Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Recipes from a Normal Mum

So Blue turned 11 on Monday in a whirl of Lego, lemonade bottle rockets, Jonny English, a sleepover notable for reminding me (as the older sister of 2 brothers) exactly how much hilarity farting causes a group of pre-pubescent boys, the now obligatory cinammon buns and a roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding dinner that was memorable if nothing else for absolutely the best Yorkshires I've ever made: beautifully risen, light, fluffy, golden. Yorkshire pudding of dreams. But I digress (although there is a point to me telling you that.)

It was a busy weekend, and in the interests of stocking up in advance, I made a smoked fish tart for the Husband and I to eat on Friday evening, with a view to leftovers that would feed us quickly and easily should the need arise.

I took the opportunity to delve into 'Recipes from a Normal Mum' by Holly Bell, which I acquired via a Facebook competition run by the lovely Crumbs . Suffolk Smokehouse Tart falls in the 'Food for the Great Outdoors' section - mainly because it's inspired by Holly Bell's summer holidays on the Suffolk coast. Very good it was too. I must admit to buying the pastry, but I'll make it again with the pastry included in the recipe because I like the idea of the addition of the ground mustard seeds. How the tart turns out depends on the strength of flavour of the smoked fish you select - I used what turned out to be quite mild flavoured smoked mackerel I tentatively picked up in Aldi - and it was totally delicious - warm from the oven and cold over the weekend, a big hit.

I have to say I wasn't sure about this book. Firstly, I have to say that the title put me off slightly. Normal Mum?? Who is the Normal Mum here? Not me that's for sure. But then I guess "Recipes from a Deranged, Sleep-deprived Mum" might not have the same attraction, and any way, I doubt Holly Bell is deranged or sleep deprived in that desperate way you can be after your first child  - she has 3 kids - she's an old hand. But you know what I mean - 'normal mum'. Is anyone 'normal'?

Rant over, and on to the second reason for my hesitancy: it's not because I didn't think the recipes wouldn't be any good, because the Smokehouse tart shows they most definitely are, but because I'm not sure it's a book I need any more. I know that saying you don't NEED a cook book is a bit of a heresy in these food blogging parts, but hear me out. In some ways, this book takes me back to the dark days when I was a deranged, sleep-deprived mum. The days before Blue became ill when I would weep at his refusal to eat the salmon fishcakes that Annabel Karmel assured me he'd love, and then weep a second time when I allowed him to smother said fishcakes in ketchup to get him to eat them... and then when Blue was ill and Pink arrived and I sleep-walked through my days, going from one meal to the next in a total fug of confusion, panic and indecision. That culinary rut when you feel you should create delicious and tempting meals for everyone, but either because you've gone back to work, or the second child came along or for some other reason, you feel completely and utterly devoid of the ability or energy to do so. Or was it just me? (Please, please say it wasn't just me...) 

Anyway, this is very much a book to get you out of that rut, and to get you to remember that you can absolutely cook interesting food for your kids and the adults in your life - that the 2 aren't mutually exclusive, and it doesn't need too much effort. It's also a good mix of sensible, nutritious food and the treats and quick fixes which, I'm sorry, but everyone needs, and never more so than when you've got small children. Mini mash ups is a genius idea for small kids, and well, Banoffee Hazelnut Cookie Crumble anyone? Hmm I thought so.

The book is divided up into sections aimed at the different scenarios you might be called on to cook in - feeding a crowd, feeding kids, feeding your partner... and although I haven't tried anything other than the tart, there are a number of recipes that I'm mentally adding to my meal plans: I love the sound of the Guerilla Gardner's Baghdad Beef Stew, the garlic mushroom crackle pie and Stew's keema matar - all the slightly more 'adult' recipes. The specifically children's recipes are great - just the sort of thing I'd have wanted to cook when the kids were smaller - but not now.

And to be honest, I think that's where I am these days. I am mostly out of that rut. Blue's requested food for his birthday weekend included chilli with all the trimmings (guacamole, hot salsa), and the delights specified at the outset of the post. A testament to the fact that the weaning days, the fussy days, the days of meals for them and meals for us, the days of food-related despair. I can cook pretty much as I choose - and if I need to adapt a recipe slightly, I have the confidence to do that. I have Nigella to thank for that, and to a lesser extent Hugh. Tana Ramsey also helped. But if it had been around when I needed it, I think Recipes from a Normal Mum would have done the job too.

Friday, 21 November 2014

How to succeed shopping in Aldi...with a little effort

I do seem to have been in reflective mood recently. Not sure why that is - I've never been one for too much introspection, even when I was trying to be a goth. But having just purchased tickets to take Pink to see Olly Murs, something I thought I'd never do (and not just when I was trying to be a goth - at which point, I hasten to add, Mr Murs was probably no more than a proverbial twinkle - I feel so OLD) I thought the time was probably right to 'fess up to something else I never thought I'd do - shop at Aldi.

Of course it's quite the thing these days, isn't it, to declare that you shop at Aldi, and I don't want really want to jump on the band wagon. What I will say is that while I've called this post 'How to succeed shopping in Aldi...' what I should probably have called it is 'Confessions of a food snob' because that is basically what I realise I am guilty of, and what you have to get over if deep down you believe your supermarket soulmate is Waitrose (or Booths for those of you that know) with a liberal sprinkling of the farmers market.

Not that there's anything wrong with shopping at Waitrose if that's your environmentally-friendly jute bag, and definitely nothing wrong with a farmers market, but, as they say, there is another way. Of course in an ideal world perhaps there wouldn't be any supermarkets and we would all shop in small, hyper-local stores but certainly in my life as it currently is, this is unrealistic.

My relationship with discount supermarkets goes quite a long way back. I have memories of my mum coming home triumphant from a Lidls with bags of delicious Liebkuchen - spiced German cookies - but at what ever impressionable age I was, the way she talked about it all being so, well cheap, it was just embarrassing. And now that I have a nearly 11 year old who is suffering from the crippling agonies of living with THE MOST embarrassing parents E-V-V-A, well I can kind of see how her enthusiasm for Lidl turned into a negative in my brain.

For a long time - since I've been in charge of the food shopping, I have essentially avoided discount supermarkets like the plague. I did frequent Leader Price during the year I lived in France in my very early 20s because it was close to the flat I was living in, and of course a discount supermarket in France was bound to be the equivalent of Waitrose (or at least Sainsburys) in the UK. I've also got a deep seated suspicion of Tescos - don't ask me why, but there's a hierarchy that I've lived with for a long time now and it involves trying to buy locally where possible and Sainsburys online delivery (because Ocado is just too expensive) for everything else.

Well since moving West, I've had to change all that. The nearest Sainsburys is a long way away for a start (in fact I'm not sure I know where it is) - no online delivery from them here - and in fact plans for a Sainsburys in Cardigan now appear to have been scrapped as the supermarket has all but admitted to pulling out. Not necessarily a bad thing. Morrisons is a 40 minute drive away (at least - assuming you don't get stuck behind a tractor) in Carmarthen and I think there's an Asda somewhere down Llanelli way...

There are plenty of fabulous farm shops round here, market gardens and the like, but I like to use those for my fresh stuff - meat, veg, eggs - and not the endless tins of chopped tomatoes and pasta we get through.

So what are the options? Well here, it's Tescos and Aldi. There is a Co-Op too but I don't go there - my mind is firmly set in its way of thinking that the Co-Op is for emergencies only (from where we used to live - talk about stuck in my ways). And reader, after coming out of Tescos a few times early on since the move here practically weeping about the cost of my supermarket shopping, which seemed to have inflated beyond belief, I decided I had to do something. So I ventured forth into Aldi.

Now, Aldi is not the best shopping experience in the world. You need to remember to have a £1 coin for the trolleys which can be a challenge, the car park is quite small (but see speed of shopping, below, which encourages high car turnover). You can't always rely on finding that fabulous product that was there last week or last month because it simply may not be there - but if you haven't deemed Aldi worthy of your attention, you really should give it a go. 

The price element is certainly attractive - I would say that I have more than halved what I spend in supermarkets. On 'big shop' days, I find myself in a little challenge to see if I can actually spend more than £50. It's pretty hard, if not impossible, to do. Once (can I admit to this? Deep breath...here goes) I actually BOUGHT A DAILY EXPRESS (I can't believe I am admitting this - the ultimate betrayal of my Guardian reading-self?) to get a token that gave me £5 off my shop - but even with purchasing said paper, I had to buy 2 more packs of chocolate buttons to bump the value up to the requisite £50 to then pay £45...The advantage of course is that I can spend more on delicious, local, fresh produce that this area excels in, thus satisfying my inner Waitrose customer.

And shopping in Aldi is so quick. Not only have I cut my shopping bill, I have cut my shopping time. No dawdling round the higher-end establishments agonising over whether to go for branded or own brand, and whether paying for the 'premium' range actually means I'm getting a better product. No, at Aldi, the reduced choice is actually an advantage.

And quality? Well, as I'll share, you do need to be slightly circumspect. The middle aisles for example, stuffed full of the latest offers which Aldi has become renowned for - discount Wagyu beef anyone?  Some of them are fab, some are not. Spending £1 on a pack of 5 pairs of pants for Pink might not have been the wisest £1 I've ever spent, but I guess it was worth finding that out... But for tinned goods, cereals, rice and pasta, baking ingredients - well you know, it's really pretty good. And then there's the special selections - I even bought some Laverstoke Park Beef Jerky there once, and it definitely didn't cost £2.49. And the prosecco with the orange label for £4.99 (yes, £4.99) is exceptionally drinkable. And the chorizo (in fact cooked meats generally)... and the chocolate (they do this really lush milk chocolate with almonds bar which is to die for - you'll find me eating it in the car park...) the list goes on. You'll establish your own favourites, I won't impose my pre-conceived ideas on you!

But to get the most out of Aldi, you really do need to bear a few things in mind, so I thought if you were dithering, wondering about whether to embark on a voyage of Aldi discovery, I'd share what I wish someone had told me.

- Remember your £1 for the trolley; there's no (un)'helpful' customer service desk to exchange your purseful of coppers for a shiny coin. Alternatively loiter by the trolley park and persuade someone to take your fistful of change in exchange for their (empty) trolley.

- Go with a list. Yes, I know this applies to all supermarkets, but the likelihood is that you will get your head turned by all the amazing products and how cheap they are. You might even end up spending more than £50.

- If there's something there that you use a lot of - buy it (even if it's not on your list). I got a huge number of jars of 'Paprika Smoked' in Aldi recently - I suspect because there had been a labelling malfunction that meant Schwartz felt unable to peddle them to the 'more upmarket' stores. Too bad! Also look out for things like bottled cherries in syrup - fabulous on top of cheesecake...

- But be honest with yourself - how many luxury marzipan stollens can you actually eat before Christmas?

- Be brave. I'll admit to an inherent nervousness about buying something that isn't familiar - so indoctrinated have I been that cheap food is inherently bad food. This is simply not the case. At least we haven't died yet.

- There are some things that you just can't get in Aldi - or you can get it but it's just a false economy. This will be personal to you. For me, loo roll comes top of the list. Sorry, Aldi, but there it is.

- Finally, and most importantly - if you haven't experienced check out at Aldi, brace yourself. No longer will you scan for the shortest queue. Checkout at Aldi requires a bit of a brain re-wire. If you're doing a relatively big shop, you need  time to get all your items out onto the conveyor belt and (if you're anal like me and like to bag things in a certain way - it's all coming out now, isn't it) ordered as you like. Also open your empty bags that you bought with you and place them into the trolley and have them ready to receive your goods. Hopefully you've done all this before it's your turn. Get your trolley into position and on your marks... get set... GO! I challenge you not to end up just chucking everything in as quickly as possible to try and keep up with the flying hands of the checkout staff who have been trained to smile and ask you difficult questions about your weekend whilst shooting your purchases through the scanner at warp speed, and on to the impossibly short counter at the other side at lightening speed. I understand this is a tactic, part of why the costs can be kept down, Get used to it - and get in training... 

So there you go. Confession over. Now get thee to an Aldi...

*Just in case you are wondering, I haven't been paid or otherwise induced to write this post by Aldi or anyone else. Just think of it as a public service broadcast

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Atkins & Potts Buttery Hollandaise

It's lovely when brands get in touch to ask if I want to try their products - even better if they come back to you a second time.

I've already enjoyed some of the Atkins & Potts range of savoury sauces/marinades including a lovely Mexican chipotle chilli sauce, a smoky BBQ marinade which we enjoyed smeared on pork in the summer and is a great addition to quick homemade tomato soup, and a beer & horseradish sauce. So when they got back in touch and asked if I'd like to try some of their festive products, well, it was a no-brainer really, and I was delighted to be sent a jar of buttery hollandaise, a small bottle of pomegranate syrup, and a cranberry, port and orange zest finishing sauce.

After my gin-soaked evening out the other weekend, I have high hopes for a little gin/pomegranate syrup and prosecco combo (watch this space) - and the finishing sauce is destined for a piece of roast ham, but for now, let me tell you about the Buttery Hollandaise Sauce.

As I said, I haven't been feeling that brilliant recently, and that's permeated pretty much everything I do. Like so many people, I juggle quite a lot of things, and so when I'm feeling off colour, there's some definite prioritising that happens, and thinking of interesting and inventive dinners drops to the bottom of the list pretty quickly. Still, I wanted to cook the Husband and I a decent meal on Friday night that we could share together after a hard week, so the easy option in these circumstances is always fish. Some salmon and some dill, wrapped in foil and in the oven for 20 minutes, left over potato and celeriac mash portioned up and fried in cakes, and some peas and Bob, as they often say, is your uncle. Or in this case, your quick easy dinner - and especially so with a blob of this buttery Hollandaise on the side.

Now you purists may say you should make your Hollandaise, but I've had a go in the past, and really - really - when time is of the essence, and you can get sauce like this in a jar, why would you? I thought it was lovely. Yellow and lemony, enough flavour to complement the salmon but not so much to overpower it. Delicious. I'm starting to think Eggs Benedict for Christmas Day morning.

And I can't wait to try the rest of the goodies.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The London Gin Club at The Star at Night

We went to the fair on Monday. 

Despite the rain that persisted, we gamely surveyed the stall upon stall of utter tat that lined Cardigan's main street - and some of the side roads too, before heading to the main attraction - the rides.

Now, somewhere along the line, in the last few years, I have clearly become significantly more risk averse and middle aged than I thought. I was, until Monday evening, labouring under the clearly false impression that I was still, essentially, about 23 at least in my outlook in life if not in the stomach muscle department. But clearly this is not the case.

I used to utterly love fairs. I'm not talking 'theme parks' here - tame beyond belief, however thrill inducing the ride - but travelling fairs. Here for a week, on to the next town the following week.

And what did I love? Well, where to start?

The noise: banging dance music, generators roaring, the exortations of the ride 'masters' to "scream if you want to go faster", (incidentally, I don't know if 'ridemaster' is the correct term, but it seems appropriate) - and, of course, the screams... 

The smells: of chips, of doughnuts, of diesel... 

The total visual overload - lights, people, the cool emanating from the lads operating the rides, spinning the Waltzer carriages whilst smoking fags and eyeing up the talent (not me - I hasten to add - I was never in the 'talent' bracket - my mum would never let me wear that much make up...), the hormones whirring round the teenage gaggles... 

And last but not least, the rides themselves. My goodness, but I loved those rides. The faster, the more spinning, the more screaming, the more adrenaline and risk of whiplash the better. 

But, apparently, no longer.

As I walked into the swimming pool car park in Cardigan on Monday night, transformed into a seething mass of humanity, I could only wonder in horror at the health & safety regime that means Councils ban games of conkers, and yet allow travelling fairs to cart rides like this around in pieces on the back of a lorry, to be reassembled in various small towns around the country.

Seriously, this thing was scary - a long arm with the seating on the end which rotated at the same time as the arm swung backwards and forwards high over the crowds. Despite a turn on the Waltzer, being spun by some nonchalant youth, screaming like a good 'un, despite the hook a ducks, the chips, the doughnuts, I spent the whole time we were there terrified that this construction would somehow collapse in the manner of some dreadful B movie causing tragedy.

It didn't help that the Husband started to tell me how his H&S colleague at work refuses to allow her kids to attend these kinds of fairs because the number of accidents are so high.   

So given that I am clearly now so blimmin' middle aged, a far more appropriate outing perhaps was my trip to London at the weekend to the London Gin Club. 

Quite a mission for me, involving a drive to Carmarthen, a train to Swansea packed with Welsh rugby fans and more cans of lager at 10.30 in the morning than you may ever have seen... (there I go again - so middle aged... could I purse those lips any more?), then another train from Swansea all the way to London, but which became like a different train once the lager and rugby fans were disgorged upon Cardiff... 

But one Gillian Flynn novel (Sharp Objects - very, very good), and a stop in Earlsfield for a few cuddles with my (unutterably cute) nephew and a reapplication of mascara  later, and I was in central London for a date with some of my lovely Hampshire friends, and GIN!

The London Gin Club occupies the Star at Night pub on Great Chapel Street just off Oxford Street.- "dedicated to tracking down the finest gins for your drinking enjoyment" I can certainly agree with that.

We'd booked a table to which we were duly escorted, provided with menus and given a brief introduction. It's a small, intimate bar and we were downstairs in a cellar like alcove. Very convivial for catching up and raucous cackling.

They have an impressive range of gins, served with your tonic of choice (Fever Tree in all its delicious forms, Fentimans and of course good old Scchhhhhhhhweppes, plus 1724 which I 'd never come across before) - and with tailored garnishes depending on the gin.

We all chose tasting menus to start with - I went for the blind tasting which entailed 4 different gins, 4 ice filled 'Copa' balloon glasses, 2 bottles of Fever Tree and a delicate dish of possible garnishes. As instructed, those of us taking this option tasted the gin neat on ice before adding the tonic, tasting again and then deciding on an appropriate garnish. All a bit of fun, you may say, but tasting the gin neat on ice and then with the tonic and actually taking time to think about what the gin tasted of instead of simply seeking a slightly fuzzy feeling on a Friday night, was a genuinely interesting experience. I also loved that the 4 gins on the blind tasting were very very different, and tasting them next to each other really demonstrates that gin isn't just  - well, gin. It was also a revelation how different garnishes can really bring out the different flavours of the gins. I'll admit that having the tray of potential garnishes made me feel a little like I was back in play school, mixing up 'potions' - but in a good way you understand.

As you might imagine, there was much chat, and sharing of glasses - I was a little disappointed that none of the gins on the blind tasting menu were pared with the herbs that I saw on the menu - you might not think that gin goes with mint or with coriander, but you'd be wrong. Pared with the right gin (in this case, Pickerings with lime peel and coriander, Becketts with mint) - totally, mouthwateringly, delicious. Forget travelling fairs, this is the kind of living on the edge I can handle.

Tasting menus done, we had time for one last drink before sedately (ahem) venturing out for dinner. The London Gin Club offers an array of gin cocktails which I'm pleased to say proved to be as delicious as they sound - as did my glass of Botanist & tonic garnished with lemon and thyme...

Now this was all very delightful - luscious gin served in great and convivial surroundings, with helpful advice and discussion with Sarah our waitress - but what about the cost. Well, it's a long time since I've done any drinking in London and I was prepared for it to all be quite shockingly expensive. May be I'd over-estimated but the blind tasting menu was £26 - that's £26 for 4 G&Ts made with premium gins and Fever Tree tonic, plus a tray of garnishes to play with in a great venue. It felt OK to me.

So the sights, sounds and thrills of the fair or the chat of good friends, the sound of tonic on ice and the tastes of premium gin. That along with the very tasteful and pretty visual spectacle of the Oxford Street lights and it's clear that what counts as a cracking night out has changed for me. 

But that's not necessarily a bad thing!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Spinach & Lentil Soup

I have been off my food.

Yes I know. Strange.

I had a run of irritating infections, general 'under-the-weatherness', a couple of weird migraine type things - and then a complete stinker of a cold that lasted for about 10 days and I'm only just really feeling better. It's been very irksome and makes me feel like I may not be quite as invincible as I thought. I wonder if it's one of those 'getting a little bit older' things - like the moment you hit 40 you get invited for a health check up thing, get lectured about all the things you know - make sure you get enough exercise, eat healthily, drink very very sensibly... They might as well send you a letter saying you're basically past it and it's all down hill from here.

Generally, I refuse to accept this - that I can ever get ill and stop working quite as efficiently as I was. But then something like this happens - and I do begin to wonder. Of course, as is my normal course of action when any kind of adversity strikes, I assumed the usual female standpoint of arch-soldiering on and carried on regardless, but this time, twice, I ended up in bed, and the whole thing culminated in nearly a week of just not wanting to eat much. Very, very odd.

Anyway, the end of this run of 'struggling on' (as we women tend to do) coincided with a period of the dog also appearing to be quite off colour. Nothing specific, but for a springer spaniel to not want to go for a walk 3 days running, well, reader, I was concerned.

Fortunately, in the end, all was well with the dog, and as I started to feel stronger, so he decided it was time to hit the fields. On a day of the most foul and horrendous weather possible.

The only thing that kept me going as I sploshed along was this soup. I know I've put spinach soup recipes up here before, but this is a definite improvement to the standard, involving lentils. It's perfect for miserable Autumnal days - and perhaps if you've been feeling off colour too, this might tempt you in the way it tempted me.

Spinach & Lentil Soup

1 tbsp oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic, quite thinly sliced
1 small lump of fresh ginger (about the size of your thumb top), peeled and sliced
1.2 litres of hot chicken stock (I made this up with 2 chicken stock pots which I've been pretty much converted to since I won some a couple of years ago)
1 medium hot chilli
100g red lentils
500g baby spinach

Heat the oil in a large pan.

Sweat the onion, garlic and ginger for a few minutes till softening.

Pour in the stock, split the chilli - remove the seeds if you think it will be too spicy - and chuck that in, along with the red lentils.

Bring it all up to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes till the lentils are soft, then add the spinach and cook for a further 4-5 minutes till its all wilted down, then blitz to make an amazingly green and spicy soup.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

The best steak sarnie ever?

Last Saturday, I had the best steak sarnie I think I've ever eaten. That includes plenty of steak baguettes in the kingdom of delicious rare beef (or boeuf) that is France. Yes really.

And where was this little piece of carnivorous heaven? The Watership Down Inn in our old North Hampshire stomping ground.

Back visiting friends at half term, Saturday found us not exactly at a loose end, but having discussed with out hosts how we didn't expect them to entertain us, and how they were totally happy with that as they had jobs to get on with too, we decided that the weather was too good to do anything other than enjoy the Autumn colour and go for a long walk, taking in a pub en route.

We walked mostly along the road from Overton to Freefolk, pausing to take in the site (and sight) of the newly opened Bombay Sapphire Gin Distillery that has taken up residence in the beautifully restored paper mill at Laverstoke (sadly we didn't visit on this occasion, but hopefully soon). 

The Watership Down Inn is a little way on, along the main road - and to be honest it's not a great part of this particular circular walk, but now that I know a steak sandwich of such lusciousness awaits at the other end, well, I expect it's walk I'll be doing on future visits.

In truth, the Watership Down Inn has had its ups and downs over the past few years. When we first moved to the area, it was a bustling, lively pub doing great value family food. With the extensive gardens and climbing frame it was a fab place to go with kids. A change of owners (may be 2) meant that standards definitely slipped but it's been with the current owners for the last 18 months and it's definitely worth a visit. The decor is fresh, the chairs are endowed with lovely soft sheepskin, and everything about it sings "good place to be".

We were 4 adults and 3 kids. 3 of us grown ups had ciabattas, the Husband had gammon egg and chips ("but no tomato" even though it was part of the meal) and pronounced it very good indeed. Blue indulged in the burger - fashionably encased as so many are these days in a brioche bun, but definitely a heavyweight, tasty burger - 2 patties, cheese, proper decent garnish (Samuel L Jackson would have been proud), and the 2 younger girls in our party had the 'mini' pizza which was much better than anticipated, being actually a chunky piece of ciabatta topped with tomato sauce and cheese - no insipid frozen piece of pap that often gets served up as part of a 'kids menu'.

And my steak ciabatta. I asked for it to be rare expecting medium rare at best, but rare it was. There was plenty of the advertised watercress, and generous smearings of the mustard mayo. The ciabatta was soft enough to allow a delicious soaking in of meat juices, but still substantial enough to hold the sandwich together. And the chips? Nothing short of divine. Hot, salty (but not too salty). Good and chunky. Crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside... The kind of chip I expect every potato would like to become.

According to the men of the party, the beer was also good, and Fred the dog heartily approved of the bowl of dog biscuits available... It was so great that despite the lovely Autumn weather, we found it hard to drag ourselves back outside, and head up to the Harrow Way for the walk home along this ancient by way. But we did and it was great. 

Lovely friends, good times, great food. Perfect!

Monday, 3 November 2014

Pear & Ginger Loaf Cake

It's been an Autumn showers kind of day.

A "back from a week away with a ton of washing and no hope of it getting dry" type of day.

A "failing to get on top of the chaos" type of day.

A "dog with conjunctivitis and separation anxiety" day.

A day where I was frantically searching for the Wunderweb at 7.37 a.m. when Blue declared that his new school trousers were definitely too long and the look on his face suggested tears were in the offing.

A day where my work 'to do' list looked scary and intimidating and I  felt a little overwhelmed.

It was also cake club day - Clandestine Cake, and as you've guessed, being the kind of day it was, the planned cake was never going to happen.

So I made a loaf cake - a humble, no nonsense kind of cake. The theme of 'Fireworks' which suggested much in the way of fancy icing has had to be satisfied with flavours of the season - ginger and cinammon, pears and walnuts. Fancy icing can wait. But as it was a "wait around for an hour in town while Pink has orchestra" type of day, after school, I did manage to get my hands on one little trick...

Pear & Ginger Loaf Cake

200g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinammon
200g unsalted butter, diced and at room temperature
150g tinned caramel
50g caster sugar
2 large eggs, beaten together
1 tbsp milk
2 balls of stem ginger, quite finely chopped
2 large pears, peeled and roughly chopped
walnut halves to decorate (optional)

3 tbsp syrup from the stem ginger jar
3 tbsp granulated sugar

Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin and pre-heat the oven to 160C/140C fan

Combine the flour, baking powder and cinnammon

Beat together the butter and caramel, then add in the sugar and continue to beat till light coloured and smooth.

Slowly add the egg, beating well after each addition - of it looks like it's going to split, add a little of the flour mixture in.

Beat in the rest of the flour, then quickly stir through the pears and ginger.

Scrape into the prepared tin and bake for at least an hour until a skewer comes out clean - mine took 1 hr 15 mins but it will depend on your oven.

Leave to cool in the tin, then mix together the ginger syrup and sugar with a tablespoon of water, poke holes all over the cake with a skewer, then drizzle over the gingery sugary drizzle.

Sparklers optional

But lots of fun...