Sunday, 24 February 2013

Fudge it

We've been hitting some tourist spots this half term. At one of them we were duped into buying stale and expensive fudge. The children didn't know or care how awful it was, so I made some myself to prove how good it could be. Mine won hands down - crumbly yet soft, sweet and salty, smooth and crunchy... And all made in about 5 minutes.

I would like to add the following caveat, lifted straight from the small print of a pub menu in Essex: "All desserts contain calories". Oh yes, and it's not suitable for nut allergy sufferers. Just in case you were wondering.

A block of fudge, some cut into squares
You'll go nuts for this

Salted peanut butter fudge

Makes enough to fill a 23 x 31cm baking tray

110g butter
475g soft brown sugar
125ml milk
200g peanut butter (the no added salt kind)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
425g icing sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt flakes

Melt the butter over a medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar and the milk and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes, stirring. Remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter and vanilla. Pour over the icing sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat until smooth. Turn into the tray and sprinkle with salt. Chill until firm.

If you're feeling generous, put some in cellophane bags and tie with a pretty ribbon for a gift; or serve to guests with coffee after dinner.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Say it with lemon drizzle cake

My absent husband left a Valentine's card for me in his underwear drawer. He was surprised I hadn't found it. Does he think I dress up in his pants when he goes away? I hope you have not had any such unsavoury encounters; maybe you're starting to feel guilty that you haven't made much effort... Don't panic, there's still time to make cake for the one you love.

Heart shape lemon drizzle cake on white plate
Lemon dribble cake - you'll be drooling over it

You can't see the lemon glaze because I added red food colouring to it (but used unbleached caster sugar). That's what happens when you try and be clever.

Valentine's Day lemon cake

175g butter
175g caster sugar
225g self raising flour
1½ level teaspoons baking powder
3 eggs
3 tablespoons milk
grated rind of 1½ lemons

juice of 1½ lemons with 175g caster sugar

Pre-heat oven to 180/gas 4. Put all the ingredients in a bowl together and beat for a couple of minutes. Bake for about 35-40 minutes and leave to cool in the tin. While it's cooling, mix the lemon juice and sugar together and tip it over the top.

I usually make this as a traybake in a tin measuring 12 x 9 inches.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Dog's dinner

I've spent all morning at my desk. Well, not quite all morning... there was the leisurely breakfast, some suddenly-urgent knicker-folding, a bit of online shopping and the rearrangement of furniture which took place before I actually knuckled down. 'All morning' is probably about 90 minutes, in truth. But now I'm cold, hungry and stiff and it's only midday, so I venture out on a dog walk to kill time until it can properly be called lunch time.

The dog isn't keen. I dive into the freezer and retrieve a handful of treats which are scraps of leftover meat, often salvaged from dinner plates, cut up small and frozen. For the dog, not me. As we walk, I can feel the cold from the bag of frostbitten chicken (stuffed in my bra for rapid defrosting) and the biting wind blowing through my llama wool hat. I think longingly of the sweet and silky roast onions, squash, aubergine and courgette I've taken out of the fridge and the fluffy couscous I shall have with it. Then I spot the dog excreting from its back end and I realise I don't have a bag. I take off my gloves, fish out the treats and transfer them to the palm of one hand while using the other to carefully gather up the dog's offering and get it in the treat bag. Now I can't put my gloves back on unless I put the wet pieces of chicken in one fleece-lined coat pocket and the bag of doggy doo-doo in the other, so I complete the walk with bare hands. This was my reward:

A pile of roasted vegetables on top of some couscous on a white plate, with fork
My reward

Roasted vegetables and couscous

Cut up some veg - things like squash, aubergine, red peppers, courgettes, onions (at least one) - put them in a roasting tin with a generous drizzle of olive oil and a couple of crushed cloves of garlic, then cook in a medium-high oven for about 45-60 minutes, turning everything a couple of times. Don't let them shrivel or blacken too much or they will lose their sweetness.

I ate these with a packet of Ainsley Harriot's couscous - the best thing to come out of the larder since Angel Delight (and just as easy). Open packet, pour into bowl, add 160ml boiling water, wait 5 minutes, add a splash of your best olive oil, fluff it up with a fork.

I debated whether to add some Stilton salad dressing (left over from the weekend) or a dribble of balsamic vinegar to this, but it tasted delicious as it was so I didn't bother.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013


Why are you eating pancakes today? It's all about Easter, innit. Whether you call it Pancake Day, Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras, it's the day before Lent starts. Lent, you will remember, is 40 days of abstinence in sympathy for Jesus' 40 days of starvation in the desert. (He was obviously in the wrong place because the deserts I've been to have offered dune-buggying, belly-dancing, brothels and a lot of fast food among other diversions.) So today we use up all our rich food - eggs, milk, flour and butter - and make pancakes in preparation for the next few weeks' fasting. You might choose to use up any other combination of rich foods, but I'm not taking responsibility for that.

Mini Dutch pancakes

Not only is the whole country as flat as a pancake, but The Netherlands is famous for its poffertjes (above) - mini pancakes eaten with sugar. Whether you are tucking into pancakes drenched with sugar, lemon, maple syrup, Nutella, jam, or stuffed with savoury delights, spare a thought for the inhabitants of Iceland and Finland who celebrate by eating salted meat and peas or pea soup. In Newfoundland, cooks put fortune-telling tokens into the pancakes: A coin means wealth, a nail means they will marry a carpenter (or possibly a trip to A&E), etc.

Have you decided what to give up for Lent? Can you resist temptation for 40 days? Maybe you could resurrect your new year's resolutions if they have flagged (and if you can remember them). You should also be ready to confess your sins today. Anything you want to tell me?

YumYumBubblegum's pancake recipe

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Happy New Year!

Today is the start of the Chinese new year - the year of the snake. According to Chinese wisdom, having a snake in the house is a good omen, meaning that the family will not starve. Lucky for us, we have two, so I confidently predict I will be sharing my food with you for another year. The snake follows the dragon in the Chinese calendar. Dragon years are very lucky but snake years are less so and they may put people off doing big things like weddings, moving house or giving birth. You have been warned.

Two snakes, orange and white, being held in a human hand
Sunday lunch

If you want to theme your food today, I suggest you try some stir-fried prawns with noodles, accompanied by Asian greens. You can make the whole meal in less than 15 minutes with these ingredients: noodles, spinach, raw prawns, garlic, soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, sesame oil, chilli flakes

Cook some dried noodles in water with half a chicken stock cube added to it (or use fresh noodles and skip this step).

Greens: Gently melt a knob of butter in a pan and add a crushed clove of garlic and some spinach. Let it cook until the spinach starts to wilt and then add a couple of tablespoons soy sauce, a teaspoon of sesame oil and a pinch of chilli flakes. Stir well.

Prawns: Heat some vegetable oil in a pan, add some crushed garlic, raw prawns, soy sauce (preferably the light kind) and sweet chilli sauce and stir well until the prawns turn pink. Use about 2 tablespoons chilli sauce for every one of soy. Tip in the noodles and give them a swish around in the cooking juices, then serve with the greens.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Stop, thief!

It's a bad day for retail when you visit your local High Street for the first time in weeks with high hopes and flexible plastic - but all you come away with is a packet of fake/joke flies (cost £1). So to cheer myself up I thought I'd indulge in a bit of theft. Not old-fashioned pilfering from Tesco like Anthony Worrall Thompson, but new-fangled internet plagiarism from another blogger: Blackberry and Almond Traybake from English Kitchen Baking. When these popped into my inbox I knew I had to make them straight away. I hope you feel the same.

Two pieces of blackberry and almond cake on a glass plate
Fruity, cakey, almondy, squidgy... gorgeous

Blackberry and almond traybake

250g butter
250g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
120g plain flour
225g ground almonds
300g blackberries (frozen)
a few drops of almond essence

Pre-heat oven to 180/gas 4. Line a baking tin measuring about 30x20cm. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, add the eggs a little at a time, fold in the flour, ground almonds and essence. Tip into the tin and scatter the blackberries on top. Bake for about 45 minutes until golden brown. Dust with icing sugar when cool, or eat warm with cream.