Elderflower jelly


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So does anyone know where summer’s gone? It’s been so rainy and miserable lately – one day we even had stew for tea it was that bad!

But in a stubborn bid to remind myself that it is actually still August, just, I decided to make a perfect summer dessert. And it worked! Right on cue the sun came out that evening. It didn’t last long though…

The cooking

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This was a deliberately simple dessert chosen so that I could A make it while looking after Baby S and B serve it to guests on Friday night with as little hassle as possible.

In fact, I’d had the recipe saved for some time because I’d wanted to try it and had the ingredients in the cupboard ready to go.

So with the boy in his high chair watching (from a safe distance), I began my best James Martin impression and explained to him all about how you make elderflower jelly. He thought it was rather funny at first (there may have been some dancing from me too that helped this), but he soon zoned me out in favour of his trusty robot Rusty.

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Anyway, back to the actual cooking. I put 150g of caster sugar and 450ml of cold water in a pan over a medium heat and stirred until the sugar had dissolved. It didn’t take long at all – just a minute or two. The pan was then removed from the heat.

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Meanwhile four gelatine leaves went into a bowl of cold water and were soaked for three to five minutes until soft. I then squeezed out the excess liquid and stirred them into the sugar syrup – again they dissolved really quickly.

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Finally I added in 100ml of elderflower cordial and left the whole lot to cool. It then went into four glasses and into the fridge to set. The recipe said to leave for at least eight hours – I left mine overnight.

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The next day when it came to serving I popped some mixed berries on top (I was being exceptionally lazy even for me and used a pre-packaged selection from M&S) and that was that.

The eating

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We’d had sushi takeaway for dinner and I was looking forward to a light and fresh dessert to follow it. This jelly was exactly that, and a perfect partnership with the berries. I am also obsessed by the flavour of elderflower so it was always going to get a big thumbs up from me.

However, there was too much cordial in it for my liking, making it a bit too sweet. Next time I will try half as much and see how it turns out. This can depend greatly, however, on what kind of cordial you use in the first place – some are sweeter than others.

Considering how easy this was to make it went down a treat and certainly looked the part on a summer’s day. The recipe also made four perfect portions. You can leave the jelly plain or add fruit into the glasses before the jelly or like I did on top. I’d also like to have a go at making my own elderflower cordial some time, but one step at a time!

The ratings

Yumminess: 8/10 – delicious but a bit of tweaking needed

Faffiness: 1/10 – My four-month-old now knows how to do it (well, kind of)

Mr S’s verdict: 7/10 – nice and fresh

Watermelon cake

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With all of this hot weather we have been having sometimes a good old fruit salad is what you really need for dessert. Of course there needs to be cream, and it goes without saying that no bog standard fruit salad with glace cherries would do in Lucy’s Kitchen. So when I saw this recipe from Tesco, once again on Twitter, I just had to give it a try.

The cooking

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Technically, there isn’t any cooking, making this a great for hot summer days when the last thing you want to do is make the house even warmer by turning on the oven.

I took one watermelon and cut the top and bottom off to make two flat surfaces. I then took the rest of the skin off the melon and carved it into a cylinder shape just like a cake.

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It then went into the fridge to chill.

In the meantime I whipped 600ml of cream (I apologise that it wasn’t Jersey cream but I have to say that I find the local stuff very difficult to work with, particularly in the Kitchen Aid) with 100g of icing sugar until thick but spreadable.

The melon then came out of the fridge and was patted dry with kitchen towels.

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Next the cream was spread all over the ‘cake’ just like it was icing. I found that I had way too much for the size of my melon and the more I tried to slap on the harder it was to get a smooth finish. In the end my cream still ended up a bit lumpy (I think I had worked it a bit too much). So I used what cream I could on the melon and saved the rest to serve on the side later.

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I then garnished the top of the ‘cake’ with fruit, in this case strawberries, cherries and blueberries, and sprinkled on some toasted flaked almonds and desiccated coconut to finish.

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The eating

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It looked just like a cake from the outside and was served up exactly like a cake, in slices. And the result was like a really posh fruit salad and cream. I love watermelon anyway and you can’t go wrong with sweetened cream. But the best bit was the added texture and flavour from the nuts and coconut which although there wasn’t much of them their addition was just enough.

I’d also recommend adding an extra big blog of the cream too if you have any left over because, well, why not! Without it, however, you could even call this a healthy ‘cake’. And it looks pretty impressive too if you are trying to show off to your mates.

The ratings

Yumminess: 9/10 – not much to dislike

Faffiness: 4/10 – only a test of your watermelon carving skills

Mr S’s verdict: 7/10 – surprisingly tasty and really nice textures

Gin and tonic cake

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Gin is a big favourite in our house and is my go-to pre-dinner drink (not every night I should add!).

So when I saw a link to a recipe on Twitter which mentioned two of my favourite things – both gin and cake – in its title I knew I just had to give it a go.

The cooking

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I weighed four eggs in their shells and weighed out the same amount each of butter and caster sugar. The butter and sugar was then creamed together until light fluffy and pale – I used by trusty Kitchen Aid for this. Next I added the eggs and beat until combined.

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Self-raising flour weighing as much as the eggs did in their shells was then added and mixed in before the zest of two lemons was then added.

The juice of one lemon them went in along with four shots of the good stuff (gin).

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The whole lot then went into a lined loaf tin and was baked in the oven for around an hour. The recipe said it would take around 45 minutes but mine took longer.

Once cooked and then completely cooled I set the cake aside while I made the drizzle for the top. I mixed together 150g of granulated sugar with five shots of gin, a dash of tonic and the juice of the remaining lemon. After pricking the top of the cake with a fork I then poured over the drizzle et voila, my cake was complete.

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The eating

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I took my cake to a friend’s house where four of us new mums were meeting up and only realised on my way that perhaps a boozy cake wasn’t the best way to go in case anyone was still avoiding alcohol. However my worries were unfounded and the cake went down a treat. In fact, the consensus was that it needed more gin!

The leftovers also went to Mr S’s office and received similar feedback. It tasted like a very good lemon drizzle cake and there definitely needed to be more gin in it to get the flavour coming through.

The cake texture itself was really good and the idea of using four eggs and then the rest of the ingredients being the same weight clearly makes a great basic cake – I’ll be using that one again.

Next time – and there certainly will be a next time, if only because both mine and Mr S’s families want to try it – as well as adding more alcohol I’d also use a skewer to prick the cake a lot deeper to make sure that the drizzle soaks in more.

The ratings

Yumminess: 7/10 – good start but more gin and more drizzle needed

Faffiness: 3/10 – easy peasy lemon (and gin and tonic) squeezy

Mr S’s verdict: 7/10 – needs more gin!

Happy Birthday Dad!

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So Baby Stephenson eventually arrived on 22 April – 15 days late and even then he had to be forced out. But he is here now and keeping his mummy very busy – hence the lack of posts!

A couple of weeks ago, however, it was my dad’s 70th birthday and I was itching to get back into the kitchen. Having been caught up with all things baby I’d hardly even had the chance to rustle up much from scratch for dinner, instead relying on the freezer I had packed full in preparation for our new arrival.

So I decided to make a cake. I had all sorts of ideas, dreams of a two tier fondant covered beauty and all kinds of things. But in the end I had to admit to myself that was never going to happen, not right now with a young baby requiring my near constant attention anyway.

But I still wanted to get baking. Thanks to the lovely Betty Crocker (I’ve told you about her a-mazing devil’s food cake mixture before) I managed to come up with this. I even cheated and used her icing to stick on the Kit Kats.

The result was pretty good though, even if I do say so myself, and my family were suitably impressed, particularly my young niece and nephew.

It took 22 Kit Kats to go around the edge and I was surprised at how quick and easy it all was.

Unfortunately I didn’t get around to taking photos of all the stages so hence this isn’t a normal blog post. Instead, simply follow the instructions on the packet, sandwich two cakes together with the cheat’s icing, cover the whole thing in more icing, stick Kit Kats around the edge then fill the top with M&Ms and Bob’s your uncle (in my case he actually is).

PS Sorry about the pic – Mr S wasn’t around so I had to do it myself!

Hummingbird Cake

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I’m a big fan of carrot cake (it counts towards your five-a-day right?), so when I spotted this recipe in my beloved Hummingbird Bakery cookbook and it said it was similar to carrot cake I couldn’t resist giving it a go. I also had some very brown bananas that had been sitting in the fruit bowl for ages to use up.

On top of that I was still waiting for baby Stephenson to make an appearance and had read that pineapple can help to get things moving, not sure it counts in a cake and I believe you need to eat about ten full pineapples a day but hey at least the baking kept me occupied!

The cooking

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I preheated the oven to 170 degrees and got all of my ingredients out. The original recipe calls for pecans but I couldn’t find any in the shop closest to home so went with walnuts instead.

Next I put 300g of caster sugar, three eggs, 300ml of sunflower oil, 270g of peeled, mashed bananas (the browner they are the easier they are to mash) and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon into a bowl and beat them together using the paddle attachment on my trusty Kitchen Aid.

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Although mine didn’t, the recipe says not to worry if the mixture looks slightly split.

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Next in went 300g of plain flour, one teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, half a teaspoon of salt and a quarter teaspoon of vanilla extract – all of which was added a bit at a time while the mixer did its stuff.

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100g of chopped tinned pineapple and 100g of chopped walnuts were then stirred in by hand and the whole lot was ready to go into the oven.

The recipe says to use three 20 cm cake tines, with the bases lined with greaseproof paper. I only have two such tins and toyed with the idea of just splitting the mixture into two. However as I had the time I decided to split it three ways and cook two of the cakes first then the final one on its own reusing one of the tins. I used some scales to make sure I had three equal cakes.

Each cake took around 25 minutes to cook until golden brown.

Once they were completely cooled I turned my attention to the frosting. The recipe used the Hummingbird Bakery’s cream cheese version, doubled.

I added 600g of icing sugar to 100g of unsalted butter and mixed it using a paddle attachment in the Kitchen Aid. The recipe said to mix until it ‘comes together’ and on reflection I hadn’t mixed it well enough because there will still pieces of butter in my frosting at the end. I also think that had the butter been softer at the start it would have dispersed into the sugar more easily.

250g of cream cheese was then beaten in to the mixture on medium to high speed for around five minutes to make the frosting light and fluffy. Apparently you have to be careful not to overbeat it as it can turn runny quickly so I’d keep a close eye on it.

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Each cake was then sandwiched together using the frosting. The recipe says to cover the sides as well as the top of the cake with the icing but I decided that given the lumpy buttery bits (they didn’t look very nice) and the consistency of my frosting (it could have been a bit thicker I think) I would just do the top.

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A few more walnuts – a combination of halved ones and some chopped up ones – were then sprinkled over the top along with some sweetened pineapple pieces I spotted in the supermarket that weren’t part of the recipe but I thought might look nice.

And that was that, my first Hummingbird Cake was complete – and it looked delicious.

The eating

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I am happy to report that the cake tasted as good as it looked, even with the odd bits of butter in the frosting (although these did disappear a bit as the icing set).

The sponge was moist and tasty and was similar to carrot cake, although obviously with banana and pineapple instead of the carrot!

The crunch of the nuts both throughout the cake and on the top combined with the smooth sweetness of the icing meant there was a nice mixture of textures.

Altogether the result was fab and I certainly plan to make this again. The fact that you can use tinned pineapple also mean it is easy to knock up without having to go out and buy too many faffy ingredients.

The ratings

Yumminess: 9/10 a serious contender for carrot cake

Faffiness: 4/10 More simple than it looks, particularly if you have three cake tins or just use what you have

Mr S’s verdict: 7/10 ‘An impressive score considering there is no chocolate in sight!’

 

The Great Italian Road Trip: A foodie’s dream

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So as I explained on my last post I didn’t quite get around to my Italian cooking adventure after returning from our three-week road trip last summer.

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Instead, here are some foodie thoughts from the holiday, which took us from Lake Como, to Vicenza, Venice, Florence, Rome and Barolo.

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Rome food tour – We certainly saved the best bit of the trip – perhaps even the whole Italian holiday aside from the honour of watching our two friends tie the knot right at the start – to the end.

That best bit came in the form of a walking food tour of Testaccio, a district of Rome that is quickly becoming a hipster hang out, organized by Eating Italy Food Tours.

Testaccio has a long history when it comes to food and was where the majority of goods once arrived in the capital.

Today it is home to some of the city’s most respected eateries, delis and family food businesses, many dating back more than a century.

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The aim of the Eating Italy tours is to immerse you in the local culture and experience, avoiding the well trodden tourist routes in favour of discovering the ‘real’ area and its people.

Thanks to a brilliant itinerary, some seriously good food, entertaining characters and our excellent and knowledgeable English guide Emma the experience was exactly that – and more.

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Over the course of four hours we ate our way through some of the best pizza in the whole of Rome, cornetti (similar to the French croissant), cannoli, pasta, bruschetta at the Testaccio Market and some of the best mozzarella I have ever tasted.

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We met the people behind the food, heard the stories about the area, its former slaughterhouse and the manmade mountain of broken ceramic at the center of the district, visited Keats’ grave and learnt how to tell proper gelato from the fake stuff.

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We walked a long way, we ate a huge amount and we learnt so much that we truly felt closer to the city of Rome in a way that no number of tourist attractions, audio guides and visits to the Colosseum ever could.

Eating Italy Food Tours organizes various tours and cookery classes and is currently expanding into other European cities, including London. For more information and to book visit www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com. The Taste of Testaccio tour costs 75 Euros per adult.

Gelato – We’d read online that the number one place for gelato in Florence was currently Grom, so naturally we made a beeline for it. We were met by a large queue and duly joined it – and were glad we did. We also stopped by the Grom in Rome too on our visit to the city. Amazing gelato, enough flavours to confuse you (or fill you up) for hours, and an experience well worth the short wait in the queue for.

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A tip for the uninitiated: Don’t be fooled by the big colourful displays of gelato all over the place in tourist areas. Usually the bigger the pile and more vibrant the colour and decoration the more fake the stuff (it’s made using packet mixes). Plus, you are likely to get ripped off price wise like we did on the way home through Florence one night when we fancied something sweet and thought we would give a tiramisu version a try. Not only did it taste rubbish (most of it ended up in a nearby bin) we paid almost a tenner for it without really thinking about what we were doing. If only we had been on that Eating Italy tour by then we wouldn’t have done it. But hey you live and learn right?

Aperitivo time – One of the best discoveries of the holiday was aperitivo time, the Italian version of happy hour. However the Italians have the right idea and it lasts way longer than an hour (usually 6 pm until 9 pm) and includes loads of snacks as well as yummy drinks.

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We soon figured out that if you had had a big lunch then aperitivo was all you would need at night (if you could resist more eating that was) or you could have the snacks (which come free with the drinks, although the latter at some places are ramped up in price a bit to take account of the food) as your starter then go elsewhere for your main course.

Aperol – For days at the start of our trip I was intrigued by what this bright orange stuff was that the locals all seemed to be drinking by the bucketload, particularly at aperitivo time. I finally plucked up the courage to ask someone and got to try my first Aperol spritz, made from Prosecco, Aperol and soda and served over loads of ice, typically with a slice of orange too.

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Well, that was it – I wouldn’t drink anything else for the rest of the trip! And I filled the car up with Aperol to bring home, which I fully intend to make use of this summer. A complete revelation and I am pleased to see that it is now increasingly appearing on local drink menus too.

Cheese and ham or ham and cheese? Our three weeks in Italy was punctuated by multiple versions of cheese and ham for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And, hey, what is there to complain about with that?!

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I’m mad about mozzarella and made it my mission to eat tonnes of it, which of course was pretty damn easy. One particular lunch in Eataly (a fab Italian chain of posh supermarket/ delis) I was presented with a ball of mozzarella as big as my fist and covered in ham. And yes, I ate it all up all by myself! J

We had ham and cheese everywhere we went and it became a running joke between me and Mr S: ‘Ham and cheese or cheese and ham?’ Whichever way around it was it was always delicious.

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Below are some of the goodies we brought back from our trip

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Lucy’s Kitchen is back!

Hello! It has been such a long time since I last posted so I hope you will forgive me.

As summer approached last year I had let the blog slip but was planning to come back all guns blazing after a three-week inspirational road trip around northern Italy.

Well, it was a fab trip, I had lots of great ideas and big plans to get back in the kitchen and start experimenting again and we even returned with a car full of Italian foodie goodies to boot.

Then I found out I was pregnant with our first child (eek!!) and my plans changed, mainly because I completely lost my appetite for the first four months or so.

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Yes, I count myself lucky that I didn’t suffer horrible sickness like many women do and I have had few other complaints throughout my whole pregnancy, but for a foodie like me going off food was a bizarre experience – although it did help me to lose some much needed weight!

I couldn’t even face the prospect of cooking for other people at times and even had to leave the room when Mr S was eating on occasion because the smell of food, particularly hot dishes, turned my stomach.

But after a diet mainly made up of cereal, toast and vegetarian sushi for months my appetite slowly returned, although as I write it is still not completely back to normal yet.

And with Baby Stephenson now three days overdue and his mummy finding herself increasingly impatient and boredom setting in (those of you who are already parents will I am sure be screaming at me to enjoy the peace and quiet while I can!) I thought I would get the blog going again.

The plan is to not really have one to be honest – I know I am going to be fairly distracted soon with other matters!

Instead I will post ideas, recipes and thoughts as and when the mood takes me and time and baby permits.

I hope you will still enjoy reading and I promise it won’t all become pureed baby food and homemade rusks!

xxx