Monday, 10 November 2014

carrot cake

I often make this cake for other people and when a friend had a birthday this weekend this cake was requested.

The recipe I use is from Tessa Kiros's 'falling cloudberries* - a world of family recipes'  and I have to admit that the reason I first picked up this cookery book was because of its intriguing title.  

The book's introduction provides the first clue to Tessa's heritage and how she grew up with a wide variety of cultural influences: Finnish, Greek, Cypriot, Italian, South African and British.  
'My mother's name is Sirpa Tuula Kertuu Peiponen my father's name is George'.
Although not specific to any of the countries and cultures that Tessa grew up with, she includes Carrot Cake as one of her favourite's certainly one of mine.  

Carrot Cake recipe                                   

Ingredients - cake                                            
  4 eggs, lightly beaten
  250g (2 cups) caster sugar
  185 ml (3/4 cup) sunflower oil
  300g (2 1/2 cups) plain (cake) flour    
  3/4 tsp salt
  2 tsp baking powder
  1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  2 tsps ground cinnamon
  400g (14oz) carrots, peeled and grated
  55g (1/2 cup) chopped walnuts

Ingredients - frosting
  180g (6oz) butter, softened                        
  250g (2 cups) icing (confectioner's) sugar
  180g (6oz) cream cheese                   
Oops, I may have poked the cake
with the oven glove when I was
checking it -
it'll be fine once it's frosted!

  3 drops vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 180°C / 350°F/    Gas 4.


  1. Beat the eggs and sugar until creamy then whisk in the oil.
  2. Sift together the flour, salt, baking, powder, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon and mix into the egg/sugar/oil mixture.
  3. Add the carrots and walnuts and combine thoroughly.
  4. Scrape the batter into a lined cake tin (24cm/9") and bake for about an hour.
  5. Use a skewer to check the cake is cooked. Cool the cake on a baking tray. (I usually place it upside down on the cooling tray for a few minutes to slightly flatten the top before continuing to cool it the right way up).
To make the frosting: whip the butter and icing sugar together before mixing in the cream cheese and vanilla extract.  Spread onto the cooled cake, and serve.

  *Cloudberry - an amber coloured edible fruit similar to a raspberry.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

remembrance sunday

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Laurence Binyon's poem For the FallenSeptember 1914

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

Friday, 7 November 2014

sage gateshead - gregory porter

Last week we were lucky enough to see singer/songwriter Gregory Porter at the Sage Gateshead.
We really enjoyed this concert and although in some parts it was a little too jazzy for me there was enough of a mixture of jazz, gospel, soul, blues and R&B to make it accessible for even the most anti-jazzer.  

Gregory's rich baritone voice was backed by a band consisting of a pianist, drummer, double bass player and the alto saxophonist, Yosuke Sato, who delivered some particularly fabulous solo spots. 

If you've not listened to Mr Porter before - although you've probably heard him on the radio - have a look at this You Tube video and enjoy...and just in case you were wondering, he always wears a Kangol Summer Spitfire hat, 'his jazz hat', following skin surgery.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

the black swan - helmsley

After visiting Southampton last week we travelled back up north via Helmsley a market town in North Yorkshire where we stayed for two luxurious nights at The Black Swan.  This hotel overlooks the market square and along with enjoying the wonderful setting and lovely autumnal weather we devoured lots of delicious food and visited nearby tourist spots.
Our stay at the hotel began with a scrumptious champagne afternoon tea in the Tea Room.  There was far too much to eat, but we made a really good attempt at it and the waiter kindly boxed up the leftovers for us. The savoury elements of the afternoon tea consisted of a variety of sandwiches: egg, smoked salmon, ham and cheese on a range of breads.  From the patisserie I particularly enjoyed the strawberry tarts with their delightfully crispy pastry (no soggy bottoms) and also the lemon posset, with raspberry coulis and raspberry, which was sharp and refreshing after our clotted cream and jam scones.

We then had a three course evening meal in The Garden Room and complimentary drinks were given when we had to wait a little too long between our starters and main courses.  I had the Sea Bass and Fennel for my main

The next day we enjoyed a leisurely trip to Scarborough (that's another post) before getting to grips with a six course tasting menu on the second evening.  I didn't manage to get a photo of the Amuse Bouche, but feast your eyes on the rest of the courses.  I forget what they all were (and the menu has changed on the website) but I'll try to name those that I can...
Scallops with black pudding and ginger cake (our favourite savoury course)
Beetroot three ways with goats cheese
Pressing of Yorkshire ham hock
Braised feather of beef with pomme puree, wild mushrooms kale and shallot jus
Pre-dessert -  a delicious creamy popcorn 'espuma' confection 
with a nugget of caramel hidden at the bottom.
A lovely lemon dessert with sorbet, soft meringue and lemon cream.

As if that wasn't enough we then had petit fours with our coffee: chocolate fudge, mini raspberry macarons and papaya jellies (at least I think that's what they were).  The scene was fast becoming reminiscent of Mr Creosote's 'wafer thin mint'!

And the next morning a thoughtful departure gift, water and fruit for the journey home.

The Black Swan is a delightful place to visit. It is fairly pricey but the service is second to none, the rooms are beautifully comfortable and the bathrooms are stocked with Molton Brown toiletries.

This visit was our second to the hotel and I am sure we'll be back.

If I am allowed one quibble about The Black Swan though, it would be that the The Gallery dining room and The Garden Room were both dimly lit which is such a shame as it prevented me from being able to fully appreciate the presentation of the dishes.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

stocking up...

Well 'tighting up' just doesn't sound as good.
60 denier: black, brown and navy - packs of three from M&S
'keep you warm when it's cold and cool when it's warm',
and M&S 100 denier luxury mini cable grey tights 

Good reasons for wearing 'thick' tights...

  1. They are lovely and warm.
  2. They look good - although this might be a matter of taste, I think they look great with shoes, boots and wellies.
  3. They don't ladder as easily as lower denier tights.
  4. I don't need to shave my legs.
  5. They come in lots of colours - my selection from M&S probably appears quite restrained but I own purple and stripey tights too.  And although Miss R reliably informed me that navy tights are not acceptable I decided to throw caution to the wind and bought some - I do need some brighter shades though!
  6. Tights wash and dry much quicker than socks.
  7. Superheroes wear them!

Saturday, 1 November 2014

a taste of belgium

Last weekend we drove down to Southampton to visit grown up daughter, Miss R, a musician on a cruise ship.  It was a brief meeting but lovely to see her after 2 1/2 months away.  She had just been on short trip to Bruges which explained her lovely gifts - a wonderful assortment of gorgeous Belgian chocolates for me.  

Nestled amongst the chocolates is a white chocolate swan.  Swans are a common sight on the canals of Bruges, this medieval legend explains why:
The legend of the Bruges swans came about in the period after Mary of Burgundy’s passing (1488). Pieter Lanchals, a name which means 'long neck', who was one of the town administrators belonging to the court of Maximilian of Austria, was executed in the Bruges market square. Legend has it that Maximilian punished Bruges by obliging the population to keep 'long necks', or swans, on their lakes and canals till eternity. To this day, proud swans guard the Bruges canals. 

 There was also a quartet of Belgian beers:

Her lovely gifts also brought back happy memories of a fabulous trip to a very, very chilly Bruges with friends last year.

Some beer may have been drunk!

Friday, 31 October 2014

roast parsnip & parmesan soup

Today was a lovely sunny day and pretty breezy too - a perfect laundry day. 

Between laundry loads I managed to make some tasty soup using a recipe from 'New Covent Garden's Book of Soups (New, Old & Odd Recipes)'.


450g/1lb parsnips, peeled and cut into lengths
50g/2oz freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp virgin olive oil
small knob of butter
1 medium onion finely chopped
1 tbsp plain flour
1.35 litres (2 1/4 pints) light chicken stock
salt and pepper
4 tbsp double cream

To make (by the book):
  • Simmer the parsnips in boiling salted water for 3 minutes, drain then add half the parmesan, the butter and oil, and roast for 45 minutes before draining off the oil. 
  • Use the excess oil to roast the onions until soft then stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute.
  • Add the stock stirring continuously, bring to the boil and add the parsnips before simmering for 10 minutes.
  • Puree with the remaining cheese.
  • Stir in the cream and season.

My changes:
  • Place the parsnips in the roasting dish with the oil and butter and roast for 30 minutes (no need to par boil).
  • Add the chopped onion and roast for a further 15 minutes.
  • Place the roasted vegetables and half of the cheese in a large pan.
  •  Add the flour to the roasting dish with some of the stock before adding to the vegetables with the rest of the stock.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes before blending.

I made parmesan crisps with the remaining cheese.  Sprinkling the parmesan onto baking parchment in a small pan made it easier to place the cheese discs them on a rolling pin to curl and crisp up.

I didn't have any cream so used creme fraiche, putting dollops into the soup before topping with parmesan crisps and seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Sunday, 26 October 2014


Looking in the fridge today I noticed that there were loads of vegetables that needed to be used up before they passed their best.  So a favourite meal of roasted vegetables with halloumi became the plan for our evening meal.
Into the roasting dish went yellow courgettes, red romano peppers, green peppers, baby plum tomatoes, aubergine and red onion.  While in the smaller bowls there's sliced halloumi and chopped garlic, capers and sun dried tomatoes.

The vegetables were mixed well and drizzled with olive oil before roasting for a while to get some colour around the edges, Then the garlic, capers and sun dried tomatoes were stirred in before topping the lot with the halloumi slices. There was some mozzarella that needed to be used up too so that went on the top as well.

I normally add mushrooms - but didn't have any this time.  You could also add black olives or chilli, as well as pancetta or chorizo if you happen to have some handy.

I haven't added specific timings for this as you just cook the vegetables to your liking and then roast/grill the halloumi to suit your tastes.  

It might not be the prettiest of dishes, but what it lacks in looks it more than makes up for in flavour and I'm sure it covers your 5 a day, or 7 a day (or whatever it is now).  

It goes particularly well with brown rice or crusty bread and any leftovers are rather tasty in a roll, wrap or pitta bread.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

craft beer calling...another beer festival!

Last night we went along to Craft Beer Calling a beer festival being held this weekend at The Boiler Shop, an all weather warehouse that was the birthplace of Robert Stephenson's Rocket, just behind Newcastle's Central Station.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that I like a beer, but you couldn't be more wrong...I'm completely teetotal!  Not drinking doesn't prevent me from going along to events to have fun with friends, people watch, see what's happening locally and surprise, surprise, I'm always asked take the role of the designated driver - that's why my OH and friends are pleased to have me there.

The festival was a ticket only affair and by the time we arrived on Friday evening it was pretty lively.

I think the ratio of men to women was probably about 8:2, so loads of testosterone and lots of beards.

Apart from drinking cask and keg beers you could try artisan cider and have a tipple at the gin bar...

Surprisingly as a teetotaller there was also something new for me to try...Cascara and Tonic from the Pink Lane Coffee stand. 
 A cold drink with tonic and without milk; Cascara is the dried fruit from the coffee 'cherry', the seed of which is the coffee bean and is normally a waste product.  High in caffeine it has an interesting taste - an initial bitterness with a sweet fruity aftertaste

Food was available too..
...the guys cooking it looked rather hot.

We also tried some new to us crunchy snacks made from lentils and spices.