Tag 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…
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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.
Ingredients
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.

Spring is bringing back my mojo.

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Greek Salad on our first outdoor meal of the year!

I am still in that third trimester funk of discomfort and exhaustion, I am still totally jealous and incredulous marvelling at all the homesteading, home schooling, art mama blogs I read from women zipping around managing 3 children with a 4th on the way who seem to fit triple the amount of stuff in a day that I do. I ration myself on them so I don’t get too blue about how little I seem to accomplish beyond keeping my son reasonably clean, away from the kitchen knives and well fed.

But in the last few days my energy levels have increased a surprising amount.  It might be the sunshine, it might be the impending deadline of Baby but I think it might be having gestational diabetes.  I have eaten refined sugar in 3 weeks and I think it has really levelled out my energy levels.  Hurray!  Silver linings!

I have completed projects!

2 baby cardigans knitted, blocked and bedecked with buttons (photos to follow)

1 pair of mended trousers for R

1 baby hat (corrected from the disaster here)

1 giant maslin pan full of homemade stock (which cleared 3 chicken carcasses out of the freezer)

18 Cheesy courgette muffins made with R (I want to do more cooking with him – so far going well)

3 portions of Lasagne for the freezer (for Babygeddon)

1 session of painting with R (I feel guilty if I’m too tired to have art time with him)

Work trip to Newcastle (which I totally survived)

With help from family I reviewed all my current baby clothes and sleeping sacks.  Worked out the gaps in my collection and decided to cast on for a quick red cardigan in lightweight wool just in case it is a chilly May when they arrive… And then I did some shopping (online because getting into an actual shop these days is more effort that it is worth!).

First up ‘The Creative Family’ by Amanda Blake Soule – full of ideas and projects that I love.  I’m mostly being good and plan to update my BIG LIST rather than feeling like I have to make them all NOW, NOW, NOW.

Although I’m tempted to make R a felt crown from the book using the same design as Max’s Crown in “Where the Wild Things Are’. I think he’d like that for his birthday and it would be easy to run up on the machine before the baby arrives…

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Second (ordered all the way from Australia!) Rhonda Hetzel’s new book ‘The Simple Home’.  You can’t get it in the UK so it had to come from the other side of the world.  But I’ve read her first book (and blog) so many times I realised I had to have this in hard copy. I’ll be reading it with a pencil and stack of post it notes, marking what I want to make as I go.

Lastly the yarn I need to finished a pair of navy socks for a friend has arrived.  I have struggled to knit with this yarn.  It make my hands cramp up something fierce.  But I want to get these off my back and I’m over half-way through the second sock.  I CAN get this done before B- Day, I know I can.

I’d love to hear about anyone else spending their third trimester lying on a sofa feeling like they barely have the energy to make a cup of tea.  It would make me feel less alone 🙂

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

Ingredients:

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

Method:

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.

Porkie pies

This weekend I fulfilled my year-long plan to make my own pork pie from scratch.

I used Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe from River Cottage Meat. Well… sort of. I used his recipe for the pastry, but screwed around with the meat content quite a bit.

Over 2 kilos of meat plus herbs. Hmmm... meaty.

Over 2 kilos of meat plus herbs. Hmmm… meaty.

Hugh calls for 1kg of pork shoulder, 250g belly pork and 250g salt pork. Well, I didn’t have any belly or salt pork spare, but I did have a pig’s head that needed using up. So I followed the recipe for making brawn right up to the point just before you set it in jelly, then added that to some pork shoulder we had left in our freezer. Making the brawn was actually the longest part of the recipe, as it’s 24 hours soaking in brine and 4 hours simmering in stock. I ended up with about 900g of lean shoulder meat, 900g of fairly fatty head meat, and 250g of fat from the head.

To make up the meat mix, I finely chopped all of the above – the head meat pretty much as finely chopped as if I’d minced it, the shoulder cut into roughly 5mm cubes. (That sentence barely describes the work involved – that’s a *lot* of chopping.) Then mixed with herbs and spices and a little salt.

You probably can't tell how weird this pastry is from this picture, but trust me. It's weird.

You probably can’t tell how weird this pastry is from this picture, but trust me. It’s weird.

Making the pastry was pretty easy. A 50/50 mix of butter and lard is added to some water, and melted over a gentle heat, and then mixed with some beaten egg into plain flour. It’s a pretty weird process – there’s something kind of disgusting about melting lard and butter together, and it gets worse as you stir it into the flour, which looks like it is sort of curdling before your eyes. But if you press ahead and keep mixing, it comes together nicely. The dough is pretty strange though. Texture-wise, it’s light and springy like bread dough, and very moist, almost sweaty, in a way that normally would call for more flour to stop it sticking to your hands – but in this case, it doesn’t stick at all.

After all that faff, it was pretty plain sailing. After an hour in the fridge, the pastry is rolled out and used to line a tin, the meat is packed in and then a pastry lid put on the top. A couple of hours in the oven and it’s done – a crisp, crunchy pastry and savoury meat filling. Yum!

25mm miniature added for scale.

25mm miniature added for scale.

A few of things merit further comment. First, although I had about 50% more meat than the recipe called for, I ended up needing more than double the amount of pastry. I’m not sure if I was just generous in how much pastry I used for each pie, but I ran out on the first batch and had to do a second.

Second, the brawn substitution seemed to work fine. However, the filling’s structural integrity wasn’t all that good. The meat crumbled a bit when the pie was cut. I have no idea whether that is what would have happened with the basic recipe.

Finally, I followed the traditional advice, to pour pork stock in to fill the gap that was supposed to develop between the filling and the pastry lid as the meat shrunk during cooking. The idea is that it fills the gap and then sets as jelly. What actually happened was that I poured the stock in, until it seemed to have filled the gap (a lot of stock used), and left it in the fridge. When I cut the pie open I discovered there wasn’t any gap to fill – evidently the meat hadn’t shrunk at all – and the stock had apparently been absorbed by the pastry, making it look a bit soggy and uncooked. On the second batch I didn’t bother with the stock, for this reason.

One of the disadvantages of spending hours on end processing a lot of pork, especially meat from the head, is that I end up feeling a little over-porked, so to speak. I probably won’t feel like actually eating my pork pie for a while. Nevertheless, it feels like quite an accomplishment.

Zero Waste Week: Use it or Lose it

This week has been zero waste week, I’ve been remiss in marking it on the blog but not at all remiss in observing my part of it at home

I think I might even be an Ambassador for ZWW which makes my shame all the greater.  Quick go over there and check out the cool stuff I keep forgetting to blog about!

The view from our local park.

The view from our local park.

I chose to focus on food because whilst I work hard to reduce waste there are always things I could do better and new tips and tricks to try out. This culminated in an ultimate Zero Waste Meal that I am incredibly proud of because almost all the ingredients were grown or made by me!

The meal was Potato and Kale stew and my ingredients looks liked this:

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Shallots (grown by us)

Garlic (grown and preserved by my Dad)

Cavelo Nero (grown by us)

Potatoes (grown by us)

Borlotti Beans (grown by us)

Parma Ham (grown and made by us)

Leftover shredded chicken (remnants of 4 chicken carcasses I used for stock)

2 cubes of chicken stock (made by me, reduced until concentrated and frozen in ice cube trays)

1.2 litres of whey (leftover from cheesemaking I used it to rehydrate the stock cubes)

Smoked Paprika (shop bought)

Olive Oil (shop bought)

The method was pretty simple after that..

Fry the shallots and garlic in the oil until softened and add the potatoes and ham.  Then add the paprika, chicken, whey and stock cubes and simmer for about 20 mins or until the potatoes are done.  Then add the cavelo nero (destalked and roughly chopped) and the beans – cook for another 10 mins.  Voila!

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It was incredibly flavourful and highly nutritious with all the extra protein from the whey and of course that Superfood darling – Kale!

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Growing your own food is really waste saving in so many ways, there is no packaging and no air miles, you only pick exactly what you need so nothing rots in the veg drawer and any trimmings can go on the compost heap to be put back into the soil.

Over the week I’ve been looking out for more food waste saving tips to pop down here:

1. Chillis – my chilli plants failed this year so I’ve had to buy them from the Supermarket.  I always get more than I need in a pack.  So I read online that you can just throw chillis straight in the freezer in a container and when you need them, get them out and use them as if they were fresh.  I have about 4 chillis in the freezer right now!

2. Milk – I over ordered milk recently and ended up with double what I needed.  I froze one of the bottles and use the other to make Paneer Cheese.  I used this blog post and the final recipe in it is for Queso Blanco which (as it turns out) is the same as paneer!  I used some of the whey in the above stew instead of water and the rest I’m freezing in portions for baking.

3. Preserving – as a Gardner with a lot of fruit trees at this time of year I am rushed off my feet trying to preserve the harvest.  Currently I’ve made two plum cakes, 7lbs of Damson Jam and nearly 3 litres of Blackberry Cordial.  There is much more to come this weekend.  There are lots of good jam and chutney recipes online and if you use homegrown or foraged produced they will often cost pennies.  Our 3 litres of Blackberry Cordial cost under a £1. I can’t bear to see blackberries rotting in the hedgerows near to a supermarket where they are being sold at £1.75 for 150g!

4. Pizza Sauce – I love this idea by A Girl Called Jack for making pizza out of leftovers.  I often have a couple of tablespoons of veggie stew, chilli, bolognese leftover and nothing to do with it.  How come I didn’t realise I could use it as pizza sauce!

Tarragon and veg frittata

This is a favourite recipe of mine. Frittata is an easy stand-by supper, which tarragon adds a robusy, almost meaty flavour to.

Most of this meal was prepared using stuff grown in our garden.

Most of this meal was prepared using stuff grown in our garden.

It’s easy enough to cook. The default recipe involves lightly frying some chopped onion, then adding half a kilo of cubed potato and frying for 10-15 minutes longer, then finally add a chopped courgette and fry for a few minutes more. On this occasion I substituted some spinach, of which we currently have a glut, for the courgette. I wilted it in the pan and then chopped. I reckon this would work ok with lots of different green veggies – kale, cabbage, chard, peas even.

Add eggy goodness.

Add eggy goodness.

Once the veg is done, add half a dozen eggs that have been beaten together with chopped tarragon. A good amount of chopped tarragon is needed, say a couple of tablespoons.

Top with cheese and bake in the oven for 30 mins at 180 C.

Feeling hungry now.

Feeling hungry now.

The result is delicious, filling, healthy and easy to transport for picknicking. Indeed, this is exactly what we did with it – an afternoon walk in a local wood munching on frittata (and Becky’s home-made chocolate cake) was a very pleasant way to pass the time. T Rex was particularly impressed and got quite upset when there wasn’t any left!