It’s been a tough food year

I love my food. I love baking cakes and eating them. I love chocolate. I love a roast dinner. I love vegetables picked in the garden and placed into a waiting, boiling pot. I love food.

I love writing this blog. It has given me purpose when I needed purpose. It has inspired me in the kitchen. It has given me a reason to spend more time in the kitchen. It has taught me new skills – cooking skills, yes, but also how to write one of these blog things. It has led to new, albeit virtual, friendships with people all over the UK and the world.

This year, the blog has faded a little into the background of my life and I haven’t given it the effort that it deserves. One of the reasons for this is the creation of Veg Patch Kitchen. My focus has been diverted into setting up the cookery classes.

Another reason though is that I have been struggling with food this past year. For about eighteen months, and perhaps with hindsight, a great deal longer, I have had stomach ache, back ache, bloating and a general feeling of sluggishness. On bad days I have had little energy for anything very much. My brain exists in a fug. Coherent thoughts become difficult. It has been frustrating. It has also been worrying. I have been wondering what was causing all of this. I have been through tests and thankfully nothing serious has been found. A possible diagnosis is Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Did I tell you that I love my food?

Now, I have to work out how to make myself feel better. I have to keep a consistent food diary so that I can work out which foods are upsetting my gut. I mustn’t do it for a week or two then get wrapped up in life again and forget about it. I must focus.

Food, a massive part of my life, has become something that is making me unwell. I have been researching online and found out about FODMAPS. These are foods that are not so easily digested and therefore should be avoided and guess what, wheat is on there. This means that I have to curb my bread obsession. I can still bake lots of bread for everyone else though and it certainly doesn’t stop me teaching others how to bake it, and I am continuing to enjoy my spelt sourdough as that is allowed in small doses. I am also trialling gluten-free bread making so that I can teach others, so maybe this will help too.

All in all, I hope this goes to explain a little about why so few blog posts have been appearing here. I have been baking, but mostly the cakes that are already an established favourite of the girls and most of them are already on here, although I must get round to posting my coffee and walnut cake.

Maybe, as a result of this The Ordinary Cook will change direction a little bit and less cakes and more savoury recipes will start to appear. Watch this space.

Kath x

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Honey and almond buns

It’s Real Bread Week this week and this is something close to my heart. The difference between real bread, made with those four ingredients of flour, yeast, salt and water and the bread that you get in the supermarket with all the added emulsifiers, fast proving and bland fluffiness are a world apart. I urge you to bake your own bread or if that doesn’t appeal (although please give it a go, just once, and I promise you will be hooked) then try to find a bakery that makes bread that meets the Real Bread Campaign’s standards.

Most of my days are consumed with the making of bread, the trialling of new recipes or the teaching of bread baking to others.  In celebration of Real Bread Week I thought I would make these beauties.

Honey and Almond Buns

These were inspired by a free sample of Manuka Honey I was sent to review by Manuka Doctor. Manuka honey is reputed to have many health benefits, with its antibacterial properties.  Now I cannot vouch for its ability to cure you of your ills, but I can tell you that it is very tasty. It has a creamy, smooth consistency and is really quite delicious, and not as strong tasting as some Manuka honey that I have tasted in the past. I ummed and erred about whether I should cook with it, as Manuka honey is expensive and is probably better spread on your toast or added to your peppermint tea (and most of my jar has been used for both of these purposes) than used so extravagantly as I do in this recipe. However, I was sent a jar to review and this is a cooking blog and would you really be interested in a picture of my honey spread on a bit of my toast? If you are making these buns at home then I recommend you use a very good local honey (and check the jar carefully to make sure it is local honey and not just packed locally) and save your Manuka for your toast and to sweeten your tea or smoothie.

This recipe is the enriched dough recipe I use in my baking classes, but with the sugar swapped for honey and it really does ring the changes, making a deliciously sticky and aromatically sweet bun.

Honey and Almond Buns

300g strong white flour
250g plain flour
10g salt
10g fresh yeast or 5g easy bake yeast
1 egg, beaten
150ml milk
150ml water
50g butter
50g honey

For the filling:
30g melted butter
50g flaked almonds
100g honey

For the glaze:
2 tbsp honey
Flaked almonds

Method
Place the flours, and salt in a large bowl, mix well. If you are using easy bake yeast then add this to the flours. If you are using fresh yeast crumble into a small bowl or cup. Heat the milk and the water over a gentle heat until just warm to the touch. Pour a little over the yeast and stir well to dissolve. Add all the liquid and yeast to the flours. You don’t have to wait for the yeast to bubble.  Melt the butter with the honey over a gentle heat and add to the flour with the egg.  Mix well together and then knead for about five to eight minutes until smooth and elastic. You can do this with the dough hook in a free standing mixer, with the mixer on speed 1 and for about three to five minutes.

Shape the dough into a ball, place into a bowl and cover with a large bag or lightly oiled clingfilm and leave to prove for about an hour to an hour and a half. With all of the egg, milk and butter in this dough it may take longer to rise. So use your judgement and when it looks like it has doubled in size it is ready for the next stage.

Lightly flour your work surface and turn the dough out. Roll the dough into an oblong measuring 20cm x 40cm. Brush all over with the melted butter. Warm the honey and brush all over. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds. Roll up from the long end like you would a swiss roll. Cut into nine equal pieces.

Lightly butter a square 20cm tin and place the buns in three by three (see above pic). Using your palm to flatten slightly so that when they have proved they will all be joined together in a batch. This will mean you have that lovely soft sides to your bun when you tear the nine buns apart once cooked (see pic below). Cover again with a large plastic bag or lightly oiled clingfilm and leave to prove for about thirty minutes, or longer if your kitchen is cold. They will have grown and merged together.

Preheat your oven to 200ºc, or use the roasting oven of the Aga with a grill rack set on the floor of the oven. Remove the bag or clingfilm and place in the oven and bake for about 25 -30 minutes until the buns are golden. Drizzle over another 2 tablespoons of honey whilst the buns are still warm and sprinkle over some more flaked almonds. Leave in the tin for ten minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

honey and almond bun

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Happy Easter

Hot cross buns

Happy Easter to all my readers. I will be enjoying at least one of these Hot Cross Buns with a cup of tea in a bit. The rest will be shared amongst friends and family. We are having a quiet Easter weekend at home. We will not be getting on the busy roads but instead will be pottering about planting seeds and getting some jobs crossed off that never ending list that we have.

I hope you have a lovely Easter weekend whatever you are doing.

Kath x

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Aromatic Shropshire Pudding

Aromatic Shropshire Pudding

Duerrs sent me a sample of their jam specifically made for home bakers. Made to be easily spreadable and stable when cooked their rhubarb and custard jam brings back memories of the sweets from childhood. I have been racking my brain as to the best way to use the jam. Last week I spent a fair amount of time in the kitchen trying out new recipes for my bread baking courses and whilst I was making cardamom scented buns I thought about using the jam as a filling for a ginger flavoured bun. Rhubarb and ginger are one of my favourite flavour pairings.  They were very tasty but because I made them in a whirl shape a lot of the jam escaped during baking, so I am back to the drawing board with that one. I think if I make a bun that is more like a doughnut with the jam enclosed that will work better. More experimentation will take place later this week.

On Sunday I was making dinner for Mothering Sunday and so was thinking of a dessert that would make use of the jam. I was tempted by roly poly and Manchester Tart but as I was looking through the index of Dorothy Hartley’s Food in England I noticed her recipe for Aromatic Shropshire Pudding with Brandy. I am not sure how I have missed this recipe before, being a Shropshire Lass through and through. My version is based loosely on Dorothy’s recipe, her version has no jam in it, but as it is a steamed pudding and I seem incapable of following other people’s recipes I thought why not? I didn’t have any brandy either so I swapped that for some dessert wine that I have sitting on the top of the cupboard. I swapped suet for butter too. Dorothy suggests serving it with brandy butter because in her words “(T)his is brown and aromatic, and, served with this butter and sugar, makes a good pudding for a frosty day”, I made proper custard. I did say it was loosely based on Dorothy’s recipe.

This recipe is a good way of using up stale bread and is very much like a sponge steamed pudding. I had some cold today with fridge cold cream and it was just as delicious in a different way.

225g breadcrumbs
100g butter
60g light brown sugar
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1 generous teaspoon brandy, dessert wine or liqueur of your choice
2 eggs, beaten with 1-2 tbsp of water
150g jam

Method

I made this in a food processor  by putting the breadcrumbs and butter into the processor and whizzing it, then adding the sugar, nutmeg, brandy/dessert wine and the beaten egg mixture and whizzing briefly again.

You can make it without a food processor by grating the cold butter into fine breadcrumbs and then adding the rest of the ingredients and using your hands to bring it all together.  The mixture should be quite moist.

Butter an ovenproof bowl that has a 1-pint (500ml) capacity and spoon the jam into the bottom of the bowl. Place the mixture on top of the jam. Cut a large square of greaseproof paper and fold a pleat in the middle of it. Tie securely with string, preferably making a handle with the string. Place a trivet in the bottom of a large saucepan. Put the pudding in and carefully pour hot water in to cover the bowl by three-quarters. Cover the pan tightly with a lid and bring to the boil. Lower to a simmer and simmer for three hours.

Lift the bowl carefully out of the water. Remove the paper. Invert a serving plate onto the top of the bowl and turn the pudding out. Be careful as sometimes it can  pop out and splash hot jam at you. Serve with cream, custard or brandy butter.

Aromatic Shropshire Pudding before cooking

Aromatic Shropshire Pudding before cooking

Duerrs sent me a free sample of their jam to try. All opinions are my own and honest. 

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Blood Orange Sorbet

We went to London for a few days during half term last week. The reason for the visit was because it was Chinese New Year and my youngest had requested that instead of our usual trip to Birmingham we went to see all the festivities in London. I messed up though as I booked it early to get a good deal on the hotel and trains. I booked it before the Chinese New Year festivities were published. There was I thinking that as CNY was on a Thursday this year things might be happening on the Thursday. Things weren’t happening on the Thursday, they were happening on the Sunday when we would be back in Shropshire. Oh well, lesson learned.

We still had a great time and we walked up and down Chinatown several times so that the youngest at least felt that she had soaked up something of the atmosphere. We did the British Museum to look at Ancient Greek items and the mummies. The mummified cat they have there is a mixture of amazing and horrid. Always a good mixture for things in a museum case I think. We did a couple of the more famous and older patisseries, our friend Tony bought me a cup from Patisserie Valerie which is much treasured. The other patisserie was perhaps the most disappointed by a cake shop that I have ever been. The cakes were delicious, the surroundings were grim. I am not sure when the Environmental Team were last in there but I am presuming it wasn’t recently.

One of the most exciting things about London is that you can buy anything, and what I most wanted was blood oranges. I remember my mum buying blood oranges in Shropshire when we were little but they are rarer than hen’s teeth in the county these days. If any one knows a secret source can they let me in on the secret.

So five blood oranges were duly carted home, amongst the huge bags of M&Ms the girls had managed to persuade me were a good idea in M&M World, and the small but treasured box of Turkish Delight from Fortnum and Mason.

The girls were horrified by the idea of blood oranges, reminding me how I had been the same when I was young, until I tasted one. History repeated itself. The girls loved this sorbet, sweet and refreshing as it is, and that colour could not easily be beaten surely.

Blood orange sorbet

It is very easy to make. Squeeze and measure the juice. Measure a quarter of that amount of caster sugar (so 200ml of juice needs 50g of caster sugar).Put the sugar in a pan and add enough of the juice to cover the sugar. Place the pan on a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. Leave to cool and then add the sugary juice to the rest of the juice. Pour into a freezer safe container and freeze. Stir up with a fork and freeze again. Then enjoy every sweet  mouthful.

The peel of the blood orange is so beautiful that I couldn’t throw it away so I candied it. I then promptly forgot the peel in the simmering oven of the Aga for a full 24 hours. Turns out it was a delicious mistake to make. The peel is sticky and moist with all of that sugary water evaporated down to a sweet, sweet sludge.

blood orangesblood oranges

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Singing Hinny

I was kindly sent a Kitzini silicone baking mat to review and I have been giving it a thorough test over the last couple of weeks. I started with a jammy dodger recipe, but the recipe needs more tweaking before it’s ready to share with you. They spread too much and needed to be a bit more substantial to be jammy dodgers that I would be proud to tell you about.  I made some buckwheat and almond cookies that are really good and will be shared at some point in the near future.

Jammy dodgers about to go in the oven

Jammy dodgers about to go in the oven

Buckwheat and almond cookies

Buckwheat and almond cookies

I have been impressed with the Kitzini mat. It has even heat distribution and is easy to clean, much easier than a buttered tray. Any spills wipe off very easily. The mats are oven, microwave and freezer safe and can also be used as pastry mats. They are available  at Amazon and are currently on sale.

I also made a Singing Hinny which worked really well with the mat on the simmering plate of the Aga. I have made a Singing Hinny a few times directly on the simmering plate and it works fine, but using the Kitzini mat did mean that it didn’t need turning as often to prevent the bottom scorching.

Singing Hinny

Singing Hinny dough with the underside cooking on the Aga

The Singing Hinny gets its name from the singing noise it makes when it hits the heat of the griddle. I sadly, have yet to experience a hinny singing to me yet. Maybe, one day.

The Singing Hinny is delicious served warm, sliced into wedges, split and buttered. Jam is optional but good.

Singing Hinny

Singing Hinny cooking on the Aga

This is supposed to cut into 8 wedges but Mr OC and I can eat it all in one sitting.

225g self-raising flour
½ tsp salt
50g butter (lard is more traditional but I don’t often have it in the fridge)
50g caster sugar
75g raisins or currants depending on what you have in the cupboard
1 egg
6 tbsp milk

Method

I make mine in a food processor which makes it very quick and easy. Put the flour, salt and butter into the processor and whizz together briefly. Add the sugar and whizz again. Add the egg and milk and whizz, then add the dried fruit and whizz very briefly. It should now be easy to bring together into a ball using your hands.

If you don’t have a food processor, rub the butter into the flour using the tips of your fingers. When it resembles breadcrumbs stir in the sugar and salt. Add the dried fruit, egg and milk and work gently together with a spoon or your hand until it forms a ball.

Place onto a lightly floured work surface and flatten to a disc using your hand. You can cook it on the simmering plate of the Aga or in a heavy based pan over a low-medium heat. Turn after about 8-10 minutes when it should be well browned. Cook for another 8-10 minutes. Leave to cool for a minute or two on a wire rack and then cut into wedges, split horizontally and spread with butter.

I was sent two silicone mats by Kitzini for review purposes. I received no other payment and any opinions expressed are honest and my own. 

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Spiced prunes

This week is National Breakfast Week and by pure chance I was going to tell you about these prunes anyway. I have to eat within ten minutes of waking up or I am horrible. That means that I need something easy to eat. A year or two ago that would have been a bowl of cereal. But now I find that they taste either of cardboard or sugar. I have made my own muesli for the past year or so. This is simply a mix of oats, nuts and whatever dried fruit I have in the cupboard, eaten with milk or greek yoghurt. I sometimes make granola too. But I needed a change. The idea of stewed prunes just appealed to me. I am not sure why, as the very words ‘stewed prunes’ has connotations attached to it that you don’t really want to think about first thing in the morning. That, perhaps, is why I chose to title this post ‘spiced prunes'; that sounds so much more appealing and exotic and doesn’t conjure up grandmas quite so easily.

These are easy to make, taste delicious and you make a big batch and it will keep in the fridge for a week or so, no trouble at all. I eat them with a big dollop of yoghurt stirred in. I forgot to buy some prunes this week and now I have run out and I am missing them. So, now, against all the odds and the “who’d have thought it”s, I am a confirmed stewed (aka spiced) prune eater. Give them a try and you will be too.

You can ring the changes with whatever spices you fancy. I like star anise, cinnamon and ginger but cardamom is good too. Try whatever appeals to you. It doesn’t need any sugar as the prunes are naturally sweet. I have tried adding a slice of lemon or a slice of orange but the stringency didn’t appeal to me. Give it a go though if you think you might like it.

250g ready-to-eat prunes (this amount lasts me a week of breakfasts, just for me)
water
your choice of spice, I use one star anise, half a cinnamon stick and a teaspoonful of finely chopped fresh ginger

Method
Put the prunes in a saucepan, add enough water to cover and with about 1cm of extra water. Add the spices. Place over a medium heat and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat down a little and simmer for about 10 minutes until the water is syrupy. Take off the heat. Put into a bowl, once they are cool cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge and eat whenever you feel like it.

Honestly, they are really delicious and probably very good for you.

 

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