Friday, 28 February 2014

Seedy Pecan and Walnut Spelt Soda Bread

Or the longest recipe title in the world. I suppose I'm nothing if not descriptive...!

Now. I've said it before and I'll say it again- I am not a bread maker. I am quite simply not patient enough for the proving, resting, kneading, and everything else that goes into breadmaking because quite frankly, all too often it's a little disappointing and to be honest, I don't eat enough bread to justify making a whole loaf- and when I do eat it, it's normally in the morning or at lunchtime, and unless you're wildly organised, it's fairly tricky to get bread ready for those times.

However. Soda bread is a bit different. No kneading, no proving, no waiting around. Just mix, oven, bake, eat. Easy peasy, and even I can do it.

Well. I say that, but actually when I first made this it really was underbaked. I'm blaming this entirely on the fact that I didn't realise that my watch had stopped, and therefore I had no idea what time the loaf went into the oven. It was certainly NOT my fault for not knowing what "hollow" sounds like (turns out, a bit like when you knock on a table top).

But yes. If I can make this, you can make this. And you should make this, and serve it toasted with poached eggs. I also think it would be incredible toasted and topped with cheese and chutney- but then, what bread isn't amazing when topped with cheese and chutney? It would also be perfect fresh from the oven with some lovely homemade soup- something hearty, like roasted tomato and lentil. Which is convenient, because I'll have a recipe for that coming up soon! Aren't I good to you? And in the meantime, Bess' Dad's Onion Soup would be perfect with this.

This recipe is very heavily inspired by the amazing Izy at Top With Cinnamon- as you will see as you go through. I used spelt flour purely because I couldn't get standard wholemeal flour either in my local branch of Tesco, or my local Holland & Barrett- but H&B did have spelt flour, so I decided to give it a go and found it really worked. If you wanted to substitute for wholemeal, or a mixture of wholemeal and spelt, then I'm sure that would work just fine too. I wouldn't recommend plain- for some reason, soda breads always seem to be made with something a bit more interesting that just plain flour.

Oh. And don't try to use baking powder instead of bicarbonate of soda? The clue is in the name. SODA bread. Bicarbonate of SODA. Easy.

Seedy Pecan and Walnut Spelt Soda Bread
Inspired by this recipe

500g spelt flour
2 heaped tsp bicarbonate of soda
A handful of pecans
A handful of walnuts
Half a mugful of mixed seeds
250ml milk (I used skimmed)
A 200g pot of low fat greek style natural yoghurt 
(I'm sure you could use any natural yoghurt, this is just literally what I used)

A baking tray, two bowls, an oven

Preheat your oven to 200C

Mix together your flour and bicarbonate of soda. Break your nuts into rough pieces (by hand, or use a knife if you really want) and add them to the bowl along with your seeds. In a separate bowl, mix together your yoghurt and milk, then add this to the flour. Combine to form a dough.

Turn out onto a floured work surface and using your hands, shape it into a ball-type shape.  Using a sharp knife, cut a cross on the top then place onto a lightly floured baking tray. Bake for 40 minutes-ish, or until it is a lovely deep brown, and sounds hollow when you tap the bottom of it.

Delicious ripped apart fresh from the oven, or toasted with eggs, cheese, jam, peanut butter (maybe not all at the same time though....

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Bloggers Do Dorset- Part Two

Goodness me, I really have been slack with these Dorset posts, haven't I?! Oh well, means you all get to enjoy my posts long after you've read all about what we did on someone else's blog... 

Anyways. I left off last time after a trip to Lulworth Cove, and us all nearly being blown into the sea. Well, after a well earned cup of tea and free apple (I know I mentioned those last time as well, but really- free apples? In a pub? They deserve all the mentions they can get), we all piled back into the cars with the intention of heading straight to Dorchester for a spot of lunch.

Well, Ibbs, Bess, Jenny and I had a slightly different plan... While CherylBeccaFreyaHannah, and Ellie zoomed off into the distance, I pulled into the little pub car park in the village of West Lulworth so we could play blogger and take pictures of the beautiful little houses in the village.

After a little while though, we decided that it would probably be best if we weren't caught peering through someone's living room window so we hightailed it back to the car and made our way into Dorchester, managing to avoid the vast majority of the puddles/ small lakes on the road on the way, and singing loudly to T-Swizz's Speak Now.

Hannah had planned for us all to go for lunch at Re-Loved, a vintage-shop-cum-tearoom. As we piled into the tiny downstairs store, I have to admit that I was dubious as to whether we'd be able to get a table for nine hungry bloggers- but Re-Loved delivered a table bit enough for us all to sit around comfortably. Result!

It only took a quick glance at the menu and a quicker glance at the specials' board for me to decide that I would be lunching on a burger. Half the girls decided to join me in this, while Ibbs went for ham and eggs (and possibly won in the ordering stakes, it looked amazing), Hannah went for a savoury cream tea, and Jenny went with Bubble and Squeak, complete with baked beans served in a teacup. Genius.

Image belongs to Jenny

Image belongs to Ibbs
While we lunched and chattered, I spotted the delicious looking array of (gluten free) cakes on the sideboard- and I am not one to turn down an enormous piece of Victoria Sponge cake, even after a burger and with the promise of popcorn and chocolate back at the house. Jenny, Ellie and Bess decided to join me in this, so we split two pieces between the four of us- which came complete with white chocolate mice. We lingered over our cake while a few of the girls decided to pop off for a little mooch around the town- but given that it was bucketing down and I'd left my parapluie dans la voiture, I was quite happy to stay in the cosy warmth of the cafe.

All too soon though, Bess reminded me that I'd promised to take her to Tesco for a few supplies for Sunday's roast lunch, so we made tracks while the others headed back to the house. By the time we joined them, Cheryl had got the fire roaring, the popcorn was on the go, and we all settled down in front of Leap Year for a cosy afternoon.

However, put nine girls in the same place at the same time and you're bound to get a good deal of silliness. Before long, we all had eyeliner freckles on our cheeks and Freya was trying to teach everyone to dance- as you can see below... 

Seriously. Two glasses of wine and everyone is Beyonce.

I'll give it a rest there for the time being- but stick around for pictures of the Cerne Abbas giant, and his, um... yeah. And don't forget to check out the other girls in the meantime:
IbbsBessJenny, CherylBeccaFreyaHannah, and Ellie

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

On Baking

I've got my baking mojo back this week.

After falling out with the oven at my friends' house, I kind of went off baking a little bit. I didn't have my cake tins, or new digital scales (I say "new", they were a Christmas present...), or piping bags and nozzles, or baking beans, or any of the things I like to have to hand when I'm whipping something up. Hence why I went with Welsh Cakes the other day- they're super easy, don't require the use of an oven, and are quick and easy to make. In short, they were the thing I could make that was least likely to result in me throwing an unattractive hissy fit in front of J (he hasn't been treated to that yet. God help him when it happens).

But while I was at home, my darling younger brother and his amazing girlfriend got engaged, and as soon as I'd calmed down enough to function in a socially acceptable way (I only actually "calmed down" yesterday. Actually, that's a lie- I'm still not convinced that I've calmed down completely), my first thought was "CAKE! I MUST MAKE THEM A CAKE!". So I did. This cake, in fact. It looked distinctly average to me, but they were so delighted with it it made my heart swell.

I often come across people who don't really "get" why I bake. They don't get why I want to weep when my cake comes out of the oven and has risen lopsidedly, or why I do a victory dance when my macarons look good, or why I get more joy out of giving cake to someone else than I do from eating it myself.

Baking for someone says "Here, I made you something. I like you enough to put actual effort into putting something together that will hopefully taste good and hopefully put a smile on your face". It says you love someone enough to painstakingly weigh out ingredients, beat them until your arm feels like it might fall off, hover in front of an oven until your creation looks just right, wait impatiently for it to cool, and then decorate in a way that makes something that will hopefully taste good look good too.

My older sister has been pestering me for months to make her a cake, and when I took her birthday cake to her last night, she was absolutely delighted. To me, it was one of the worst looking cakes I've made in an age, it was denser than it should have been, and there were many things I would have done to make it better. But she loved it. She loved that I had gone to the effort of making her something, and transporting it for 30 miles to her front door.

I show love by feeding people. It's why I don't tend to get take out food often, or go out to eat- I love cooking for people. The kitchen is my happy place, and while I may not have the highest level of confidence when it comes to my own cooking (my lovely housemate M is far more innovative and daring than I am in the kitchen, for example), realistically, I know I'm good at it. And if someone doesn't eat something I've baked, my heart breaks a teeny tiny bit. It makes me sad. So if I ever bake anything for you, please just eat it?

So yes. Baking mojo is back- this week has already seen two bakes, and I'm planning more for tonight- so keep your eyes peeled for more recipes in the coming weeks. But in the meantime, why not have a peek at some of my favourite foodie bloggers? They're all amazing, far more so than me. But I'd like to think they'd get why I bake too, and would forgive me for all the gratuitous pictures of my more successful bakes.

Top With Cinnamon- Izy is 18. EIGHTEEN. I bow to her greatness.
London Bakes- one of the first blogs I read. I love Kathryn's gluten free recipes, though I almost always turn them back to gluten-full as I don't have an intolerance.
Thoroughly English- because I love her, and she is amazing. I have seen her cook and she really is a goddess.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Oh, Life

I spent so much of last in the kitchen that I forgot to a) write the post I meant to write and  b)unpack (my room looks like a bomb made of recipe books, bedding, and giant suitcases full of clothes). I also forgot to text back three different people, so apologies for that if you were one of them, and I was fully intending to call HMRC but forgot to do that too. But hey, I had a lovely evening so I guess that's something!?

Found here. Isn't that amazing!?
I guess being pretty busy kind of goes hand in hand with forgetting to do things. I've becoming surgically attached to the little green diary I bought a few weeks ago, and it has really saved my bacon on a couple of occasions. And this coming from the girl who was voted Most Reliable/ Team Leader on a university trip to Paris. Yeesh.

On that, I need advice on great things to do/ go/ eat/ see in London this weekend. Answers on a postcard/ in a tweet/ in a comment, if you please?

Anyways. Here are a few things that are running around my head at the moment. Consider this to be vaguely organised word vomit, if you will.

OK, I love everything Deb Perelman does but these Chocolate Hazelnut Linzer Hearts just look ridiculously brilliantly amazing. I mean come on, heart shaped biscuits filled with Nutella!? I know what I'm making the moment I get a chance. I need to bake something brilliant to take to work too- I made my lovely big sister  birthday cake last night which will hopefully look amazing despite looking like a child's birthday cake from 1982. Sorry C...

I bought this jumper in "Light Moss" on Friday. No, I probably shouldn't have bought it, but i'm having a bit of a moment with pale green at the moment. It's such a pretty colour, and the jumper is so cosy that I just really couldn't resist. I promise not to wear it with my mint green jeans, I think that would probably be a little too much...

This quote is just perfect. I hope she did actually say it- I often worry with quotes I find on the internet that they've probably just been made up. This one seems fairly legit looking though, don't you think?

I spent a lot of this weekend listening to Kodaline- In A Perfect World. It's a good album, actually- I listened to it four times on the way to and from the Harry Potter Studio Tour. What can I say, it was a long journey- I listened to Taylor Swift- Speak Now twice too. I need to put more CDs in my car.

I'm possibly going to give up chocolate for Lent. I honestly think this will be truly, truly difficult, and I have lots of exciting Harry Potter related chocolate from the weekend, so I might end up bailing on it, but I think I'm going to give it a go. Isn't that the idea of Lent? To give up something you'll truly miss? One year I gave up wearing odd socks which, considering I hate odd socks with the white hot heat of 10,000 suns, wasn't that much of a challenge.

Watching the dancers at The Lion King on Friday night made me realise I don't want to be skinny- I want the stomach of a person who does absolutely tons of exercise. I want to be toned and amazing looking. If someone could come up with a way of me doing this without having to go outside in the rain, I'd appreciate it.

Finally, I'm massively enjoying having a little bit of alone time at the moment. M is off skiing in Les Arcs (lucky devil), and I am taking the time to appreciate our new carpets, sing obnoxiously loudly at 7am, and bake so vigorously that the kitchen looks like an explosion in a sugar factory.

Tell me. How are you?

Monday, 24 February 2014

Happiness Is... (vol. 55)

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen that last night I tweeted that I've had the best weekend ever. I don't think that's an overexaggeration. This weekend started on Thursday night, when I drove straight to J's house (a mere 100 miles away) to spend the night there before heading home for Friday and Saturday, before heading to the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour on Sunday with a bunch of rather brilliant bloggers as organised by Jenny (I'll be popping up a full post on this in the week!). To be honest, just those things would have made for a really brilliant weekend- but why was it the best weekend ever? Well, carry on reading and I might just explain a few things below...

To be honest, life in general at the moment is really good. I feel like I'm really making the most of the free time I have at the moment, I'm taking lots of the opportunities that have come my way, and I'm just really enjoying myself. I feel like a really, really good version of myself at the moment too- confident, independent, and happy. Life is good (if a little tiring), and this week, happiness is...

... excellent news. On Saturday, my younger brother and his girlfriend of eight years got engaged and I genuinely couldn't be happier for them! I had a feeling that they'd get engaged at some point this year, but this was a little sooner than I'd expected so it came completely out of the blue. I was so happy to be home when it happened, as it meant I got to see them and give them big squeezes, squeal in their ears about how happy I was, and bombard them with questions about things they haven't even thought of yet. I am genuinely just so, so excited, and this is the main thing that made my weekend so brilliant. And the cake? Well, my default reaction to exciting news is "BAKE!" (to be said in a Mel/Sue GBBO-style voice), so that is a cake I knocked together as quickly as possible so I had something to give them to celebrate with.

... going to the theatre. If all of that excitement wasn't enough, on Friday night my brother's fiancee (!!!) (though actually she wasn't at the time...), her mum, my mum, and I went to the Theatre Royal in Plymouth to see The Lion King. It was so good- seriously, a really genuinely brilliant production. I'd highly recommend it! And just in general, a night at the theatre is one of my absolute favourite things to do- it just feels like such a treat!

... new carpets. While I was away this weekend, my lovely housemate/ landlady/ best friend had carpets fitted on the stairs and landing, her bedroom, and my bedroom. I loved the wooden floors we had before, but the carpets have made the house feel so cosy. Warm feet ahoy!

... pizza (or just food being delivered to the door). I don't eat a lot of pizza. In fact, I don't eat a lot of junk food (other than chocolate. I eat an awful lot of that). But on Thursday night, J and I decided we couldn't be bothered with cooking, so pizza was ordered. A) Pizza is brilliant when you don't eat it all that often and B) whoever came up with the idea of delivering food to people's doors was a genius. Having a takeaway delivered still feels like a massive novelty to me- living in rural Devon, you don't really get to have food delivered! So when you combine the two things, a happy (full) Alice is the result.

... taking make up off at the end of the day. After all that excitement, I ended Sunday feeling very tired, but very happy. I'd worn make up to the Studio Tour as I knew that hundreds of pictures would be taken, and it was likely I'd end up in some of them. But taking off my make up at the end of the day made me feel so relaxed. Honestly, is there a better feeling than taking off your make up and putting on your PJs? I don't think so.

Happy face! This does not demonstrate the above as, clearly, I'm wearing eye make up here. Oops.
What's making you happy this week? 

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Welsh Cakes

In England, it's all about scones. In Scotland- drop scones. In Ireland- I'm not entirely sure, but I'm sure it's something similar. In Wales, we eat Welsh Cakes.

Welsh cakes are kind of like a cross between a pancake and a fruit scone, but completely different and utterly delicious in their own special way. I love Welsh cakes- there is just something so unbelievably delicious about a disk of cakey-fruity-sconey goodness, particularly when they are still warm from the pan. And they are some of the easiest things in the world to make too- honestly, I'm pretty sure I made these in primary school (in England. Chances are this was when my Welsh dad was chairman of the PTA).

Being back in Wales for the foreseeable future, it wasn't going to be long before I made these again. I've never made Welsh Cakes as an adult, but I had an assistant in the kitchen, and it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss...

I adapted this recipe to suit what I had in the cupboard.

You will need:

225g self raising flour
A good shake of ground mixed spice
110g salted butter (preferably Welsh, of course)
85g soft brown sugar
A handful of mixed dried fruit
1 egg
A splash of milk (if needed)
Extra butter for greasing
Sugar for dredging.

A bowl, and a large heavy based frying pan/ griddle pan/ bakestone.

Begin by mixing together your spices and flour. Then rub the butter into the flour, as you would when making pastry, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and a handful of dried fruit- currants are traditional, but I used a mixture of cranberries, golden raisins, and normal raisins because that's what I had in the cupboard. Whisk the egg in a small bowl or mug, then add to the mixture and use a knife to mix it all together before getting your hands it to try to form the mixture into something resembling a ball of dough. If it won't come together, then add a splash of milk and try again.

Turn your ball of dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and roll out. I couldn't find our rolling pin, so an empty wine bottle from the previous night had to suffice. Roll out to approximately 5mm thick, then use a tumbler/ glass/ cookie cutter to cut out rounds. Squish your offcuts back together and repeat until you've used all of your dough.

Rub a small amount of butter over the surface of a large, heavy based frying pan, and then turn the heat on to medium. Cook your Welsh cakes in batches in the pan- each should take about 2 minutes on each side, though do try not to let them burn. Traditionally, they are an appetising caramel-brown all over, but in practice, when you do this yourself at home, it isn't necessarily going to work like that.

Once all of your Welsh cakes are cooked, sprinkle over a little sugar (known as "dredging"). I can tell you from experience that demerara isn't the best sort of sugar for this, and you're probably best of sticking with the traditional caster sugar.

And there we have it! These are absolutely positively best eaten the day they are made, preferably still warm from the pan and with a large mug of tea. Otherwise, warmed slightly in the microwave and topped with butter and jam, like a scone, also works pretty damn well.

You can also mess around with the flavours a bit- chocolate chips and orange zest instead of the spices and dried fruit would be great, and I think adding finely chopped hazelnuts would be pretty tasty too.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Bloggers Do Dorset- Part One

A couple of weekends ago, I thoroughly confused my Cardiff friends by announcing that I was off to Dorset for the weekend with a group of people I’d never met. To be honest, that wasn’t strictly true as my beloved Jenny, Ellie, and Bess would be there, but I had never met the gorgeous Ibbs, Freya, Becca, Cheryl, or our organiser extraordinaire Hannah before. But I guess when you read people’s lives on the internet, you kind of do know them- you know!?

Picture belongs to Hannah
Becca, Cheryl, Ibbs, Bess, Ellie (top), Jenny (top), me, Hannah, and Freya
I set off from Cardiff on a reasonably sunny afternoon and pootled my way down the M5 and across Somerset to the lovely Ashley House, a house rented from Sykes Cottages house we had rented for the weekend. All was going very smoothly until I was somewhere in Dorset and my satnav decided to direct me through a ford. Literally. A ford that is always there but had become something of a river because of the enormous amounts of rain we’ve had over the past few weeks. Because I’m stubborn, a bit stupid, and knew there was a tractor right behind me (which could have pushed/ pulled me out if I’d got stuck), I braced myself and drove straight through it. Bearing in mind I drive a little Peugeot 207 which has a habit of allowing things to break/ fall off/ go wrong, you could say that this was one of the more stupid decisions I’ve made in my life, but little Henri did me proud, and we made it through in one piece and without water getting into the system. Success!

On my arrival at the gorgeous house, I found Ibbs and Hannah chatting in the kitchen. I promptly perched myself on the kitchen counter, made a cup of tea, and got down to the serious business of gossiping until Becca, Freya and Cheryl arrived for the weekend. We caught up/ introduced ourselves over a veritable feast of pizza, onion rings, chips, and wine, and were considerate enough to save the rose for Jenny, Ellie and Bess who had the most stressful journey after getting caught behind an accident on their way down. All too soon, however, the journeys caught up with us, and we stumbled off to bed...

I awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed to a text from Bess telling me she was awake and to come and play with her in the kitchen. I crept out of the room I was sharing with Jenny (not very quietly, it seems as she appeared only ten minutes later- sorry J!) to go in search of tea and breakfast. Hannah had sorted provisions for us for the weekend, and had supplied us all with cereal, amazing bread, bacon, avocados and, most importantly, nutella. So while most of the girls waited patiently for bacon sandwiches, I busied myself with the crumpets and nutella, and then got terrible food envy when I saw Ibbs' avocado-bacon-ketchup-on-toast contraption. Oh well, such is life...

Image belongs to Ibbs
Fed, watered, and highly caffeinated, we all piled ourselves into the cars to head for the coast- Taylor Swift's Speak Now blasting from the stereo in Henri. We made our way to Lulworth Cove which, I'm told, is usually calm, clear, and beautiful. What we got was bloody windy, very choppy, and ginormous crashing waves...

After we had been suitably blown about, we headed back up the road to the pub for cups of tea and free apples. Why the pub was giving away free apples I have no idea, but it was a lovely touch and really added to the charm of the place. Plus- one of your five a day just handed to you in a basket is never going to go amiss, is it!?

I'll stop there- for the time being. There's still all of Saturday evening, Sunday, and Monday morning to tell you about. In the meantime, check out the girls who have mostly been a bit speedier than I have in their posting, if you really can't wait to find out what we got up to...!

JennyEllieBess, IbbsFreyaBeccaCheryl, Hannah

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Blogger Book Club Chat: A Tale For The Time Being

So it may be a week later than planned, but it's finally here! The Blogger Book Club chat all about Ruth Ozeki's A Tale For The Time Being.

Firstly, I really hope you all enjoyed the book!? I honestly had no idea what to expect when I started reading it- I knew that it would be told from two different perspectives which were kind of closely interwoven, but other than that? Nada. Zip. I managed to resist reading spoilers on Wikipedia (a terrible habit I have for TV series, actually) so I went the whole way through the book without any idea of what was going to happen.

Personally, I really liked this book. The fact it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013 made me feel intelligent (I think they only tend to shortlist intelligent books, right!?), and I like books which are told from a variety of perspectives- Game of Thrones, The Time Traveler's Wife, Jodi Picoult books all do it for me. I didn't think it was too difficult to keep up with the jumps either, though I did find that sometimes things were a little too convenient- for example, when Ruth was wondering about Nao's family, only for the next Nao chapter to start with her family tree. Though I suppose having made it to the end of the book, that kind of makes sense too. I also really enjoyed the slightly mystical element to the story. Like Ruth, I certainly forgot that Nao wasn't writing at the same time that Ruth was reading.  

Found here
And I liked how it could have been a true story- because I suppose a lot of books are like that, aren't they? Thinly veiled autobiographies, or the stories we wish had happened to us. I liked that Ruth Ozeki was really up front about this.

SO. Now I've rambled a little bit about my thoughts on the book, it's over to you. What did you like about the book? Was there anything you didn't like about it? Which part of the narrative did you like better- Nao, or Ruth? And most importantly- how do you think the diary got to Ruth? Somehow, I don't think it would have been just washed away in the tsunami- it was too carefully packed. I personally think Nao threw it into the sea- whether in Japan or Canada though, I don't know.

I'll drop some more questions into the comments section throughout the day. Make sure you tick the "notify me" button in the comments box if you want to know when someone adds a comment to the post!