Thursday, 30 April 2015

Swirly Mint and Chocolate Cookies

This was an impulse bake.  You know, when you see a recipe online and think 'I'm going to do that..NOW!'   

At first I was a little disturbed by the green food colouring.  I couldn't decide if it was Kermit-in-a-blender troubling or a Help-me-I-am-melting Wicked Witch of the West moment.  Regardless, the green food colouring is part of this cookie's charm so in it went. 

I love chocolate covered mints so recipe is right up my street, but I must say I thought the mint flavour was a bit subtle.  Next time I'll put in a bit more peppermint extract to really punch up the after dinner mint experience.  I may even pump up the green a bit! Look out Kermit. 

If you fancy making making your own swirly mint and chocolate cookies you can find the recipe by clicking HERE!

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Almost Wordless Wednesday - Riverford Farm Shop

April is the cruelest month, so the poet said.  Well, it may be if you are an advocate of local home grown food.  These recent photos taken at a famous local farm shop show just how little fresh, local produce there is in April.

I am pretty sure the asparagus was locally grown.  It certainly looked lovely.

These lovely spring flowers give us a hint of the bounty that will soon be coming our way.  Perhaps April isn't so cruel after all. 

Monday, 27 April 2015

Lemon-Yogurt Cake

Due to an error in time management, I hadn't baked a cake for Sunday afternoon tea at my Mum-n-Law's house.  I tried to tell myself that it didn't matter, but it has become a sort of tradition that we have a home made cake for afternoon tea.

We could make a quick detour to one of the posh supermarkets and purchase a cake but that just feels like cheating.  It was almost 11 am, I was still in my pj's, and needed to cook lunch.  It was now or never....

Then I remembered a recipe for Lemon-Yogurt Cake that I'd been meaning to try.  It sounded like just the sort of recipe I could put together in next to no time.  I grabbed a cake tin, a paper tin liner, collected all the ingredients and whacked on the oven.  No time to loose! 

Fortunately, this cake can be made in one bowl using a wire whisk, no heavy equipment required. 

 Here's the recipe:

1 cup plain or Greek yogurt
1 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup canola oil 
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest from two lemons 

For the lemon syrup:

juice from the two lemons
1 1/4 cup caster sugar
2 tablespoons water

Heat the oven to 350F/180C.  Grease and flour a 9 inch round cake pan and place a circle of baking paper in the bottom of the tin OR use a paper liner. 

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the sugar and oil.  Add the eggs one at a time, whisking between each addition.   Beat in the yogurt and lemon zest.  Stir in the salt and baking powder. Now stir in the flour, but only put in about a third of it at a time.  Stir well after each addition but do not beat.  The flour just needs to be incorporated into the wet ingredients. 

Pour the batter into the prepared baking tin.  Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes or until a tester comes out with only a few moist crumbs.  I began testing my cake at about 30 minutes.  

When the cake is baked, prepare the lemon syrup.

Place the lemon juice, water, and sugar into a small sauce pan.  Cook over a medium heat, stirring until the sugar melts.  Bring to a boil and let the syrup cook for 3 or 4 minutes.  The syrup will reduce and become slightly thick.  Poke a few holes in the cake with a skewer.  Spoon half of the hot lemon syrup over the warm cake.  Allow the syrup to soak into the cake before spooning over the remaining lemon syrup.  Leave the cake to cool in the tin before serving. 

'But you have TWO Lemon-Yogurt cakes', I hear you cry.  There is method in my madness... one for afternoon tea and one for ME!  

PS- Mum-N-Law LOVED it!

Saturday, 25 April 2015

The Cream Tea at Cranks Kitchen

Back in 1988, I made my first trip to London.  It was my first time on an airplane, my first holiday out of the States, and a life long dream come true. Like all tourists I was slack-jawed and overwhelmed.  I'll never forget the thrill I got when I found myself smack in the middle of Carnaby  Street, home of the Swinging 60's and Cranks.  

Cranks vegetarian restaurant is legendary.  They were whole food long before it became trendy, way back in 1961!  Imagine my delight when all these years later we have CRANKS KITCHEN practically on our doorstep. 

Cranks Kitchen is located at The Shops at Dartington, near Totnes.  You couldn't ask for a more idyllic setting. 

Being a Saturday lunchtime, the place was buzzing with people, all being served the most delicious looking food.  Andy and I each ordered a cream tea and began to take mental notes of the plates going by for a future visit. 

And this is the Cranks Cream Tea, two incredibly tall scones, generous pots of clotted cream and jam.  All served with a tea in a gorgeous teapot.  

As I said, the scones were incredibly tall and full of juicy sultanas.  Vicky, the manager, told me they were baked using half wholemeal flour and half white flour.  (Home bakers take note of that little detail.)

The first scone I had Devon-style, cream first, jam second.  The second scone I had Cornish-style, jam first, cream second.  Both were equally delicious and I had jam and cream to spare.  There are no half measures at Cranks! 

Lovely environment, friendly staff, and generous portions ... Cranks Kitchen is a great place for a special cream tea treat. 

CLICK HERE for more information about Cranks Kitchen.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

The End of La Belle Epoque

Last autumn I got a bulb catalogue in the post.  On the way to the recycling bin a photo of a tulip caught my eye, La Belle Epoque.  I'd heard about this tulip.  A gardening friend had said it was her favourite.  Well, I thought, it wouldn't hurt to just take a look.

When I was a kid growing up in Missouri, tulips were bright, garish things.  They were usually lipstick red or a lurid yellow.  I suppose these were the varieties that could tolerate the long, harsh winters.

You can imagine how fascinated I was looking at all those beautiful pastel blossoms and different flower formations.  

La Belle Epoque looks more like a rose or a delicate peony than the old fashioned tulips I remembered.   I was hooked!

Now these beautiful flowers are beginning to fade.  It is almost the end of La Belle Epoque but I am sure they will be back next spring looking just as lovely as they do today. 

Click HERE if you'd like to purchase La Belle Epoque bulbs.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Almost Wordless Wednesday - Chard Fritatta

I used the chard fresh from my neighbour's veg patch to make a fritatta. 

Saute small chopped onion and chard in a little oil.

Place in buttered baking dish.  Mix eggs and a little milk.  Season with salt and pepper. Pour into baking dish. Add grated cheese if desired.  Bake until egg is set.

Munch like Pacman.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

A Real Cottage Garden

When I lived in the States I attempted to transform my back lawn into a cottage garden.  I planted lots of trees, made wide flower borders, and laid used brick paths.  It was lovely but it wasn't really a cottage garden. To be honest, the phrase 'cottage garden' was indicative of a style. You really can't have an authentic cottage garden when you live in a modern split-foyer house.  That's certainly not the case here in Britain. 

Drive down nearly any country lane in Devon and you will soon find a tiny rural village filled with ancient cottages.  If those cottages have roses growing around the front door you can almost bet there are going to be some great cottage gardens, too.

The first time I saw a real cottage garden I was surprised at how many beautiful flowers were blooming in such a tiny space.

They always look so lush and colourful.  Every available inch is utilised.

When you can't grow out, grow up!  In a few weeks this wall will be covered in wisteria blossoms.

Look closely and you soon see that many of the flowers are grown in pots.  Only the larger trees and shrubs are planted in the soil to form the 'bones' of the garden. 

This is a row of three little attached cottages.  Each 'cottager' has landscaped the area outside their own front door.  Every tiny front garden is individual but there is still a sense of cohesion.  

And if you should have more flowers than space, you can always start a 'cottage industry' ... how about this for clever marketing?

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Vanilla Loaf Cake

I don't know what the weather is like where you are, but it's the perfect spring day here.  The sun is shining and the garden is bursting with blossom. It makes you want to take afternoon tea in the garden.  

Afternoon tea can be a grand affair but as far as I am concerned there are only two things you really need...tea, of course...and CAKE!   

Today's tea cake is Vanilla Loaf Cake a la Nigella, based on a modified version of her 'Mother-In-Law's' Madeira Cake.  

Vanilla Loaf Cake

240 grams baking margarine 
200 grams caster sugar
3 large eggs - room temperature
210 grams self-raising flour
90 grams plain flour
2 or 3 teaspoons good vanilla extract

Begin by buttering a 9x5 inch loaf pan, then line it with baking paper.  Preheat the oven to 170C/325F. 

Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time and beat well to combine.  Add a spoonful of flour with each egg to keep the batter from splitting.  Mix in the remaining flour and the vanilla.  Do not over- beat or you will make the cake tough.  The batter only needs to be mixed until the dry ingredients are completely incorporated.

Spread the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and sprinkle 2 Tablespoons of caster sugar over the top of the batter.  Bake for about 1 hour or until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs.  

The cake will look something like this with a crunchy sugar crust and a soft moist crumb.  Let the cake cool in the tin before cutting it into thick slices. 

We like it just as it is. You could add a few fresh berries and some cream if you like.... the flowers are, of course, optional!  

Friday, 17 April 2015

Turning a New Leaf

It's that time of year when all the trees begin to show signs of new leaves.  I have a small collection of Acer trees, we used to call them Japanese Maples. There is no two ways about it, they are my favourite kind of tree.

While taking a photo of these infant leaves I suddenly realised something very interesting...well, interesting to me.   These new leaves are exactly the same colour now as they will be when they fall this Autumn.  During the summer they will take on a rich, dark colour then fade to this brilliant crimson red before dropping to the ground.  It made me think of that quote attributed to Mary Queen of Scots, 'In my end is my beginning.'

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Almost Wordless Wednesday - Mushrooms

There is something magical about mushrooms, and I don't just mean the psychedelic type.  They can be beautiful or deadly or both at the same time.  

Mushrooms make me think of the Caterpillar smoking his hookah pipe in the 'Alice' story.

Sometimes they remind me of enchanted forests where circles of mushrooms and toadstools are called 'fairy rings'.   Rumor has it that is where the fairies have been dancing. 

Mostly, mushrooms make me think of omelettes!  

Sunday, 12 April 2015

The French Market in Exmouth

This weekend has seen the return of the three day French Market in Exmouth. Coming from small town American, a street market seems very exotic to me. We just did not EVER have a market in our little town- NEVER -EVER!  Just the prospect of using a real shopping basket is exciting. 

If you don't have a proper shopping basket, this is the place to purchase one.

There were all kinds of delicious treats to buy, including fancy chocolates for big kids - and sweeties for little kids.

The veg stall had exotic looking 'Artichoc' ....

And glorious, glossy tomatoes.

There were all kinds of cheeses. 

Some were covered in slightly frightening mouldy fur,  some packed in straw, and even a few which looked quite normal but promised to be VERY STRONG.

There were just as many varieties of sausages as cheeses.  Some were being served hot in crusty French rolls.

There were dried sausages made from every kind of meat imaginable.

I even saw a whole Parma Ham, not French but very appropriate for a continental market.

Now you can't have a French Market without a stall selling French soap... it's fabulous stuff!  Each colour is a different scent.  

I haven't mentioned the croissants, olives, crepes, table linens.... well, you get the idea.  I even saw Elvis!  Maybe I should save that for Part II.