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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Chocolate chestnut cake

chocolate chestnut cake


I must share this cake with you. I have been making it a lot in recent weeks. Mostly because it keeps getting eaten before I have had chance to take a photo of it. Each time I fetch it out of the oven I say ‘now, I must get a photo of this cake this time’, then it’s gone. But I have also been making it because (and this is a really good excuse) chestnut flour doesn’t keep well, so you must use it quickly.

I buy my bread flour by the 25kg sack full from Shipton Mill. To get free delivery I always add to the order and this time I included chestnut flour. It’s not cheap but I have wanted to try it for ages. I am glad I did. It is seasonal so you may have to wait to make this cake.

This cake is fudgy and dense, like a brownie in texture. I have tried all caster sugar, all light brown sugar and half and half caster with muscovado. My favourite is to use all light brown sugar. It gives a caramel edge without being too heavy or bitter. The cake is even better the day after it is made as it just gets fudgier. Be careful not to overcook it though. You want a slight wobble left in the centre when you take it out of the oven. This will firm up when the cake is cooled and your cake will be lovely and moist.

If you have chestnuts rather than chestnut flour then I can recommend my other Chocolate Chestnut Cake as being equally delicious.

200g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids and stuff that you enjoy eating)
200g unsalted butter
200g soft light brown sugar
4 eggs, separated
100g chestnut flour


Preheat the oven to 170°c, gas mark 3 or use towards the bottom of the baking oven of the Aga. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin with baking parchment.

Break the chocolate into small pieces into a bowl. Cube the butter and add to the chocolate. Melt the butter and chocolate in the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water (making sure the water does not touch the base of the bowl). When melted stir gently to combine.

Whisk the egg yolks and the sugar together until well combined and slightly paler in colour.

Whisk the egg whites in a separate, scrupulously clean bowl to firm peaks.

Add the melted chocolate and butter mixture to the egg yolks and sugar mixture and combine well. Fold in the chestnut flour. Add one third of the egg whites, mixing in well so that the mixture is light and the remainder of the eggs can be very gently folded in, retaining as many of the tiny bubbles as possible. When all combined, gently pour the mixture into the lined tin and place in the preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes. It may take a few minutes longer depending on your oven but check at 20 minutes as you don’t want to overcook it.

Leave to cool in the tin for about 20 minutes and then turn out onto a plate. You can dive in straight away or restrain yourself and keep until the next day.


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