Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Cider for breakfast

I've become a bit of a bread obsessive. I don't know whether it's the triumph of my barm loaf the other week or reading Jane Mason's All you Knead is Bread and Dan Lepard's The Handmade Loaf  just before I fall asleep at night, or simply that I've got a bit more time on my hands at the moment, but I've definitely got the bug. I'm even thinking of making a sourdough starter - yep, things are getting serious.

I've started stalking all sorts of artisan bakers on Twitter too. There seems to be something intrinsically lovely about a baker - they are all terribly generous with their comments and advice, and invariably make nice comments about my amateurish efforts. Many of them are also very inspirational - especially the people who are making good bread for people in their local area, or who are teaching others to make bread. People like Elizabeth Mahoney at One Mile Bakery in Wales, Blackbird Bread in London and Edesia's Kitchen in Derbyshire. I think they must get all the bad karma out with lots of serious kneading in the early hours, although I was disabused of the notion that they are all listening to soothing hippy music in the wee small hours by Blackbird Bread, who tells me that Leonard Cohen is too soporific for early morning kneading. My soundtrack is usually either screeching children or Eddie Mair - must find myself some other sounds to knead to - any suggestions gratefully received.

Anyway, this week's loaf is a cider loaf. I've read a few recipes for bread using apples and/or cider, so I thought to start with I'd simply substitute the beer in the barm loaf with cider and see how that went. Well the answer seems to be - fine! I only have one photo of the completed loaf as I seem to have managed to set my camera to take a movie of a loaf of bread, which is not that riveting, to be honest.

The poolish looks thinner than the one I made with beer, and the final loaf seems a little bigger. Inside it is soft and lovely. It tastes sweeter than the barm loaf made with beer - less of a beery tang, although it still has that lovely smell. Now, I am going to say something a bit heretical here. I made some cream of tomato soup to go with it  for dinner last night (that's not the heretical bit). When I was little, Heinz cream of tomato soup was our 'get well' meal when we'd been poorly, and we ate it, as one did in the 1970s, with white sliced bread. Well, my cider loaf with tomato soup gave me a complete flashback to that - something about the softness of the bread (what smallest breakfastboy would call 'bread that's soft like a mouse') and the sweetness of the flavour reminded me of being all comforted and cosied by my mum and a tin of soup. By this, I do not mean that the bread tasted like sunblest, heaven forbid. Just that it's a comforting sort of soft and squishy loaf. It  also makes fabulous toast.

I think next week I might try the apple and oat loaf from Dan Lepard's Handmade Loaf. But that requires a leaven, so I'm going to have to get a starter going first. Stay tuned!

Friday, 25 January 2013

Farmhouse Breakfast Week #6

Hello all.

Burns Night tonight, sleet falling, so what could be better than a floory mornin' roll and Scottish bacon, a dash of brown sauce and a slice of tomato?

My friend Rachel is the world's greatest maker of bacon sandwiches, and she would argue that this here roll should ideally be replaced by chunky slices of toast, and most days, I would completely concur. But today my sons have been sent off to school in their tartan scarves and smallest breakfastboy is being forced to repeat his performance from the Burns Competition that he took part in before Christmas. Much to his disgust. There are kilts a go-go out in Glasgow today, despite the weather, and so it has to be Scottish all the way. No recipe required, just a frying pan and a knife. And look at my pretty new plate. It could probably do with something a little more elegant than a bacon butty for its first outing, but never mind.

I leave you with this - Shirley Henderson reading Robert Burns' Dusty Miller which seems a suitably breakfastaceous ditty for Breakfast Week.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Farmhouse breakfast Week #5

After a day of bread and marmalade making yesterday, today I wanted a breakfast that is a bit quicker to rustle up. And it doesn't come much quicker to rustle up than *sound of trumpets* - muffins!

<ripple fade>

Way back in the 1980s, I made a Tarte au Citron for the first time (bear with me), from a friend's recipe book when I was staying with him in NewYork. Ever since then, I've been labouring under the delusion that the book in question was Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins' The Silver Palate Cookbook, an American classic of the time. A few years later, I bought another of their books, the equally lovely Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, and finally last year I got around to buying the book that I thought the recipe was in. And guess what? No Tarte au Citron. There is a lemon tart but it's definitely not the one I made all those years ago, which contained apples and was absolutely delicious.

So I'm still no further forward in my quest for the original recipe. I should probably just ask the person whose cook book it was, but then that would mean I'd have to stop buying random cookery books, which would be no fun at all. However, I'm now the owner of two cookery books  that are among my favourites. Rosso and Lukins were onto the idea of the cookery book as bedtime reading years before Nigella's How to Eat. A few of the recipes do have a rather 80s vibe, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, and if it is, there are plenty more timeless things in there to make up for it. These are such charming books - pretty illustrations, cute little panels of ideas for ways of serving things, just lovely.

Almost lovely enough for me to overcome the sinking feeling I have every time I read the words 'a cup of butter'. I mean, really? Is this the best way you can come up with to measure butter, America? Flour, sugar, OK, but butter? In a cup? And putting in brackets afterwards 'one stick' doesn't help me either. And, if I may say so, simply proves my point. What is wrong with scales, for goodness' sake?

Anyway, all of this to say two things: 1. have a look at the books if you get a chance 2. the recipe I've chosen is adapted from the maple-walnut muffins from the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook. As you'll see from the recipe, the main change I've made to the original is to substitute pecans for the walnuts, mostly because I love pecans, especially with maple syrup. The cream makes the recipe a bit naughty, I grant, but you could probably substitute buttermilk, or even milk for a healthier option. Muffins are accommodating that way. The maple syrup gives a lovely flavour and means no additional sugar is needed, and the oats, the dates and the walnuts make this all quite substantial and breakfasty. The maple syrup means that the muffins aren't tooth-ache sweet either, but have that lovely smoky maple flavour. And note - only 3 tbs of butter, so no cups to scratch your head over.

Maple-pecan muffins

makes 18-20 muffins

1 1/3 cups pecans, broken into bits
3 tbs butter, at room temp

2 eggs
1 cup double cream
1 1/3 cups maple syrup

1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 cups rolled oats (try to get the more robust, less powdery ones - maybe jumbo oats)
1 tbs cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 cup chopped ready-to-eat dates

1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Line muffin tins with cases.
2. Toss the pecans and butter together and spread on a baking sheet. Toast for 10 minutes in the oven, stirring occasionally. keep an eye on them - nothing worse than burnt nuts <ahem>.
3. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, cream, and 1 cup of the maple syrup.
4. In another bowl, mix together the flour, oats, cinnamon, baking powder and bicarb.
5. Add dry bowl to the wet bowl and mix until they are just combined and no dry flour is showing. Mix in the dates and 1 cup of the pecans with the last few strokes.
6. Fill the cases about 3/4 full then sprinkle the rest of the pecans over and then drizzle the last 1/3 cup of maple syrup on top.
7. Cook for about 20 minutes - check with a skewer - if it comes out clean they're done. Note that these muffins don't puff up quite as much as most, so don't worry if they are a wee bit flat on top.
8. When they are cool enough to handle, remove from tin and cool on a wire rack.

Best consumed fresh and warm, but you can freeze them.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Farmhouse Breakfast Week #4

 Last week's barm bread was such a roaring success that the family have been clamouring for more, so yesterday I had a day pottering about in the kitchen baking bread and making marmalade (again). I've just finished a big job, so it's quite a luxury to have a few days stretching out that I can fill with kneading and chopping and bubbling and baking. I thought that for breakfast today I'd finish off the bread, toasted, with some of the pink grapefruit marmalade that I also made yesterday. Both bread making and marmalade-making are jobs that require a bit of coming and going over a day, so getting all the timings right and fitting it in with the school run reminded me why I am not running my own artisan bakery. Especially when I discovered that MrB had snaffled the beer I needed for the bread and replaced it with a smaller bottle that wasn't enough for the recipe. Gnash.

Anyway, that particular crisis resolved, I was ready for the off. This time I chose an organic ale from the Black Isle - keeping things local (well, Scottish, anyway) and the results were equally lovely.

The beery flavour was a bit less pronounced this time, but the crust was beautifully soft and chewy. I really recommend having a bash at this - it's fantastic.

The pink grapefruit marmalade is something I've been meaning to try for ages. I have a bit of a thing for orangy-pinks (see yesterday's rhubarb smoothie), and the colour of the skin and the juice of pink grapefruit fit in nicely with that particular fetish, so I was hoping the colour of the finished marmalade would too.

When I made the Seville marmalade a couple of weeks ago, I used the whole fruit method, but this time I decided to used the sliced fruit method, which is also very straightforward. I wanted slightly more refined chunks in this, and I figured it would be easier to achieve this way. You also get a slightly clearer set by doing it this way - with the dark marmalade I usually make it doesn't matter, but I wanted to try and get something of the colour of the fruit this time. I based this recipe on one from Pam Corbin's River Cottage Preserves Handbook.

Pink Grapefruit Marmalade 

(makes about 8 jars)

1kg pink grapefruit
1 kg jam sugar
1 kg demerara sugar
100ml lemon juice

1. Wash the grapefruit, then halve and squeeze them. Put the juice in a big bowl
2. Slice the grapefruit into chunks of whichever size you prefer. and add to the bowl, with all the pithy gubbins.
3. Add 2.5l of water, cover and leave overnight.

4. Put the lot into a pan, bring to the boil and simmer for about 2.5 hours, until the peel is tender and the liquid has reduced by about a third.
5. Add the sugar and lemon juice. Dissolve the sugar completely, then bring to the boil and boil hard until you get a set (104 degrees C, or a wrinkle on a cold plate).
6. Remove from heat and leave for 10 minutes. If there's a lot of scum on the top, stir in a small knob of butter to disperse it.
7. Stir gently then put in sterilised jars and seal immediately.

The result was a lovely orange colour. I think we're talking winter sunset, as compared to yesterday's winter morning sky in a rhubarb smoothie. And it has a nice grapefruity bitterness that suits my marmalade tastes just fine.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Farmhouse Breakfast Week Day #3

Today I thought I'd share my default breakfast. This is the breakfast I have most mornings. Despite appearances, I do not in fact spend every evening up to my elbows in bread flour, or lovingly composing home-made granola. This is a very quick, and not really home-made sort of a breakfast, but it's still very good, and very good for you. I started on this when I was trying to lose a bit of weight. It's not exactly low-calorie; it's more of a portion size thing - you don't need much of it to fill you up, and it keeps me going until lunchtime.

So, here it is: rye bread - the pumpernickel kind you buy in a dense brick that is pre-sliced into long thin slices. It keeps for ages unopened, and lasts a week opened, so I pick one up with the weekly shop. My favourite is an organic one with sunflower seeds that I get from Sainsburys. I keep meaning to try making my own, but I haven't got around to it yet - watch this space! I like it toasted, then a scraping of butter, some honey and a banana sliced on top. And that's it.

Not a great deal of vitamin C going on there though, and at this time of year I definitely need a bit of a vitamin boost to get me going in the morning, so I decided to inject a bit of zing into the day with a smoothie as well. I have some lovely pink forced rhubarb in my fridge. Rhubarb smoothie? Sounds weird, but if Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall says go for it, well, who am I to object? I added a few frozen raspberries to this, mostly in an effort to cool the rhubarb mixture a little more quickly, but otherwise the  recipe is as in the link above. It's good, and most definitely an improvement, aesthetically speaking, on MrB's super-smoothie. Look at that lovely orangy-pink pastel. Like a winter morning sky.

Note to self: I really must buy some more photogenic plates. Everyone else's blogs have lovely chintzy florals or willow patterns, and my bog standard Denbys are looking a bit institutional in all these pictures. They are actually rather nice in RL, all blue on the outside, but the photos are really not doing them, or my cooking, (or in this instance, my 'cooking') justice. I feel a charity shop mission coming on.

I'm having a day at the stove today, so new treats to come tomorrow!

Monday, 21 January 2013

Farmhouse Breakfast Week Day #2

Bitterly bitterly cold here today. It's trying so hard to snow but we're still more or less flake-free. So, a winter warmer of a breakfast was needed before the walk down to school.

Back in November, I was making porridge for St Andrew's Day and Bike Lights in the Fruit Bowl's Super Magic Porridge was the inspiration for this morning's breakfast: porridge made with almond milk, ground almonds and dates, with a little sprinkle of cinnamon. I'm not normally one for fiddling too much with porridge, but this was delicious - and just the ticket for a freezing cold morning. Especially one where I also have the dreaded tax return to get crossed off my to-do list for the day. Argh.

You don't need a recipe for this one, really, do you? It's porridge, made with almond milk (I got the unsweetened kind from Whole Foods Market). I added a couple of spoons of ground almonds and a handful of chopped dates as I was cooking it, and that's it really. No added sugar necessary, dairy free, if such things are important to you, quick, warm and delicious.

Now, all I have to do is go all the way back to school with the lunch money I forgot to hand in, make a cup of tea and HMRC, I'm all yours.

Happy Monday everyone.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Farmhouse Breakfast Week - day #1

This week, in case you've missed it, is Farmhouse Breakfast Week in the UK. The idea is to encourage people to eat breakfast and to emphasise the importance of a good start to the day. You can find out more and join in at the Shake Up your Wake Up website or with the hashtag #breakfastwatch on Twitter, where you can upload a photo of your fabulous breakfast to the gallery.

In an attempt to enter the spirit of things, I'm going to try and post every day this week. Today's been a bit of a write-off, blog-wise, because it's also smallest breakfastboy's 6th birthday, so we've been up to our ears in lego and birthday cake all day, and have spent the afternoon wrangling 6 year-old boys at the indoor ski slope (we seem to be the only part of the UK to remain resolutely snow-free this week). I now need to lie down in a darkened room.

Of course, birthday person gets to choose the breakfast. What he wanted: a sherbet fountain from a packet of retro sweeties he was given. I nixed this, I'm afraid, although he managed to snaffle it about half an hour later. I resisted the pestering until he'd eaten something a bit more substantial though, and we all had waffles with maple syrup and cream (small people), lemon juice and maple syrup (bigger people).

Hopefully back on track and a bit more lucid tomorrow!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Barmy bread

You may remember that one of my publicly stated new year's resolutions was to bake more bread. Well, I've been seeing a lot of recipes lately for barm bread; that is, bread made using beer, and I thought I'd have a go at one. There's a long historical connection between brewing and baking, as breweries were the traditional source of leaven for bakers. So the marriage of beer and bread has something very 'right' about it in my mind - ploughman's lunches, good Welsh rarebit with ale in the cheesy topping, you get the picture.

MrB and I, pre-kids, once had a blissful October week of wall-to-wall sunshine on Harris, where we bought fish straight off the boat in Leverburgh, visited Harris tweed sheds at Luskentyre, climbed Clisham and swam in the blue blue sea. MrB paid in part for the rent of the beautiful old blackhouse we were staying in by doing some dry stone walling for the owner (MrB was a dyker in a previous life), and we sat in a field, the three of us, eating cheese and fresh bread and oatcakes, washed down with bottles of Red Cuillin ale from Skye, looking out across the Atlantic. Life seemed pretty perfect.

Enough nostalgia. I  used a recipe from Blackbird Bread's blog - they're a micro-bakery in Twickenham, and bake all their bread from home. Local bread for local people - great stuff. Their blog is definitely worth a look if you're interested in things bread and dough related.

I must confess that I usually resort to the breadmaker, but as I work from home, I thought I could punctuate the day quite easily with a bit of kneading and knocking back. And it was very therapeutic. I'm just finishing off a very fiddly job in my real life book world, so it was good to be able to get away from the  screen from time to time and bash the dough about a bit in between bursts of work. The only thing that I changed in the ingredients was that I used a golden ale (Cambridgeshire Golden Ale from M&S), rather than the dark ale specified in the recipe, because that's what I had in the house. I also left the first rise rather longer than the 45 mins specified in the recipe because I had to fit in the timings with the school run. I was a bit alarmed that my poolish didn't look anything like theirs - my scales seem to be a bit temperamental at the moment, and I suspect there was a bit too much flour in mine, because it bore a strong resemblance to wallpaper paste, but anyway. As you can see from the picture, it all worked out just fine in the end.

Oh. My. Goodness, I cannot tell you how thrilled I am with this loaf. It came out of the oven looking so splendid, and I thought the taste couldn't possibly match up to how good it looked. But it did! As the liquid is entirely beer, it has a lovely hoppy tang, and it was soft and toothsome. The crust is almost bagelly, because of the steam, I guess, and it was just delicious. It got a unanimous thumbs up from the family (though not Mr Horseradish, Blackbird Bread; he wasn't around at the time ;-)). I am hoping that all the alcohol had cooked off and that my children were not just approving of it in a drunken 'No listen, you know, I really love you, honesht' sort of a way.

Remarkably, we managed not to wolf the whole lot in one sitting, so I had more toasted this morning with marmite, and both breakfastboys demanded a packed lunch made with it for school. So, every last scrap eaten up. I'm just hoping it won't make the children smell of beer all afternoon.

I'm a convert back to kneading my own. Next thing you know it'll be sourdough starters...

PS Dictionary corner: barmy (adj) slang insane [c16 originally: full of BARM, hence frothing, excited, flighty etc]  (Collins English Dictionary)

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

What curd I do with some leftover oranges?

Do you have any leftover oranges after making your marmalade? Then you might do worse than to make some sunshiny orange curd with it.  I do prefer the sharpness of lemon curd, to be honest, but it's a good way of using up one of two leftover Seville oranges and frankly, I think it looks so pretty in the jar that it's worth making just so that I can look at it. You could also think about using it to sandwich together a sponge cake, or with some cream in a Swiss roll.

This quantity makes just over a jar, which is ideal if you don't want loads of jars sitting around in your cupboards. It doesn't keep as long as regular jams, so it's best made in small batches. The upside of that is that it's much easier and quicker to make than marmalade or jam, so you can rustle this up in a spare half hour, provided you've remembered to sterilise a couple of jars in the dishwasher.

Seville orange curd


3 'normal' oranges
1-2 Seville oranges
1 lemon
2 eggs
115g butter
225g caster sugar

1. Grate the zest from the sweet oranges into a heatproof bowl, then halve and squeeze them and add 2 tbs of the juice to the bowl.
2. Squeeze the Seville orange(s) and add 3 tbs of the juice, then the lemon and add 2 tbs of lemon juice.
3. Add the butter and sugar and then heat the mixture over a pan of hot water, on a low heat. You don't want to make the mixture too hot or the eggs will cook too quickly when you add them and you'll end up with sweet lumpy scrambled eggs, which I'm assuming is not what you are looking for.

4. When the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved, beat the eggs and then add them to the mixture, stirring all the the time. Keep stirring over a lowish heat until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, then pour into sterilised jars and seal.

Other ideas for using up Seville oranges:

  • Try squeezing them over fish or using in salad dressings - anywhere you might use lemon juice otherwise. The juice is much more bitter than sweet oranges so don't try drinking it neat!
  • Make one of those lemon puddings where the mixture separates into sponge and sauce, substituting Seville oranges for the lemons
  • Rose Prince has a recipe for a Seville orange curd tart that looks good
  • A Seville orange sorbet or ice cream

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Today, I am dark, chunky and bitter

I'm talking marmalade of course.The arrival of Seville oranges is one of the highlights of my year. I know. It's one of the few really seasonal fruits left - you really can only get them for a few weeks at this time of year, and I find that rather thrilling. You can freeze them, though, so buy more than you need when they come into the shops, because their season is very fleeting.

I adore marmalade. For me, the darker and chunkier the better, and making my own means I can make it as dark and chunky as I darn well please.

Marmalade of course originates right here in Bonnie Scotland; in Dundee to be precise, where the story goes that Mrs Keiller was obliged to think up something to do with a cargo of bitter oranges that her husband had bought from a Spanish ship that had taken shelter in Dundee harbour. Imagine the scene in the Keiller house. 'You've bought what???'. I thought MrB was bad enough with his random internet shopping purchases, but at least he's never come home with a ship full of oranges.

Our smallest breakfast boy also loves dark marmalade 'with golden chunks' (too much Paddington...), and last year the boys were big enough at 5 and 6 to help with the rather tedious business of prepping the fruit. You can imagine their delight at being allowed to handle large sharp knives. Under very close supervision it's actually a perfect way to introduce children to sharp knives - once the oranges have boiled, they're soft enough to cut very easily, so it's really quite a straightforward job for little people. If you like a fine shred in your marmalade, you may need to work on their technique a little - I think a mezzaluna might be a good solution. And, perhaps counter-intuitively, it's important to make sure that your knives are very sharp, as this will prevent them from slipping and potentially cutting small fingers. I firmly believe though that it's important not to completely eliminate all manner of risk from children - they need to know how to handle knives if they are ever to become competent cooks.

There are a million and one recipes for marmalade, and I have fiddled with many of them over the years to come up with my version. It is dark and treacly, and bitter, so definitely avoid it if you are more of a golden shred lover.

This is the recipe I've come up with after all the fiddling. The result will be very dark, so if you prefer a clearer, sweeter, more golden kind of marmalade, then this probably isn't for you. One of these days I'm going to experiment with some of the more exotic types of marmalade, as the possibilities are legion: grapefruit, lime, orange and lemon. The addition of ginger or whisky are also possibilities worth exploring. My Tokyo correspondent Elisabeth has recently told me about an Asian citrus called a Yuzu - I'd love to try that if I could get hold of some. But for now, here's my antidote to the January blues, and it's orange. Well, it's not actually, it's more of a deep dark brown.

The recipe is based on Pam Corbin's one in the River Cottage Preserves book, but I've tweaked it to make it darker. Her whole fruit method is really simple though.

Breakfast Lady's Seville Orange Marmalade

1kg Seville oranges
2.5l water
75ml lemon juice
1kg dark muscovado sugar
1kg jam sugar or granulated white sugar
1 tbs black treacle

Note: you can fiddle about with the types of sugar to make this less dark, or darker, but you need 2kg in total.

You'll also need:
jars - I sterilize mine by washing them on the hot cycle of the dishwasher, but don't open it until you're ready to use them. You can also put the jars in a moderate oven for 5 minutes instead if you don't have a dishwasher. This quantity makes about 6 or 7 jars.
a sugar thermometer is useful, but not essential
cold saucers (put 2 or 3 in the freezer before you start)

1. Put the water in a large sturdy pan - a maslin pan if you have one.

2. Give the oranges a scrub and take the 'button' off the tops. Put them, whole into the pan and bring to the boil, then simmer for 2 hours or until the skin is soft. I find that it's hard to turn them over when you start - they turn themselves back over, but as they get softer, you'll be able to turn them to make sure the other side gets cooked.
TIP: One year, I was pushed for time, so I did the boiling up of the oranges in my slow cooker to free up the time that I'd otherwise have to be around while the oranges are cooking on the hob. This worked fine, but just make sure you have the right quantity of liquid afterwards.

3. Take the oranges out of the pan and keep the water. Measure it - you need about 1.7l, so either make it up by adding fresh water if you don't have enough or reduce it by boiling if you have too much.

4. Cut the oranges in half and scoop out the pips into a bowl. Cut the peel into chunks of whatever size you prefer. Tip all of the peel and accompanying mush back into the pan. Put the pips and any attached stuff in a sieve and shoogle it about with a wooden spoon over the pan - the gloop that comes through it is rich in pectin, which is what makes the jam set, so get as much out as you can, then chuck the pips out.

Naked chunks

5. Add the sugar, lemon juice and treacle to the pan and turn the heat back on. This is the point where I feel the terror, as I see how much sugar is in it, but hey ho. On we go. Cook it gently until the sugar has dissolved completely. Don't let it boil at this stage or you'll end up with crystals in your finished marmalade.

6. Once the sugar has dissolved completely (check on the back of a wooden spoon - if you can see grains, keep going), bring the mixture to the boil and boil hard for about 15 minutes or until the temperature reaches about 100C on your thermometer. Keep stirring so that the marmalade doesn't catch and burn on the bottom of the pan. Setting point is marked on mine (I think it's 204ish C), but I usually start testing it before this. Take one of your cold saucers and drop a little of the marmalade onto it. Leave it for a few moments and then push it gently with your finger, and if it wrinkles, you have a set. I sometimes find it takes much longer than 15 mins, but  don't despair if it seems to be taking forever, just bring it back to the boil and carry on, testing at 5 minute intervals until you get a set.
7. Once you have a set, take the pan off the heat and leave it for 10 minutes or so - this helps distribute your chunks evenly - then pour it into sterilised jars and seal.

And if you're going to all that trouble, you really need to make some nice fresh bread for your inaugural slice.

Bliss. On a plate.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Mr B's unbelievably healthy breakfast smoothie

BE WARNED: the photos in this post are not for those of a nervous disposition.

<tootle of trumpets> MrB, he of the tight-fitting lycra, has suggested that I write a post about his super-nutritious breakfast smoothies. If you thought the fruit salad was healthy, just check this one out. You have no idea.

MrB, as regular readers may know, is an extremely keen cyclist. His new year resolutions mostly involve something called 'my training schedule'. This means that he slips away under cover of darkness and spins about the roads of South Lanarkshire before returning and downing a pint or two of stuff he has whizzed up in the blender. This is apparently doing him no end of good. I'm expecting him to develop the ability to fly at any moment. In the meantime, he's certainly looking rather buff, so it must be doing him some good. It also tastes pretty good, and smoothies have to be about the easiest way to get a dose of goodness down your neck.

So, if you are on a 2013 up-and-at-'em style health kick, or if you have tumbled out of bed with only 5 minutes to catch the train, you could do worse.

Now (Jennifer Aniston hair flick) the science. Please note that I am not a nutritionist. But I quizzed MrB. Please note, he is not a nutritionist either. He probably googled all this, or read it on the back of a packet or something. Please consult your doctor if you are starting to exercise and before taking anything that you are unsure about.

As you get older, you need to up your intake of anti-oxidants to help your body get rid of free radicals. These can actually be exacerbated by vigorous exercise, so the idea is to mop them up with some help from your diet. You also need to reduce the acidity of your blood, to avoid muscle wastage.

Anyway, here you have it. The secret of eternal youth. Apparently.

Mr B's super-smoothie


Frozen fruit - your choice of what, depending on what you like (we have forest fruits, mangoes, cherries and summer fruits in our freezer). Mr B Says that cherries are marginally less nutritious than the others, but it doesn't matter really. Go with what you like or what's available.

Coconut water - you can get this in cartons in Holland and Barratt and Whole Foods market. Use as much as you need to get the right smoothie consistency - it's there instead of water or milk to loosen things up. If you don't like coconut, don't worry - it doesn't taste super-coconutty.Coconut water is rich in electrolytes - those things that they tell you about on sports drinks - basically the salts that you lose by sweating when you are exercising, and which you need to replace. Oh, and it's fat-free.

Enough of the above to make a couple of pints or so of smoothie. So far, so good. Now:

Milled flaxseeds, almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts and Q10. This is one ingredient - you can buy it in a bag in H&B or online (ours is called Linwoods). So, you don't need to grind it all yourself. I am very dubious as to whether Q10 is an actual thing that you can grind anyway, but that is what it says on the label so who am I to argue? This is full of vitamin E, which declines with age (saggy skin, anyone?) and it's also an effective anti-oxidant. About 2 tbs of this.

<TANGENT ALERT> I took flax seeds (= linseeds) on my cereal during pregnancy and they were wonderful for preventing constipation - one of the less glamorous aspects of pregnancy that nobody warns you about </TANGENT>

Chia seeds. More anti-oxidants here in the form of this wonder ingredient. They are also high in omega 3 (as is the flaxseed) which is frightfully good for your brain. AND they are a very good source of protein, by jiminy. About 1 tbs.

Spirulina powder. Blue-green algae (yum). Rich in vitamins and minerals and protein. I am not sure if this is the same stuff they warn you about at the pond in Rouken Glen with big signs telling you not to let your children fall into it. I'm guessing not. Also avoid if you don't want to turn your smoothie a sludgy green colour. Dry, it looks like something that might come down your chimney. 1 tsp.

Agave nectar: squirt to taste. This is an alternative to honey and sugar: it releases energy more slowly than sugar and is less processed.

Maca root powder (optional). A good source of slow release energy and another anti-oxidant. MrB says it's not particularly tasty, 'like caramelized parsnips' he says, which sound rather good to me, though possibly not for breakfast. 1 tsp. A note of caution though. it's sometimes referred to as 'nature's viagra', which sounds great, but I've read reports of exacerbated PMT, outbreaks of spots etc after using this, so proceed with caution or omit it. Omit this if you are giving the smoothie to children.

A banana (optional) - we include a banana if we're giving smoothie to the kids.

Eye of newt, tongue of toad (optional). Only joking. Don't include these. Whole Foods Market never have them in.

The cauldron:

And...ta-da, here's what it looks like:

Pretty irresistible, I think you'll agree. As my oldest son so delicately put it over breakfast: 'Err daddy, that looks like diarrhoea!'. Fear not though. It tasted good, I promise.

Whiz it all together in a blender and MrB tells me you'll be full until lunch time and fit as a fiddle, so long as you are also exercising - low impact, aerobic (ah, the rub).

There now, I bet you feel better just reading that, don't you? Now, where are the biscuits?

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Who am I really?

Just when I was wondering what to write for my first post of 2013, I've been tagged by Fiona over at Bike Lights in the Fruit Bowl to take part in a meme. Hers is a lovely blog about trying to live a green life in the city with her family, so do go and have a look. Here's what I have to do:
  • Post 5 random facts about myself
  • Choose 5 other deserving blogs with less than 200 subscribers to nominate and link their blogs in my post
  • Tell my nominees I have chosen them for this award by leaving a comment on their blogs
  • Answer the 5 questions the tagger has asked me and ask my own 5 questions to the people I nominate
  • No tag backs

5 random facts about me:
1. I can ride a bike with no hands. I am inordinately proud of this fact. My lovely old flatmate taught me how to do it in London Fields.
2. I had dinner with a real, actual Moody Blue this summer in a moated castle in France. My 5 year-old son found a machine that made fart noises in the breakfast room and set it off as Mr Moody Blue sat down for his breakfast the next morning. How we laughed.
3. I can sing 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' in Latin. Of all the things that I learned in O level Latin, this is the one I've retained. The single most useless skill I possess.
4. I don't drink. It's not a decision I consciously made to give up alcohol, no dry January or anything and I cook with it, and have the occasional scoosh, but I now suffer from such dreadful hangovers that the painful combination of hangover + small boys is really not worth the pleasure gained, so it's just kind of slipped out of my life. I sort of miss it.
5. Coriander used to be my most loathed food, but I now love it with a passion. It was like an epiphany - an overnight conversion, as if some sort of switch had been turned on. I'm still waiting for the chocolate 'off' switch to kick in.

Fiona's questions:

1. What excites you most about the world your child(ren) is/are growing up in?
When I look at my blog stats, I'm thrilled to see that in the short time it's been active I've had readers from all over the world. I love the fact that my children are growing up in a world where global communication is so simple. My working life has been pretty much all about communication of one sort or another, and I've been lucky enought to work with people from all over the world, from Tibet to Kenya, from Seoul to Buenos Aires, and during the course of my career, it's become so much easier to talk to those people in real time. I hope that this means that for my children it will be completely normal to have friends from different cultures and other parts of the world, and that life will be much more like the 'global village' that hippies used to dream about.

2. What scares you most when you think about the future your child(ren) will grow up into?
Ah, where to start with this one? I suppose the thing that gives me most pause for thought is the prospect of how the world they grow up into will cope with increasing competition for dwindling resources: water, fossil fuels, land. They all seem like potential areas of conflict for future generations, and it seems to me that it's up to us to find alternatives before we get to that stage, and to begin to find ways of living that leave less of a footprint on the planet. So whether it's governments addressing energy security and alternatives to fossil fuels, or individuals using their cars less and shopping locally, we all have a role to play in making things better for the next people to pass this way.

3. And...what's your favourite way to relax? I need ideas!!
I am frankly surprised it took me so long to start a blog, because I must be the very archetype of a 'mummy blogger' <shudder> : I cook, I garden, I craft a bit. But at the moment, it's upholstery. I used to go to a class before I had children, and I've recently gone back to it, and am loving being back in the workshop. My day job involves staring at a screen, so the three hours a week I spend using my hands to make things beautiful again are very precious. I'm reupholstering my very saggy kitchen chairs. They started life in a lawyers' office, before my cousin acquired them and used them as her three boys were growing up. She then passed them on to me, so after many lawyers' bottoms, five wild boys and a few cats, they have most definitely seen better days. I've nearly finished the first one, and it's looking rather fabulous in its new purple leather coat. I have already made it known that nobody except me will be allowed to sit on it, and that it must not come within spraying distance of wet weetabix, on pain of severe and unusual punishment. One of my classmates is insisting that I recycle the old green leather that I've taken off, and I've just spent this afternoon looking at patterns with a view to perhaps making some bags or wallets with it. If I manage that I'll be even more pleased, verging on smug, but it'll probably just sit in a cupboard for a year or two. Anyway, I highly recommend upholstery - upcycling, with the added benefit of power tools (I just love those compressed air staplers...).

So, to my nominees. I haven't been on the blogging circuit for long so I don't have very many people to choose from, but I'm tagging the following people because I'd like to know a bit more about them and because I'd like you to have a look at their lovely blogs.
1. Alison's Garden - it's like it says on the tin, with added cocktails.
2. Beta Mother - she follows me, and I am grateful. And her blog is lovely.
3. Reflections in Raindrops - this is a blogger who lives near me (although I don't know her) and whose posts are funny and thought-provoking in equal measure.
4. The farm at the back of beyond - I'll nominate her because her blog is beautifully written and passionate. She lives on a farm in rural Scotland and has an incredibly hard life, for reasons that will become all too painfully clear if you read her blog. And yet she manages to write with such grace and gentle good humour. If more people knew about the situation of farmers in highland Scotland, something might be done to help them, so I hope you'll go and have a look. I don't know if she'll have time to answer the questions, but I hope so.
5. For the girl - this is a newish blog that has made me roar with laughter. Especially the one where they go to Santa's grotto.

And my five questions (Fiona only asked 3, which is why I only answered 3, but I've got 5):
1. What do you like best about the place where you live?
2. If you could change one thing about that place, what would it be?
3. What are you hoping for from 2013?
4. What is your favourite thing to eat for breakfast? (I had to ask that one really)
5. Who is your ideal breakfast companion (partners and family aside) and why?

Next time, I'll get back to breakfasts. Honest. I sniff Seville oranges and new season rhubarb in the air...

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Post-Christmas fruity breakfast - an update via my mum

So, my mum emails me to tell me I got it all wrong. That fruit salad was not the fruit salad she made at all. She has however, sent me corrections, and here is her original recipe, which is, I think, an improvement on my rather slapdash 'recipe'. It turns out there are limes. And blood oranges. Who knew? But even better for this time of year with all its lovely citrus fruit.

2 limes
4oz sugar (think I used a little less) 
2 pink grapefruit
3-4 blood oranges
450g fresh or tinned lychees   
Peel the limes very thinly, place the peel, sugar and 250ml water in saucepan and bring to boil, take off heat and leave to infuse for 15 mins.  Remove the peel and add the juice of the limes to the syrup. Peel and segment the grapefruit and oranges, removing pith and skin.  Drain the tinned lychees, mix fruit together and pour over syrup.  Serve hot or cold.

Mum says that as well as breakfast, it is also pretty darn good after a hot curry.

Deliciousness squared. With thanks to my lovely mum and her vast recipe store.