While flicking the duster around The Kitchenmaid over the weekend I realised I had failed to acknowledge some recent compliments. So it’s with some shame and embarrassment that I very belately thank Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe, Lyndsey of Vanilla Clouds and Lemondrops and Aine of PeasoupEats for passing on a Stylish Blogger award. It’s obvious that none of these lovely bloggers have ever met me, since I mostly blog in my pyjamas (and it would be stretching the Trade Descriptions Act a long way to call them even remotely stylish).

Just the usual serene breakfast scene at our place

However, I am very pleased to be able to pass this award on to seven other blogs I admire. But first, to prove that I occasionally have a life outside the kitchen here are seven random things you might not know about me…

1. I have never learned to ride a bike. Actually, that’s not entirely true. About five years ago, in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Laos, the BW and I needed to get somewhere and bicycling was the only option. Somehow, with his unfailing optimism and calm demeanour helping me through it, I managed to ride eight kilometres to a World Heritage temple and then ride back again. I still have a dent in my left thigh from one of the most spectacular falls (something to do with a truck, a goat and a large ditch) but our marriage is still intact. Mostly. I really do need to learn, I know…

2. I am the youngest of 10 children. Other people find this incredibly odd and ask all sorts of personal questions when they find this out. To me it’s no weirder than being an only child or the bog-standard three children + dog (but imagine the horrified silence if you said to an only child, “wow, so I guess your parents really hated children” etc).

3. I’ll eat just about anything, except horse. Or spiders. Or rodents. Or McDonalds.

4. I developed a taste for beer, especially high alcohol European beers, when pregnant.

5. I love eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations (and looking in their shopping trollies).

6. In the course of my work I have spent time in a small hotel room with Boris Becker, swum with whales in Tonga and chased the Samoan rugby team across Paris.

7. I am married to an identical twin, whose twin brother is also married to someone called Lucy.

Now, here are seven lovely blogs you should visit when you get a chance…

My Darling Lemon Thyme – Emma, a Kiwi chef-turned-mother in Perth, Australia, who makes allergy-friendly food and takes beautiful photos of it to boot.
As Strong As Soup – Phil, who lives in Surrey, England, and writes the funniest blog comments ever (along with some fine recipes).
Sasasunakku – Sasa, global citizen, soon to be gracing New Zealand with her presence, leading the charge against ‘hangrr’.
Bibberche – Lana, who I found on Twitter, has a blog as big as a bible (and it’s twice as entertaining)
Toast – she doesn’t ‘get’ cheerios, which is just one of the reasons why Mairi, transplanted to Auckland, is so great.
Milliemirepoix – The mysterious M has a vast collection of food and travel experiences and she shares them generously.
Bread and Milk and Blackberries – Ruth’s blog is my newest find. She likes bread and milk and blackberries and all things Scandinavian. What’s not to love about that?

Random Recipe #4: Treacle Tart

If Julia Roberts ever comes for dinner (a la that great scene in Notting Hill), I know just what to make.
Apparently, our Jules is dead keen on treacle tart. Tamasin Day-Lewis reckons that “when Julia Roberts comes to stay she drools over it, and busies herself making and twisting the pastry lattice for the top”.
This makes me want to slap Tamasin in the face with a wet dishcloth, but her book, The Art of the Tart, was my random selection for this month’s Random Recipe challenge. Shameless namedropping aside, TAOTT is a lovely book. I must confess to cheating a tiny bit on the actual recipe selection – the first one was for Fig Tart with Tobacco Syrup and I baulked at the thought of buying pipe tobacco, let alone eating it.

Treacle Tart
I didn’t have Julia Roberts on hand to make a lattice top for my tart so I went without. I think it would be a bit much anyway, though I did follow Tamasin’s advice and use wholemeal flour to contrast with the diabetes-inducing sweetness of the filling. Don’t be alarmed by the lengthy instructions – you can make the pastry the night before and the filling is really easy, even if you don’t have an Oscar winner to help.

120g wholemeal flour
pinch of salt
60g butter
2Tbsp cold water
1Tbsp cream

450g golden syrup (about half a tin)
30g butter, cut into cubes
1 large egg, beaten
2-3Tbsp double cream
grated zest of two lemons
4 heaped Tbsp brown breadcrumbs

Put the flour, butter and salt into a food processor and blitz for 20 seconds, then dribble the water and cream through the top, one tablespoon at a time. Stop the processor when the mixture forms a ball, take it out, flatten into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
To roll it out, flour a cold worksurface, your rolling pin and your hands, and start rolling. “Roll away from yourself, turning the pastry as you go,” instructs Tamasin. When it’s big enough, roll it over the rolling pin and lie it gently in a greased 23cm tart tin (I used a 23cm springform cake tin as my tart tin has gone walkabout). Don’t stretch it. Put it back in the fridge for at least another 30 minutes to rest. Tamasin says you can do this the night before, bless her.
To bake, preheat the oven to 190C. Bake the pastry blind (line the case with baking paper, tip dried beans or rice on top) for 15 minutes, then remove the paper and beans, prick with a fork and bake for another five minutes. Remove from the oven and turn the heat down to 180C.
Warm the syrup gently, then, off the heat, add the butter and stir until melted. Beat together the cream and egg and add to the syrup, with the lemon zest and breadcrumbs. Stir to mix evenly, then pour into the pastry crust. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the filling has set to a sort of gel. Leave for 20-30 minutes before serving warm with clotted cream or Greek yoghurt. Serves 6-8.

Bread of milk and honey

In my dream life, breakfast is a leisurely, relaxed affair. In my real life, it is rather different. There is tea (half-drunk), the paper (unread) and porridge, but the rest of the experience involves UN-level negotiations involving the Small Girl. We have gotten past Milk and Watergate (the tipping over of milk or water onto the floor), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a million more ways to drive Mummy mad before 8am.

She occasionally turns up her nose at porridge, but her love of any kind of toast is still all-abiding. I loved Holly’s post about making an adventurous walnut loaf that her toddler son liked and decided to try a variation. Holly’s original recipe is here – mine makes a bigger loaf (because we are greedy) and uses honey and sunflower seeds (because the Boy Wonder cannot abide walnuts). Oh well, at least he’s good at sitting down to eat his breakfast.

Sunflower Honey Bread
This makes absolutely incredible toast, the sort you should linger over with a pot of tea and the weekend papers or a shiny new magazine. I think any leftovers would make superlative bread and butter pudding, but we never seem to have any left over…

750g strong white flour
1Tbsp dried yeast
2tsp salt
375ml milk
8Tbsp water
90g butter
90g honey
90g sunflower seeds

Heat the milk until blood heat, then pour into a large jug. Wash out the pot, the use it to melt the butter. Let bubble away until brown and foamy, then pour into the jug with the milk. Add the water and honey. Stir well, then let cool until it’s comfortably lukewarm. Sprinkle the yeast on top and let sit for a couple of minutes.
Tip this into the bowl of a mixer with a dough hook (or just a large bowl) and add half the flour. Stir well to mix, then add the rest of the flour and the salt. Turn the mixer on and let it run at low speed for about five minutes, until it’s smooth and elastic-y. Turn it out of the bowl and knead in the sunflower seeds, then grease the bowl and put the dough back in. Cover the bowl with plastic and leave in a warm place until doubled (about an hour or so).
Turn the dough out onto the bench, and flatten out gently, then fold in each side to make a puffy lump. Form this into a round and put into a greased 24cm cake tin. Cover again with plastic and leave to rise again for about 45 minutes, or until doubled. Bake at 230C for about 30 minutes, then carefully turn out of the tin and put back in the oven, bottom side up, for another five minutes. Let cool before slicing if you can. 

Lovely blogs make the world go round

There are lots of things I love about blogging, but one of the things I love the most is finding kindred spirits. I started off thinking I was blogging for myself, but I’ve since learnt that having a blog is about feeling like you’re part of a community.

I was really touched to receive this ever-so-lovely Liebster Blog award from Claire and Lucy at Crumbs recently. Crumbs is fab, it really is. Claire and Lucy are sisters and journalists and they write brilliantly about food and family life and all the other stuff that fills in the gaps. I wish I lived next door, but being able to stalk them via their blog (and Twitter) is nearly as good.

Even better, I now get to pass this award on. I’ve ummed and erred over these choices for ages because I find a new BFF blog nearly every day. This particular award is meant for new(ish) blogs and I’ve tried to pick three very different ones from three very different corners of the globe.

Lovely Wee Days belongs to three bloggers – are they sisters? friends? colleagues? – who share their favourite recipes and take beautiful photos. This is a New Zealand blog and from what I can tell the Lovely Wee Girls are geographically scattered. They bake on Thursdays, just in case you can’t wait for a certain Sweet Sweet Friday…

Fake It ‘Til You Make It is a window into the action-packed world of Peggy, a chef for hire who is currently cooking up a storm in France’s Val d’Isere. I imagine her as kind of a female James Bond, but with a Sabatier knife instead of a gun. Peggy trained at Ballymaloe in Ireland and then worked at Ottolenghi in London. What’s not to love about that?

Mealtime Meltdown is so new it’s barely out of the packet. Liz is based in the UK and writes hilariously about keeping her family happy and well-fed. She also knows a nifty trick with mint sauce and I think she would be great fun to share a bottle of wine (or two) with.

Now, who are your favourite new(ish) bloggers?

Random Recipe Challenge #2: Shakshuka

The Boy Wonder and I rarely cook together these days unless we’ve got people over. Even then, we tend to separate out courses, so one of us can be sorting out one part of the dinner while the other puts the Small Girl to bed/sweeps the toys off the floor/pours the drinks. We always eat together – and increasingly with the Small Girl, who has learned to clink glasses and say ‘cheers’ as a result – but cooking together isn’t always practical. However I got all inspired when I read last month’s post by Louise at Please Do Not Feed The Animals, who enlisted the help of her husband when it came to Belleau Kitchen’s first Random Recipe Challenge. Louise’s ‘Perfect Date Night’ post was so lovely that I felt we should follow in their footsteps.
The rules for Random Recipe Challenge #2 are to choose the 18th book on your cookbook shelves, then pick a recipe at random. Book 18 in our case turned out to be Plenty (aka the second Ottolenghi book), which was quite apt as the BW had given it to me for Christmas. The BW isn’t big on following instructions (or taking orders), so he baulked a bit when I said we had to cook whatever page fell open first. His face dropped even further when that turned out to be chard and saffron omelettes, so rather than open divorce proceedings we flicked the pages again and landed on Shakshuka.

Shakshuka, from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
This is a very simple dish, similar in style to piperade. It seemed to take us ages (we went out to the garden to pick the peppers and herbs, then we decided to have a glass of wine, then the phone went…) but we had a really nice time doing it. Our coriander plant has long since bolted so I used flatleaf parsley instead, and we didn’t have any saffron or bay leaves. Quantities below are for four – we halved it – and ate it with chunks of bread.

1/2 tsp cumin seeds
180ml light olive oil
2 large onions, sliced
2 red and 2 yellow peppers, cut into 2cm strips
4tsp muscovado sugar
2 bay leaves
6 thyme sprigs, leaves picked and chopped
2tbsp chopped parsley
2tbsp chopped coriander, plus extra to garnish
6 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2tsp saffron threads
pinch of cayenne pepper
up to 250ml water
8 free-range eggs
salt and black pepper

In a very large pan dry-roast the cumin seeds on high heat for two minutes. Add the oil and saute the onions for five minutes, then add the peppers, sugar and herbs and cook for another 5-10 minutes until well coloured.
Add the tomatoes, saffron, cayenne and some salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. Add water during this time to get the consistency of pasta sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning – “it should be potent and flavoursome”. This sauce can be done well in advance.
Make indentations in the sauce mix (either in this pan or in four small frying pans) and carefully break an egg into each one. Sprinkle with salt and cover, then cook on a very gentle heat for 10 minutes, or until the eggs are just set. Sprinkle with coriander and serve.