Monday, 16 May 2016

1970s Yoghurt in a flask

When I was growing up my mum made this, not often, but I remember it.

It's cheaper than shop bought and it feels more wholesome simply because it's homemade and you're responsible for what goes into it.
To make 1.2l you will need:
  • A flask - I treated myself to a gorgeous cranberry 1.2l Thermos flask (which, as an aside, comes with a fifty year guarantee)
  • 1l UHT whole milk
  • 50g skimmed milk powder
  • 6 tbsp live yoghurt (or 90ml)
  • A cooking thermometer
  • Funnel

  • Fill the flask with boiling water to heat it up and then mix the skimmed milk powder with the milk in a saucepan.
  • Heat gently to 46°C stirring all the time
  • When you reach the right temperature, add the live yoghurt and stir well.
  • Empty the flask of the hot water and fill with milk mixture using the funnel to avoid making a mess.
  • Pop the lid on and store for 8-24 hours.  The closer to 24 hours, the creamier the result.
  • Pour into one or many receptacles and when cool, pop into fridge where it will be good for about five days.  I store portion-sized amounts in jam jars in the fridge and mix with lemon curd when I want to eat it.  Ethan likes a raisin and runny honey whereas I'm a also a fan of stewed rhubarb.
  • You can keep some of the yogurt you've made as a starter for your next batch. If you want to this can be frozen and defrosted when needed.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Moving thoughts, or thought on moving

So I've just finished week 3, and I have some random thoughts.

You have to see a lot of molehills before you see a mole (and I'm still waiting to see one).

Running through mud is a pain in the backside. The upside is that if you end up with mud splashes on your running gear then it looks like you've tried hard.

Running is easier when you're listening to music.

It's really, incredibly annoying when the app you're following that tells you when to run/walk crashes.

It doesn't matter when you go out, it's better to go out then not.

Planning your route so that when you hear the words "Your workout is complete" just as you see your house, is a source of satisfaction.

Planning your route so that the running bits are downhill or on the flat and the walking bits are uphill is also an art form.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Chocolate and pear not upside-down pudding

I saw this recipe, read the instructions and there were things that I didn't like.

Firstly it required putting skillet or frying pan in the oven. Now I know that some frying pans are simply not meant for the oven. I think mine would be OK, but why would I want to risk it?

Secondly, the cake, which has gooey elements, needs to be turned upside-down and there were cautionary words in the instructions to "be careful not to burn yourself". I'm very good at burning myself so I have adapted the recipe to avoid melting frying pan handles and also to avoid heat-related injuries. If you do burn yourself then don't come running to me - I've removed the highest risk element.

You will need a frying pan (not for the oven) and a pie dish - approx 20-25cm in diameter. I'd say a tart or quiche dish wouldn't be deep enough.

You can do quite a bit of preparation ahead of the cooking bit allowing you to appear super organised as you just chuck everything together at the last minute.

Serves 4-8 based on level of appetite and greed


  • 35g butter (preferably unsalted)
  • 250g light brown sugar
  • 4 ripe pears, peeled, cored and thickly sliced (I find pears to be fickle beasts when it comes to ripeness so I used the drained contents of two tins of pears)
  • 150g plain chocolate
  • 180g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp bicarb of soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 200ml buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk, and frankly who does, then use milk soured with lemon juice - you add the lemon juice, wait a bit and the milk goes all yucky - perfect buttermilk substitute)
  • 75ml vegetable oil (I like to use corn oil)


  • Melt the butter in a frying pan
  • Stir in half the sugar and heat for a couple of minutes stirring continuously until it becomes a light caramel colour
  • Take off the heat and scatter in the pears
  • Ensure the pears are coated in the sugar mixture and then transfer to the pie dish
  • Break the chocolate into bite-sized pieces (or if you’re as much of a glutton as me, maybe half bite-sized pieces)
  • Scatter the chocolate pieces amongst the pears in the dish
  • In a clean bowl mix the flour, cocoa, bicarb and baking powder
  • In a separate jug or bowl which together the eggs, remaining sugar, buttermilk and oil
  • Mix the flour mixture with the egg mixture to form a batter.  This can now be kept in the fridge until needed for the cooking bit.
  • When you’re ready for your domestic god or goddess moment, turn the oven on to 180degrees C (fan).
  • When the oven is at the right temperature pour the batter on top of the pear and sugar and then bake for 40 minutes.
  • Stand for five minutes prior to serving.

The squidgy, oozy nature of this dessert is by design not accident.

Delicious with ice cream, cream or the filthy, dirty squirty aerosol cream that lives in our fridge.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

I'm back and it's pretty ugly

My three months off running has just come to an end.  I can officially re-commence running.

In the intervening time I have acquired trail running shoes and some nice running gear for when it's wet and/or cold.

What I appear to have lost in the same three months is any fitness my previous exercise might have bestowed upon me.

I decided to start from scratch again with the C25K app.  I'm very conscious that if I get at all disheartened with my progress I'll crumble and any willpower or motivation will evaporate.  So if I keep the goals achievable, I'll stick with it.

It was muddy and slippery and my trail running shoes didn't stop my sliding and they still gave me numb toes.  I think I slid less than I would have in regular trainers though and the numb toes thing is just me.

I have been out twice, once in the cold, and once in damp and miserable conditions.  I also have a cold so am taking it easy.

It's OK.  Running is better when it's beautiful and cheery outside but this is OK.  I plan to keep trying.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Smoked mackerel and chive tart

This isn't smocked mackerel and chive tart but smoked mackerel and chive tart.  It's a subtle difference.

I like smoked mackerel in limited quantities and in this recipe the quantities are just right.

If you want to skip the pastry making and buy ready made shortcrust, I won't judge you but this method wasn't difficult, and I speak as a pastryphobe.

You'll need a 22cm tart/quiche tin preferably with removable base, although not essential.  If you only have a 25cm tin then don't fret.  The pastry quantities will still be sufficient but you might want to increase the filling ingredients about 20-25%.  I was in this situation and added a bit more mackerel, crème fraîche, horseradish but not more chives or egg.


  • 320g ready rolled shortcrust pastry or a block which you roll yourself or:
  • 250g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 140g butter (very cold and cubed)
  • 2 tbsp (roughly) iced water

  • 2 large eggs beaten
  • 180g smoked mackerel
  • 100ml milk
  • 200ml crème fraîche (can be half fat but why would you)
  • 3 tsp creamed horseradish
  • 25g fresh chives - chopped

For the pastry:

  • Add the salt to the flour and then pop in a food processor with the cubed butter
  • Whizz until you get a fine crumb
  • Gradually add water until a dough forms
  • At this point I like to chill for 30 mins but you don't have to
  • Roll out pastry between sheets of greaseproof paper and then line your greased (with butter) tart tin with a bit of pastry overhang, about a centimetre.  I usually trim the pastry with scissors to get an even overhang.  The overhang is there because pastry shrinks when cooked.  Make sure you push the pastry gently into the tin - this is best done with the back of the index finger.
  • Prick the base and sides with a fork, also prick the corner bits at the edge of the base - this area is my bête noire because it always seems to puff up when baked
  • Chill the pastry in its case for 30 mins and put a baking sheet in the oven and turn the oven on to 200°C
  • Blind bake for 15 mins by placing the tin on the baking sheet - this means the tart case with baking parchment (I find the pre-cut and fluted cake tin liners from Lakeland are perfect) and fill with baking beans, or rice or beans or whatever.  These baking beans are sold in a standard amount and I use two lots and make sure they are pushed into the corners.  The reason you bake on a baking sheet is that the pastry is quite a buttery mixture and some butter can ooze whilst baking.  A baking sheet is easier to clean than an oven.
  • Take out and carefully remove baking beans and baking parchment.
  • Bake for another 5 mins (this wasn't in the original recipe but I did it by accident and it seemed to work - if it ain't broke...)
  • Take out and brush base with beaten egg - you can try to brush the sides as well but I found that a bit faffy
  • Bake for another 5 mins
  • Take out of the oven
  • Carefully trim away the pastry overhang.  I use a knife and find this is a tedious and messy process.  Why someone doesn't just produce a tart tin that's a little deeper to accommodate this problem, I just don't know.  It would save me time and stress hormones.
  • Your base can now be filled or can wait until you're ready for the next stage.  You can freeze your case now if you want to.
For the filling:
  • Take the skin off the smoked mackerel.
  • Run your fingers along its spine to feel for bones.  They probably wouldn't do any harm but I like to remove the ones I can feel or see.
  • Tear flesh into smallish pieces (about 2/3 the size of your little finger?) and scatter in your tart case.
  • In a large jug whisk eggs, milk, crème fraîche, horseradish and chives.  You can add a healthy grind of black pepper too if you fancy it.  You're really just combining the ingredients thoroughly here not trying to whip air into the mixture.
  • Pour over the mackerel and then bake for 25-30 minutes.  I used a 25 cm tin and found I was baking it for about 40 minutes to get a golden colour.  You'll also notice that the tart puffs up when baked but sinks down when removed from the oven.  This is perfectly normal.
I wouldn't recommend eating this hot, but if warm or cold it is delicious.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Best pancake recipe

I've tried a few pancake recipes over the years and the one I tried this year is the one I'm sticking with.
It makes ten small pancakes
  • 100g plain flour
  • pinch af salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 300ml milk
  • butter for cooking
  • Put flour in a bowl and add salt.  I have a wonderful big Le Creuset jug that is perfect for this and allows the last dregs to be poured into the frying pan.
  • Make a well in the flour and break the eggs into the well.
  • Add the oil - don't use olive oil because you don't want a strong tasting oil. Rapeseed oil is fine, or corn oil.
  • Add 50ml of the milk.
  • Whisk using hand whisk.  I think using a blender or electric/wand whisk, is overkill.  You are aiming for a sloppy smooth paste consistency.
  • Gradually add remaining milk, mixing all the time.
  • Rest or don’t rest the mix - it doesn’t make any difference.
  • Put a small knob of butter in a frying pan over a medium to high heat and, when it’s bubbling, poor enough mixture to cover two thirds of the pan and whoosh it around so that it covers the whole of the base of the pan.  I use a ladle to try and ensure the same amount (about half a ladle) is used each time.  
  • When the underside has cooked feel free to flip the pancake or use a fish slice if you’re of a more cowardly persuasion (I don’t flip).
  • When the new underside is cooked your pancake is ready.
  • Serve with whatever takes your fancy and start with a new knob of butter for the next pancake.
The depressing thing about making pancakes is that the chef spends all their time making the blasted things and there’s never enough time to eat one.  I end up waiting until the family have had their fill and then I get left with whatever batter is left in the bowl.  I then cook, eat, cook, eat, whereas everyone else enjoys a continual stream of pancakeage.  Pancakes are a lovely treat though and I always mean to enjoy them on more than just Shrove Tuesday.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Slow sloe gin

This is the easiest way to make sloe gin in my limited experience.

Pick sloes. These look a bit like blueberries but they grow on blackthorn trees often amongst bramble in hedgerows. Google images so that you know what you're looking for. The important thing is to recognise the blackthorn leaf (narrow and about two inches long) as well as the berry. They appear in August/September and stay on the trees until October. If you don't plan to freeze them then you should wait until after the first frost.

The sloe is part of the plum family and is like a smaller, more bitter version of the damson. They taste vile.

In order to use one litre of gin, you will need 425g of sloes. If you use fresh sloes then they will need washing and checking for creepy crawlies. You'll then need to spike each berry with a pin to pierce the skin. I wash, check for bugs and then freeze the berries which dispenses with the need to prick the skin. You can probably use them frozen, but I defrost before using. I open freeze and then, once frozen, scoop into bags for most efficient use of freezer space.

You will need two receptacles: one for the "brewing" process and one for the bottling. Used gin bottles are fine for both of these but Kilner jars are also fine for the brewing process. My preference is the "alcoholics special" 1 1/2 litre gin bottles for the brewing process (Sainsbury sell gin in 1 1/2 litre bottles and I'm sure they're freely available everywhere) and Kilner or Kilner-style bottles (IKEA do a range as do Wilkinsons) for the bottling procedure.

All vessels must be sterilised (allegedly). I do this by cleaning them and rinsing thoroughly in hot water before bunging glass/ceramic bits in the oven at a temperature of about 80-90 degrees Celsius for about 20 mins. Wait until hand warm before handling. All rubber seals/metal lids get boiled in water for about ten minutes. If you're using "fresh" gin bottles then I reckon you can skip the sterilisation. I'm still unconvinced it's absolutely necessary as alcohol kills bacteria (doesn't it?) but I'm too scared to risk it.

If using a litre of gin then pop 225g caster sugar into a 1.5l bottle or Kilner jar that you have sterilised. Follow this with 425g of sloes. If using a bottle then you just pop them in one by one. Finish off with the gin.

Lid on and shake it all about. Store in dark room (I don't know why it needs to be a dark room but I use kitchen cupboards or the cupboard under the stairs.)

For the first week you need to invert/shake daily to try and dissolve the sugar. After the sugar is dissolved you need do this once a week for a month. After this you should have a beautifully ruby red syrupy goo that just needs to mature. The longer you leave it the better. Generally if you make it in early October it should be drinkable for Christmas.

Prior to drinking you need to bottle it. You'll need muslin (the type used for preserving not the type you use on babies), a funnel and a bottle.

It's at this point you'll appreciate my advice regarding the use of the alcoholics special 1 1/2 litre gin bottles.

Arrange funnel into the top of the sterilised bottle. Arrange muslin such the all liquid going into the funnel has to pass through the muslin. I do this by stretching the muslin over the top of the funnel and holding in place with a hi-tech elastic band. I then make the muslin a bit "baggy" so that stray sloes don't bounce off the muslin.

Pour from brewing container into muslin adorned funnel. Be careful not to over-pour. The advantage of brewing in a bottle is that pouring process is quite un-messy. Take it from me that pouring from a Kilner jar will break your heart as the ruby red elixir will spill onto your work surface without any opportunity for retrieval.

It will keep for a really long time, not that I'd know...

It tastes like cough syrup remembered through rose-tinted tastebuds (not sure that works linguistically), is good to keep and lovely to give.

I would recommend that when sloes are on the trees you go mad, pick loads and make as much as you can.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Happy Half Term Cake

This recipe is an amalgamation of two recipes and I haven’t followed the recipes exactly so I’m posting this for the next time I want to make it.


I should explain that I’m not always one to bake a Happy Half Term Cake, and this particular cake followed a fractious car journey in which I annoyed Ethan by mentioning the lost scrum cap and the fact he has to buy a replacement, and then Ethan annoyed Hannah by telling her she was rubbish at doing homework.  I told them there was no cake for anyone in a bad mood and by the end of the journey we were all smiles.


  • 165g butter, plus extra for greasing - I used Stork baking marg which often produces better results than butter
  • 165g soft light brown or light brown muscovado sugar
  • 325g self-raising flour
  • 1 rounded tsp baking powder
  • 1 rounded tsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 large eggs
  • 4 tbsp milk
  • 2 large ripe bananas - I think the recipe can take an extra half a banana
For buttercream
  • 125g soft butter (i.e. not straight from the fridge)
  • 350g icing sugar
  • 150g Carnation Caramel
For Caramel drizzle
  • Most of the rest of the Caramel tin.  If you’re a pig like me half of the rest will end up in your mouth and never make it to the cake.
You will also need three cake tins, mine were 8 inch.  The original cake recipe only used one deep tin but I cannot cut cake to make layers; things just get messy when I try.  If you only have one deep cake tin and do have the skill to do this then by all means knock yourself out - just increase the baking time to about 45 mins.
  • Pre-heat oven to 170C fan.
  • Grease and line the bottom of three round 21cm/8 inch loose-bottomed cake tins.
  • Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth and a pale, creamy colour.
  • In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon.
  • One at a time, beat each egg into the butter mixture along with a tbsp of the dry mixture
  • Beat in the milk and fold in the rest of the dry ingredients until well combined (you can just use the mixer but don’t go mad - you just need to mix until it’s all combined).
  • In the bowl that contained the flour, mash the bananas until smooth and lump-free
  • Then fold into the rest of the mixture until well combined or just mix in using a mixer.
  • Spoon into the tins and smooth over the surface.
  • Bake for 20-25 mins, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. The edges of the cake should also be coming away from the sides of the tins.
  • Leave to cool for 5 mins, then remove from tin and continue cooling on a wire rack.
  • Beat butter, icing sugar and caramel.  Start this slowly to avoid icing sugar clouds.
  • When it’s light and buttercreamy then it’s ready to use.
  • I found it’s best to stack the cakes with the top bit facing uppermost as the buttercream can lift cake crumbs as it’s being spread.  This only really matters for the top deck so stack in a way that suits you.
  • I use slightly less than a third of the icing sandwiching the cakes and just over a third for the top layer.
  • Beat the remaining caramel to loosen it and try and drizzle it on the top of the buttercream.  I got in a mess doing this and ended up blobbing lines of caramel on the top.  To make it look like this was deliberate I used a skewer and dragged the icing in a spiral.  Go mad, do whatever comes naturally.  For me that was trying to rescue something that hadn’t quite gone to plan. 
Eat with tea or coffee, or a bottle of wine.  Remember, this is Happy Half Term Cake.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Still running

Having moved onto the 10K app you might think I’m now ready for a marathon.

Not quite.  I’m keeping my jogging to roughly 30 mins which means that I don’t complete the whole programme each session.  So if it wants me to do three 15 minute sessions I’ll stop after the first two.  Today it required three 17 minute sessions and I did the first two.  

I found today difficult so took a couple of “get my breath back” breaks which I did whilst pausing the programme.

I’m getting out at least twice a week and, when I can, three times.

I’m not being as tough on myself when I’m out.  I don’t blindly carry on if I’m finding it really difficult; I’ll take a break.

I hope I can carry on when it gets colder and wetter.  I don’t want to be a fair weather jogger.

My aim is to try and get a little bit faster.  Extra distance would be a bonus but a bit faster than walking pace would be good.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Labouring under a misapprehension

I'm a bit pissed off.

Labour are deciding who is OK to vote in the Labour leadership election.

Apparently not voting for Labour in the recent election means you don't qualify. I think this is garbage.

If you weren't a fan of the way Ed Miliband was running the Labour party at the last election then you're one of the reasons there's a leadership election.  Apparently,  if you expressed your opinion by placing your vote elsewhere,  you don't get a day in who should replace Mr M.  How does that work?

Surely anyone who has a Socialist heart and/or mind should be eligible to have a say in the leadership election.

I know Corbyn is doing well amongst Labour supporters but surely these people didn't vote Labour because the Labour that went into the last election was not Corbyn's Labour.

I'm not sure what the answer is but using the people that voted for Ed as the base for electing a new leader seems to be a flawed policy.

Monday, 17 August 2015

I've graduated

My C25k app tells me I've graduated.

Yesterday's run was for 30 minutes with five minutes for warm up and five minutes to cool down.

The next stage is apparently to run 5k in 30 minutes which I can do whenever I want.

The disconnect is distance.  I can plod in a plodding jog for 30 minutes and yesterday,  including the warm up and cool down my GPS running app tells me I converted a distance of 4k. I guess I just keep going until the time and distance coincide and 5k is done in 30 minutes but I feel somewhat conned. There must be a way of the app helping me to get there. 

The app was called C25k and the plan was 5k. Well I've done everything that was asked of me and I'm not there.  Is it me that failed or the app?

Thursday, 13 August 2015

You'll paella vlot more in the UK

On holiday in Spain it would be rude to avoid paella, the national dish.
A trip to a rather mad local supermarket (in Turre) opened up the possibility of buying a paella pan.
If one plans to cook paella at home does one need a paella pan?
I'm pretty sure the answer is no but that doesn't stop me wanting one.
Dave is adamant that we don't need one as is Ethan. Hannah is in the "let's get a paella pan" camp.
I think I might have to buy one because a 6 portion pan costs less than four Euros even though I don't need one.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

How often?

Every year the Perseids Meteor shower comes around and every year I can't be bothered to look.
But how often do I have access to a roof terrace with loungers already in situ?
I could climb out of the bathroom window and lie on the conservatory ceiling but that neither convenient not comfortable.
Dave took a look and concluded the sky wasn't clear enough.  He was right about the most air rising above nearby mountains but the view straight up seemed good enough.
I had a lie down.  I spotted satellites,  moths,  aircraft and stars.  Just as I was about to give up I saw my first strong,  obvious,  in your face shooting star.
I've been here a while now and seen quite a few.  The people on a nearby rooftop seem to have stopped their oohing and aching so I think it might be time to call it a night but I think meteor showers might be addictive?
Tomorrow night?

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Running away

Yes I have been trying to learn to run.  I don't mean physically how one places one foot in front of the other,  but more how one sustains activity beyond 15 seconds.

That's all very well at home but surely when on holiday such activity ceases.

I confess this is the first time in my life I have packed any kind of exercise clobber into my holiday luggage. This is not through any enjoyment of the activity,  more a fear that any progress will be lost and, when I return home, I'll be back to week one of my C25k programme.

It's hot on holiday though,  very hot. The only option to avoid most of the heat is to run before breakfast,  which for me means about 7:30.

This morning was a warm 27°. This means a lot of sweat and very slow progress for fear of keeling over.

Running away from home can also mean a less than scenic route. The most convenient track is the edge of a dusty local road.  The only thing to remind me of my usual Essex countryside surroundings is the rabbit family I pass.  Today's rabbit count is five.

And today's run was a hour and sweaty 28 minutes,  week eight,  run two.