. Cook the potatoes, drain and slice thickly. Warm the over to 100 - 120 degrees.

2. Score the skin of the duck breasts and season.. Place a heavy bottom,. none stick frying pan over a low heat, and, when hot, place the duck in the pan, skin side down and leave for 15 minutes, then turn, meat side down and leave for 5 minutes. Cover with foil and keep warm.  When you come to serve the duck it will be perfectly cooked - a little pink in the middle.

3. Turn the heat to high and, in the same pan, add the sliced, cooked potatoes and cook in the duck fat until hot and browned.  Keep warm in the oven.

4. Add the bacon to the pan and cook until crispy. Add the cabbage and put a lid on the pan for a couple of minutes. Add a spash of water, cover again until cooked through - just a couple more minutes.

5. Meanwhile, slice the duck breasts and place on a plate. Mix the juices from the rested duck with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

6. Place the potatoes in a pile next to the duck and serve the cabbage, again in a neat pile.

7. Dress with the duck juice mixture and serve.

This will serve the duck warm. You have a couple of options.

  • To keep the skin crispy, cover with baking paper whilst resting, but expect meat to be cooler.
  • Cook the bacon and cabbage at the same time as the potatoes, in a different pan. You will use more than one pot but you will be finished quicker, resulting in warmer meat.
The recipe I've written is what I prefer to do, but let me know what you prefer.

Looking forward to the feedback!


Tonight we had a Spanish Rioja with our duck, from Naked Wines Burgo Viejo Rioja Tinto 2006. It went perfectly with the duck, complimenting the rich flavours with a blackberry undertone (and we all know how well fruit goes with duck!) It's light but oak-ey characteristics were complex enough to compliment the duck but didn't over power it. Delicious and the perfect companion to the meal.  And my husband thought so too!