Tuesday, October 27th, 2015
Way back in May, when my flatmate Valentine’s friend Christel came to visit Bologna, we went to Verona for a day.
We hopped on the train from Bologna and an hour and a half later we’d arrived and headed straight for lunch under some rather ominous clouds in the main square.
After a rather uninspiring pizza, we headed off in search of some pudding and found these pots for sale in the market.
All that fruit for 3€!
We wandered around the square for a while, trying to find the tackiest souvenir before heading down to Juliet’s Balcony. Remarkably, I managed to avoid all Shakespeare based puns throughout the day. It was a real effort.
People flock to Juliet’s House, where the lovelorn and heartbroken leave letters to Juliet, see the 2010 film with Vanessa Redgrave and Amanda Seyfried. My personal favourite read ‘I want a puppy.’
Keen to escape the tourist throngs and heat for a while we went for a wander. Down past shops and ruins, through the streets, and down to the river.
After spending a while leaning on the banks, enjoying the peace and quiet, and every so often marvelling ‘flowing water!’ (virtually non existent in Bologna) we wandered back into the centre of the city and across to the castle, where I failed to take any photos that weren’t of my own hand.
After a swift gelato stop we walked back through the city to visit two Cathedrals, getting caught in a torrential downpour along the way.
After basking in the late afternoon sun for a while we realised the time and hot footed it back to the train station to head back to Bologna.
Thursday, June 11th, 2015
Bologna is fantastic. Italy is lovely. Living abroad is brilliant. It’s a wonderful experience. Everyone should try it at least once in their life. Believe it or not though, sometimes you just want to spend time with someone who understands exactly what you’re saying and brings you bags of Dairy Milk Giant Buttons.
In mid-May, Hannah, possibly my oldest friend, came out to visit in Bologna. We spent a pasta, pizza, and prosecco fuelled three days playing tourist in my new(ish) city. It was wonderful.
We started every day with orange juice (far too hot, and late, for cappuccinos) and apple cake at my favourite bar, Caffè del Mercato. Apparently, it’s one of the best in Bologna. All I know is that the staff are the friendliest waiters I have ever come across, that their torta di mela is delicious, and that they sell glasses of perfect prosecco for 5€.
We wandered around for half an hour or so before heading straight for lunch at Eataly (the website is in Italian).
Determined that Hannah should try as many of Bologna’s traditional dishes as possible while she was here, I ordered two giant bowls of tagliatielli al ragù and two glasses of San Giovese.
Ragù is spag bol’s sexier, sultrier older sister. Apparently after the Second World War, the Allied troops who’d helped liberate Italy arrived in Bologna and loved ragù so much that when they got home they asked their wives and chefs in Italian restaurants to make them ‘spaghetti alla Bolognese.’ Unfortunately, it’s so good I doubt I’ll ever look at spag bol in the same way again.
Just look at it:
After lunch we wandered down to my favourite church in Bologna, the Sette Chiese or Basilica Santuario Santo Stefano.
According to legend the first of the seven churches began in the 4th century AD, which was rebuilt in the 12th century, and the oldest parts standing today were built on top of a temple to the goddess Isis in the 5th century AD.
Over the centuries, chapels and churches have been added or taken down. Today the two courtyards and the chapels that lead off from them are one of the most peaceful places in the city.
Blouse: Zara, Jeans: Gap, Bag: Furla
Just out of shot were some schoolgirls arranging the pot plants for a more aesthetically pleasing Instagram shot. Girls after my own heart.
We sat in the second courtyard for a while, soaking the warmth into our bones, before we decided it was about cool enough to climb the 498 steps of the Torre Asinelli.
“I’m going to try going down this bit backwards. Oh no, I think this may actually be worse!”
We then rewarded ourselves with gelato (crema and raspberry here) before heading home for a nap and takeaway pizza for dinner.
Day 2 started even later and with aching legs. After a very slow breakfast we headed back into the centre of town and wandered around for a bit, including heading back past Sette Chiese. Then we headed to another of Bologna’s churches, the Basilica San Domenico, where I failed to take any photos. I’m a terrible blogger, I know, here’s another photo of gelato (almond and crema) to make up for it:
Suitably peckish we headed to lunch where, again, I failed to take any photos except of Hannah’s chocolate and hazelnut pudding.
After lunch we walked through the University Quarter to the Museo Palazzo Poggi and passed the afternoon feeling a little sick after wandering through the anatomy and obstetrics galleries, where I didn’t take any pictures that wouldn’t make even the most hardened surgeon feel a bit queasy.
Exhausted after another day of walking we headed home, stopping to get food and wine for dinner on the way.
Sunday, June 7th, 2015
Isn’t Paris wonderful in springtime? It’s warm enough to flirt with going jacketless and eating ice cream, the throngs of tourists have yet to arrive en masse, and everywhere you walk summer seems to be slowly waking up.
At the very end of April, I hopped on a plane and spent two glorious days in the City of Light.
I think I may prefer the Louvre at night, now how does a girl get invited to their after hours events?
We had Brunch at Marcel, which I highly recommend. Scroll back up and just stare at that French toast. The thought of it is making me hungry!
After brunch we strolled to the metro and headed to the Lanvin exhibition at the Palais Galleria. I didn’t take any photos as I was too busy taking in all of the incredibly beautiful clothes, but if you’re in Paris before the 23rd August you should add it to your list. If you want a sneak preview, Rose at The Londoner did a post which inspired us to go.
The next day I woke up and headed straight to Orly after breakfast to catch my flight.
What are your favourite things to do in Paris?
Sunday, April 12th, 2015
There’s just something about crumble. Perhaps it’s because I live abroad now, and home comforts are few and far between (I found Heinz beans last week and bought four tins!) but I find myself hankering after the most comforting foods from childhood.
I was cleaning out the files on my laptop the other day and came across the photos of this rhubarb crumble that I made last summer, when I was still living in the rural UK. Struck by a sudden wave of nostalgia I was suddenly racing through memories of being six years old and taking a little tupperware of leftover crumble and custard to school on Monday.
Unable to resist until lunchtime, during morning break I would grab the little pot from my coat pocket and, while the other children were racing around playing kiss chase and stuck in the mud, I would dig in with sticky fingers. Even now, sat typing at my desk, I can taste the tartness of the cold compote of fruit mingling with the sweetness and oats of the crumble topping. Unlike pizza, crumble is always twice as good cold, isn’t it?
Crumble isn’t just an easy, fast, filling and nutritious pudding. It’s the taste of childhood. Nothing will send me into a fit of nostalgia more than the heady smell of horses; the perfume of a leather shop; a whiff of boot polish; or crumble. It is the taste of family and friends coming together. The very thought of a crumble conjures feelings of warmth and love.
It doesn’t matter what the season is, if there are apples on the trees or raspberries on bushes, you can make a crumble. Passion fruit in spring; berries in summer; plums in autumn; and pear in winter. There is always something around you can use in a crumble, that’s their beauty. Comforting pudding is always in season.
Once you have your fruit all you need add is the comforting, wholesome, slightly stodgy (isn’t that what makes it all the more comforting?) topping. This is where, I’ll admit, I depart from what my mum made on Sundays. I add a handful of oats, something I originally did just so that I could call this an ‘original recipe’ in my GCSE Food Technology class and save myself potentially minutes of homework. It turned out to be such a success that I’ve added a handful of oats to every crumble I’ve made since.
Another seconds saving adjustment made for class purposes was substituting caster sugar for soft dark brown sugar to fulfil the requirement that we made the pudding ‘healthier.’ In my, humble, opinion this was a waste of time. ‘Pudding is pudding, leave it be!’ cried 15 year old me. Alas, the OCR exam board and the Department of Health probably disagreed. Though I still vehemently disagree with the idea of messing with puddings to make them a ‘healthy option’* (a rant which could, and probably will, make up another whole post) unless you have a serious health problem which a doctor has told you needs a modified diet, I now always use soft, dark brown sugar because it tastes about a million times more grown up.
There are at least another 5000 words I could write about the manna from heaven that is crumble, but I feel like almost 600 words is probably enough.
So, here is my family’s, ever so slightly adapted, recipe for Sunday afternoon joy.
Crumble is all about ratios, it’s not a lie when I say that this is how I revised fractions when I still had to study maths at school! I made enough for four people here, using the little glass pots that Gu puddings come in, so sizing the recipe up or down (ha) should be relatively easy. If you don’t have a mild addiction to Gu chocolate puddings then a mediumish sized pie tin (without a loose bottom) will do just as well.
To make your fruit base you can either make a compote, which is ideal for rhubarb and other fruits which are unlikely to soften when the crumble is in the oven, or you can just chop them and sprinkle with a little bit of sugar. Go with about a handful of fruit per person.
If you aren’t making a compote preheat your oven to 200c. If you are making a compote, take your fruit and cut it into chunks. Then pop it in a sauce pan over a low heat with sprinkling of water and a pinch of sugar. You’ll need to keep half an eye on it, but let is simmer for about 10-20 minutes, giving the occasional stir. Once done, pop into your pot(s) and put to one side and preheat your oven (200c.)
To make enough topping for 4 people, you need:
150g plain flour
50-75g soft, dark brown sugar
A handful of oats
Now, all you have to do is rub the butter and flour together until it looks like bread crumbs. A food processor can do this in about 30 seconds flat, but it isn’t nearly as relaxing as the soothing, repetitive motions that come with 5 minutes spent rubbing fat into flour.
Next, stir in your oats and sugar. Here you could add some chopped up almonds, or any nuts really though almonds are the only ones which won’t send me into an allergic reaction.
Sprinkle a little sugar or cinnamon onto your compote and spoon on your topping.
Pop your crumble(s) in the oven for 20-40minutes, this depends on how big they are. Once the topping in golden brown serve with pouring cream (grown ups) or custard (grown ups who are pretending not to be.)
*The term ‘healthy option’ sets my teeth on edge and raises my hackles. To me it reeks of condescension and smug, self righteous saintliness, and the exclusion of wonderful, nutritious, and, most importantly, tasty foods which can and should form a part of a balanced diet where everything is in moderation.
Monday, March 23rd, 2015
The more I try to remember my immediate reaction to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History the more I realise it was pure shock. Ten minutes of being struck dumb followed by “Oh. My. God. I need a drink.” on repeat. Incidentally, the first draft of this post, which I wrote an hour or so after finishing the book, was “Oh. My. God. I need a drink. Oh. My. God. I need a drink. Oh. My. God. I need a drink.” over and over again about 200 times, which Olivia pointed out was at least appropriate for The Secret History‘s subject matter.
It’s hard to know how to describe this book. Traumatic would be one word. Really, really traumatic. Intense would be another. Terrifying, certainly.
Tartt explores the depths of human behaviour in a way most people wouldn’t even begin to contemplate. Six students at the elite Hampden College in Vermont, under the considerable influence of their enigmatic Classics professor, push the boundaries of academia further than even the most dedicated of students would consider rational. This leads to mystery, intrigue, and even murder.
Despite the traumatic roller coaster of emotions it caused I still find myself recommending The Secret History to every other person I meet, which has to mean it was one of the best books I’ve read.
Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
Every year, for as long as I can remember, my Mum has made a ham for Boxing Day. It sits in the fridge for the week before Christmas and I have to exercise enormous self control to stop myself from picking a piece off every time I walk past. We finally get to eat it on Boxing Day in front of the fire, sat in our pyjamas, watching Christmas telly, accompanied by jacket potatoes filled with salty butter; Mum’s chutneys, surely I’m not the only one incapable of saying chutney with out channeling Schmidt from New Girl; more cheese than any human should really be capable of eating; and wine. Lots and lots of wine.
If my mother were the kind of woman to have a catchphrase, it would be “If in doubt, Delia.” She follows this recipe from Delia’s Christmas book, which I’ve paraphrased here. I think the only change she makes is adding even more English mustard, because we really, really love mustard.
1 joint of ham, how much depends on how many people you want to feed; for how long; and how big their appetites are.
Once the ham is home and out of its wrappings it’s put in the utility room sink and covered with water to soak, this lets the salt used for preserving the joint seep out into the water so you don’t end up with something too salty to eat. If you aren’t sure how long you need to soak your ham for ask the butcher you bought it from or have a quick google.
Preheat your oven to 160C (Gas mark 3) and line your roasting tin with two sheets of foil, one length ways and one width ways. Take the ham from the sink and put it on the foil. You want to make a little tent for your ham from the foil and cook it for 20mins per pound (450g) of ham. So, if you have a 6lb ham, that’s 2 hours.
Half an hour before the cooking time is up take your ham out of the oven and turn it up to 220C (gas mark 7). Very, very carefully, using a tea towel to protect your hands, unwrap the foil tent and gently peel the skin from the ham. Seriously, be careful to not burn your hands, I can tell you from experience that it really, really hurts and will leave some impressive scars. Leave as much of the fat behind as possible. (Delia explains this bit far better than I ever could.)
Score the fat diagonally, making diamond shapes and then stud each diamond with a clove. Smear the top of the ham with mustard, for a 6lb ham you’ll need around 1 1/2 very heaped tablespoons, but it’s up to your own taste. Sprinkle with an equal amount of soft brown or Demerara sugar and press it into the ham, it’s best to use your hands here.
Pop it back into the oven, uncovered for the last half hour of cooking.
When cooked, it will need at least 45mins of cooling time before serving, or you can let it cool completely before covering and putting in the fridge to wait. After all, who really wants to spend Boxing Day cooking?
What are your Boxing Day Traditions?
Monday, June 23rd, 2014
Last Friday I bought a bag of apricots from the village greengrocer’s for 50p. (Yes, my village still has a greengrocer’s, it’s occasionally like living in Victorian England only there are fewer corsets, though tweed and flat caps remain in earnest.) When I got home and opened the bag, it quickly transpired that the apricots were very close to being over ripe and something had to be done with them sharpish. After a little brainstorming this ‘rustic’ tarte aux abricots was born.
My apricots were so ripe that the poaching stage would have been utterly superfluous, they would have fallen apart. If you don’t make my mistake and buy apricots which are actually ripe, poach them to soften them for about fifteen minutes. You can find a recipe on BBC Good Food here, just follow the first two sentences.
The pastry is a sweet crust recipe my mum has been using for as long as I can remember. It’s the first pastry she taught me to make. If I was very lucky, I’d be allowed to help her make it for her baked chocolate tart, which she made for years whenever my parents hosted dinner parties, which meant I could snaffle pieces (half the roll) and eat them when we were lining the tin. While chocolate tart as been ousted in favour of other puddings, this pastry remains my all time favourite for sweet foods. I use it for every possible pastry based pudding and treat. The recipe makes enough for two tarts, you can line another tin and keep it in the freezer, unbaked, for up to a month.
The crème pâtissière is very loosely based on a Paul Hollywood recipe I found when I was leafing through How to Bake but I found that the original wouldn’t set no matter what I did so I’ve adjusted it significantly.
For one tart, you’ll need:
500g plain flour
100g icing sugar
250g unsalted butter (cut into cubes and put back in the fridge to completely chill again)
100g caster sugar
4 egg yolks
500ml milk (most recipes state full fat milk but I’ve never really found a difference whichever milk I use)
The contents of 2 vanilla pods (good vanilla pods are pretty hard to track down and fairly expensive, I got mine at a market in the Midi-Pyrenees. If you don’t have any use half a teaspoon of vanilla extract and add more to taste.)
You need about 14 apricots cut in half. If you can’t get your hands on any fresh apricots (i.e. if you have a real hankering in the depths of winter) a couple of tins of preserved ones will do just fine.
Start by making your crème pâtissière. Put your sugar, cornflour and egg yolks in a bowl and whisk them together. Pop to one side and bring your milk and vanilla pods to the boil in a heavy bottomed pan. As soon as the milk is boiling remove from the heat and stir about 1/4 into your egg mix. Return this straight to the pan and the heat. Stir until it’s thick and smooth. Immediately remove from the heat and pour into a bowl. Give it a quick stir, if you’re using vanilla extract now’s the time to add it, and leave to one side to cool completely. When pushed for time, I’ve been known to stick the bowl in the fridge, or even the freezer, to speed up the chilling process.
To make your pastry beat together your butter, eggs and sugar and then add in your flour. I tend to use a food processor for this as it’s a bit sticky. Add a splash of milk and form a ball of pastry. Roll into a chunky sausage and leave in the fridge to chill for at least an hour.
Preheat your oven to 180 celsius and grease a loose bottom flan tin. Take your pastry sausage and slice off disks. Press them into the tin, making sure you go about 5mm over the top. Prick the bottom with a fork and blind bake for 15mins, or until the edges start to brown. Take out of the oven and brush with a beaten egg. Put back in the oven until golden brown. Take out and cool completely.
Once cooled, spread your crème pâtissière fairly evenly across the pastry and add the apricot halves in concentric circles, et voilà!
Monday, June 9th, 2014
Sansa Stark (aka the fictional character I will defend beyond all others) loves lemon cakes. By complete coincidence I also love lemon cakes. To be honest I love anything with lemon, even my tea. These light, fluffy bundles of yum are essentially the golden retriever of cake*. Adorable. They are especially good fresh from the oven (cakes not golden retrievers), served with cream and a helping of Game of Thrones, book or TV. They’re also easy as pie to make, basically it’s a fairy cake batter with some lemon thrown into the mix. So, in fact, easier than pie.
For twelve, you need:
3 large, free range eggs
170g unsalted butter (let it come up to room temperature and soften)
170g caster sugar
170g self raising flour
The zest and juice of 2 lemons (keep one of your lemons, you’ll use it later)
Start by preheating your oven to 180c (that universal temperature) and then grease and line your muffin tin. If you’d prefer you can make this as one big cake, a remake of the 70s classic pineapple upsidedown cake if you will. Just remember to cook at 160c and for slightly longer.
Now put your eggs, butter, sugar and flour into a bowl and beat until you have a smooth batter, about 5 mins. Then mix in the juice and zest from your lemon. See, told you it was simple.
Mix it well and then leave it to one side while you slice the lemon and add one ring to the bottom of each muffin tin. Pour your batter on top and bake for 20mins. They should be a golden brown when you remove them from the oven. If you aren’t sure, stick a knife in to the middle cake. If it comes out clean they’re done, if not give them a few more minutes.
Now all you have to do is take them out of the tin and peel off the baking paper. Careful though, the sugar in the lemon gets really hot, I managed to burn my finger tips doing this. Smooth, I know.
To serve, place the cake on a plate with the lemon side facing up, and you’re done. Simple as that.
Settle down for a GoT sesh, raise a toast to the Bad Ass that is Sansa Stark and maybe try to finish your food before that scene from last week’s episode. We all know the one I mean. I knew it was coming. It was still gutwrenchingly awful.
*There is a small chance I have spent this evening scrolling through pictures of dogs on Tumblr. A very small chance.
Wednesday, April 16th, 2014
Spring is well and truly here. Bunnies, calves, and lambs are frolicking in the fields surrounding my parent’s house where I’m attempting to knuckle down to some serious revision and essay writing. 8500 words in three weeks, no problem! *whimpers* For me, the best part of Spring is Easter. Chocolate! Easter Egg hunts! Roast Lamb! Christmas Pudding in April! And the best part is the Hot Cross Buns! Smothered in salty butter and jam. Yum.
As with most things in life, sadly, the home made can outdo the supermarket blindfolded. Hot Cross Buns are no exception. These will trump anything you can buy in Sainsbury’s. They’re a Paul Hollywood recipe I found when I was procrastinating rather a lot by taking all of the books from my parents shelves, dusting, and then putting them back on. Positive procrastination, anyone?
I made a couple of adaptations, ie. switching the dried fruit and mixed peel for a bag of raisins and dried orange peel, in the name of avoiding the hell that is the supermarket on any day during the school holidays.
To make twelve, fairly large, Hot Cross Buns you’ll need:
500g stong white bread flour
10g instant yeast
40g unsalted butter
2 medium eggs
120ml milk (warm it up a little)
120ml cool water
130g dried fruit
Zest of two oranges
1 apple, finely chopped
2 tsp ground cinnamon
It sounds like a lot, I know, but it’s so worth it.
Start by putting the flour, yeast, salt and sugar into a bowl. Make sure that the sugar and salt are on a different side from the yeast or your buns won’t rise at all. Add all your milk, the two eggs (beat them a bit first) and half your water. Mix it together a bit, you may want to use a mixer with a dough hook rather than your hands for this, much easier and less messy. Gradually add more water, mixing all the time, until you have a rough dough. You might not need all of the water. Now the kneading starts. Keep going for about ten minutes, working right through the wet, sloppy stage until your dough is smooth and springy, like a baby’s bottom. Pop in in a bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave well alone, somewhere warm for at least an hour.
When your dough is double the size it was before you proved it tip it onto a really well floured surface, we’re talking two or three handfuls here, and add the fruity bits and cinnamon.
Give it a good knead to mix everything in well, I have no shame admitting that I used the mixer for this, and pop it back in the bowl, cover and leave in a warm place for another hour.
When you take it out of the bowl you’re going to want another good two handfuls of flour. What you should have is something resembling one of the Goblin King’s chins. Attractive, I know.
Fold inwards a few times, until all the air has been knocked out and then roll into a sausage shape.
From this, cut off twelve roughly similar sized chunks and roll each one into something that vaguely resembles a ball and pop them onto a tray covered with a sheet of baking parchment.
Cover them again (with cling film or a plastic bag this time) and leave for ANOTHER hour. As with all good things, hot cross buns take time.
Pop your oven to 220C to preheat and get mixing your paste for the crosses, 75g plain flour and 75ml water. After an hour pipe crosses onto your bun and pop them into the oven for about 20minutes, they might need a little less time, you want golden brown.
Warm 75g of apricot jam and a splash or so of water in a pan and paint onto your buns to glaze them.
I suppose the lady like thing to do would be to wait for hot cross buns to cool and then serve them lighlty toasted with a sliver of butter, but er, no.
Dig right in. Smother with jam and butter in artery hardening quantities. It’s far more enjoyable that way, although maybe avoidy doing so in public places…
Saturday, March 8th, 2014
As you’ve probably guessed, I spend a huge amount of time in the library (mostly) nose deep in texts books on long dead writers or obscure points of French grammar. To make Sundays spent buried under text books more bearable I’ve started to make little goodies to keep my friends and me going when, frankly, we’d rather be sipping mimosas and having brunch somewhere without strip lighting. I’ve done croissants, tarts, and cookies but these little cappuccino cupcakes have been the most popular by far.
They’re basically mini coffee cakes, so ridiculously easy to whip up at a moment’s notice.
To make 12, you’ll need:
225g unsalted butter (leave it out to get really soft, especially if you haven’t got an electric whisk)
175g caster sugar
50g dark brown sugar
225g self raising flour
4 large eggs
1tsp baking powder
1 espresso (or you can disolve 4 heaped tsp of instant coffee in 1 tbsp of boiling water)
For the icing:
75g very soft unsalted butter (just leave the butter on the side when making the cakes)
175g icing sugar
Start off by preheating your oven to 180C (that’s gas mark 4) and creaming together the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy.
Add your eggs and sieve in your flour and baking powder. Now beat everything together until nice and smooth. Gradually add your coffee until it’s all mixed in well. Have a little taste, if you want a stronger flavour now’s the time to add more.
Spoon your batter into your cases and pop into the oven for 15-20 minutes. When done, they should be springy.
Take your cakes out of the tin and leave them on a wire rack to cool completely. If you’re in a hurry pop them next to an open window (obviously only if it isn’t raining!) to cool faster.
To make your icing, the frothy milk part of the cappuccino if you will, beat your butter until it’s creamy and soft. Add your icing sugar and mix well, it really is that simple.
Spoon about a teaspoon full of icing onto each cake and spread it about a bit so it looks like the top of a cappuccino. Add a sprinkling of cocoa powder and you’re done!
If you can exercise enough self restraint the cakes will keep in an airtight container for a few days, as long as excitable housemates don’t get there first!
I’ve given up coffee for Lent, so please enjoy on my behalf!