Category Archives: cooking

Tales from Westwick Episode 1

I’m experimenting with the form and trying out a few you tube videos – little diaries of what we are up to.



I’d love to know what you think so please check it out and if you feel like it then like and subscribe.

This is episode 1 and episode 2 is going up shortly!

Show Notes:

Book I mention…The Radical Homemaker by Shannon Hayes
Dinosaur jumper pattern – by Linda’s Knitwear Designs
Yarn – Cascade 220
Baby Surprise Jacket by Elizabeth Zimmerman
Yarn (I got the company name wrong in the video, sorry!): Awesome Aran in the Suffragette colour way

Violet Cream Cake – Recipe

I’ve had the idea for this cake for a very long time.
Violet Creams are my Mum’s favourite chocolates.  They have a violet flavoured, fondant, soft centre and have a dark chocolate coating.  They usually come in a box with rose creams and are delicious – they are also very old fashioned, hard to find and expensive.
I have made my own for Mum in the past and one day I must post that recipe too.
But this is about a cake…
For her last birthday I finally got round to inventing this cake and I figure the internet is the best place to keep it.
First make a chocolate cake.  Although dark chocolate is used in the traditional violet cream I didn’t want that much flavour overpowering the cake.  I went with a very moist chocolate cake which uses cocoa powder and was adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Fudge Cake in her Nigella Bites Book.
The cake is then sandwiched together and topped with a decadent purple, violet flavoured, cream cheese frosting and decorated with violet sugar sprinkles and chopped dark chocolate pralines.
This is not an everyday cake, this is a cake for serious celebrations.
For the cake:
400g plain flour
250g caster sugar
100g dark muscovado sugar
50g cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
140 ml of plain yoghurt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
175g melted butter
125ml flavourless oil (e.g. groundnut)
300ml chilled water
For the icing:
5-20 drops violet flavouring/essence
Purple food colouring
50g butter (at room temp)
300g sifted icing sugar
125g cream cheese (fridge cold)
1 tablespoon of violet flavoured sugar sprinkles
1 tablespoon of chopped dark chocolate pralines
To make the cake.
Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4
Grease and line two 20cm round sandwich tins.
Mix the dry cake ingredients (flour, sugars, cocoa, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt) in a large bowl. In a measuring jug mix the eggs, yoghurt and vanilla. In another bowl beat together the melted butter, oil and chilled water. Add the oil mixture to the dry ingredients and start to beat them together, then add the egg mixture and beat until all is blended. Pour the batter into the 2 cake tins in equal amounts.
Bake both tins for 50-55 mins (I use a skewer to test if the cake is ready – put the skewer into the cake and if it comes out clean then the cake is properly cooked.)
Put the cakes (still in their tins) on a cooling rack for 15 mins.  Then turn the cakes out of the tins onto the rack to cool completely.
Make the icing…
[Note: How strong the violet flavour is will be down to your personal preferences.  The flavouring can quickly overpower the icing so add a little at a time and test it as you go.  Please note that after standing overnight the violet flavour will develop and taste more strongly – so go slow on the flavouring!]
Beat the icing sugar and the butter together until well incorporated.  Then add the cream cheese, the purple food dye (according to packet instructions) and 5 drops of the violet flavouring. Beat until incorporated, test the flavour and then add 5 more drops.  Keep tasting and testing until you like the flavour.
Once the cake is cooled assemble like this:
Spread 1/2 the frosting on top of the first cake layer.  Put the second cake layer on top and put the rest of the frosting on top of the second layer. Sprinkle the violet sprinkles and chopped chocolate on top.
Open your mouth very wide and fall face forward on to the cake.

A bit of meal planning

We do a lot of meal planning at Westwick.  Mostly evening meals as breakfast and lunch are more flexible but we always have bread, jam, marmite, porridge, cheese, pasta and fruit in the house.
Thought I’d pop down some of our meal planning so you can see our thought processes. Although I’m always working to refine our methods, cut waste, cut costs, cut packaging.  At the moment we’re a bit out of our routine so I haven’t been as on top of the waste, costs and packaging as usual.  But we always meal plan which means we are a good chunk of the way there every time.
IMG_0079 (1)

Homemade Chai (It’s been a cold week!)

 (Initials indicate who is cooking on that day)
Friday: (J)   Baked potatoes with sour cream, chives and cheese
Put Bread on overnight ready for breakfast in the morning.
Take bacon out of the freezer and soak.
Saturday: (J) Bacon, Leek and Macaroni
Guests for lunch – they are bringing main meal, make apple and blackcurrant cobbler for pudding.
Take Lamb out of freezer to defrost in morning and Marinate Lamb overnight for Sunday.
Sunday: (B) Roast Leg of Lamb Iraqi Style with cous cous and vegetables.
Mon: (J) Rosti Shepherd’s pie
Tues: (B) Hbari Maqli  (Gaza Style Fried Calamari) with pitta bread, hummus and Gazan Butternut Squash salad (Imtabbal Ari’)
Weds: (B) Chicken/Goose and Mushroom Casserole with dumplings
Thurs: (B/J alternating) Pasta Puttenesca
Starting the week on a Friday this time because we’ve been visiting family earlier in the week.
We bought 1/2 a lamb from local smallholders a while ago and are still working our way through it.  This Iraqi recipe will be an interesting new twist on a leg of lamb (normally we prefer shoulder) so I’m very hopeful! Also it will count towards one of my goals to cook 5 recipes from the Iraqi Cookbook this year. Similarly there are two Gazan recipes in there which will count towards my cook from the Gaza Kitchen challenge!
The Shepherd’s Pie then uses the leftover lamb from the roast.  We’ll be making a double portion and then freezing it in preparation for Babygeddon in May when we will struggle to cook for a week or two.
This week has a couple of more expensive ingredients such as the lamb and the squid.  Squid used to be fairly cheap to get hold of but not so much anymore.  But the lamb will probably stretch to 6 adult meals and 3 toddler meals.  The squid is just an indulgence, because homemade deep fried squid is delicious!  I’ll be shopping around to see if I can get it cheaper next time though.
But I’ve paired it with pasta puttanesca and a baked potato meal which are very cheap and a chicken/goose casserole which will use up some of the carcasses stored in the freezer and the odds and sods left in the veg drawer.   Dumplings are really tasty, super easy to make and very filling and it is a shame you don’t see them around much these days!

Eating from The Gaza Kitchen

Cooking dinner on a weekend is one of my favourite things.  Weekdays are busier and need something faster, but weekends even with a busy toddler in the mix I can take a bit more time and use a bit more brain.


A long time ago (probably over a year ago!) I got a copy of The Gaza Kitchen as recommended (and rightly so!) by Annie of Kitchen Counter Culture. It is a beautiful book and I was interested to learn about a cuisine I’ve not encountered before.  But after reading I left it on the shelf – not sure how I’d incorporate the recipes into our routine.

So 2016 comes around and (as usual) I start my goal planning for the year.  I’m looking for gentle goals this time because we are expecting a new baby in May, and I need to be flexible as they detonate our usual routines for a while. I always like to have some cooking goals in the mix – in 2015 I tried 10 new vegan recipes.  This year I want to make 5 recipes from The Gaza Kitchen, 5 from the Iraqi Cookbook, and Danish Aebleskiver (a sort of fried apple doughnut).

So far I’ve made two recipes from The Gaza Kitchen: Zibdiyit Gambari – a baked shrimp dish made with a spiced dill and tomato sauce and Abu Hasira’s Sayadiyya – fish marinaded in cumin, chilli, garlic and lemon (zest and juice) then poached in a sauce of fried onions, garlic, cinnamon, tomato, nutmeg and cardamon. Then you fry up some rice until golden and dump the fish and cooking sauce on top. Simmer until the rice is cooked.

Check out the marinading action!


Both were incredible – unusual and delicious.  But the Zibdiyit Gambari was especially amazing because Josh really loved it despite the fact he doesn’t like shrimp or dill!

Roll on recipes 3-5!

Becky’s Mutton Tagine.

Lamb/Mutton is a tricky meat – it is usually the most ethical option since sheep aren’t farmed intensively in the same way that pigs and poultry are.  However it is the worst culprit when it comes to those pesky carbon emissions which are so bad for climate change. So lamb is definitely a treat in our house and we have it very rarely (even though it is my favourite meat by a mile!).

Becky's mutton tagine

Last year our smallholding friends had a sheep that had bad teeth and wasn’t going to last. It was sent to slaughter and we bought half the meat.

This is definitely mutton and not lamb.  Lamb refers to sheep meat which is only 4-6 months old, Hogget is 1 year old and Mutton is 2 years old. So (full disclosure) the carbon footprint will be even higher since the Mutton has had another 1.5 years of expelling methane into the atmosphere. We eat Lamb and Beef so rarely that we think we can live with the carbon cost (after all this Mutton in the freezer will probably last us well over a year). And we knew that this animal had been treated excellently, raised slowly on pasture and would have died whether we had intervened or not.  The meat is fantastic quality and totally delicious, it was a tricky balancing act but one I’m comfortable with at the moment.

So all of the angsting out of the way…it is with great anticipation I’m looking forward to dinner tonight.

Mutton has a much stronger flavour and the meat is much tougher, requiring long slow cooking rather than the juicy pink tenderness of lamb. Most of our favourite recipes for Mutton and Lamb come from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (particularly this Merguez Spiced Shoulder – seriously, if you are going to make one lamb recipe in your life, make the Merguez Spiced Shoulder) but tonight I’ve departed from this wisdom and gone for a long slow cooked Mutton Tagine. The long cooking turns the meat from tough and gristly into melting, tender and fall apart.

Check out this interesting article for more of the science on how the tough collagen in the meat turns into tender and rich gelatin.

I’ve cobbled the recipe together from a number of sources and I’ll shortly be ranting about Ras El Hanout spice mix!

Becky’s Mutton Tagine


300g cubed Mutton

1 Onion diced

3 cloves of Garlic sliced

250g Mushrooms quartered

2 large Carrots cut into large chunks

3 medium potatoes cut into large chunks

handful of dried apricots

tin of tomatoes

2 tsps Ras El Hanout Spice Mix

A pinch of saffron

2 Lamb stock cubes

1 litre boiling water


Brown the cubes of meat and remove from the pan.  Then cook the onion in the same (now empty) pan until it is translucent.

Meanwhile boil a litre of water and dissolve your stock cubes and saffron.

Then add the mushrooms, garlic and Ras El Hanout, stir for a couple of minutes until the mushrooms are coated in the spice, then add the carrots and potatoes.  Stir again for a couple of minutes then add the lamb stock, tomatoes, apricots and mutton.

Bring to the boil then put in a low oven (130C/ 1/2GM/ 250F) for some hours.  Mine was on for about 5 hours (it probably only needs about 2-3 but I made mine in my lunch break at work!). And tah dah! The five hours did mean that the flavour was incredible, rich and intense.

Serve with couscous, I’ll do another post about how I make perfect fluffy couscous since I can’t find the link right now!

To make this extra Eco Friendly you could make it in a slow cooker.  But personally I think many things which go into a slow cooker come out tasting of brown and this is one of them.  You will get a better flavour doing this on a low heat in the oven, you will cut your emissions and the costs doing it in the slow cooker.

In the future I’d really like to try making a haybox to put it in after the initial boil on the stove.  This would really cut carbon and when I have the time I’ll definitely be trying it out.

It is really sad that Mutton is not a cheap cut and not a meat which is easy to obtain, we are incredibly lucky that we live so close to sources of good quality meat straight from the farm.

Ras El Hanout (or mostly sugar!)

Wow – I almost forgot my rant!  Ras El Hanout Spice mix from Sainsburys.  I stupidly assumed it would just have the spices in I needed.  I know it is better to grind them yourselves but I was in a bit of a hurry and it is non-trival to get ground galangal and dried rose petals at the moment.  I was not expecting the huge amount of sugar and salt it was bulked out with.  Sugar was the second highest ingredient. Bad show!  I can add as much sugar and salt as I like after the fact, but I can’t take it out of a spice mix.

I’ve learned my lesson – home blended mixes all the way from here.

Schmokin’ (part 3)

[Part 3 of a series about designing and building my own cold smoker. Part 1 is here, part 2 is here.]

4. Ventilation

Fire needs air to burn; and the smoke needs to escape so it doesn’t choke the fire. So you need a hole to let air in, near the burner, and a hole to let smoke out, near the top of the chamber. In my case I just drilled a bunch of small holes. At first I found I hadn’t drilled enough, as the sawdust kept going out. In the end I drilled about 90 5mm holes (no special reason for the size – that’s just the biggest suitable drill bit I have) for each. I based the number on another smoker design I found on the web – which had much larger holes but fewer of them. If you’re going to do it, and you happen to be using a different sized drill bit, or perhaps cutting a single hole, then I’d advise using a little maths to make sure you’re getting a similar overall amount of ventilation, as there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to light your smoker only to find it keeps going out.

When I tried my first smoking run there were about a fifth of the holes there are now. Fire needs air!

When I tried my first smoking run there were about a fifth of the holes there are now. Fire needs air!

It’s nice to be able to control the exact level of ventilation, as this enables you to control temperature and burn speed. I fitted a couple of pieces of spare hardboard which I could use to cover some or all of the holes.

5. Where to store the food

You have a number of options for how to store the food in the smoker. Traditionally you’d hang meat or fish from hooks. I did consider fitting a couple of bars, like you’d get in a wardrobe, and hanging the meat off those with butcher’s string. But in the end that seemed like a comparatively labour-intense option (and not suitable for cheese and other non-meat products) compared to a shelf.

You don’t want one side of your food up against a solid surface, because the smoke won’t reach the food on that side. That’s easily solvable by using a rack. You can either make your shelf out of, say, an old oven shelf (if that happens to fit nicely in your smoker) or you can do what I did and put in a solid shelf and sit the rack on top of that. We had a bunch of roasting and grilling racks lying around, so I just used those.

The shelves in the original unit were a bit too small, and the ridges at the back would have got in the way.

The shelves in the original unit were a bit too small, and the ridges at the back would have got in the way.

I was intending to sit the units upright, and use the shelves originally intended for baked beans and whatnot to sit the food on while it smoked. But (a) the shelves were a bit narrow and the gaps between rather small, and (b) at each level the cupboard had vertical dividers designed to stop things slipping down the back of the cabinet, and to run screws through to fix the unit to the wall, but which in our smoker would just get in the way and prevent larger items from straddling the two wall units. So at Becky’s suggestion, I turned the unit so that one of the doors was facing upward (the other door facing down of course, as the original kitchen units were now back-to-back), and cut some hardboard shelves, which sit on top of the ridge between the two units. I added a couple of stronger bits of wood to act as beams providing extra support to the shelves.

This is a top-down view of the smoking chamber. I used a couple of spare bits of wood as beams to support the hardboard shelf (which is not shown in this picture)

This is a top-down view of the smoking chamber. I used a couple of spare bits of wood as beams to support the hardboard shelf (which is not shown in this picture)

6. Spreading the smoke

To judge by smoker designs I’ve seen in books and online, this is an optional extra. But it seems important enough to mention. Simply put, if you just have your smoking fuel sat under some meat, at any given moment the smoke will be arising from a fairly small area of the burner. It will waft upwards and, most likely, strike a fairly small area of the smoking chamber. You’ll end up with some of your food getting the full force of the smoke, while the rest maybe doesn’t get any smoke at all.

The solution is pretty simple: you put a barrier between the fuel and the smoking chamber, with lots of holes in it through which the smoke can seep. Rather like the way a shower head spreads water which would otherwise come out in a single jet, this spreads out the smoke.

The shelves have dozens of holes drilled so the smoke spreads out.

The shelves have dozens of holes drilled so the smoke spreads out.

For our smoker, I simply drilled a bunch of holes in the shelves. Since the shelves more or less completely covered the gap between the burning chamber and the smoking chamber, this prevented the smoke from just going straight up, and instead spread it around nicely.

7. Thermometers

Getting a thermometer for a smoker is surprisingly difficult. Well, to be fair – not difficult at all, if you know where to look. I’m going to shortcut that process for you.

You can get lots of different kinds of thermometers. Meat thermometers, medical thermometers, oven thermometers, fridge thermometers. All of these have problems with them of one kind or another. Wrong temperature range (cold smoking is about 10 C to 32 C, with the ideal temperature in the mid-20s); not for measuring air temperature; can’t be read without opening the smoker and dispersing the smoke. But as it turns out, there is a thermometer that works perfectly, and is quite cheap.

Surprisingly, the one I ended up getting is a terrarium thermometer, for reptile houses. It has a probe with a longish cable so you can measure the inside of the smoker without opening it up, a digital readout that will do Fahrenheit or Centigrade, and measures a range of temperatures from -20C to 110C. Best of all, it cost less than £10. Here’s a link to the one I bought.

Best. Thermometer. Evar.

Best. Thermometer. Evar.

8. Other stuff

If you’ve done the above, you’ve got a working smoker. But there’s a few little nice-to-have things that you might want to consider.

First, where to put your smoker. It’s going to leak smoke over the course of many hours, so you probably don’t want it in the house. It has holes in the top, so you don’t want anywhere it’ll be exposed to rain. But you want at least a little ventilation so there’s fresh air to keep it burning. I’d also suggest somewhere with a bit of spare room for when you’re juggling trays of meat, gas rings, matches and so forth; and somewhere with a light so you don’t have to add a torch to that list, as you may find yourself refuelling after dark.

Second, consider adding a viewing port, or better yet a door big enough to slide the burning tray in and out. In the early days you’ll find yourself frequently wanting to check if the fuel has gone out, and you don’t want this to be difficult or to lose you a load of smoke. To access ours you have to open the lid, remove one of the two shelves, push aside two beams and then reach right to the bottom of the smoker. The only way to view the burning tray without following a similar process is to attempt to shine a torchlight through the ventilation holes while simultaneously looking through the self-same holes. Needless to say I’m already thinking about how to fit a viewing port to save me all this hassle.

Schmokin’ (Part 2)

[Part 2 of a series about designing and building my own cold smoker. Part 1 is here, part 3 is here.]

3. The smoking chamber

There are designs all over the internet and in various self-sufficiency books for creating your own smoker. I’ve seen designs based on converting an old oil drum, a filing cabinet, or building one out of brick. Our house is full of old odds and sods that might be usable. It has a defunct outdoor toilet which would probably do a great job. But we decided to go a bit smaller this time, and use an old metal kitchen cabinet that we had sitting out in our garage.

The cabinets just before I started drilling holes in them.

The cabinets just before I started drilling holes in them. Still quite dirty from our garage.

The basic requirement is something big enough to hold your burner and your food, air-tight enough that all the smoke doesn’t blow away, and capable of being fitted with ventilation holes and shelves or hooks or whatever you are going to use to support the food. It’s pretty common to divide the smoker into two parts, one where the burning happens and one where the smoking happens, either separated by a divider or perhaps even in two separate units connected by a tube that carries the smoke.

You might be wondering if another requirement is that the chamber not be flammable. Well, no. The burning tray (see part 1) definitely should meet that requirement, but as the fuel is only smouldering there isn’t any flame or sparks that could start a fire. You can buy cold smokers over the internet that are actually made from cardboard. So this is not a particularly important criterion (though probably a nice to have just for peace of mind).

In our case I wanted to keep it simple. We had two halves of a kitchen wall cupboard. The plan was to sit the burner in the bottom, and put the food on the shelves above, though as explained later, in practice I ended up standing it on its back, with one door facing towards the sky, and fitting a shelf in the new orientation. But, same principle.

The back of the cupboard was open (because the designer assumed it would be up against a wall) and one side of each unit also open (because the designer assumed they would be sat side-by-side). I put the cupboard units back to back, eliminating the problem of the open back, and then screwed a piece of hardboard to the open sides to make a completely contained unit.

There is no escape from this smoker. Except, you know, the door.

There is no escape from this smoker. Except, you know, the door.

I used decorator’s caulk to seal the gaps between the two units, to ensure that minimal smoke escaped from the unit (except via the ventilation holes at the top). I later read that a lot of smokers aren’t exactly air-tight and will have smoke leaking out a bit. So maybe that wasn’t necessary. But I can only imagine that it increases the tendency of the smoke to go where you want it, i.e. into the smoking chamber and then out the top, rather than just spreading out in all directions.

With that, the basic shell of the smoker was ready. In the next post I’ll talk about ventilation, where to put the food, spreading the smoke, thermometers, and a few other little things that make life easier.