Prioritising your food budget

MyJar v7a

MYJAR have created an infographic that shows what many UK residents are spending their wages on.  While we all have a need for entertainment, holidays and gym memberships, it’s surprising to see that every day necessities such as petrol are also on the rise with most of us spending nearly £10 a week on fresh fruit and veg alone.

We also spend quite a bit on treating ourselves to takeaways, up to £100 a month, which is obviously not helping either our waistlines or our wallets.

With some careful planning, we can spend less and make nutritious homemade meals to rival the most tempting takeaway treats to help us stay healthy and happy.  See my recipes for cauliflower pizza, cheddar and spinach muffins and hot cross buns and for tasty and nutritious meals at home.

 

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I’m moving…

Thank you for stopping by my blog. I’ve made the move to self-hosted so, with immediate effect, my blog will be found at the following address:

http://www.charlotteskitchendiary.com/

I look forward to seeing you over there, and I hope that some of you may wish to subscribe to my posts.

Best wishes, Charlotte x

Coffee and walnut cake

A homemade coffee and walnut cake on a wet day

I’ve been busy working on a big writing project recently. As part of my project, I have carried out some questionnaires to find out what people’s favourite cakes are.

I really was not sure what to expect as people have such different tastes, but the responses I received were unanimous, much to my surprise. It was coffee and walnut cake.

Coffee and walnut cake is an absolute classic, and can be found in cafes and bakeries the length and breadth of the country. But despite being a firmly established tea-time favourite, I think coffee cake has suffered. It’s suffered from being popular and often, poorly executed. A well-made coffee and walnut cake is a pretty unbeatable treat, but it needs to be made well.

So, who where better to turn for a great recipe, River Cottage of course! I’m of course entering this into River Cottage Rocks, which I am hosting this month on behalf of Jo at Jo’s Kitchen. 

This cake turned out very well. It was very tasty and not overpoweringly sweet, which we particularly enjoyed. Mine turned out a lot paler for some reason, as I did use proper espresso in it. The filling and frosting were very soft, but that may have been down to the weather on the day I baked this – it was quite humid.

A word of warning – I used some greaseproof baking paper I picked up in an emergency from Tesco. The cake stuck badly to the paper, despite me using some spray as well when preparing the tin. Sadly, you can see the edges on the cake have torn slightly whilst removing the paper. I won’t be buying it again!

This month’s blogging challenge closes for entries on 6th July – it’s not too late to enter!

My new project

Butter

This post marks the start of a new cooking project I’ve embarked on.

As I have mentioned before, I am spending an awful lot of time in the kitchen at the moment, working on recipes I can’t share for some time. But I’ve also felt the need for some time now, to explore some of the fundamental elements of cooking.

I called this blog Charlotte’s Kitchen Diary, and this is exactly what I want to do here. I want to document what I’m cooking and what’s going on in my kitchen.  What I am doing is far from groundbreaking, but it is a process of learning for me, which I want to share with you.

There are two areas which really want to focus on, which may well change as the project progresses.

The first area is attempting to make ingredients which I’ve never made before. I really want to understand how they are made and experience the process for myself. I may never make them again, but I want to give it a go.

I know that my paternal grandmother made her own butter, and I would hazard a guess that she continued to do so until the 1970’s or 1980’s, whereby she then most likely started to buy it from Marks and Spencer’s Food Hall instead. I first mentioned I was going to have a go at making butter to my mother, whose first reaction was “why?!”. Well, that’s a good point. You can easily buy good farmhouse butter and you can definitely buy butter more cheaply than making it yourself.  But I am interested to learn more about how many foods we take for granted are made. I feel a deep sense of curiosity towards time-old ways in which food is produced. I want to decide for myself what is relevant nowadays and what isn’t. Despite my pretty crazy schedule, I feel a strong desire to eat more natural, wholesome and simple foods. If I feel as though something really is worth making yourself, then I will, despite my time constraints. I’ll make time.

The second area is focusing on using local seasonal produce – trying things I haven’t tried before. I’m now not living in London full-time, and I want to make the most of the countryside around me. Although I have lived much of my life in a more rural environment, I feel as though there is much to experience when it comes to sourcing food locally and seasonally.

This first post involves two recipes. These recipes belong together. So much so, because making one leads to the other: homemade butter and soda bread.  When making butter from cream, the byproduct of the butter making process is buttermilk, which is the perfect ingredient for making soda bread. Soda bread is a favourite of mine (and also very addictive, both to make and eat!) but I have never made it using fresh buttermilk, nor have I made my own butter before. Until now…

My butter

Starting with fresh double cream

Homemade butter

Yield: 450g butter and 250ml buttermilk

Ingredients

800ml double cream

Sea salt if desired

Method

Setting up – a colander over a bowl lined with muslin

1)   Pour the cream into the Kitchen Aid or stand mixer with the whisk attached. Ensure the splashguard is on.

Starting to whip the cream

2)   Whisk for several minutes until the cream goes from lightly whisked, to heavily whisked, until it separates.

The cream curdling

3)   Drain the butter in a colander lined with muslin

The buttermilk, strained through the muslin and colander

4)   Squeeze the excess liquid out of the butter

Butter

5)   If you would like to salt the butter, add a teaspoon of good sea salt to the kitchen aid and add the butter. Whisk again briefly until the salt is evenly distributed.

6)   Roll the butter out into two cylinder shapes. Wrap in greaseproof paper and chill or freeze.

The butter. Rolled and wrapped, ready to freeze

I did not salt my butter, and froze it, as it has a short life when unsalted.

Shaping the soda bread

Brown Soda Bread

Makes 1 Loaf

Ingredients

  • 225g wholemeal stoneground flour
  • 225g plain white flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 25g melted butter
  • 1 tbsp treacle
  • 400ml Buttermilk

Method

1)    Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F), Gas mark 7.

2)    Sift together the flours, salt and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl and stir to combine. Add the melted butter and mix using a wooden spoon. The dough should be soft, but not too sticky.

3)    Tip the dough out onto a floured work surface, and gently bring bring it into a ball.

4)   Place on a greased baking tray. Using a wooden spoon handle, make a deep cross on the top of the loaf.

5)   Bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes

6)   When cooked, the loaf will sound slightly hollow when tapped on the base. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

I’d highly recommend making butter yourself. Admittedly, it is a complete cheat making it in the Kitchen Aid, but that doesn’t bother me. It’s simple and very quick to make. I costed up the process, and I reckon homemade butter is marginally cheaper than buying top quality farmhouse butter. But not by much. I’d be temped to make a batch using reduced (in price) double cream to freeze. I often see huge cartons of cream heavily reduced just after Christmas, for example, which we’d never get through fresh and I wouldn’t normally buy for that reason, but this would work very well. Homemade butter tastes very fresh and I love the idea that I know exactly what has gone in it (I always make sure to read the pack on butter, as I detest “spreadable”’ butter. I am always keen to ensure I buy the real deal.

On the soda bread, well, I am a convert. A soft dense crumb and a delicious crust, this bread is absolutely delicious and the easiest bread you’ll ever make. I like to use a British stoneground Organic 100% wholemeal flour.

Homemade soda bread and butter

New projects

I’m cooking an awful lot at the moment. Sadly, I can’t share what I’m cooking with you just yet. And I’m spending so many hours cooking, that I’ve been left with very little time to come up with more recipes for the blog.

Until now. Watch this space for an exciting culinary adventure. Very soon…

The Guild of Food Writers Awards 2012

As some of you may or may not know, I am now in my second year of membership at the Guild of Food Writers. As a relatively new food writer and at the tender (?!) age of 27, it feels such a pleasure and privilege to have been accepted as a member of the Guild, amongst so many food heroes and heroines of mine, whose books grace my rather overstuffed cookery bookshelves.

You can therefore imagine my delight at being asked to be a judge at this year’s Guild of Food Writers Awards. I didn’t play this one very cool. I think I was in the car when the email came through asking me to join the judging panel, and I’m pretty sure I had responded within 30 seconds of receiving the email with a “yes please, I’d love to!”

Several weeks later, the books started to arrive. There were a lot of them. And I’m talking mostly large hardback books. We seriously started to feel sorry for our trusty postman. And then there were jokes – not by me – after the novelty of so much post arriving every day had passed, whereby a virtual eclipse would be cast over the front of our house by yet another TNT lorry (you don’t see many of them round our way in Dorset) arriving to deliver yet another shedload of books to be read and reviewed.

Reading so many books critically did take quite a lot of time. But it was an absolutely fascinating experience. Some titles I’d wanted to get hold of for some time, and some were certainly books which would have never really have come to my attention otherwise, which did make very interesting reading.

One of the most interesting aspects personally, was seeing that many books which I judged were my Literary Agent’s books which have been published in the past year, which reinforces the sentiment that, I hope, I’m in good hands.

So, my job as a judge, was to come up with a shortlist of books, just three, which would be published by the Guild in the run up to the Awards. This was a very interesting challenge, which did concern me initially, but was in fact, remarkably simple. For me, there were a great many very good cookery books which where entered into the Awards. I found it hard to differentiate between them – they all had many differing strengths. But where the task was made easier, was the small number of truly exceptional books, which really stood out from the rest, and were clear contenders for the shortlist.

Another interesting aspect to the judging was that the judges did not discuss results until a shortlist had been reached. It concerned me a little to think that my choices could be a complete curveball to the judging process being such a newcomer (although a very well-read newcomer!). I was amazed to see however, that the judging panel’s choices were unanimous, which was an unexpected surprise!

Once the judging was out of the way, it was time to sit back and look forward to the Awards. I had a crazy schedule in the run-up and ended up coming back in from France from the Awards, so I arrived in a slightly jaded state after a fair number of hours travelling, wearing an ever-so-slightly crumpled dress, which I had managed to spill pineapple juice down the front of (don’t ask). I was thrilled to be able to take a guest, which naturally had to be my wonderful colleague, Jayne who helps me in so many ways.

The Awards took place on 30th May at Fishmonger’s Hall on the Thames in London. Fortunately, this was when we were still enjoying that nice warm spell, so it was just glorious to be able to enjoy a cold glass of rosé on the banks of the Thames with the other guests.

I’m not afraid to admit, I did get a little bit starstruck on the evening itself.  Playing it cool, as always, I had to run off and put my heels on as soon as I arrived, as they were too uncomfortable to stagger over London Bridge in on the way to the venue. As I carefully stepped out of the Powder Room, trying not to trip over in my nude LK Bennetts (which invariably seem get my friends drawing comparisons between me and Kate Middleton, although they fail to recognize I am about 6 stone heavier than the Duchess) I immediately bumped into one of my all-time foodie heroes, which did leave me stumped for words. This was to become a recurring theme on this evening. It was such a privilege to be in the company of so many inspiring people, and to actually see them in the flesh and chat to them.

The awards ceremony itself was most enjoyable, recognizing some real talent and excellent work. I was particularly pleased to see Emma Gardener and Silvana de Soissons winning awards for their work, which really is of the highest standard.

The evening was nicely rounded off by a chance to chat with the wonderful Claudia Roden, deserved winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award, another glass of wine, and a train journey home with Silvana and John-Paul de Soissons who so kindly saw me on to the delightful rail replacement service at Swindon at midnight or thereabouts back to the Cotswolds.

For further details on the Guild of Food Writers Awards 2012 and all winners and shortlisted entrants, please see here.