25 June 2012


I'm usually in charge of weeding the garden. Joe does manly things like digging and chopping and I have to do the boring, back breaking weeding. Luckily for me morning sickness hit at prime weeding time so I mostly got out of it this year. My lovely neighbours came to help us a bit and Joe did some but I didn't keep on top of it like I usually do and the result is rather lovely. I dragged myself outside to absorb some sun yesterday and though all the weedy flowers that I should have pulled up were very pretty and the fact that nothing had been cut back due to my reduced garden nagging made it all seem very exotic for West London.

I've seen the garden from my friends roof terrace and it doesn't look all etheral and gladey from there... it looks a bit neglected and sad but it's lovely to sit in... and really now's not the time for pruning so I'll just have to let it get on with it for a bit. The only thing that is making me sad is that the fuschia which I dislike anyway (and I think it knows it) has sprawled so much that the oriental poppy didn't even get a look in this year... it was buried under pink monstrosity. Photos not very good but you get the general idea...


21 June 2012

Basic Sponge Cake with Coffee Icing

I'm not really into cake. Most of the time I could live without it. Most of the time... about 10% of the time I want to mainline coffee cake. My mother showed me how to make this when I was quite young, partly because it's a nice thing to do and I think partly so I could bloody well start making it myself.

We cheat and use Camp coffee rather than making it fresh but I really like it this way... you can make up the coffee yourself if you would rather. I also do this in a slightly old fashioned way by weighing the eggs - I like doing it this way because I find the sponge is more moist. Will try and get a photograph of a slice before it's completely gone...

Coffee Cake

3 eggs,
self-raising flour
caster sugar

For the butter icing:
200g icing sugar
85g butter
Camp coffee or strong instant coffee

The first thing I do is take the butter out of fridge. You want it to be soft so your arms don't fall off. You can make this in a mixer but I prefer to do it by hand. You will need two springform cake tins or loose bottomed ones. Approximately 7 1/2-8 inches - the bottoms lined with greaseproof paper and the sides greased with butter. 

Preheat the oven to 120C/250C/Gas Mark 1/2.

Prepared cake tins

1. Crack the eggs into a bowl and weigh them. You will then need the same amount of butter, sugar and self-raising flour.

2. Put the butter and sugar into a bowl and beat until light and fluffy.

Creaming the butter and sugar together

3. Beat the eggs and then gradually add to the creamed mixture. If it curdles then add a handful of sifted flour.

4. Fold in the sieved flour with a metal spoon.

5. Diving the mixture between the two tins and bake in the oven for 25-35 minutes until risen and golden. Check they are cooked by putting a metal skewer into the middle - if it comes out clean they're done, if not, put them back in the oven for a few more minutes.

6. Cool on a rack in their tins until they are cool enough to be removed.

7. While the cakes are cooling make the icing by mixing together the icing sugar and butter until you have a paste. Then add the coffee a tiny bit at a time until you are happy with it. Put in the fridge until the cake is completely cool and ready to be iced.

8. Ice the cakes when they are cool. I use a metal spatula and do the top first so I can use as much as possible for the middle.

20 June 2012

Fish Pie No. 3 - Joe

Chef's perks
Finally the third in the fish pie triumvirate and another that really shows up Jamie Oliver's I think. Joe usually makes this when we are staying in the cottage in Blakeney, North Norfolk where you can get lovely fresh fish and all the other ingredients just by walking into the village. We always majorly overeat in Norfolk and when the boys were making this I thought I'd never be able to fit any in... but of course I did. There were no leftovers. It's also amazing what wonders happen in the kitchen while we girls were gossipping... and how much local ale gets drunk. For once Joe's bladder was fuller than mine during the night.

I put Tom in charge of being blog photographer and he took loads of pictures so this may be a rather picture heavy post but the recipe itself isn't exactly that complicated so the photos will be something nice to look at! Joe and I are going back to Blakeney next weekend for a friends wedding - as there will be only two of us there will be no excuse for quite such excessive over-indulgence!

What makes this pie amazing is the creamy mash (no Jamie I don't agree that it should be lumpy and 'rustic') the good amount of parsley and the fish-infused white sauce.

Joe's Fish Pie

Serves 4

450g white and smoked fish, skin on
1kg potatoes
4 eggs, hard boiled
180g cheddar cheese, grated
50g flour
50g butter, plus extra for the mash
400ml milk, and a little extra for the mash

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

You can use prawns in this if you wish but Clare who was staying with us hates them (and calls them 'babies fingers') so we left them out. You can ask the fishmonger to remove the skin for you and package it up separately, you will need to flavour the sauce though. We were cooking this on an Aga so I've amended the heat and times to be for a normal oven. You will need a large ovenproof dish.

We chose smoked haddock, plaice and a tiny bit of cod

1. Peel and cut up the potatoes to roughly the same size. Put them on to boil. You can hard boil the eggs at the same time. I put them in cold water and bring to the boil, once they are boiling I count to 30 switch the heat off and leave for 12 minutes. Then drain and cover with cold water.

Potatoes and eggs boiling on the Aga

2. Chop up the fish and place in the bottom of the dish. Season well then chop and scatter the parsley over the top.

Seasoning the fish

3. When the eggs are ready slice them up and scatter them over the top of the fish and parsley.

Arty shot of parsley... thanks Tom

4. Make a roux with the butter and flour, then remove from the heat and add the milk, a little at a time, whisking continuously to avoid lumps.

Melting the butter for the white sauce

5. When the sauce is ready drop in the fish skins and leave on the heat stirring gently for 10 minutes or so for the flour taste to cook out and to let the fish infuse with the sauce.

White sauce with fish skins

6. Sieve the sauce directly over the fish, eggs and parsley and discard the fish skins.

7. When the potatoes are parboiled mash them adding milk and butter until it's smooth.

The dog is obsessed with fish... she may be part seal

 8. Push the mash over the top of the pie and then sprinkle the grated cheddar over the top.

Pre-oven pie

9. Cook in the oven for about 30-40 minutes or until just beginning to turn golden on top. In the Aga we do this for ten minutes in the top (hot) oven and then half an hour in the cooler oven at the bottom.
Clare and the pie (and me being fat on the sofa) there are peas in the fish pan...


18 June 2012

Seraphine Jeans

I thought buying maternity clothes would be really quite easy. A lot of people are having babies all the time and that's not going to change. But finding nice, normal looking maternity jeans was such a nightmare I was seriously considering taking a pair of scissors to my favourite Replay jeans and making my own bump stretcher.

I bought two pairs (1 black and 1 blue) of Topshop's Leigh jeans which are very nice. They are not denim so they are soft and comfortable but they only come skinny so as your thighs get bigger they don't look exactly flattering with trainers and with the weather in the UK at the moment flip flops are not really an option. Wearing trainers with skinny jeans that are just stretching to accommodate my now vast thighs was making me feel incredibly depressed and desperately unattractive. So I have a bump, I still want to look normal everywhere else.

Then I tracked down Seraphine and although their jeans aren't as cheap as the Topshop and H&M options the cut looked good and they are proper denim. I went crazy. I bought two pairs convincing myself that I would choose one and send the other back. A massive bonus was that most of them come with a thin bump band rather than one that goes all the way over which, with my short waist, isn't the most comfortable.

The first pair I chose were their straight leg premium maternity jeans. A lovely colour and great cut - all other maternity jeans I had found online seemed to be skinny or bootcut. The fact that they are worn by Dannii Minogue is something I couldn't care less about except that you can see her wearing them rather than a headless, lifeless, odd-shaped mannequin and they look nice!

The second pair where the I-don't-need-them-but-I-want-them pair of grey skinny luxe jeans. When I'm not knocked up I love wearing my grey skinnies at this time of year and have been missing them a little. I rather assumed these wouldn't fit and would be the ones to go back. Again being worn by January Jones and Jessica Alba seemed to be a big selling point for these and again seeing them on actual people was a massive help. They look like actual jeans, not just the bottom half of a sat romper suit.

Both pairs were £65, not exactly bank breakers but not cheap either baring in mind I'm having a bloody baby and they're not cheap either! But both of them fitted beautifully and I couldn't be parted with them. I've kept them both, even though they are so ridiculously long I had to spend £20 having them taken up, I am in love with them. As I said to my husband (as he wept over my red bank statement) they more than paid for themselves the first time I wore them because I feel normal! I feel like a regular pregnant woman from the waist down - they are comfortable but properly cut and structured. I really, really recommend getting them. And as I'm hoping this will not be the only time I'm pregnant, and I'm assuming I will be in them for a while after the baby, I think £65 is a really good price. There's no way that I would get my maternity jeans from anywhere else in the future.


6 June 2012

Macaroni Cheese De Luxe

This has to be in my top five all time favourite things to eat and now I've tried this recipe I won't really use anything else. It's quite time consuming and it makes enough for an army but that's fine by me. I can spend a lot of time testing the cheese sauce is just right and then have loads of individual portions in the freezer so I can eat this whenever I want. Perfect!

This recipe is from Nigella Christmas: Food, Family, Friends, Festivities as part of her Christmas Eve supper for 10-12 people. It is fantastic to have in the freezer over Christmas and New Year for those days when you are too exhausted to cook and to soothe the night before the dreaded return to work. I know that there is a quicker version in Nigella Express and maybe, for sake of comparison, I will do that one next time but for those who want the ultimate Macaroni Cheese recipe this is it. Sometimes i crisp up some Oscar Meyer bacon and sprinkle  it in when I pour the sauce over the pasta but really it doesn't need it.

Unless you have a huge oven dish (Nigella recommends 36cm x 26cm x 6cm deep) you will need two or three - I can just about fit all of this into my two largest ones. You will need two large saucepans too - one for the pasta and one for the sauce - I have to do my macaroni in two batches which is slightly annoying.You can serve this with salad if you wish... I don't think it really needs it.

Macaroni Cheese De Luxe

For 10-12

175g soft butter, plus more for greasing
150g plain flour
2 tsps Dijon mustard
3 x 170g cans evaporated milk, 500ml total
1.5 litres semi-skimmed milk
2 x 500g packets macaroni
275g Emmental, chopped or grated
300g red Leicester or Cheddar, chopped or grated
75g Parmesan, chopped or grated

Quite often I find that Emmental comes in smaller packets of 240g and cheddar in 350g so I just use all of those to make up the difference. I actually find the taste is a bit better as I get the strongest cheddar I can find...

Pre-heat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas Mark 7 and grease your roasting dish with butter.

1. Start heating a large pan full of water on the hob for the pasta.

2. Put another pan (with a lid), though not quite as big, to heat on the hob for the cheese sauce; melt the butter over a medium/low heat, add the flour, stirring until you have formed a roux. Cook, still stirring, for 5 minutes over a low heat.


3. Add the Dijon mustard to the pan and stir well, then take off the heat.

4. Pour the evaporated milk and the fresh milk into a jug and slowly whisk this into the roux. Be patient or you will get lumps.

White sauce

5. When you have whisked in all the liquid, put the pan back on the heat and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, for about 10-15 minutes, or until the flouriness has gone.

6. When the sauce is ready, add the chopped or grated cheeses (reserving a handful). Stir until the cheese has melted, season to taste and take off the heat, with a lid so no skin forms.

7. Meanwhile when the water from the first pan has come to the boil, salt it extravagantly and cook the macaroni for a couple of minutes less than directed on the packet and drain.

8. Tip the drained pasta into the prepared dish and scrape the cheese sauce on top. If you are going to add bacon bits, do so now. With a couple of spatulas or your wooden spoon mix together until the pasta is coated in the sauce.

Cling-filmed macaroni ready for the cheese

9. Sprinkle over the reserved cheeses and transfer to the oven to cook for 15-20 minutes or until the top has scorched slightly and the underneath is bubbling. This is best left to stand for 20 minutes or so out of the oven before serving.

Macaroni Cheese
Finished macaroni cheese

To make ahead: Get to the end of stage 8, cool. cover with clingfilm and keep in the fridge for up to 3 days. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6. Remove the macaroni from the fridge while the oven is heating and cover with foil. Place the dish in the oven for 20 minutes, then uncover, sprinkle over the reserved cheeses and reheat for a further 20-30 mins until piping hot and golden.

To freeze: Get to the end of stage 8, cool, cover and freeze for up to three months. Thaw overnight in the fridge and reheat as above.
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