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Lemony Lemonies in Minnesota

I’ve been on my travels again, and am now in Woodbury, Minnesota, just outside the Twin Cities. We’re staying with more very dear friends, Tracy and David, who we haven’t seen since 2019 when we were all in Florida.

Flying over the Rockies!

They are in the process of moving home, and had a sizeable bowl of lemons as part of ‘set dressing’ for showing their beautiful home to prospective buyers. And now they have a buyer (fingers crossed!) so what to do with a large number of lemons? Why, make a lemon cake!

I have made lemon ‘brownies’ before (read about them here) but this was a recipe Tracy (of international carrot cake fame) found via Pinterest. It was easy, quick and used about 4 lemons altogether which made a small dent in the pile!

Fall in Minnesota

Tracy kindly lent me the use of her kitchen, and also helped out with measuring, melting, turning on the oven, washing up and generally being very useful!

In the UK we don’t get white eggs!

I would recommend the use of a microplane zester for the lemons, as you can make very fine zest that mixes evenly with the rest of the ingredients. Also you wouldn’t have to ice them if you wanted to keep the sugar content down a bit. Instead you could dust with icing sugar just before serving, or even leave them plain. We tested for doneness after 20 minutes and then 25, and the cake appeared to be still too wet in the middle. But – another 5 minutes and they were almost TOO done, so I would advise taking them out of the oven just before you think they are actually cooked – tricky timing, and it’s not the end of the world. But they could’ve been just a little bit more squidgy for maximum deliciousness!

Possibly slightly too done, but still squishy, not dry at all.
With the icing on top.

The recipe is from this website Bakerella, but there are many versions of it, and a lot of the recipes are exactly the same. I do not therefore have any qualms about reproducing it here. Actually I am not reproducing it verbatim, as I have adapted it (as usual 😂), and added some blueberries.

Ingredients

FOR THE BARS:

1 cup plain/ all purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp lemon zest (approx 3 lemons)

3/4 cup unsalted (or salted – omit the extra salt) butter almost completely melted and then cooled

2 eggs

3 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup of blueberries – optional – my addition!

FOR THE GLAZE:

1.5 cups icing sugar/ powdered sugar, sifted

2 tbsp (or a bit more) lemon juice

1 tsp lemon zest

Method

Grease an 8” square pan or line with foil/ non stick parchment. Preheat oven to 350*/ Gas mark 4.

Mix flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and zest using a whisk.

Add melted butter, lemon juice, eggs and vanilla. Stir until completely combined. Add the blueberries.

Pour into the pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or until done. But not TOO done. Remove from oven and cool.

Make the glaze by mixing the sieved icing sugar with the lemon zest and juice, and pour over the cooled Lemonies. Let it set before cutting.

ENJOY!!

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Chocolate chip peanut butter oat cookies

Tomorrow it’s Ealing Half Marathon Day! Therefore today I’m going to eat cookies! I am really looking forward to running tomorrow, although I have not prepared as carefully and rigorously as I could have done. I have run quite a bit, and done some long runs in the last few weeks, so hopefully it will come good on the day.

Setting up the finish line today in Lammas Park!
The race village takes shape.

I have made this recipe twice now. It is from the Sainsbury’s site, by Mitzie Wilson, and can be found by clicking here. It’s very easy and quick to make. It would be good recipe for children because the easiest way to mix everything together is with your hands. I also think it is an ideal on the run snack cookie, as it is full of carbs and protein. Next time I’m on a long run I think I might try this out! I will probably freeze a few for this very purpose.

I made the first batch faithfully following the recipe (apart from using dark brown sugar both times as that was what I had). The second time around I adjusted it slightly. I never thought I would say this but you CAN actually have too many chocolate chips 😂. There were so many the first time around I had a lot of trouble getting them all to stick in the cookie dough. Second time around I reduced the amount from 100g to 80g and still had to press them in individually to use them all up.

These are nice quality choc chips, but any are ok

Second time I used a different type of oats – the first time I had some very classy jumbo oats, and used up the last of them. Second time I used regular porridge oats (the cheapest ones from Lidl as it happens). I think it actually works better with the cheap ones as the jumbo oats don’t stick together quite so easily. But either is fine.

In the oven
Out of the oven

Further adaptations: I also sprinkled just the tiniest bit of salt on top of each cookie before they went in the oven because chocolate, peanuts and salt go well together. I also reduced the cooking time by 1 minute to make them a bit more squidgy – they were fine with 15 mins, but almost getting on the dry side.

Well – it worked! Bursting with chocolate chips and peanuts, and with the nuttiness of the oats and tang of salt they are a Taste Sensation!

I can highly recommend this recipe; quick, easy and very tasty.

My version of the chocolate chip peanut butter oat cookies! :

Ingredients:

200g crunchy peanut butter (you could use smooth too)

100g dark brown sugar (or whatever brown sugar you have)

1 egg

100g porridge oats

1 teaspoon baking powder

80g dark chocolate chips (but milk would work too)

Before starting get 2 baking sheets and line with baking parchment. Put the oven on to Gas Mark 4, 350 F or 180 C.

Beat the peanut butter, sugar and the egg with an electric whisk until well blended. Add the oats, baking powder and chocolate chips. You can mix with a wooden spoon but it’s easier to squash together with your hands. Form into 16 balls and flatten slightly on the baking sheets. If you like sprinkle the tiniest specks of salt on each.

Bake for 14-15 minutes. Let them cool for 5-6 minutes before transferring to a metal rack to finish cooling completely.

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Blueberry muffins for a Sunday breakfast

The best thing about baking at home is that you can change things around to suit your own taste. You know exactly what’s gone into your creation, and there’s no hidden chemical nasties. Back in 2019 I wrote a post about blueberry muffins which you can read here.

Today’s blueberry muffin recipe is basically the same one, but different because I used fresh blueberries (instead of frozen) and rapeseed oil instead of butter. I also halved the sugar, and didn’t top with anything (in the last post I topped with cinnamon and Demerara sugar).

Here is the basic muffin recipe that makes 12 ( it is from Joy of Cooking):

Put 12 paper muffin cups in the muffin tin and pre heat the oven to Mark 6 or 200* C.

In one bowl whisk/combine the dry ingredients:

2 cups flour; 1 tbsp baking powder; 1/2 tsp salt

In another bowl whisk/combine the wet ingredients:

2 large eggs; 1 cup milk; 1/3 cup sugar (the recipe was twice that – this is how much I used); 4 tbsp rapeseed oil; 1 tsp vanilla

Add the wet ingredients to the dry, combining lightly, there should still be a few lumps. Add 1 1/2 cups of blueberries. Put the batter in the muffin cups, and bake in the middle of the oven for about 15 minutes until the cake tester comes out clean. Today it took a bit longer than 15 minutes. Without fruit it might be quicker. Let stand in the tin for 3 minutes before removing and cooling a on a rack. Best eaten fresh, but can be frozen, or warmed for a few seconds in the microwave the next day.

They are quick to make, and very tasty to eat!

Juicy blueberries!

Running update: I am trying to increase the distance I am running as it has slipped a bit in the last few months. In 2019 I ran a half marathon every month – give or take – sometimes it was 10 miles, and sometimes 16. So on Friday I ran 19.5 km, going along quite a long section of the canal towpath in Greenford – where I came upon a barrier across the path. I really didn’t want to go the long way round so I tried to squeeze past. Definitely NOT a good idea as I managed to poke a hole in my leg on a piece of wire. As it was bleeding quite a lot I had to squeeze back again and make an even longer detour to the pharmacy to get some plasters! Anyway – lesson learned – follow the signs.

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Waste not want not! Buttermilk Scones

If you look closely as the photo of the ingredients you may notice that the best before date on the buttermilk pot was 27/12 – in the year 2021! Yes that’s right – 18 weeks ago. I am a great believer in the look, smell and taste test, and when I opened this pot of buttermilk, lurking in the fridge behind a jar of pickle, it looked all right, smelled all right and tasted all right! Scones are so easy and quick, and can be frozen very successfully so I made a batch.

I used a recipe from the BBC Good Food site which you can find by clicking here. I didn’t use a food processor, I rubbed the butter in by hand because I prefer it and it’s easier to wash up.

Before they went in the oven!

Scones are so delicious. Although it’s traditional to have them with cream and jam in the classic ‘cream tea’ they are also very nice with butter, or even just jam. In 2019 I wrote a post about a proper cream tea, complete with homemade jam – you can read it here. I used a different recipe this time, but they are all very similar really. Today’s recipe used quite a bit more sugar – recipes can be adapted so feel free to reduce the amount of sugar. Next time I would use less sugar as I found these quite sweet.

First batch out of the oven – a little pale. The next lot stayed in a couple of minutes more.

Don’t forget that the ‘best before’ date is just an indicator. It does NOT mean that the food is unusable after this date! Use your taste buds and common sense my friends!

Beautifully risen and fluffy.

Frozen scones should be defrosted, and then warmed gently in the oven to recreate that ‘just baked’ taste.

Too eager, too warm! Collapsed under the knife. But still delicious with home made strawberry and gooseberry jam.

What’s your favourite scone recipe? Perhaps a cheese or other savoury scone is more your thing? Cheese scones go really well with a bowl of soup for a very satisfying lunch. Maybe I’ll try them next!

Fluffy and soft.
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Lemon-almond-olive oil buns

I’ve made these buns before, and I wrote about them here. Today I made them with Portuguese olive oil instead of Spanish. I think they came out a little heavier than last time, although it’s hard to remember!

The Portuguese olive oil was special, extra virgin and unfiltered, from the harvest of 2021. Full of flavour, you can almost just drink it neat.

Before
And after!
I glazed the buns with a lemon water icing.

The recipe can be found on this lovely Spanish recipe website. The recipe is for one cake – it was my idea to make it into small buns. I have just had another look through the site, and it has some yummy sounding recipes that I’d like to try.

The original post (2019) was full of photos from our holiday in Majorca. This time I’m going to show you some recent photos that showcase Spring!

Fresh new water lilies in the WaterLily House at Kew. Every year the pond is emptied and cleaned, and then restocked with new plants.
Lilac – the scent is so amazing
Tulips at Kew
Hanwell locks on a bright spring morning

PS. I am still running! Just not quite as much as usual – I seem to be doing a lot of walking lately. You can read about some of my walks on my other blog: Walking the London Loop. I also have a little plan up my sleeve for my running journey – and hope to write about it soon!

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Irish Barmbrack – a tasty fruit loaf

I have made a very similar loaf to this before – Welsh Bara Brith, which I wrote about in this post here. This version was in the Guardian Food section on Saturday and you can find it online next week, unless you happen to have bought a hard copy today, or subscribe. (As soon as I can I will add the link.) The article discussed different versions, and then came up with a ‘classic-best-recipe’. In Ireland this fruit loaf was traditionally made at Halloween, but nowadays is popular all year round. Like bara brith it was originally a yeasted bread, and some recipes still use this method. However it’s usually made as a quick bread now with baking powder.

Chock full of fruit

Ingredients

200g currants

200g sultanas

300ml strong tea

50ml whisky – or an extra 50ml tea

25g mixed peel – roughly chopped if it’s not already

25g glacé cherries – quartered

25g chopped blanched almonds (texture) – or I used ground almonds

150g light muscovado sugar (I used 130g of a mix of dark brown and golden caster sugar because that’s what I had)

210g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp mixed spice

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)

1/4 tsp salt

1 egg, beaten

Method

Soak the sultanas and currants in the tea (and whisky) for at least 6 hours.

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C (160 fan) Gas 4. Grease and line a 13cm x 20cm loaf tin. Stir the peel, cherries and almonds into the soaked fruit.

In another bowl which together the sugar, flour, baking powder, spices and salt. The stir into the fruit with the beaten egg. Tip the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 90 minutes, covering the top after an hour if it’s getting too brown. A skewer or cake tester should come out clean.

Leave for 15 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.

In the recipe as written there is an optional sugar glaze but I really don’t think it needs it. The main difference between this recipe and the Welsh one is the amount of fruit, which is way more in the Irish version. It comes out really squishy and damp. And yummy! The spice is just right, and with a little bit of butter it makes a very delicious tea time treat.

I’ve also been thinking it would make a good snack when on a long walk. Which brings me to my new venture – I’ve started a new blog called Walking the London Loop, which is all about – well you can guess! If you have the time and inclination take a look.

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Nigella’s Banana Bread

I make no apology for writing yet again about banana bread. Since 2019, when I started writing this blog, I have tried out several different banana bread recipes: a classic banana bread from the Little Red Barn Baking Book, another classic banana bread by Felicity Cloake, a marbled chocolate- banana bread, a spiced banana bread (using garam masala to spice it up) and a blackcurrant banana bread.

Three of these recipes were baked during the 2020 lockdown baking mania that seized people across the nation. Banana bread was a popular choice for many – but why?! I asked the oracle known as Google. It gave me some answers, which I am sure you would be able to give yourself if you thought about it for just a few minutes. Banana bread is easy. It is delicious. It is relatively cheap to make. Everyone always seems to have a few bananas going black in the bowl that nobody wants to eat. It is versatile – just look at the versions I have already tried – and now I’m going to give you another!

An article in The Grocer about baking in 2020 has some fascinating statistics about who baked what in lockdown. For example banana bread (or similar loaf cake) was baked by far more people in London and the south east – 45% of bakers – compared to just 24% of bakers in the north west of England! And there’s a great article here about the psychology of baking things like banana bread, especially in times of national and personal stress.

21 years old and still a constant go-to recipe book
Can you see that left over rum in the little bowl top left? Cook’s perks!

So – let’s get to this iteration of the wonderful thing that is banana bread. Nigella Lawton’s How to be a Domestic Goddess is 21 years old now, but the recipes still feel up to date, and like modern classics. This banana bread has rum soaked sultanas and walnuts. I made a tropical variation of this a week or so ago, with chopped flaked coconut and soft dried pineapple. It was good. But the original is even better! It’s really just delicious. That’s the reason banana bread is so popular.

Here’s the recipe. I grease the tin and line with a strip of baking parchment. And don’t throw out the drained rum! Drink it!
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Cherry and walnut cake

What do you do when you’re awake at 4am (again…)? Well why not make a cake! Recently I have started following a great blog called Eating with the Ancestors where the writer is gradually unearthing her great grandmothers’ recipe books, researching their lives, and cooking some of the recipes. The latest recipe was for a pound cake. Pound cake was traditionally made with a pound of flour, butter, eggs and sugar – plus any flavourings you like. It’s a versatile recipe and can be used as a blueprint for many different cakes. A couple of weeks ago I made a seed cake which was basically a version of pound cake with caraway seeds. Caraway is quite an old fashioned flavour, and took me right back to childhood, as seed cake was something my grandmother made.

Seed cake – flavoured with caraway seeds

Nowadays a cake made with a pound of flour (about 450g) would be pretty enormous (or perhaps they made two?) and it’s more usual to find a recipe based around half a pound, or 200-220g. Looking in the cupboard I found some glacé cherries and some mixed peel, plus some walnuts. I used this recipe as the inspiration and tweaked it a bit. I added chopped peel, a few more cherries than stated (might as well use up the pot!) and also a couple of tablespoons of ground almonds for texture as well as flavour. And I used butter not margarine – again for flavour.

Top tips: if your eggs are straight from the fridge it’s a good idea to bring them to room temperature – they beat up better. If you don’t have time for that then put them in a bowl of tap hot water (you don’t want to cook them) for a few minutes – while you get everything else ready. The texture of the cake batter should be quite soft but not runny. To see if you have to add a bit more liquid – milk in this recipe – get a good dollop of mixture on your wooden spoon and tap sharply on the side of the bowl. If the mixture plops off nicely then you are good to go. If it’s stubborn then add a little more milk. Just a little or it will turn into pancake batter!

I’ve made cherry cake before – see the post and recipe here – and sometimes just cherries is what you want. Today I thought it would be nice to have some walnuts too. One of the advantages of a pound cake, compared to a sponge, is that they tend to keep moist for longer. They’re also denser than a sponge because they contain more flour proportionally. They’re ‘store cupboard’ cakes, and in my mind a good every day sort of cake. Not that I eat cake every day!

This type of cake is good with a cup of tea or coffee. Madeira cake, which again is based on a pound cake flavoured with lemon, was enjoyed with a glass of Madeira wine and was popular in the nineteenth century.

I think the cherries may have sunk to the bottom.

Once you’ve got the hang of the basic recipe it is easy to make it your own with whatever you like, or whatever is to hand. And it is such an easy recipe there’s no reason not to try it this very weekend!

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Hello! I’m back with spiced apple and rum buns!

Dear loyal readers, it’s been 2 months since the last post. Where does the time go?! I have been running, and I have been baking – just not writing much (anything). There have been a few apple crumbles, a very simple apple pie with shop puff pastry, some disastrous Polish cheese buns that were almost inedible (I think I just rushed the rising bits) and now continuing the September apple season baking theme I’ve made Benjamina Ebuehi’s spiced apple and rum buns from the Guardian.

Helen and Emily’s very own apple and raisin plait. So easy – stewed apple and shop puff pastry!
Epic fail. Inedible. Look lovely – went in the bin!

I love apples, especially English apples. Sadly only about 31% of apples sold in the UK are grown in the UK. Such a shame because English apples (in my opinion) have the best taste, and we used to have a huge range of cooking apples and eaters. Modern tastes and long shelf requirements have reduced the range available. For my buns I used two apples from my garden (unknown variety) and two Worcester apples grown in the garden of England – Kent.

I was feeling a bit apprehensive about making these buns since my last attempt at yeasted buns ended up in the bin. And while making them the filling seemed like a lot for the amount of dough – wouldn’t it all end up really soggy?! But I already had the spiced rum in the cupboard so – nothing ventured, nothing gained – this recipe was a must for today.

Before baking
And after

And – it’s officially carb loading day today as the Ealing half marathon is less than 24 hours away now! Can’t wait! Look out for the race report..

I try and learn from my mistakes so these buns have taken me several hours today on and off. Started with the dough at 8.30 – let it rise until I got back from a (gentle) session with Quit the Gym in Lammas Park. So exciting to see all the prep for the Half Marathon as we did our lunges and squats, bicep curls and burpees, right by the finish line! The wonderful Sandra and Christina (race directors) were right there raising the actual finish arch.

Then back home to make the fillings. Then time to empty the dishwasher and tidy up a bit while they cool. Then assemble the buns – oh my goodness, sticky! And a quick FaceTime in the middle of it all with my beautiful grandson!

Finally into the oven while I make the rum syrup for drenching the amazing-smelling gorgeous-looking (yes yes I know I made them and I should be modest but really..) buns!

So how did those buns turn out? Well – they were great!

The secret with yeast baking is not to rush it. Pick a day when there’s time to really let them rise properly, take time with filling, rolling and twisting. It’s worth it!

It’s a winner Benjamina Ebuehi! Thanks for the recipe!
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Cherry-berry pie

Two years ago I wrote about a cherry pie I made with morello cherries from my friend Margaret’s garden. I can’t believe it’s 2 years ago! This week Margaret kindly gave me some cherries again, and I made another pie. What is it about pie? Even the word pie is a good word, it feels warm to say. It conjures images of wholesomeness, of something that is more than just pastry and filling, more than just good to eat. Pie is going to make you happy, always.

Mmm cherries 🍒

I made a bigger pie this time, and augmented the cherries with strawberries and a few blackcurrants. I made the same quick flaky pastry using a mix of vegetarian fats this time – butter, Stork and Cookeen – what I had in the fridge really. No lard! Because I dislike overly sweetened food I didn’t add too much sugar, and the filling was pleasingly tart.

It was a good combination!
The pie says “eat me – and you will be happy!” Believe the pie – what it says is true.

Served with vanilla ice cream pie is one of life’s small joys. Homemade pie is even better. Fresh pie, just still warm, crispy pastry and juicy filling. Anything better?!

Thank you Margaret for the cherries, they always seem to inspire a pie!