Sunday, 18 December 2011

in the interests of optimism

Sometime in October, about the middle of the  third week I think, I had a very strange  feeling.  I felt I wasn't going to like November.  It was quite a strong feeling and the desire to go to bed and stay there for the duration came upon me fiercely.  Although not very practical to do so, I do wish I had gone with my desire. 

At the end of October I hurt my back to the extent of being incapacitated for over  a week.  I have no idea how it happened.  One moment I was walking across the room and the next I could barely move.  My back was still a bit fragile when I then had a problem with my hip.  Further incapacitation resulted.  Then I went for an interview for a job I didn't get which I was quite upset about.  Then my right hand became inflamed and very, very painful (and of course I am right handed) I couldn't even press the button on my camera let alone do any cooking.  There was another health issue which is best not to go into here.  There were a couple of other upsetting moments too.  All in all - I think it fair to say - I  didn't like November.

However, in the interests of optimism, for of course this is the person I am striving to be, November has gone.  Done.  It is now December.  Time to carry on.   Time to find my mojo again.

And although sadly my hand is not recovered,  I have had blood tests and am going for an x-ray next week, I have found learning to use my left hand more a lot easier than I thought it would be.  So in the interests of optimism I thought I would see what I could do in the way of my favourite occupations.  And, although I  need to get a left handed tin opener and chopping vegetables is challenging,  I can still make biscuits.

Last week I made Rum and Raisin Oaty Cookies (my take on a Rachel Allen recipe), Ginger and Honey Snaps and Chocolate and Coconut Bars.  Once I started I couldn't stop.  I was giving cookies away left, right and centre.  And  happily, thanks to giant pink painkillers, I can use my camera again although I'm afraid I forgot to photograph my frenzied  cookie sessions. But now I've found my mojo again I expect I will make more especially as I am going away for Christmas and need to take gifts with me.

I may have to change my name to Lady Cookie.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Book 7 Meet me at the Cupcake Cafe

Not a lot has been happening recently as I have hurt my back.  I am no longer at the hanging onto the furniture and walls in order to walk from room to room stage. I do have a hot water bottle permanently attached to my back but it is getting better (pause for much wood to be touched here). I can just about get my tights and shoes on provided I have taken enough painkillers beforehand.  And I can sit at the computer for short periods of time.   I am however feeling very sorry for myself so on Saturday afternoon  I went over to the A's for a bit of company and to sit with MG while TJ and AJ went to a quiz in the evening.  I thought I might as well sit on their hard chairs with my cushion and hot water bottle as sit on mine and it meant MG and I got a chance to watch Strictly Come Dancing together which was fun. MG favours Jason and Kristina to win while my choice is the lovely Harry.  And isn't Russell Grant so much fun.  He is enjoying himself so much, it's quite infectious. 

So to take my mind off my sorrows while waiting to be collected I decided to make a Sticky Ginger Cake to give them.  Why, you might well be asking, would I attempt cake making considering getting dressed is a little on the challenging side but from the recipe it seemed so easy as it could all be done in stages in the food processor.   However, it's amazing how heavy a 500g bag of flour weighs with a bad back and just how much bending and stretching is involved  getting the ingredients out of cupboards and the fridge, actions I never really thought about before.   I had to keep sitting down inbetween ingredient whizzes and the fact I would have to bend to get the cake in and out of  the oven hadn't even occurred to me!!   Mental note - need to work on forward planning.  So it took me ages.  However, eventually a slightly burnt cake was taken from the oven and I had time to lay down in a darkened room before collection by TJ.   The cake was well received and quite delicious, once the burnt bits had been cut off.  However I'm not going to attempt any more baking until I am as mobile as I can be considering I'm me, so that just leaves lots of reading to do which brings me nicely to book 7.

On the face of it Meet me at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan is classic chick lit fare.  Thirty-one year old Issy gets made redundant and uses her redundancy package and baking skills to start her own cafe selling cupcakes and coffee.  Along the way she loses cretin of a  boyfriend and finds Mr Right, brings together disparate groups of people (especially the women who work for her who also find love along the way), sees off a takeover bid from nasty grasping people  and cafe becomes a roaring success.  A few tears along the way but smiley happy ending with all loose ends tied up.  Not my sort of thing at all. 

So, why did I love it so much and not want it to end.  It could be the identification with Issy and the redundancy. Having been there, done that, (actually still doing it)  I know how it feels however,  apart from that,  our circumstances are very different. Or, it could well be the cake.  After all I bought it purely because of the title and there is much, much cake in this book.  There are lots of cake recipes and I want to try them all.  I love cake.  I love making cakes.  I love eating cakes almost as much as I like making them.  I love giving people cakes and seeing them smile and I believe most things seem better after tea and cake (or alcohol and cake) and this is the essence of the book - cake, whether it was sold in the cafe or given as a gift, made everything better for everyone (except the cretin who got his just desserts in a wonderful way).   And nobody got fat. 

aaand   The Caked Crusader is given an honourable mention and has some pages of her own at the back - that excited me - I read her blog and she has made a comment on mine - fame at last. Cake and fame.  Glorious.  I highly recommend it to all persons who understand the value of cake.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Project Spectrum - September

I was looking forward to September and it's yellowness. 

Again I started off with the card to MG.  Yellow is her favourite colour and she was looking forward to the yellow month

Her reply to my 'are you going to do something yellow'  was ' I might do'.

This lovely yellow fellow was being used by the fishmonger at Whitstable Harbour to draw people in.  LC and I had a wander around the harbour and did indeed go in to look at the fish.  So it worked.

Golden flowers, again from MO's garden where I think she must have flowers for every colour of the rainbow.

And then I decided to be artistic.  This is the result of a whole afternoon of me arranging and re-arranging bits of yellow fruit and photographing them from every angle.  If I had one I would be telling myself  'don't give up the day job'.

AJ and MG made the final photographic decision.
And thanks to our lovely, short but lovely, indian summer there were still a few remaining sunflowers in MO's garden

October Project Spectrum is Aqua/Cyan but I might not do that one.  I seem to have lost interest a bit.  November is black and white, I'll see how I feel when November arrives.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Book 6 - The Tent, The Bucket and Me

This was my antidote to One Day.  I bought The Tent, The Bucket and Me by Emma Kennedy last year but somehow it got into the wrong pile of books and I didn't realise I hadn't read it.  After I had read One Day and was putting it into the bookcase this book  caught my eye and I picked it up.  It's occasions like that which make me wonder if there is a benevolent universe looking out for me after all because this is the funniest book I have read in a while.  I laughed out loud. Real giggling, body shaking laughter which is an interesting experience when reading a hardback in bed at night.  At first I thought it wasn't perhaps a good idea to read something so funny before going to sleep but I only read a few pages at a time and I had some of the best nights sleep afterwards.

Emma has written about a period in the 70s when her parents bought a tent and decided camping was the way to go holidaywise.  She chronicles the disastrous  holidays they had in such an expressive  way that it was like watching a film.  I could just see it happening.  She says in her introduction that she has frequently been asked if she had made any of it up and her reply is 'Sadly not.  In fact, I wish I had.'

Emma was conceived on her parent's honeymoon in a badly erected rain lashed tent.  Her first family holiday aged three was in 1970 and consisted of collecting a doom laden Welsh granny whilst driving an extremely dodgy bargain car on the way to a strangely deserted  campsite set on the edge of a cliff in Wales.  A tale of gale force ten winds and rain, dead sheep, a bucket of wee,   a caravan with seaweed in the toilet and near death unfolds which is hilarious.  It is a foretaste of each holiday the family takes, whether in a tent or in a gite,  throughout the seventies, minus the Welsh granny who decides one trip into hell is more than enough.  These tales include a school camping trip which is just as eventful as her parents holidays and nicely  illustrates the confusing biological information a seven year old can hold as being true and the innocence with which they will pass this information onto a gobsmacked adult.

I love the theatre and film as much as I love books but I am not at all keen on farce, to the degree that I generally avoid anything remotely farcical.  What stops this book being pure farce is the quality of the writing and the fact it is a first person narrative.  It has the same biting humour that a good episode of Frasier has.  It is observant and being written in the first person the reader is party to Emma's thoughts and feelings about each and every holiday disaster and this gives it a certain depth and of course, it's personal. It's a book I will keep on hand for when life is being unkind and I am in need of a good laugh because I could easily read it again and still find it funny. 

And I am so, so  glad I have never been camping and I never, ever intend to start.

Friday, 7 October 2011


In need of some therapy I settled down the other evening to make Beetroot Chutney with the beautiful beetroot I bought at a farm shop during a rare excursion into the countryside. Except, after I had added to my preserving pan 1.1 litres of vinegar, 900g sugar, 450g onions and 700g of apples all nicely chopped where necessary, I found I didn't have the 1kg beetroot I asked and paid for, I had a mere 600g.  Ooooer I thought, oh well I will have to make it up with more apples and onions and see what happens.  So that is what I did.

Eight jars of 'jamney' and a veryveryveryveryveryvery burnt preserving pan is what happened.

I quite like the taste of the jamney, but then as I have said before, I like the taste of my cooking usually, so my dear friends L and B H have agreed to be Beetroot Jamney testers for me and give me their honest opinion.  I think I'm looking forward to that.

However, I am more concerned about my burnt preserving pan.  I  have no idea how to rescue it.  So far I have tried soaking it in warm soapy water overnight, heating it gently on the cooker for a short while, scrubbing with a brillo pad and three days and nights soaking it in vinegar. All to no avail.  The significant ex has informed me that I need to heat it at a high temperature and then when it's hot enough add a few drops of water.  Hmmm.  He does know about these sorts of things having gained a combined degree in chemistry and maths but I am a little anxious about putting an empty (apart from burnt bottom) pan on  a cooking ring and turning it up full.  And how hot is 'enough'.  I would have to stay in the kitchen the whole time in case it explodes and if it explodes what about me!  So before I attempt that piece of advice  I am going to go and get some coke - that would be cola by the way - I don't where to go for the other kind - and try soaking it in that.  I believe genuine coca-cola, as in fat not thin and not a copy, has remarkable stripping qualities.

My sanity is at risk if I can't get back to the theraputic effects of making chutney so if anyone out there has a foolproof tip for  rescuing burnt preserving pans I would be very grateful if you would let me know.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Great British Bake Off - episode 6 - Desserts

I'm with Henry Winkler (aka The Fonz) on  this one (actually  I  have a bit of a  soft spot for Henry Winkler and would probably be with him on most things really).  He was on Something for the Weekend a while ago and was invited to make the dessert.  His reply was 'Pudding? We have pudding? I love pudding'.    So I was really looking forward to this episode. And isn't it funny how there is always room for pudding.

The signature challenge this week was a Baked Cheesecake, the technical challenge  a Chocolate Roulade and the show stopper a Croquembouche.

Well, there was no way I would be making this was there

so that's the showstopper out of the way. 

I know a roulade and  swiss roll are different but they both need to be rolled and, again going back to school days, my only attempt at a  swiss roll ended up with a perfectly  square one.  Also I don't have the right size tin for a roulade.  So I shall be making a Baked Cheesecake then. 

Janet made a Rhubarb and Ginger one, Mary-Anne's was Tutti Frutti Curd Baked Cheesecake,  Jo's was Rum and Raisin and Yasmin's Amaretto while Holly made a Father Christmas Baked Cheesecake. They all looked lovely but  I wanted to make Jo's Rum and Raisin Baked Cheesecake and I so hoped the recipe would be on the website and, oh joy, it was.

I have to say nothing went wrong with the buying of the ingredients.  The actual preparation went according to plan.  I somehow managed to actually follow the recipe without incident so the making of it went well and it's time in the oven seemed to agree with it although it was slightly overcooked at the edge and it did crack.  I did add more butter to the biscuit mixture because it seemed a bit dry and to my everlasting surprise when I went back to look at the episode (again after I had made the cheesecake!!!) Paul Hollywood told Jo that she should have added more butter to hers as it wasn't packed enough - yay me!

This is Jo's Rum and Raisin Cheesecake

and this is mine.

The crack looks a bit like the one on Amy Pond's bedroom wall doesn't it (a Dr Who reference for non-aficionados).  Oooops you can see where my oven gloves went into the sauce on the top.

It's still in the tin because of transporting to MO's for Sunday dinner where  I forgot to photograph it when we took it out of the tin until it was sliced and served and JT, bless him,  said 'have we taken a photo?'  I dashed for the camera and here it is sans tin.

I am so chuffed to say my cheesecake was very much liked and I was given 10 out of 10 for it.  The taste of rum was especially appreciated although I don't think I would have won points from Paul Hollywood for it as he felt Jo's was nicely delicate and not overwhelmed with the alcohol.  I soaked my raisins overnight in the rum.  I like overwhelming alcohol and so did the MO and JT household.  I'm going to make it again definitely.

Sadly The Great British Bake Off has now ended. The finalists were Holly, Jo and Mary-Anne, Yasmin having been eliminated this episode and Janet in the patisserie round.  They all did so well but Jo was the winner.  And now my Tuesday nights will be a little bit empty but I have Nigel Slater on Fridays and Lorraine Pascale on Mondays to watch, plan and cook from.  I got so behind with my self imposed Bake Off challenge that I'm two episodes behind but I'm still going to make something from both although I don't know when.  LP, a  lovely member of my family, is giving me the book of the series for an early Christmas present so I might be able to get different recipes to try.  Exciting baking times ahead methinks.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Great British Bake Off - episode 5 - Pies

I like pies so I was really looking forward to this episode.  Actually, so far I have really been looking forward to all the episodes.  What can I say, I love cakes, biscuits, tarts, pies, puddings, breads and anything else of a fattening nature.

So many pies, so many choices - Holly made Three Cheese, Potato and Caramelised Onion Pie,  Rob made Chicken and Mushroom, Yasmin a Family Fish Pie, Jo also made fish pie, a yummy sounding Salmon and Asparagus, Mary-Anne - Chicken and Bacon, Janet - Chicken and Chestnut, Jason - Brown Down Chicken Pie, all with either flaky or puff pastry.  The required element/ technical challenge was to make Paul Hollywood's miniature pork pie with a quails egg in the centre.  Six of them.  I made a hand raised hot water crust pastry pork pie at school.  It was notable for being a success.   The showstopper was to make a sweet meringue pie using either the French or Italian method. 

Sadly Jason and Rob were eliminated this time.  Jason, who was so sweet and enjoying the experience so much, but  was only nineteen and as Mary Berry said he just lacked the skill and the background.  Rob's charm failed him on this occasion. His showstopper failed miserably, it sort of fell apart because he got his timings wrong again and unfortunately he had used up all his chances with Paul Hollywood.  Paul said he loved their passion for baking and there was a lack of youth in his industry at the moment so when Jason said it was what he wanted to do he was keen to encourage him.

So, to pies.  Again I was limited to those recipes printed on the website so because it looked so nice, was different, I loved all the ingredients and she  used flaky pastry I decided to make Holly's Three Cheese, Potato and Caramelised Onion Pie.

This decision was made a couple of weeks ago but I hit a problem.  The pie fed eight.  I am just me.  So in my usual generous way I invited friends round to eat said pie. Unfortunately they couldn't make it so I made the offer elsewhere.  Unfortunately they couldn't make it either.  I seem to have chosen the busiest two weeks in September as no-one could could come round for pie.

I was now quite behind with my Great British Bake Off challenge.  At this point I really should have looked at my options such as halving the quantity at least, or looking at making another pie which I knew would freeze well (wasn't sure this would).  Instead I developed an obsession.  I would make this pie and I would make it as per the recipe.  What I would do with a pie that big I wasn't going to think about because it was very important I make that pie.  

And make it I did.

And here is where I really should leave it at that and go  on to the next overdue episode.  Pie made, onto dessert.

But I'm not going to.  Dear reader I am going to tell the sad and sorry tale of my pie. 

I made the pastry.  I haven't made flaky pastry  for quite some while as you can now buy quite good ready made pastry in the supermarket.  I had forgotten how much I like making it.  So that went well.  I made up all the different bowls of ingredients for the filling.  A bit fiddly but it went well.  So then I started the layering.  ' Step 11 Layer one quarter of the potatoes, a third of the onions and a third of ...'.  Onions?  Onions? What onions?  I had  completely by passed step 7 - lightly caramelise the onions.  Sigh. Off I went to the cooker to caramelise my onions. Lightly.  And resume layering. I was just about to put the final layer of potatoes on when I glanced round and saw - the remaining two thirds of the caramelised onions.  Softly glistening with butter and still in the saucepan on the cooker. Sigh.  I couldn't bring myself to unlayer so I just dolloped them on top, covered them with the last of the potato and put the pastry on top.  And put it in the oven for 30 minutes at 220 and then for one hour at 180 or until golden brown.

This is Holly's pie going in

and coming out after presumably one and half hours cooking


this is my pie going in

it has character!

and coming out after just an hour in the oven

(yes I remembered to turn it down, I think I should have checked on it sooner - I don't have a glass door in my oven - that's one of my excuses)

I know I was going to embrace the quirkiness of my cooking - but really, with this, I think not.   Just as well nobody took me up on the offer of pie.

So, next episode is desserts.  I like desserts.

I am also having computer issues - again.  It took me an hour and forty-five minutes to load these photos.  It took me thirty-five minutes to get into my blog.  I keep losing Internet access mid sentence.  It is a little frustrating not to mention slow.  Hopefully I will post desserts tomorrow (especially as it's the final Bake Off tonight and I still have Patisserie to do before I post that).

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Book 4 and 5 - An Uncommon Reader and One Day

We have two books this month in our reading group because one of them is  very short.

An Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett is an odd little book.  Alan Bennett is a well known playwright and wrote  quite an acclaimed series of monologues for television which won lots of awards but which I had never seen because they didn't appeal to me.  The only work of his I have knowingly seen was the film of The History Boys which I loved and wished I'd seen when it was on the stage. 

The Uncommon Reader of the title is the Queen who comes upon a mobile library at the back of the kitchens at Buckingham Palace whilst chasing after an errant corgi.  Deciding to take a peek inside she meets a kitchen servant and takes a book out on his recommendation.  This begins a love affair with reading which she finds challenges her staff somewhat.  As I read it I realised I wasn't really 'getting it' and it was faintly annoying me  but carried on anyway to the end.  The end was worth it.  The last two lines of the book were, I felt, magical.  I laughed out loud. 

This is not something I can say about our second choice One Day by David Nicholls.  One Day is a best selling book that has just been made into a film starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess.  I didn't like it.    My niece, who is twenty-one,  said she was finding it quite difficult to get into although she is persevering with it and Mrs Pao was disappointed with it.  I agree with Mrs Pao in that it doesn't deliver what it promises but also I felt quite depressed after reading it.  I do realise that as it has been made into a high profile film I might be in the minority here but that was the effect it had on me.

The story centres on Emma and Dexter a couple of opposite characters who get together for a one night stand  at the end of their very different degrees at Edinburgh university. Despite an obvious attraction they go their separate ways although they keep in touch with each other over the years and become  firm friends.  The premise of the title One Day is that we meet them on the same day every year over a period of about twenty years.   We find out where they are, what they are doing, who they are with, their ups and downs and what developments their relationship goes through.  As Mrs Pao says 'a snapshot'  of their lives.  But I found it to be messy.  Because they don't necessarily meet up on this 'one day', the 364 days in-between need to be brought in some how so that we know what has been happening to them.  And a lot happens to them  as well as lots  changes to the relationship between them.  It all gets a bit muddled.

Many years ago, late 70s I think,  I saw a film called Same Time, Same Place starring  Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn in which a couple who are married, but not to each other, meet and have an affair.  The affair ends but they decide to meet up every year on a certain  day.  They meet only on that day.  They have no contact in between other than to make arrangements. The happenings  of the intervening time is shown through their conversations, their moods and of course how they age.    Perhaps this sort of scenario works better visually.   I liked the film even though there was a certain sadness about it. It's a film I always said I would watch again and although I  never have I remember it with a certain fondness.   I rather wish I hadn't read One Day.


Some days as soon as I wake up  I  know things aren't going to go well.  I just have a feeling that it would be best not to indulge in anything with the capacity for catastrophe.  And some days there is no inkling whatsoever that life is going to throw a curved ball in my direction. 

The day I made the Battenburg was one such day. 

After I had made the Battenburg I went on to make Plum and Apple Jelly from a recipe on the Apple and Spice blog site (is that what they are called blog site? or should I say website? I wonder what the correct terminology is?).  It was a straightforward recipe which  didn't require straining juice overnight and seemed to yield quite a lot of jars.  Marvellous I thought.

Of course, having spent such a lot of time measuring and trimming the Battenburg it was quite late by the time I started chopping kilos of apples and plums (dark in fact) but I had survived the Battenburg experience and felt I was on a roll.

I thought it looked quite scrumptious

there was quite a lot of it when it had cooked down

and so I started to ladle it into the jelly bag which was suspended over a bowl on the table. 

No problem.  I had done it a million times before - which was probably the reason for the elastic on the jelly bag giving way causing the bag, full of mushed fruit, to fall into the quite full  bowl of strained juice.  The juice whooshed up into the air and on it's way down splattered the walls and a door before settling on the table and a chair from which it cascaded onto the floor.

I, in the meantime, found myself covered in a liquid that had just been taken off the cooker.  Although in my hair it had somehow avoided my face and upper body but the front of my  skirt was sodden.  So, holding my skirt away from me, I made a dash to the bathroom to take everything off and put cold water on my legs.   I broke the zip on my skirt trying to take if off so had to wriggle it over my head.  My face and tee shirt now had juice on  so I just jumped in the shower in my underwear and began spraying my legs and face with  cold water.  Luckily I didn't seem burnt in anyway, just a bit sticky so when I was clean and dried off I wandered back into the kitchen. 

Putting the apron I should have been wearing in the first place on over my underwear (I decided against more clothes in case my trials and tribulations weren't over)  I found the juice had  slithered, like something from a bad science fiction film, across most of  the floor and under a cupboard door. 

Walking through gallons of wet, sticky juice to get to the mop  I began operation clear up.

That done I went back to what remained of the juice.  I hadn't finished ladling from preserving pan to jelly bag so I began all over again with a new jelly bag.  I wasn't at all sure if it would work as the juice  going through the jelly bag was now quite cool but after it had been returned to the pan and boiled the setting point was reached.  I put the jelly  into  jars which had been sitting in a hot  oven all this time and were therefore well and truly sterilised and to my delight I got four jars of plum and apple jelly

The lids of the jars were a little on the burnt side but it was barely noticeable - really.

I would like to say that I dealt with all of this with an air of quiet resignation.  I did not swear, I did not get stressy and I did not cry.  And I took on board four lessons learned

1.     When looking at the jelly bag with the thought 'hmm that looks a bit full' STOP.  Do not listen to the next thought  'oh I expect I can get a bit more in there'. 

2.     Test the jelly bag for elasticity before using.

3.      Always, always wear an apron.  And if making anything requiring a jelly bag and hot liquid again invest in a pair of wellies for the kitchen. 

4.     Get back on the horse.  I made it again dear reader and it was perfect.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Great British Bake Off - episode 4 - Biscuits

I had been  looking forward to this episode as I love biscuits.  There is nothing that can't be sorted by a cup of tea and  homemade biscuits or cake.  Sometimes you need both.

I really wanted to make Mary-Anne's signature bake of melting moments but they weren't a featured recipe on the website so it was a choice between Rob's Chocolate and  ginger oat biscuits or Holly's Custard Melts because I wasn't going to make the required element of Mary Berry's Brandy Snaps.  Not just because they looked quite fiddly to do but mainly because they were to be a gift to take to lunch with the A's the next day and I don't think MG would have liked them. 

I actually really wanted to make the macaroons.  They were so pretty.  All the contestants had to make them and were given five hours in which to do it but I didn't have that amount of time, let alone the contingency time I would probably have needed in case it all went pear shaped.  But one day I will make macaroons, when I have a weekend to spare.

So I decided to make Rob's Chocolate and  ginger oat biscuits.   Rob endeared himself to an anwful lot of viewers when, in the first show, he dropped his two tier chocolate cake on the floor just as he was getting it ready for showing and was very upset. A million women, including me, went aaah and wanted to hug him.  It also helps that he is young, has floppy, dark, wavy hair, melting green eyes and dimples in his cheeks when he smiles. He seems to be gathering quite a following on the radio and is regularly discussed by the likes of Chris Evans and Ken Bruce.  Unfortunately Mr Hollywood seems to be immune to Rob's charms.   Rob, although he obviously loves baking, is a little on the laid back side, which Mr Hollywood is not, and he has timing issues, a failing of which Mr Hollywood disapproves.  I sadly think Rob's days might be numbered.

Anyway, the recipe looked quite straightforward and all I had to buy was the stem ginger, which was not at all as easy as I thought it would be.  However, ginger purchased I made the biscuits.

Here are Rob's biscuits

the required quantity of twelve

all the same shape and size (and the pinkness that is Mary Berry)

checking to see if they had the right constituants of crispness without and chewyness within - they did.  Although Paul Hollywood said there was too much ginger.  Rob said there wasn't.  

And here are my biscuits

Rob made twelve, the recipe said it made twelve, I made eighteen. Here are the remaining fifteen, two having been dropped and one eaten. If I had made twelve out of the mixture I had, they would have been the size of small dinner plates

they look the same size as Rob's biscuits - well to me they do

not only did I make six more than the recipe said but they were an awful lot thicker as well

I don't know how it would have happened as I followed the recipe very very carefully but there you go.

They tasted nice and they looked nicer than the photographs allow and The A's were very pleased with them.  They also didn't think there was too much ginger in them.

Next week is pies.  I like pies.

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Great British Bake Off - episode three - Bread

I was a bit nervous about making bread as, apart from the debacle of my school girl attempt, I had only ever made Rachel Allen's brown bread which although successful, eventually, didn't have yeast.  Also it's Paul Hollywoods speciality and he's a bit fierce.  He makes me nervous and I'm not even there,  I'm at home, cooking in my own kitchen - how bizarre is that.

Anyway, there were an awful lot of bread recipes featured.  Holly made a picnic loaf which was a brioche dough with chocolate in one end and onion marmalade in the other.  There was walnut, raisin and rosemay loaf, tear and share cheese and onion bread, zupfe loaf with grueyre, lemon and coriander mini loaves, chocolate chilli buns, sage and oinion rolls, peppercorn loaf and so many more.  I wanted to make the egyptian, dukkah loaf with mixed spices as I happened to have some dukkah in the cupboard but it wasn't one of the recipes on the website.  So, I did it again, I made the required element.  I made Paul Hollywoods focaccia recipe.  But then I like focaccia, had all the ingredients and the recipe said it was easy!!!  So............

Step one -  put the flour, salt, yeast, olive oil and most of the water into the bowl. 

So far so good.  I then mixed it with my hands to form a dough.  Hmmm - okaaaay?

This is where I started to worry a bit.  Kneading for five minutes while slowly adding the rest of the water.  At this point I realised I had meant to watch the recording before I started cooking which would have been especially helpful because I wasn't at all sure I seen any contestants with their hands in as much mush as this - and this was it kneaded!!

But I carried on regardless now 'stretching' the dough by hand in the bowl for five minutes, resisting the temptation to add more flour because I remembered Mr Hollywood's gleefully derisory comments about  those who had added flour at this stage (and many had). So,  after another five minutes of flourless kneading ended up with this

It was so wet and sticky that I found the next bit of kneading, for yet  a further five minutes, on an oiled work surface quite difficult.  Urvashi did her kneading by picking it up and throwing it down on the board over and over again because 'it worked for her'.  Except it didn't  this time because she was eliminated (sadly along with Ian).

I just pushed it around as best I could (again - no flour), put it back into the bowl, covered it,

put it somewhere warm  and waited for it to double in size

This sort of looks double

Then it had to go on two lined baking sheets.  However it was so wet and sticky it was hard to flatten it out and push out into the corners of the tin so I put it on one tray.  I then realised it was going to rise in the proving so I tried to move half of it to another sheet.  It was glued to the parchent.  I couldn't get it off.  So with  misgivings I left it alone, covered it and left it to prove.  Like this

It was at this point I decided to go back to my recording of the programme to see what the finished article  should look like a la Paul Hollywood

This is his focaccia (and his hand)

A couple of contestants had dough as mushy as mine  but  they all managed to push it into the corners of the trays easily.  On viewing I also realised I hadn't put any dimples in the dough.  Still, trying to keep positive, it might go alright, you never know, I was keeping the faith, I went back after it's hour of proving to find it had indeed grown a great deal.  Time for dimples I thought.

However, when I pulled off the food wrap that had lightly been covering my focaccia, this happened

when I finally detached it from the food wrap my dough sank - a lot.  Now a sensible person might say 'using food wrap to cover it while proving is not a good idea - obviously' but I saw someone on the programme loosely cover theirs with it, although yes, most people did seem  to use a cloth so I would say 'lesson learned'.  Anyway not being one to give up I then tried, without success, to dimple.  Then I shoved it in the oven and went to watch Dr Who.

Twenty minutes later this came out of the oven

Not a very good photo I know but I was missing bits of Dr Who here!  The focaccia  was bigger than I thought it would be, it had a crusty top - which is good apparently and when I cut it later (after Dr Who) it looked like this

which I was not displeased with as it had the uneven holes Paul Hollywood said it should have.  Ok, so it probably shouldn't have been just as uneven all over but it was the holes he went on about so I reckon I did alright-ish.

In fact I was quite chuffed as it also tasted nice.  Not focaccia as I've had it before but it was definitely edible and I wouldn't mind feeding it to other people.  I might have to call it something else though.

I would definitely make it again but I wouldn't put so much salt on top before it's baked.  I would add rosemary or chilli or something.  Also I think the topping was too crispy.  This may have been because I put too much olive oil on it before baking.  I don't actually know yet.  I would remember to dimple before proving as well.

I feel quite excited - I can make two kinds of bread now - English Tea Stall here I come!!!

Book 3 - When God was a Rabbit

When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman was such an interesting and inventive  book.  I thought it was well written with mainly likable  characters, some of them wonderfully odd. 

Narrated by  Elly it is the story of her life and her relationships, primarily with her brother but also the rest of her  family, her best friend, her brother's best friend  and her neighbour.   The first half was written from the point of view of Elly as a child and I tend to like that perspective.   There were pointers along the way to some sort of tragedy having taken place and which wasn't at all what I thought it was going to be. The story went to a lot of surprising places.   I thought it was  a tale about growing up, coping and acceptance.  It was definitely one of the 'unputdownable' books.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Great British Bake Off - episode two - Pastry

I'm a bit behind with these so I need to catch up, episode four is  tonight and I have reading group so I have put it on to record while I am out having my dinner cooked for me - yummy.  I will not go back and check that I have recorded it correctly - yet again!   If it doesn't record I can watch the repeat on - er - whenever it is on - Sunday I think.  Anyway, I am not going to check - I'm not.

Moving on. The week before lasts  challenge was pastry.  Specifically pastry tarts.  There were big tarts, little tarts and some in-between  sized tarts.  There were savoury tarts and sweet tarts.  As CCV was coming to lunch I decided to make a savoury tart.  I liked the idea of Jason's Salmon and Pak Choi quiche but CCV doesn't do fish so I opted for Ian's Spinach, Potato and Stilton Quiche with a walnut and paprika crust because it looked nice, sounded nice and Ian seemed a nice man.  CCV finds walnuts do not agree with her so I substituted hazelnuts.

I had never added egg to savoury pastry before and I liked the effect although I didn't use all the egg.

The tip of rolling pastry  out between sheets of food wrap was brilliant.  Unfortunately I didn't work the pastry enough as it was a wee bit crumbly when cooked. It wasn't dreadful but could have done with being a bit less flaky.   I found out this was the cause of my crumbliness when I replayed the recording and listened to Paul Hollywood's advice.  Afterwards.  It would have been helpful to watch the programme before I started cooking really.

The pastry went into the fridge for half an hour and I set about cooking the new potatoes and wilting the spinach.  After wilting I had to squeeze the liquid out of the spinach which took forever.  I don't know if there is a special technique or a spinach squeezer contraption available but I did it with my hands.  Messy, messy, messy and having started with 200g I ended up with the smallest amount ever.  There has to be a better way.

Anyway, after blind baking the pastry for far longer than the recipe said (not because I forgot about it - for a change - but because it needed it) I lined it with sliced, cooked new potatoes - seven in total but I found that to be too many so the ends found their way into my mouth.  Cooks privilege.  After crumbling the stilton onto the potatoes I spooned over the cream, egg, spinach,  nutmeg, lemon zest, cayenne, thyme and parmesan mixture. It is on occasions like this  when the recipe says spoon, one should really spoon the whole time, not decide halfway to tip,  because  there wasn't enough pastry for the amount of liquid.  Thus the liquid started to seep over the edges of the pastry and out of the bottom of the  tart tin onto the baking tray so I quickly shoved it in the oven whereby the tart tin started to slide backwards off the baking tray.   I shut the oven door, quickly.

After the required cooking time I opened the oven door to find the tart tin thankfully still on the baking tray.  It hadn't leaked too much and had set nicely.  Predictably it didn't look like Ian's quiche, the spinach having migrated to the middle for starters,  but that's alright because I am embracing the character of my cooking.  CCV thought it looked nice and she thought it tasted very nice and we had seconds and that is what matters.

I was just  happy there weren't any major disasters. 

I would definitely make it again preferably with the walnut crust but I would make extra pastry, any left over could be frozen perhaps.  Also I would possibly leave out the parmesan and increase the stilton.  

I think this could be classed a success. 

I checked again.  To make sure the recorder was set up for tonight.  Is this a problem I wonder? 

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Book 2 - One moment, One morning

One Moment, One Morning by Sarah Raynor was our last book club read.  It was a book I had picked up in Waterstones as part of the 3 for 2 offer and had taken along for consideration.  Most of us read it and we mostly found it an 'unputdownable' book.  I read it in three days. 

The book focuses on the lives of three women who become involved with a death on the London to Brighton train early one morning.  It chronicles the impact this event has on each of them, how they come together to deal with their grief, the relationships they are dealing with and the relationships they forge with each other as a consequence of the death.

It's a nicely written book.  The chapters are split over a week and defined by the hours in that week.  It also goes back in time on occasions and one of the book group found it difficult to read because of this and so gave up on it.  I didn't have this problem but I did find the language quite emotive and I felt at one point the emotions were so detailed I wasn't being given the space to feel it for myself. 

However, the consensus of opinion was, although a very sad book (I cried buckets - but then I do), it was worth reading.  The ending is positive and the main female characters were very likeable.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Great British Bake Off

One of my favourite television programmes has returned.  The Great British Bake Off is back.  I am an avid watcher of cookery programmes.  If it cooks, I watch it (fortunately I don't have Sky and so can't spend every waking hour watching the Food channel) but for some reason I really, really, really like this programme probably the most.  I even record it and watch it again (and sometimes again).

 For the uninitiated 12 amateur bakers, chosen from countrywide heats (that I didn't know were going on - hrrumph!!), compete to win the title of um, Great British Baker Off -er I suppose, under the beady judgemental eyes of Mary Berry (she of numerous  cookery  books) and master baker Paul Hollywood, renowned in this neck of the woods for his artisan bread, (having tasted his bread I would attest to it's tastiness, goodness and shape).  Each week has a theme and each  contestant makes three dishes, one of which has to be the required element which will be Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood recipe.  For the required element contestants are all given the same recipe which they have to follow although they are allowed a certain amount of interpretation as there are missing elements from the recipe.  The  required element is judged blind so that the contestants personalities cannot be a factor.  This can at times be very telling.  The judges eliminate one person each week.

This year I have decided I am going to make one recipe from each show and feature it here (you lucky people).  Not all the recipes are on the website so I will be a bit limited but no doubt will find something that takes my fancy.

The first episode was cake - my favourite.  There were so many cakes.  Big cakes, little cakes, tiered cakes, cup cakes.  Chocolate marble cake, chocolate and raspberry opera cake, cherry bakewell cupcakes, raspberry and cream cupcakes, chocolate and orange cupcakes to name but a few.  So which cake did I choose to make?  Why, the required element of course.  The required element being a Battenberg.  I actually chose to make a cake which must be symmetrical.  I may have mentioned, once or twice, that  I seem to have a slight lack  spatial awareness?  Well, it's actually much worse than that.

Throughout my life there have been glaring examples of my inability to judge distances, misread tape measures together with  my lack of dexterity in those mind game paper puzzle things where you have to move pieces around into the right shaped  holes without first cutting them up. I took life art classes and my work was held up as an example of bad perspective.  One of my housemates at uni was adept at throwing things into a pan and ending up with one person sized portions.  I have tried and tried but if I throw things anywhere without following a recipe the smallest amount I seem to be able to cook would feed a family of four, for a week.  I can't tell you the panic I feel when someone says to me  'it's just 200 yards up the road' - I don't know what 200 yards looks like and no explanations will get my brain to register it.  One sad day earlier in the year found me in Marks and Spencer with a tape measure actually measuring slices of bread because Delia said the bread for her Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding had to be 1/4 of an inch thick and I just couldn't work out what that looked like - thick, medium, thin - which was it.  In my defence I would mention that I just happened to have the tape measure in my bag anyway, although I can't remember why and I was having a particularly bad day - but even so!!

I have  a brother who has no concept of time whatsoever and he doesn't seem to realise this.  In the same way I have no concept of space.     However, unlike my brother, I recognise this trait in myself.  I believe I have spatial  dyslexia.  But for some strange reason I just seem to forget  I have this problem.

Which can be the only reason why, having  just seen 12 contestants using tape measures and rulers to get their cakes and marzipan into the required shape for this cake, my decision to make it too didn't ring any alarm bells in my head.

And it started off so well......................

I should perhaps mention at this point that Mary Berry's recipe was for Coffee and Walnut Battenberg.  I have an allergy to coffee and so I chose to make the traditional pink and yellow version and used Lorraine Pascale's recipe from Baking Made Easy.

I put the correct quantities and the correct ingredients in - always a good idea

and mixed  it quite well,  if I can say so myself

then instead of gently warming the jam I forgot about it and it burnt

burnt jam - throw away and start again

The recipe said to divide the mixture into two and colour each with food colouring.  One with yellow and one with pink.  Only put one drop in or you will get psychedelic cake (which I thought quite a nice idea)
I had to put this much in to  get even  a faint yellow hue to the mixture.  The same thing happened with the pink half - many, many drops

and in they go

and out they come
(yellow left , pink right)
why are they two different sizes when the tins are the same size?

and this is where I suddenly remembered my paticular issue with spatial directions.
I can't tell you how long it took me to work out that 'with the longest side facing you, cut the sponges in half horizontally' meant
do it like this....

Then I had to use the apricot jam (second batch) (this was coffee buttercream in the actual challenge) to stick the pieces together  so that I got the traditional symmetrical square which is similar to this... and yes this is what they looked like after I had trimmed them to make them the right size and fit!!

I did better with the marzipan which, although not the retangle it should be, was the right size in the middle.  I know because I measured it.

So why didn't it fit??

and why didn't the apricot jam stick it together?  I used more than the recipe said as well.

Well, here it is. The finished article. 

It was longer than this but I kept trimming it trying to get it straight. 
Here's a tip. If you put an extra bit of marzipan on the bottom (to cover the space where it didn't meet)  and up the edge of the outside with the intention of smoothing it in so that the join can't be seen - don't.  It doesn't work.  It doesn't smooth.  It crumbles.

And from this angle you can't see the joins (so much).  A little wonky perhaps but a Battenberg nonetheless

The cake was meant to be a present for LH who said Battenberg was one of her favourite cakes (I actually don't like it very much).  I do a lot of voluntary work at the moment and LH helps run the office at Seeds for Africa where I help out once a week.  She has just finished radiotherapy for breast cancer and so I wanted to do something nice for her. When I gave the said Battenberg to LH with profuse apologies for it's appearance she said 'you don't want home baked cakes to look like they have come from a shop do you'.  I just laughed and thanked her for her kindness.

I then bumped into Mrs Pao in town yesterday and over tea and cake showed her a photo of the Battenberg.  She  said she actually liked it all the more because it wasn't symmetrical.  Again I laughed and thanked her for her kindness but when I got home I thought about both the above comments. 

I do try really, really hard to make my cooking look like the recipe.  I want to make perfect looking cakes, pies, cookies and meals but actually my cooking is no less lovely because of the way it looks.  It generally tastes nice.  And I get so much pleasure from the process of cooking, the giving  and the comments I get about the taste.  My cooking makes people smile.  But because it doesn't look like it 'should' I always feel I can't make any sort of living from this occupation I so love doing.  I can't possibly ask money for anything I make because it looks 'wrong'.

As a society we are so totally obsessed with looks in almost every aspect of our life and it brings so many problems to so many people who desire to measure up to 'societies' view of how things 'should be'.  So, in the interests of optimism (which has been sadly lacking in my life lately)   I am going to embrace my abilities to turn any recipe into a travesty/caricature of its popular image.  

I shall see this as  a career opportunity.  I could start a bakery and call it Baking with Character or Quirky Cakes or Smiley Bun Time.  I shall fly the flag for all of us who are made to feel inadequate by the Mary Berrys of this world.  I shall strike a  blow for all of us who are less than 'societies'  perceived view of  perfection. Wonky is good. Perfection is not necessary. Homely and comforting is the new Prozac.    I will win the Noble Peace prize for reducing the stress levels of millions of ordinary cooks. I can write a book about how I got in touch with the hearts of so many people and brought harmony back into their lives.  My television show will be networked to thousands of countries. My quirky cookery books will outsell Mary Berry, Delia, Lorraine, Rachel, James and Jamie.    Ooooh, ooooh they will make a film about me!!! Meryl Streep will play me - have to go and adapt my oscar acceptance speech right now!

Now I wonder how I go about starting my new career?....................