Cake of the Month ~ Blackberry Crumble Muffins


Saturday, 13 September 2014

It's been a great year for blackberries round these parts, and judging by my instagram feed a great year for blackberries all over the UK. Blackberries it is then. Blackberry crumble muffins, which are not strictly speaking a cake of the month but rather cakes of the month.

This recipe is based on a blueberry muffin recipe in How To Be A Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson. I replaced the blueberries with blackberries, added some cinnamon and a crunchy crumble topping.

First make the crumble topping.

Rub together 50g butter and 50g flour. I used Neill's wheaten flour which has a lovely nubbly texture but you can use wholemeal or plain white flour.
Add about 20g of porridge oats and 40g of demerara sugar (or whatever sugar you have to hand) and mix. You could also add some chopped nuts at this point. Set aside.

Put 12 muffin cases in a muffin tin.

Next melt 75g butter and set aside to cool slightly

Mix in a bowl
200g plain flour
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
75g sugar -granulated or caster
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of cinnamon

In a measuring jug measure
100 ml milk
100 g yogurt - just add yogurt to the milk until it measures 200 ml*
the melted butter
1 egg
Beat with a fork so the the ingredients are well combined.

Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients. Mix so that there is no dry mixture but be careful not to overdo it.

Fold in most of 200g of blackberries (fresh or frozen) keeping about 30 to put on the tops of the muffins.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases to fill them about half way.
Put 2 or 3 reserved berries on the tops of each muffin, then sprinkle each one with about 2 teaspoons of the crumble mixture .

Bake at 200°c (180°c fan oven) for 20-25mins.

*you could use 200 ml of buttermilk instead of the yogurt-milk mixture

The Year In Books ~ Thin Air by Ann Cleeves


Friday, 12 September 2014

Published yesterday Thin Air by Ann Cleeves has been earmarked for my September read for The Year In Books  for months. I think this is possibly my favourite detective series. Set in the Shetland Isles (currently the most northerly part of the UK but may not be this time next week) it is the location which I love most about these novels. Shetland is somewhere I'd love to visit, all that sky, wonderful.

 I love the detective too, Jimmy Perez who comes from Fair Isle (like the sweaters). His decidedly un-Scottish surname and Mediterranean looks are due apparently, to the fact that the El Gran Grifon  part of the Spanish Armada of 1588 is wrecked off Fair Isle.

This book is the sixth  in the Shetland series. There is also a tv series based on the books starring Douglas Henshall. I enjoyed the tv dramatisations despite the fact that Douglas Henshall looks nothing like Jimmy Perez and that characters and plots and even murderers were changed extensively. The one thing that wasn't changed was the beautiful location.

And look, I have flowers to match my book. Now that's something you can't do with a kindle

Life is good when things match.

Kitchen Tour


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Following your positive response to my fab new kitchen floor I thought that maybe some readers might like to see a bit more of my kitchen. It is after all where most of the material for this blog happens.

I like my kitchen a lot. I don't dream of 'perfect kitchen'. I love old farmhouse kitchens with stone flagged floors, agas and big scrubbed tables and doors which open onto heather moors but I do not love them so much as to be discontented with the one I've got. I am always mindful of how bloody wonderful it is to have running water, electricity, refrigeration, and cupboards full of food.

Our house is twenty years old and we have been in it seventeen years. We have replaced nearly all of the original kitchen, the  only 'original features' are the door to the utility room, and the tiles which I would not have chosen but do not hate enough to put up with the mess of having them replaced. I do hate the utility room door though and that is next on my list to be replaced or renovated.

The kitchen units, cupboards and worktop were bought from Homebase about ten years ago (or was it before Katie was born? might be as much as fifteen years ago). Charlie fitted them. He can do stuff like that. The drawer unit in the picture above was originally a space for a dishwasher but I have never wanted a dishwasher, I'd much rather have the storage space.

This corner of my kitchen (above) is my baking centre which I wrote about in more detail in this post four years ago. There is a light under the wall cupboard which I find tremendously useful. This is where I keep all my baking tins, mixing bowls and measuring jugs. My baking ingredients live in the wall cupboard and I also keep my electric gadgets here. My Magimix is always ready to use, I love my electric beaters, my stick blender, my yogurt maker and my ice cream maker. I wouldn't want to be without any of them. In the past I have tried out a breadmaker, a slow cooker and a deep fryer but found them all wanting and not just because they all took up so much room. A subject for a future post perhaps.

I am very glad the sink is underneath the window, washing up is so much nicer when you have a view. This is the business end of the kitchen where the cooking happens. I chose a hob kettle to reduce clutter on my worktops. 

Just out of shot is another doorway at right angles to the one you can see, it opens onto our front room and the one you can see opens onto the dining room. There are actually five doors in the kitchen as it is a thoroughfare to the garden and the garage (it's no wonder we needed a new floor). I like being able to stand at the cooker and feel part of what's going on in the other rooms, this was particularly useful when the children were little. The central position of the kitchen and its connectedness to the other rooms makes it feel very much the hub of our home. It's my command centre.

The door in this picture is to an understairs cupboard (also with a lovely new red floor). I wrote about my fridge here, and yes, it is still tidy. I like order, it's so much easier to accomplish things when you have order. The door in the corner leads to the garage. Our garage like many others is home to everything but a car. In it we have five bicycles, one motorcycle, an entire wall of shelves full of tools, cupboards full of empty jam jars, shelves full of full jam jars, a large chest freezer and a Sylvanian Family treehouse which Katie has finally conceded she has outgrown.

The area connecting the garage door and the utility room door was dead space until Charlie constructed a drying rack across it. As it is above the radiator it's ideal for drying clothes when they can't be hung outside. Clothes stay surprisingly free from cooking smells, I don't go in for a lot of frying and the window is invariably open when I cook. I also keep my ironing basket in this part of the kitchen.

The utility room (below) is tiny. There is room for a dryer, which is another appliance I have never wanted. We use the space to house a little set of drawers which is full of cleaning cloths, hats, gloves and scarves. The microwave lives in the utility room and is used almost solely for heating up wheat bags to ease aching muscles. The toaster is also kept here so that it doesn't take up valuable work space, it's on a tray so we can just carry it into the kitchen when we want to use it. The utility room also acts as our cloakroom, but I wish we had somewhere else to hang all the coats, they prevent the back door from opening fully. You can just see my herb patch through the door, near to hand when I need a bay leaf or a sprig of rosemary.


My kitchen noticeboard is where the only existing example of school artwork by one of my children is displayed. The chalk drawing of daisies in the bottom right hand corner is by Tom aged five. I did not save every offering brought home by my children because otherwise we would be living under a sea of crap made out of the contents of my recycling bin. My policy was to display the offering for a week or two before saying 'do you still want this?' to which the answer was always 'nah'. Tom didn't want this drawing but I think it is charming and, more importantly, takes up no room.

The thing in the bottom left hand corner is a job wheel. Made by George at my request to end arguments at dinnertime about who's turn it was to do various jobs. When George leaves for university in a couple of weeks we will have to merge two of the jobs (laying and clearing the table) and alternate them with drying up. This, theoretically, should be easier to implement.

Also on my noticeboard we have a collection of beer bottle tops, a picture of Charlie doing a wheelie, various postcards depicting wartime posters related to the kitchen front and some stamps.

I look at this poster every day and think about what it means. Sometimes I think I should get a nice frame for it, but buying unnecessary stuff isn't really living simply is it?

Our hot drink station. The real coffee is kept in the fridge, that is decaff for after dinner, the sugar is for the kids, I dread to think how much Katie puts in her cocoa which is kept in the fab London Underground tin.

Cooking friends next to the hob; flaky sea salt, peppermill with black peppercorns, olive oil for drizzling, garlic in a garlic pot and a bunch of utensils.

My recipe box, made for me by lovely Diana and in constant use. The biggest section is the baking section. I may need to subdivide.

The following four pictures illustrate my taste for retro kitchenware. I like Cornishware, but not too much of it, old tablespoons, Golden Syrup tins, enamelware -old and new, vintage cutlery and Mason Cash pudding basins. That's enough though, no more, I don't want to cook in a museum, neither do I want vintage florals all over the blimmin' place.

Naturally I have shown you all the nice details. They are not the whole story though. Look closely and you will see the horror story that is my kitchen radiator, my garage door and the utility room door. Aaagh!!

Fridge Jam


Saturday, 6 September 2014

If you like the idea of making jam but think you need lots of time, lots of specialist equipment and lots of fruit then fridge jam could be just what you've been looking for.

Nancy made some blackcurrant fridge jam and it looked so good and sounded so easy I just had to make some too. I made mine with blackberries from my garden which I'd been picking every few days and stashing in my freezer. All berries and stone fruits will work in a fridge jam, even those bags of frozen fruits of the forest will work. Experiment!

You can make it with the smallest amount of fruit, Nancy made hers with half a punnet of blackcurrants, I made mine with  1lb 6oz (610g) of blackberries. You don't need a special pan for such a small amount, a saucepan will do but make sure it has a fairly thick bottom. You don't need to sterilise jars because this isn't designed for long term storage and although it has less sugar than conventional jam it still has enough to keep the jam for some time. You don't even need to keep your jam in a jar, a plastic tub will do just as well or you could just keep it in a bowl. You can even freeze it.

All you do is weigh your fruit and weigh out half as much sugar throw both in a saucepan, add a couple of spoonfuls of water just to stop it burning and heat. Once the fruit has released lots of juice and the sugar has dissolved into the fruit bring the jam to the boil and boil fast for 5-10 minutes. Then pour into a jar (if you are using plastic containers obviously wait until it has cooled).

I used ordinary granulated sugar but if you use jam sugar (sugar with pectin added) you will get a better set.  Jam sugar is more expensive though and I still got a nice syrupy jam. It was quite runny and more like stewed fruit when hot but it thickened and gelled considerably in the fridge.

As Nancy says fridge jam falls somewhere between stewed fruit and proper jam and because of this it is incredibly versatile. You can use it like jam dolloped on toast or scones, but you can also stir it into yogurt, fold it into whipped cream for a fool. Heat it and pour onto vanilla ice cream, spoon it onto rice pudding or porridge, use it to fill a pancake or a sponge cake, stir it into apples for a pie, crumble or cobbler, you get the idea. It's also delicious eaten on its own.

The great thing about fridge jam apart from how easy it is to make is that when you eat it you feel like you are eating fruit rather than sugar. It's sweet, certainly but intensely fruity as well and when I say that toast and fridge jam counts as one of your five a day I'm not joking.

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