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Sunday November 22, 2015

Stir-Up Sunday

Apparently I have not done any stirring up (on this blog at any rate) since 2008 - and rather like that year, it all seems rather early.


A week ago I made some rather splendid cranberry and clementine marmalade - Waitrose 3 for 2 having produced a localised domestic glut of clementines and then to my surprise, Sainburys having fresh cranberries in stock. In fact, I had a recipe for this from a Sainsburys magazine, which I then lost and could not find on line. In principle of course you could use any marmalade recipe but the proportion of sugar is harder to gauge when you vary the the fruit. But... Caroline to the rescue with the recipe on her perfectly splendid blog The Patterned Plate... and delicious it has turned out to be. [Flushed with success I went on to make ginger marmalade - which was yummy though did not taste quite as much of ginger or oranges as I had expected {was driven to stir in whisky} - the main attraction was that it also involved apples - see reference to "apple glut" below...]

This weekend I made my Christmas puddings. In 2008 I claimed I "always" used Jocelyn Dimblebey's recipe - which was true until 2010. In that year we discovered we had a quince tree in France - a bit naive about quinces, we thought they were rather hard pears that never ripened and grew fluffy mould! That same year Alison referred me to Nigella's recipe which involves quinces and I have used it ever since. It is very fruity and also involves marron glacé - yum - which Waitrose staff always irritate me by claiming is unheard of and yet is always in stock! (This year as a variation they tried to press pureed chestnuts on me.)
I also found that Nigel Slater has an online recipe with quinces - and figs which will be ever more perfect if our fig tree ever produces any - so I have also tried that one. Note that in both recipes the quinces can be replaced by grated apple, and like my original favourite pudding they are both made with a base of breadcrumbs. [There was some mixture left over that I made into a tiny "taster" pudding which we ate right away and it was simply delicious - hard to see how the flavours could mature to be even better!]

We also have a glut of apples from the garden here so for the cake of the moment (to eat now) I made my Almond Apple cake - originally from Mary Berry so bound to be good.

Posted on November 22, 2015 at 9:11 AM

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Saturday September 14, 2013

Reasons to grow cucumber: 1, 2, 3


This is an unusual recipe which we tried as we have a lot of home-grown cucumbers - and it involves fish, which is very easy for me to find in our very local fishmonger. The dish was unexpectedly delicious - I do not mean I expected it to be horrid (!), but it was quite exceptional. I expected the cucumber to cook like squash and be soft, but it remains crunchy - which may be why you do not often see it cooked.

Recipe by Nigel Slater featured in the Observer and the photo is by Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer.

Cucumber pie (with salmon and prawns)

Serves 2


  • 1½ oz firm white bread
  • Fresh dill
  • grated zest of unwaxed lemon
  • a small cucumber
  • 5 oz salmon
  • 4 oz shelled prawns
  • 3½ oz cod
  • A few capers*
  • 1 oz butter
  • 2½ fl oz double cream

* I left these out of my version as I had none easily available and we are not so keen on them anyway.


  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C, or Gas Mark 4.
  2. Crumb the bread in a food processor together with a handful of dill and the grated zest of a lemon.
  3. Lightly peel the cucumber, remove the seeds, and then chop into chunks.
  4. Remove the skin from the salmon and cod (or get the fishmonger to remove them with their much sharper knives!), cut both into large chunks and place the pieces of fish into a shallow baking dish along with the shelled prawns.
  5. Tuck the cucumber pieces in between the fish.
  6. Sprinkle in the capers if you are using them (see * above).
  7. Season with salt and black pepper then add the butter chopped in pieces.
  8. Pour over the double cream and then scatter over the dill crumb topping.
  9. Bake for 25 minutes.
  10. Eat.

Posted on September 14, 2013 at 9:11 PM

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Tuesday July 16, 2013

Kitchen Chairs

I bought four chairs in the 1980s which were very second hand even then. So... I've had them a mere 20 years (and we've been using - at least 3 of - them in their sad dilapidated state all that time) and I decided it was finally time to do the long-planned renovation.


Although they are bentwood chairs, they are modern - originally made with seats of plastic cane sheeting. cut and glued in across a frame. When I bought them, they had some water damage, and the cane had been cut away and replaced with thin ply-wood circles, first covered in a white sateen fabric and then covered again with a floral PVC fabric. About 10 years ago, I started work on one of the chairs - removing the seat, and sanding off varnish and re-staining it - but it was very hard and the result was not satisfactory. I checked out professional paint stripping - only to be assured that it does not work on modern "plastic" based varnishes - which explains why I had so many problems. Thus - a hiatus: I had trouble adjusting to the fact that they would have to be painted.

I realised what was stopping me "just getting on with it" was the unwillingness to abandon the natural wood, or settle on a paint colour, and finally having identified the issue, I overcame it. I spent some happy time rubbing down the wood, routing out a base for the seats (removing all the remnants of cane and glue), making new seat bases in MDF, and putting in dowl pegs to hold them in place. I chose Habitat paint (in Beetroot) and John Lewis fabric to match.


They look great.


I started out on this whole project by sanding and waxing/revarnishing the surface of my Habitat pine kitchen table (1970s) which was also in a pretty poor state - now lovely (and still natural wood). All that is left to think about now is that the chair fabric is not "wipe clean" and may not be up to kitchen wear and tear - I am planning to try out HeatnBond Iron-On Vinyl - if I can make it work!

Posted on July 16, 2013 at 1:22 PM

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Wednesday October 31, 2012

Los Gatos and Halloween


What can I say?
Yes - we did go out like this.


Earlier in the day I went out and about in downtown Los Gatos admiring the Halloween decorations in the shops on my way to visit Yarn Dogs. On the way back I dropped in at Icing on the Cake. [Alison had taken me there on Sunday to get Nigel's birthday cake]. I picked up a few highly imaginative "vampire bites" cup cakes, which, when it came to it, we were much too full of candy to eat in the evening!

Posted on October 31, 2012 at 10:25 AM

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Saturday March 26, 2011

Cheese Scones


I am always trying to make cheese scones - I love them. But mine always seem flat and mean looking. This recipe proved most successful to date, involving: an egg, handling the dough as little as possible, and rolling out the dough quite thickly and cutting out larger scones (the latter most obvious I suppose). I think using buttermilk instead of milk can help activate the rising agent in the flour.

Cheese Scones


  • 6 ozs self raising flour
  • 1-1½ oz butter
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of English mustard powder (or less if you like)
  • a good pinch of cayenne
  • 3½ ozs grated Cheddar cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 2-3 tbsps milk (as needed)


  1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 7, 425°F (220°C)..
  2. Sift the flour into a bowl along with the mustard powder, salt, and cayenne pepper; mix together.
  3. Rub in the butter with finger tips until well combined. Mix in most of the grated cheese leaving the remainder (about a tbsp) to use later.
  4. Beat the eggs with 2 tbsp milk and add to the dry ingredients. Mix together to form a soft dough, adding a little more milk as required if the mixture seems dry. Try to avoid working the mixture too much.
  5. Gently roll out the dough on a well-floured surface, as evenly as possible to a thickness of ¾ - 1 inch. Pat the dough into a square shape as you roll and cut into 9 square (ish) scones (3 x 3) with a knife.
  6. Place evenly spaced on a baking sheet, allowing a little room for rising. Brush the tops with a little more milk, and sprinkle with grated cheese.
  7. Bake for 12-15 minutes (or a little longer if necessary) until the cheese has started to bubble and the scones are browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Serve warm or cold with or without butter but the scones are best eaten the day they are cooked. [You can freeze them, but reheat in an oven after defrosting].

Posted on March 26, 2011 at 5:45 PM

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Sunday November 28, 2010


We have a medlar tree in France and this year we found some fruit from it, so I "left them to rot" for a while, as instructed, and then made jelly and jam.


Not sure if it's because it's a good year for medlars, but whatever the reason they seem to be having a lot of items about them in the media. I did know you have to blet them, but, having watched the TV programs, I think that's more for eating them as fruit rather than making jelly. For the latter I think you need more of a mix with unripened fruit. My jelly and jam was somewhat bland, and not very exciting. Eating the raw bletted fruit was much as described - like stewed apple with the cinammon and spices already added.

Posted on November 28, 2010 at 12:38 PM

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Sunday August 8, 2010



We were forced to empty a bag of potatoes prematurely (they are late earlies so needed a bit longer to mature) as one of the potato plants seemed to be withering and I feared blight. In the event the single plant had not developed and the attached root was rotten but it did not seem to have bothered the others.


Not a truly great yield but - yum.

We have subsequently had lots of potatoes, runner beans, french beans, butter beans, courgettes, and carrots - again not huge yields, as I think we do not enrich our soil sufficiently, but quite satisfactory. I still have fennel, curly kale, and broccoli to crop. I have rather rashly put our name down for an allotment, (there is a long waiting list!). We visited a couple of the allotment sites - a recce - and they are delightful - like walking into a bygone age.

Posted on August 8, 2010 at 9:15 AM

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Sunday January 31, 2010

Books in January

No fiction again this month. I have been listening to podcasts of the BBC series The History of the World in 100 Objects, which in itself is a fascinating project even without the series - and by the way - isn't it curious to choose to "display" objects in this way on the radio? But then - I think that is part of the point - see them on line and at the British Museum.

  • Respect the Spindle Abby Franquemont
    RespectTheSpindle.jpg All my spinning books start with some elementary spindle information, but I never found it very interesting - it bore little relation to the act of using a spindle I felt. I included this book on my wishlist, as I don't have a book on this topic and I thought - why not?. I have my new (decorative only?) spindle from Woolfest - so I felt I could invest a little more in the knowledge. I certainly had no intention of "going into" spindle spinning in preference to the wheel. But...
    This is really is one of the most interesting books I have read. The author really made me understand - and believe - that the spindle is a better and faster tool for spinning certain types of thread. It is not an accident or lack of technology that prevented ancient peoples developing the wheel, but appropriate choice for the job in hand. She also discusses the physics of spindles - which is fascinating for me - and made me think I might actually start to see the point of angles of momentum, and moments of inertia in a way that I did not when at school - no-one ever discussed spindles at that time, or it might all have been different.
    It also indicates that my apparently random choice of spinning my little bag of alpaca on my fancy spindle might just have been a sound one after all.

  • The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook Tarek Malouf
    HummingbirdCookbook.jpg Tony recommended this American cup cake recipe book from the Hummingbird Bakery. So it became another wishlist item, along with a set of reusable silicon cake cases. Now I simply want to make all the cakes at once, they sound so good, (though I shall be making fairy cakes not cup cakes of course...!).
    I like the recipes as they are not simply plain cakes with inventive decorations but actually different flavoured cakes and toppings. The decorations are relatively restrained - but I am sure you can use your own initiative on that score. The only snag I see now is that I need a food mixer (or jolly strong arms) - Tony acquired mixer and book together I think. Not sure if I am ready for a new gadget... maybe... George and I did get out his juice extractor to make the clementine and cranberry marmalade....
    Anyway - "Yum's the word".

  • Rôtis Stéphane Reynaud
    Rotis.jpg This was a surprise gift, and though I am always pleased with a cookbook, I did think it was odd to have a book all about roast dinners. I imagined each recipe must read: heat up oven, put in large joint of meat, take out joint of meat, carve, eat.
    Well... there we are - I was quite wrong. This is a book of "every day" roasts and includes pot roasts - which are almost stews - and is not restricted to meat and poultry but includes fish - and veg.
    The layout appeals to me as well - each dish wonderfully photographed; this stems from my first and still favourite cookery book today - the Good Housekeeping Picture Cookery Book from the 70s - which has pictures. A trained chef friend of mine always scorned my love of pictures in cookery books - but it really does help if you have never seen the dish before. A German friend once produced some little cakes with a big flourish saying "no need to tell you what these are!" - but I had no idea - I was racking my brains for a well known English cake - they looked like brioche - anyway they turned out to be scones, and they were delicious... just... different. A schoolfriend once entered a competition for "rock cakes" but hers were in little cake cases and looked like fruited queen cakes - she was quite amazed to see everyone else's untidy little piles of cake.
    Back to the roasts - "yum" again.

Posted on January 31, 2010 at 12:53 PM

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Friday January 15, 2010

Umble Pie

I have been watching a delightful TV series The War Time Kitchen and Garden. It is a semi-reenactment of domestic life during WWII with Ruth Mott and Harry Dodson who partly act out roles as cook and head gardener, and also provide their personal memories of the period - all interspersed with period film footage and radio broadcasts.

HumblePieWWIIPoster.jpg Harry works with a "land girl" making a slow burning bonfire working from instructions in a government information leaflet (which he clearly finds somewhat lacking in "information"). It's rather like the charcoal burners in Swallows and Amazons.
Whilst Ruth makes "swiss breakfast" (muesli) with grated carrot, chopped apple, and oats.
She also made mayonnaise..... without any eggs.... (she had to use the egg in the VE Day party cake - o what's that? what about the pancakes? they were made with powdered egg and milk of course!). The mayonnaise was made by simply substituting the egg by cooked potato, rubbed through a sieve, then whipped up with mustard, vinegar and the usual gradual addition of oil. (I think I might have coped with a simple vinaigrette?).

If the above appeals, see:

Snuffling around the web I find I have woken up a little late to this series from 1993. The other parent series are available on DVD but not this one. However, it is a gem, and is currently being shown on the UK TV history channel Yesterday. I have to confess I ran across it after watching a TV drama series that I remember from my youth.... it seems Yesterday shows these series as ... well... "history"!

Posted on January 15, 2010 at 7:55 AM

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Monday December 21, 2009

Good enough to eat.

The Bowtells have a website.


Long before "organic" and "green" became positively trendy, (and maybe now almost "normal"), my sister lived in East Tisted, where she was able to shop at Bowtell's Farm. They became good friends over the years, and a couple of times I was able to get my Christmas meat supplies at their Farm Shop. I even sewed them into a sampler, which was a little momento of my sister's time in the village.


I live a little too far away from East Tisted to use them for general food shopping, and I have to admit that in recent years I have been seduced by Waitrose's ability to supply such a good range of options in Organic produce that I usually buy my food there these days. They have obviously got their marketing and maybe their market well sorted out - offering "locally sourced" ranges as well as organic (far better than the larger chains) and give an altogether good impression of having "green" credentials. They have convinced me anyway.

[Waitrose opened their newly refurbished - after the fire - Banstead store on November 21st - and George and I rushed round to experience it that very evening. ]

Posted on December 21, 2009 at 5:27 PM

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Sunday November 22, 2009

mmm .... chocolate

Although it's always a good time for tea as far as I'm concerned, we keep the tradition of "tea-time" at weekends. So occasionally at the weekend I like to make a cake.
This is a very grown-up chocolate cake; it's very rich but not too sickly. It's very chocolatey, so you need to use a good quality chocolate for the cake and the icing. Below is the recipe for a small version of the cake.




For the cake:

  • 2½ oz plain chocolate
  • 2 oz butter
  • 2 oz golden caster sugar
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1½ oz self-raising flour
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 3 teaspoons rum
  • ½ teaspoon almond essence
  • 2 teaspoons water

For the icing:

  • 1 generous tablespoon of apricot jam
  • 2 oz sugar
  • 3 tablespoons boiling water
  • 3 oz plain chocolate


  1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C, or Gas Mark 3.
  2. Grease and line a 6 inch sandwich tin, (loose-bottomed, or springform is ideal).
  3. Melt the chocolate and allow to cool.
  4. Cream the softened butter with the caster sugar.
  5. Beat in the chocolate, and egg yolks.
  6. Sift the flour with the cocoa powder and fold into the mixture.
  7. Add the rum, almond essence and water.
  8. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold them into the chocolate mixture.
  9. Turn into the tin, and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed with the fingertip.
    Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out.
  10. When the cake has completely cooled, melt some apricot jam - sieve if necessary - and brush over the top and sides of the cake.
  11. Make the icing by dissolving the sugar in the boiling water and then breaking in chocolate. Stir with a wooden spoon until smooth, then boil for 1-2 minutes more, stir again, and pour over the top and sides of the cake, spreading with a palette knife. Allow to cool and set.
  12. The cake can be stored for a day or two - if it lasts that long.

Posted on November 22, 2009 at 7:14 PM

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Wednesday September 23, 2009

Squash anyone?

Everyone has been awash with courgettes and squashes. We enjoyed a number of Lloyd's while we were in France, Janet gave us some of hers, and we even had a couple of our own (that's how easy they were to grow!)
Here's a great vegetarian recipe that uses them. I did not realise that Tian is basically a Provençale vegetable stew and this is not an especially common variation of it. However the flavours and texture blend well. You can eat it on its own, or (a smaller portion!) alongside a meat or fish dish.

[One time, I cooked the spinach - in the microwave - but then forgot about it. So I can vouch for the fact that the Tian tastes pretty good even without it - just for all you gout sufferers out there.]




  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion or shallots, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 8 oz cougettes, chopped
  • 4 oz spinach, cooked, drained, and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons brown rice, cooked
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 oz Gruyère cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of mixed wholewheat breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese

Serves 2


  1. Fry the onion in the oil until soft.
  2. Add the garlic and courgettes and cook for about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the spinach, rice, eggs, Gruyère cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and mix well.
  4. Turn into a greased earthenware gratin dish and sprinkle with the breadcrumb/cheese mixture.
  5. Bake in a preheated oven at 170 degrees C, or Gas Mark 4 for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Posted on September 23, 2009 at 4:26 PM

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Saturday September 12, 2009

Home Grown

We had to dig up the potato. I say THE potato. We had only one plant, and along with all other related species in the garden, it got blight, so we dug them up before anything worse happened. I did find it very helpful that the Gardeners World team showed us all their blighted potatoes (it was common throughout the UK this year), and offered advice on how to deal with the results, and crop what you can.


We did not feel that our haul was especially mighty, but they were Desirees which should be "lates" - so it was a bit early for them (!), and it rendered enough for 2 meals for us.

Overall we have done very well with our other vegetables. Not certain it has been very economic overall, but for weeks now we have not had to buy any vegetables - though our diet has been restricted to eating only carrots and beans.


We had a few courgettes - but they are very easy to grow and we should have done better. We had lots of lettuce and rocket, and my fennel was very successful - almost too embarrassed to show photos as they did not develop good bulbs, but were very good in my fish soup nonetheless. Here is a group photo showing the beans, fennel, lettuce and tubs of carrots in the distance.


Our brassicas have all bolted - the brussel sprouts may be producing nodules about the size of peas, so we'll have to see, and the butternut squash - I planted four very late and one of them produced a tiny squash, which a squirrel has done its best to consume, but not altogether successfully!

Posted on September 12, 2009 at 8:11 PM

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Sunday May 3, 2009

Unseasonal Cake

When we went to France at Easter, Sheila (G's Mother) gave us a cake to take with us. It was a Simnel cake, and was so delicious, that I decided to try my hand at an unseasonal cake for this weekend. Sheila had "not bothered" with the traditional marzipan topping (which suits me as I am not mad on marzipan) but the layer baked inside was ... mmmmm..... wonderful. So I copied her example.


My picture is of a slice of the cake, as I had a slight disaster after taking it out of the oven. I cooked it yesterday afternoon before we went to the theatre. We were so anxious to eat it that I took it straight out of the tin while it was still hot. [Not for me those silly instructions about "letting it cool fully in the tin" - o no...].
It fell apart. I then had to lassoo it back together with the tin, and let it cool, so it ended up maintaining some kind of round cake shape.

Simnel cakes seem to be made around Easter, but I had some vague memory of their being associated with Mothering Sunday in the UK - and it turns out I am not mistaken. I remember, as a little girl, that when we left church on Mothering Sunday morning, we each took a piece of fruit cake from a large tray of the same handed out by (and presumably baked by) a nice lady from the Mothers Union. We took these home to our grateful Mothers - or not. My Mother hated marzipan so the cake was always eaten by my Father (who loved it). [So our consumption of this cake has never been very traditional!]

The date of Mothering Sunday in the UK is set by the church calendar and is the middle Sunday in Lent (half way between Shrove Tuesday and Good Friday). Since my childhood, I had forgotten this, thinking all such days were invented by Hallmark Cards, even though UK Mother's Day is never the same day as in the US. The origin of the day was to do with attendance on that Sunday at the "Mother" church or the Cathedral of the diocese, and employers would send a rich fruit cake home to their servant girls' Mothers, as a charitable gift.

The name Simnel probably derives from the type of flour used but for a far more interesting set of suggestions, and an altogether more humorous entry than this one, read Raspberry Debacle.
[I especially like the explanation of the origin of marzipan which was "invented when Zeppo Marx fell into a giant pan of almonds just after he'd been for a swim in a pool that was unexpectedly filled with sugar, at which he was so angry that he broke eggs all over himself and rolled around until he was covered in a thick white paste; it certainly tastes like it." Also the author shares my view that it's nicer without the marzipan topping. A shame this blog is now archived.]

Read on for my recipe:

Simnel Cake


  • 6 oz (175 g) castor sugar (I like the 'golden' variety)
  • 6 oz (175 g) unsalted butter, well softened
  • 3 large eggs
  • grated zest 1 unwaxed lemon
  • 8 oz (225 g) plain flour sifted with 1½ rounded teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 rounded teaspoon mixed spice, or,
    ½ teaspoon of ground cinammon, ¼ teaspoon of ground ginger, and, ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 2oz ground almonds
  • 4oz (100g) glace cherries chopped small
  • 16oz (450g) mixed dried fruit
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 200g Marzipan


  1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C, or Gas Mark 2. Use butter to grease an 8 inch loose-bottomed or springform cake tin and line with baking parchment.
  2. Mix together the sifted flour, baking powder, and spices.
  3. Roll out the 200g marzipan to a circle slightly smaller than your tin size. Use icing sugar to prevent sticking while rolling.
  4. Beat together the softened butter and sugar, until light and fluffy. (Use an electric whisk if possible as it makes it much easier to do this).
  5. Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a little of the flour with each one to avoid curdling.
  6. Fold in the sifted flour mixture, followed by the ground almonds.
  7. Mix in the milk, dried fruit, cherries, and lemon zest.
  8. Spread half of the mixture in the bottom of the tin, and make the surface level with a spatula. Place your circle of marzipan on top.
  9. Finally spread the remaining mixture over the marzipan.
  10. Now put it into the oven, and bake for about 2½ to 2¾ hours. Check towards the end of the cooking time to make sure the cake is not going too brown on the top, (if it is, you can cover lightly with a circle of foil for the remainder of the cooking time). The centre should feel firm and springy when lightly pressed.**
    When it is cooked, leave it to cool in the tin for at least 30 minutes before turning it out on to a wire rack to cool.
  11. Eat.

** I confess to having some difficulty knowing when the cake is cooked, as, with the skewer test, it never seems to come out clean due to the layer of gooey marzipan in the cake; if you leave it to cook too long, the sides and base of the cake can burn slightly. You can try insulating your cake by wrapping the outside with a layer of brown paper and string, as suggested by Nigella, or you can put greaseproof paper over the top, as suggested by Delia.
And in the end all this depends on how fierce your oven is, and whether or not it's a fan oven - you need to get to know your oven with a test cake.... or several....


It is a shame to leave off the decoration, as that's where you get the religious references - 11 marzipan balls representing the 11 true apostles, or less traditional egg shapes.

To make the topping you need about 300g more of marzipan, and apricot jam. Roll out and cut a circle of marzipan to fit the top of the cake, (use a dusting of icing to stop it sticking), and make your 'apostles' from the remainder. Brush the top of the cake with melted jam, put on the marzipan circle, and stick on your apostles (you may need egg white to make them stick firmly).

Nice traditional decoration on a cake from Tesco, [£7.99].
Note that the 11th apostle has been consumed....

Other (different) recipes, and pretty pictures of decorations appear at Delicious Magazine, Mary Berry at the BBC, and Delia Online. Raspberry Debacle (website sadly disappeared), chose to add faces to his apostles, and explains how he tried to like marzipan, using a preparation method which relied on the subsequent effect of Stockhausen Syndrome - but failed.

Posted on May 3, 2009 at 10:26 AM

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Monday December 22, 2008

Relaxing (or: another go at the apples).

Now the pressure is firmly off finishing any last minute knitted gifts due to lack of raw materials - I can relax in the knowledge that extra wool is at least on the way. So I made some mince pies.


To use up more apples, I had already made a small amount of mincemeat - which to reassure you Americans - especially those with jobs in US customs - there is absolutely no meat in mincemeat - but there are apples. The mincemeat recipe is from Delia (but I was given a similar one at school). The pastry and mincemeat construction is from my Jocelyn Dimbleby Christmas Book - as before. The pastry is a very buttery mixture, not the usual half and half, making it very short (12oz butter to 16oz flour or that proportion in whatever units you like) and it is a sweet pastry - so you have about 3oz of sugar in there as well - and she adds zest and juice of orange to mix. The final secret ingredient is that as you build each pie you not only put a teaspoon of mincemeat in each one but also a dab of cream cheese before putting the top on.

Due to the unexpected missing knitted gift for... someone..., I went (unsuccessfully) last minute late-night shopping in Kingston. I may have just popped into the local John Lewis branch - and bought some Rowan Big Wool to knit a gift for my friend Helen. I have already sent her the Interweave Knits Dumpling Bag for Christmas - so hope she will not be too tired of my little woolly offerings. I bought the whole project on a whim, along with yet another book by Kim Hargreaves Amber. The pattern is for a little cape called Charity, (as in "cold as charity" maybe).

Posted on December 22, 2008 at 7:13 PM


Mmmm those Jocelyn Dimbleby mince pies always tasted so good. I might try to cream cheese option again - but Im afraid these days my pastry is almost always Safeway pre-made pie crust!

Posted by: Alison on December 30, 2008 9:52 PM

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Saturday December 6, 2008

Time for tea (or Yet More Apples...)

"Any cake?" [Peter Ustinov anecdote as retold by George's Father...]

My cake of the week is Delia's Date and Walnut Loaf. In the recipe I used (taken from her Complete Cookery Course) she specifies apples (not prunes), for which "you may substitute prunes if you wish". (I did not wish).


So if you use the link to her "new" recipe online, just use a medium cooking apple, roughly chopped, instead of the prunes. Her earlier instructions in the book do not follow the usual cake method as given online; they say: mix the butter sugar eggs and flour with an electric mixer, and then add the dates, nuts, apple, and milk. I used a hand mixer, but did cream the butter and sugar prior to throwing in all the rest.

It is jolly good, but best eaten very fresh - as is the case with most tea breads.
No real problem there.

Posted on December 6, 2008 at 4:11 PM

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Sunday November 23, 2008

Stir-Up Sunday

What?! (I hear you cry) Stir-up Sunday already!

I chose to make my Christmas Puddings and cakes this weekend, (started yesterday in fact), thinking I was a little early. But the arrangement of dates this year has meant that the last Sunday before Advent does not fall on the final weekend in November - so I am just in time. I made several puddings (which have to steam for 6 hours - for the largest one) and 2 of Delia's whisky Dundee cakes.


For the puddings I always use a recipe from the Jocelyn Dimbleby Christmas Book, which is a book I can recommend, but you will have to look on eBay, as it was published by Sainsbury's in 1987. It offers a light weight pudding made using breadcrumbs rather than a heavier cake mixture; I think several cooks now produce a similar light weight version in this way - it's not too sweet either, and not too much brandy, though it can be as alcoholic as you care to make it!

The sight of all these unavailable cakes made us want one to eat, so I made a classic Victoria Sponge with home-made raspberry jam filling for us to have for tea. This is Nigella's recipe from How to Eat - a great book - Nigella gives us good recipes but to my mind is an excellent journalist, so it is a pleasure just to read her books, as well as cook from them.
"This book changed my life" (o - and my figure!).


Posted on November 23, 2008 at 10:49 AM

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Saturday November 8, 2008

More Apples

Continuing to "deal" with the apples - this is one of my favourite desserts. It looks very pretty with its icing sugar dusting, and is quick to make, (once you have assembled the ingredients); in fact, the quicker the better, as it needs to go into the oven as soon as possible after the flour is mixed in.

Almond Apple Dessert Cake


(serves 6 - or 4 greedy people)

  • 3oz butter
  • One large egg
  • 4oz castor sugar (I like the 'golden' variety)
  • 1 teaspoon of almond essence
  • 4oz self-raising flour sifted with 1 rounded teaspoon of baking powder
  • 12oz Bramley apples, (weight before peeling)
  • icing sugar


  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C in a fan oven, or Gas Mark 5. Use ½oz of the butter to grease a 6 inch loose-bottomed cake tin.
  2. Melt the rest of the butter in a pan until just runny.
  3. Peel and core the apples - you can slice them now, or wait until you are ready to use them, to try and avoid their turning overly brown.
  4. Beat together the egg, sugar, and almond oil; then pour the melted butter into the mixture in a thin steady stream while still beating. (Use an electric whisk if possible as it makes it much easier to do this).
  5. Fold in the sifted flour and baking powder.
  6. Spread about two thirds of the mixture in the bottom of the tin.
  7. Quickly slice the apples and put them roughly on top of the mixture.
  8. Finally spread the remaining mixture over the apples. This seems like an impossible task as there is very little mixture left with which to work, but smear it over as best you can (use a flexible spatula to get all you can out of the bowl), and don't worry that it is not smooth - this will even out in cooking, and the mixture will rise up to mostly cover the apples.
  9. Now put it into the oven, and bake for about 45 minutes to an hour, until the apple is soft (test with a skewer); check towards the end of the cooking time to make sure the cake is not going too brown on the top.
  10. Once out of the oven, loosen the sides of the cake with a knife, and carefully push out. When slightly cooler, dust with icing sugar.

This can be served warm or cold, and keeps for a couple of days (covered) in the fridge. I'm afraid this is another dessert designed to be served with cream.

Posted on November 8, 2008 at 10:55 PM

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Tuesday October 28, 2008


They all fell off my Bramley apple tree - so I have a mini apple mountain.
We are resigned to our fate of putting on pounds through eating extra apple desserts; it's tough but someone has to do it.

Apple Betty is new to me and this chocolate version was suggested to me by Tony. I found it a bit too sweet, though it might depend on how sweet your apples are. Next time I might try adding a little lemon or lime juice to the apple layer, and using less sugar and syrup in the topping.
Some traditional versions of this pudding use alternate layers of crumbs and apple.

Chocolate Apple Betty


(serves 3 - or 2 greedy people)

  • 1lb Bramley apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into large chunks
  • 1oz butter
  • 2oz fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 1½oz light soft brown sugar
  • 2oz dark chocolate*, roughly chopped
  • 1½oz butter, melted
  • 1 heaped tablespoon golden syrup

* Choose a good quality chocolate here, as the flavour is very evident.


  1. Mix the crumbs, sugar and chocolate. I blend them each separately in a food processor to get the right degree of "chopping" and then mix them all together.
  2. Cook the apple pieces for a few minutes with the ounce of butter melted in 1 tablespoon of water over a moderate heat. When the apples are just turning soft and far from mushy, put them in the baking dish.
  3. Cover with the crumb mixture.
  4. Mix the melted butter and the golden syrup then pour it over the crumb topping, making certain to soak it all.
  5. Bake in the oven at 190 degrees C or Gas Mark 5 for 30-35 minutes until the apple is soft and the topping is crunchy.

Delicious served with cream or ice cream.

Posted on October 28, 2008 at 10:54 AM

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Thursday September 18, 2008


rutabaga-120.jpg In France, they don't seem very big on the range of root vegetables we seem to thrive on in England. O - except turnips - every where you look - turnips - for any foreigners (and by that I refer to the Scots - see below*) I mean those round white-with-a-hint-of-mauve unappealing tasteless vegetables. When compared with delicious swedes and parsnips (again - see below*) ... what can I say?
Turnips (the round white etc..) are navets in French and on one occasion only George did see parsnips at our favourite veg stall in Brécey market. He pounced, and Mme Batard told him they were called "navets" - he pointed out the "other" navets and she simply shrugged**.
On one other single occasion, we found swedes in a supermarket. However, we were unable to find any name for them - and none of the staff knew what they were called - so we all stood around the scales shaking our heads and shrugging in a true Gallic manner. In the end, we decided - by a process of elimination of 92 other vegetables - that they were rutabaga***.

All these linguistic mysteries were brought to mind by the Rutabaga shopping bag knitting pattern. I may have to make it just for nostalgia. Or in preparation for future nostalgia.

* In Scotland, they do not use the word swede, but seem to call everything root-vegetable-wise, turnips - except the tatties of course... So we have the traditional Haggis, tatties, and neeps which are actually pudding, spuds and mashed swede. [I mention this to goad my Scottish friends - so I probably don't have any now.]

** Using the power of the interweb I find that parsnips are "panais" - but French wikipedia does say they are a vegetable "a little neglected these days - except in Great Britain and the Nordics".

*** In fact these Normans were probably confused by the vast choice of names for a vegetable you never normally see there: "chou-navet", "chou de Siam", "choux suédois" - and all variations on cabbage.

Posted on September 18, 2008 at 11:04 PM


Swedes are Rutabagas here in the USA. Easier to find this out in Safeway where they are labelled.
Also - since getting our veg box I am a new convert to turnips - we get tiny, sweet, white ones, and they are delicious. The main difference between these and turnips at home is that they have a more starchy texture - delicious in soups.

Posted by: Alison on September 21, 2008 3:21 AM

....just to say it’s not just Scotland that calls “swedes” turnips, it’s the same story in the north-east too. I can’t be buying a swede, they are forever turnips to me :o)

Posted by: Sheelagh on September 22, 2008 8:36 AM

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Tuesday February 12, 2008

Alien soup

This involves alien, and fish.
I already had the alien to hand, but needed to step out to the fishmonger for the rest of the ingredients: haddock and salmon.


I am lucky to live only a few yards from this shop, and the owners live across the road from me - and opposite the pond. The "son" (younger than me but not a youth) served me and fell to reminiscing about the pond, and how it seemed that as kids they lived in the pond - newts, sticklebacks, and even eels abounded. In winter apparently they also skated on it. Now he is sad that some people introduced reeds and other plants around it, so it is rather choked up and not as he remembered it.


He also mentioned a duck house that "someone built" and I told him that I had seen it when we first moved in and wondered about it. It was originally intended to float freely, but is now nestled in the bank against our boundary.


I suppose things never are as we remember them... but let us not get gloomy... here, to cheer us all up: winter flowering jasmine.


Recipe in extended entry:

Alien soup recipe:


(serves 4)

  • Medium head of fennel, sliced thinly
  • 1lb potatoes cut into chunks (bigger than diced)
  • Two or three thin slices of lemon
  • Three teaspoons of fresh dill, chopped
  • A pint of stock (from a stock cube is OK - I use Marigold Organic Swiss Vegetable Bouillon)
  • 4 tablespoons of white wine
  • 8 oz salmon fillet, cut into chunks
  • 8 oz haddock fillet, cut into chunks
  • 4 tablespoons of half-fat crème fraîche
  • salt and pepper to taste


Put everything except the fish and the crème fraîche into a saucepan, and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes unto the vegetables are tender.
Add the fish and cook for about 3 minutes.
Remove from direct heat, stir in the crème fraîche, and serve.
[You may need to put back on the heat for a few moments to ensure the crème fraîche has not cooled the soup to much.]

Posted on February 12, 2008 at 11:11 AM

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Sunday December 2, 2007

Cleaning up and clearing out.

Have been feeling a little glum - but only due to minor things, like I cannot get my new computer notepad to work properly - more precisely, I can't get the software to work properly.
And I spent much of the weekend working on the "finishing touches" to our bathroom - it is starting to look really nice - well, half of it looked nice already of course - but it's a hard slog of filling, sanding, and painting - o and cleaning.... which I especially love.

SparklingStole4.jpg Still - nothing like finishing a bit of knitting to cheer you up, eh? So Pattern of the Month December is now complete and the pattern available on the site.
Here I am looking very glamorous.
OK - take it from me - I look much more glamorous than I did during the DIY and before the shower.

This made me feel quite Christmassy, in combination with making my (or rather Delia's) Whisky Dundee Cake for said festival; I much prefer it to traditional Christmas cake. [I get to make it, so I get to choose.]

In addition, I have made my Vintage Patterns link live, for any of you who have a strange love of old patterns. I seem to find them weirdly desirable even when I have no intention of knitting them. Most of them are there in the hope of finding someone to love them like their own - not because they are hot property, I'm afraid.
And yet, in posting them on the site, I felt very inspired to actually knit some of them - in fact, this morning, I even went as far as searching for a vintage yarn on eBay (Wendy Pampas) to match one of the patterns!
However, I hope my time in listing them is worth it for someone, as it is another (in the words of Hollis) "great time-suck". [But a wonderful excuse to review old patterns.]

Posted on December 2, 2007 at 6:40 PM


Well it, and you, look terrific! I really like it in the sparkly wool - especially compared to the original...hee hee

Posted by: Alison on December 3, 2007 4:39 AM

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Sunday November 4, 2007

Cons or scakes?

Feeling like I need coddling (yes - still feeling like that!) so on a whim I made some rock buns. This is my award winning [1st prize, Lancing Arts and Crafts exhibition circa 1968] rock bun recipe taken from the Radiation Cookery Book designed for use with the "New World" Regulo-Controlled Gas Cooker. And you thought it was only retro knitwear that interested me......


They are a little overly brown - but I blame the fan oven being slightly hotter than the recipe expected. These Radiation cook books (presumably free with the cooker) turn up fairly frequently in Jumble and Boot Sales, mine being the original from my Mother - we had the matching cooker. My advice is - lower the oven temperature slightly. We ate them with butter - as they were a bit dry, and as I said to George: rock buns are a bit like a mixture between a cake and a scone - hence, Cons.

Finally set my mind to finishing the sewing up on George's birthday jumper. Here he models it, protesting at the use of flash photography, as well as demanding anonymity on the blog....


After this I had clearly run out of knitting..... so I cast on some socks for a Christmas present requested by my sister for her husband. I decided to use some sock wool bought at Full Thread Ahead.

Read on for the Award-winning rock bun recipe:

Rock Buns


  • ½ lb flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
  • 1½ oz butter
  • 1½ oz lard
  • 3 oz brown sugar
  • 3 oz currants
  • 1 egg
  • A little milk
  • A little grated nutmeg
  • Candied peel


  • Sift the flour, salt, and baking powder, and rub in the butter and lard.
  • Add the sugar, currants, and nutmeg.
  • Beat the egg with a little milk, and mix the whole into a stiff paste.
  • Arrange on greased baking sheet in rough heaps, (makes 10), and on top of each place a small piece of candied peel.
  • Bake for 20 minutes with the "Regulo" at mark 6.

Posted on November 4, 2007 at 4:24 PM

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Friday July 27, 2007

Prétentieuse? Moi?

The past couple of days has provided some excellent opportunities for eating, which, as usual for business trips, plays havoc with any high-minded ideals about restraining one's eating.

On Wednesday night we went as a group to La Diligence where the food was already ordered for us so we didn't even have to try and translate a menu.... and jolly good it was too. We tried sitting at the largest table to contradict the idea that the English are insular, but it didn't quite work out as we were tucked into our own little space. The restaurant was very atmospheric as you can see from the photo - I decided to post the fuzzy photo as it shows the environment more clearly than the version with flash.


Yesterday, we went with a recommendation and visited Cellier & Morel: la Maison de la Lozère.
My colleagues thought the food was excellent, and while I don't disagree it was by no means inexpensive (although I am being very unfair as it was probably far better value as well as lower cost than an equivalent meal in the UK - also I should say I did not have to foot the bill myself). Throughout, we were treated to little extra tasters from the chef, some more welcome than others for me. The main course was accompanied by what I now know to be Aligots - a regional speciality of mashed potato, Tomme cheese, and garlic. It was again excellent but we had to endure the ostentatious serving technique à table (shown right).

Posted on July 27, 2007 at 8:42 AM

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Tuesday April 24, 2007

George's World Famous Chicken Risotto


Errr - that's "world famous" as in the American sense.

I am authorised to add the recipe here, which may not be reproduced in any but an edible form, and even that not for profit.... © George 2007

Ingredients for two.

  • Fry a small finely chopped onion with some finely chopped mushrooms in olive oil.
  • Add cooked chicken (sufficient for 2 - whatever your taste).
  • Add 2 handfuls of risotto (short grained) rice; fry and stir for a few minutes to coat with oil.
  • Add chicken stock (lovingly home-prepared previously by someone else). This should be approximately twice the volume of the rice you used, which will be half a pint of stock (that's 10 fluid ounces, you Americans, not eight).
  • At this point you add any herbs (I like tarragon), seasoning, and - the secret ingredient - which I am not authorised to reveal.
  • Cook with a lid for at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Towards the end of the cooking time, add half a small tin of Jolly Green Giant sweetcorn niblets.
  • Serve with parmesan cheese to accompanying applause.

Posted on April 24, 2007 at 9:12 PM


Well! There is absolutely no point in providing a recipe if the essential ingredient is secret...it's like publishing a knitting pattern with no stated tension!

Posted by: Alison on May 16, 2007 8:51 PM