Friday, 31 May 2013

Barm Brack & Being Influenced by Twitter

I think I get most of my cravings and inspirations from Twitter, along with recommendations for restaurants. Making Barm Brack was inspired by Katherine (@HR_Katherine on Twitter) who tweeted about having a slice of this traditional Irish cakey bread slathered in butter one day.

I've had a large jar of dried fruit languishing in my kitchen for a while, since I vastly overestimated how much I'd need of it for making Hot Cross Buns, and I had all the other ingredients, so it was fate!

This cake is dead easy to make and you'll have most of the ingredients in your cupboard. It requires only a tiny bit of planning, soaking the fruit in tea for at least 8 hours. I did this whilst making my morning cup of tea and it took only a few minutes to pull together. When I got home from work I added dry ingredients to a bowl along with an egg, and then stirred in the dried fruit. It cooked in the oven whilst I prepared dinner, and was ready to eat with a cup of tea later that evening, perfect.

And it contains no butter or oil, so you can pretend it is healthy.

You are meant to leave it for 1-2 days to sit but I have no patience and we ate it about an hour after it came out of the oven. I think it gets richer as the days go on, and you are supposed to eat it like bread, with a little butter. I've so far eaten it as more of a cake, but I'll definitely be trying it with butter with my cup of tea tomorrow morning.

I had kindly been given a small jar of chai masala from Jacob's Jams and Spices which I used in place of mixed spice, which worked really well and the spices didn't get lost. I'll be making actual masala chai from this soon, and posting up a review of it and their Kashmiri Blush Tea.

Barm Brack
Adapted from this recipe shared by Katherine.
Makes 1 900g loaf

375g dried fruit
50ml of whisky
250ml of strongly brewed tea (I steeped two black teabags for 2 minutes extra flavour)
butter, for greasing
2 tsp baking powder
225g plain flour
125g sugar
1/2 tsp of mixed spice or chai masala
1 egg
A ring to place inside - optional but fun! I should have done this, being a jeweller...

1. Put the mixed fruit in a bowl and then pour over the tea and whisky. Allow to soak for 8 hours or overnight
2. Preheat your oven to 170c / gas mark 3. Grease and line a loaf tin.
3. Mix the flour, baking powder, sugar and spices together in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add in the egg.
4. Add in the liquid from your fruit mixture to help you combine the egg with the mixture. Once combined, it should be a fairly wet mix, if it isn't add a little hot water.
6. Mix in the fruit and pour into your loaf tin. Bake for 1 hour on the middle shelf of your oven.

Leave to cool before eating (for as long as you can manage!). Store in an airtight container or wrapped in cling film. This cake bread makes an excellent breakfast afternoon snack with a nice cup of tea.

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Thursday, 30 May 2013

Afternoon Tea at the Ludlow Kitchen

Last weekend we spent a sunny two days at Brook Farm in Berrington, on the Shropshire/Worcestershire border, a B&B we've stayed before and is now our go-to place for a relaxing break. Ludlow is very close and one of the best foodie spots in the country, when planning our return visit we were excited to learn the excellent Ludlow Food Centre had opened a restaurant, the Ludlow Kitchen.

We booked for afternoon tea on a Sunday afternoon weeks in advance and I was very impatient for it by the time the day arrived. For just £8.50 you get three different sandwiches, four mini cake slices, a fruit scone, clotted cream and as much loose leaf tea as you can manage.

The great thing about the Ludlow Kitchen is that most, if not all, of the produce that goes in to their food is made on site or very local - they bake their own bread, smoke their own salmon, cure their own ham and of course make their own cakes and scones. They even roast their own coffee beans and the tea is blended by a local Herefordshire company. As if that wasn't enough they grow fruit and vegetables in their own walled garden and the jam is made on site too. Suddenly that £8.50 seems ten times better value!

The service was excellent, welcoming and really helpful but not over the top. We first chose our teas from a list of 7 options, an English Breakfast for me and Darjeeling for the Mr. Vintage tea cups are used and the sugar is served in little cups made by local potters, Wenlock Pottery. The teabags used are a little strange looking but they do work very well with loose leaf tea.

The sandwiches were really impressive, usually they are the most neglected part of an afternoon tea in terms of creativity but not here. The bread was fresh wholemeal and there were three fillings each with salad leaves - cheese and pickle; smoked salmon, cucumber and pickled onion and ham and piccalilli. I particularly liked the salmon and the pickled onion was amazing with the rich salmon and the thinly sliced cucumber. We bought a jar of piccalilli from the food centre, it's great stuff - crunchy chunky vegetables with a good hit of mustard.

One of the cakes was the traditional Victoria sponge, which tasted like the birthday cakes I ate as a child - this is a good thing! It was a lovely trip down memory lane, the sponge was really light and it was sandwich with a little buttercream and strawberry jam. We were also treated to flaky and fruity Eccles cake, dense chocolate cake and a rich fruit cake.

Scones were textbook - very tall and packed with raisins and sultanas - I was able to tear it open, making sure I was using the correct etiquette when eating my scone. Raspberry jam (made on site) and clotted cream were served in little Wenlock Pottery cups.

The afternoon tea we had the Ludlow Kitchen was excellent, the atmosphere was relaxed and each element was made with lots of care and thought. I just can't believe what good value it was, £17 for two of us to eat so well, usually that is what you would pay per person.

If you're in the area (and if you're not I recommend planning a trip, maybe to coincide with Ludlow Food Festival?) do go along to the Ludlow Kitchen, and then the Ludlow Food Centre. They also do breakfast, lunch and dinner. I'm sure we'll be back in the area before too long and I can't wait to go back.

Ludlow Kitchen 

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Braised Fennel with Saffron and Tomato

It's really hard not to complain about the weather. Go on Twitter for any length of time and you'll find that out.

Warming and nutritious dinners should be part of every Brit's repertoire to cope with our so called summer. You can take advantage of the fresh vegetables that come with the warmer months but work them into something that will warm you from the inside when you've been caught in the rain without a coat on.

This braised fennel recipe is taken from Deborah Madison's Vegetable Literacy cookbook, and I found it over on A Sweet Spoonful's blog. The book sounds excellent, being as I cook a lot of vegetarian food it's nice to see a book dedicated to preparing vegetables, turning them into dishes that will rival anything with meat. I've just ordered it!

Chunks of fennel are slowly braised in a rich and sweet tomato sauce flavoured with herbs and saffron with garlic and capers for extra punch. We had it with some fresh wholemeal bread. It was really satisfying, warming and felt very nutritious. The only sub I made was to use a tin of plum tomatoes instead of tomato puree, as I wanted more sauce to dunk my bread in.

Braised Fennel with Saffron & Tomato
Serves 2

1 large fennel bulb
olive oil
1/2 white onion, diced
1 teaspoon of fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme or small handful of fresh, chopped
pinch of saffron strands
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or minced
1 tin of plum tomatoes, pureed
1 tablespoon of capers
200ml vegetable stock
reserved fennel fronds, to garnsih

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on a medium heat in a large wide saucepan and then add the onions once the oil is hot. Fry for 2 minutes and then add in the fennel seeds, thyme and saffron. Continue to fry on a lower heat for 5 minutes or so til the saffron releases it's colour.

2. Slice your fennel bulb along the length in to large chunks, making sure to keep the core intact so it doesn't fall apart during cooking. Add to the pin and fry til golden.

3. Then add in the garlic, tomatoes, capers, salt and stock.

4. Simmer for 15 - 20 minutes til the fennel is tender, season to taste. Serve in bowls with the fennel fronds to garnish.

Serve with fresh bread, or as Sweet Spoonful suggests with some quinoa and crumbled cheese.

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Saturday, 18 May 2013

Rhubarb Vodka & Cocktails!

Ever since I saw Aoife's talk at Eat Cambridge I've become really interested in infused spirits and cocktails - well who wouldn't? I love a good cocktail but I lack experience and knowledge when it comes to making them - I have one stalwart, a magarita, but that is as far as it goes, apart from adding ice to a spirit.

I have a sweet tooth and I don't like things that taste too strong, so brandy, whisky, gin and neat vodka are out. I like amaretto and I love fruit vodkas - probably because they don't taste too alcoholic. I've previously made Damson Vodka before which was a great hit at Christmas time, it was dead easy to make and tasted like Ribena, very drinkable indeed. I've also made cherry vodka, so despite knowing how to make these spirits I didn't revisit them, I think because of my lack of knowledge in how to make a good cocktail.

So along came Aoife with her expert knowledge and delicious sounding but easy to follow recipes. I love her Friday cocktail posts, and swoon over them whilst drinking another glass of disappointing wine (my wine knowledge is terrible) or just a cup of tea.

Rhubarb vodka is just as easy as the other flavoured spirits I've made before, chop up some rhubarb, chuck in some sugar, wait a few days, add in some vodka and then wait (an agonising) two weeks. Strain into a bottle and then gather your ingredients and make a cocktail!

I made Aoife's Rhubarb Vodka with Thyme & Ginger Syrup cocktail yesterday evening, you can find her recipe here. The sugar syrup seems a little daunting but it is really easy, it takes minutes to make and you just have to wait an hour to let the herbs and ginger infuse. It's finished with lemon juice and bitters. I didn't have any bitters but it worked ok. It was very sweet so I think the bitters might help, but it was perfect for my sweet tooth.

I've got some lemon thyme and also some mint growing in pots in my garden so I'm looking forward to many more cocktails over the summer, and beyond. I'll definitely be revisiting more flavoured vodkas when the greengages at the bottom of the garden are ready.

I've got some syrup left for Eurovision drinks tonight, so I'm looking forward to another pink drink to go with the campness that is Eurovision!

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Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Aubergine & Tomato Pasta

I've been making this aubergine pasta forever, and I was pretty sure I'd blogged about it already, but apparently I haven't (not going mad, honest). It's originally Aubergine & Anchovy pasta, a recipe from Kitchen 22, former Cambridge resident who has now defected to Oxford (horror!). I forgive her though, because she gives us nice things like this pasta dish.

I don't have a huge amount of success when it comes to aubergines, but things have recently got better due to me realising that fridge-cold aubergines never cook properly - going rubbery during cooking - but room temperature aubergines will cook down like all the recipe books say they should. So there you are, Top Tip - never cook aubergines straight from the fridge. 

This pasta sauce is very simple and has lots of great flavours for relatively little effort. You roast the aubergine for a while, then scoop out the flesh and add it to garlic, tomatoes and oregano. The original recipe has anchovy too, but as Mr is veggie I leave this out (would be unkind otherwise...) and it tastes great all the same. I have taken to replacing them with some capers, for saltiness. I also tweaked and added in passata instead of tomato puree. I'm a tweaker, what can I say.

Aubergine & Tomato Pasta
adapted from Kitchen 22
Serves 2 with a little extra for lunch the next day (yay)

300g spaghetti or linguine
1 aubergine - room temperature!
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or minced
150g of passata or whizzed up plum tomatoes
1 tsp of capers, chopped
dried oregano
parmesan or veggie alternative
parsley to serve

Heat the oven to 200c / gas mark 5. Place the aubergine on a tray covered in foil (I've found they stick to trays so easily!), pierce the skin and roast for 30 minutes, turning once half way through.

When it is collapsing and the insides soft, remove from the oven. Leave to cool before scooping out the flesh.

Heat some oil in a large saucepan and fry your garlic then add capers, oregano, passata and season (you may not need salt because of the capers) Chop the aubergine roughly and stir in. Simmer whilst you cook the pasta.

When the pasta is cooked add a small amount of cheese to the sauce and stir in. Then stir in the pasta.
Serve with more cheese on top or some parsley.

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Saturday, 11 May 2013

Mango Lassi in approximately 5 minutes

First of all you have to picture that it's roughly 23 degrees, the sun is shining and you've just spent the afternoon walking around in the hot sun enjoying the weather. Can you remember that far back? Good. So you'll be needing a refreshing drink to cool down. Mango lassi is totally perfect for this - after all it comes from India which is on around 35 - 40 degrees for the majority of the year, and even in Winter most places are still 20 degrees on a cool day.

This couldn't be simpler to make, the easiest way to make it is with mango puree, mangos aren't that great in most supermarkets, and the pureed mango in a tin is a good substitute. Tesco and Asda even sell it now. If you find some good Alphonso mangoes in an Indian supermarket, use one peeled mango instead of the tinned.

It's important that everything is chilled, so you have a nice cool drink - it's even better if you make it and then chill the drink for a while - but you can just devour it straight away, it's hard to resist.

Mango Lassi 
Makes 2 glasses

200g tin of chilled mango puree (sweetened)
200ml of plain yoghurt
pinch of salt
fennel seeds

Put everything in a blender, add a splash of milk or water so the drink isn't too thick.
Blend for a minute or so, til all combined, add more milk or water if it is a bit too thick, it should be slightly thicker than custard. Serve with a few fennel seeds on top if you are fancy.

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Thursday, 9 May 2013

Cambridge Coffee - My 5 Favourite Cafes

I thought up this blog post the other day after pondering just how often I go out for coffee - whether it is a passing caffeine fix on the way to work, a catch up with a friend or a weekend treat for me and the Mr. I think the cafe culture has finally come to the UK, and in a big way, yes a lot of it is Starbucks and Costa (which I do visit, I'm not going to lie) but thankfully there are also lots and lots of great independent cafes doing their thing. I've got lots of spots in Cambridge that I love, and these are my five favourites, and regular stops.

1. Gog Magog Hills Cafe

Gog Magog Hills Cafe Farm SHop Cambridge

I think this is the place we frequent the most, usually at the weekend. Their (Monmouth) coffee is excellent, tea is served in lovely sunny yellow teapots, they have a vast and amazing array of cakes. The thing to really mention here are their towering scones, specifically the cheese scones. They are maybe more cheese than scone and this is a most excellent thing. The shop and deli on site are also my favourite places to go for food shopping - whether it be a chunk of cheese, something from the butchers (the merguez lamb sausages), fruit, veg or a little treat from the bakery section. They are also brilliant on Twitter, follow them!

2. Teacake at Shepreth

Teacake at Shepreth

I dedicated a whole blog post to Teacake recently! They are just around the corner from my office so I regularly visit them. They too serve Monmouth coffee, expertly made by Maurice along with loose leaf tea and lcoal fruit juice from Cam Valley Orchards. Christine bakes all their cakes and sweet treats - everything from a traditional Victoria sponge, brownies, flapjacks to something different like chocolate beetroot cake or sticky date cake. They also do sandwiches, soups and salads - they sometimes even smoke their own salmon or ham which is such a change from the usual sad lunch you get when you work 9-5. Their crayfish and mayo sandwich is my favourite lunch choice, and if my to do list is particularly long that day I have a slice of sticky date cake for afters.

3. Hot Numbers
Hot Numbers Cambridge Coffee

A lovely chilled out place to meet with a friend or work if you fancy a change of scenery. They roast their own coffee beans in their 'Roastery' and have lots of different options for your coffee - from the traditional espresso machine to their impressive siphon. They also serve tea from my favourite local tea company, Kandula Tea. Cakes are provided by the fantastic Afternoon Tease and there are lots of sweet treats from Fitzbillies, including their legendary Chelsea buns. A truly local cafe! They've recently expanded by combining the neighbouring Williams Art gallery with the cafe, so you can sip your coffee amongst some lovely artwork.

4. Waterstones Cafe

Waterstones Cafe Cambridge 2nd View Cafe

So you're thinking what is Waterstones doing in here amongst the independents? Well, their 2nd view cafe is the perfect super central Cambridge spot for a break from shopping. It's huge so there is always space and the coffee is great, the WiFi fast and the staff are lovely. It's so hard to find a good place to go for a decent coffee slap bang in the middle of the shopping area so I'm pleased Waterstones are doing a good job here. Their cakes and sandwiches are ok, nothing to write home about, but the coffee is good so that is the main thing!

5. Greens Coffee, Cambourne

Greens Cafe Cambourne Cappuccino

A little hop out of town this unassuming cafe is quite lovely. They are a cafe during the day and then a cocktail bar at night, perfect! Their cinnamon cappuccino is one of my favourite things ever and they do a lovely spiced apple drink during the Winter months. And of course the cocktails, gorgeous, especially the espresso martini.

So there you have it, I'd love to know of other spots that I can try, I'm always on the lookout. I should also give some honourable mentions to Savino's (shabby but fab), Le Gros Franck (for mornings), Shelford Deli and Cafe CouCou in Saffron Walden.

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Wednesday, 8 May 2013

My first speaking role - Secluded Blogfest 2013

Blogfest Miss Sue Flay

I've agreed to do some public speaking - eek! If you know me then you'll know public speaking is one of my least favourite things - up there with spiders, other people's feet, celery and business speak. But whilst the others are clearly good things to loathe, public speaking is actually quite good - I am learning this slowly.

So with this comes the news that I am speaking a the Secluded Blogfest 2013, a fabulous event being run by Miss Sue Flay this Saturday 11th May. I'll be talking about my journey as a blogger, finding your blogging niche and then passing on some tips for being a great blogger. I'll be in great company too, here's who else is talking:

- From Blog to Book; Lynn Hill founder of the Clandestine Cake Club
- Creating Your Social Media Strategy; Ree Ree Rockette from Rockalily Cuts
- Tea and Cake by Mr Cake
- Photography;  the good, the bad and the not so ugly with Lina & Tom of Liquid Photo

The day will also include lunch from Clandestine Gourmet, supperclub hosts who make the most delicious modern European food, I can't wait. There will also be lots of time for chatting to fellow bloggers, the speakers so it promises to be a really inspirational day. I am also hoping to pick up some tips!

There are just a couple of tickets left, so come along and see my make my speaking debut, I hope I'll be good! Buy your ticket here.

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Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Honey Sesame Dream Cake

I had a dream about this cake, scented with toasted sesame oil with the crunch of sesame seeds and a touch of citrus, and maybe some spice. I am aware this is totally ridiculous/obsessive but I am pretty sure cake is a good thing to be obsessive about, good cake that is. This is why dream made it into the title - and of course it is dreamy to eat!

This cake is flavoured with toasted sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds and then glazed with pure honey, with some spices, and topped with more toasted sesame seeds for crunch and prettiness.

I whisked my eggs to get some air into the batter, and also used yogurt for a creamier softer sponge. I used Yeo Valley Lemon Yogurt, but you could use plain yoghurt with some lemon curd whisked in, or some zest. My chicken eggs were from a local farm so were super yellow, hence the bright sponge!

Honey Sesame Dream Cake
Makes one round 20cm cake

150g butter, softened
150g caster sugar

100g plain or lemon flavoured yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tsp toasted sesame oil
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
2 medium eggs
50g toasted sesame seeds

For the topping:
1 -2 tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds
5-6 tablespoons of runny honey
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger

Preheat oven to 180c / 160c fan
Cream together butter and sugar til creamy. Then add in the yoghurt, vanilla and oil.
Fold in your flour, baking powder, salt and sesame seeds.
Whisk your eggs in a separate bowl til airy.
Gently fold in the eggs to the cake mixture.
Spoon mixture into a lined/greased 20cm cake tin and bake for 30 - 40 minutes til cooked through.
Leave to cool for 5-10 minutes then remove from the cake tin.

Mix the spices with the honey, if it is a little too thick to spread add a tiny bit of hot water.
Spread over the cake with a pastry brush (silicone ones are best for sticky honey!)
Sprinkle over sesame seeds generously.

Cut it, eat it, be happy, and hopefully dream about it later on. :)

my giraffe socks (great aren't they?) sneaked into the photo, so here is an outtake for you...

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Sunday, 5 May 2013

Jigsaw Bakery - Linton, Cambridgeshire

jigsaw bakery linton

Real bread has come to Cambridge! Since my first visit to the Jigsaw Bakery in Linton a month or so ago I've been going along pretty much every weekend for my fix of Matthew's wonderful bread. The kind of brilliant bread that makes you want to run home as fast as you can and tell your husband about it because it is so good (yes I do always have a nibble of it as I am leaving the shop, naturally). I visited the bakery first during CamShopLocal so here is my promised post, dedicated to it!

currant loaf jigsaw bakery

Matthew Whitby opened the bakery back in November, and I spotted the bakery Facebook page go up just before and watched the progress of the shop being fitted out. He's part of the Real Bread Campaign - campaigning to bring back proper bread to the UK - handmade without additives or improvers. I've heard lots of people compare our bread to the continent and we are lagging behind, has the popularity of the soft white slice made us forget what proper bread is?

jigsaw bakery linton sourdough

Matthew sells a huge variety of bread from his tiny bakery - sourdough, flavoured sourdough, fruit breads, pain de campagne, ryes, wholemeal, breadsticks and even more - plus cakes, puddings and meringues. He also stocks and makes coffee, olive oil, bread flours, chutney and aprons from the lovely Cooking Gorgeous.

We've so far tasted the sourdough, pain de campagne, tomato and cheese focaccia, currant malthouse and wild garlic focaccia. The focaccias are mega, and don't last more than 24 hours in our house. The currant bread and the sourdough keep so well in an airtight container and see us through breakfasts and alongside meals during the week. We've yet to try the sweets but I'm sure we will do soon.

Linton is about 10 -15 minutes drive from Central Cambridge, a lovely little village which has some exciting things going on. The Linton Kitchen has recently opened - a beautiful cafe which also sells local produce, and there is a butchers opening soon too. The Crown Inn is a great pub (good pies!) and they even have a little zoo!

If you're hoping to get some of Matthew's bread do arrive around opening time (11am) because he does sell out quick. Also, if you drop him a note on Facebook he is happy to reserve a loaf for you, great service!

Jigsaw Bakery
113 High Street
CB21 4JT
Open Tuesday 11-6, Thursday - Friday 11-6 and Saturday 11 - 4

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