Cookbook addiction...

propsHow many cookbooks do you have?  Oh my goodness there are ……!  Is that too many?or not enough?  I comfort myself with Nigella's admission that she has in excess of 4,000 - I'm not nearly at that number, although I must confess to rather more than most... I can truthfully say that I have cooked from all of them (as butter-stained pages will certify), and all have passed my test…it might seem unthinkable but there actually are books out there with recipes that don't work, and never will (a book from two famous London chefs comes to mind - dozens of eggs and kilos of French butter later I conceded defeat).

So, in no particular order, I offer you the following list for armchair reading...

How to be a Domestic Goddess - by Nigella Lawson This is one of the most used books on my shelf - I have lost count of the number of recipes here that are my baking staples, and I love Nigella's writing...

Wholefood Baking - by Jude Blereau Another well-used and splattered reference - this is my go-to if I want to incorporate wholefood principles and ingredients in my baking - the recipe for Better Buttercream is the best ever;

Philippa Grogan and Richard Cornish's Home Baking This recently released gem has not yet had time to become butter-stained, but I know that's going to happen…following on from the phenomenal success of her baking business, Phillipa brings recipes back to a domestic scale and shares her secrets and advice, whilst generously revealing the sources of these recipes, often family and friends;

Sweet - Dan Lepard  Our very own Aussie baker showing the world how its done - he began baking in Australia and now calls England home, where he is also the baking guru of the prestigious Guardian newspaper.  You may know him as the gentle and kind co-host on Australia's Bake-Off series, which aired last year...

A Passion for Baking - Jo Wheatley  Whilst we're on the subject of the Bake-Offs, this is the first book from the winner of the British series.  Tried and tested on her family of three boys, these are accessible recipes that can be made without complicated equipment or ingredients; all will be very well received!

Sweet Tooth - Lily Vanilli (Lily Jones) At the moment I only have this as an e-book, so I'm trying to figure out how to safely use my i-pad in the kitchen as I cook my way through these inspiring recipes.  Operating from a bakery in London's East End adjacent to the Flower Market, Lily Jones underpins great creativity with sound science to ensure that her readers not only have great success, but also understand the process behind successful baking;

The Primrose Bakery Book - Martha Swift & Lisa Thomas is the next part of the success story that is the bakery in London's Primrose Hill.  Dismayed at the artificial nature of many cakes on the market, these two enterprising Mums started baking cakes to give to their own children, opened a small bakery, and the rest is history…their recipes are simple, easy to prepare and beautiful to look at and eat;

Ottolenghi -  The Cookbook As anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing one of the Ottolenghi cafes in person will attest, this is some of the most generous beautiful food around…this gorgeous book showcases this visual splendour alongside clear and mouth-watering recipes.  Whilst baking is just one chapter of the book, I recommend it for all the wisdom it contains...

Stephanie Alexanders Cook Companion App - this is an electronic version of the book on almost everyone's shelf - brilliant to have on hand if you're away from home but need inspiration on so many levels - Mietzi's Plum Cake is one of my all-time favourites…and the brilliant design of the app has made a visually beautiful job of hundreds of pages of print…

How to Bake -  Paul Hollywood  Mr Hollywood shot to fame as the baking host of Great British Bake-Off, alongside the one and only Mary Berry (see below), and unlike many tv hosts, actually trained as a baker in his father's business before going on to open his own outlet and feature in celebrity gossip pages (notwithstanding his recent mishaps, these are rock solid, achievable recipes that anyone can reproduce…)

The Baking Bible - Mary Berry No shenanigans here - Mary Berry has been the Queen of British cooking and baking in a remarkable career spanning 40 years; much like our own Margaret Fulton.  This book contains many of her favourite tried and true recipes, I particular like her tray bake section - great for lunchboxes and bring a plate occasions...

Please click on the slideshow below to see the covers of all of these books, and just think - if you buy your Mum one of these you can hope she'll bake something for you, or if that strategy fails, you can borrow the book - either way - you win!

 

Baking as therapy

'life is what happens when you're busy making other plans' John Lennon's words have never rung so true as in the past few weeks of my life.  A long-awaited European holiday came to an abrupt halt after only 48 hours; around the world in four days, and that was just the beginning... blood orange cake with marmalade glaze

As I've struggled to be a grown-up and a loving daughter, even my desire to bake waned...lost in a fog of sadness and grim realities I hoped I would never have to face.

Until today, when the urge to create something positive returned...and here is the outcome of that re-kindled baking urge - courtesy of one of my food heroes - Dan Lepard.

This orange, walnut and cinnamon loaf is simple to make, doesn't need complex lists of ingredients or equipment, and will gladden any heart - either yours; or those of the lucky people you share it with...

I can't make the harsh realities of life go away, but I can choose to keep the sadness at bay, one bake at a time; I hope you'll join me...

 

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Venice - I still love you...

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Beautiful Venice is surely a victim of her own popularity - on our latest visit, we were stunned to learn that La Serenissima now receives 20 million visitors a year! It's hard to imagine how a city can absorb such numbers and still keep up any degree of authenticity...it's said that Venice is a theme park, but that's been true for centuries...

And yet, still we make the pilgrimage; each of us imagining that somehow we won't be taken for tourists, but will meld into the beauty, and, just for a few magical days, feel a part of the city...

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Nothing prepares you for the first sight of Venice, whether it's a brand new love affair or a re-kindling of the passion, there is quite simply, nowhere like it.  Top of my list is to arrive by water; walk a few hundred metres from the arrivals hall and step onto a gleaming wooden hull of a private taxi; for the next 40 minutes experience one of the great boat rides of the world...it should be said that the same views are available from the public boats, but you don't have the thrill of speed; the beauty of course is free...Should you arrive by train, coming out of Santa Lucia Railway Station is to be thrust into the centre of the city - you're right on the Grand Canal.

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Venice is a city of churches, around 80 are still consecrated, the pealing of church bells is the soundtrack to the city, along with the tinny recorded voice announcing 'prossima fermata' (next stop) on the vaporetti...Vivaldi's genius sprang from this fertile lagoon, and his exquisite stanzas hang in the air of the calles and alleyways...

Touching the stones of Venice is to hold hands with fifteen centuries of history;  if this isn't enough of a connection, spend an hour or two in the jewel-box like interiors of the Venetia Studium stores, silks and velvets with provenance almost as lengthy as the stone; every nuance of the city's colour palette appears...

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The smell of Venice is as multi-layered as it's history...base notes of water, salt and mud, overlaid with incense, coffee and parmesan...

And finally, to the taste...

Restaurants run the gamut from hole in the wall establishments, to bars serving panini and tremezzini; ciccetti and gelato; right through to some of the most glamorous restaurants in a country that does glamour very well indeed.

Ristorante Riviera Dorsoduro 1473 30123 Venezia t:0415227621 – we lunched here one very rainy Sunday having seen corners of Venice from beneath the brims of our umbrellas – gatherings after church; midday passiggiata; slick cobblestones echoing to the sound of purposeful footsteps – not a day for dawdling – we pass the beggar whose eyes will haunt me always – is it for him the bells toll? and into a loud, crowded, narrow restaurant – the owner’s father was celebrating his birthday - and so begins one of those memorable afternoons with nowhere to go and nothing to do but enjoy the generous hospitality of this warm exuberant family and their startlingly beautiful children. Delicious food, and a new discovery – sgroppino – vodka, lemon gelati and champagne – oh dear!  We ate here twice whilst in Venice on our honeymoon and enjoyed another equally memorable occasion – even though the eyes of my conscience are not there, I am still acutely aware of their presence…

Alla Vedova - Cannaregio 3912 Rama Ca'd'Oro 041 5285324 – just at the back of Ca D’Oro – down an alley – fantastic cicetti – the Venetian version of tapas – try a selection as your antipasto especially the baccalao, sardines cuttlefish – be guided – you won’t be misled.

While we're on the subject of ciccetti - head to Osteria al Squero, via Trovaso Zattere 30123 Venice +39 335 600 7513 - at this little hole in the wall on Dorsoduro...you'll discover delicious wines, a warm welcome, and an opportunity to partake of some of Venice's best - a seemingly endless variety of small bites, mostly served on thin slices of bread - interesting combinations, great pairings of flavours, killer spritz, and a view of one of Venice's few remaining gondola workshops...perfetto!

Alla Testiere Castello 5801 Calle del Mondo Novo 041 5227220 Bruno e Luca – slick, groovy, tiny, this is the first time I truly understood grappa – sensational food and floating out into the Venetian afternoon on an alcohol fuelled cloud...

Lineadombra – Ponte dell’Umilita Dorsoduro 19 30123 Venezia (Alberto) t:041 241 1881 – modern, slick and edgy; outstanding fish cooked in a salt crust – theatre and interaction; worth the high price tag.

Osteria ai 4 Feri – Calle lunga S. Barnaba Dorsoduro 2754/A 30123 Venezia +39 041 520 6978 – cheek by jowl; speedy, noisy, delicious fish, curly haired girls with great big smiles (Ron was a favourite).

El Chioschitto - Fondamente Zattere al Punto Lungo This must surely be one of the best-located bars in the whole world!  What was once a small kiosk which served the naval officers from the adjacent offices is now a thriving, funky bar serving all manner of panini, tremezzini and the cheapest Spritz Aperol in Venice.  It's a regular spot for locals for an aperitivo on the way home from work or out to dinner; we have been known to spend many a happy hour here basking in the sunshine and watching the locals out for passeggiata...in a city where staggering views are in abundance, the aspect across the Giudecca is spectacular.

Osteria al Ponte del Diavolo - Fondamenta del Borgognoni 10/11 Torcello.  +39 041 73 0401 When the crush of humanity starts to weigh heavily on you, jump on the vaporetto and take yourself out through the lagoon to Torcello.  This quiet island is one of my favourite destinations in Venice, it has a melancholy, lonely feeling and yet is all the more beautiful for it.  And there's a bonus - Locanda Cipriano, where the rich and famous arrive by boat for Sunday lunch, and Osteria al Ponte del Diabolo, an old establishment set in lovely gardens and filled to capacity on Sunday lunchtime with families large and small.  Fish is the speciality of the house, mostly from the lagoon; always delicious.

lemon curd shortbread - tea time favourite

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Shortbread is a universally popular biscuit, not just in Scotland, where it originated before the middle ages, but also in England, Europe and of course Australia.  

Everyone needs a good shortbread recipe in their repertoire, and after many experiments, I can declare that this is my favourite…it's as light as air, delivers great crunch and can be altered in any way that takes your fancy by changing the centre - in the shot above it's tart and tangy lemon curd, but here it is with chocolate ganache:

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 It's simple to make, requires only a few pantry ingredients, and keeps really well - what's not to love?

And if you're wondering…the term 'short' in a baking context indicates that the recipe has a high proportion of fat to flour; that's certainly the case here…so make sure you use good quality, fresh butter...

icing sugar, flour & cornflour

almonds and flour mix

here's the butter to make it short

 

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Maltesers - rhymes with pleases...

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The Malteser cake is a perennial favourite of mine, the recipe comes from Nigella Lawson's epic book 'Feasts' and combines two of the worlds favourite flavours; chocolate and malt.   Maltesers were created Forrest Mars, Sr., of the Mars confectionary company in 1936, and first sold in 1937. They were originally described as "energy balls" and aimed at slimming women; indeed the advertising of today still refers to them being the 'lighter' way to enjoy chocolate.

Researching this post sent me off on a nostalgic journey through my childhood in England of the 1960's.  Like many post-war parents, my mother had an abiding interest in the nutritional value of food, largely as a consequence of war time rationing, and the long list of things which were unavailable for many years, right up until the mid-50's in England.  I grew up with the familiar sight of a can of Horlicks in the kitchen cupboard; and except for the modern plastic packaging, nothing's changed; warm Horlicks is still something I enjoy on cold winter nights.  The powder, made from a combination of malted barley and wheat first appeared in the 1870's as a food supplement for infants.  

This is a brilliant recipe for a birthday cake, it looks very cute, cuts really well and keeps well for a couple of days - although that's not very likely!

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