Thursday, 12 April 2012

It's Party Time

The blossom is blossoming, the grass is growing and my eyes are itching because of all the nasty pollen but hey, it's time to start planning the next Clifford Garden party! We had an amazing house warming party followed by last year's garden party with a band, a bus driver and an actual hair pulling, name screaming cat fight so looking forward to what this year's will bring!

I was wondering whether to theme it but not everyone makes the effort and the party is usually in the middle of August so no-one wants to be wearing masks / wigs / additional layers normally made out of sweaty nylon...

So it'll be Costco-a-go-go!

Monday, 2 April 2012

I've only gone and bloody done it!

Yesterday saw the very first loaf from my sourdough starter! I'll be honest, I thought I had a dismal failure on my hands as my starter went from bubbling and yeasty to smelling like vomit. I wasn't prepared for this! I took the clingfilm off and the whole kitchen (and lounge) filled with an awful, milky, sourish sweet smell which can only be described as Eau de la Baby Puke. I thought the starter had died and started frantically googling to be met with a mixed bag of results. Some said the bad smell was the result of the starter being contaminated and to throw it out and start again. Others said that this was the smell of the bad bacteria being beaten by the good and to keep at it. I decided to keep at it for a few more days and that if it still stank in a week I'd chuck it. I'm so pleased that I didn't.

After a couple of days, the vomit smelled turned into a paint thinner smell and then mellowed significantly and is back to being yeasty and boozy but definitely bread like. The first loaf turned out great, and not very sour as I didn't let the dough rise for very long. Am now planning to give out lots of bits of starter to friends and get them into making their own bread :)

Friday, 23 March 2012

Holly Golightly

I had a dinner date with Holly on Wednesday night, a regular monthly thing since we got back in touch late last year. We went to the Old Bookshop on North Street and it's a great little venue. A mish mash of rickety wooden tables, benches and chairs with bunting strewn across the ceiling. The whole place is stuffed with old style typewriters, rusting brass instruments and weird stuffed birds of prey but there's a really good vibe and a cracking tapas menu boasting local(ish) eats such as Brixton sardines, Exmouth mussels etc and I really like it in there.

But the company is what really makes it - as long as I've known her, Holly is the most upbeat, enthusiastic, positive and happy person and I really enjoy any time I spend with her. She doesn't complain, doesn't bitch and it's so refreshing. I'm so glad we're back in touch - if only to hear her boast about how loud she claps and how high she jumps.... :)

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Hubble, Bubble, with not much Toil or Trouble...

I've become rather obsessed with my sourdough starter - I dumped the first one on Monday afternoon after it started leaching liquid with no bubbles to be seen and started again. Yesterday morning I was met with a rather large mass of bubbly stuff, having doubled overnight. I sought reassurance from my lovely chef friend, Amelia who said that it was fine and she had one that punched its way out of a glass jar once...

On returning home after a lovely dinner with Holly (more on that later), the starter was madly frothing like a rabid dog. Cue much cackling and rubbing of hands from me - I very much felt like Dr Frankenstein bringing his monster to life. I only hope that we end up with a more joyful tale and that the starter doesn't come to take revenge at some point...

Monday, 19 March 2012

That's one big mother!

It was Mother's Day yesterday and for the first time in a long time, I've not been back to Chez Wong to visit my Mum or cook her a meal. The main reason being because of my family situation at the moment (le sigh!), my old bedroom is now being used by my Dad and I refuse to sleep on the bed in the spare room. I might as well sleep on razorwire and potatoes for all the good it does your back. But this is one Mother's Day out of many more I'm sure and I'll make it up to her another time.

We did have Si's parents over for dinner though and I decided I would bake bread from scratch for the first time (apart from flatbreads - they don't count!). As always, not settling on learning to walk before I run, I dove head first into the culinary version of the 110m hurdles and decided to make focaccia using HFW's recipe.

Now, let me make this clear. Whenever we've had home made bread, I've only ever used the breadmaker. I've not even made pizza dough from scratch, much as I fancy twirling that round my head and shouting, 'Bella! Bella!' whilst I'm doing it. When HFW says the dough is gonna be sticky, it's going to be sticky. I kneaded and floured, floured and kneaded, scraped and floured, kneaded and scraped with Si looking on telling me I had worn the wrong top to make bread (I suppose wearing something with bell sleeves was a mistake) but then realised that I had no idea what the dough should feel like. Yes, it said silky and smooth in the book but just how silky was it meant to be? Like 200 thread count bed sheets or 800? I settled for a high end 4* hotel with a thread count of 400 and left it to rise.

45 minutes of gardening later (alright, Si gardening and me watching), I had a sneaky peek at my dough but was quite disappointed it hadn't ballooned to double the volume as HFW has said so I took a leaf out of Dan Lepard's marvellous 'Short and Sweet' book in which he advises to take 10 minutes as marvelous things can happen in the world of bread in that time. A rather large mug of tea later and the dough had risen a bit more and was ready for the knock back and second rise. I won't bore you with the rest of the process but will tell you that I can see why people love to bake their own bread. Not only do you get the pleasure of handling the rather tactile dough baby in all of it's squidgy glory but to have that delicious aroma wafting through and permeating every room of your house makes it all worth it.

Also, in honour of Mother's Day, I decided to get cracking with a sourdough starter or as it's otherwise known, 'The Mother'. It's basically a gloppy mix of flour and water which you continually feed with more flour and water. It fizzes and ferments away until you're ready to make your loaf when you take some of the starter mixture and make a sponge which is the base for the dough. I'm not a huge fan of sourdough but I'm totally in love with the concept that a jar of gunge that's living in your fridge, with a little maintenance can provide you with a daily loaf of bread.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Picture time!

I've been taking pics of my food for quite a while now and wanted to start a Flickr album so I could share them but as per my post yesterday, I haven't done it. Sooo, moving on from my post I've set it up. It's not fancy, I've not fiddled with the layout and I don't completely understand it but it's there in it's barest form. Et voila -

I haven't posted any pics using my super duper fancy camera yet, these are all from my I-Phone. Who said the 3S's camera was rubbish? You just need ample amounts of light and a steady(ish) hand. :)


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Making time = Making sense

Last night I spoke to one of my best friends who I haven't spoken to since Christmas. Not because of a falling out or because one of us had been on exotic adventures round the world. Our very lame excuse was that we've both been 'too busy'. During the phone call she was telling me how if anyone threw anything at her at work she'd deal with it and make it a priority but when it came to personal matters, even medical ones, they'd be put on the back burner until she had the time to deal with them.

Admittedly, I do the same. I fill in forms every day at work, I tot up expenses, I dot the i's and cross the t's, I chastise cameramen for not giving me the right name for air tickets etc but when it comes to me, I haven't even changed my name on my driver's licence yet and I've been married for nearly a year. There are medical insurance forms sat on the coffee table, a doctor's appointment I need to make, my CV to update, not to mention my friends who I don't talk to as much as I would like to. And look at this blog that I was so enthusiastic about setting up... #blogspotfail

I have no-one to blame but me and some strange in-built thought process that I'm not important enough to take priority. I will definitely try to make room in my life for me, even if it's only 15 minutes a week. And I'll start with that driver's licence (and more blogging!).

Monday, 12 March 2012

Lemon Drizzle Sunday...

As Marjorie Dawes once wisely said, 'Man, I love da cake!'

I'm not overly fussed with eating cake, I'm much more inclined to hunt down something savoury and crisp shaped but I do LOVE making cake. It's got something to do with the alchemy of it I think. Powdery flour, crunchy sugar, oily butter and slimy eggs can, with the right persuasion, turn into something wonderfully soft and fluffy and fill your house with the aromas of childhood.

While I can take or leave Victoria sponge, chocolate cake and carrot cake, I do have a soft spot for lemon cake either swirled with pretty, pale yellow frosting or dripping in sharp, sugary lemon syrup. This is my recipe, a combination of the two that I've made over and over again...

For the cake:

225g softened unsalted butter
225g golden caster sugar
225g self raising flour
4 eggs at room temperature, beaten well
1 tsp baking powder
Zest of 1 lemon & two tbsps lemon juice

For the drizzle:

2 tbsps golden caster sugar
2 tbsps lemon juice

For the frosting:

1 tub of marscapone cheese
5 tbsps lemon curd (home made or bought - my favourite shop bought is Waitrose's Zesty lemon curd)

1) Grease and line 2 x 8 inch sandwich tins and preheat your oven to 190 degrees (electric) / 175 degrees (fan).

2) Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy - this will take me about 5 minutes in my trusty Kitchen Aid or 10 minutes with my hand mixer

3) Slowly incorporate the beaten eggs into the butter and sugar, beating well after each addition. If the mixture begins to curdle, add a tablespoon of flour and mix well.

4) Carefully fold in the flour, baking powder, lemon zest and lemon juice until ingredients are well combined.

5) Spoon the mixture into your lined cake tins and level out the surface. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until the sponges are risen and golden and the tops spring back when pressed lightly.

6) While the sponges are still warm and in their tins, combine the ingredients for the drizzle. Prick holes in both sponges with a skewer or a fork and slowly spoon the lemony syrup over both. Leave to cool in the tins.

7) When ready to serve, pop one of the sponges on to a plate or stand and spread 2 tbsps of the lemon curd over. Combine the other 3 tbsps with the marscapone and spread half of this on top of the lemon curd. Top with the other sponge and slather the rest of the marscapone mix on top.

8) Devour


* Don't skimp on the time you spend creaming the butter and sugar - this is where you start to incorporate all of that precious air into your batter, those extra couple of minutes beating your batter will ensure a lovely, fluffy sponge

* Obviously add more lemon curd into the marscapone mix if you want it extra zingy - it's all about personal taste!

* The best self raising flour I've found is Sainsburys own fine sponge flour and eliminates all need for a sieve (and let's face it, the less washing up I have to do, the better)

* Make sure your baking powder is in date or you might as well be throwing talc into the mix for all the good it'll do.

* Lick the spoon! This batter is particularly good at inducing yummy noises.