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210 posts categorized "Food glorious food"

07 June 2013

Food Photography Workshop, Gulf Shores Alabama


It’s already been more than a month since I went to Gulf Shores, Alabama to learn about food photography and styling from the masters (mistresses?) – Helene Dujardin, Senior Photographer at Oxmoor House and of Tartelette blog fame, and Clare Barboza, whose gorgeous photography studio I’ve been renting here in Seattle.



It’s still difficult to put into words exactly what the weekend meant to me, mostly because I don’t quite yet know myself.  But let’s just say that if you mix mindblowingly beautiful surroundings with a bunch of hugely talented and creative people; throw in sessions of intensely creative work spiced with highly amusing play and season everything with long, leisurely walks on a gorgeous beach, you have a surefire recipe for having your soul turned over just a teeny bit. 


I wanted to show you the photos I took while I was there.  Part of my difficulty in summing up my weekend is that I was both immensely inspired and enormously frustrated.

I want to do this. I love doing it. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do it.  But I’m not quite there yet.

For our first session we talked about using natural light for food photography and the importance of bending it, shaping it, softening it and brightening it, with bounces, scrims and reflectors, to get exactly the effect that we want.  And we were given a bunch of beautiful desserts to play with.

Although many props were available I wanted to style things simply and just focus on playing with light for this session. I know quite a lot about this stuff now after attending so many workshops, but this was actually quite tricky for me as the southern light was so very different from the softer light I’m used to here in Seattle. In Alabama the light had to be scrimmed (using only window blinds) instead of augmented, and finding that sweet spot between harsh and flat was tricky.




This is one of my favourite pictures that I took.  One of the props, a beautiful cake, got dropped and squashed before we started.  It’s more of a ‘found’ picture than a ‘made’ one – not a lot of styling and propping involved in this one – but it’s a interesting perspective on cake and I loved the way the light plays across and shapes the roses on the top.

For our second assignment we were talking more about composition and propping and had a selection of appetisers to photograph.

I still find propping a table setting so that it looks real yet beautiful to be a challenge, so this was a tricky for me, though it was super fun to play with all of Helene’s glorious props and backgrounds.




It was in this session that I learned a very valuable lesson. I was so busy making sure that the light on the grapes and on the top of the cheese and on the knife handle looked beautiful, that I omitted to notice that I wasn’t showing any of the bottom of the small pedestal stand the cheese was on and so the cheese looks like it’s hovering a few inches off the table. 

And I managed to do that in every. single. one of the shots I took this session, so they all featured flying saucer cheese, most even more ludicrously than this, with the cheese plate seemingly floating over the knife.

So I ended up submitting a plate of runny cheese and crackers for the critique at the end.




Our next assignment was very fun.  After watching a Helene and Clare both give a styling and propping demonstration during which they made it look SO easy, we were told to split into teams of two where we would take it in turns to be the stylist and the photographer, and given two very different real world assignments, so we had to style to spec.

I was paired with the lovely Michael and our first assignment was entitle Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. I was delighted to find out that he had been on a previous Helene workshop where learned to style the perfect sandwich, so he was the food stylist, I was the photographer and we worked on the prop styling together.

This again was a stretch for me but I was pleased with how this worked out, though it’s not my usual thing.




Our next assignment was for something Colourful and Contemporary, so I chose to style the fabulous red lentil soup we’d had for lunch. The gorgeous bowls are from Suite One ceramics (as are the textured cake stand and plate in the cheese shots).  This assignment could have been made for me. I’m starting to realise that my ‘style’ is all about the juxtaposition of light, shape and colour. I was in charge of styling for his shoot and Michael was in charge of photography.  Looking at the photo now, I wish we’d done a little bit more with the light.




Our final assignment was pretty challenging.  We all had to choose a can of soup and make it look appetising.  Not easy when you see what’s in these things.  In honour of my Italian heritage I decided to go with a minestrone and chose a rustic styling, which again is not quite my usual thing.

I think I made the soup look vaguely edible, but I wouldn’t exactly call it appetising. What are those pallid beige cubes floating around in there?




Do you know what the single most inspiring thing about this weekend was though?  Meeting Helene. You already know from her blog that she’s funny, charming, delightful and talented, but in real life she just crackles with enthusiasm and energy and she’s just so darn good at her job. Watching her prop a shoot, with meticulous attention to detail, knowing just where to put each element and making it all look so easy, is quite simply awe-inspiring. (I will gush separately about Clare when I recap the Whidbey Island workshop).

If you’re interested in this stuff and can get to one of her workshops you really mustn’t hesitate.

And what was my ultimate takeaway from the event? It showed me that I really, really, REALLY want to do this.  I find the whole interplay between food, tableware, light, colour and composition to be endlessly fascinating and challenging.  I could do it all day.

So I’m putting it out there to the universe now.  I want to be a food photographer.

Stay tuned.

With heartfelt thanks to Laura Vein and Libby Stephens who made the most unbelievable food and looked after us all like mother hens all weekend (oh and buy Laura’s preserves – they are divine). And thanks also to Marilyn, Jerry, Tiffany, Gale, Janice, Karen, Serina, Paula, Nancy, Michael, Sharon and Kara for being such hugely fun, talented and inspiring companions.

29 May 2013

Wonderful Whidbey Island



No Photoshop filters were harmed in the construction of this photo.  It really did look like this.


I’ve been feeling just a tad overwhelmed over the last week or so – moving eleventy million tons of STUFF back into the remodeled kitchen and bathroom; shooting some pics for a friend’s cookbook (yay!); holding the fort while the Husband was in China and generally rushing about like a crazy person.




So when the lovely Clare Barboza told me there were still places left on her 2013 Farm to Table Photography Workshop this weekend on glorious Whidbey Island (just across the water from Seattle), I was wondering whether it might be a bridge (or indeed a ferry ride) too far.




But with the aid of some dear friends taking the Minx for a sleepover, a wonderful Husband babysitting through his jetlag and some frantic late night packing I managed to make it work.  And I was SO very glad I did.





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I met some mindblowingly talented and just plain delightful women, ate fabulous food (thanks to the amazing Sean, Joe and Christine), drank too much wine; enjoyed gorgeous weather, sunsets, rainbows and scenery; and generally spent some quality time with my camera, which I always find to be incredibly soothing for my soul. We stayed at at the exceptionally comfortable Willow Pond Lake House; visited two farms -  Willowood, where they grow organic vegetables and Little Brown Farm where they keep goats and make the most delicious cheese and butter; shopped at the very cute Bayview Farmer’s Market and then got to style and shoot the farm produce.



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As with the Gulf Shores workshop I have MUCH to think about and process (and I will be blogging both at much more length), but in the meantime here are a few photos of the gardens at the house and from a pond nearby.

Can you see now why I loved it so much?





Many thanks to Melissa (seen squatting above), who taught me how to ‘paint’ beautiful abstracts like this.

Stay tuned for the full story of the baby vegetables and the baby goats.

01 May 2013

Gulf Shores Food Photography Workshop


Sometimes you have weekends that are almost impossibly inspiring; good for the deepest depths of your soul and quite possibly life changing.




This last weekend I attended a food photography workshop in Gulf Shores Alabama, with the amazing Helene Dujardin of Tartelette (and Senior Photographer at cookbook publisher Oxmoor House) and the equally amazing Seattle-based food photographer Clare Barboza. 





I’m still processing what exactly the workshop meant to me (there’ll be a blog post with the images I took later this week), but one of the most quietly inspiring and good-for-the-soul aspects was the location.  Who knew that Gulf Shores, Alabama was so incredibly beautiful?




Every day, we took walks on the enormous, blindingly white, sparkly sand beach – like dunes of soft sugar - and admired the seabirds and the soft pastel colours of the seagreen waves, the seashells and the pretty wooden houses on stilts, lined up like so many macarons on the water’s edge (I’m clearly in a dessert-y frame of mind). 






It was one of those places that always looks different depending on the light, but always equally enchanting.




Gulf Shores, I’m so sorry I doubted you.

Come take a walk with me.










The name of the house where we were staying seemed hugely appropriate.




And I wondered if the clouds on the flight back were telling me something.







Check out Clare Barboza’s blog post, to see what fun we had.  And here’s another blog post from my lovely classmate Jerry Deutsch. I met such fabulous people on this weekend.


23 April 2013

Roasted Pumpkin and Coconut Soup with Thai Flavours


This velvety, rich, sweet and downright luscious soup fits right in with my attempts to eat paleo (ie. omit all grain-based carbs) while not feeling remotely deprived, and my current obsession with the awesome kubocha pumpkin, which is dense and filling and absolutely packed with flavour and nutrients (however any flavourful pumpkin or squash would do here).

By the way, I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to Thai cooking, so if you’re expert please don’t snigger at the back. All I know is that these flavours taste delish and their brightness and freshness cuts through the creamy, sweet soup perfectly.


Pumpkin and Coconut Soup



(Serves 4)

4-6 cups of peeled pumpkin or squash (cubed)

1 tablespoon olive oil or melted coconut oil

Salt and pepper to taste

A few branches of thyme


Pumpkin and Coconut Soup


2 tablespoons coconut or olive oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

2-3 plump cloves of garlic, minced

1-2 fresh green chilis, finely chopped

4 inch piece of lemongrass, finely chopped

A small handful of Thai basil (or normal basil), finely chopped

3-4 lime leaves

This is the perfect place for one of those small boxes of fresh herbs from the supermarket entitled ‘Thai Flavours’ or some such. If you can’t find that I’ve made this with a couple of tablespoons of Thai green curry paste in place of the lemongrass, basil and lime leaves.

1 can light coconut milk

2-3 cups of good chicken stock (I use my own bone broth)

Chopped coriander (cilantro) and spring onions (scallions) to garnish.


Pumpkin and Coconut Soup



Roasted Pumpkin

Place the pumpkin cubes on a baking sheet, sprinkle with the olive oil or melted coconut oil and rub it into the pumpkin cubes with your hands until everything is well anointed. Season with sea salt (I use Maldon) and freshly ground pepper to taste and add a few branches of thyme.

Bake in the oven at 200 degrees C (approx 400 degrees F) until the pumpkin is soft and golden brown round the edges.

(You don’t have to roast your pumpkin, but it really does bring out the flavour).


Pumpkin and Coconut Soup Pumpkin and Coconut Soup


While your pumpkin is roasting, start to caramelize your onions.

Heat the oil in a large soup pot, add the onions, garlic, chili, lemongrass, basil and whole lime leaves and cook gently until the onions are a soft and have turned rich golden brown, being careful not to burn them.

When the onions are done, add the roasted pumpkin cubes (or raw pumpkin if you prefer), the coconut milk and 2 cups of bone broth and bring everything to a simmer. Cook for around five minutes, or until the pumpkin is soft if using raw pumpkin, and then fish out the whole lime leaves.

Using an immersion blender or liquidiser, blend the soup until it is thick and creamy.  Add more broth as necessary depending on the texture you like your finished soup to be.

Serve piping hot, garnished with chopped onions and coriander (cilantro). Obviously garnishes are optional, but the crisp green crunchiness really complements the earth, creamy soup.



12 April 2013

Palm Springs Uptown Design District Shopping and Dining Guide


I’m off to Vancouver tomorrow bright and early for a weekend with friends, so I thought it was about time I posted up the last of my images from Palm Springs, before I get a whole bunch of new ones.




Truth be told, last time we went to Palm Springs we had been a bit disappointed by the shopping and dining out options. We visited some great places, yes, but overall the downtown area came across as a bit tired and down at heel - resting on its laurels from a bygone era, like a vacationing grandma.

Clearly we weren’t the only people who felt like that because in the intervening three or so years since we were last there a whole district of fabulous shops and boutiques, art galleries, vintage furniture stores and cool restaurants has sprung up – the Palm Springs Uptown Design District, on North Palm Canyon Drive.

The area begins north of Cheeky’s – breakfast here is still a highlight of any trip to Palm Springs, though be sure to get there early as the lines are LONG.

On the other side of the street from Cheeky’s is Copley’s which has a beautiful outside terrace on which to drink superb cocktails and eat excellent food.  The highlight for us, though, was the fabulous sticky toffee pudding that British chef Andrew Copley has snuck onto the menu.


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We were told by a shop owner that Trio, just north of Copley’s on North Palm Canyon Drive had spearheaded the development of the area, and it certainly was a fabulous place to eat, big and bustly, with a fun and funky interior, impeccable friendly service, and a menu full of upmarket comfort food (and truly excellent mac ‘n cheese for the Minx).

North of Cheeky’s you’ll find some extremely cool vintage furniture stores and Jakes restaurant. We didn’t have a chance to eat at Jakes -  though we stuck our heads in and it looked like fun - but it comes highly recommended by people we met at the hotel.







Carry on walking and you’ll reach a small Spanish style hidden courtyard, where’ll you find the fabulous NotNeutral store, selling beautifully designed contemporary homewares. Originally conceived as a temporary pop-up shop, it’s now a perfect fit in the design district. We could have bought the whole store and nearly did.



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The courtyard also hides the glamorous interior of Workshop Kitchen + Bar. We really enjoyed this restaurant, from the cool décor to the duck fat fries, the use of seasonal ingredients, the excellent cocktails and the ‘large format’ options, which led to the family sharing a large platter full of mustardy chicken and delicious vegetables.


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The pop-up store concept thrives at Raymond Lawrence.  Named for the delightfully friendly owners they feature a number of pop-up collections in their quirky store.

We fell in love with these limited edition portraits of vintage Barbies by Judy Ragagli.  The cutie in the middle with the curled brown hair ended up coming home with us.






The jewel of the design district is Palm Springs designer Trina Turk’s huge eponymous store, featuring women’s and men’s fashions and  the world’s most colourful homewares. Spent a lot of time ogling cushions here.


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With the development of the design district, Palm Springs has just become even more fabulous, if rather dangerous for the wallet and waistline.  I for one can’t wait to go back and am fascinated to see how it develops over the next few years.




10 April 2013

Paleo-Friendly Oxtail and Pumpkin Stew




As I mentioned I’m trying to be more ‘paleo’ in my eating, which essentially means cutting out all grain-based carbs and eating primarily meats, nuts and vegetables. Pumpkins and other squashes are allowed and they provide some much needed starchy bulk in the diet. So when I came across a recipe for Oxtail and Pumpkin Stew in Yotam Ottolenghi’s eponymous first cookbook, which seems to fit the diet perfectly, I was all over it like a rash.




The joy of this recipe comes from the unusual spicing – the earthiness of the wine-stewed meat melds with the sweetness of the pumpkin and aromatics like orange, cinnamon and star anise and just melts in your mouth into layer upon layer of sumptuous flavour. This dish truly is like nothing else I’ve ever eaten.  Kids and husbands adore it too.

Since this is a stew there is no need to be exact with the ingredients. Add all items ‘to taste’. Whatever you do, it will all cook down into a bowl of scrumptious deliciousness. Also do not be put off by the longish list of ingredients. Prep time is not long and the hardest part about the dish is waiting for the darn thing to cook already. And your house will smell AMAZING.


Ingredients (Serves 6)

2 tablespoons of your favourite oil or fat for frying (Ottolenghi uses olive oil, I used paleo-recommended lard)
Approximately 1.5 to 2kg (3-4lbs) oxtail pieces (I used 3 supermarket packs)
4-5 shallots or half a large onion, roughly chopped
3 large carrots, cut in large chunks
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
500ml (approx 2 cups) red wine
650g Italian chopped tomatoes (I used 1 large can)
10 sprigs thyme and 5 sprigs rosemary, tied in a bundle
Zest of half an orange, peeled in long strips
2 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
500g peeled pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-3cm chunks (I used my favourite kubocha pumpkin, but any other flavourful pumpkin or butternut squash would do)
300ml water
Salt to taste

Gremolata (optional)
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 large clove garlic, very finely chopped
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon





If using, preheat the oven to 180°C or 350 F.  I, however, cooked my stew in the slow cooker in the 6 quart bowl. This is perfect slow cooker fodder.

Heat the fat in a large deep frying pan (if you will be transferring everything to the slow cooker afterwards) or directly into a large ovenproof casserole dish with well-fitting lid (be warned, this stew is BIG).

When the oil is hot, brown the oxtail pieces on all sides and transfer them to a colander so any excess fat is drained away. Do this in batches otherwise the pieces will boil in their juices rather than fry.

Remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan and then add the shallots, carrots and garlic. Saute’ over a medium high heat for 10mins or so or until golden brown, stirring from time to time.

Add the wine and bring to a boil, scraping any browned bits from the bottom. Cook until nearly all the wine has evaporated.

Add the canned tomatoes, herb bundle, orange zest, bay leaves, cinnamon, star anise, pepper and salt to taste.

Place the oxtail pieces on top and cover with a large piece of baking paper placed directly on the oxtail. Cover the casserole securely with a heavy lid and bake for 2-3hrs, or until the meat comes away easily from the bone.  Or reunite the oxtail and vegetables in your slow cooker and cook on LOW for about 8 hours or until the meat slides easily off the bone. I prepare mine in the morning and leave it gently cooking all day.

When the stew is cooked fish out the oxtail pieces and set them aside.  Ottolenghi suggests picking the meat off the bones but you really don’t need to.  One of the great joys of life is sucking oxtail bones I find (why does this seem so suggestive?).  Also fish out the herb bundle and the orange slices and bayleaves.

Add the pumpkin or butternut squash pieces to the sauce and  add the water if the dish seems dry, which it probably won’t if you’ve used the slow cooker.  Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 30mins or until the pumpkin is tender. Season to taste.

Meanwhile, mix the parsley, lemon zest and garlic together to make the gremolata. Traditionally served over osso buco in Italy the sharpness of the gremolata will ‘cut’ the unctuous creaminess of the stew. Serve the stew in a deep serving dish and scatter the gremolata over the top.

Serve with polenta or mashed potato if you’re not paleo-ing or some roasted cauliflower florets if you are.


03 April 2013

Project 52: Red Balloons


So last week’s assignment was simple. A concept shot inspired by “Red Balloons’. 

Because I wanted to do something a bit different, and because blowing up balloons makes my cheeks hurt, and because I’m trying to improve my food photography, I decided it might be easiest to just whip up a bunch of cupcakes.




In that I was almost certainly wrong.  Trying to organise and tame that ridicuously curly gift ribbon with tiny bits of sticky tape into strands that might possibly look like they were floating through the air tested my patience to the very limits.  Food and product stylists everywhere, I salute you.

I was worried that the photo above might be insufficiently conceptual, so then dug up a photo I had of a tiny Minx chasing balloons.  I used my still extremely crappy Photoshop skills to turn her into a Brush and included her in the picture.




I wasn’t entirely happy with this shot either as I couldn’t help wishing that the Minx had been stretching up towards the balloons, and the composition just didn’t look right. The Minx thinks it’s fabulous though, so I think I’ll make a canvas copy for her toyroom.

In the end I decided to use the same conceit but have the cupcake balloons wafting in front of the Space Needle.

This involved taking a photo of the Space Needle, converting it to a Brush and then using a mask to reveal the bunch of ribbons.  My Photoshop ‘skills’ pretty much exploded at this point.




To be honest, I think this is my least favourite of the Project 52 images I’ve produced to date, and I’m not sure that red flying cupcakes look particularly appetising, which, after all, is the point of food photography.  But it was a fascinating creative exercise and certainly tested my Photoshop skills, such as they are, to the very limits and beyond.



You can convert any image into a brush in Photoshop which gives it an interesting flat effect and means you can colourise it, move it about, multiply it, turn it, stamp your photos with it and do all sorts of jiggery pokery (note use of correct Photoshop terminology).  In fact do all the things you can do with the standard Brushes, but with a photo.

- Use your preferred selection tools to select the area of the image you wish to use.  (I had trouble selecting the Minx as you can see, the Space Needle was much simpler).

-  Go to Select –> Inverse and then delete the areas of the image you don’t want to use, so that you end up with your image on a transparent background.

- Convert the image you want to use to black and white, remembering that grey areas will show up in the brush but white areas will be transparent.

- Adjust contrast etc. to get a good strong B/W image

- Draw a box around the image with Rectangular Marquee Tool and go to Edit –> Define Brush Preset. And that’s it, you’ve created a new fancy Brush!

- If you want to save your brush permanently go to Window –> Brush Presets –> click on the Brush Presets Icon (second from left along the bottom) and Select the Brushes you want save. Then save them in a named set.

If you want to download some groovy premade Brushes for your digital artwork, check out Brusheezy or TwoPeasinaBucket.

And if you want to see how Photoshop Brushes can be used to make all sorts of crazy and inspiring art then check out this CreativeLIVE course with the incredibly bubbly and charming Khara Plicanic, which was one of the most fun courses I attended at Photoshop Week.

I spent the last couple of days at CreativeLIVE again, doing a course on Photoshop Working Foundations with ace photographer and Photoshop guru Ben Willmore.  My only regret is that I wish I’d done this course before Photoshop Week as I would have got so much more out of all the other courses I sat through. 

I can’t recommend this course highly enough if you want to get the basics of Photoshop – selections, layers, masking, adjustments etc. down pat. One of the most useful courses I’ve ever done and it would be a great purchase if you are fairly new to Photoshop.


27 March 2013

The Best Traditional Easter Simnel Cake


Last year, in typical organised fashion, I managed to post a recipe for a traditional British Easter Simnel Cake a week after Easter. So this year I'm posting it up again, BEFORE the actual date, to give you a chance to actually make one for yourselves.  Don't say I don't love you.


So, Simnel Cake.

I know I should have posted this last week but I actually wanted to try the cake and see if this recipe was worth sharing with you.  And wow it really is.  Suffice it to say that four days after Easter this cake is already but a distant memory.  Do yourselves a favour and bookmark this recipe for next year.

simnel-cake (5 of 6)


First up a bit of history.  Apparently Simnel Cakes go back at least to medieval times when they were traditionally served on Laetare Sunday, a day in the middle of Lent when the Lenten fast was relaxed (sounds like cheating to me).  Since this day coincides with Mother’s Day in the UK, it was apparently the thing in Victorian times for daughters in service to bake a Simnel Cake to take home to their mothers.

Nowadays it’s thought of as an Easter cake, though it’s not very often made.  I think this is the third one I’ve made in my life.  Which is a shame, as it’s extremely delicious and not at all difficult.

Traditionally it’s a light fruit cake, stuffed full of vine fruits and spices, with a layer of marzipan baked into the cake and more toasted marzipan placed on the top.  There are always eleven marzipan balls placed on the top to represent the Apostles minus Judas Iscariot.  I also like to add a puddle of icing and some Cadbury’s Mini Eggs (they’re in the Bible somewhere, right?), but anything Easter-y such as chicks or flowers would do.  I think it’s safe to say that if you don’t like marzipan you will not like this cake.  If you do, though (and as far as I’m concerned marzipan should be a separate food group) then this tastes a little like a fruity, squidgy, non-bready stollen. 

If you live in the UK or anywhere where it is possible to get hold of good marzipan, then you need to buy around 450g/1lb of the stuff.  However, making your own marzipan is very quick and easy and it certainly tastes infinitely better than the peculiar canned almond paste I’ve found in the US.

I’m afraid I haven’t had time to convert to cup measures.  Time to get out those weighing scales!




simnel-cake (2 of 6)



This recipe is a combination of two or three recipes I found on the BBC website. Most traditional Simnel cake recipes are very similar though.


For the marzipan/almond paste

250g/9oz caster/baker’s sugar

250g/9oz ground almonds/almond meal

2 free-range eggs, beaten

1tsp almond essence or to taste

Mix the sugar and almonds in a large bowl and add the almond essence and enough beaten egg to turn the mass into a soft, sticky ‘dough’.  Knead everything together for one minute or so, until it becomes smooth and pliable. If it is too sticky add a little more sugar and almonds.  You want a workable mixture that is possible to roll out.  The marzipan will happily wait a day or two in the fridge.

For the cake

110g/4 oz raisins

110g/4oz sultanas/golden raisins

110g/4oz glacé/candied cherries (in the UK use those delicious undyed ones, I’ve yet to find a supplier of non-HFCS, undyed cherries in the US, if you come across such a delight please let me know)

110g/4oz currants/Zante currants

50g/2oz chopped candied peel (in the UK, you can buy pots of mixed peel, in the US I mix my own from orange, lemon and citron peel)

225g/8oz butter, softened

110g/4oz light muscovado sugar/soft brown sugar

110g/4oz caster/baker’s sugar

4 large eggs

225g/8oz self-raising flour (or 8oz all-purpose flour with 1 tsp baking powder)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 lemons, grated zest only

2 tsp ground mixed spice (or 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1/4 tsp ground cloves. You could also use pumpkin spice but it will taste a little different).


For the glace’ icing

225g/8oz icing sugar/powdered sugar

Enough water to mix to a pouring consistency.


simnel-cake (4 of 6)



Preparation method

  1. Cut the cherries into quarters, put in a sieve and rinse under running water. Drain well then dry thoroughly on kitchen paper. Do the same with your peel if it is sticky with HFCS.

  2. Weigh out all the fruit into a large bowl. Essentially you need around 500g/18oz of mixed dried fruit, so if you want to make some substitutions (pineapple, dried cherries or cranberries might be nice) or play around with the proportions then be my guest.  This mix is the traditional one for a Simnel cake though. If you’re feeling fancy then you can soak the fruit overnight in some amontillado sherry, but I didn’t with this cake.

  3. Preheat the oven to 150C/280F/Gas 2. Grease and line a 20cm/ 8in Springform cake tin.

  4. Cream the butter and sugars together in the stand mixer until very pale and soft.

  5. Beat in the eggs one at a time with a tablespoon or two of flour between each egg addition to stabilise the mixture and prevent curdling.  If it curdles a little it’s not a big deal.

  6. Stir in the rest of the flour and salt, the lemon zest and the spices. Mix until fully combined.

  7. Stir in the dried fruit with a wooden spoon until it’s fully distributed through the mixture.  The mixture should be of a soft ‘dropping’ consistency.  If it is too dry then stir in a tablespoon or so of milk.

  8. Spoon half the cake mix into the prepared cake tin

  9. Take one-third of the marzipan and roll it out to a circle the size of the tin and then place on top of the cake mixture.

  10. Spoon the remaining cake mixture over top and level the surface. I like to create a slight indentation in the centre so the cake doesn’t get too domed.

  11. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 2 1/4 hours, or until well risen, evenly brown and firm to the touch.  A skewer or stick of spaghetti stuck into the centre of the cake should come out clean.

  12. Cover with aluminium foil after one hour if the top is browning too quickly. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out, peel off the parchment and finish cooling on a wire rack.

  13. When the cake is cooled, turn it upside down.  If you want brush the top with a little warmed apricot jam and roll out half the remaining marzipan to fit the top. Press firmly on the top and crimp the edges to decorate. (My marzipan was sticky enough not to require jam).

  14. Make a stubby snake with the remaining marzipan third and cut it into 11 equal pieces. Form the marzipan into 11 balls.

  15. Brush the marzipan with beaten egg and arrange the marzipan balls around the edge of the cake. Brush the tops of the balls with beaten egg and then carefully place the cake under a hot grill/broiler until the top is lightly toasted or, as I did, use a chef’s blowtorch.  If you’re using the grill be careful not to set fire to the cake.

  16. Mix up the icing sugar and water to a pouring consistency and pour a puddle onto the surface of the cake.  When set, decorate with Easter-y things.


This is what your cake should look like inside. The layer of baked almond paste makes it all juicy, succulent and not at all dry, unlike many fruitcakes of my acquaintance.

Happy belated Easter!


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26 March 2013

Eggstra Special Easter Ideas


Yay! It’s that time of year again when I get to make terrible, tired puns and pin up pictures of crafts and foods I have little chance of actually making (particularly with my current less than adequate kitchen arrangements).

Actually these decorated eggs(not edible) look eminently doable with the right sprinkles {via Studio DIY}.



Loving these beautiful painterly paints from the lovely Leslie Shewring {via Decor8}.



We have managed to indoctrinate the Minx into the true British ways of the Cadbury’s Crème Egg, which I import from the UK via the British Food Shop.

These crazy cupcakes have a whole crème egg baked inside of them {via Key Ingredient}.



These cupcakes are slightly less insane {via Recipe by Photo}.



And here are instructions to make crochet covers for blown eggs. Wish I’d seen these sooner they would be great to make for the Easter tree. {via LVLY}




Here’s last year’s round up of Easter-related puns crafts.

Time to eggs-it stage left, methinks.


21 March 2013

How To Temper Chocolate


So today, chaps, we’re going to do some science (cue sound of frantic scurrying in opposite direction).




Fortunately this science involves the melting and eating of chocolate, which makes me wonder why they didn’t teach this sort of science at school (though I was always quite partial to Chemistry, which is really just cooking for people who don’t like to eat).

But I digress.

Last month I was looking for a quick, easy and luxurious Valentines’ treat that I could make for my beloved family, which didn’t actually involve much, you know, actual work.

So I hit upon the idea of chocolate dipped strawberries. Obviously this was not a particularly original Valentines’ idea, so much so that even my local rather crappy supermarket was equipped with the right sort of hideously expensive, resolutely hothoused, absolutely gigantic, long-stemmed strawberries that you need (and that I never, ever saw in the UK).




The only tricky thing about dipping strawberries in chocolate is that the chocolate needs to be tempered, so that the chocolate you end up with after melting and cooling remains glossy and has that perfect chocolate ‘snap’ to it, instead of being dull, mealy and soft.

This is because cocoa butter has a crystalline structure.  In properly tempered chocolate (like the stuff you buy) all the crystals are lined up neatly and in the same direction, which gives the chocolate its texture and sheen.  When you melt chocolate the crystals get all higgledy piggledy – the chocolate tastes the same, but the snappy texture and glossy sheen will have disappeared – UNLESS you bring it back into temper again.

There you go, the science is over.  You can take you fingers out of your ears and stop singing lalalalalala now.


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Tempering chocolate is one of those things that sounds scary but really isn’t.  I’d never done it before making these and ended up with a pretty good result.  The one thing I’d say though is that if you’re a beginner, you’ll need a good food thermometer.  The temperatures have to be precise, and while it’s apparently possible to discern changes in the texture and look of the melted chocolate when it hits the right temperatures if you’re experienced, I really couldn’t see much difference.





And now that I’ve put the fear of God into you, here’s what you do.

First break your chocolate into chunks or, as I did, use Guittard chocolate wafers.  Chocolate chips made for cookies are not suitable for tempering.

Using a double boiler, or a glass Pyrex bowl over a pan of simmering water, bring your chocolate to a melting temperature ie. 115 degrees F (46 degrees C) for dark chocolate and 110 degrees for milk or white. Be super careful not to heat it too high otherwise it will seize.  Also WATER + CHOCOLATE = TROUBLE.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

At this point if you have a cold marble slab in your kitchen you can pour the chocolate out and start throwing it around so that it cools to the correct temperature. You’re on your own with that though.  I’ve never done it before.


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If you’re not using a marble slab, grab a handful of unmelted chocolate wafers or chunks of chocolate and add them to the chocolate and stir as if your life depended on it. This is called ‘seeding’ and the fact that the crystals in this tempered chocolate are properly arranged will help the crystals in the melted chocolate to arrange themselves accordingly.  Keep adding a few chocolate wafers and stirring the chocolate until the temperature drops to the recommended temper point – 88- 90 degrees F (31-32 degrees C) for dark chocolate and 80-82 degrees F (27-28 degrees C) for milk or white.  This will take about 15 minutes and is hard work.

If the chocolate gets too cool and too stiff to work at this point you can reheat it a little with a hairdryer, but be careful not to take it warmer than 92 degrees or else it will be out of temper again.

Once you've got your melted tempered chocolate, things get much easier.  Dip the strawberries in the chocolate and lay them on a sheet of baking parchment or Silpat (I learned to my cost that the baking rack isn’t a good idea as things stick).

If you want to make artsy white chocolate dribbles, snip the corner off a small Ziploc bag, fill it with melted tempered white chocolate and wave the bag about over your chocolate covered strawberries.

And that’s it.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy.





11 March 2013

Project 52: Food Glorious Food


I’ve been having fun with my Project 52 assignments recently.  The last two assignments have been about honing in on the type of commercial photography we want to focus on and to take a picture of the raw ingredients for a simple recipe.

So I got to shoot food and more food.

First up I decided to shoot a graphic shot of doughnuts.  I was feeling lazy and baking is tricky at the moment without a proper kitchen, so I picked up some Krispy Kreme doughnuts and then mixed up a pink glaze to get some interesting drips and splodges.


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For the raw ingredients challenge, I tried to get a bit arty and was inspired by the idea of an artist’s palette.




Beetroot, Orange and Pistachio Salad

Roast some beets whole in their skins in a little olive oil, salt and herbs (some thyme branches are good) until soft.

Peel the beets and make a salad with some perky watercress or rocket/arugula, some peeled orange segments, some pistachios or pecans and some chunks of goat cheese.

Dress with sea salt, extra virgin oil and some good syrupy balsamic vinegar.

Slowly and painfully I feel that I am groping towards a style – I’m not there yet, but it definitely involves interesting colour stories, graphic elements, shapes and repetition and lots of mess.


28 February 2013

Paleo Chicken Curry


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It has become increasingly obvious that my body is completely incapable of tolerating carbs, so at the beginning of the year I decided to start eating the Paleo way. It’s not a diet per se, but I know I feel about a million times better if I cut my carb and sugar intake to a bare minimum.

Since this dish is based on ready made curry powder and mango chutney it is remarkably quick and easy – we make it all the time for a weekday supper – but still quite delightfully fruity, aromatic and succulent. I miss good curry like nobody’s business here in Seattle, and while this is not remotely authentic, it certainly hits my curry sweet spot. (And yes, I know that mangoes aren’t strictly Paleo, but I figured the small quantities used here wouldn’t hurt too much.)


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Because they are so integral to the dish it is important that you use the best quality curry powder and mango chutney you can lay your hands on – that ancient pot of stale, yellowish-brownish power at the back of your store cupboard is not going to cut it, nor is a jar of sickly sweet jamlike commercial mango chutney. 


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Instead go to a good grocer or supermarket where they might sell curry powders imported from India, and high quality artisan chutneys, full of fruit and whole spices; or try your local spice shop or gourmet food shop. I like to experiment with different spice blends and chutneys and make subtly different versions of this dish. I’ve had good success using Sun Brand Madras curry powder imported from India and available on Amazon and Neera’s mango chutney.


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1 tablespoon coconut oil or ghee

1 large onion, thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, crushed (or to taste)

1 small fresh red chili, finely chopped

2 tablespoons curry powder (or to taste)

2tbsps coconut oil or ghee

1 boneless, skinless chicken (I used chicken thighs, but you could also use breasts) cut into thin strips

1 cup mango chutney

1 1/2 cups coconut milk or single cream (half and half)

1 bag of baby spinach or some fresh sorrel if you’re lucky

Salt and pepper to taste

Coriander (cilantro) to garnish


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Heat the oil or ghee in a large steep-sided frying pan or skillet.  Coconut oil or ghee are recommended  for Paleo cooking and are absolutely delicious in this dish, but you could also use vegetable oil.
Saute the onions and garlic until soft and then add the chili and curry powder.  Fry for a minute or two until the spice become fragrant.  Add the chicken strips and saute until brown all over.
Add the mango chutney and coconut milk (or cream) and then cook at a medium heat for about five minutes until the chicken is cooked through.  Add a huge heap of spinach or sorrel and continue cooking until the spinach has wilted into the curry.  If you’re lucky enough to have some sorrel, the lemony sharpness is perfect for this.
Season to taste and garnish with a little lime and cilantro (coriander).  To keep with the Paleo theme, I like to serve this with tiny roasted cauliflower florets, but some Basmati or jasmine rice would obviously work too.
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14 February 2013

Last Minute Valentines’ Ideas


As has become traditional round here, we’re all about the last minute Valentines.  And since it’s Valentines’ morning already we are taking the definition of last minute to new extremes.

Still here are some things you can do to surprise the family this evening.

Get the kids to work on this cute colour mixing chart courtesy of Art Projects for Kids.


lots of hearts


Or make or buy pink and white loaf cakes (pound cakes) and have fun with cookie cutters (courtesy of Matthew Mead).




Set the kids to work again. This time with buttons (courtesy of Hands On As We Grow).




Or let them get busy with heart-shaped doilies (from Say Yes to Hoboken).




Have breakfast for dinner tonight, and break out the squeezy pancake bottle (via Recipe By Photo)




Or if you’ve been organised enough to get a gift, but not any wrapping paper (er, that would be me), here’s a cute gift wrap idea from Babble.




Or maybe you could just arrange some fruit and make a pretty Valentines’ photo. From DaitoZen.




However, and with whomever, you are celebrating today, make sure you tell someone you love them. To all my lovely readers out there, I LOVE YOU very much!

(If none of these float your boat checkout last year’s last minute ideas round up here.)


13 February 2013

The Best Ever Victoria Sponge Cake


It’s the day before Valentines, and, if you’re anything like me you haven’t exactly managed to buy or make anything in advance. Never fear though. There is still time to make a delectable sponge cake and decorate it with a heart. 




A Victoria sponge cake is a simple but delightful British afternoon tea treat, said to be a favourite of Queen Victoria’s. It is most usually filled with a red jam (raspberry, strawberry, plum and cherry are all good) and whipped cream, and sprinkled with icing sugar, making it somehow look very ‘Valentinish’. 

However you can just fill it with jam; with jam and a vanilla buttercream (keeps longer); with jam, whipped cream and fruit as I did for this cake, or my mother would often fill our family cakes with a thick layer of chocolate buttercream. If you’re using jam I do recommend using the best quality you can lay your hands on as it is a prominent part of the whole experience. I used a homemade seedless raspberry for this cake.

First make your sponge cakes.




Classic Victoria Sponge

The following quantities make for a nice deep cake in 7 in cake tins or 8 in cakes with a more even proportion of filling to cake. The traditional quantity – 4oz (110g) of all the dry ingredients + 2 eggs makes deep 6 in cakes, or a shallower 7 in ones. (The pictures show the quantities below baked in 7 in cake tins).

For American readers who prefer to use volume measures, I used this recipe as the demo when I was giving a class on British baking and using weighing scales.  I suggest you weigh the ingredients for this as you will get a more accurate result.



175g (6oz) butter at room temperature

175g (6oz) caster (baker’s) sugar

3 large eggs

A few drops of vanilla extract (make your own vanilla extract)

175g (6oz) self-raising flour, sifted (or the same quantity of all purpose or cake flour with 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder)

Hot water as required

To finish

Jam, whipped cream and icing sugar


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Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C (325F)

Butter two 18cm (7inch) sandwich tins and line with greaseproof paper or baking parchment.

Cream the butter and sugar together until very pale and fluffy.

Whisk the eggs and vanilla extract together in jug and add a little at a time to the creamed mixture, beating thoroughly after every addition.  If the mixture starts to curdle then add a tablepoon of the weighed flour and keep beating.  If the mixture curdle and you can’t rescue it, don’t worry, it just means your cake won’t rise quite as much.

When everything is incorporated sieve about a third of the flour into the bowl and fold in the flour thoroughly with a metal spoon. Repeat until all the flour is incorporated. Be careful when you’re folding to keep as much air in the mixture as possible.

Add hot water or milk as necessary, until the mixture slides easily off a spoon. This is called ‘dropping consistency’ and it key to a bouncy sponge with an even top.  I find that I need to add more liquid for American flours. Divide the mixture equally between the two tins and smooth out to the edges. (If you want your cakes to be perfectly even you can weigh the mix in the pans).

Bake for around 25- 30 minutes if making the shallower cakes (4oz of dry ingredients in a 7 in tin or 6 oz of dry ingredients in an 8 in tin) or for 30-35 minutes if you’re making one of the deeper cakes (4 oz of dry ingredients in a 6 in pan or 6oz of dry ingredients in the 7 in pan). When they are fully cooked your cakes will be golden and springy. Press the cake with a fingertip and it should leave no imprint. Loosen round the edges with a palette knife and turn onto a wire rack to cool.

Fill with cream and jam and sift a little icing sugar over the top - in the shape of a heart if you’re feeling romantic.




06 February 2013

Flower Sugar Cookies






We celebrated a very special birthday a couple of weekends back.

The Minx, would you believe, turned eight in January. No I don’t believe it either.  I wonder if there are any of you around who remember her when she looked like this (oh, how innocent those blogging days were).

To celebrate we had to suffer through a party at the American Girl doll store in Seattle, followed by a birthday sleepover with eight of her closest friends and their dolls.  I believe I deserve some sort of mothering Oscar.

(For those of you not in the US or in possession of an 8 year old daughter, American Girl dolls are something of a cultural phenomenon.  They’re very high quality, INCREDIBLY expensive dolls – some dressed to be fictional historical characters and some from the present day – that come with every possible expensive accessory you can dream of.  Even to my adult eyes, the store, with its teeny dolls’ hair salon and bistro with special chairs so the dolls can sit at the table, is faintly mind-blowing.)




Unfortunately a fancy cake came as part of the package at the store, so I was unable to emulate my birthday cake extravaganzas of yore, so I decided instead to apply myself to sugar cookies that the girls could have with milk while watching their American Girl movie.  The tiny cookies are of course for the dolls.

As you can tell I’m a rather slapdash cookie icer.  One day I’d love to learn how to ‘flood’ the cookies properly with icing and pipe neat intricate details on them, but this time round I made do with dipping the cookies in royal icing – the pink worked best because it was wetter and runnier – and then piped some rather wobbly outlines on them.


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I used this trusty sugar cookie recipe from the Joy of Baking, which I highly recommend, together with their royal icing recipe.

For the record here is my baby blowing out the eight candles on her cake.




And here she is with her freaky ‘Look Like Me’ doll.



I do want to improve my cookie icing skills and so to that end I’ve purchased Decorating Cookies by Bridget Edwards which looks amazing.  Not that I’ve actually used it yet mind you. I find it’s always easier to buy the craft book rather than actually DO the craft.  The blog which inspired the book is here.


05 January 2013

Hanging Gingerbread Cookies


It’s still sort of Christmas round these parts.  The Minx doesn’t go back to school until Monday and we keep the tree up until January 6th as is traditional in the UK.




So I wanted to share one of the most fun things we did this Christmas, which was make gingerbread cookies for the tree.




I wanted to do something to pull together the hodgepodge of ornaments and decorations we’ve gathered together over the years, so I decorated them as simply as possible with white frosting and assorted pinkish ribbons from my ribbon box.




The very cool thing about them is that you’re always prepared for unexpected kid guests, of which there seem to be very many over the holiday period.  Kids seem to love being able to choose their own cookie from the tree.


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If you want to make some next year I can highly recommend this recipe which made easy and extremely tasty cookies.

I used this recipe for basic royal icing using egg whites but halved the amount (ie. 1 egg white to 1.5 cups of sugar). You really don’t need much icing for these babies.

I then pushed a little sugar ball into the cookie dough before baking, which could be pushed out at the end and left a little hole for hanging without the need to do dangerous things with skewers.  This worked fantastically for the heart and star-shaped cookies, but I think next time I need to find a way of creating slightly smaller holes for my gingerbread girls and boys, so they don’t all look like that have frontal lobotomies.




As you can see, my icing skills leave an awful lot to be desired, but they were hugely fun to do and I think they have a certain, er, rustic charm. 

I think this is the start of a new Christmas tradition anyway, though I bet I’ll be cursing these come December-time. Did you guys start any new traditions this holiday?


05 December 2012

Advent Calendar Day 4: Separated At Birth


I wonder which came first.

This Anthology magazine cover?




Or these Country Living cookies? (via Design Crush)




04 December 2012

How To Cook the Perfect Turkey: Advent Calendar Day 3


We’re just coming out from under a heap of Thanksgiving turkey leftovers, but unlike many Americans we’re going to miss those suckers because this year I managed to cook the Most Incredible Turkey Known To Humankind – moist, succulent, and bursting with flavour, with a delectable burnished skin and not a trace of sawdust or cardboard. 


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This was the best turkey, avocado, bread sauce, gravy and mango chutney sandwich in the history of turkey, avocado, bread sauce, gravy and mango chutney sandwiches.

I take no personal credit for this superhuman feat, as all we did was gather advice from Alton Brown, Saveur Magazine, the Kelly Bronze website and various wonderful Facebook friends and squoosh it all together.  It ended up so good though that we made detailed notes for posterity.


Buy the most fabulous turkey you can afford:  TMITKTH was a 14 lb heirloom turkey. If you’re in the UK, Kelly Bronze turkeys are definitely worth the extra expense in my experience and I believe they are now becoming available for sale in the Eastern US.


Brine your turkey:  I know this is not very usual outside of the US but believe me it makes all the difference. We adjusted this recipe from Saveur Magazine to fit our turkey and bucket. 

Make a brine with 2tbsp of fresh sage which has been chopped and toasted in a hot dry frying pan (skillet), 2 cups of kosher salt, 1 cup of brown sugar and 2 quarts (2 litres) of warm water.  Feel free to add other herbs, spices and aromatics, this is just what we did for TMITKTH. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and then add another quart/litre of water and leave to cool.

Place your turkey in a clean bucket (we lined ours with a bin liner) add the cool brine and then cover with water and ice. Squash the bird down with the lid of a Le Creuset pot if it’s floating too much.

Leave it overnight in a cool place. We brined ours for 15 hours in the end.


Butter it to within an inch of its life:  Dry the turkey thoroughly.  Soften at least one stick (120g) butter (the Husband told me afterwards that he had used two sticks, which did seem slightly excessive).

Stir a couple of tablespoons of chopped fresh sage, thyme or other herbs into the butter, together with 4 fat minced garlic cloves. Feel free to try other herbs. That’s just what we used for TMITKTH.

Slather the garlic and herb butter all over the turkey and smear a ton under the skin of the breast.  Chop a lemon in half and shove into the turkey’s cavities. Tie its legs together. Sprinkle with sea salt and ground black pepper. DO NOT STUFF WITH STUFFING.


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Yeah, I was too drunk and stressed to take a picture of the actual turkey itself. I’m such a crap food blogger.


Roast it on a bed of root vegetables:  Quarter two or three onions, chop some big chunks of carrot, halve a head of garlic horizontally and create a ‘rack’ of root vegetables on the bottom of your roasting pan. Add branches of sage, rosemary and thyme.  Feel free to experiment with other root veggies and herbs, this is just what we used for TMITKTH. Lay your turkey on your bed of veg BREAST SIDE DOWN.


Cook it FAST:  This is what we learned from Alton and the Kelly Bronze website.  Long slow cooking creates cardboard birds.  This is also why you don’t stuff the bird, as this slows down cooking times.

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees F  (260 degrees C). Essentially as hot as your oven will go. ‘Sizzle’ for 30 mins. Then turn down oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) and roast for a further 75 mins. Turn turkey over and roast for a further 30 mins or until the internal temp of the thickest part of breast is 165 degrees F (75 degrees C).  I do love my meat thermometer.  Don’t bother basting as all that does is cool down the oven (thanks Alton) and slow down the cooking time. In fact after turning down the temp we left TMITKTH in the oven and went out to our neighbours for cocktails and appetizers.

When your beautiful burnished bronze bird is ready,  take it out of the oven and rest it for about 45 mins covered in foil.


Make The Most Delicious Gravy Known To Humankind: Strain all the roasted root vegetables and pan juices through sieve. I hoiked out most of the onions as I don’t like my gravy to be too oniony and took out the carrots to serve as an extra side. Pour off most of the butter.  Add the juices back to roasting pan and smoosh the roasted garlic head with the back of a fork so that the super soft garlic puree oozes out into the juices. Remove the papery garlic skins. Warm the juices on the stove and sprinkle over 2-3 tablespoons flour, whisk all the time until smooth.  Add a generous slosh of white wine, dry vermouth or white port and strained home made giblet stock or other good quality chicken stock. (simmer the giblets from the turkey for about three hours in about a pint of water with half an onion, a chunked up carrot, some garlic cloves, parsley stems and peppercorns). Bubble the gravy until thick, whisking all the time to avoid lumps.


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To make up for not having an actual turkey pic in this blog post, here are some gratuitous pictures of the apple pie I made, after working a little bit of paste food colouring into the pastry.  I was delighted with how that turned out.

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03 December 2012

Advent Calendar Day 2: Christmas Baking


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I’m finding standing much less painful than sitting at the moment, which means I’m actually up to date with my Christmas baking. 

This year I’m going for the big British three of cake, pudding and mincemeat for mincepies. and thought you might like a reminder of the recipes I’ve used and published before.

How to make Christmas puddings

How to make Christmas cake and how to make Christmas cake part 2 and how to make Christmas cake update 

How to make mincemeat

22 November 2012

Quick and Easy Chocolate Mousse


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I’m in a bit of a tizzy at present as tomorrow I’ve been designated as the Thanksgiving turkey provider  - we’re doing a neighbourhood Thanksgiving party crawl, with a different course at a different house.

Obviously and surreptitiously I will be doing my best to make the feast as much like a British Christmas dinner as  I can and will be sneaking bread sauce, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts and honey roast parsnips into the more traditional proceedings. 

I’m not on dessert duty, but if you are, here’s a very unseasonal but quick, easy and spectacularly delicious recipe for chocolate mousse, in case you’re looking for a suitably decadent dessert that you can whip up in double quick time. The best thing is that it only takes four simple ingredients.

This recipe was part of the fabulous Food + Foto course I did last month, which was an extremely fun and delicious way of working on your food photography.  I’m hoping they won’t mind me sharing this recipe.


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(Serves 4)

1 cup (180g)  bittersweet chocolate chips (the Minx said she would have preferred this made with a less dark chocolate, but she wolfed it down anyway)

3 tablespoons honey

1½ cups (375ml) whipping cream (for mousse)

½ cup (125 ml)  whipping cream (optional - to whip for topping)

sea salt to decorate


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Stir 1/2 cup (125 ml) of cream, the chocolate and the honey in heavy medium saucepan set over a pan of simmering water until the chocolate melts and mixture is smooth.

Cool, stirring occasionally.

In large bowl, beat the remaining 1 cup (250 ml) of whipping cream until soft peaks form. Fold cream into the chocolate mixture in 2 additions. Divide mousse among four serving dishes of your choice. Refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.

If desired, whip the additional ½ cup of whipping cream to firm peaks. Decorate the chilled mousse with a coarse salt (not sel gris).

We loved this served with seasonal fruits.


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For those of you who are celebrating tomorrow, have a wonderful, not too stressful time.  You lovely blog readers and friends are one of the many things I am grateful for this Turkey Day.


14 November 2012

Leaf Apple Pie


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My back is still killing me, so trying not to spend too much time at the computer. I’ve now tried Rolfing, chiropractic and acupuncture without a whole load of success. If anyone has got any good ideas on how to treat lower back pain then I’d love to hear from you – especially about practitioners in the Seattle area.

In the meantime I made a Bramley apple and raisin pie, and had a little play while making the crust.


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I got a set of four different leaf shaped stamps/cutters at Williams-Sonoma a couple of years back, which I use all the time. Unfortunately they don’t have the same set for sale at the moment, but do have fall cutter sets that include at least one leaf.  And you could always make a pie covered in overlapping turkeys.


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23 October 2012

Adventures in Baking: Chocolate Eclairs


I’ve been itching to make chocolate eclairs for the longest time.

Old-fashioned British cream cakes (French pastries filled with sweetened whipped cream) were always my favourites and Jean-Marc demonstrated how easy it is to make choux pastry when he whipped up his Saint Honore’ back at patisserie camp.  And if you don’t fill them with crème patissiere (pastry cream) they’re actually surprisingly quick and easy to make and I prefer them as they’re not too sweet.




INGREDIENTS (Makes 13 small eclairs)

For the choux pastry:

60g (4 tablespoons) butter

1 good pinch salt

130ml (1/2 cup) water

80g (3/4 cup) plain flour, sifted

3 large free range eggs

For the filling and topping:

1 pint (2 cups) whipping cream

1-2 tablespoons vanilla sugar (or to taste)

Some chopped pistachios (or other nuts) optional

For the chocolate icing:

100g (3.5 oz) good quality dark chocolate (I used Green & Black’s Dark Chocolate)

50ml (4 tablespoons) cream

50g (4 tablespoons) butter





Preheat the oven 220˚C (430˚F) and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat (I love my Silpat).

To make the choux pastry, place the butter and water in a saucepan and bring to a steady boil until the butter is completely melted.

Remove from the heat and add the flour a little at a time, beating with a wooden spoon until it all comes together in a ball. Place back over the heat and continue beating the dough in the saucepan for about 40 seconds to cook the flour.

Remove from the heat and set aside for a few minutes otherwise the eggs will cook when you add them. Beat one of the eggs in a small bowl.

Add the two unbeaten eggs to the warm dough, one at a time, beating thoroughly until completely incorporated. The dough will look like it’s curdling.  Keep beating, eventually it will come together into a smooth paste.

Add the remaining beaten egg a little at a time until you have a smooth, shiny paste that will drop easily from your spoon. (I added all of my beaten egg).

Using a spatula, scoop the dough into a large piping bag fitted with a large round piping nozzle and pipe 10cm (3 inch) lines on to the lined baking sheets, leaving a good sized space between each one to allow for spreading. Brush each one with any leftover beaten egg. (I didn’t bother since I had no left over egg).

Place in the oven, reduce the heat to 190˚C (375˚ F), and use a wooden spoon to crack the door open an inch to let the steam escape (Chef Jean Marc taught us this trick at patisserie camp), Bake for approximately 25 minutes until the eclairs are puffed up, and are golden and crisp. If they’re not completely dry bake them for an additional few minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely before filling.




For the filling, whip the cream with a little vanilla sugar (or sugar + a couple of drops of vanilla extract) and then either make three holes in the bottom of each éclair and pipe in the cream, using a small round nozzle, or, as I did, just cut them in half lengthways and fill with whipped cream using a teaspoon.

To make the chocolate glaze, melt the dark chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of hot water. When the chocolate has melted remove the bowl from the heat and gently stir in the cream. Fold in the butter until you have a shiny, spreadable chocolate glaze.

Dip the filled eclairs into the glaze and sprinkle with chopped nuts if liked.  Chill in the fridge until serving. They will keep in the fridge for a couple of days, though I bet they don’t get the chance.

I used Green & Black’s Organic Dark 70% Chocolate for the glaze.

When I first arrived in rainy Novemberish Seattle nearly seven years ago, it was only the discovery of Green & Black’s Almond Chocolate in our local supermarket which stopped me getting the next flight home. Since then I’ve discovered many delicious artisan chocolate bars (the Pacific North West appears to be the artisan chocolate hub of the US) but still no commercial chocolate bar that comes anywhere close in quality and is also organic and Fair Trade, for such a reasonable price as Green & Blacks.

Here’s the link to some brownies I made a while back using the fabulous Green & Black’s chocolate cookbook, which I also highly recommend.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  Green & Black’s sent me some free samples recently, but they didn’t really need to bother. I’ve been a fan ever since the first nibble I took back in the UK, years ago now.


12 October 2012

My Mamma’s Tomato Sauce and a Foodportunity


I wanted to give a little shout out today to an amazing lady and an amazing idea.

I arrived in Seattle six years ago with approximately two hundred cookbooks, several boxes of kitchen paraphernalia, knowing not a soul and no idea that I was about to encounter one of the most vibrant and inspiring food communities on the planet.


tomato sauce


I caught glimpses of the scene through various blogs and then through Facebook, but it was always as an outsider wistfully gazing in, with my nose pressed firmly against the window pane, while the assembled throng feasted inside. Twitter was a help; finally I could follow the restaurants, farmers, bloggers and assorted foodies I’d been admiring, but the conversation always seemed to be swirling around me rather than including me.

And then I heard about Foodportunity. And it was revelation.

Seattle food blogger, super mum, and networking genius, Keren Brown, of the blog Frantic Foodie, started the Foodportunity meet ups back in 2009 as a way of bringing together the disparate elements of the Seattle foodie scene.  Food enthusiasts of every stripe – chefs and  restaurateurs, writers and bloggers, photographers and PR people, farmers and winemakers, bakers and makers and anyone who is enthusiastic and passionate about food is invited to attend, sample delectable fare from a variety of restaurants and producers, and talk about food, until the cows (all organic and locally reared of course) come home.

At my first Foodportunity I met bloggers I’d been following for years, chefs I had admired from afar and a whole bunch of knowledgeable, witty and friendly fellow food enthusiasts, who were only too keen to share their insights and expertise. Finally, after three years of being in Seattle, I had found my ‘family’. People I met at that and subsequent Foodportunities now number among my dearest friends and I’ve been invited to some amazing events as a consequence.  It has quite literally transformed my life in Seattle and I can never thank Keren (who has also since become a friend) enough.  Every city needs a Keren and a Foodportunity.

If you’re pressing your nose against the glass of the Seattle food scene and want to be welcomed inside with open arms then get yourself a ticket to the next Foodportunity on October 22nd.  I am girlishly excited because fabulously inspirational food blogger and food stylist extraordinaire Aran Goyoaga of Cannelle et Vanille is going to be there, talking about her new book. Do let me know if you’re thinking of attending.  I’d love to meet up.

Anyway, I’m throwing in a quick recipe for my mum’s tomato sauce as for me this is the ground zero, the sine qua non of my own foodie journey.  Even as a tiny kid I could tell that my Italian mother’s homemade tomato sauce was in a different league from all other canned and jarred sauces I’d ever tasted and now I see the Minx having the same thoughts when I make this for her.  I used to adore this not just on pasta, but on breaded shallow-fried veal or chicken fillets.



A generous slug of good olive oil

1 small carrot, finely chopped

One medium or half a large onion, finely chopped.

1-3 cloves of garlic, crushed, to taste

A couple of pounds of ripe tomatoes, skinned, de-seeded and filleted or a bottle of good passata or a couple of cans of good quality tomatoes

Half a good quality stock cube (optional)

A couple of glasses of white wine

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Herbs to taste (see ‘Variations’ below)



Heat a generous slug of oil in saucepan and gently sizzle the carrot, onion and garlic until softened and very slightly golden. This is your soffritto. You could add finely chopped celery, but cooked celery is the work of devil, so I do without.

Squeeze your tomatoes through a mouli-legumes (foodmill?) if necessary and add to the soffritto.  Make sure you scrape and add all the flavourful stuff from the bottom of the mouli. Cook the sauce on a medium heat until it has reduced and thickened (about 30-45 minutes depending on your tomatoes) again making sure that you scrape in all the flavourful stuff that clings to the side of the saucepan.

A dirty little family secret is that my mother and aunt would crumble in half a good quality stock cube (they call them ‘dadi’ or dice in Italian) and this does add an extra layer of flavour.  I bought some good stock cubes when I was in France this year for exactly this purpose but you can use whatever you have to hand or nothing at all.

When the sauce is pretty much ready, throw in a couple of glasses of white wine and then simmer the sauce for an extra ten minutes. Season to taste.

You could probably can this, making sure to add either citric acid or lemon juice. I am scared of canning, so freeze my sauce in a stack of Ziploc bags.


You could add some finely diced pancetta or dried herbs such as oregano to the initial soffritto, some bayleaves during cooking or some fresh basil, thyme or fresh oregano to the sauce with the wine at the end.  You could also experiment with substituting red wine, vermouth or white port for the white wine.

If you want other ideas for what to do with a glut of  tomatoes – you could dry them and preserve them in oil, make gazpacho, or bake tomato focaccia.

I think it’s about time I made a cake, don’t you?


09 October 2012

Adventures in Baking: Focaccia




So in an effort to work on my food photography I’m doing this thing called Souvenir Foto School – Food+Foto.  Each week for four weeks, we’re given different courses of a virtual dinner party to make and photograph. Recipes are provided but we can also use our own recipes or buy in our own food. I’m feeling particularly inspired as the menu given is an Italian one, so it gives me a chance to go back to my Italian roots.

This week the first course of the dinner party was ‘ flatbreads and infused oils’, which gave me a great excuse to bake my favourite focaccia recipe, which comes from Claudia Roden’s The Food of Italy. As an aside I can’t recommend this book highly enough – it’s packed full of comparatively simple but very traditional Italian recipes, the sort of thing my Italian family cooks all the time – plus lots of little anecdotes and stories from Roden’s travels. 





1kg (2lbs) plain or all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

25g/1oz dried yeast (1 sachet is perfect)

About 500 ml (2 1/4 cups) warm water

4 tbps good olive oil

Additional oil for oiling the baking sheet and brushing the bread

Coarse sel gris, rosemary, sage, thinly sliced red onions or cherry tomatoes for the toppings


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Put the flour in a big bowl and make a well in the centre.  Activate the yeast according to the packet instructions and add it to the flour (either hydrate it in some of water or just stir it into the flour). Add the salt and olive oil.

Then add enough warm water to make a workable but slightly sticky dough.  I ended up adding a little more water this time round.

Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes until it is soft and elastic.  You need to get to about medium gluten development on the window pane test, but I don’t normally get that technical.

When it’s ready, cover the dough with oil and leave it in a clean bowl in a warm place until it has at least doubled in bulk. You could leave it in the fridge overnight if necessary.

After the initial rise, punch the dough down and divide into two. Shape each portion into a rectangle and place on an oiled baking sheet (I find 13’ by 9’ pans perfect for this).

Use your fingers to press and push the dough out until it fits the pans.  It should end up being about 1 inch thick and you should be able to see the indentations from your fingers in the dough. They are what catches the oil and flavourings, so push firmly.

Brush with oil and sprinkle with coarse salt and herbs, or add thinly sliced red onions, or halved cherry tomatoes. Let the dough rise again until it’s puffy all over and about two inches thick.




Whack your oven up to the highest setting and set a cast iron pan or similar in the bottom.  Put the bread in the oven, and simultaneously add a cup or two of water to the hot pan in the bottom to create steam. Shut the oven door quickly and don’t open it for about 15 minutes. Your bread should be golden brown and ready after about 20 minutes.  When ready, tip it from the pans, brush it again with oil and serve warm.

I also made a couple of simple infused oils..  I just added some springs of rosemary to one batch, and some small whole dried chilies, slivers of garlic and strips of lemon zest to the other.




05 October 2012

Fancy Hotel of the Week: Fairmont Empress Hotel


I’ve just realised that although I blogged the awesome afternoon tea we had at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria on Vancouver Island, I never got round to blogging about the actual hotel, which is a shame, as the Minx and I had the most fabulous stay there and can’t recommend it highly enough.




To put it in context, the hundred-year old Empress is probably the closest thing this corner of the world gets to Downton Abbey and yet the hotel manages to pull off an amazing juggling act.  It is supremely comfortable, laid-back and not remotely stuffy, full of 21st century amenities and luxuries, whilst beautifully and wittily preserving all the over-the-top Edwardian splendour and graciousness.

Stay here and you can believe that the sun really never set on the British Empire, though there is no Lady Violet raising a disapproving eyebrow over the teapot.

After all, where else could you find tigers, lions and killer whales?  (There are elephants too, but my photos were blurred).


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Perfectly preserved post boxes adorn the walls together with steely-eyed wives of Governors-General (clearly Maggie Smith’s close relations).


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The carpets are swirly and the vistas are imposing.



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Yet our room was cosy and comfortable, with a beautiful view, and we were given access to the gorgeously pretty Gold Lounge and its neverending supply of elegant pastries (I highly recommend paying for this upgrade if you can).



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The Minx had an absolute ball.  I think she thought she as a princess in a fairytale palace and we had enormous fun running round the hotel doing the scavenger hunt she found in her kid gift pack and finding out more about the hotel’s history.


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She also really appreciated her kid-sized bathrobe


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and the truly phenomenal indoor swimming pool.




The staff were kindness personified to the Minx and were a key part of the enormously relaxing and unintimidating atmosphere, despite the grand surroundings.

We even had fun playing ‘Silent Ninja’ on the gracious lawns outside.




That night after popcorn and a movie in bed I snuck the Minx out in her pyjamas to see the beautiful harbour views.






Before my friend and I repaired to the Bengal Lounge for some truly excellent cocktails.




This wasn’t just a hotel stay,  it was an experience we won’t easily forget. Everyone deserves to live like a Dowager Duchess at least once.


If you can’t stretch to a stay at the Empress, the Afternoon Tea is fabulous way of joining in the fun and seeing the hotel’s most beautiful public rooms..

Full Disclosure: The Minx and I were the guests of the Fairmont Empress for one night and for afternoon tea. I promise that they have had no influence on the content of this blog post and all opinions are my own.


02 October 2012

Adventures in Cooking : Gazpacho




I know, I know, yesterday was the first day of October .

But it’s been a crazy warm here in Seattle this September and the farmers’ markets have been overflowing with delicious tomatoes.  I’ve been skinning and deseeding tons of tomatoes to make stacks of tomato sauce for the freezer and have discovered that if you rub the leftover skins and seed pulp through a sieve you get lots of the most delicious pulpy tomato juice.

Which is perfect for gazpacho.

The recipe below is one I cobbled up myself from various books and online sources. I’ve been fiddling with it for years now and can’t remember what my sources were, sorry. Spanish people have tried it though and it’s apparently pretty authentic.




This chilled soup, which is nothing more than a whizzed up salad, is gorgeous when (if) the weather is warm and the tomatoes are juicy. I quite often make a big pot just for us to eat at home, but it also makes a great starter for a summer dinner party, in which case you may want to add the optional garnishes. Don’t bother making this if you can’t get hold of really delicious, juicy ripe tomatoes – in the US I use heirlooms and in the UK cherries.

You will need to whizz every thing together with a handheld blender. If you don’t have one you’re going to have to do messy things with a food processor or goblet blender. If you don’t have one of those, I really wouldn’t bother making this.


A big jugful of thick, pulpy tomato juice, or passata or a bunch of fresh, skinned and de-pipped tomatoes

½ large cucumber, peeled

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1 small onion, red for preference

½ green pepper (optional, but Anaheims are nice)

2 slices white bread or 8 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (or substitute red or white wine vinegar)

1 big handful parsley sprig

1 large sprig mint

few drops Tabasco (optional)

1 teaspoon tomato ketchup (optional, I prefer to use the Heinz stuff without HFCS, called ‘Simply Heinz in the US)

salt and pepper


1 red pepper, chopped into tiny dice

1 green pepper, chopped into tiny dice

1 small red onion, chopped into tiny dice

2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped into tiny dice

Tiny croutons





Place the tomato juice/tomatoes into a big jug. Roughly chop the cucumber, onion (and pepper if using) and add to the tomatoes together with the garlic, mint and parsley. Tear up the slices of bread or add the breadcrumbs. I always have a bag of fresh breadcrumbs in the freezer and add them frozen to the soup.

Whizz every thing together with your handheld blender. Add the oil, vinegar, Tabasco and salt and pepper to taste and a teaspoon of tomato ketchup if you think that your tomatoes need it (apparently they do this in Spain, so that’s OK). Stir together and chill in the fridge for at least an hour. Add a few ice cubes if you want to chill it faster.


29 September 2012

Saturday Link Love




At Piebox, they create raw pine boxes designed to transport a 9 inch pie safely and easily.  I may well be investing in one of these.


Inaki Aliste Lizarralde draws incredibly detailed floorplans of the dwellings in famous TV shows. The post I wrote several years ago about Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment still gets hundreds of hits a week.




In Fictitious Dishes, Dinah Fried recreates iconic food of literature in her food photography.  Here’s the grilled cheese from ‘Heidi’  that sounded so delicious when I was a child.




Sheri Silver has been making fruit leather from all the excess fruit sitting in her fridge and I must do the same, since we’ve been going a little crazy picking wild blackberries recently.




Lotta Jansdotter is launching a new line at Fishs Eddy.  The above invitation is from her Facebook page.

Have a great weekend!  I will be going to the North West Chocolate Fest tomorrow. Anyone else got some exciting plans?


26 September 2012

Adventures in Cooking: Oven Dried Tomatoes in Oil


It’s been the most incredible warm, dry, sunny September here in Seattle and the whole place, even my little sidewalk veggie patch, is overflowing with ripe tomatoes. (If you’ve ever been to Seattle in September before you’ll know that it’s usually green tomato central round here).




The farmers’ markets are teeming with fragrant ripe toms of every shape, size and hue and I’ve been desperately roasting them, drying them, making sauce and jugs of gazpacho (on the blog soon) until it comes out of our ears, in a frantic race against time to make the most of the bounty.

One quick and easy way to use up great tomatoes, particularly any pretty cherry or small tomatoes you can find, is to dry them in the oven.

Pick off the stalks and calyxes and wash the tomatoes.  Pat them dry with kitchen towel.  Put them in a bowl and add around a tablespoon of olive oil and a little pepper and good salt (I usually use Maldon Sea Salt). Swish everything around with your hands until each tomato is coated with oil and seasoning and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You could add some chopped fresh herbs at this point.




Heat the oven to its lowest possible temperature – my oven goes down to 180 degrees F (around 80 degrees C) – and then bake the tomatoes for a number of hours until they reach the level of dryness you want. 

These have been cooked down to a medium level of squishiness (mi cuit),


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Some of my mi cuit tomatoes have been stored in Ziploc bag in the freezer, ready to be slipped into sauces, casseroles, soups, stews in the winter months, but I also experimented in preserving some of them in oil.

Sterilise a pretty jar and pack with dried tomatoes.  I added my tomatoes hot from the oven so as to the flavour the oil as much as possible. Pour some good olive oil over the top leaving around an inch of headspace and tuck in garlic, herbs, spices or small chilis for flavour. I used branches of rosemary and slivers of garlic in this batch.




I’m not sure how long these will last as they have not been properly canned.  I suggest you use yours up with two or three weeks (this will not be a problem as they so utterly delicious).  I’ve had mine for two weeks now and they are still perfect and taste mindblowingly good in salad or as an accompaniment to charcuterie. When you’ve used up all the tomatoes, the flavoured oil will be fabulous on salad or pasta.

Last night I chopped some of mine up fairly finely and added them to some melted butter and lemon juice as a topping for roasted halibut and they truly were exceptional.


22 September 2012

Saturday Link Love


I’m trying to be a bit more active on social media nowadays, posting up interesting things I see around and about to the mirrormirror Facebook page and to my Twitter stream.

I thought I’d also start doing a regular Saturday link round up for those of you who inexplicably don’t follow my aimless meanderings on social media, just in case you find yourselves with time on your hands at the weekend


Liberty Christmas Crackers


Apologies for talking about Christmas in September, but these Liberty print Christmas crackers are too beautiful not to share {via the beautiful new blog from erstwhile British rock chick and now designer Pearl Lowe}.




I went to a class at the Pantry at Delancey a week or two back and was lucky enough to try their homemade roasted pepper hot sauce.  Which was amazing. You definitely need to make this.



Marmite has brought out a limited edition gold version with edible golden flecks. I love it. (British in joke). Poor bereft overseas Marmite fans such as myself can order it from the official expat page on the Marmite website, which ships worldwide.




Finally someone has worked out that it would make sense to have differently coloured dollar bills. And making them different lengths to ensure better money management is a fabulously ingenious idea.

I just wish these were real,  I get so confused. {From designboom via the lovely Tula}.


11 September 2012

Fancy Hotel of the Week: Babington House



Babington House’s cute little chapel

When it comes to fancy hotels, it’s not after all the décor or the food or the mattresses or the service which is the most important thing. It’s the ambience. That indefinable, indescribable ‘je ne sais quoi’.  That combination of all the aforementioned and more, which infuses the whole experience, and determines whether you’ll want to return.

Some hotels go for glamour, others for grandeur, some go for hipness and others prize efficiency.  At Babington House they do relaxation and and laid-back comfort on an epic scale. The sort of deep relaxation you’d love to experience at home -  if only the house were tidy, the chores were done and the kids were somewhere else. And if home really were a beautiful old stone country house with hundreds of years of history and its own stone chapel set deep in the English countryside.



The grounds and pool are scattered with gloriously huge and comfortable loungers


This summer was our first time back at Babington since the Minx was born and we were not disappointed, if anything it was even more beautiful and cheerfully laid back than ever.



Two storey ‘suite’ with its own terrace and gigantic bath


Babington House

How do they achieve this? Well stunning décor, which gives the whole place a modern ‘country house’ vibe helps a lot. As does the beautiful planting throughout the grounds. Seriously it’s impossible to take a bad photo in this place.

The rooms are incredible. We were in a two-storey family suite with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a small outside roof terrace, all equipped with every possible creature comfort.

The food is fabulous.  Classic and beautifully cooked comfort food at its very finest, served in either a beautiful formal dining room, the ‘deli’ where you could wander in whenever you want for coffee, breakfast or kids’ supper, or outside on the lawn.



Breakfast. I wanted to steal all their ‘props’.


Add to that a ton of squashy loungers, deep leather sofas and soft velvet armchairs; unbelievably friendly staff; enormous and beautiful indoor and outdoor pools; funky chandeliers; quirky artwork; an exceptionally accommodating attitude towards the Minx and a bar which serves the most delicious caipirinhas known to man, and you’re onto a winner in my book.


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This time we paid for all hotel accommodation ourselves.  It was worth every penny believe me.  Do treat yourselves next time you’re out in the Somerset countryside. Babington House, we will be back.

Fancy Hotel of the Week: Babington House



Babington House’s cute little chapel

When it comes to fancy hotels, it’s not after all the décor or the food or the mattresses or the service which is the most important thing. It’s the ambience. That indefinable, indescribable ‘je ne sais quoi’.  That combination of all the aforementioned and more, which infuses the whole experience, and determines whether you’ll want to return.

Some hotels go for glamour, others for grandeur, some go for hipness and others prize efficiency.  At Babington House they do relaxation and and laid-back comfort on an epic scale. The sort of deep relaxation you’d love to experience at home -  if only the house were tidy, the chores were done and the kids were somewhere else. And if home really were a beautiful old stone country house with hundreds of years of history and its own stone chapel set deep in the English countryside.



The grounds and pool are scattered with gloriously huge and comfortable loungers


This summer was our first time back at Babington since the Minx was born and we were not disappointed, if anything it was even more beautiful and cheerfully laid back than ever.



Two storey ‘suite’ with its own terrace and gigantic bath


Babington House

How do they achieve this? Well stunning décor, which gives the whole place a modern ‘country house’ vibe helps a lot. As does the beautiful planting throughout the grounds. Seriously it’s impossible to take a bad photo in this place.

The rooms are incredible. We were in a two-storey family suite with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a small outside roof terrace, all equipped with every possible creature comfort.

The food is fabulous.  Classic and beautifully cooked comfort food at its very finest, served in either a beautiful formal dining room, the ‘deli’ where you could wander in whenever you want for coffee, breakfast or kids’ supper, or outside on the lawn.



Breakfast. I wanted to steal all their ‘props’.


Add to that a ton of squashy loungers, deep leather sofas and soft velvet armchairs; unbelievably friendly staff; enormous and beautiful indoor and outdoor pools; funky chandeliers; quirky artwork; an exceptionally accommodating attitude towards the Minx and a bar which serves the most delicious caipirinhas known to man, and you’re onto a winner in my book.


Babington House1




Babington House2

This time we paid for all hotel accommodation ourselves.  It was worth every penny believe me.  Do treat yourselves next time you’re out in the Somerset countryside. Babington House, we will be back.

06 September 2012

Les Jardins Macarons by Pierre Herme




Since we’ve been chatting about both macarons and interesting food styling I thought I’d share the latest creations of master macaronier Pierre Herme’.

Through his online club ‘Les Jardins’ he is making a new limited edition flavour macaron available every month. Tragically they will only ship to the UK and Europe (which is officially NOT FAIR). 

Us poor unfortunates in the US and elsewhere in the world will have to make do with gazing longingly at the breathtaking food photography of French photographer Bernhard Winkelmann or attempt to make our own using Pierre Herme’s book ‘Macarons’ which I have, but which has officially scared the sh*t out of me, starting as it does with a chapter entitled ‘Thirty Two Steps to Successful Macaron Shells’.

I’m also wondering if some of these flavour combinations aren’t in reality ‘a step too far.’ Does someone want to buy some and report back?  I think I like the sound of Lime, Raspberry and Piment d’Espelette best.  What do you chaps think? The full list of monthly flavours released so far is here.



Green Tea, Chanterelle and Lemon


Lemon and Caramelised Fennel


Lime, Raspberry, Piment d’Espelette


Chocolate & Lime


Violet & Aniseed

All pictures by the amazing Bernhard Winkelmann.

30 August 2012

Food Stylings: Charlotte Omnes


What are you having for lunch today?

I was thinking of ham, cheese and mustard on white.



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Or possibly cheese with mustard, mayo and ketchup or ham and mustard.

Followed by a selection of juicy citrus fruits.



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I love it when food stylists do things a little bit differently.

All photos by ace food stylist Charlotte Omnes.


28 August 2012

A Morning of Raspberry Macarons


It is Tuesday and there are no freaking macarons in my house. I know this because for some reason I’ve been craving them all morning and a thorough excavation of my kitchen cupboards has not yielded a single delicate French confection.  When the Minx goes back to school next week (may the heavens and all the saints and angels be praised), I will MAKE some.




But in the meantime all I have are some photos I took at Patisserie Camp, way back at the beginning of the summer. Sadly these will have to do.

Take it away Chef Jean-Marc.

Make a nice almondy macaron mix and colour it baby pink (I’ll put up a recipe when I’ve had a chance to make and test some, in the meantime just treat this as afternoon food porn).


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Pipe hundreds of the little darlings out on a bunch of baking sheets and whip up a little raspberry jam.


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Bake until crisp




Fill with jam




Sandwich them together and Robert est ton oncle. (Do Americans say ‘and Bob’s your uncle’ too?  I’ve never had a clue where that comes from).

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27 August 2012

IFBC 2012 : Food Photography with Andrew Scrivani and Chef John




On Friday I drove down to beautiful Portland with my dear friend Nazila, writer of the gorgeous blog Banamak and champion drunken snorer, to attend the International Food Blogger Conference. It’s the first one of these I’ve attended and I came away incredibly inspired and full of plans and ideas for the blog.

I met up with old friends and made new ones, attended incredibly useful classes, ate unbelievably good food and had some great conversations with advertisers, PR companies, ad networks and publishers. My head is still reeling from all the information I have to process.

One of the aforementioned old friends was food photographer Andrew Scrivani, who closed out proceedings on Sunday morning with a hilarious and informative cooking and photography demonstration with his good friend Chef John from Food Wishes

A note to all the many TV executives who read this blog - these guys need their own cooking show pronto quick.

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Mr S gave talked us through some of his amazing photos; an exciting dry ice shooting station was set up and the food paparazzi came out in force, with the maestro on hand to answer questions.


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Chef John tortured the assembled masses by frying up a batch of the world’s crispiest onion rings (featuring a special not-so-secret ingredient), and some garlic prawns, as well as putting together a yummy-looking affogato.


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Unfortunately the props didn’t last long in a room full of hungry food bloggers.


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An fabulously funny time was had by all, and many pictures were taken, despite the less than ideal lighting conditions for photography.

Please get The Baldie Boys on my TV set ASAP.


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23 August 2012

How to Make: Strawberry Lemonade




Our return to Seattle from the UK was marked by stunningly hot weather, over-enthusiasm at the farmers’ market leading to a glut of softening fruit in the fridge and the discovery of a batch of rapidly-shrivelling lemons and limes in our fruit bowl.

So the Minx and I set to to make a batch of strawberry lemonade.  Funnily enough, though strawberry lemonade seems to be very common here in the US, it’s extremely rare in the UK, so I provide this recipe mostly as a public service to my non-American readers.  It’s an absolutely gorgeous drink, both in looks and taste, which lends itself to all manner of variations, depending on the age and alcohol-tolerance of its audience (see ‘Variations’ below).




Basic Ingredients

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup water

1 pint/punnet of very ripe strawberries, hulled, washed and chopped

1/2 cup water

1 cup fresh lemon juice

4-6 cups still or sparkling water to taste


Make a simple syrup by whisking together the sugar and 1 cup of water in a small sturdy pan. Bring it to the boil and then heat gently until the sugar has completely dissolved and disappeared. Set aside to cool.

Make a puree by attacking the strawberries and another half cup of water with your trusty whizzer thingy  immersion blender or just put them in a blender until you have a smooth puree.

Get a large jug and combine the simple syrup, strawberry puree and lemon juice. Then add 4-6 cups of water to taste.  Chill to within an inch of its life. This should make approximately two bottles of lemonade.



Once you’ve got the basic method down you can start playing.

Infused syrups:  Add herbs, spices or peels to your syrup ingredients before bringing to the boil and straining the syrup afterwards.  I’m thinking peppercorns, lavender, rosemary, bay, cardamom or orange peel might be interesting to experiment with.

Different fruits:  Once strawberry season is over, try using any other soft summer fruits which can made into a smooth puree. I’m betting rhubarb, peaches, plums, cherries or raspberries would all be delicious, just pass the blended fruit through a mouli or other sieve first to get rid of skins and seeds.

Use limes as well as lemons: The first batch of this the Minx and I made was made with lime juice, not lemons and it was delectable. Use either lemons, limes or a combination of both.

Dilute with different waters and alcohols.  I like mine diluted with a splash of lemon Perrier or San Pellegrino ( in fact if left to my own devices I would make it entirely with sparkling water but the Minx would disapprove).  I have also been known to add the teensiest splash of vodka or white rum. I should think a dark rum would turn this into something smooth and dangerous. Fruit-based spirits such as kirsch, maraschino or slivovitz might also be fun.

I hope you’ve been inspired to have a play around.  I am now in dangerous cocktail-creating mood. There may be more blog posts on this topic.


11 July 2012

An Afternoon of Chocolate


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Just in case your life was lacking a little chocolate right now (yes, I thought so) here are some pics from the afternoon we spent making chocolate desserts and truffles under the watchful eye of master chocolatier Jean-Pierre Meignaud at Patisserie Camp on Canoe Island.

It’s going to be the same drill as before, no real recipes, just descriptions and food porn a-plenty.

First get yourself a bowl of properly tempered chocolate, some Pralissimo hazelnut paste (this stuff is GOOD) and a box of chocolate breakfast cereal. Yes, truly, something like Cocoa Pops or Cocoa Krispies. I feel so much better now I know that fancy pants patissiers use this stuff too.


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Carefully mix the ingredients together and then use a ring mould to form them into a crispy chocolate base. You’ve just made the world’s most sophisticated, and delicious, Rice Krispie cakes.

Then mix together some more melted, tempered chocolate with the hazelnut paste and fold it into some whipped cream. Pipe this chocolate mousse onto the crispy bases.


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So far so easy, n’est-ce pas?  Unfortunately it gets trickier from here on in.

Next use a knife to ‘wipe’ petals of chocolate onto a sheet of acetate.  The shape of your knife will dictate the shape of your petals.  Place the sheet of acetate into a plastic ‘gutter’ (half a plastic tube) to bend the petals slightly.  That just blew your mind didn’t it?


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Or you could just swirl blobs of chocolate with your fingers.

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Or comb out streaks of chocolate and again swirl them into grids.

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It was amazing watching Jean-Pierre do this stuff.  He made it look incredibly quick and easy.


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Finally use your chocolate shapes to decorate your mousse cakes. Adding a little gold dusting powder as necessary.


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I’m just off to rustle some up for family supper tonight. Hahahahahaha.

We also made chocolate truffles that afternoon, but I have enough swoonworthy pics for a separate blog post.

29 June 2012

Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Empress


It’s the school vacation and although summer shows no signs of arriving in Seattle, the Minx and I have been having some fun adventures (hence lack of blogging).




A couple of weeks back we decided to visit my friend Lisa in Victoria, on beautiful Vancouver Island. Victoria is the capital of British Columbia and a proud outpost of the old British Empire. Statues of Victoria, Jubilee bunting, manicured lawns and gaudy ornamental bedding plants abound, so of course I felt right at home. 




Imagine an English seaside town, say Bournemouth, plonked into the middle of the magnificent mountains, islands and water scenery of the Pacific North West; graced with some beautiful old hotels and government buildings; and colonised by a strange combination of Canadian retirees and high-tech hipsters.

We were invited to take afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress, the huge and beautiful hotel modelled on a French chateau that has graced Victoria’s waterfront for more than 100 years. Tea at the Empress is a Victoria institution and as an afternoon tea aficionado (a?) I was naturally hugely excited to attend.




Tea is served in the hotel’s beautiful lobby in front of the Palm Court with its spectacular stained glass dome. Surrounded by gorgeous antiques, sterling silver teapots, screens and chintzes, and gazed upon by portraits of King George V and Queen Mary, it’s like stepping back in time a hundred years. Lady Violet of Downton Abbey would feel right at home here.


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First up we were brought strawberries and cream while we perused the tea menu.  Here is the Minx trying, and spectacularly failing, to eat with decorum.


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Tea itself is served from seemingly bottomless silver teapots in the extremely pretty ‘Crown’ tea service. We particularly liked the story of the tables, which are beautifully handcrafted from the original tea lobby floorboards. 


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After strawberries came the delectable three-tiered tea, which we were instructed to eat from the bottom up.

Firstly a selection of truly delicious finger sandwiches and savoury delicacies, including smoked salmon pinwheels, egg salad croissants, coronation chicken sandwiches and sundried tomato crostini.

The Minx was served the ‘Princess’ tea for kids under twelve and got her own personal little tiered tea tray, with kid-friendly sandwiches and slightly less elegant cakes.


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We then moved on to scones, jam and cream.  The cream was an excellent approximation of the true English clotted cream which is impossible to find in North America. I got the recipe from the chef and I’ll be testing and blogging it in an another post.

Finally we tucked into some exquisite little cakes – mini lemon meringue tarts, perfect macarons, Battenberg cake (squee! can’t remember the last time I saw one of those) and chocolate shortbread.

The Minx loved her kid-friendly meal, though she was still struggling with decorum at this point.




In fact the welcome the Minx got was one of the very nicest things about the whole experience.  It’s not at all dumbed down for kids – there’s no shrieking or running about or cartoons  – but kids are very much welcomed and accommodated, with a choice of juice or their own un-caffeinated tea, their own tea plate and extremely solicitous service.  The Minx absolutely loved it and felt extremely special and grown up throughout.

Here we are among the teaplates.




And here she is clutching her ‘Princess of Afternoon Tea’ certificate with a friend from Seattle who was also coincidentally taking tea with her mother.




And here is the Princess of Afternoon Tea, having abandoned all pretence at decorum, sticking her finger in the jam pot.




If you’re going Victoria, you absolutely have to do this. The food is scrumptious, the setting incredible and the service is beyond reproach.  It’s a treat for everyone from eight to eighty and one of those eating occasions which transcends being a mere meal and turns into a fabulous life experience.  I’m sure the Minx will remember this for a long time.

And so in fact will I.


Full Disclosure: The Minx and I were the guests of the Fairmont Empress for one night and for afternoon tea. I promise that they have had no influence on the content of this blog post and all opinions are my own.


25 June 2012

How to Make a Saint Honore’




Once upon a time Dr Warren Austin, personal physician to the Duke of Windsor, married a Chicago heiress. Together they bought an island, and in 1969 set up a French camp for kids. As you do.

Canoe Island is a little scrap of paradise nestled in among the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington state.

We went to family camp there last year and words can’t express how good for the soul this place is.  The little wooded islet is small enough to walk around, with whimsical follies viewed between the trees. Everyone sleeps in canvas teepees, which are surprisingly civilised if you bring enough bedding and thermal underwear, and there’s a lovely clubhouse with a dining room, reading room, games room and swimming pool. Oh and did I mention the kayaking and sailing and archery and tennis courts? And there’s also a superb chef and a young patissiere who work miracles with the wonderful produce of the islands. Yep, the Garden of Eden has NOTHING on this.

Having fallen in love with this place last year, I couldn’t wait to return this year for a more grown up event – Patisserie by the Sea.   In order to raise funds for the camp, two pastry chefs were flown in from France to teach a small group of us how to make exquisite patisserie, with plenty of scope for hands-on participation and eating the fruits of our labours afterwards.

In the first workshop we made ‘Le Saint Honore’ a la rose et aux framboises’ with master patissier Jean-Marc Vareil, who is currently a professor of patisserie at a school in Toulon and who has previously worked at Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons in England and the Bristol and the Ritz in Paris. 

The Saint Honore’ is a traditional French pastry, named apparently for the patron saint of pastry chefs.  You can either make individual versions or one big one. I’m not going to give you all the individual recipes and instructions, otherwise we’ll be here until Christmas.  Instead let’s just treat this as an excuse for a bit of serious food porn.

If you really want to try these at home search for ‘Gateau Saint Honore’ and you’ll find plenty of help, though I’m betting that when you see what’s involved you’ll understand why everyone in France just buys them in from the patisserie instead.

But don’t let me stop you.  One day I’ll make these again too.




First make, roll out and cut your pate brisee (a shortcrust pastry made with eggs, but no sugar)

Then make choux pastry and pipe it round the edges of your uncooked pastry circles and into little blobs (see how blithely I dismiss hours of work in two sentences).






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When your blobs and bases are perfectly cooked whip up a little raspberry pastry cream.


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And some virulently red caramel.  And then poke little individual holes in all the little individual blobs.


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Dip all the little blobs into the incredibly hot caramel, taking care not to burn your fingers (I still have the scars). Pipe the raspberry pastry cream into each individual blob. Yes, you heard correctly.


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Dip the bases into the hot caramel (I had retired hurt by this point), stick three little filled blobs on each one and when cool fill the bases with the raspberry cream.

Whip up a quick crème chantilly, coloured pale pink and flavoured with rose water and use it to decorate the Saint Honores.


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Decorate with raspberries and blueberries, rinse and repeat.




Pose proudly with handiwork on a small island (please ignore deeply unflattering  picture of me).




Place in gob.

These were DIVINE – crunchy yet creamy, soft,with a little bite to the choux pastry, fruity but not too sweet; with the rosewater adding an indefinable je ne sais quoi. It took Jean-Marc about three hours to whip up twenty five in a standard domestic kitchen with no special equipment. We really have no excuse, do we?

There will be more pics from chocolate afternoon at Patisserie Camp next week. It’s not clear whether they’ll be running another Patisserie Camp at Canoe Island, but if they do I suggest you sell one of your children to get there.


14 June 2012



Or a small study in the effectiveness of social media.

This past weekend I had the most blissful time at ‘Patisserie Camp’.

I was hoping to blog my pastries this week, but with the Minx now home from school for the NEXT. THIRTEEN. WEEKS (heaven help me), and with us heading off for a mummy and daughter long weekend in Victoria tomorrow, the processing of the over 800 photos I took is taking some time.

She’s off to camp next Monday though, so normal blog service will be resumed then.

In the meantime I leave you with a small but intriguing study in the power of social media and Pinterest in particular. Remember the cake I made a week or two back?


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Well ever since I posted it I’ve been getting a small but gratifying bump in traffic to mirrormirror thanks to a few blog readers posting it on Pinterest (thank you whoever you are). Until this weekend, when it absolutely went through the roof.

I checked back on Pinterest (did you know that if you look at something which has been pinned from your site you can see ‘Also From’ to the left?) and this is what I saw.  Suddenly the cake had been pinned and repinned literally hundreds of times.  It had gone viral.


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I’ve been looking back through all the pins and can’t identify the ‘tipping point’ when it all went crazy. Suffice it to say that I yesterday I had 6x the blog traffic I normally get and the craziness shows no signs of abating.  To put it into perspective that’s about 3x the traffic I got when mentioned my Kelly Wearstler Go Fug Your Room back in 2008and that abated after about a day.

I mention this not to show off - I’ve actually been feeling like a bit of a fraud since I found the original idea on Pinterest, in a picture that had been repinned maybe two or three times – but because now I finally understand why big brands and big bloggers court Pinterest so assiduously.

I’m fascinated to see where my little cake ends up, what happens to blog traffic over time and whether any of the hordes of people stopping by turn into regular readers/commenters.

And you can probably expect a lot more images of photogenic cakes in the weeks and months ahead.

Update: Yay! I don’t feel such a fraud any more.  The source of the original idea has been tracked down to I Am Baker. The original pin just said ‘uploaded by user’ so I couldn’t get to the source originally.  So happy to be able to credit the right person.


29 May 2012

Easy Cake Decorating Idea


I’m starting to think that Pinterest has pushed back the cause of feminism by several hundred years.




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This weekend we were hosting a Eurovision party and since it also happened to be the birthday of one of the Minx’s friends who was attending, I offered to make a quick birthday cake.

And then I went on Pinterest, disappeared down the rabbit hole, and emerged to find several hours had gone by and the kitchen was totally covered with food colouring and buttercream.  This is indeed a very easy frosting idea, but quick it is most certainly not.  It was enormous fun to do though.


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The Minx and I got a little carried away with the food colouring and made coloured layers inside the cake, which I think in hindsight was a garishness too far, particularly as they were not quite as subtly pretty as I was hoping  It would have looked better just as plain cake with white buttercream inside.

But then garishness isn’t really a problem when making cake for an eight year old. Please excuse drunken pic below, but you get the idea.



Update: Several people have asked me to provide a bit more information on how I did it. I mixed up a big batch of vanilla buttercream (beat together 2 sticks/220g of  room-temperature butter, 6 cups/640g icing/confectioner’s sugar, plus a little vanilla extract, plus a tablespoon or two of milk until the buttercream is soft and smooth).

Then I divided the buttercream into six and the Minx and I conferred long and hard over which colours to choose. I spread a very thin crumb coat over the sides to even them up and then used a #21 tip to pipe little rosettes onto the cake, making sure that I didn’t pipe the same colour in adjacent spots.  And then kept going and going and GOING until every bit of the cake was covered.

Further Update: Thanks to the comments below, I’ve been able to track down the original source of the idea at I Am Baker. Thanks for pointing it out. The original pin I found was ‘uploaded by user’ and no source was indicated, so I’m glad to finally be able to credit the right person.


24 May 2012

Food Photography Workshop with Andrew Scrivani


At the weekend I popped down to San Francisco for the day.  It was meant to be longer, but then it worked out that the Minx’s end-of-year performance was on Saturday afternoon and of course I couldn’t miss that.

But I also couldn’t miss a food photography workshop held by New York Times food photographer, Andrew Scrivani hosted by the wonderful Contigo, a Spanish restaurant in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighbourhood.


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Andrew is the master of a more painterly approach to food photography – he focuses on perfect lighting, simple propping and graphic styling to make the food seem to leap from the page and which makes you the viewer wish it would leap straight into your mouth.  Truly it’s food porn at its most succulently droolworthy.  Luxuriate in his portfolio here and you will see exactly what I mean.

I met Andrew before when he came and gave short workshop in Seattle (which for some reason I forgot to blog) and I was really excited to see and hear him again.  Andrew used to teach before becoming a food photographer, and you can tell.  He’s infinitely patient and very good at explaining what he does.  He went through a greatest hits slide show in the morning, explaining in great detail how he manages to achieve his shots (and imparting a whole load of new knowledge that I hadn’t picked up during the first workshop).  Then we had lunch featuring the most incredible paella known to man, followed by an hour or two to play, with props and food provided by the restaurant.  For the last part of the day Andrew critiqued our work, which was scary – I never want anyone to see my outtakes, let alone a professional food photographer, but obviously incredibly useful. And it was almost more fascinating and inspiring to see what other photographers were able to achieve with the same lighting, food, props and equipment, just by looking at things differently.

We learned that sometimes it’s good to go in close.


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And sometimes we should look for shapes and colour.


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Drips and oozes are always good.


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Or else you could just focus on tiny details.


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Flares and reflections on bottles add shape and interest.


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And sometimes food is just too darn ugly, however much you try and brighten it up with props and garnishes and bright sunlight.


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Make sure your board is clean and free of grease stains and salt (now you tell me).


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And sometimes harsh backlighting is your friend.


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When in doubt about which picture to choose try a diptych (and yes I fell in love with a pot of pink curing salt).


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A little bird tells me that Andrew will be giving a workshop in Seattle in June.  Details have not yet been published but follow him on Twitter @andrewscrivani or on his blog Making Sunday Sauce for news.  You won’t regret it.


16 May 2012

Fancy Hotel of the Week: Four Seasons Seattle


When the sun does come out in Seattle there is no more beautiful place on earth.  The unfortunate thing is, that, unless you have your own yacht, there are not so many places to just lounge and enjoy the view.


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Yes, there are the lakes and the cold ocean beaches, but there are very few loungers and margaritas types of places, and, as you have probably guessed, I am very much a loungers and margaritas type of girl.

So when it became apparent on Thursday that temperatures were set to soar in Seattle for the Mother’s Day weekend, we decided to throw caution to the wind and book into Seattle’s Four Seasons hotel for a ‘staycation’.  The Four Seasons is unusual for Pacific Northwest hotels in having an outdoor infinity pool, with breathtaking south-west facing views out over Elliott Bay to the Olympic mountains beyond, which reminded me of the similar views we had from our downtown apartment when we first moved to Seattle.  


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The pool area also features a hot tub and fire pit and is protected on three sides by the hotel and other high rise buildings, so I would imagine that it would still be very pleasant in the cooler months of the year.

The beautiful spring green planting creates a little rooftop oasis and exactly matches the beautiful spring green umbrellas, which looked amazing against the blue sky and turquoise water.




The pool itself is heated to 85 degrees and also gently salinated, which makes the water deliciously soft and somehow bouncy, and there was plenty of room for the Minx and the Husband to practise their synchronised swimming routines.


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Inside the décor is luxurious, clean and contemporary, with an emphasis on natural stone and woods, soft autumnal hues and organic shapes, with lots of interesting artworks and glass.


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In the lobby, slatted wood walls are juxtaposed with intricate stone floors and striped carpets to give a clean, modern almost Asian feel.

Oh and the breakfast wasn’t bad either.


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We were also really impressed with the welcome given to the Minx.  When we booked they asked for her name and age, and there was a welcome pack waiting for her in the room, with a little treasure hunt questionnaire for her to complete.


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It’s the first hotel we’ve ever stayed in which provided a mini kids robe and slippers, to the Minx’s enormous delight and to cap things off, they also gave her a little pink sock monkey, from which she became inseparable. And yes, I do know that my daughter is INCREDIBLY spoiled.


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Here is ‘Chaussette’ lounging by the pool.


We left feeling incredibly relaxed and asking ourselves why on earth we haven’t done this sooner.  Truly that view is good for the soul.  Four Seasons Seattle, we will most DEFINITELY be back.


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Thanks once again to the lovely Sheri at Pacific Northwest Journeys for arranging our stay.   We paid for the hotel room ourselves.


10 May 2012

Pinterest Take 5: Persimmon


I bought an orange, or, more precisely, that orange-veering-to-coral-pink known as persimmon, sweatshirt last week.  At least five people have since told me that it is the ‘colour of the season’.

All I know is that if you have boring mid-brown hair and pale skin with a warm undertone as I have, there is no more flattering colour on earth, and you will have to rip this sweatshirt from my back.

It’s been popping up all over Pinterest too.




1. Bottega Veneta Silk Chiffon Colour Block Dress at Net-A-Porter via Anne Deotte 

2. Jasper Conran for Wedgwood Kilim Teacup and Saucer via Mackenzie

3. Labyrinth Persimmon Pillow by Dwell Studio via Bibi Rogers

4. Fleuvog Sandra shoes via Casapinka

5. Peach, Strawberry and Vodka Popsicles by Endless Simmer via Kimberly Taylor Not quite persimmons I know, but the colour is persimmon perfection and they did seem a little more seasonally appropriate.


03 May 2012

Adventures In Baking: Meyer Lemon, Rhubarb & Pistachio Bundt Cake


Continuing in my quest to make the most of my new bundt tin, and take over the world one bundt cake at a time, a couple of weeks back I made a Meyer Lemon, Rhubarb and Pistachio Bundt Cake.  This ethereally soft and springlike bundt cake couldn’t be more different from the squidgy, fudgy chocolate cake I made for the Joy the Baker event, but it was still devoured with alarming alacrity by the whole family.


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This cake is an adaptation of a recipe from Kimberly Taylor’s charming blog which bowled me over the minute it popped up on my Facebook page.  Her cake features Meyer lemons and rhubarb, but I couldn’t contemplate putting these two ingredients together without adding pistachios, the flavours are a match made in heaven and the delicate pink and green pastel colours are so very spring-like.

Meyer lemons are a wonderful seasonal American delicacy, thought to be a cross between a true lemon and a mandarin.  If you can’t get hold of them then normal lemons will do just fine. I amended the recipe by adding in some ground almonds/almond meal, some pistachio flavouring and sprinkling the finished cake with whole pistachios.



For the cake

1 cup butter

1 3/4 cups bakers’ (caster) sugar

zest of one lemon (Meyer or normal)

3 large eggs

1/2 tsp pistachio flavouring (or almond extract)

Juice of 1 Meyer lemon or 1/2 normal large lemon

1 3/4 cups all purpose (plain) flour

3/4 cup almond meal (ground almonds)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup buttermilk

3 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch pieces


For the glaze

2 1/2 cups icing/powdered sugar

Juice from one lemon

2 tablespoons softened butter

Whole pistachios to sprinkle on top


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Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/ 180 degrees C.

Brush melted butter into every single nook and cranny of your bundt pan and then shake in a couple of tablespoons of flour, so that every part of the surface is greased and floured. Shake out the excess flour.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together into a bowl. Stir in the almonds.

Cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until very pale and fluffy. Whisk the eggs together in a small jug and then little by little beat them into the creamed mixture, scraping down the sides as necessary. Add the pistachio flavouring and lemon juice.

With the stand mixer on a lowish speed, add a third of the flour mixture and then a third of the buttermilk and then alternate until all the flour and milk are fully incorporated. Mix for one additional minute.

Stir in the chopped rhubarb with a wooden spoon. Pour the batter into the prepared bundt tin. Bake for 1 hour. Insert a skewer or a stick of spaghetti and if comes out clean the cake is ready. If not return to the oven for a few more minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

Set a timer and leave the cake in the pan for 20 minutes, no more, no less. When 20 minutes is up (the optimum time, according to Joy the Baker, to ensure best bundt removal) turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool fully.

To make the glaze, whisk the butter and lemon juice together. Whisk in half the icing sugar.  Add the second cup of icing sugar and whisk until incorporated.  The glaze should be thin enough to pour, but thick enough to cling to the cake.  Either add sugar or juice to amend the consistency as appropriate.

Sprinkly a few whole pistachios over the top and serve when the glaze is fully set.


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02 May 2012

Homemade Vanilla Extract


At my baking class on Monday night (and thanks so much to everyone who supported it in any way, either by being there or spreading the word on Facebook and Twitter) we talked about making your own vanilla extract and I realised I hadn’t shared this with you on the blog.


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As you can imagine, since I am a cake baker, vanilla extract is one of the most used ingredients in my kitchen, which was not good given how fiendishly expensive it is.

After doing some research online, I tried making it last summer, and I am utterly delighted with the results.  Like so many other homemade foodstuffs, there’s no turning back when you’ve tasted homemade. And this is so, so EASY.

All you need is a smallish bottle (depending on how much extract you want to make), some unflavoured vodka or white rum and some vanilla pods. 


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I buy my vanilla pods in bulk via Amazon, so much cheaper than the single pods in glass jars you find in supermarkets. As for alcohol, if you want a pure vanilla flavour use unflavoured vodka.  I however prefer to use a white rum such as Bacardi.  The rum has a flavour that goes very well with vanilla, and adds an additional something, something to cakes and desserts.  But which alcohol you choose is up to you.

Then all you need to do is fill your bottle with alcohol, score a few vanilla pods lengthwise so the seeds are showing (don’t scrape them out) and then add them to rum or vodka.  How many you add is up to you and will depend on how the big the bottle is, how strong you want the extract to be and how many you can afford to use.  I currently have around six in my biggish bottle, but experiment with what seems right for you.


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Here’s my bottle posing out in the sunshine last summer, just after I’d made it.

Then leave the bottle in a cool, dry place (mine is in the fridge door) somewhere where’ll you see it often. Then, every so often, pick up the bottle and give it a shake.  After several weeks the clear alcohol will darken to brown and will be ready to use.  Thereafter just keep the bottle topped up with additional alcohol and vanilla pods as necessarily and depending on how strong you want your extract to be.




If you want to get going on your Christmas gifts now (hahahahahahahahaha!:-Ed) then homemade vanilla extract is a very quick, easy and thoughtful gift for the baker in your life if you put it in a fancy bottle.


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28 April 2012

How To Bake British Without Freaking Out


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I just wanted to let you all know that there are still some places left for the class I’m giving on Monday night at fabulous Seattle cookbook store Book Larder.

And it would be lovely to see blog readers there.

The class is called Baking In Translation – How to Bake British Without Freaking Out and is for anyone who’s tried to use a recipe from British website or cookbook and been flummoxed by the strange ingredients or metric measurements.

I’ll be covering the basics of weighing and measuring in metric rather than using cup measures; discussing differences in flours, sugars and creams; translating strange ingredient names and suggesting the best sources and substitutions for hard-to-find ingredients.  I’ll be demonstrating how to make a traditional English Victoria sponge cake and maybe, if there’s time, English flapjacks (sort of sticky sweet granola bars, not pancakes) and there’ll be treats to sample.

The class will run from 6.30 to around 8.30 and you can find full details and buy tickets here. Here’s my previous blog post on the subject.

I’d love to meet Seattle blog readers and if you can’t make it, anything you could do to promote the class via various social media would be very much appreciated.

See you on Monday!



27 April 2012

Things I Am Loving: Laser Cut Nori


Speaking, as we were, of lace effects in unexpected but obvious places, I just wanted to share my love for these award-winning nori sheets (found via JeannieJeannie).





Ad agency I&S BBDO Inc in Japan was asked to create an online campaign for the Umino Seaweed Store, a company producing nori (the sheets of seaweed used in making sushi) that had been badly affected by the tsunami.

Unfortunately, and particularly in a Japanese context, nori is a very boring product to advertise, so the company looked for ways to differentiate the product and get it some online buzz. 

Remember I did a certificate in Online Marketing last year?  Well, we were told again and again that original and persuasive content is the key to online campaigns that work, so the agency’s strategy of  tweaking the product itself in an original and beautiful way was utterly inspired.

Because of the horrible circumstances of the tsunami, the agency looked to traditional Japanese designs for longevity, good fortune, hope, happiness etc. to create a positive vibe around the product and the campaign has since won many awards.




After poking round the Internet, I discovered that Seattle’s very own Food Geek had also had a very similar idea (and made some beautiful photos). Feast your eyes on these.








Can someone please produce these commercially? They would make such beautiful onigiri.


23 April 2012

The Sun Always Shines On TV


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But apparently not in real life.  Our trip to Southern California was mostly foggy and overcast and not very warm. Especially galling as the weather was apparently delightful in Seattle.  The photo shows our first glimpse of the sun in three days as the plane soared over a thick blanket of cloud in LA. 

But still we did manage to have a great time. Thanks to L’Auberge Del Mar for another magical stay (see last year’s blog post here) and to the chic and groovy resorts of Del Mar, Encinitas, La Jolla and Laguna Beach for showing us beautiful beaches, whales and seals in abundance. We also had a surprisingly fun time at Seaworld (actually it was surprisingly fun for me, for the Minx it was expectedly awesome).

We ate epic fish tacos at Raul’s Shack in Encinitas, legendary shrimp tacos at El Pescador Fish Market in La Jolla (are you seeing a theme here?), excellent gelato at Gelateria Frizzante also in La Jolla, a superb breakfast at Americana in Del Mar and took my elderly aunt for a rather touristy but surprisingly good value and good champagne brunch at Las Brisas in Laguna Beach. The new chef at Kitchen 1540 at L’Auberge is also doing an extremely good job as far we can see.

SoCal, we will be back, despite your terrible weather.


Now if you’ll excuse me, I have overflowing suitcases, an overflowing garden and an overflowing inbox to attend to and beautiful Seattle sunshine that has my name on it, so better blogging service will resume tomorrow. In the meantime last week’s amazing guest posts are worth a read.


13 April 2012

That Was The Week That Was: Spring in Seattle Edition


Oh goodness, it’s been ages since I’ve done one of these.  It’s been a pastel-coloured, blossom-filled, playing in the sunshine, baking goodies couple of weeks.


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On the 1st January I started posting daily photos to Instagram. I’m @mirrormirroxx. Come and be my friend.