Jam and cream and all things nice: Victoria sponge

This was the first cake I ever made; for a long time, it was the only cake I ever made. It’s perfect for a beginner: pretty much foolproof and reliably delicious despite its simplicity. My boyfriend requested it for his birthday this year, and it’s my Dad’s favourite too. If you’ve never had it, you need to make it soon!

There are of course many similar recipes out there, but this cake goes back to first principles in that it’s the same weight of everything (except the vanilla essence, but that’s optional anyway), and mum uses a method designed to account for differing weights/sizes of eggs. At home we had a pair of those old fashioned scales which use tiny weights on one side and a removable metal dish on the other; this method was devised with that in mind, but the same principles apply with any other type of scale.

In the ‘old fashioned’ way, you put your eggs (I used three this time, but you can use two depending on how big you want your cake to be) on the part where the weights would go, and then use their weight to measure all of the other ingredients. If you’ve got any other type of scale, weigh your eggs and then measure out the same amount of everything else. In my case, three large eggs weighed 200g, so I used 200g of the other main ingredients too.

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Ingredients

For the cake

Sugar

Butter or margarine

Eggs (2 or 3, see above)

Self raising flour

A splash of vanilla essence

A little icing sugar (for dusting)

For the filling

Double cream (as much as you like)

Jam (any kind, I used strawberry)

– Preheat the oven to 180c (160c fan), then grease two 20cm sandwich tins and set aside

– Cream together the butter and the sugar using a wooden spoon, or an electric whisk if you’re feeling fancy

– Add the eggs one at a time, with a tablespoon of flour each time, mixing after each addition

– Splash in the vanilla essence

– Sieve in the rest of the flour and fold in until the mixture is smooth

– Divide the mixture between the two tins and spread into a fairly even layer.

– Bake for 20- 25 minutes, or until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean (with a few moist crumbs)

– Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

– Meanwhile, beat the double cream until stiff – when the cakes are cool, spread the underside of one with the cream, and the underside of the other with a generous helping of jam.

-Sandwich together and dust the top with icing sugar – the easiest way is to put a few spoonfuls of icing sugar into a sieve, hold it about 10cm from the top of the cake and gently tap the side until you have a light layer of powdery goodness.

– Slice generously and serve.

Because it contains fresh cream, you need to keep this in the fridge unless you live somewhere really cold! It’s not ideal as it can make the sponge really hard, so each time you want some more try to remember to lift the cake out about half an hour  before to allow it to return to room temperature. Because of this, the cake is really best devoured as soon as possible – I don’t think you’ll have too many problems persuading people to eat this rapidly though.

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Listening to Beat me Daddy (Eight to the Bar) by The Andrews Sisters, New York, New York Medley by Mel Torme, That Old Black Magic by Ella Fitzgerald, Night Club by Mose Allison — I’m going through a serious jazz phase… It’s genetic.

This recipe is one I learned from my mum – it’s one that’s been around forever, seemingly. All other content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015.

Foodie Adventures: Regency Cafe, Pimlico

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Regency Cafe

I found Regency Cafe during a post-interview wander, which left me floating around Pimlico in search of a late breakfast. I was instantly intrigued by how retro this place looked; white block lettering against a black-tiled exterior, with red and white checked curtains at the windows. Correctly guessing that this kind of place would not take cards, I walked past initially, found a cash point, then went back. Inside, it really was like a time warp. Faded photographs and movie posters in frames lined the cream- tiled walls, and the tables were like the kind you’d associate with a canteen. Linoleum. The menu was spelled out in white letters on those black boards that used to display cinema times: slightly wonky and with some of the letters handmade where they’ve been lost or damaged. The food on offer instantly reminded me of home: the North of England has managed to keep far more of these ‘greasy spoons’ open, and so the fried liver on offer was reminiscent of the tiny cafe where I waitressed growing up. In London, though, there are very few of these places left. The ones that do exist tend to have a manufactured kind of feel, like they’ve been created to look like this kind of cafe, rather than actually being the real thing.

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Specials Board (+ builders’ tea; bottom left)

In my pencil skirt and blazer (remember, post-interview), I was suddenly conscious of looking very out of place: the cafe was mainly filled with working men taking their mid- morning break; all steel-capped boots, dusty overalls and fluorescent jackets. The service was rough and ready, but that only added to the warmth of the place — you order at the counter and then, when your food’s ready, they call out the order and you go up to collect it yourself. The man behind the counter had the kind of infectious friendliness that afflicts all of the best cafe owners; he seemed to know most of the people who came in and out, and by the time you left he bid you farewell like a long-lost friend.

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Condiments in technicolour

Builders’ tea; strong, milky and sloshed into plain white mugs, sat on most of the tables, accompanied by the full English breakfasts that you’d expect. Some people were tucking into large plates of rice and curry, despite the early hour: a chalkboard and the industrial-sized vat of mango chutney beside the till made it clear that this was the lunchtime special: Wednesday is curry day, apparently. The food was what you would expect: it was fresh, tasty and cheap. Definitely no frills, but this is the kind of place that shuns anything resembling frills at first glance. Standing at the counter and glancing at the menu, a man made a quip about Heston Blumenthal, that British gourmet chef famous for his weird, wonderful and very frilly creations (think, snail porridge) which I couldn’t quite hear. The owner replied jovially; ‘Oh yeah, Heston bloomin’ hell!’ It had been a long time since I’d heard anybody say ‘blooming’, and it reminded me instantly of my Dad, who is a fan of that particular exclamation of incredulity or annoyance. I’ve come to think of it as quite an old-fashioned phrase, and it made me realise that this cafe was filled with the invisible London which I hadn’t really experienced before.

Coming to London as an Oxford graduate, I’ve experienced a very particular face of the city. The posh bars and cafes, the professionals I meet when I go for interviews, and the other graduates who I spend most of my time with. But this cafe, and the people saying ‘blooming’, are more like the community I came from originally; using slang, and drinking tea from plain white mugs in cafes that only have two choices of bread (white or brown) and aren’t interested in any kind of smoothie. Don’t get me wrong, I love rye bread and passion fruit smoothies, but I also miss the simplicity of the small, rural place where I grew up.

When I went to Oxford, I was surrounded by people that mainly (not everybody!) spoke very stereotypically ‘British’ English; they were ‘posh’, I supposed you’d say, for want of a better word. Most people spoke very similarly, and I was instantly mocked for my deepened vowels, and the way that I said certain words, like ‘butter’ or ‘grass’. And even though most of it was just friendly teasing, it made me feel like I stood out. So without really realising I started to disguise my Northern accent; I didn’t let my vowels get too deep, and I rarely relaxed into the richness of slang and sayings that I’d grown up with. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the way the people in this cafe spoke reminded me inescapably of home, and that was really very nice.

Well, that turned into something of a tangent, but it comes down to the fact that if you’re looking for two eggs, chips and a Diet Coke for £4, then this place is ideal. And its friendliness is only enhanced by how rough it is around the edges.

Listening to: Warpath by Ingrid Michaelson, I Will Never Let You Down by Rita Ora, Strong and Wrong by Joni Mitchell.

All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015.

Bubble & Squeak: My new (old) favourite thing ever

When I was still at primary school, whenever we went out for dinner, it was to the same pub. It was called The Grapes, at a tiny village near where we lived called Wrea Green. In Year 3 we went on a geography trip there to see an example of a ‘typical’ village. As the officious seven year old that I was, what I remember most from that trip were the bright red clipboards, and the difficulty I had filling in my worksheet neatly on them. Seven year old troubles, eh? I must have been a ball as a child… But I digress. Whenever we went to The Grapes, I had Bubble & Squeak. A food surely named for children, and completely unrelated to what it actually is, of course! Leftover mash, plus lots of yummy veg and some stuff to bind it all together, fried until golden in butter. I loved it every time. Then we moved house, stopped going to The Grapes, and I promptly forgot all about Bubble & Squeak.

Then recently I rediscovered and made it myself, and it was as yummy as I remember.

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Arty Stack. Perfect Fried Egg. Win.

 

Ingredients

(Very flexible: you can throw most things in, that’s kind of the point)

– 2 medium potatoes

– 1 carrot

– 1 onion

– About half a leek

– 4 or 5 leaves of cabbage

– 1 tbsp flour

– 1 egg

– Salt and pepper, to taste

– Oil or butter, for frying

Directions

– You can of course use leftovers, in which case the veg would already be cooked, and you can skip the first few steps, but if you’re starting from scratch:

– Prep the potatoes and carrots as you prefer, then simmer in a big pan of boiling, salted water for about 20 mins or until they’re soft

– While they boil, chop up your other veg (I favour the onion, leek and cabbage combination) pretty finely, and saute in a different pan using oil of your choice

– Once the potatoes and carrots are cooked, drain and tip them back into the pan. Add the other veg and give it all a thorough mix/mash.

– Add the egg and the flour, as well as salt and pepper to taste, and give it another thorough mix until everything is combined.

– At this point, it’s best to refrigerate the mix to firm it up (I learned this the hard way…! It’s fine if you fry up the patties straight away, but you’ll have to make peace with them falling apart somewhat.)

– Once you’re ready to fry, heat some oil or butter in your pan (no need to wash after frying up the veg in my opinion…) and scoop in a burger-sized dollop of the mixture. Press it down gently with the back of a fish slice or a fork until golden and crispy on one side. Then carefully flip and cook the other side until that’s golden too. (Unless you have a million pans and hobs, you’ll probably need to do this in batches)

– Wahoo. You’re done. I’ve made these quite a few times now, and can thus say from experience that they are amazing with a fried egg. I’ve also had them with sausages, and once with bacon. But whatever else you choose, I’d say that tomato ketchup is absolutely essential.

This recipe is very slightly adapted from A Girl Called Jack; Jack Monroe is a very cool lady and a fab food writer specialising in yummy budget recipes. Definitely check her out if you haven’t already!

Everything else is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015.

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award

Well, the excitement is actually almost too much. (Even to me, that sounds sarcastic, but it’s really not!) And so, minus the sparkly dress and sequinned shoes I would have favoured for the occasion, I need to say a great big thank you to Osyth for giving me a Very Inspiring Blogger Award. One of the best things about blogging, or life generally, is surely to find that somebody whose work you admire also admires yours. Honestly, it made my week. In her own words, Osyth’s is a ‘story-telling blog’: the stories she tells are a joy to read, packed with witty insights and warmth. Keep telling stories please, Osyth!

So here are the rules for the award:

  • Thank and link to the person who nominated you
  • List the rules and display the award
  • Share seven facts about yourself
  • Nominate 15 other blogs you enjoy, then comment on their posts to let them know that you have nominated them

Here’s the very pretty award, I’m excited to add it to my sidebar!

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So now: seven facts about me. Hmm…

1. I currently live in London, but I’m yet to become a city person. I miss clean air, open space, Northern accents and recognising everybody I see in the street.

2. I feel most at peace when I’m by the sea. Or preferably in it. The times I have felt most content to just be have been when I’ve been swimming in the sea. The freezing cold, crystal clear, British sea.

3.  My mum is Northern Irish, and I have visited Ireland every summer since I was born – it has some of the best beaches around… And hearing Northern Irish accents is the most comforting sound ever.

4.  I don’t tend to call the people that I love by their actual names. I make up alternatives, and not just one alternative, but loads of interchangeable ones. I also make up words. I kind of like not speaking properly…

5. I love to dance. I haven’t danced properly since I left university, but often just dance in my flat when the mood takes me. There is nothing more freeing. Weirdly, when I’m not dancing, I am beyond clumsy. To the extent that I feel I should have higher home insurance allowances than normal people.

6.  I cry a lot. And not necessarily because I’m sad! It really doesn’t take much. I cry at songs, films, adverts on TV, books — anything poignant. Sometimes I laugh until I cry. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I cry at the drop of a hat. No shame.

7. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my own work, and my handwriting is super neat, but yet I’m really messy. This is one of those strange contradictions that people seem to find odd.

And finally, the best bit: nominating fifteen other blogs for this award. Here goes! (and only numbered because otherwise I’ll lose track, these are in no particular order)

1.  The Little Library Cafe — Kate bakes and blogs her way through the foods in her favourite literature. An ingenious concept in my opinion, and she writes mainly about books she enjoyed growing up, so her blog is often a delightful trip down memory lane. With food. What more could you ask for?

2.  Pointes of View — Lani made the move from the big city to a sleepy suburb, and documents her everyday life on this blog. Lots of beautiful photography, wry humour and tales of everything from tepees to kitchen renovations!

3. Steph and Penny — A fellow lady who likes to bake, with a KitchenAid to die for named Penny. This blog is all about having fun in the kitchen, and Steph’s recipes are almost always enough to tempt me to get the scales out…

4. Storyshucker — This guy can write. I mean, really write. I love his view that there is a story to be found in almost all of life’s moments. It’s something I want to implement more in my own approach to writing/blogging, and his stories have honestly made me both laugh out loud and cry.

5. Leaf and Twig — A marriage of poetry and photography, these posts are short but always sweet, insightful and beautiful.

6. Something like a storybook —  Morgan writes in a way that is searingly honest and really, really good. She inspired me to write and actually send Christmas cards by good old fashioned snail-mail last Christmas, and recently her poetry has been just exquisite.

7. Listful Thinking — A blog revolving around lists (one of my primary passions) that is also my favourite kind of hilarious. Literally, all of it is funny. Please read it.

8.  Taste of Colours — First of all, points for a fabulous blog name. And second of all, as you’d expect, the photographs on this blog are beautiful. And the recipes are in grams. Any British people who read a lot of (often American) food blogs will appreciate that fact a LOT.

9. The Ordinary Cook —  She is actually far from ordinary. Great recipes and an infectious zestiness (is that an appropriate word? I feel it sums it up…) make this blog one of my favourite new discoveries.

10. Cafe Argentique — Helen is a bit of a blogging newbie, but as she is one of my best friends in ‘real’ life, I am confident that her blog will grow into something that I will very much enjoy visiting. She’s a talented artist, and takes amazing photographs. And she likes cake.

11. Life of Sarah Beth — A kind of lifestyle blog crossed with a beauty blog with some general musings thrown in: just the kind of thing I enjoy. Sarah has also been very brave and upfront about her struggles with depression, which I really admire. Keep going, Sarah!

12. Luce Luxe —  Lauren is a fellow history lover, as well as a northerner living in London, so I can relate to much of what she writes about! We also share a bit of a beauty product addiction, and I really enjoy her beauty posts.

13. Glitter Bunnies — Another beauty blog (I love ’em). Heather has a great eye for design: her blog theme is gorgeous and her posts are always beautiful to look at.

14. Daisy Chains and Dreamers — A recent discovery, I have fallen in love with this blog.  It’s another lifestlye/ beauty one, but with a bit more craft thrown into the mix. Everything on it is just so pretty. And sometimes, well, that’s really just what you need.

15. Butter Baking — Last, but my no means least: this blog is another yummy delight of a baking blog. Beautiful photographs and loads of lovely recipes to tempt you.

To my nominees: of course, I hope that you’ll take part! But many of you may not want to, or have been nominated already. In that case, please take this as a friendly nod in your direction and a kind request to please keep doing what you’re doing. I love reading your blogs!

All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015.

The Breakfast Club: Banana, blueberry & almond smoothie

Everyone loves a good smoothie. The beauty of the smoothie is that you can bung most things (within reason) into the mix and it’ll taste fine. However, all smoothies were not created equal, so here’s the yummiest combination of classic smoothie ingredients I’ve found. The Greek yoghurt, almond milk and honey give this one the creamy edge of luxury, while the banana and frozen blueberries keep it tasting fresh. It’s so simple that I do kind of feel cheeky calling it a recipe though…

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Oh, and it’s a pretty colour too

Ingredients

1 banana, in chunks

A handful of frozen blueberries

2 tablespoons Greek yoghurt (optional, I guess, but it makes it oh-so-creamy)

4 tablespoons Almond milk (you could use another type of milk, but I like the subtle almond taste)

1 teaspoon honey

Directions

–  Add all of your ingredients to your smoothie creator of choice (I use a handheld blender and jug combo) and BLITZ AWAY until your smoothie is… well… smooth.

– Now drink your smoothie. That’s it. I told you it really was embarrassingly simple.

All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015.

Caramel {Millionaire’s} Shortbread

When I was in sixth form I once tried to make caramel shortbread when my parents were away. Yes, I was the teenager who embarked on ill-planned and over-ambitious baking in the absence of my parents. Crazy parties? Nope, flour in every corner imaginable and slightly ruined baking tins were more my style.  Anyway, it went quite wrong. I can’t really remember why, I think it got stuck in a tin which I wasn’t meant to be using anyway or something. Anyway, I thought I’d try again. Not to take this too seriously or anything, but with caramel shortbread it’s all about ratio. Ask any self- respecting lover of this traybake, and they’ll happily go into great detail about how much of each mouthful should be shortbread, how much caramel, and how much chocolate. Shop bought versions tend to be woefully uneven in this respect: think, a massive wedge of shortbread and comparatively inconsequential layers of both caramel and chocolate. A travesty. This recipe, on the other hand, gives you the perfect levels of caramel vs. chocolate and shortbread. Also, they’re super tasty. Well, I think so anyway.

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Glorious layers

 

Ingredients

For the shortbread

50g sugar

150g butter (unsalted technically, but I basically never have it in and salted was fine)

250g plain flour

 For the caramel

175g butter (again, should have been unsalted but I used salted and it was fine)

175g sugar

4 tbsp golden syrup

397ml condensed milk (standard tin size)

For the topping

300g chocolate (I used a mix of milk and dark, because that’s what I had lying around. I think all dark would be fine, but you might want to avoid all milk since it might tip these over from deliciously sweet to downright sickly)

– You’ll need the oven at 160 (fan 140, gas mark 3). Line a standard rectangular tin with greaseproof paper, making sure that there is some overhang at the edges – it’ll come in handy when you come to lift the traybake out later.

– Make the shortbread. Place the sugar, butter and flour into a large bowl – mix it all together, and then get your hands in and rub the fat into the flour/sugar until all of the lumps of butter are gone and you’ve got a soft breadcrumb type mix. It should hold together if you squeeze together a clump in your palm. (If you have a food processor, use that – I don’t though, and the hand mix option worked fine!)

– Tip the mixture into the lined tin, spread it out and use your fingers or the back of a spoon to press it down gently; you want it to be even and smooth.

– Now pop the tin in the fridge for about twenty minutes to harden things up, before baking for around 35 minutes, or until golden. Leave to cool.

– Next, make the caramel. Place the butter, sugar, condensed milk and golden syrup in a small saucepan over a low heat— heat gently and stir to combine all of the ingredients.

– Once the butter has melted and the ingredients have combined, you’ll need to keep stirring right to the bottom of the pan to make sure that the caramel doesn’t stick or burn. Bubble for about 5- 8 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened considerably – it’ll be thick, but still of pouring consistency.

– As soon as it’s ready, pour the caramel over the shortbread, and spread into an even layer if need be. Leave to cool.

– Melt the chocolate however you like – you could use the bowl over a saucepan of boiling water trick, but I favour the microwave. This works just fine as long as you cover the chocolate vessel and check/ stir it regularly to avoid burning.

– Pour the melted chocolate over the cool caramel, and spread it out into an even layer.

– Now just leave it all to cool. Once the chocolate is set, use a sharp knife to mark out and then cut into squares.

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Arty angles

 

If you write a blog, now is the time to wander around your flat looking for the best natural light. Once you’ve found it, you’ll want to put something vaguely attractive in the background; probably not that pile of receipts/bills or that tin of baked beans. Anything pastel or crafty is probably a good call. Even better if you have things that are pastel AND baking-related. If you’re truly dedicated, sprinkle some chocolate chips around about. Now, arrange your baking in an arty way, and take ridiculously-angled photographs until it looks pretty. Ignore the sceptical glances of anybody you may live with, surely they should be used to this by now?

If you have no need for arty and beautifully presented images of your creations, then feel free to just eat them. Much more sensible.

This recipe is adapted slightly from BakingMad.com. All other content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015.

Foodie Adventures: Homeslice, Neal’s Yard

A little while ago, just before Christmas, a good friend and I went to the South Bank Christmas market; after working up an appetite browsing the stalls we wanted something to eat. Predictably, all of the nearby restaurants were packed and we decided to head somewhere off the beaten track in the hope of finding a table. And perhaps something a little different. We wandered quite far in search of the above, which I’m beginning to discover in earnest is something of an elusive quarry in London.

Eventually though, we came across Homeslice. We had to settle for a table outside, but we were suitably bundled up and the setting, on a tiny side street, meant that we were pretty sheltered and actually quite cosy. The service was fast and friendly —  and the waiter patiently deciphered the hipster chalk prices for us (yes, I am middle-aged, I know this) and brought us a generous bottle of tap water without any eye-rolling whatsoever.

We ended up going for one slice of each of the first three pizzas to share: Margherita/ Salami, Rocket & Parmesan/ Mushroom, Ricotta, Pumpkin Seeds & Chilli Flakes. As someone who is really not very adventurous, especially when it comes to savoury food, there were ingredients there that made me a bit antsy. Mainly ricotta and pumpkin seeds. I’ll admit I was sceptical. But I’m glad I branched out: the pizzas were all lovely. No grease in sight, just great flavours and ingredients which tasted really fresh. The base was light and just the right level of chewy vs. crusty in my opinion. And by buying by the slice, we had the perfect amount of food for a pretty reasonable price. (£12 altogether, so £6 each) The flavour combinations all worked perfectly, but my favourite was definitely the mushroom/ ricotta extravanganza that I’d been so wary of — adventurous choices rewarded. Homeslice’s website is here: you should definitely pay them a visit!

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Delicious, delicious pizza

All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015.

Foodie Adventures: The Haberdashery, Crouch End

Last weekend, my lovely friend Helen came to stay. We share an ardent appreciation of all things vintage, pretty and higgledy-piggledy — we spend a lot of time exchanging links to beautiful tiles and extravagant baking projects. Mainly on Pinterest. You get the picture. And so when she arrived off the train at King’s Cross from my home town, I really wanted to make the most of having her in London and go somewhere adorable and awesome. A quick Google search of something along the very predictable lines of ‘cosiest cafes in London’ yielded The Haberdashery: the name had me instantly hooked. It was only an easy half hour bus ride from where we were to Crouch End, so off we went.

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I didn’t manage to get my own photograph of the amazing interior; this one is from the cafe’s website

We loved it! The interior is stunning; vintage and chintzy in all of the best ways with excellent use of Victorian fireplace tiles and coffee bowls (yep, we saw people getting hot chocolate in what looked like breakfast bowls, heaven) hanging eccentrically behind the till. Our drinks came in glass bottles, and our food arrived on charmingly mismatched vintage plates. AND our butter came in an ancient looking ceramic tub that once contained ‘Sainsbury’s Freshly Made Bloater Paste’, which it turns out (thanks, Google) is a kind of fish paste made from Bloater fish, which is traditionally eaten on toast for afternoon tea. No actual fish paste on offer, sadly, so I had a Breakfast Roll with bacon and egg. The bread was lovely —  exactly the right level of toasted — sweet and chewy. The egg was fresh and cooked to perfection — the bacon just as good. I know, I know, it’s an egg and bacon sandwich. But that just seems like a massive understatement: it really was unlike any I’ve ever eaten.

I also had a yummy Elderflower Soda Jar, which of course came in an actual chunky jar with a handle. Again, it was like Elderflower cordial I’d had before, but just somehow better. The cakes looked amazing, but we were just too full after our delicious mains to sample any! I have vowed to return for afternoon tea very, very soon. Here’s the website: if you ever find yourself in Crouch End, definitely pop in. Actually scrap that, it’s worth making the journey especially, if only just to avoid another soul- destroying “Oh, I suppose we’ll just go to Starbucks, then” moment. I’ll certainly be back!

The Breakfast Roll of destiny

The Breakfast Roll of destiny

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Elderflower Cordial in a handy-handled jar

Helen with 'The Colonial' Juice: apple, cucumber, lime + mint

Helen with ‘The Colonial’ Juice: apple, cucumber, lime + mint

All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015. Except the first photograph, which is from The Haberdashery’s website here.

Ginger & Eggnog: two Christmas drinks recipes

The days between Christmas and New Year are often a little bit of a weird time; some might even say they’re anti- climactic. It’s almost as though when Christmas day itself is over everyone remembers that December is, on the whole, cold and grey and (in Britain) also often quite rainy. In the build up to the 25th, it’s like all of the sparkle and mince pie making and carols have distracted us from this otherwise evident fact. So to fend off that strange Christmas-is-over-but-it’s-still-winter melancholy, here are two recipes for Christmassy drinks to raise your spirits. We’re only technically on the 5th day of Christmas, after all. And one of my favourite things about the Christmas period is having the time and the excuse to potter around in the kitchen. And I’d recommend some well- timed pottering to all feeling the after-Christmas blues.

Eggnog

Mum and I wanted to try making something that we’d never made before. And we chose the most stereotypical Christmas drink we could think of. There are a lot of variations on the eggnog recipe. We went for one where you make up the thin custardy part first, and then you can experiment with which alcohol you want to add to each glassful. We preferred brandy in the end.

Ingredients

1140ml/2 pints whole milk

6 free-range eggs

50g/2oz sugar

1 vanilla pod, split (or a decent glug of vanilla extract, which is what I opted for and went fine)

Brandy and/ or rum

Cocoa powder, for dusting

Directions

– Lightly whisk together the whole milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl.

– Pour into a large saucepan and heat gently on a low heat until the mixture is thickened. Stir continuously, and don’t let the mixture boil.

– Once the mixture is thickened, take it off the heat but keep stirring as it cools down to stop it sticking or burning. (Remove the vanilla pod if using rather than extract). I poured it into a large bowl in order to stop the cooking and cool the mix down. Stir occasionally to stop a skin from forming.

– Chill the mixture in the fridge.

– Once cold, pour some into a glass and add brandy or rum to personal taste. Dust lightly with cocoa powder if you’re feeling fancy (I forgot!).

Eggnog!

Eggnog! And a mini glass! And some ivy!

 

Ginger Christmas Cordial

And a non- alcoholic alternative. This is a recipe which my Northern Irish Nana always made at Christmas time, and my Mum still makes it when she can get hold of the ginger essence which is the most important ingredient, but which is a bit elusive in England. This year she found it in a health food shop. This is gingery and spicy and perfectly festive! In pretty bottles it also makes a great gift.

Riddle's Ginger Compound. Sounds a little bit sinister.

Riddle’s Ginger Compound. Sounds a little bit sinister.

Ingredients

– One sachet blackcurrant jelly

– 900g/2lbs sugar

– 4 pints/2.4 liters boiling water

Directions

– Dissolve the jelly and the sugar in the boiling water.

– Cover, and leave to go cold.

– Stir in the ginger essence, and pour into bottles.

– When you’re ready to drink it, dilute it as you would cordial. It’s great with either water or lemonade.

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The finished product

And there you go. Two drinks perfect for any New Year’s Party. Or family gathering. Or, you know, drinking alone watching Bridget Jones’ Diary.

All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2014.

Christmas Baking: Mince Pies

I never used to like mince pies. But this year I’ve warmed to them considerably, for whatever reason. The shop bought ones we had in work were suddenly moderately enjoyable. But then I came home and had some of my mum’s. And they’re AMAZING. I know Christmas day has been and gone, but I recently learned in a Christmas quiz that apparently you’re meant to eat one mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas for good luck. But feel free not to limit yourself to one a day. In fact if you make these, I challenge you to limit yourself to one a day. Oh, and the crowning glory of a good mince pie has to be brandy butter. So I’ve included my mum’s recipe for that as well. She is, after all, the Queen of Baking herself. (Step aside, Mary Berry).

The amounts here make a lot of pies (six dozen i.e. 60, to be precise) so you might want to halve the amount if you’re not confident you’ll get through them all. Although they do freeze really well, and make lovely presents. Am I overselling? Never.

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You literally have no idea how long it took me to get that swirl of brandy butter to look aesthetically acceptable

 

Mince Pies

Ingredients

For the pastry

1lb/450g plain flour
6oz/175g lard
6oz/175g margarine
4oz/110g icing sugar
Grated zest and juice of one orange

For the mincemeat

1lb/450g cooking apples – peeled, cored and finely chopped

2 stewed apples*

8oz/225g shredded suet

12oz/350g raisins

8oz/325g sultanas

8oz/325g currants

12oz/350g soft dark brown sugar

Rind and juice of two oranges

Rind and juice of two lemons

4 tspn mixed spice

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

*I don’t know if this is a universally recognised ingredient, or a Daley family thing. It’s just cooking apples which have been cut into chunks and cooked on a low heat with a bit of sugar or syrup until they’re really mushy. You might need a tiny bit of water if they start to look like they’re drying out before they’ve reached a decent mush.

Directions

– The day before you want to bake your mince pies, you’ll need to make your mincemeat. I know this is a time-consuming process, but that’s a big part of its beauty.

– Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl until thoroughly combined.

– Cover with a cloth and leave for at least twelve hours, covered with a tea towel.

– If you intend to make all of the mincemeat into pies straight away, or within the next week, then it’ll keep fine in an airtight container in the fridge.

– If you want to store it for longer, then you’ll need to place it a baking dish loosely covered with foil, and warm it in a cool oven at 120c for about three hours. This slowly melts the suet and allows it to coat the rest of the ingredients, which prevents fermentation from taking place if too much juice seeps from the apples while you’re storing it.

-Then allow it to get cold and spoon into clean, dry jars. Cover with waxed discs and seal.

– On the day selected for mince pie making, preheat the oven to 180c.

– To make the pastry, rub the fat into the flour and icing sugar

– Add the grated rind and enough juice to make a pastry consistency

(If you’re a pastry newbie, then check out this tutorial from Delia Smith for a better guide.)

– Wrap in cling film, then rest in the fridge for at least half an hour

– Roll out the pastry (again, the tutorial from Delia above has a few tips)

– Now use a circular cutter to make the discs that’ll hold the mincemeat, and stars for the tops of the pies (or you could use another disc if you prefer, but I like the less- pastry approach since it’s lighter and more interesting to look at).

– Place the discs in the bottoms of the cupcake tray, and push down gently so that they mould to the ‘cup’ shape. You don’t need to grease the trays since there’s a lot of fat in the pastry that’ll stop the pies from sticking.

– Divide the mincemeat equally between the cups, then top each with a pastry star.

– Brush the top of each star with a little milk, then bake for 10- 12 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.

To serve, whip up some brandy butter. It’s very easy- in fact, it’s barely a recipe.

You need to make some buttercream by creaming together butter/ margarine and icing sugar. I don’t use a recipe for this, I just tend to start with some butter, then gradually add icing sugar until it’s quite a stiff buttercream. Then I add brandy to taste. To quote my mum directly, there’s only enough brandy when it ‘catches at the back of your throat’. So er, that amount. Beat it all together until lovely and smooth, and dollop generously on top of whatever you feel like; it goes well with anything Christmassy- Christmas pudding and Christmas cake as well as mince pies.

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The artistic bite

And now you can officially scorn shop bought mince pies. And forever wear the smug smile of somebody who ‘handcrafts their own mince pies, actually.’*

*I don’t actually recommend saying this out loud. It would make you an unbearable Christmas guest…

In terms of credit, the pastry recipe came from a family friend who was an amazing cook- she recently passed away, so it’s nice to make these and think of her and how she used to care for people by cooking for them. The mincemeat recipe is the one my mum has used for over twenty years, which she cut out of a supermarket recipe magazine, and has since adapted a little.

All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2014.