Apple and blackberry

I am still catching up on blogs I meant to do in 2012!

This year we had some brilliant blackberry-picking adventures.  Living out in the countryside, blackberries in hedges are as common as, well, blackberry hedges, so it was not difficult to find a field in which there were more blackberries than we could carry home with us.  We also have a bramley apple tree in the garden.  So there was much jam-making, all of it done by Mark, and a little bit of pie-making (by me).

The pie below is a simple blackberry and apple pie, with an all-butter crust (half the weight of butter to flour, rub in, add ice water to bind etc) and about equal volumes of chopped up bramleys and blackberries, with a generous sprinkling of sugar.  Doused in cream, it was very good indeed.

I should confess now that whilst I did an extraordinary amount of Christmas baking this year, I took no photos of any of it.  Oops.  I was extremely proud of my mince pies, though, particularly as the pastry finally actually worked out.  I put this down to a combination of tips from Nigel and Nigella (Slater and Lawson), who suggest, respectively, chilling the liquid used to bind the pastry with ice, and placing the bowl full of flour and small cubes of butter into the freezer for 10 minutes to chill once you’ve measured it all out and before you rub the butter into the flour.  I did both, and the pastry was consequently very easy to work with.  I also followed Nigella’s tip to use 00 flour (that’s 2-1 Nigella to Nigel, if you’re counting.)  I may need to make another pie shortly to be sure I’ve cemented my skills from this festive season.


Summer memories

Looking back through my photos, I’ve found a few from this summer which I never shared at the time.  The photos seem to indicate more sun than I remember having, but probably because I prefer to get the camera out in the sunshine for obvious reasons!

We were so excited to finally have a garden when we moved to our house in the countryside, and we have really enjoyed having a bit of outside space this summer.  I can’t say that we’ve made huge inroads into the world of ‘proper’ gardening but I bought a few seed packets and herbs and things and put them in pots.

Here they are newly planted in July: parsley, mint, lavender, chives and tarragon.  The slugs seemed to love the parsley and the chives, and the latter is now unfortunately defunct.  The tarragon also probably got more rain and less sun than was good for it.  Still, it was nice having green things growing and I’ve moved the pots into the porch now for the winter so I can still pick mint and parsley, and look at the lavender.

We also grew lettuce and radishes, which both we and the slugs found very tasty.

A blueberry cake from the ever-present Hummingbird Bakery cookbook- very moist and yummy, especially with the fruit.  It was an enormous volume of cake though- I think it actually took more than a week to eat up, even with visitors helping.  Unprecedented!

Mark found a milk churn behind the shed one day, and we put it by the back door as a little resting-spot for things like bags and travel mugs of tea for when one needs to fish around for keys to get in or out of the house.  The churn was apparently from the days when the house was a farmhouse for a dairy farm, so is properly authentic!

We also walked up to the top of the hills behind our house one late evening, to watch the sun set over the valley.  It’s the kind of thing we continually said we should do, but it took us a little while to get around to doing it.  It was lovely though- a very peaceful way to end the day.  The light on the grasses were gorgeous as the sun slanted across the hills.

It all seems a long time ago now, as we face floodwaters on the roads and read news reports of accidents caused by the heavy rain and gale-force winds.  Perhaps it is nearly time for a bit of christmas cheer to lift the gloom…


Very belated birthday cupcakes

It was my sister’s birthday this week, and since she is now all the way in Australia (sniff) I cannot make her a birthday cake.  When I go to visit her I will make one to compensate, no matter how belated it is!  Which brings me to very, very belated photos of my own birthday cake(s).  My birthday is in July, so these are fairly out of date, to say the least, but I’ve just realised I never posted them.

I am firmly of the opinion that one can never have too much cake.  I also have a baking reputation to uphold at work.  I therefore turned to the trusty Hummingbird Bakery ‘Cake Days’ cookbook for some cupcake recipes- I made hot chocolate cupcakes to take into work during the week (and even had the forethought to acquire some very miniature marshmallows with which to decorate them), and vanilla cupcakes the following weekend with my sister.

Needless to say, both were excellent, as I find is always the way with Hummingbird recipes.








Hmm… my last post was in March, and it is now May.  A bit of a whoopsie.  I think this is what happens when things get busy at work- my brain is done for the day by the time I get home, and I lounge on the sofa reading murder mysteries instead of doing the fun things that I like doing, (i.e. taking photos, sewing things, blogging) because those things require creative brain juices and my brain juices are fully squeezed by the time I get home.  Thanks, work!  Anyway, let’s not dwell on it.  My work is interesting and pays me well, so there is that.

Moving on to the photo illustration of today’s blog: I am not sure how I feel about iPhone apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram (the latter of which I haven’t tried).  They make things look all cool and moody and old-fashioned to the casual observer, and thus feel to me a bit like the photographic equivalent of a mock-tudor house in the suburbs.  Which isn’t to say that I won’t use them, but I suppose when I do I want to say ‘I am doing this in a knowing way! I am aware this isn’t really the real thing!’ as if everyone else who uses them thinks they are.  Maybe it doesn’t matter.

Which is a long-winded introduction to a photo of my lunch- almost certainly another modern-day cliche, the blogged lunch photo.  What can I say, dipping my toe back into blogging, my lunch was pretty today!  Banana, raspberries, blueberries and yoghurt.  I am getting excited about all the lovely berries which will soon be in season…. clotted cream at the ready!


A visit to Yorkshire and plum & frangipane tart

Things have been busy at work recently, and life has interfered with fun things like blogging, but this weekend has restored the balance and given me something to blog about!  We went up to North Yorkshire to visit my uncle Tim, ostensibly so Mark could take part in a cycling sportive (which will no doubt be blogged about soon- see bikevcar for updates).  I did a little bit of cycling, but was also on a mission to re-create a glorious greengage and almond tart which Tim brought down to our house once last year.

There were no greengages about, but Tim found these lovely tart plums, which were an excellent substitute.  We used a different frangipane recipe to the one he’d previously used, and although it didn’t turn out as molten and gooey as the original, it was still very tasty.

And doused in double cream, it was pretty much perfect.

The recipe was in analog form only (ripped out of the pages of a magazine a long time ago) but I am hoping this one will be a good substitute.  I am particularly encouraged by the direction to ‘pour’ the almond mixture into the tart case, as my frangipane was certainly stiffer than pouring consistency, so this version may be more true to Tim’s original.  I may have occasion to make another one this week, so we’ll see!

Makin’ whoopie (pies)

There are a few random things which bring out the ‘American’ in me, and one of them is Valentine’s Day.  I remember getting packs of 20(?) miniature Valentine’s Day cards from Giant, our local grocery store, all pink and red, with cartoon hearts on them that everyone in the class gave out to everyone else in the class, little heart-shaped boxes of chocolates we used to get from our parents, candy hearts with messages on them, and special pink and white bags of M&Ms.  Second only to Halloween in its potential for candy consumption, Valentine’s Day will always have a place in my heart.

Now I’m grown, I don’t go in for presents and gushy romantic stuff; Mark is lucky if he gets a card (and I am super-lucky if I get flowers, as I did this year) and I would never dream of planning a fancy dinner.  I will, however, as in days of old, use Valentine’s Day as a flimsy excuse to ingest even more sugar than I normally do.  Which brings me to… whoopie pies!

I don’t think I’d ever seen a whoopie pie in person until I made them to take into work for Valentine’s Day.  I understand from the photos in my Hummingbird Bakery “Cake Days” cookbook that they are meant to be more rounded and elegant (and less craggy) than these turned out, but they tasted nice, and I will just pretend I was going for the rustic look.  For those who are not acquainted with the whoopie pie, it’s a sponge cake and icing sandwich.  A bit like a wizard-of-oz cupcake that’s been lifted up in a tornado and plopped down again with its roof in the middle of the sponge.  The batter is baked on baking sheets like cookies, but comes out very soft and cakey, and is then sandwiched together with obscene amounts of marshmallow buttercream icing (which I dyed pink, naturally).  Mark, who is not generally a fan of excessive icing, tried one and suggested I put more in. Alarmed by this ‘constructive criticism’, I twisted them apart again and put in about triple the amount of icing recommended in the book.

They were a huge hit in the office, although their American-ness was commented upon more than once!  At least I didn’t hand out little cartoon heart greetings cards…

Homemade pizza! Yum yum yum

I love pizza, and I love cheese!  What I do not love is tomato sauce, and pizza restaurants that do not look at me funny when I ask for pizza with no tomato sauce are few and far between.  Also, making pizza at home is lots of fun- we are always in fits of giggles by the end, trying to make the dough flat in a pizza shape (next time we’ve decided we are going to give up on the attempt to make them round, and deliberately shape them like countries- mine was accidentally Australia last time).

The recipe I’ve previously used for pizza dough is Jamie Oliver’s, although I do find that I a) am incapable of mixing it on the work surface as he suggests and revert to a bowl because I am too scared that I will make a more enormous mess than I usually do, which is saying something, and b) require more flour (or less water?) than he suggests.  The last time we made pizza, though, I gleefully purchased the dough from the wonderful Mark’s Bread (which also has a Jamie Oliver connection, as I understand they feature in his new book) and it was delicious.

I have also developed my own alternative sauce, which is a bit of a faff, but very worth it.  As Mark said, “If I wasn’t eating my own pizza, I would be happy to eat yours”.  The most effusive of compliments, I think you’ll agree.  It is a more refined version of the sauce I described in my last pizza post here.

Meg’s non-tomato pizza base

1/2 tub ricotta (say, 5-6 heaping tablespoons? not very scientific with this bit)
1 large clove garlic
lots of salt and pepper
handful chopped parsley

tea strainer (i.e. a miniature strainer/sieve)
small bowl

Having discovered that if I just mixed up a ricotta-based sauce straight from the tub, it was a bit watery on the pizza, I decided (uncharacteristically) to add an additional cooking step and try and drain the ricotta before using it.  And, it worked.  Very well.

So, spoon the ricotta into the tea strainer and balance it over the small bowl.  Stick this in the fridge for at least an hour, preferably longer, and swear death unto anyone who tips it over.  You could do this with muslin as well, but I don’t have any, so.

Once your ricotta is suitably drained, very finely chop or mince the garlic, roughly chop the parsley, and mix in with the ricotta.  You might need to persuade the person you are sleeping next to that night to have some too, as it is VERY garlicky.  Season generously with salt and pepper, and there you go.

Spread onto the pizza base, top with mozzarella and/or whatever else you fancy, and stick  in the oven until the base is cooked and the top is bubbling (10-15 minutes?).

See what I mean about a vague resemblance to Australia?  It looks boring, but tastes really nice I promise.  And anyway, it was exactly what I fancied that evening, which is the whole point of homemade pizza.

Mark’s kitchen-sink pizza. There’s even more stuff under the cheese, if you can believe it.