Monday, 25 February 2013

I'm moving

I've really enjoyed writing this blog over the last four years. And I'm going to carry on writing it, but at a new home!

I've consolidated both my blogs: this one and my sourdough blog and they can now both be found at There is now a category function so it's easier to find what you're looking for.

Please join me over there.


Tuesday, 19 February 2013

White chocolate cream

A mini doughnut, with all sorts of gloriousness, on it and in it

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about eclairs. Which I am, now, well into. Not so much eating them (although I'm getting there...) but making them. I have just gone mental for piping stuff. I think eclairs are going to be the new macaroons which were the new cupcakes which were the new doughnuts which were probably the new eclairs.

I am slightly obsessed with thinking of new fillings and toppings. Not that I've got that experimental yet. But give me time.

It was my youngest child's birthday last week, and I made her these small celebration cakes (okay, okay, they're cupcakes, but cupcakes are so over aren't they? I daren't mention them...). And some bourbon biscuits with her name stamped on them. And some mini chocolate eclairs with white chocolate cream in them.

Mini eclairs with white chocolate cream.

They were delicious. But they still looked like 'normal' eclairs, so with a dark chocolate topping and a white cream filling. Not that eclairs have to look like this, but I wanted them to.

The white chocolate cream was amazingly good and people couldn't quite work out what was in it but it just tasted so good.

Have I mentioned how good it tasted? So good that today, whilst making the mini doughnuts you see above, glazed with chocolate and dipped in sprinkles, sliced and with white chocolate cream PIPED inside (for I wanted to use up this wonderful stuff), I almost, almost, just stuck the icing bag straight in my mag and squeezed in the style of, probably, Homer Simpson.

But I didn't. Time, still, for that.

So here's how you make white chocolate cream. An idea I got from here.

For the eclair recipe here, I'd recommend 300ml of double cream (or whipping, which I will try next time, but I used double) and 100-125g of white chocolate. I only ever use Green and Black's white chocolate as it's fantastic.

Break up the chocolate into individual pieces and put in a heat proof bowl.

Heat half the cream in a pan, until boiling. If you use another sort of white chocolate, you may want to add a teaspoon of vanilla extract into the cream. But the Green and Black's already has vanilla in it, so I don't. When it's reached boiling point stir it around for a few seconds, then take off the heat. Pour it onto the chocolate. Give it a count of 15/20 seconds then whisk together.

Chill for an hour or until needed.

When you are ready to make the eclairs, add the other cream (the one without the chocolate in it) and add to the cream with the chocolate in it. Or vice versa, just introduce them! Now whisk until firm, you know, so it's pipe-able.

Put in a piping bag with a nozzle and pipe into your eclairs. If the piping bag happens to get stuck in your mouth, squeeze, swallow and then hide the evidence.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

How to deal with nosebleeds and how to get rid of blood stains

I know. Birruva shock for a Sunday morning, and not a post involving the beating together of diabetes and cardiac arrest inducing amounts of sugar and butter.


But I have a cold. A really bad one and the incessant blowing of my nose has made my nose bleed lots.

I've had nose bleeds since I was about seven. I remember my first one because it was traumatic. Let me tell you about it.

Crossroads had just started. Crossroads was a very bad soap opera based in a motel. Television could be brilliant or very poor back in those days. As the opening titles finished and Benny with his woolly hat came on, like a runaway from the children's programme Rainbow, my  nose started bleeding. And bleeding. And bleeding.

My mum rang the GP who gave us the totally wrong advice to put  my head back and pinch my nose. All this did was make the blood run down my throat into my stomach. Half an hour later I still had a nose bleed but then also puked up a stomach full of blood. Which alarmed everyone. I could hear Crossroads finishing.

Still my nose bleed. Eventually of course it stopped. But I learned something useful.

You don't stop a nosebleed by putting your head back. This is how they always show it on TV. That's about as helpful as showing women labouring on their back. I think it's about camera angles.

If you have a nosebleed and you have no other health problems, like suffering from haemophilia then the way to stop it is to lean forward. Pinch the affected nostril hard. Not at the top of your nose, the fleshy part so you close that nostril. Wait for about three minutes, by which time your natural blood clotting soldiers will have come in and fought the battle.

What you may then find is a big clot coming out of your  nose. Don't panic. This is normal. At least, it's normal for me and those whose nose bleeds I've observed.

I'm so adept at dealing with nosebleeds now I mostly get on and do other things when I have them. Unless I get a simultaneous nose bleed in both nostrils, like I did when I was pregnant and when I have colds. That's not so fun, but the same principles apply. I'm so confident now that when my nosebleed has stopped, I gently blow it to get the clot out and carry on with my day.

Eeuww. But look this might be useful one day.

Now then: blood stains. Obviously you can't deal with huge ones this way, well not without spending all day spitting. But this morning I got a bit of blood on my sheets as I was trying to stem the nose bleed from both nostrils. Damn I thought, I've only just changed the bed. Then I remembered a trick I picked up from when I used to write the Dear Annie columns.

Your saliva, apparently, has enzymes to dissolve your own blood. Or something like that. So I spat - or to put it another way, transferred saliva - onto the stain and the blood disappeared like magic. Really it's incredible (the fresher the stain the more effective the saliva is). It only works on your own blood though, so if you've killed someone, you can't get rid of evidence this way.

Anyone fancy a sleepover?

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Waitrose Bottom Butter, a really good cleanser: for your face

£2.89. Bargain.

I am a huge fan of oily cleansers. They seem counter intuitive but they work to dissolve dirt and make up and also don't dry out the skin. My favourite such cleanser is Eve Lom's, but it starts at £40 for 50ml. The Eve Lom cleanser is thick and solidy but melts when in contact with your skin. It's main ingredient is mineral oil and it also contains parabens. I can't afford it anyway so I use Simple Cleansing Lotion, which probably also contains all sorts of things I'd rather not know about.

But now I've found a cleanser to rival Eve Lom's. That delivers that same, solidy at room temperature, melts on the skin quality. That leaves skin feeling soft.

This is the balm close up, I hope you're enjoying my photos.

It isn't actually a cleanser at all and I didn't actually discover it. It's a balm for baby's bottoms and my nine year old discovered its cleansing properties.

Waitrose Bottom Butter was in the news a few years ago as lots of people found it to be a great moisturiser for adult faces too. I don't really like it too much as that, it's too oily for me but my nine year old uses it as a moisturiser and in fact it was her who discovered it's great cleansing qualities.

My eldest suffers from occasional eczema and dry skin. Like a lot of people with children with eczema, we've tried many things. When the seasons change from autumn to winter, her skin can get especially dry so I give her a little facial twice a day, along the lines of the great Dr Erno Laszlo's principles (which uses hand-hot water splashing to get the blood to the skin).

One day she said she wanted to try this little cleansing regime on her own, so she did and she used the Bottom Butter as a cleanser.

This got me thinking, so I tried it. And it is indeed brilliant.

I wouldn't use it on my eyes, but if you are a fan of cleansing with water and flannel (as many people are, and as opposed to wiping cleanser off with cotton wool, which I think is a useless way to cleanse), give this a go.

Just apply it as a cleanser, massage it in really well (which is also good for the skin as it gets the blood to it), then wipe off with a flannel dipped and wrung out in hand hot water (repeat this a few times). If you like the Laszlo method of splashing, too, you can do that. It's brilliant in hard water areas, as it doesn't dry your skin out. Then just carry on with your usual routine. I'd recommend using eye make up remover on your eyes.

(It's also really helpful if you get dry skin in the shower or bath, apply a thin layer before you go in.)

All thanks to my eldest.

This bottom butter contains only only olive oil, hydrogenated olive oil, vanilla and chamomile oil. It smells lovely.

And it costs £2.89 for 125ml.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Jam tarts for a Monday

My jam tarts. The orange ones are apricot jam, the darker yellow ones are the Duchy Originals lemon curd, the bright yellow the Waitrose lemon curd.

As I look at the list of things I've written about on here recently, I see it's a lot of food stuff.

And here's more.

Jam tarts. I don't often eat them, because the shop bought ones are like cheap jam spread on layers of newspaper. But they seem so easy to make. Except the last time I made them, they were a disaster. It's too long ago now to remember what happened.

On Thursday I was looking through my recipe books, deliberating what to cook for Sunday lunch (I menu plan in a fierce way, this keeps spending under control and I can also make sure we have a good balance of food during the week in terms of 'have we eaten enough fish?' etc. You can hate me if you want, but I AM that organised).

I skimmed through Jamie Oliver's Best of British and found a recipe for jam tarts that didn't just say "shop bought pastry, jam", so I tried them.

They were delicious, a bit superior in fact. The pastry is chewy. Jamie says to use all different coloured jams, and I'm sure that's a great idea if you like a rainbow effect on the serving plate (he does indeed call them "Rainbow Jam Tarts", p. 178 of Jamie's Best of British). But I found that, in reality, some are more popular than others.

And let's face it, no-one likes a green jam tart.

My children really liked the apricot jam ones. Me and their father shoved down the lemon curd ones as if we were trying to hide evidence.

A word about lemon curd. I used the Duchy Originals one and the Waitrose own make. No comparison. The former was vastly superior, a darker colour (more natural looking), a far nicer taste: rounded and subtle, the Waitrose one was too sharp, ringing that "I've got lemons in me" bell a little too shrilly. The curds also acted differently in cooking. The Waitrose one exploded out of the tarts, the Duchy one was all well behaved and stayed put.

This made 24 tarts for me:


250g plain flour
250g icing sugar (try not to think about how much sugar that is)
125g unsalted butter
pinch of sea salt
1 large egg
The rind of a lemon or an orange, I used orange
A splash of milk

For the filling you will need a heaped tablespoon of your favourite jams or curds.

You need a jam tart tin, which is to say one of those shallow 12-hole tins. Not a deep one like you'd use for muffins or cupcakes. The sort you'd probably make mince pies in.

I greased mine very lightly.

Now, put the flour, sugar, salt and butter into a food processor and pulse until like breadcrumbs. Although in truth because there's so little butter to dry ingredients, this will look more like what it is: lots of flour and sugar, rather than breadcrumbs. Crack in the egg, grate in the zest and pulse again, adding just enough milk to bring it all together. You'll have a soft dough, flecked with zest.

Rest it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or until you're ready to use it later.

Now preheat the oven to 180. Dust a surface with some flour, roll out the pastry to about 0.5cm thick (don't make it too thin or they will collapse when cooked as they'll be too thin to take the weight of the filling) and cut with a fluted cutter to a size bigger than the holes in the bun-tray. Place each circle in, gently push down.

Then add tablespoons of the jam/curd in: about one heaped tablespoon per tart. Don't overfill but don't be mean with it either. About half a cm below the top of the pastry shell should do it. Now, gently  spread the jam/curd around so it lies flat and fills the shell. Don't just leave it in a blob as fell off the spoon as it won't spread out whilst cooking, the pastry rises to fill the gaps and you'll end up with something less than perfect looking.

This won't do.

Put into the oven (you may need to cook in batches if you only have one tray, but that's okay cos the pastry can sit in the fridge for a day or two). Cook for 12-15 minutes. You want the tarts golden round the edges.

Leave in their tray for a few minutes before prising out. Mine came out quite easily although the ones with the lemon curd were the hardest to take out. The ones with the Waitrose lemon curd in were the hardest of all and broke up quite easily (I am never again buying this lemon curd).

If it interests you, these are also really easy for children to make. I didn't let mine near it as it was my self-soothing project.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

How to make your own jaffa cakes

Inside. Luscious. The perspective makes these look giant, they are in fact the same size as regular jaffa cakes. And that's a three year old holding one.

I bake, not only because I love cakes 'n' stuff and I prefer home made, but I bake when I need to feel safe. I find baking immensely therapeutic. The fact that I'm quite skilled at it is helpful because when I'm, say, grappling with a difficult deadline, as if it were a salt water crocodile (and we know how slippy they can be)  I have a need to achieve.  I have an almost pathological need to achieve. Something. Anything.

And when that something happens to result in baking a good biscuit, just baked into a chewy crispness, with hidden little bullets of chocolate. Or a fluffy, jolly cake, heavy with a mascarpone frosting stained red with raspberries, so large that you have to dislocate your jaw to get a slice in...well where's the fucking harm in that.

When the news makes me feel like the world is too big, baking reminds me that the gentle stirring (or sometimes, vigorous whisking) of a few fine ingredients, can come together to make something good.

This is how I found myself making jaffa cakes.

Jaffa cakes. I don't even really like jaffa cakes. But they seemed tricky enough to take my mind off all the bad news.

This recipe is from Jamie magazine. They weren't tricky at all, but they did result in something so excellent and delicious and authentic (similar enough to shop bought ones to not alienate fans, different enough from to entice the not so keen) I had to keep eating them to make sure.

You need:

1 egg
50g caster sugar
65g self raising (I never sift flour but I guess you should)
butter for greasing
250g marmalade
100g 70% cocoa chocolate, chopped
Finely grated zest of half an orange
2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
 (the original recipe also asks for a tablespoon of water to use when melting the chocolate) but I didn't use it and never use water in when melting chocolate).

You need a jam tart tin or shallow 'bun' tin with 12 holes. Grease this well, I also dusted it with flour (not from the 65g!)

Oven to 200C.

You do:

Okay so whisk the egg and sugar together, using an electric mixer if you have one (don't sweat if you haven't, you think sponge cakes were never made before the advent of the electric mixer?) if not by hand. Get those biceps and triceps working. Beat until the colour has lightened and the mixture has thickened. I'll admit this is a a hell of a lot easier with an electric mixer.

Now stir in the flour by hand.

This is so easy isn't it?

Now dollop about a tablespoon of the mixture into each hole, evenly. So if you get it wrong you'll need to go round and nick a bit from the moulds that have too much.

Bake in the oven for 8-10 mins. Be careful: you want them lightly golden.

When done turn out and let cool. When cool slice in half horizontally. Are you seeing these jaffas taking shape?

Hopefully you're the sort of person who reads recipes through before embarking on making something. And therefore you'll know that whilst the cakes are cooling, put the marmalade in a pan, on the stove. I didn't use the whole 250g but if you have any left over, once cool, you can put it back in the jar.

The sponge cakes fresh out of the oven.

So, heat the marmalade until it's melted and stirrable and all one big thing and not little clumps of marmalade skulking round the pan, like nervous teenagers circling each other at a party, and then take off the heat and leave to cool. You can leave it for a good 20-30 mins, perhaps more and in fact it's easier to use when it's cooler. You could sieve out the peel in the marmalade but come on! Butch up and leave it in. I did and it was delicious.

Note the bit with a slice off? I ate it. Couldn't wait.

Now. Take a teaspoon of the marmalade and dollop it in the centre of each sponge.

Melt the chocolate, with the orange zest and oil (oil not essential but gives a nice gloss), in a bowl over a pan of water. When melted, spoon over each marmalade covered sponge. What I did was put the cooling rack over a baking tray to catch any drips (ahem, I took it away for the photo below for better contrast), and then pick up each sponge and spoon the chocolate over, spreading it delicatedly with the back of the spoon - you don't want to compromise the blobs of marmalade - then putting each back on the rack over the tray to catch any drips. And there were hardly any drips. I guess you could be more slap happy and just spoon the chocolate over each sponge whilst they're sat on the rack and let the chocolate drip gaily.

Just one left to do.

But I think that's more wasteful.

I ate at least six of these waiting for the chocolate to set. My youngest went potty for them. My eldest doesn't like jaffa cakes and wasn't convinced by these.

Make them and tell me what you think.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

What to cook tonight: chorizo and gnocchi

The picture in Easy Living
My version. This is why professional photographers are used.

Gnocchi - aka potato dumplings - are big in northern Italy. My paternal grandmother, from Parma, used to make them and I would help her by swooshing them along the prongs of a fork, which is how you get the pattern on them if you make them at home. She made it look so easy so of course I thought it was easy.

It isn't. I don't try to make them now as it's so dependent on things like ambient temperature, how much water the potatoes take up. Well that's how I've found it anyway. Hard and with unpredictable results. So gnocchi is not something I try to make.

I got the recipe from Easy Living magazine. It's here.

I used Del'Ugo fresh gnocchetti * - only 350g instead of the 500g asked for which I thought was a bit TOO MUCH. I would also, next time, add a third courgette if you're making it for three people. At first the julienned courgette looked like lots, but it renders down nicely and I like my veg.

This dish is so easy but so delicious. I thoroughly recommend it.

*It's been pointed out to me that these particular gnocchetti don't contain potato but wheat! So be careful in case this matters to you. I bought them cos they had a higher than average protein content.