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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Bread!

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.

Sourdough

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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

Method

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

Method

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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Candied peel scones

candied peel scone

It felt like a scone morning this morning. I have made some marmalade and so felt the urge to make scones that would go well with marmalade. I have some candied peel in a kilner jar on the side and so was born a lovely scone.

scones with marmalade

You don’t have to make your own candied peel to make these but I urge you to give it a try. It’s very easy, lasts for ages and is much more delicious than any you can buy. Try the link above for my recipe for candied peel.

Makes 6-8 scones

300g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
20g caster sugar
50g butter, cut into dice
20g candied peel, cut into small pieces
1 egg
100ml plain yoghurt
50ml milk

Egg wash, made with 1 egg and a dessertspoon of milk whisked together
caster sugar for sprinkling on top

Method

Preheat the oven to 220°c, gas mark 7 or use the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga for ten minutes and then move to the top of the roasting oven for the last two minutes to brown.

I make my scones in a food processor, which makes it easy and quick. Place the flour, baking powder and sugar in the bowl of the processor. Add the butter and pulse until it looks like breadcrumbs. Mix the yoghurt, milk and egg together in a jug and pour into the flour. Add the candied peel. Pulse until it just begins to come together. Tip out onto a surface and bring together into a disc.

If you don’t have a processor then place the flour, baking powder and sugar in a bowl. Add the cubes of butter and rub in using your fingertips. Add the yoghurt, milk and egg (that you have lightly whisked together) and the candied peel and bring together with your hands. This will only take a few seconds.

I then tend to pat the mixture into a round with my hands, but you can use a light touch with a rolling pin, to about 2.5cm thick. Stamp out scones using a biscuit cutter. Do not rotate the cutter, just stamp down and lift out. If you rotate you prevent them rising properly. Re-roll the trimmings and stamp out until you have no mixture left. Place onto a floured baking tray, brush with egg wash just on the top and sprinkle over a layer of sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes until golden and crusty on top. Leave for about 2 minutes and then eat. These are best eaten straight out of the oven.

 

 

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Iced fingers

iced fingersIced fingers are simple fare. Enriched bread dough slathered with a plain, or if you want to push the boat out, lemon icing. But simple fare can be very good, and these are very good.

Talking of pushing the boat out, it almost came to that this week here. The girls’ school was closed due to a high risk of flooding and so these were baked as compensation. You know how terrible it is be sent home from school only an hour after you arrive. Both girls were bereft and in need of something comforting.

Of course they weren’t, they were as high as kites with the excitement of it all. Still comfort food was in order anyway and they wanted to bake.

These are very good with a cup of tea, or in your lunchbox the next day, if school is open again.

Thankfully, our home is high up from the river and only our drive is affected by the flood waters. However, many homes and businesses in the UK are under water right now and my heart goes out to them. Let’s hope the rain gives way to sunshine soon and the waters begin to subside and people can start to sort out the mess that they have been left with.

Makes 12 iced fingers

300g strong white flour
250g plain white flour
50g white sugar
5g easy bake yeast
10g fine sea salt
150ml warm milk
150ml warm water
50g softened butter
1 egg

For the icing:
200g icing sugar
3-4 tablespoons of water or lemon juice or a mix of both

Place the flours, sugar, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add the milk, water, butter and egg (you may not need all the water so hold some back) and mix with your hands or with an electric dough hook until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough. Knead for about ten minutes until smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball and place in the bowl and cover with a large plastic bag. I use a bin bag. Leave to rise for about two hours. The time needed will depend on the warmth of your kitchen. When it has doubled in size, deflate it gently and divide into twelve pieces. Shape each piece into a sausage shape by folding the dough under itself so that you get a good strong structure. Place them all onto a greased baking tray and cover again with the plastic bag for about 30 minutes until they have doubled in size again. They may be touching each other on the tray now. This is fine, they tear easily away from one another when cooked.

Cook in a preheated oven at 200°c, gas mark 6 or on the bottom of the roasting oven of the Aga for 12-14 minutes until golden brown all over. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Mix the icing sugar with the water or lemon juice. Do this carefully as a few drops of liquid can make a huge difference to the consistency. You want an icing that spreads easily but won’t run off the bun. Ice each bun. If you are feeling really indulgent you can split each bun horizontally and spread with jam and whipped cream before icing, but why gild the lily?

 

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