Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

One of the things I love about this time of year is Purple Sprouting Broccoli. I love it. Love it, love it, love it. For all the time it’s in season I buy bunches every time I shop and we eat it steamed with sausages, or in a risotto (yummy!) or in all manner of ways.

My newest PSB dish (inspired by this spinach recipe) is to make a tomatoey sauce, by frying some onions and leeks, adding some tinned tomatoes and some chickpeas or canellini beans and whatever herbs and spices appeal, simmering it until the beans are cooked through and the sauce has thickened a bit. Then pour it into an ovenproof dish, add blobs of creme fraiche, and lay stalks of steamed PSB over the top. Add a little bit of grated cheese and pop in the oven or under the grill. Easy peasy, yummy scrummy and healthy too.

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I do enjoy making the children’s birthday cakes – before they came along I’d never really done cake decoration beyond sticking some flowers or sweets on top, but that doesn’t cut the ice with small people, and after forking out a fortune for my eldest’s first birthday cake, I have gone DIY ever since.

But a seven week old baby who doesn’t like to be put down does cramp the baking style a bit. So for the Little Boy’s birthday I needed something that he’d love, but that I could throw together quickly. He does love his diggers, and can frequently be heard singing the Bob the Builder song around the house. So I made a building site cake. I made a double quantity of Delia’s all-in-one sponge with some cocoa powder added, and used one batch for the cake and one for some cupcakes. Then came a huge bowl of my favourite chocolate fudge buttercream – it’s fantastic stuff. I use dark chocolate for adults and a mix of dark and milk for kids. For this, I used 250g of butter, about 400g of chocolate and I don’t want to think about how much icing sugar – I don’t weigh it, I just tip it in until it looks right. Lots, anyway. So, sandwich the cake together and rough ice it and the cupcakes. Add a dumper truck from the playroom (thoroughly washed) and some Bob the builder figures. I’d made some chocolate crispy cakes, and kept some mix back. I added a bit of black food colouring to make some aggregate. Ice a name, add candles and away we go.

The rapturous reception made me wonder why I bother with elaborate cakes. He was thrilled, and one of his little friends declared it ‘the best cake ever’. I doubt it, but it was easy and tasty, so I count that a double win.

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Weekword: Chocolate

Emma chose the Weekword today, and although I didn’t sign up, I thought that as I have something to post, and the Littlest S&S is actually asleep and not asleep on me (she usually insists on this and wakes immediately if I put her down), I’d add a sneaky post.

Miss S&S has been at home for the Easter holidays, and we had my parents and my father in law and a friend coming for Easter lunch, so I enlisted the children in a spot of present making. We made the ubiquitous chocolate crispy cakes – they’re quick, they’re easy, and everyone loves them – and fashioned them into Easter nests. Cooking with children is a new skill for me – I’m very much the sort of person who likes to get things done, so finding the various highways and byways down which small children can wander even when making something very simple was a bit of a challenge for me. But I relaxed and went with it – my only insistence on ‘The Rules’, apart from the washing of hands and the donning of aprons (the aprons are not strictly necessary, but they look so cute in their aprons) was (repeatedly) preventing the Little Boy from putting the spoon in his mouth. And then from eating the mini eggs. A batch of these cakes usually takes me ten minutes, if that. But these occupied the Junior S&Ss for nearly half an hour.

Apart from melting the chocolate, they both participated in every stage – mixing, spooning out into paper cases, decorating. And finally, eating. There were still plenty to give the grown ups, though!

I’ve only just noticed that the chick at the back only has one eye. I can’t decide whether he looks rakish or just confused.

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White Christmas cake

I was so last minute with everything that my Christmas cake was marzipanned and iced in the early hours of Friday morning – two days before Christmas. Oops.

As usual, I used Nigella’s recipe, fed it with brandy, and then marzipanned with golden marzipan. I adore marzipan (Mr S&S doesn’t) so I am winning the children over to marzipan love by feeding them the scraps from the cake. It seems to be working. I didn’t have the energy or the time to faff with royal icing, so it was packet fondant all the way. The white Christmas tree obviously set off something in my creative subconscious, because the cake was similarly minimalist this year:

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Last day of term

The Little Girl finishes school for Christmas today, so yesterday she and I made some presents for her teacher and the teaching assistants. I made some vanilla spice cookies, and some lemony icing, then covered the Little Girl in aprons and unleashed the creative whirlwind. There is no creative force to rival a four year old who’s been supplied with glitter, icing, smarties, jelly tots and the contents of Mummy’s cake decorating box. The glitter was applied by me, under close supervision and direction, but otherwise, these were her own artistic creation. Every sweet applied with total deliberation.

Here’s the recipe for the biscuits, by the way:

Vanilla Spice Biscuits

175g butter, softened.
200g caster sugar.
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
400g plain flour (this recipe works very well with gluten free flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice
pinch of allspice

For the icing:
250g icing sugar, sieved
Juice of 1 lemon
Food colouring and sprinkles as wished

Cream sugar and butter til pale. Beat in eggs and vanilla. In another bowl mix flour, salt and baking powder, and then add them to the butter and eggs, mix gently. Halve the dough, form into discs or balls and wrap in clingfilm to rest in fridge for 1 hr. Roll the dough on a floured surface to half a cm thick, then cut shapes, and place on baking sheets – I flour my sheets as these do have a tendency to stick. Bake for 8-12 mins at 180C, until golden brown.

For the icing, mix the lemon juice with the sugar until you have a thick paste. Add a bit of water if you need to. Colour as desired and then go mad.

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My darling clementines

This is one of the things I love most about winter.

Clementines and satsumas. They embody Christmas for me – the smell of the peel, the orange nets they come in, the ones in big boxes still with leaves attached, and of course there has to be one in your Christmas stocking.

I can eat and eat and eat these – and so can my children. Hooray for clementine season!

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On Sunday, Mr S&S was happy because it was the first Sunday in Advent, so he was allowed mince pies. I am a stickler for ‘No Christmas things in the house until Advent’ because I like Christmas to be special and exciting and if you’re surrounded by Christmas things from October, it… isn’t.

But today is the 1st of December and I’m starting to feel, despite all the stuff going on here, enthusiastic about Christmas. I’m feeling festive. And creative. And excited. I also think my blogging mojo has come back, and to encourage it, I’ve decided to use the blog to harness my feelings of Festive Cheer. I’m going to do a post every day about something Christmassy or celebratory or wintery that makes me feel happy and cosy and festive. A sort of advent calendar/journal of Christmas preparations, which, I hope, will get me properly into the blog again, and encourage me to make time to do some of the things in my head.

First up, today’s little indulgence. I love Country Living magazine, but I don’t often manage to justify buying it. But today I was out and about and I thought that I deserved a little treat, and the December edition is just so Christmassy and lovely and inspiring.

Even the cover is scrumptious. The baubles! The ribbon! The candlelight!

I won’t show you all the lovely things as I plan to do some of them, and mine won’t be magazine-quality! But here’s a lovely boiled wool stocking with hand embroidery that I have no plans to make:

This feature, however, has made me want to grab secateurs and go out and denude the local trees and shrubs for winter foliage.

There’s also some glorious recipes and a feature about a man who makes stained glass and the most beautiful pictures of a frost-covered garden that has me thinking about structural plants.

It’s starting to seem as though this was £3.90 well spent!

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