Cake is in the house – Sticky Plum Flapjack Bars.

To be honest this was not a roaring success, although I did manage to rescue it. I found  Sticky Plum Flapjack Bars on the BBC Good Food website. Having followed the recipe and even popped it in the oven, I had a moment of clarity a few moments later and realised it was much too liquid to set so retrieved it out of the oven and bunged into the pan at least another 100g maybe 200g of oats and mixed them in until it looked right. It was only after I sat down with a coffee while it was cooking that I read the reviews to find others had had the same problems – always trust your instincts, much better to go with those than follow something to the letter and waste all of your ingredients.  Then I turned the oven down for two reasons, I was doing a double batch anyway so it would taken longer to cook, but with all the extra on top it risked burning the top before cooking through.

Firstly gather your fruits, an abundance of plums that my resident fruit bat wasn’t getting through as quickly as usual, so rather than waste them I thought I’d make him his sweet treat with them. Half and stone them and then roughly chop. And put into a bowl to macerate with some of the sugar and mixed spice.

Then make up your flap jack mix, layering half of the flap jack mix, then the plums, then the flapjack, well that’s what one would do in an ideal world. After cooking, having checked it as thoroughly as one can, cut it into even pieces and let it go completely cold in the pan.  Some people have even recommended with this recipe to pop it in the fridge to truly firm up.  I then popped half in the freezer for another time and left half in the fridge.What’s it like?  Well it is good actually, once it has firmed up, it has all the good things of a flap jack, the golden syrup, the butter, the crunchy bits, along with a softer almost cake like centre from the addition of the flour and plums. Interesting and quite satisfying, although one does only need a small piece as it is a stick to the ribs, that’ll get you through a hard 1950’s winter kind of fuel.


Jenny’s Tree.

Forever known as “Jenny’s Tree” well it is in my index system.. I’ve just been reminded about this, I put this in my instagram feed during January and my Canadian pal, who originates from the UK fell in love with it and asked for a copy. That vote of confidence came at just the right time, as a photographer I constantly doubt my work and when I see someone fall in love with something that I have photographed, well, it all becomes worth while. Thank you Jenny. xxx

Cake is in the house – Yummy Scrummy Carrot Cake.

Yesterday amidst the chaos of cooking I somehow found enough time to grab a recipe off the net and use up the rest of the carrots all in one fell swoop.  The requirement was a very simple carrot cake that could be made in the blink of a very tired eye, and this recipe came up trumps. Yummy Scrummy Carrot Cake by Mary Cadogan off the BBC Good Food website was simplicity itself to make, possibly a healthier version by using vegetable oil and is delicious and very moist to eat.  There is even a video to show you how easy, I’ve only just seen it, I completely missed the link yesterday.

The only changes I made, was I used baking powder instead of bicarbonate of soda, you do need the extra lift even though you are using self raising flour, as you don’t have the creaming of butter and sugar which creates air and therefore lift in the cake.  I prefer the flavour of baking powder or rather should I say, I don’t like the flavour of bicarbonate of soda. It is alright if the recipe has enough acid in it to make sure all of the reaction has taken place but if it hasn’t neutralised and there hasn’t been enough acid it can leave one with a soapy metallic taste in the mouth. Often noticed in scones when the chef has just used milk instead of the acidic buttermilk and bicarbonate of soda, without really realising why one needs the buttermilk.  Also you will need more of the baking powder than the bicarbonate of soda, but as we were using self raising flour as well I didn’t think it was too crucial so just added the tip of a teaspoon extra.  I also changed the spices, surprisingly not having cinnamon or nutmeg in the cupboards as I’d done a big clear out of all the cupboards a couple of months ago and hadn’t replaced old stock, so I used mixed spice, which is basically cinnamon and nutmeg as well as cloves and other spices, it worked well and is much underrated as a store cupboard spice mix.As you can see my icing was a bit of a fail, it was a bit runny to do the drizzling, I could have added more icing sugar and spent a bit longer, but the lure of a gin and tonic which hubby was pouring, himself having only just got home after a long day was too strong. And as you can see it came out well, moist, light and delicious, what more do you want out of a cut and come again cake.

A cooking day.

Over the last ten days or so I’ve been rather focused on my photography and doing long days whenever I can, often to the detriment of our meal plan. You know things have got pretty bad when your contemplating a take out for the third time that week and your just too shattered after ten hours in a hide to stand peeling spuds.  So a new plan of action was required and yesterday seeing that it was going to be a rainy day all day today I sat down with my laptop and ordered all of the ingredients that I needed to get a few tasty and well balanced meals in the freezer. I made a long list, I knew it was ambitious, but hey, if you don’t try you’ll never know.

I bounced out of bed and put all the spuds I could find in the house on to boil, four rings of the cooker covered and a pressure cooker, made me realise just how little I cooked last week, and the week before.  I cooked them in the skin and when cool peeled them with the tip of a knife. I then did a Delia, I remember seeing this years ago but never tried it, and mashed them in the kenwood mixer with a cake beater.  It made them a bit gluey to be fair, but, they puffed up lovely in the oven, so I think it will be alright. I made three different types of potatoes, plain, french mustard and a colcannon version with buttery leeks.

Then the Tesco delivery man arrived and he brought it all into the kitchen, he said I’d made him hungry coming into the delicious potato smells, we laughed. Doesn’t that save you a job and a half, not only do you not have to do the slog around the supermarket, but they deliver it to your kitchen, so one has all the energy just to cook, its brilliant.

Getting some of the veg prepped that was lying in the fridge.  Normally we are veg freaks, hence why we had an allotment, so I do really miss them when I don’t get them – although I have to say I did have some coleslaw with one pizza, but I don’t think that really counts. I started with a beef and veg stew with a mustard mash.  The stew was started in the instantpot on the saute mode, then switched to pressure cook for half an hour, out came a perfectly savoury stew, heavy on the veg of course. I then made man sized cottage pies, I am looking forward to these, with a plain mash and a good dusting of parmesan.  Followed by two family sized fish pies with a cheese sauce, colcannon buttery leeks and potato mash and a good sprinkle of parmesan.  The fish included was smoked haddock, cod and salmon. And those two pies made eight portions. I then made a provencal type stew with chicken to have with rice. And then I made 15 veg bags,  of a variety of vegetables to have with the main courses. The vegetables are blanched until just done, and set with cold water.I then made a mandycharlie ragu sauce, heavy on the mushroom, I think these are two portion pots.
Next was a pork sweet and sour, again made from scratch, Chinese white vinegar, pineapple juice, (pineapple in the dish) tomato puree, sugar and soy sauce. That made six dishes and its simplicity itself to do rice in the instant pot.And then I made a carrot cake with a plain orange icing, I think the cream cheese icings are too much for a family cake at home, nice for a treat though. And last but not least I made chicken fajita’s. Of which two will be going in the freezer and the rest will be our supper this evening.

So 45 main courses, 15 veg bags and 1 cake, not bad for a days work.

Young Heron fishing.

The story behind this image, I was watching a skinny young Heron fishing yesterday and he was hopeless, aim, fire, miss, aim, fire, miss, repeat. Late into the afternoon he eventually found a decent sized half dead roach, and I thought well you’ll live to fight another day. This morning he had a couple of misses, with me murmering ‘call yourself a Heron’ in the background, when he caught a small fish and fired up with new found enthusiasm waded into the water and aimed, fired and came up with this, a very lively Perch. I was so pleased.

Cake is in the house – Apricot, Pistachio and Honey Upside-down cake.

After last weeks flapjacks which were truly historic, I felt we needed more in the way of cake and to try something a little  fruity and new to us when Apricot, Pistachio and Honey Upside-down Cake popped into view from Martha Collison’s lovely book Twist. The first cake I ever baked was an upside down pineapple cake, in junior school, I was aged about nine, I might have been younger. Our junior school had its own fully fitted kitchen (and carpentry room and a swimming pool!) so we would have been cooking once a week from the first year, but very basic foods such as bread and pastry, they soon whizzed us up to the heady heights of kedgeree and cottage pies, biscuits and cakes. I can remember going to secondary school and the cookery teaching, at least for the first couple of years,  seemed a bit pedestrian compared to what we had been achieving.

I digress, the big reveal,  I can still remember the wonder of the big reveal when  the cake was turned upside down and the glistening brightly coloured pineapple circles and bright red glace cherry’s in their centre came into view.  It was magical, such a pretty cake for a child to make, it is almost guaranteed success, even if it was a bit heavy, which I have no doubt that mine probably was, it is none the worse for it, just adding a bit of ballast to the heavy, glistening with syrup fruit on top.

So when I saw this grown up version of my favourite pineapple upside down cake, I knew I had to try it. I love the pistachio and honey flavours that are used in the delicate flaky pastries called Baklava that come from the Ottoman Empire, so to combine those flavours with a gently cooked fresh apricot enrobed in vanilla cake and combined with a fresh cup of tea would be, well, heavenly  – it was certainly worth a try. Firstly make some golden caramel. Add a little butter, let it foam andpop it into your cake tin and swirl it around until its level and flat.  Now before this stage I think you were meant to line the tin but for some reason I was going with the method I had used many years ago to make an apple tarte tatin.  Which was to use a relatively new pan so it wouldn’t stick and to turn it out quickly, experience for me shows that anything more than a minute sitting before turning allows the fruit and caramel to harden too much which is when you have apple or in this case apricot stuck to the tin.  And also because I am predominately an idle reader and had sped read that bit! Freshly shelled pistachios roughly chopped with my mezzaluna, normal knives still apply but these are so much fun, apricots at the ready. I would have used more apricots, and had bought two pounds extra  because I knew greedy guts would dig in. I think it was a bit of a strain for hubby to leave me as many as he did.  Lay them on the caramel which has hardened by now, well mine had and sprinkle the pistachio’s in the gaps and then top with the vanilla sponge mix. Which had a very interesting method, one I hadn’t used before. Fifty minutes later.. you have this.

I swirled a sharp knife very quickly around the edge to loosen the cake and placed a large plate on the top and flipped, a couple of knocks on the bottom of the pan and it had released and voila, one perfect cake.

It smelt heavenly and it tastes divine, I think it would be lovely for a dinner party, buffet or afternoon tea, or a very decadent reviver half way through the morning,  warm or cold, perfect.