A few days before our 20 week appointment when I was pregnant with Nino, I remember reading an article about things you should look out for. After entering into the (relative) safety of the second trimester, it’s easy to think that this second pregnancy scan is all about the gender reveal – a subject of divisive debate between the ‘surprise!’ camp and those who are desperate, indeed need to know – but your stenographer is looking for a lot more than a pair of balls as she swipes cold jelly over your ever-expanding belly. There’s the baby’s brain and spine, fingers and toes, stomach and kidneys, position in the womb and position of the placenta. And then, of course, there’s his (or her) heart. Continue reading
This post started life as something very different. Very different and infinitely more virtuous.
While the content of this blog will most likely have helped you arrive at the correct conclusion that I’ve got a very sweet tooth, eating healthy food is also important to me. At the weekends I’ll bake with abandon, often experimenting for meals with family and friends or rustling up the ultimate in comfort food to ease us back into the working week come Sunday. The other five days I’m a little more restrained, as likely to enjoy a bowl of Greek yoghurt and honey or something simple and fruity as anything more button-bustingly flamboyant. I’m therefore always on the look-out for interesting ideas for sweet treats to enjoy mid-week: recipes that are wholesome enough to eat every day but every bit as delicious as their more calorific counterparts. Continue reading
Last weekend snow descended on the UK. After one of the mildest winters on record, including un unseasonally warm Christmas Day, we’re finally being reminded what it feels like to be cold. As is always the case in a country where we’re as unprepared for annual snowfall as we are surprised by the heatwaves that regularly occur in the summer, lots of things ground to a halt; thousands of flights were canceled, trains came out of service, motorways slowed to a standstill.
While snow always brings a certain element of chaos, it also adds a sense of peace and tranquility. The world is a different place under its blanket of snow; smells are crisper, scenes softer and sounds swallowed by the heavy sky and thickly carpeted ground. In London the snow never lasts very long – delicate flakes of ice are little match for the combination of traffic, heat and hundreds of thousands of feet pounding the pavements – but for a few hours at least, the road outside our flat stayed covered in a pure, snowy blanket. Continue reading
Watching an episode of River Cottage on TV the other day, I was momentarily transported by Hugh and his crew into the romantic rural idyll that is their world. A place where bread is always freshly baked, beautiful ripe fruit drips from the trees, butter is churned before the cow can even bat an eyelid, and spring lambs and rosie-cheeked children skip side-by-side across verdant pastures . . . A little far-fetched perhaps, but I think you get my drift. It’s a pretty far cry from the scraggy bush of rosemary cowering between two giant weeds that constitutes my little London garden anyway.
That’s not to say a girl can’t dream. Or indeed cook her way through a whole array of culinary highlights by way of some gorgeous recipe books (and let’s be honest, it’s mostly the food I’m after; stick me in a pair of muddy wellies in deepest Devon and I’d probably be howling for the bright lights and my local Waitrose after a shamefully short period of time). I’ve already sung the praises of The River Cottage Bread Handbook in a previous post, and River Cottage Every Day, a more recent purchase, is even better, packed with beautiful photos and gorgeous, simple recipes that really work first time.
This carrot cake is one of those recipes. We went to a leaving party this weekend for a friend who’s jetting off to a new job abroad and I wanted to bake a surprise cake to mark the occasion. After a bit of devious digging I discovered that carrot cake was the thing that would really hit the spot.
There’s a lot of hype around vegetables in cakes at the moment from the likes of low-fat champion Harry Eastwood (I’m yet to try one of her Petit Pois cupcakes but they look intriguing); the replacement of butter with nutritious vegetables adds moisture and reduces fat meaning you really can have your cake and eat it. However while our constant need to innovate means that courgette, beetroot and pumpkin have briefly replaced the humble carrot at the top of the pile, this recipe reminds you that the original sometimes is still simply the best.
The recipe below will serve at least twelve comfortably, more if you do as I did and stuff and smother it with a rich cream cheese frosting (totally unnecessary as Hugh points out but utterly indulgent and delicious). It’s light on spice so you could throw in a little cinammon if you like. I think it would also be wonderful with a handful of walnuts thrown in, or some syrupy sultanas if you’re feeling fruity.
Honey-soaked carrot cake with cream cheese frosting (from River Cottage Every Day)
4 medium free range
150g caster sugar (use golden for a slightly caramel flavour)
150ml each rapeseed and sunflower oil (I used a mixture of ground nut and sunflower which worked perfectly)
350g carrots, peeled and finely grated
300g wholemeal self-raising flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g runny honey
Cream cheese frosting:
125g unsalted butter, softened
200g icing sugar, sieved
250g cream cheese
Finely grated zest of 2 limes
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and line a 23cm cake pan.
Put the eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat together with a hand held electric mixture for about 10 minutes, until pale, foamy and slightly thickened. Yes, your hand will feel like it’s going to fall off with all the vibrations, but the mixture does need this time to get nice and aerated. Add the oil and beat for a couple of minutes more.
Sift together the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into the mixture. Tip any bran left in the sieve into the mixture too. Fold in gently. Finally, fold in the grated carrot. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Put the honey in a saucepan over a low heat and heat gently until the honey is liquid. Pierce the hot cake all over with a skewer then slowly pour on the hot honey so it soaks into the cake. Leave in the tin to cool completely before turning out.
As Hugh says in the book, this cake is completely lovely as it is – soft, syrupy and incredibly moist. However for all carrot cake traditionalists out there, smothering it in a tart cream cheese frosting is the ultimate indulgence. Simply sling the soft butter and icing sugar into a magimix and whizz til smooth and fluffy. Add the cream cheese and lime zest and whizz again until smooth. Once cold, slice the cake in half, stuff it with icing then sandwich the two halves together and smother with the remaining frosting. De-lish.