Happy New Year, peeps! I hope you all had a lovely Christmas break and have come back refreshed. I have to say, I was quite delighted to get back to the routine… and then I got back to the routine and decided it wasn’t that great after all. Hey ho.
So what does 2015 have in store? Most excitingly a trip to New Zealand is in the pipeline this December. Yup, Christmas 2015 will be spent on the South Island with Husband’s brother and his family, which is something to look forward to, and a motivating factor in my quest to get fit and healthy.
So, time permitting, I am getting back into running and have already been several times during the last couple of weeks. Of course, it’s fitting it in around the family and work that’s the issue, especially given that it’s dark in the morning and the evening, which I don’t find very motivating. But I have also built more walking into my daily commute, which is good for my health, and has the added benefit of being cheaper, too. I have been listening to the (very gripping) Serial podcast as I walk, which helps pass the time.
We’ve been making lots of delicious smoothies and healthy breakfasts, including overnight oats, here at OH HQ, too (more to come on this soon!), and both Husband and I have been doing loads of cooking from various cookbooks – new and old, which has been lovely.
I am LOVING our new KitchenAid, and so Littlest and I spent the afternoon making a chocolate cake because, well, just because really! She loved cracking the eggs, sifting the flour (although she did get bored half way through) and stirring and mixing. A great way to pass a winter’s afternoon with a little one.
Come on, it’s time to fall off that sugar-free wagon in style. Just a small slice…
Moist Rich Chocolate Cake
This recipe is slightly adapted from The Guardian’s ‘Guide to Baking’, which was given away with the newspaper way back in 2007 and this chocolate cake is simply incredible. The icing is from Nigella’s Feast, and is the icing she uses on her Chocolate Guinness Cake. Nothing healthy here, I’m afraid, it’s pure indulgence!
You will need:
375ml boiling milk
100g dark chocolate, chopped (I just broke into chunks tbh)
275g caster sugar
225g plain flour
75g cocoa powder
1½ tsp baking powder
¾tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 large free-range egg, plus one yolk
75ml sunflower oil
25g golden syrup
2tsp vanilla extract
What to do:
- Heat the oven to 180C (160C Fan) and line the base of a 20cm diameter, 9cm deep round cake tin (or the closest you have to this) with baking parchment.
- Melt the chocolate into the boiling milk and allow to stand and cool for 15 minutes or so.
- Meanwhile, weigh and sift all of the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl (I used the KitchenAid bowl).
- Whisk together the eggs, oil, golden syrup and vanilla and then beat into your milky-chocolate mix from step 2.
- Whisk this liquid into your dry ingredients for 30 seconds (this is where I used the KitchenAid) until smooth, and pour the batter into the tin.
- Bake for approx. 50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
- Allow to cool before topping with the below.
For the topping you will need:
150g Philadelphia cream cheese
75g icing sugar
60ml double cream
Cocoa powder for dusting
What to do:
- Lightly whip the cream cheese until smooth – I used the KitchenAid to do this (because I love it).
- Sieve over the icing sugar, and then beat both together.
- Add the cream and beat again until it makes a spreadable consistency. Spread over the top of your cake and sprinkle with cocoa powder from a fine-mesh sieve.
I recently had the pleasure of spending a day with professional food stylist Rosie Reynolds, who gave me some expert food styling advice for food blog photos. Rosie and I met through work, and she was so enthusiastic about my blog, she came to see me at One-Handed HQ for a Halloween-themed baking, decorating and photo session.
We baked delicious chocolate cupcakes, which we decorated using jelly snakes to make Snake Cupcakes, and with chocolate icing and cola laces to make Spider Cupcakes, which we then had great fun setting up in a spooky Halloween tableau (above), complete with skeletons dangling down, all lit by candlelight. In the words of Miranda: such fun!
Rosie has a great eye, and one of the best tips I learnt from her was to take the photo and then look at it really carefully on-screen before deciding what to add in or what to remove to get the best possible shot. Make the change, then take another photo, and compare the two. Usually the secret is taking something away to simplify things and let the food take centre stage.
Another great tip is to try to keep the food and the styling as natural as possible – if you’re serving a casserole, for instance, don’t be afraid to dig into the food and swirl it around with the serving spoon, so it looks accessible and yummy. For cakes and puddings, a few crumbs scattered around make it look even more delicious and homemade.
For best results, shoot in natural daylight (these photos were all taken on my iPhone) and think about the background you are presenting the food on – again, natural surfaces are great for such purposes. Wood, tile and slate are good; have you got an old wooden trunk, or some tiles left over from a building project? Even an old door with peeling paint can be great for overhead shots. Sometimes the most unexpected things can work really well. Take a good look through your cookbooks or BBC Good Food and take inspiration from what they use. Pinterest is useful for ideas, too.
We had a great time styling these shots (and eating jelly snakes). I picked up some really useful tips for future posts and I hope you like them, and enjoy the cakes. Of course, they’re very sweet, so a bit of a treat for little ones. I presented them whole to the children and then cut each cake in half as I thought a whole one would be too much for one child. (I was right.) They absolutely loved them – a real Halloween hit!
Happy Halloween, folks.
Spooky Halloween Cupcakes
40g cocoa powder
3–4 tbsp boiling water
125g butter, softened
150g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
4 tbsp fat free natural yogurt
125g wholemeal flour or plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
For the icing
50g butter, softened
3 tbsp cocoa powder
3–4tbsp fat free natural yogurt
250g icing sugar, sifted
Splash of hot water if needed to make a nice smooth icing
Cola flavour laces
75g packet jelly worms
To make the cupcakes:
1. Preheat oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4. Line a muffin tray with 10 paper cases, set aside.
2. Sift the cocoa into a bowl. Stir in the water to make a smooth paste. Tip in the rest of the ingredients and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth.
3. Use two dessert spoons to evenly fill your cake cases – be careful not to overfill.
4. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until your cakes are risen and a skewer inserted into the middle of a cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
To make the icing:
Cream the butter, cocoa and yogurt together until smooth. Gradually add the sifted icing sugar, beat after each addition until smooth. It might be a bit dry, but if you let the mix relax then keep beating it should come together, if not, add a splash of hot water to create a smooth icing.
Divide the icing between your cakes, spread over the surface with the back of a spoon.
Decorate yourself, or get bigger kids to do their own – depending on how good you are at coping with MESS!
Snake Cupcakes: We decided not to ice these, but of course you can if you want to. Simply cut your jelly snake in half, and make a little hole in the side of your cake, using your fingers. Make another little hole on the opposite side of the cupcake to enable your snake to ‘slither’ through the cake – stick the head in one hole and the tail in the other. It’s that easy.
Spider Cupcakes: Spread the top of the cake with icing and use a cocktail stick to prick the icing and make little bumps. Use little sugar balls for the eyes and cut-up bits of jelly snake for eyebrows. To make the dangly legs, cut cola laces in half and tie a little knot at the end for a foot. Use the cocktail stick to make a little hole for each leg.
What a week! Talk about shock to the system. After two weeks off work, during which time the most difficult decision I had to make was whether to have more cheese or move onto pudding, it was back to earth with a bang as we went back to work and back to school here at OH HQ. When the alarm went off at 06:20 on Monday morning I swear it felt like I was getting up in the middle of the night.
So, just one week back and already my head is full of stuff, my house is full of clutter, my washing machine is just constantly full, and my purse is, er, empty. Hmm.
So in the spirit of thriftiness, I went through the kitchen cupboards and identified a few items that needed using up (dates, self-raising flour) and thought about what I could make, and what I could share with you, lovely blog reader. And came up with this, which is dead easy and very tasty. A slice with butter is perfect with a cup of tea on a winter’s afternoon, or it makes a good packed lunch addition (nut alert, mind you).
I made it with my 3-year-old, who was surprisingly helpful, helping me measure the ingredients, crack open the eggs and mix. A great team effort!
Date & Walnut Loaf
90g unsalted butter (at room temperature) + extra for greasing
90g soft brown sugar
250g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
90g walnuts, roughly chopped
250g dates, stoned and roughly chopped
You will need a 1kg (2lb) loaf tin. Cuts into 12 slices.
What to do
- Lightly grease the loaf tin with butter.
- Combine the butter, sugar, egg, flour, baking powder and cinnamon in a large bowl and beat until well blended using a hand mixer. Add the walnuts, dates and milk and stir to mix.
- Spoon into the prepared loaf tin and bake in a pre-heated oven at 180˚C/160˚C Fan/350˚F for 1 hour until well risen and firm to the touch. A fine skewer inserted into the middle of the loaf should come out clean.
- Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Serve sliced – and buttered, if you’re feeling indulgent.
What a week. Work mad, kids deranged, parents crazy, #royalbaby watch gone into overdrive, relentless heat, Leah (she of pink lipstick fame – just wait for the Rimmel contract) won The Apprentice, my lovely son has read the whole of the BFG – and it’s only Thursday. It was our wedding anniversary this week, too, and I am ashamed to say we didn’t celebrate at all, other than to open a bottle of champagne we happened to have. Must try harder next year.
So, anyway, I know it’s hot, but what better than a slice of fruitcake and a cup of tea in the shade come 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, along with a good novel and no kids around? (yeah, dream on…)
Whenever I used to think about making a fruitcake I would push it to the back of my mind, thinking it would take too long. HOWEVER I have recently developed a recipe for a really quick tasty cake that is so easy and so delicious you will be thanking me forever. I recently made one and took it to work with me – we are an office full of cake aficionados – and it got the thumbs up, so I am sharing it here. The kids also love it – a slice in the old packed lunch goes down a treat.
For the best result, you need to make it the day before you eat it; so whip it up on Saturday morning when the kids are watching cartoons, ready for tea on Sunday afternoon. Mmmm.
If you can’t eat the whole thing in one go, cut it in half and freeze the other half! It freezes really well.
Note: If you have the time (and the inclination), the fruit is good pre-soaked, so it has a chance to plump up. Simply put the dried fruit into a Pyrex bowl, make two strong mugs of Earl Grey tea and pour over. Allow to steep for a couple of hours.
225g soft brown sugar
8fl oz milk
450g mixed dried fruit (raisins, currants, sultanas, chopped dried dates, peel)
3 eggs, beaten
450g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp mixed spice
- Preheat the oven to 340°F/170°C/150°C fan
- Melt the butter and sugar in a large saucepan and add the milk and dried fruit, stir and warm through until molten, then pour into a large Pyrex bowl
- Add the rest of the ingredients, and mix well
- Pour the mixture into a greased and lined 8” Springform cake tin (yes, it really is this easy)
- Bake for 1 hour, then remove from the oven and cover with tin foil
- Bake for a further 45 minutes and then check with a skewer; stick into the middle of the cake and remove. If the skewer is clean, it is done, but if there’s any uncooked mixture on the skewer bake for 5 more minutes
- Cool in the tin on a wire rack and once cool, store in an airtight container
Sit under tree, pour tea, devour cake. Repeat.
Christmas is always a big deal in our house because it’s my son’s birthday on Boxing Day, and so we enter a New Year with him a year older, which always makes me feel older. My daughter is growing fast, too, and starting to exhibit a new level of enterprise and cunning; her latest trick of an evening is getting out of her Grobag and catapulting herself out of the cot with a wicked cackle of glee. I am in denial – she’s my baby – she can’t grow up. I won’t allow it.
So, anyway, 2013 has been quite busy for me already, what with one thing and another, and I haven’t had as much time to cook as I would like. Thankfully, the good old weekly Riverford box has come into its own, and I have been throwing together such things as aubergine curry, minestrone soup and cauliflower cheese. It’s amazing what you can rustle up without having to leave the house, if your store cupboard is fairly well stocked and you have some cheese knocking about (one of my store-cupboard faves is this Gia Sundried Tomato Purée, incidentally – it’s brilliant in so many dishes).
One thing I seem to have had a glut of is bananas. And so I made my quick and very tasty banana bread this week, and thought I’d share the recipe here. Not strictly one-handed, although some bits could be done with a baby perched on your hip, it can be whipped up in no time at all. It is really delicious, and what with snow allegedly coming, I can’t think of anything nicer than sitting inside, all cosy, eating a slice of this warm from the oven with a dab of butter, while the snow falls outside. Yum.
Nutty Banana Bread
Mashing bananas to make this always reminds of mashing bananas for the babies when I was weaning them: plate, fork, ripe bananas, tiny spoons, puckered lips, flat refusal, banana on the floor, banana in their hair, banana in my hair, banana absolutely everywhere – ah, happy days.
This is dead simple, so it’s perfect if you have a few overripe bananas lying around that you can’t bear to see going to waste and someone is coming for tea. If you don’t have walnuts, macadamia nuts are good too. Chopped medjool dates are nice stirred in, although they are very sweet so you could reduce the sugar a little if adding those. You could also try sprinkling poppyseeds on top.
3 ripe bananas, mashed up
75g soft butter (get it out the fridge in advance or soften in microwave)
160g soft brown sugar (100g soft brown + 60g dark brown sugar also works well)
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
1 pinch salt
170g wholemeal flour (50:50 wholemeal & plain flour works well, too)
small pinch ground cloves
50g walnut halves, chopped, and save a few halves to go on top
What to do
- Preheat the oven to 180˚C/160˚C Fan/Gas mark 4 and grease a small loaf tin (7½” x 3½”), or use some Lakeland quick release spray.
- To a mixing bowl add: the mashed bananas, butter, sugar, egg and vanilla extract and mix.
- Mix in the baking powder, the salt, the ground cloves and finally the flour. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and decorate with a couple of walnut halves.
- Bake for 45 mins and check. Insert a skewer; if it comes out clean, it’s done. If not, return to the oven for another 10 minutes.
- Allow to cool in the tin a little, and then… dig in!
One of the things I will be offering on my blog is interviews with other busy parents, to help you feel inspired, give you an exclusive behind-the-scenes peek at how other mums do things and to offer tips and advice across a range of issues and topics that will (I hope!) interest you.
Jo Wheatley impressed the nation with her amazing baking skills on BBC2’s The Great British Bake Off and after winning the competition in 2011 went on to write A Passion for Baking (Constable, 2012), which is an absolutely lovely book – the photographs are gorgeous, the recipes make you want to get baking immediately plus there really is something for every occasion – I really recommend it (currently loving the Lemon Drizzle Traybake). She also writes a blog, Jo’s Blue Aga – www.josblueaga.com which features some show-stopping cakes.
I particularly love the introduction to Jo’s book, where she talks about what baking means for her. In it she says, ‘Baking is about memories, old ones and ones yet to be made: a favourite auntie’s bread pudding; a nan’s apple pie; eating the most amazing croissant with a loved one […] a birthday cake shaped like a fort for a four-year-old … I could go on forever!’
This is how I feel about food and cooking for my family, too, which is why we try to sit down to eat together as a family at weekends in particular. Simple rituals like dipping soldiers into soft-boiled eggs or tucking in to homemade scones and jam are the things family memories are made of, and I cherish the (relative) peace at weekends (however, let’s keep things in perspective here; things are never *actually* quiet with two kids!).
Now over to Jo:
Q: As a busy mum, how have you adapted the way you cook since having your children?
To be totally honest it’s been such a long time since I wasn’t a mum I can’t actually remember! Billy, my eldest, is now 25.
Q: Can you share some of the snacks you give your children?
I think snacks with oats and fruit are always a packed lunch favourite and help keep children going throughout the day. But to be fair, I’m more of everything in moderation, to totally deny children any treat will only make them want it more.
Q: Breakfast is often cited as the most important meal of the day, particularly for growing children – what sorts of things do you and your family like to eat for breakfast?
At the weekends it was always pancakes for my lot, in the week it’s Weetabix or porridge, or fruit depending on the season.
Q: What kitchen gadget could you not live without?
My KitchenAid. I love how it frees me up to do something else and can whip up meringues in moments!
Q: Who are your favourite cookery writers?
I love all types of writers and books – cookery books are my guilty pleasure – I have a tower of them next to my bed and a whole length of kitchen worktop full of them…
Q: I am all about embracing shortcuts in the kitchen – what shortcuts do you do to make life run that little bit smoother? Any tips you’d like to share?
I have a Wednesday Top Tip on my Facebook page Jo’s Blue AGA where every week I share tips. This week’s was melting small amounts of chocolate in a microwaveable bag, then snipping of a corner – perfect for drizzling without any mess of washing up! I also have bits and bobs in my book, A Passion for Baking where I give other helpful little tips.
I hope you all enjoyed reading my interview with Jo. Look out for more interviews with other interesting mums coming soon. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog, so you don’t miss out.
The One-Handed Cook
On Monday night I was invited to an event by foodie campaigners Slow Food UK. They are on a mission to preserve our food heritage, and one of their aims is to encourage people to cook so-called ‘forgotten foods’. They invited chef Anna Hansen from London restaurant The Modern Pantry to come and cook with some of these foods, including quince and einkorn flour, to show us how it’s done.
I have eaten at Anna’s restaurant and have her rather wonderful cookbook, too. But seeing her cook in real life, and talk about how she approaches flavours and ingredients was inspirational. Her trademark style is to combine flavours from the ‘global larder’, so – rather than saying that wasabi is Japanese, and can therefore only go with Japanese food, for example, she thinks carefully about how individual flavours combine, and might add wasabi to a dish that we think of as being typically French, with surprising and delicious results – and trust me, I have tasted her food, it’s amazing.
At the demo she cooked a wonderful-smelling and delicious lamb dish, and used the most incredible array of herbs and spices, and I came home to my kitchen keen to try using spices with a renewed vigour. So, I was going to make lemon shortbread for you this week, but inspired by Anna Hansen, I bring you Orange Cardamom Shortbread, which is completely lovely (and actually quite addictive!), and the children and I have already devoured much of the shortbread Jenga you see before you. Good food is not a game!
Orange Cardamom Shortbread
Makes about 12 pieces (each one slightly bigger than a Jenga piece)
I’d like to start by saying that shortbread is Very Easy To Make, so perfect for the one-handed cook, who may be trying to do several other things at the same time while also trying to make shortbread (ring any bells?). Or if you have a window of time while the little one is happily watching Peppa Pig, say, this is very quick to whip up. Perfect for a bake sale, a coffee morning, for you, for your granny, hell, you could even wrap some in greaseproof paper then wrap in some pretty fabric with a bit of ribbon and give it as a Christmas present.
You need a hand mixer and a baking tin measuring approx. 8” x 8” x 1½” – assuming you have these, you can get this made and in the oven in about 10 minutes – I kid you not.
150g soft butter
60g caster sugar
250g plain flour
Seeds from 6 cardamom pods (split open, remove seeds and pound in pestle & mortar)
Zest of an orange, finely chopped
What to do
- Heat the oven to 170°C/150°C Fan/325°F. Grease and line your baking tin (or use Cake Release by Lakeland if you can’t be bothered with the faff).
- Cream together the butter, sugar and orange zest in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy.
- Gradually stir in the flour and the ground cardamom seeds until your mixture is light and crumbly. Tip mixture into baking tin.
- Use your fingers to press the mixture into the tin and then the palms of your hands to smooth the top. Mark out fingers with a sharp knife, but don’t cut right through. Prick each finger a couple of times with a fork.
- If you have the time and the inclination, you can brush each finger with a little beaten egg and sprinkle more caster sugar on top before baking in the oven for 25–30 mins. Cool in the tin on a rack.
Leave Peppa Pig DVD playing, sit down and enjoy with a nice cup of tea.