Veg Patch Kitchen Cookery Courses

Do you remember I mentioned I was ready for a new venture? Well here it is – cookery courses at my sister’s house in South Shropshire.

I originally planned to set up as a home bakery. There is still a possibility of this happening in the future but for now I am going to concentrate on the cookery courses. The idea for the tutoring came about after a discussion with my sister. She lives in a beautiful 17th century farmhouse in South Shropshire, with a large farmhouse kitchen with an electric range and a wood fired Esse. The kitchen is perfect for teaching people how to cook in a domestic setting. So we thought why not? Let’s do it! So we are.

Have a look at our new webpage at VegPatchKitchen to see more about us. Initially we are focusing on teaching the basics of bread making. We had a trial run in October which went really well, inspiring some of the participants to bake bread at home for their families for the first time. I was so pleased that the day had made a difference to their cooking habits. You can take a look at the breads they made on the day here.

Gift vouchers are available if you want to treat someone to a Christmas present that they can use in the New Year. I can’t think of a better present myself.

I am really looking forward to the new venture, meeting new people and teaching them new skills.

There will still be adventures to be had here at The Ordinary Cook. I have been doing a fair bit of baking lately. I just need some time to write the posts.


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Grape cake

grape cake

There has been a bumper crop of grapes at my niece’s house this year. There have been lots of grapes in previous years. But this year with the warm weather these grapes are really delicious. They are small and unfortunately seeded, but for outdoor grown English grapes they are very, very good.

bowl of grapes

Until I picked up a copy of Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italy from the local charity shop I had no idea that grape cake was a thing. He also recommends freezing grapes and enjoying them frozen as a dessert with a bit of chocolate – my goodness, frozen grapes are delicious. So quite a few bunches have been frozen and then a couple of bunches made their way into this cake. The cake is really good. It’s a shame these grapes have seeds. I didn’t remove the seeds prior to including the grapes in the cake batter and they do ruin the texture of the cake a little. But with these grapes being so small, taking the seeds out would have been a long-winded process.

I have altered Jamie’s recipe. Well, I can’t help myself from tinkering. So this is my recipe for grape cake. Blueberries, raspberries or apple (chopped up small) would be a good alternative to grapes if you don’t have any handy. I had a bit of dessert wine left over that needed using up so I included it in this cake. If you don’t have any to hand then just use more milk in its place, so 150ml milk rather than the 75ml. This is a lovely moist cake and I will be trying it with other fruit too.

4 eggs
250g caster sugar
150g unsalted butter, melted
150g extra virgin olive oil
75ml sweet wine (or you could use milk if you don’t have any sweet wine)
75ml milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
400g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
600g grapes, or blueberries, or raspberries or apple chopped into small dice


Preheat the oven to 180°c, 350°f, gas mark 4 or use the middle shelf of the Aga’s baking oven. Grease and line a 23cm cake tin.

Beat the eggs and the sugar together in a large bowl using an electric mixer until thick and moussey and the whisk leaves a trail. Pour in the cooled butter, olive oil, wine, milk, lemon zest  and vanilla extract and beat again until combined. Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold in gently. Add three-quarters of the grapes and stir in gently. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and place into the oven. Bake for 15 minutes then remove from the oven and place the remaining grapes on top of the cake. Push them gently into the batter. Place back in the oven and cook for another 30-40 minutes until the cake feels firm when you press a finger on top. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for ten minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

sliced grape cake

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Quark’s new cooking sauces

I was sent a hamper by The Lake District Dairy Co. recently. It was no ordinary hamper. It was brimming with food!

Quark hamper

The Lake District Dairy Co. has launched a new range of cooking sauces using their Quark. Quark is a naturally low-fat, protein-rich alternative to other creamy delights that you may add to your meal. There are three different flavours; tikka, garlic and herb and tomato and basil.

It was interesting to receive them. I am a cook from scratch type and would not normally be interested in buying a cooking sauce like this. I would normally opt for the plain Quark to add to a sauce of my own making. However, having said all of that they are a very good way of making a very quick, nutritious meal when you simply stir the sauce into a bowl of hot pasta. Perhaps most importantly Mr OC was a big fan of the baked gnocchi that I made by stirring the Garlic & Herb Quark into cooked gnocchi, adding wilted spinach and some chopped basil and coriander, pouring it all into a heatproof dish and topping with grated cheddar and pine nuts. I grilled it until bubbling and brown. He really enjoyed it. It was in his words “the combination of stodgy, cheesy and garlicky” that did it for him. In fact he enjoyed it so much I started to wonder why I cook from scratch as much as I do!

Quark garlic and herb gnocchi

Quark Garlic and Herb Gnocchi

The tikka sauce was added at the end of my normal curry and added a fresh kick.

Quark tikka curry

Quark tikka curry


The tomato and basil Quark was added to my rice stuffed tomatoes, using some huge beef tomatoes that we have grown this year in the greenhouse.

Quark Tomato and Herb rice stuffed tomatoes

Quark Tomato and Herb rice stuffed tomatoes

All in all it made for an interesting week of meals and although I still prefer to cook from scratch I can really recommend these stir in sauces for those times when time is precious and you want some tasty comfort food that is also good for you.

I was sent a free hamper by The Lake District Dairy Co for review purposes. I did not receive a fee to write this post. All opinions in the review are my own and are honest.

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Chef’s Jacket from Viking

I was approached by the PR team from Viking to see if I would review an item from their culinary range . I had a look through their online selection and there were a lot of things I wanted to try out, but my eye was caught by the chef’s jacket.

I have a plan. In my last post I explained how I have been a stay at home mum for the past five years, keeping my hand in with this blog and volunteering at the local museum and my girls’ school. It’s time for a change though, before I get too stuck in a rut. We have the summer holidays hovering ahead of us. I am going to take this time to decide which way I should go. I can try to get back into the old career and get a full-time job. This option would mean a big life change for all of us but especially the girls.

The second option is to set up my kitchen and dining room as a home bakery, selling bread and cakes locally and running cookery lessons. This would allow more flexibility around the girls.

I have been doing my research into this second option and getting organised so that I can launch shortly after the girls start school again in September.

I have taken my Food Hygiene training in preparation which highlighted the importance of wearing clean, tidy clothing and preferably something that covered your ordinary clothing to protect the food from contamination.

The chef’s jacket then will be my uniform. It is manufactured by Alexandra and is unisex so can be buttoned either the female or male way. It is long enough to protect the bread from contact with my normal clothing. It appears to be tough enough to withstand the regular washing that it will need. I am pleased with the quality of it for the reasonable cost of £14.39 inclusive of VAT. I look forward to testing it fully in the future.

chef's jacket

I was not paid for this review but I did receive the chef’s jacket for free from Viking. All the opinions are my own and are honest.

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Community Potluck Cookbook

Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook by Nancy Vienneau

Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook by Nancy Vienneau

I started this blog back in 2009 when the job I had back then came to an end. I had a choice – I could get a job in a city about an hour away from home and take the same journey my husband makes every working day or I could take a career break.  Our girls were little then, aged 4 and 2 and I didn’t see how we could both leave home before 7 am in the morning.  It was  a difficult choice and one that I have wrestled with ever since. I was on the cusp of having a proper career. I had finished my PhD in 2005 and had worked as a research consultant in the same field ever since. I loved my job and knew a lot about finance mechanisms for early-stage businesses.  But I love my girls more and the notion of leaving them in full-time childcare made me wince. We made the decision to manage on my husband’s income. (We are very lucky that we can.)  But I knew I needed to do something that was mine, outside of caring for the girls.  Something that I could focus on. My original idea was to publish a recipe book, but I hadn’t a clue how to go about it. I did some research on the net and found food blogs. It seemed like an ideal solution. It would be like keeping a ‘hand in’ whilst I took a career break to look after my girls. It has proved to be a great way to gain some skills in website building and as a way of getting my recipes to an audience.

What I hadn’t realised back then was that I would become part of a community. You begin to read someone else’s blog, make a comment and then another. You read about their lives as well as their baking and after a while you think of them as friends. These are people that you will probably never meet face to face but with whom you feel a connection.  I had no idea when I started all of this back in 2009 that I would get to know people from all over the UK and, in fact, from all over the world. For all the bad press that the internet gets, it also opens doors to some marvellous opportunities.

I found Nancy’s blog in the early days and it was this post  that sealed it for me. Nancy’s story of the waffle iron rang so many bells for me in terms of what I want for my own daughters. I have been a fan of Nancy’s ever since. She is an amazing woman doing so much good work in her campaigns for healthy and affordable food for everyone. I was really pleased when she announced that she was publishing a book based on her Third Thursday Community Potlucks. I love the concept. Nancy and her friend Gigi met after Nancy had admired a community farm plot run by Gigi. Together they decided that each third thursday of the month they would invite like-minded friends and acquaintances to a gathering at alternatively Nancy’s or Gigi’s house. If you could make it, great – just bring along a seasonal dish and beverage to share with everyone else. I love that they didn’t really ever know how many people would join them on any given potluck evening and that out of these potluck suppers have come weddings and babies.

The book is beautiful, filled with stunning seasonal recipes and gorgeous photos. Nancy encourages you to start your own potluck as a way of bringing people together who wouldn’t normally have met as a way of strengthening your local community. I am very tempted to make the informal bring and share evenings that our book-club* enjoys into something more regular and introducing new faces.

Nancy’s book works through a year, month by month, of Potluck recipes and include the likes of Buttermilk Peach Ice Cream with Salted Caramel Sauce, “Mango Tango” White Butter Cake and Brown Butter Honey Cake and that’s just some of the desserts.

But what is probably the most exciting thing ever is what appears on page 144 of Nancy’s lovely book:

Nancy Vienneau

LOOK AT THAT! My name in print thanks to a lovely person living in Nashville whom if I hadn’t started this blogging lark I would never have come across and come to admire. That is the miracle of the internet right there.

I urge you to get yourself a copy of Nancy’s gorgeous book, and obviously not just because it’s got my name in it. I bought mine on Amazon in the UK, but take a look at Nancy’s site Good Food Matters for options if you live elsewhere and maybe start your own potluck gathering and meet some new people face to face.

*What started out as a book club has now become the wine club as we now rarely read books as part of the group but we do our fair share of drinking wine.

Just to let you know, I wasn’t asked to review this book. I did it because it’s a book well worth having. I bought my own copy. 


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I have become a woman obsessed. Obsessed with achieving the perfect loaf. Not long after I started this blog back in 2009 I had my first success with bread making. It then became a habit, regular kneading and eating. Then bread bought from anywhere just didn’t satisfy any more; it had to be my home-made loaf or nothing. A few years ago I experimented with sourdough, but it wasn’t a hit. I hadn’t waited long enough for the starter to mature and the resulting loaf was just too acidic. The starter was too much trouble to maintain. Back to the yeasted loaf we went.

Then at the beginning of this year I became tempted once more by the attraction of building a sourdough starter. At first taste of that first loaf I was bewitched and so began the quest for creating the perfect sourdough loaf.

I have researched the net and bought the books. I have joined the Real Bread Campaign to get tips from there. I have bought scrapers and a lame to improve my chances. I have researched flours and visited mills. I am learning about hydration and how to manage that sticky dough. The kitchen smells of yeast or freshly baked bread. There is always a fine layer of flour dust on the kitchen shelves that needs to be dusted away.  I have had great loaves emerge from the oven and some not so great, but all of them have tasted good.

The bread journey continues. I will keep you updated.


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Rock cakes

Rock cakes

These little cakes are something else I have been making quite a bit recently. A few months ago my nine-year old daughter came home and said this: “Mum, my friend E has rock cakes in her lunch box and I really like them”. Ah yes, I recognise a gauntlet thrown when I see one.  So there I was at 6.19 am the next morning making rock cakes to go into her lunch box. You can’t make rock cakes the day before. They need to be made and then eaten, preferably still warm after only a few minutes spent relaxing on a wire rack. But they are also acceptable at lunchtime when baked in the morning. Apparently.

I hadn’t made them for years before this. I don’t know why because they are delicious. I do know why, I had forgotten how good they are. The name rock cake doesn’t exactly sell them to you I realise, but really they are soft, gently spicy and very, very good. Make them as soon as you can, but not necessarily at 6.19 am, if you can help it.

I make mine in the food processor which means they are a matter of minutes to make.

Makes 12 – 15 cakes

225g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp mixed spice
100g butter, softened
50g demerara sugar
100g dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, candied peel, a mixture – anything you have in the cupboard)
1 egg and 1 tbsp milk, beaten lightly together


Preheat the oven to 200°c, gas mark 6, or use towards the bottom of the roasting oven of the Aga. Grease a baking sheet.

Place the flour, baking powder and mixed spice in the bowl of a food processor or in a large bowl. Cube the butter and either pulse until it looks like fine breadcrumbs or if doing it by hand rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips and a light touch. Add the sugar and the fruit. Add the egg and milk mixture and pulse again until it comes together or mix with your hands until it comes together in a soft dough.

Spoon small mounds of mixture onto the greased baking sheet, you want them to look rough edged like a rock. Spoon a little extra demerara sugar over each one. Place in the preheated oven and cook for about ten minutes until golden brown. Remove to a wire rack, leave for a minute or two and then eat or wait until lunchtime.

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