25 October 2011

Pumpkin cake

I'd never thought of using pumpkins in a sweet recipe before, but then I've also never had three of them to use up before, so extreme measures were called for. I know three's a bit excessive, but pumpkins are so autumnal and lovely, I think I have a bit of a compulsion and can't resist. (I actually have to stop myself buying them. Loser, I know.) So after a stint on display and looking pretty, the time came for them to be put to use.

This cake is very similar to carrot cake, and is amazing still warm from the oven, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or a dollop of double cream. It's a perfect autumn cake - good for round the bonfire, or after a long stomp around outside.

I used a Turks Turban (the ones in the background in the picture on the left) pumpkin for this recipe, but you can use any pumpkin or a butternut squash. Turks Turbans are delicious, but have really tough skin, so getting the flesh out while the pumpkin is uncooked is quite tricky. Next time, I'll probably just use a butternut squash. 

Halloween Pumpkin Cake
Serves 15 hungry/greedy people

300g self-raising flour
300g light muscavado sugar
3 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
175g sultanas
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs, beaten
200g butter, melted
1 orange, zested
1 tbsp orange juice
500g pumpkin flesh, grated

Heat oven to 180C. Butter and line a 30 x 20 cm cake tin.

Put the flour, sugar, spice, bicarbonate of soda, sultanas and salt into a large bowl, and mix well. Beat the eggs in to the melted butter, stir in the orange zest and juice, then mix into the dry ingredients. Stir in the pumpkin. 

Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 30 minutes or until golden and cooked through. 

Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack and leave to cool completely.

20 October 2011

Tom Butcher Ceramics

Earlier in the year, before this site existed, I was introduced to the brilliant Notonthehighstreet.com (thanks Anna!), in the hope of finding inspiration for my sister's birthday present. It's a great website, that compiles the lovely things that hundreds of small-scale shops and independent crafts-people are selling. Perfect birthday present fodder.

Needless to say, I spent hours trawling through pages of beautiful things, and was wracked by indecision until I came across Tom Butcher Ceramics

Tom designs and hand-crafts his ceramics in his studio on the shores of Loch Long in Scotland, and I  love the simplicity of his designs. I like things that feel like they've got a bit of character, and these are robust and outdoorsy, but still elegant, and I'd happily have them on my kitchen table any day.

Tom sells direct through his website, as well as via Notonthehighstreet.com

16 October 2011

Pear jam

Making jam is a really lovely way of using up fruit, and if you make it in small batches, it's super easy to do. The basic recipe for jam is much the same no matter what fruit you use, so start saving old jars, and you'll be ready to go at a moment's notice.

I've used Conference pears for this recipe, but use whatever you have piled up in your fruit bowl. The important thing is to to make the jam before the pears go too mushy because the levels of pectin in the fruit, which makes the jam set, start to drop as the fruit ripens.

The sugar will harden the fruit when it's added to the jam, so if you're using fruits like apples and pears, make sure they're cooked right down before you add the sugar. 

Pear jam
Makes about three jars

2kg pears, peeled, chopped and cored
1kg granulated sugar 
1 lemon, juiced
1l water

Heat the oven to 180C.

Put the pears and water into a large pan with the water, and simmer gently for about 20 minutes, until the pears are very soft and the water has reduced by about a third. 

Warm the sugar in the oven before adding it to the pears and stiring gently until it's completely disolved. Warming the sugar first speeds up this process. 

Turn up the heat, and boil the pears rapidly for about eight minutes, then take the pan off the heat and check to see if the setting point has been reached. Keep checking every minute until the jam is ready then take the pan off the heat. 

Sterilise your jam jars while the jam is resting, then pot up.

14 October 2011

Baked eggs with chorizo and beans

This is a recipe for those days when you can't really be bothered to cook, but it's just as well, because you haven't bothered to go to the shops either. It could easily be breakfast, brunch, lunch or supper, and as long as you have eggs, tomatoes and some kind of beans, can be adapted to use up almost whatever it is that you have in the fridge. Perfect for a lazy day.

A really lovely adaptation is to replace the beans with a jar of artichoke hearts. It makes a lighter dish, and is a lovely brunch with some fresh bread. 

Baked eggs with chorizo and beans
Serves 4 (I made an individual one for the picture)

1tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
150g chorizo, sliced
4 eggs
400g tin chopped tomatoes
410g tin butter beans
410g tin haricot beans
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion slices and cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes, add the chorizo and chilli flakes and cook for another 5 minutes or so, until the onion is soft and the chorizo is cooked. 

Add the tomatoes, and beans and simmer for about 15 minutes until slightly reduced.

Make four little wells in the tomato and beans, and crack in the eggs. Cover the pan with some foil, and cook over a medium heat for 4-5 minutes until the eggs are cooked. 

Sprinkle over the parsley, and you're done!

National portrait gallery: Glamour of the Gods

Glamour of the Gods is a celebration of the 'Golden Age' of Hollywood, from 1920 to 1960. From Greta Garbo and Clark Gable to Audrey Hepburn, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, it's an exhibition of the photographs that created international style icons and in many cases these are the career-defining images of Hollywood's greatest names.

Featuring over 70 photographs, the exhibition demonstrates the part that photography played in creating the Hollywood mystique which changed just about everything.  

The exhibition only runs until the 23 October, so you'll have to be quick, and if you've been or you're going, I'd love to know what you think of it.

13 October 2011

Envelope cushion covers

Just like most people my age in London, I rent my house. It's lovely, but I can't paint the walls, or put up too many pictures, or really do much about some of the furniture, so sometimes I get a bit bored and feel the need to shake things up a bit. Inevitably, and no doubt to the relief of my landlord, it's generally the cushion covers that get the makeover.

If you've got a sewing machine, it's so easy to make new cushion covers and it can really make a difference to the look of a room. Almost as good as wielding a paintbrush!

How to make an envelope cushion cover 
Material (if you want the covers to be washable, wash the material before you cut it)
Cushion pad
Tape measure
Iron and ironing board
Needle or sewing machine

1. First thing, measure your cushion pad (mine was 46cm square), then measure out your material. The length needs to be 2.5 times the length of the cushion pad, plus 5cm for hemming, and the width is the width of the cushion pad plus 5cm for hemming again. So mine was 120cm x 51cm. Then cut out the material.

2. With the right side of the material facing down, turn over 2.5cm at each width end of the material and iron it down to create a hem. Fold that hem over again, by another 2.5cm, and iron it down, so you have a double thickness hem and the rough edge is hidden inside the fold. Sew along the hem with a straight running stitch.

3. With the wrong side of the material facing down this time, place the cushion pad in the middle of the material. Fold the fabric over the cushion from each end, to create the 'envelope' with the overlap. Carefully slide out the cushion, and iron the material, so you have a square. If your material slides about a bit when you remove the cushion pad, just measure the length to make sure it's the same as the cushion pad on each side. 

4. Pin down the unhemmed sides, tack, and sew with a straight running stitch, leaving a 2.5cm seam allowance.

5. Turn the fabric the right side out and stuff with your cushion pad.

If you want a stripe on your cushion, at stage 1, cut a strip of fabric the same width as the fabric for your cushion. Measure the length of your stripe and add 5cm for hemming. With the material facing down, turn a 2.5cm hem on each width end and iron it flat. Position the stripe, right side up on right side of the cushion material, making sure the length ends are lined up with the edges of the cushion fabric. Sew a straight running stitch (or zigzag if you want to get fancy) along the folded sides of the stripe, close to the edge.

Autumn cheese & wine festival

Love cheese? Love wine? Then this one might be for you.

Taking place from Friday 14th  - Sunday 26th October, the Autumn Cheese & Wine Festival is taking over the Southbank Centre Square to celebrate Britain's best ethical and artisan produce. There's loads of lovely cheese and wine to buy, and talks and demos going on all weekend so we can all be connoisseurs by Sunday night. Lovely!

10 October 2011

London Cocktail Week

You might not know it yet, but right now we're in the middle of London Cocktail Week.

Cocktail Week started on the 7th, but from today and until the 16th, over two hundred of the city's best bars will be throwing open their doors for some special Cocktail Tours. Each bar involved will serve their own bespoke London Cocktail Week drink available at a reduced-price for those wearing a London Cocktail Week wristband. Free transport around the city will also be provided with dedicated London buses running every night of the week - plus master classes, tastings and parties are happening all over town.

With this celebratory mood in mind, I thought it was only right to tempt you with a recipe for a delicious cocktail. I'd love to hear your favourite cocktail recipes too, so send them in and I'll happily test some out and feature a few. It's a tough life!

Dark & Stormy
2 shots dark rum
1 shot freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 shot sugar syrup
ginger beer

Shake the rum, lime and sugar syrup in a cocktail shaker with some ice. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass and top with ginger beer.

5 October 2011

Flourless pear and chocolate cake

The pears are still plentiful, and this is a delicious way to use them. It's a proper, grown-up chocolate cake, which is just as good warmed, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, as it is at tea time.

Sometimes chocolate cakes can be a bit rich, but the pears in this recipe help to cut through the intensity of the dark chocolate, and using almonds instead of flour, makes this unexpectedly light and moist.

Flourless pear and chocolate cake
Serves 8

85g butter
85g caster sugar
85g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
3 eggs, separated
85g ground almonds
4 ripe pears, peeled, cored and sliced

Heat the oven to 180C, then grease and line a 23cm loose-bottomed cake tin.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, then remove from the heat and let it cool a bit.

In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale and thick. Fold this into the chocolate with the ground almonds.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks (your bowl and whisk needs to be ridiculously clean, otherwise the whites won't hold. Also, don't over-whisk them - if you do, it can be difficult to fold them in.). Stir a third of the whites into the chocolate mix, then gently fold in the rest in two batches.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level it out a bit. Arrange the pears over the mixture so that they look pretty.

Bake for 40 mins until the pears are soft and the cake is cooked through. Leave to cool in the tin slightly before cooling completely on a wire rack.

1 October 2011

London Restaurant Festival

The London Restaurant Festival is a celebration of the thousands of restaurants and places to eat out in London.

The festival takes place 3 - 17 October, and restaurants across the city are offering special menus at special prices - from local bistros to Michelin Star restaurants. There are also special one-off events, like the Gourmet Odyssey where a Routemaster bus takes you on a three course tour of London, with your first course in one top London restaurant, your main in another and dessert in a third. What's not to love?!