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November, 2014

  1. Spiced apple bundt cake – thanksgiving recipe

    November 26, 2014 by sarah

    This recipe is dedicated to my American and German friends and now I’ll explain why. ‘Bund’ roughly means gathering in German (please correct me if Google is wrong) so I guess that this traditional ring cake would be to feed a group of people, hopefully friends, so it would be a ‘bundkuchen’. An alternative German translation is ‘waistband’ so probably equally suitable! Bundt is actually the trademarked name given to cast aluminum pans by Nordic Ware made in North America and made popular in the 1950’s and 1960’s. But bundt cakes seem to have been around longer than that and probably are an evolution of the gugelhopf/kugelhopf, a cake made of yeasted dough and baked in a similar tin. I guess a sponge cake is quicker and easier for most people these days than an enriched yeasted dough. There is no one recipe that defines a bundt cake so it is completely open to interpretation – my ideal. Because a large point of a bundt cake is the molded decoration on the cake (and therefore the cost of the tin), bundt cakes are generally simply decorated with icing sugar or a pour-over glaze.













    I have been drooling over pretty bundt cakes in bloggerland  for many weeks now. Though just a cake, the distinctive ring shapes with folds and peaks really pulls this cake into another level of sculptural. But I really did not feel like paying £30 plus for one of the ultra pretty Nordic Ware ones. Until I found one half price in TK Maxx this past Friday; I couldn’t resist. So cake tin bought, I needed a recipe that would do justice to my new tin. Big problem; all the recipes I could find were in cups and sticks of butter. For a precise chemical reaction such as cake making, inaccurate and annoying American measurements are infuriating. So I made up my own recipe, a sort of amalgamation of several different recipes from the USA which I converted to weight measurements and added some inspiration of my own. I have to admit it worked out well and I will be looking forward to experimenting with my pretty tin again in the future.


























    This cake is lovely and moist and looks so impressive sitting on a pretty cake stand with glaze dribbling down the sides. The glaze forms a tasty crust and helps the cake keep longer, as does the addition of ground almonds. I think this would make a perfect Thanksgiving centre piece for those of us who don’t like pumpkin pie or who don’t live in the USA. Although the recipe list looks extensive, it really isn’t. If you haven’t got all the spices, try substituting ground mixed spice.

    Spiced Apple Bundt Cake with Maple Glaze

    Makes 12-14 servings
    225g unsalted butter, soft
    150g golden caster sugar
    150g soft brown sugar
    250g plain flour
    75g ground almonds
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
    1/2 teaspoon fine salt
    1 teaspoon ground ginger
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
    1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
    5 medium eggs
    200ml natural yogurt
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    zest of 1 lemon
    30ml or so of milk
    3-4 medium apples (about 400-450g), peeled, cored and finely chopped
    100g chopped pecans, toasted
    For the glaze –
    120g icing sugar
    30g unsalted butter
    50ml maple syrup
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    Preheat the oven to 180 ºC/160 ºC fan. Generously grease and flour a 12 cup (1.4 L) bundt tin. My tin is 10 cup capacity so I also greased  four mini loaf tins.
    In a medium bowl, sift together the dry ingredients except the sugars.
    In a jug, mix together the yogurt, vanilla extract, eggs and lemon zest until the eggs are well beaten.
    In another large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy; you will probably want to use an electric mixer for this. With a large spoon mix in the wet ingredients and then the dry but do not over mix (there should still be streaks of flour). If at this stage the batter is rather dry then add some milk – I needed 30ml.  Add the pecans and apples and mix again until well mixed.
    Scrape the batter into the prepared bundt tin – it should not be filled more than three quarters full so if you have extra mix then put it in additional tins.
    Place in the middle of the preheated oven for 45 minutes to an hour; smaller cakes will take proportionally less time (the mini tins took 30 minutes).
    Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 30 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack to finish cooling.
    Meanwhile make the glaze; heat the butter and maple syrup in a small pan until melted and bubbling. Take off the heat and beat in the sugar and then the vanilla. Leave to cool to thicken and pour over the cake once the cake is cold otherwise the icing will just run off.

  2. Friday off means making time!

    November 23, 2014 by sarah

    I love it when I have a day off work to set aside for just ‘me’ stuff; no study or work and I get up whenever I want, do whatever I want, eat what and when I want. Unfortunately they only happen after I’ve worked 11 tiring days in a row. Made even worse this week a horrible flu-slash-cold. The flu bit has passed but left me energy-less and a snot monster! Poor me. But back to my Friday. After the free motion embroidery class at Fabric HQ’s new head quarters last week, I had a fabric picture to finish and several more ideas to put into motion. I made the chicken picture at the class and was toying up whether to add more embroidery to it but decided that less is more in this case and left it alone, just mounted it and then found I had no suitably sized frame. So that started a Friday morning shopping trip when I realised I would also need supplies for the next few projects; The Plainstitch in Wendover, Chilterns brewery for supplies for Jim, Fabric HQ (and a peek next door at Obsidian Art for inspiration) and Hobbycraft in Aylesbury.

    So here is the finished chicken. I am quietly satisfied with my first piece of free motion embroidery. I am toying with the idea of doing my three hens in a triple aperture frame and I would try to inject some of their individual personalities into the pictures.













    I started this owl at the class but ran out of time to complete it. I definitely need more practice with the wording; it is very rustic looking! But I love the heart shaped button beak that I found in my button box.


















    I am really excited about this medium as feels so free and impressionistic. Or perhaps that is just because I have changed myself, away from the perfectionist child that wasn’t happy with anything I produced to a more mature and relaxed adult. I don’t know the answer to that because my photography is still perfection driven but this combination of sketching with a machine and lovely bits of fabrics and the addition of anything else has really captured me. I am so entirely entralled that I have started on an ambitious project to make a fabric picture of our house. I hope to finish it before Christmas – I’ll let you know how I get on!

    I also finished the crochet flower brooch that I started on our weeks holiday in Suffolk. Here it is, ready to wear, perhaps on my tweed jacket if the rain holds off long enough!


  3. Spice 7 – Paprika – potatoes with chorizo

    November 22, 2014 by sarah

    I was unsure whether or not to give paprika its own entry in the 40 spices line up. The reason being that there is no clear distinction between paprika and ground chilli; both are made from ground dried Capsicum annum varieties. I suppose the biggest difference would be in the heat level and therefore the usage of the spice, but even then there is great overlap; ranging from mild and sweet to hot and fiery. Although paprika is most often associated with Hungarian and central European cuisine (goulash and such like), it is also widely used in Spanish cooking where it is known as pimentón and this is where my favourite paprika comes from. Pimentón de la Vera is dried over smoking oak logs that impart a deep smokey flavour and aroma to the paprika. And of course, the delicious and versatile chorizo sausage is flavoured with Spanish pimentón.

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    This Spanish dish is lovely as a simple one pot supper served with a green salad, or as part of a tapas type spread. This amount made enough for dinner for 4 people. I adapted this recipe from Sophie Grigson ‘Spices’.


    Potatoes with chorizo – Patatas a la extremeña

    2 tablespoons olive oil (not extra virgin as the flavour will be overwhelmed)
    250g chorizo sausage from a ring (not the ready sliced, ready to eat type), skinned and roughly chopped
    1.5kg waxy potatoes cut into medium chunks (I used new potatoes)
    2 onions, sliced into thin half moons
    1 red pepper, cored, deseeded and sliced
    1 green pepper, cored, deseeded and sliced
    3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
    1 tablespoon smoked pimentón (I used agridulce – medium hot)
    2 bay leaves
    Heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed pan. Add the chopped chorizo and fry until oil is released.
    Add the onions and season with salt, cook gently until translucent (about 15 minutes). 
    Add the rest of the ingredients with enough water to just come up to the top of the potatoes.
    Bring to the boil and simmer gently until the potatoes are cooked (about 20-30 minutes depending on type and size).
    The juices should of almost completely disappeared. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
    It is ready to serve straight away but it also reheats very well the next day.

  4. Brownies Not Girl Guides

    November 12, 2014 by sarah

    Truthfully I cannot call this recipe ‘best ever brownies’ or ‘perfect brownies’ because they are not. Despite trying several recipes over the years, I have yet to find one which is not just a little cakey especially around the edges. And that is not what a brownie is about; it must be soft, gooey and almost fudgey in the centre but with a pleasing crispy top. And I like mine to taste of CHOCOLATE! Nuts good, chocolate chunks brilliant, fruit no. I am posting this recipe because it is the closest I have got to home baked brownie perfection and it gives me something to work on next time. I don’t make them very often because they are expensive to make (all that good quality chocolate) and very bad for you (lots of butter and sugar). But what are holidays for if not for spoiling yourself. We ate the whole tray, myself and my husband, during the week we had away.

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    Next time I think I will try less flour, perhaps 100g, and half flour half coco powder. And perhaps try using some soft brown sugar.

    Almost Perfect Brownies


    125g butter, unsalted
    160g plain choclate (good quality, coco solids greater than 60%)
    200g caster sugar (golden if you have it)
    1 tablespoon honey or golden syrup
    4 medium eggs
    150g plain flour
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1 tablespoon ground coffee or instant coffee
    150g mixed nuts – walnuts, almonds, pecans work well
    Grease and line a baking tin about 20cm by 20cm (9″ x 9″) with baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 160º C fan.
    In glass bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring occasionally until smooth and silky.
    In a separate larger bowl, mix the dry ingredients except the nuts. Do not bother to sift the flour as you don’t want to add extra air.
    Once the butter and chocolate is melted, take off the heat and stand until it is finger temperature (less than 30º C) otherwise you will scramble the eggs. Add the honey or golden syrup and then beat in the eggs one at a time. When well beaten, add this wet mixture to the dry and beat until mixed and then mix in nuts until evenly distributed.
    Pour the brownie mix into the prepared tin and pop in the oven on a middle shelf.
    Start checking after 20-25 minutes. You want to take the brownies out when any wobble is gone from the middle of the tin but not any more – it is better they are slightly under done than over. A skewer will never come out clean so you cannot use this test. Allow to cool in the tin before cutting into squares.
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  5. Fresh Dates

    November 10, 2014 by sarah

    This isn’t a recipe at all but I felt I needed to share this moment with you. I came across something I hadn’t eaten before right here in old blighty, in fact in the local town. Walking through town to post a letter one day, I noticed a new green grocer had opened up. There was an eye catching display of veggies in boxes outside in the late afternoon Autumnal sunshine but what caught my eye was these; fresh dates, also know as Barhi.


    Barhi are an Arabic delicacy, typically eaten during Ramadan. Now, as far as I remember Ramadan typically falls in August so I don’t know if anyone would be buying them in October, but I did. I enjoyed eating them and I am glad for the experience to do so without travelling to exotic lands, but to be honest I don’t think I’ll bother again. When bitten into they are surprisingly crunchy like a good apple and immediately intense sweetness fills the mouth. But afterwards they have an astringency which I can best describe as biting into a seriously under-ripe banana. Perhaps once tried is enough for these.

  6. Quinces and Quince Jelly recipe

    November 6, 2014 by sarah

    After last years mildly disappointing foray into the world of quinces, I decided to brave another go. Especially as I was gifted a bag of freshly picked quinces via a friend. I am glad I gave them another chance because this year I think I finally got what quinces are about.


    Quinces are like a cross between an apple and a pear but with an amazing floral fragrance. Larger than a typical pear, but with a similar shape, they have a bright yellow lumpy skin and are rock hard to cut with a grainy texture. Unique is what I would call them. They are an old-fashioned fruit and were once considered an aphrodisiac and sweatmeats made of quince were served at the end of tudor banquets to help with digestion (and quite possibly the former mentioned effect too). I think what is different about this year’s quinces are that I left them in the fruit bowl for a couple of weeks; they developed some brown soft spots but their famous perfume was immediately apparent. I was a little short of time once the quinces were ready so I decided to try making quince jelly as I can make jam/jelly while listening to lectures for my course; multi-tasking! I was really surprised by the beautiful coral pink jelly that emerged. It wasn’t this colour until being boiled with the sugar. And I cannot stop eating the jelly. Mainly on its own straight from the jar, but also with cheese and  real ham or as a filling for a sponge with whipped cream.

    Now I understand the special-ness of quinces, some recipes I need to try in the future include a flavoured liqueur called ratafia, poached with spices and adding them to apples in pies and crumbles. There are also some intriguing Persian recipes out there too. For more inspiration see historic food and some of the recipes on British Larder such as quince curd, chutney and crumbles.


    Quince Jelly

    1-2 kg quinces, ripe and fragrant
    thinly pared rind and juice of 1 lemon
    granulated sugar
    Wash the quinces, rub off the soft down on their skins if present and remove bruised or blemished parts. Roughly chop the whole quinces, skin and cores, and place in a large pan with the lemon rind. Add enough to water to just come to the top of the quinces. Simmer gently for an hour or so until very soft. Stir in the lemon juice.
    Strain the whole lot in a jelly bag (sterilised with boiling water) overnight. I squeeze my jelly bags a little to get more juice out and I do not find it affects the clarity of the the final product (if you read about making jellys then squeezing the bag is supposed to be forbidden as it gives a cloudy jelly).
    Measure the juice and pour into a clean pan. Add 450g of granulated sugar for every 600ml of juice. Heat gently, stirring frequently until the sugar is dissolved. The bring to the boil and boil vigorously until setting point is reached – I found it only took about 10 minutes. Skim, pot into hot sterilised jars and seal.


  7. A little time away

    November 2, 2014 by sarah

    Last week we had a lovely relaxing holiday in sweet little cottage in the middle of the Suffolk countryside. It was a perfect antidote to our rushed and full every day lives and a change from our usual holiday locations of exotic and busy. I couldn’t do ‘nothing’ all week so we had a few day trips out to the coast at Aldeburgh, Sutton Hoo, the cute villages of Long Melford and Lavenham and some dog walks. Plus I learnt how to crochet (2 different types of flowers), read several books (finished off the Harry Potter series I have been reading this year) and started to teach myself mindfulness (more practice required). We also collected bullaces (a type of wild plum – perfect for a variation on sloe vodka), medlars (recipes to come once bletting has occurred) and lots of apples to be pressed to cider. And further foodie exploits at a fantastic market in Lavenham where we stocked up cupboards with special honeys and the freezer with wild game (teal, rabbit, wild duck, pigeon, venison). Also some lovely meals out at a pub within staggering distance, The White Horse at Edwardstone, and smart well cooked modern French restaurant in Lavenham , The Great House. A thoroughly relaxing week.


    Bridge sign at Coggeshall


    Jim picking medlars


    Medlas at Coggeshall Barn – 13th century monastic barn


    The beach at Adlesburgh


    Crooked house in Lavenham


    Jim putting in some good hard work plus dog


    Learning to crochet – with tea and chocolate


    Jim and I outside Ickworth (National Trust)


    My work table for the week – tea and chocolate too


    Lovely display of pumpkins at farmers market