Practice makes perfect

Ever since last week’s loaf experiment I’ve been meaning to make another in the right sized tin. This morning’s effort has prunes, apricots and sultanas buried within its golden middle. It looks so pretty I can’t bear to slice it…

A baker’s bauble


I have a tiny whisk on my keyring, but this is even better. There’s nothing like a browse on Etsy.com to make the time pass! This is made by Lana Crystal – and you can find more of her treasures here.

Waste not, want not

I like to think of myself as an inventive cook, able to whip something up from a Mother Hubbard-style cupboard at a moment’s notice. Of course, sometimes this is easier said than done, but after a week of nearly constant entertaining and menu planning it’s fun to mix and match leftover ingredients. (A much nicer job than mixing and matching leftovers!)

So last week, when the fridge held a tiny packet of salmon trimmings and half a bottle of cream, I knew just what to do. The cream went into our smallest saucepan, while I filled the biggest pot with hot water and set it on the heat.

Once the water was boiling I threw in enough dried spaghetti for two (about 250g, we have hearty appetites in this house) and enough salt to make the water “as salty as the Mediterranean”.

I heated the cream (about 150mls) to a gentle simmer, then tossed in about 200g of fresh salmon, sliced into batons. I used the skinny ends of tail fillets, but you could use any cut you like. After a minute or two I added a handful of frozen baby peas and a few ribbons of lemon zest, then turned off the heat.

Then it was just a matter of draining the pasta, adding the creamy salmon sauce to the big pot and hey presto, dinner was ready. Economy gastronomy – and hardly any dishes.

Little boys do not like being chewed

A dull Monday, brightened by a burst of sunshine, a pot of peppermint tea and Natalie Merchant working her musical magic on a collection of 19th century poems. Make sure you watch to the end, when she gives the stuffed shirts in the audience a lesson in how to clap in time.

Natalie Merchant sings old poems to life Video on TED.com

Use your loaf

The humble loaf is never going to get the recognition given to flashy cupcakes or decadent gateaux. Loaves are like nurses or nuns – reliable, sturdy, perhaps a little bit worthy, a little bit ignored. Loaves are the jeans-and-a-t-shirt option in a cupboard full of party dresses. Show a child an opulently iced cupcake or a lightly buttered slice of loaf and you can bet your best apron the loaf will get left on the plate.

But no matter how pretty a party dress is, you don’t always feel like wearing one. I’ve always had a soft spot for fruit loaves, studded with raisins and rich with spices, or squidgy banana bread sprinkled with walnuts. It’s rare to find them in modern cookbooks- they belong to the days of PTA recipe collections or Grandma’s handwritten notebooks – but the decadent Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook has several tucked inside its choc-dipped pages, so it may only be a matter of time before loaves are the new cupcakes or macaroons.

The Small Girl and I were playing with some old cookbooks last week and one of them opened at a page I’d never seen before. There, in plain black and white, was a bran loaf recipe. I fiddled about with the ingredients to make it a little less stolid and this is what I came up with. When I took it to lovely Joan’s for morning tea the Small Girl ate slice after slice.

A Lovely Little Loaf

This contains no eggs or butter and you could probably use soy milk if you want it to be vegan/dairy-free. I made the mistake of cooking it in an extra-large loaf tin, so it looks a little flat. A standard size one would be better.

1 cup plain flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup baking bran
1 cup dried fruit (I used a mixture of raisins and chopped up dates)
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease a large loaf tin. Line the bottom with a strip of baking paper (baking paper is God’s gift to bakers – I always regret not using it).
Mix the dry ingredients together until combined, then pour in the milk. Stir well and scrape into the prepared tin. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave in the tin to cool for five minutes, then turn out onto a rack. Eat with lots of cold, unsalted butter and marmalade, or take to Joan’s and spread it with thick, creamy Piako yoghurt.