Friday, 30 March 2012

Carrot cake

What could be better? No, really?! Carrot cake is my favourite of all the many cakes I enjoy frequently.

This is a recipe adapted from one a friend introdcued me to some time ago and I've added to it and free-styled with it as I saw fit. This cake is very much a full-o-stuff type one and isn't iced (only because that's how I prefer my own carrot cake) but would easily fit with any kind of icing you could normally throw at a carrot cake.

The recipe is designed for a 20cm diameter, round cake tin and easily makes 12 sizable slices.

1/3 cup canola oil 

1/3 cup orange juice 
2 large eggs 
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1/2 cup drained crushed (or finely chopped) pineapple

1 1/3 cups finely grated carrot
1/2 desicated coconut
1/3 cup chopped pecan nuts
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
2/3 cup raisins
1 1/3 cups golden caster sugar
1 1/3 cups plain flour
zest of one lemon 
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger 
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

Preheat oven to 180c or 355f

Grease the side and base of a 20cm diameter round cake pan.
Stir oil, juice, eggs, vanilla, pineapple, carrot, pecans, walnuts, raisins, coconut, lemon zest and caster sugar together in a large bowl. ©
Sift in flour, cinnamon, ginger and bicarbonate of soda.
Stir until combined.
Pour mixture into prepared pan.
Bake for 55-65 minutes. When the cake is ready, a thin-bladed knife or wooden skewer inserted into the centre of the cake will come out without any batter attached.
Allow to cool in pan.


 Before baking, and after baking. 

Sunday, 25 March 2012


Recently I made trifle for the first time in a long while. And I had forgotten the very best thing about trifle - it is, very often, simply the best store cupboard desert ever. That is to say, I'm pretty sure that a lot of people with decently well-stocked pantries could make this without ever having to venture to the store. It can be prepared pretty fast, too, and then just left to sit and soak for a couple of hours in the fridge before serving.

You need:
One plain cake - an angel food cake or a plain pound cake is best (the older the better)
Jam (any flavor you like)
Marsala wine, or sherry
Fruit juice
Fruit - about 3 or 4 cups' worth (again, any you like - and it can be canned, frozen or fresh)
Devon custard - one can
Whipping cream, one box of instant vanilla pudding and milk 

First cut the cake into thin slices and spread half of them with your jam of choice, then make wee cake/jam sandwiches using the other slices, too. Leave the jammy sandwiches to soak in a (half-and-half) mixture of sherry or marsala and fruit juice (I've used orange, cranberry and apple at various different points). Put aside.

Whip up some special instant pudding cream - use half and half cream and milk to mix with one packet of instant vanilla pudding. Follow the instructions on the packet  Leave on one side.

Now, it's time for the layering. 
To get the full trifle effect (it is quite a beautiful dessert) you should layer up in something large, deep and see-through: usually a large, glass bowl will work.
First, put one layer of soaked cake, then half the fruit, then about half of the custard. Then the same again - the rest of the cake, then the fruit, then the custard. 
Lastly cover with the creamy pudding and stick in the fridge.
Makes enough for 6 large portions, or 8 normal ones :)

My own trifle was made, this time, with an angel food cake, cherry jam, marsala wine, peaches and blueberries. I iced my trifle, hence the bright green alien gooooo in the cross section picture. 

Trifle = messy, but tasty.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Current (dis)placement (2)....

.....or a Canada update. 

Life here is pretty awesomely good right now. The man and I have gotten in some travels, some freelance work, a lot of lovely days and evenings with family and friends and I feel like the more I see of this part of Canada, the more I'm falling for it.

AND I've been goofily ticking a few more seminal Canadian experiences off my list (not to mention very much enjoying myself in the process).

I've now seen a real live hockey game (not actually my first as we used to go and watch them when I lived in Scotland as a kid but it's been a long time and I'd forgotten how it all went down.) It was pretty damn exciting and it's always all kinds of fun for me to see virtually any sport played live and soak in the atmosphere.

I've been curling, something I had never tried before, or really thought to do. And I loved it! I can totally see the appeal - as a beginner, once you get over the frustration of trying to throw at the right angle and speed (something which more the more experienced people around you can make look so easy!) every throw gets better and better. I ended up the same as I get when I go ten pin bowling: getting so into it I was trying to somehow steer every rock psychically with my eyes after I'd released it. Sad but true!!

I have eaten  - 
poutine: a Quebecois merge of fries, squeaky cheese curds and gravy (mine also had pulled pork on top of it) ~

Nanaimo bars:
 a sweet non-baked bar thing with three layers, from the bottom up: 1. coconut, graham crackers and cocoa powder all held together with a bit of butter or marge 2. custard or vanilla puddingy layer 3. dark chocolatey layer 

homemade butter tarts: very good little pastries filled with butter-y-ness, a few raisins and some pecans

and...a beavertail: like a long, flat doughnut covered with sugar and cinnamon and other yummy stuffs

I gained some Canadian tire money, ate a super ice cream sundae at Dairy Queen and also find myself saying things like "trunk" rather than "boot" and "hood" rather than "bonnet" whenever the man and I are talking about the car.

I've made it up the CN Tower, seen a whole lot of art by the Group of Seven and feel like I've seen three seasons in Toronto in the same number of weeks.

The view out from the Tower was pretty glorious and we were lucky it was such a clear day but I was not having anything to do with the glass floor area where you could see, straight down, right underneath where you were standing. 

And I have now visited many, many museums - of civilization and the Cold War, of natural history and anthropology, of war and of (in the case of the Royal Ontario Museum) a whole other bunch of stuff besides. Best part of visiting the ROM? I got to wear a tail in the kids' room!!!

I also got in some of the best snowboarding, ever. Which is weird because this winter (which, dear readers, has FOR SURE ended already in the Toronto area at least) was short, warm virtually snow-less. I did not need the winter boots I had so thoughtfully researched and found before we arrived here and I had nothing like as many layers on through December - February as wore when I lived up in northern Japan. Still, for whatever reason, I gained so much confidence this season and I'm feeling better than ever about riding over the white stuff with only a dodgy old (free!!) board strapped to my legs.

I have also (and I have to say this ranks somewhere high up in my list of favourite things so far) made maple syrup. Now how many people can say that?! We headed out into a friend's forest, collected litres and litres of sap by hand from just some of the 500 or so trees he had already tapped, and then boiled it all down, stoking the fire and adding more liquid every 10 mins or so. The actual sap (to which nothing gets added at all) starts at about 99% water and 1% sugar so the boiling process lasted something like 10-12 hours until there was nothing but sugar and mapley sweetness remaining. After multiple filtrations, I was able (thanks to the kindness of our syrup-making friends) to take home my own wee bottle of the first batch of the year, which we'd helped to make. I took away 100ml, which was all that remained of what would have been 5 litres of raw sap.

I met my Canadian family for the first time ever! Rather like discovering a great uncle living in Tokyo who I had never met before moving to Japan the first time, I was thrilled to find that I had an aunt and cousins based right here, in Ontario. And I'm even more thrilled to be gearing up to spending a family Easter with them.

I've now visited 
three different provinces (I'm working on getting in another couple before I leave here in early June) and will shortly be heading for my first foray, this trip, to the States. NEW YORK CITY of all places. 

There will be more on my many
 travels around Canada on here itself - I'm going to do something on each big place I've visited in more detail - but for now, that's my wee update...with exciting photos to supplement.
Last but certainly not least - me plus Inukshuk.

The world's moistest berry cake

I was recently sent a cake recipe by a friend who knows me so well that she now emails me the recipes of baked goods to try and make, without me even needing to ask.
However, being me, I adapted the recipe a lot - I'm sure the original is great, too, but I wanted to experiement, and the result was very well received at a family get-together, so I was pretty chuffed.

190g butter
190g plain flour
190g golden caster sugar
3 large eggs
1 and a half tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ginger
1 and a half tsp vanilla essence
2 cups blueberries (frozen or fresh)
2 cups raspberries (frozen or fresh), half mashed

Heat the oven to 350f and grease a normal loaf tin.
Cream butter and sugar together. Then add the eggs, beating between each one.
Sieve the flour, salt, cinnamon, baking powder together then add in three batches, whisking between each. Finally add the vanilla, then the raspberries and stir again (less vigorously!)
Finally fold in the blueberries - stir gently and try not to squish them too much.
Bake for 35 mins at 350 and then for a further 15 mins at 375. To ensure the cake doesn't brown too much one top, I would move it to the bottom shelf of the oven for the final 15 mins.
Leave to cool completely before you remove from the tin.

The result is a moist, beautiful berry explosions!!
(I added the original crumble layer from the recipe I was sent to the top of the cake but I actually far prefered it without, so I omitted that in this version....but that explains the crumble in the pic!!) 

Monday, 19 March 2012

"Pip pip cheerio": some good old English scones

I've been cooking up some English faves since arriving here in Canada. Some of the recipes are ones I've enjoyed making before - fish pie, sticky toffee pudding and the like. But I've also been trying out some traditional, new (for me) recipes.

Above, for example, is an excellent picture taken by my other half of my first ever tasty wee scones. It wasn't an original recipe of mine so I feel fully comfortable saying that, frankly: they rocked.

They were quick and simple to make, this recipe made about nine of the little guys, AND when you decide you fancy scones, you can have them mixed, baked and cooled ready-to-eat in only half an hour. 

You need:
50g butter
225g self-raising flour (I made my own with 225g all purpose flour and 3 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp salt)
½ tsp baking powder (EVEN if you've added it already to make your all purpose flour rise)
wee pinch of salt
25g sugar
50g raisins or sultanas
1 egg
150ml milk (plus a little extra for brushing

How to prepare these afternoon tea lovlies -
1. Preheat your oven to 220c or 425f and grease a baking tray with a little butter
2. Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl together. Rub in the 50g butter until breadcrumb-y and add your pinch of salt.
3. Add the sugar and your raisins, then the egg. 
4. Stir in the milk gradually, making a rough dough which is not meant to be wet. You may not need all of the milk. 
5. Knead gently until smooooooth.
6. Using your hands, make yourself between 8 and 12 scone-sized balls from the dough and press down into the appropriate shape on your baking tray. Brush each one with milk.
7. Bake for just 10 - 12 mins until golden brown.

I recommend eating them warm, and plain. But maybe I'm an alien. Most people seem to go in for jam/butter/cream/some combination of those. 

ALSO worth noting: scones are a very guilt-free snack. These ones are around 200 calories each because the mix for scones is much drier and less sweet than for most cakes/cookies/muffins etc. 

So snack away my children, snack away........

Friday, 16 March 2012

Turkish stew

My favorite things about this recipe are twofold:
One - that it is very adaptable.
Two - that it is a damn good way of using up some leftovers.

The main thing about this stew is the flavors which are simple but very effective together. Have try and see how it goes for you. When I'd had this dish before (always made deliciously by my father!) we had lamb but, what I mean when I say is that it is adaptable is that, this time, I made it using chicken. In fact, leftover chicken. Hooray!

This recipe is good for four people and served us a treat for dinner the other night. It's one of my favorite ways to cook - throw a bunch of very tasty ingredients in a pan, and leave them to stew themselves, at a low temperature, all day. 

Some chicken leftovers - I had about 1/3 of a roasted chicken - shredded
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 green pepper, cored, seeded and chopped small
1 large eggplant, diced
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
about a litre tomato juice
salt and pepper to season
juice of half a lemon

Fry up the chicken, onion, garlic and green pepper in the oil and after a few mins, add in the cumin and peppercorns. Don't worry too much about everything sticking to the bottom of the pan. 
Add in the tomato juice and the diced eggplant.
Bring to the boil - there will be a lot of volume, but the mixture will reduce considerabley so don't worry about that too much.
Cook, covered, for about 2 -3 hours and then uncover (to reduce further) for another 1-2 hours. The stew should not boil but should simmer throughout. The final texture you're going for is a very thick stew which you could eat with bread nicely.
It also think this would work as a slow cooker recipe which you could easily leave on all day.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Some of the best questions I was asked in Japan.

Living in Japan as a “foreigner” is a fascinating experience, particularly if you are based in a tiny town, as I was, where you are the only person for miles/kilometres around who stands out as visibly different.

Especially up in the north of Japan and even more so in the rural areas of that region, normal people don’t encounter those from other cultural background on a day-to-day level and often the native English speaker who is teaching EFL in the community’s schools becomes the single point of real, human contact with different traditions, festivals and ideas.

I loved having all kinds of exchanges, often in all manner of situations – over the ice cream freezer at the local convenience store, chequing to use a busy washroom, releasing salmon into the town’s river with a bunch of dignitaries from the local area – with anyone and everyone who wanted to share things about their own lives and in turn ask me abut mine.

But it was a situation which lead to some of the best questions I have ever been asked, both by children and by adults. You can find the selected highlights below. My own, personal favorites were always the ones which were very closed and assuming – “It’s like this, isn’t it?” – even whilst having it (sometimes) very wrong.

“You don’t have rice in England, do you?”
“What language do you speak in England? French?” (Much like England and English, the roots for the country and the language name are also the same in Japanese).
“It’s always foggy in London, right?” (This is a really common misconception it seems…as though we all still lived in the smog of a Dickens’ novel.)
"How do you speak such good English?"

And the best exchange perhaps ever with a group of kids which exemplified for me how odd they found it that I could be from England but live in Japan:

Adorable first grader:  “Ms. Heather, aren’t you always really tired?”

Me:  “No! Why would I be tired?”

Adorable first grader:  “Because you have such a long journey to work and home every day.”

Me: “Well, it only takes me about 15 minutes, or 35 minutes in the winter.”

Adorable first grader:  “What?! But you live so far away and you have to take the plane and everything….”

Me (very much catching on): Guys, I don’t take the plane to school everyday. I cycle, or in winter I walk.

Adorable first grader (incredulous) : But you’re from England!!!!

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Good for the soul, but less good for the waistline: pb and j blondies

Oooo...just look at them. These are tasty, tasty treats, my friends. The recipe is not a big volume one (I made 10 wee rectangles only) but, as with everything peanut butter and jelly-esque, they are sweet and very flavorsome and a little sure goes a long way. 

I got this recipe from "rumbly in my jumbly" (a really excellent recipe blog if you ever want to check it out) and I didn't do much to change it at all - it works pretty well, just as it is!!

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoom salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, at room temperature
about 2 1/2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
about 2 tablespoons strawberry or raspberry jam

Sift the flour, baking powder salt and baking soda in a bowl and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl mix together the melted butter, brown sugar and vanilla. Once it’s combined, add in the egg and mix again.

Slowly add in the dry ingredients and mix until combined.

Spread the batter out into a lightly greased 8 by 8 inch baking pan. The mixture will be quite low in the pan - there isn't a lot of it but it is rich and will rise a little, too.

Place 1/2 tablespoons of peanut butter and 1/2 tablespoons of jam on top of the blondies in blobs -starting with the first row down, place peanut butter first, then jam and finally peanut butter. For the 2nd row, place jam, then peanut butter and finally jam. For the last row, place peanut butter first, then jam and finally peanut butter. There should be three rows of peanut butter and jam.

Take a knife and swirl the peanut butter and jam throughout the blondie batter. Just randomly swirl the peanut butter and jam and smooth it flat - it doesn't really matter how it looks at this point, it's all gonna get cooked and mished together anyway!

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. 

I didn't even try peanut butter and jam/jelly sandwiches until just last year, them not being much of a fixture in British cuisine, but I have developed an alarming love for the combo of tastes. And these, for sure hit the spot - keep tuned for more pb&j recipes from now on!!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Cinnamon toastie snacks

Fancing something sweet? Can't be bothered to make a full sized cake or a batch of (dangerous to have in the kitchen) cookies? Don't even have any real ingredients to work with?
No problem! Try some super simple, amazingly tasty, (virtually) instant snackable, sweet bites.

First, take some bread (as much as you want to eat, or to share) - anything you like, even several days old stuff. Roll it really flat with a rolling pin and cut off the crusts. Next melt enough butter to cover both sides of all the bread and, in a small bowl, mix some brown sugar and a big ol' dose of cinnamon. Using a pastry brush or a knife, spread both sides of the flattened bread, then sprinkle all over with lots of the sugar/cinnamon mixture. Fold the sides of each piece of bread into the centre and then roll up again into tight roll. Put the rolled pieces of bread on baking parchment on a baking tray and stick them in the oven at 375f or 190c for 15mins. 

That's literally it..... go on, eat them!!