Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Technical Difficulties

I think I should start by saying thank you to all you lovely people who left me such fabulous moral boosting comments on my last post. It does feel a little pathetic that I can so easily doubt myself when times are unsettled but there you go... the creative urge is a strange thing at times and I'm not always as confident as I seem to appear. It's all a bluff!

But I do what I always do when there are deadlines and life seems a challenge, I retreat to the kitchen and bake... and set myself more deadlines and challenges! This year I thought it would be fun, because obviously I have nothing elsle to do, to make the signature bakes as well as the technical bakes for this year's GBBO.

You have already seen my mini rolls which was the technical bake from week one but I also made a signature fresh fruit cake too... an trusted Dorset Apple Cake recipe full of lovely fresh apple. I also made a blueberry cake that week and wondered why some of the contestants found it so difficult to add fresh fruit to a cake.

Week 2 was biscuit week and the technical bake was fortune cookies. The first batch ended up in the bin (the oven temparature in the recipe is too low)... the second lot weren't much better and all I could think was why on earth would anyone want to make these. They burn your fingers when you make them and they don't even taste nice.

Definitely not worth the effort nor the calories! I think my fortune should have read "You will never make fortune cookies again".

The signature bake was to make sandwich biscuits so I made these carrot cake inspired biscuits from a recipe on the Great British Chefs website, which also happened to part of a bake along competittion on Twitter.

Not only did they taste great, they also won me a prize in the competition... this fabulous Emma Bridgewater biscuit barrel which is waiting to be filled with homemade biscuits!

Bread week saw a technical bake of a cottage loaf.

My shaping was a little bit out as I think I made my dough a little too wet but it tasted great and had a good crumb. I used butter instead of lard and I did just about do it in the alloted time but the figures didn't add up in the recipe... 10 minutes kneading, two one hour proving sessions and 35-40 mins in the oven... all to be done in two and a half hours! I managed it by cutting the proving times down to 45 minutes.

The signature bake in bread week was teacakes, something I had never made before. I made an apricot and date version flavoured with orange and cinnamon, mostly because that was what I had in the cupboard.

They were a big hit and I may have eaten a few too many, delicious toasted with lots of butter. If I get the time I may even share my recipe, although I may have to test them again first!

This week saw the bakers in the GBBO tent  having to deal with caramel and attempt a technical bake of Stroopwafel... a thin Dutch waffle with caramel filling. And so ends my journey of baking every technical bake this year because I am certainly not going to invest in a cone waffle maker that I will use once and then consign to a cupboard for the next ten years! I will probably try the signature bake of millionaire's shortbread though.

In other news, I've heard from Joe who had a brilliant four days in Vancouver and is now enjoying Cuba, the painters have finished and have done a great job, and Hector has has a little outing...

He loves going out in the car... but I'm not sure he was so thrilled whan he came home!

It may calm him down a little, it may not (the operation not the cone) as opinion seems to be divided but the vet seemed to think it might stop him running off even if it doesn't dampen his adolescent enthusiasm, only time will tell!

And as you can see I've not stopped blogging... at least not for the moment so thank you for continuing to read and being such a lovely supportive community of people. See you again soon.

Saturday, 16 September 2017


It has been a funny old week I have felt all at sea and at odds with myself. We have had painters in for the best part of three weeks now and I always find I can't settle when there is work being done on the house. When I say painters in, I actually mean out, as we are having the outside woodwork done. But the weather has meant it is dragging on and I feel like I'm living in a goldfish bowl. And I'm not the only one it has disrupted. The "bloody dog" as Hector has come to be known has turned into a demented hooligan. Stealing things, jumping on the furniture and chewing everything. He has destroyed two cushions and a pair of shoes this week, as well as managing to steal a biro and "draw" on the kitchen floor. We've tried everything to keep him calm but he is driving me to distraction.

Do not be fooled by those sad labrador eyes... he is a demon! He's got a trip to the vet planned for next week and I'm hoping that his little op might calm him down a bit! We can but hope.

I've also started the new term teaching machine embroidery and I'm hoping for a little bit of the following which seems to be missing of late...

Although I'm really struggling to focus on anything much. I completed this little quilted panel in a class this week which may well end up as another cushion for the "bloody dog" to destroy!

I did complete my rag rug (which is another sixty x sixty) which I would really like to put in front of the fireplace. However, given the dog's recent form I'm not sure that is wise so it will live up in the spare bedroom, where he is not allowed to venture. Unless of course we forget to close the stair gate and then he goes just where he likes!

I've also pondered whether I really want to carry on blogging. Much as I do it for myself, as a record of our lives it is nice to get a bit of interaction too. But I've noticed that comments and traffic are dropping off and so I've questioned whether what I'm writing is actually of any interest to anyone other than myself. And I don't really need to write to myself!

But as I've baked along with the Great British Bake Off I find I want to write about the technical challenges completed so far, I've done a lovely little book swap and I want to write about that and I've an idea brewing for another art project that I'd like to tell you all about so I guess I'll be here for another few weeks at least.

But I know what is really turning my world upside down at the moment and that is saying goodbye to this young man. Once more son no. 3, Joe is off on his travels. It's not the first time, nor even the second but this time is different, not only is he travelling solo but he has no definite plans to return. He left on Thursday to go to Canada, from there he'll head to Cuba, then Mexico and through Central America eventually ending up in Costa Rica where he plans to teach English. I know we'll see him next summer for his brother's wedding but it will be a flying visit and he has no firm plans to come home beyond that. It feels very unsettling, although I'm hoping from the various bags and boxes he has stored at our house that he will be coming back one day!

I'm also hoping next week will feel more settled but I'm not overly optimsitic... the painters haven't finished yet!

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Cookery Calendar Challenge - August

It was all a bit last minute, as in the last couple  of days of the month, but I joined in with Penny's Cookery Calendar Challange for August. There is a bit of a story to my copy of "Simply Nigella". A friend from my branch of the Embroiderers' Guild, Annie, brought along some chocolate at the beginning of the year as she could no longer eat it due to health issues and we just got chatting about chocolate cakes, in particular a chocolate and liquorice cake I'd seen Nigella baking on television. She said she had made it tand it was indeed good. Then next time I saw her she not only loaned me her copy of the book with the recipe but also gave me some liquorice powder and a jar of rather good blackcurrant jam with which to sandwich the cake together.

It did indeed make an excellent cake and it was the cake I opted to make for my Noel Fielding cake a couple of weeks ago, but I digress. Because then Annie said I could keep her copy of the book as she didn't really use it, which was really kind of her. I have a few Nigella Lawson cookbooks and really like her approach to cooking (even if she herself can be a bit too finger licking sickly on TV at times) and several of her recipes are family favourites. But this particular book has sat on the shelf all year and I've not used it once except for the liquorice cake... so I thought it was about time!

The first meal I opted for was a macaroni cheese which Nigella claims is the best ever. Now this was going to be a tall order as I already love Jamie Oliver's tomato macaroni cheese, but it really was excellent and something I will definitely make again.

The secret ingredient is mashed sweet potato, which makes it creamy and smooth and it also has crumbled feta cheese, giving it a lovely salty bite. As you can see I opted to make one large dish rather than individual portions which worked just fine. It made a delicious and satisfying supper along with some green beans which we are having with everything at the moment. It is quite possible that eight plants were too many!

The second recipe I chose from the book was an Indian inspired cod fillet which was incredibly easy and very tasty. The fish was coated in a spicy yoghurt mixture which took less than five minutes to put together and it was then baked in the oven.

I served it with a simple coconut dhal, the recipe for which is also in the book... and of course the ubiquitous green beans, because it did all look a rather uninspiring beige! This is another meal I would happily make again if only because it was so quick and simple.

I also made some rather delicious sticky, spicy aubergine to go with it too because I have also grown aubergines this year and had a couple lurking in the fridge that need using up. The recipe was from Sabrina Ghayour's new book but I found it in the Sunday Times magazine... it was also delicious!

I hope to join in the Cookery Calendar Challenge again this month and this time will be cooking from Nadiya Hussain's new book, British Food Adventure, which seemed to drop into my trolley when I was in Sainsbury's. There are some really tasty sounding meals that I want to try... not to mention a cake or two!!

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Code Breakers

Given that we woke to sunshine on Bank Holiday Monday we seized the opportunity for a day out and made the short journey to Bletchley Park, home of the WW2 code breakers and birth place of modern Information Technology. Despite a lingering head ache, which may or may not have had something to do with red wine the previous evening (I refuse to incriminate myself) it really was an excellent day out... something I had being saying I wanted to do for ages, so another 60 x 60 crossed off my list

Nearly 10,000 people worked at Bletchley during the war, 75% of them women. They came from a variety of backgrounds including many academics such as linguists and mathematicians and both civilians and military personnel. The work they did was highly secret and most just did their job not even knowing what the people in the next hut were doing never mind appreciating the magnitude of the importance of their work. And after the war, they moved on to other lives and no one knew anything about this highly secret operation until years later.

In 1938 a small group of MI6 personnel, scholars and academics who formed the Government Code & Cypher School, moved into the mansion in the park initially under the cover of being a shooting party. Away from London and the bombing they could work in relative safety. As more people arrived they moved into pre-fabricated huts, known only by their hut numbers, where they worked until 1942 before transferring to brick buildings on site... although these were also still known by the same hut numbers.

It really was fascinating to walk around the lakeside park where these men and women worked and to see the beautifully recreated rooms. The rooms in the mansion were relatively comfortable compared to the interior of the huts.

The impact that their work had on the outcome of the war cannot be underestimated and thousands of lives were saved by breaking the German Enigma codes.

The interior of the huts were really atmospheric and we could imagine how cold and draughty they must have been in the winter and equally how hot and stuffy in the summer, with very little light or ventilation. And of course in those days, everyone smoked which couldn't have helped the atmosphere.

As well as the thousands of men and women who interpretated the radio signals, operated machines and did all the other vital yet routine jobs, there were also the actual code breakers such as Bill Tutte, Gordon Welchman, Dilly Knox, Nigel de Grey and perhaps most famous of all Alan Turing. This is Alan Turing's office.

 Heralded as one of the greatest figures of the 20th century, Turin was hardly known outside of academic circles until the 1970s when his critical contribution to the breaking of the Enigma code and the development of computer science became known, along with the details of his untimely death. Although awarded the OBE for his contribution to the war effort, Turin found himeself charged with gross indecency in the 1950s - basically he was being criminalised for being homosexual, something I find hard to comprehend these days. He was given the choice of a prison sentence or chemical castration and chose the later which involved a course of oestrogen injections. Designed to kill his sex drive, what they did was make him grow breasts. Sadly he took his own life in 1954 at the age of just 41 by eating cyanide on an apple.

I was so moved by his story that I have started to read Alan M. Turing written by his mother Sara.

Despite not really understanding her son on many levels, Sara gives a insight into his life and achievements, although fails to mention his homosexuality or his suicide, preferring to believe it was a case of accidental death. The style is a little stilted but what is undisputable is that he is a man who should not be forgotten.

If you get a chance, do visit Bletchley Park as it makes for a great day out with much to see and learn. I'm really glad I went despite the head ache... don't wait to do those things you've always said you'll do!

Saturday, 2 September 2017

So did you spot me?

As I predicted my very short interview with Jo Brand on Thursday night's Extra Slice (10pm Chanel 4) never made the final edit but there were several audience shots where you could spot me.

And my "Noel" cake got a brief airing at the "Show us your bakes" part of the show, even if he didn't get selected for tasting... but I had a good time and it was lots of fun.

I could tell you all about the warm up guy and the risque jokes and the fact that Roisin Conaty actually had to spit out the broccoli cake... but in fact Rob has written such a brilliant account of the whole experience on his blog HERE, that you might as well read what he has to say and I can get on and bake some more cakes! If you read Rob's account you will know that in the holding room before the start of the show, we all had to taste our own cakes, supposedly to prove we weren't trying to poison anyone. I had to perform cranial surgery on my poor Noel cake, lifting a flap of liquorice hair so I could scoop out some of the cake underneath before replacing the hair, disguising the hole in his head!!

I had hoped that I might be able to add another "60 x 60" to my list if they had actually tasted my bake as one of the things I would like to do is bake a cake for someone famous, but alas it wasn't to be. Although there was always the risk someone famous might spit out my cake! So if any of you lovely readers know someone famous who would like me to bake them a cake... you know where to find me! Twenty two more things to do and only ten months left!

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

An Extra Slice

Okay... so what was the point of my last post? I did what I hate other people doing i.e. refering to something and then not actually telling you about it, like I was being all mysterious! Not really a mystery at all except I was lucky enough to receive an invitation to The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice and was asked to bring a cake. Having been to the final show of the last series it was quite exciting to go to the first one this time. The theme was illusion cakes so I chose to make a cake that looked like one of the new presenters, Noel Fielding... well, sort of!

It was a liquorice and chocolate cake with a blackcurrant filling which I thought would be unusual, dark and mysterious... a bit like the man himself. The show organisers seem to like it and I was chosen to be one of the audience who got interviewed. I say interviewed... Jo Brand spoke to me and asked me one question before moving on. I think I might have blown my five minutes of fame as I was neither funny nor scintillating and there were others far more entertaining than me so I doubt I'll make the final edit. But do watch Chanel 4 tomorrow evening (Thursday) and you might catch a glimpse of me and my cake. My money is on the brocolli baking vicar being featured but we'll have to wait and see. And do look out for my very new best friend Mr. Baker and his phenomenal life size 'mixer' cake.

So did you watch the actual Bake Off last night? The reception on social media seems to be mixed but I really enjoyed it and although the adverts are annoying at least it is a chance to pour another cup of tea (or in our case champagne... but I'm going to be mysterious again and tell you you'll have to wait to hear about that)... or pop out for a quick wee break!

Just like last year I thought I might join in with the technical challenge each week and so have spent rather a large part of today making chocolate mini rolls. As you might guess, I didn't stick to the time that the bakers were allotted, just two hours... but in my defence I have made a cheesecake as well!

Let's just say they are not easy and I have huge respect for the twelve bakers on the show who turned out a dozen of these, in a tent under the scrutiny of cameras and in a limited time. Making the sponge and buttercream was relatively straightforward and even rolling them up wasn't too bad, but covering them in chocolate quite another matter. Mine are far from perfect, with squidges and smudges, lumps and bumps... and I daren't describe the chocolate carnage in my kitchen when I finished. My face was almost as bad... Mrs. chocolate chops, that's me!

There was barely enough chocolate to cover them and it thickened as I worked making it very difficult. There was much scraping up of chocolate that had dripped onto the parchment and reheating it so it was liquid enough to pour. But I did manage to turn out twelve mishapen mini rolls. My swiss roll tins are different sizes so my mini rolls vary quite a bit in size too, but I doubt anyone around here is going to complain.

I followed this recipe pretty much to the letter, but opted not to put peppermint in my buttercream for fear of the toothpaste effect. Instead I added a teaspoon of vanilla and a tablespoon of milk to make sure that it was nice and soft and spreadable. I think I got a half decent swirl too.

And although they look 'rustic' they taste pretty good, and have a lovely light texture, if a little too sweet for my taste. It made me realise that I have never actually tasted a commercial mini roll so I can't even tell you if they are "as good as shop" as my ex-mother in law used to say!

Looking forward to next week... biscuits and I'm guessing fortune cookies! Who knows, I might even attempt them in the time limit.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Being Mysterious!

It's not going to wash with you guys if I tell you it was another crazy week is it? I know, I know... they are all crazy but there really were so many cakes to make over the past seven days that I'm not sure why I thought I was cutting back on the baking. But I was determined to fit in a little bit of art and dug out my gelli plate to do some printing for half an hour one morning.

It has been a while and I was out of practise but soon got the hang of it again.

And sticking to a palatte of blues and greens, in no time at all I had covered a large sheet of paper with a variety of marks.

I have a little challenge going on and these prints may end up as part of something else, they may not. Much will depend on how much time I have this week. Which all sounds very mysterious, but it's not! I just want to wait until I have a finished item that has ended up with its recipient before I show you more.

There has however been some mysterious cake baking and you really will have to wait until later this week before I tell you more about that too... It has all to do with the new series of the Great British Bake Off which returns to our screens this Tuesday on Chanel 4. And no, I'm not on the show but I have had a sneak preview and it is looking really good - a seamless transfer from the BBC in fact. The show is exactly the same with a diverse mix of lovely contestants, a signature bake, a technical challenge and a show stopper. And the new presenters are great. Noel Fielding is the surprise wild card but he is very funny and works well with Sandi Toksvig. And Pru Leith has stepped quite comfortably into Mary Berry's shoes.

So as I can't show you my surprise bake just yet I'll leave you with this one instead... and should I forget to show you what I baked you might just see it on Chanel 4 on Thursday evening. Maybe!