Disaster cakes

Preheat an oven to… what was it last time? I think I did it at 180 but I can’t remember if that was too high or too low? Try 160 just to be on the safe side

Weigh three eggs, and add the same weight of fat, self raising flour and sugar to a bowl. I use vegetable oil to save having to faff with getting butter to room temperature without melting it, at a fraction of the cost and without too much taste compromise. I was supposed to be using caster sugar but somehow someone put granulated in the caster pot last time it was refilled so I suppose that will have to do.

Zest a lemon – cripes, that one’s in a bit of a state, oh well, it’s what we have. Joe Public won’t be able to taste it by the time it’s cooked – into the mix and stir until well incorporated.

Spoon the batter into 12 cake cases, realising towards the end that whilst this mix usually does 12 easily, this time it looks a bit hit and miss and there’s only really enough for 9. Oh well, the first six were a bit over full and will probably spill in the oven so I can spoon two tea spoons out of those into the remaining cases. Oh drats, the case came away with the batter and now there’s bits of cake mix all over the tin. That will be a bugger to get off later.

Cook for I dunno 15 minutes? 20?  Check they’re not burning after 20 but they’re nowhere near done so turn the oven down, or maybe up? after that and put them back in. They’re done when a skewer – where the heck have all my skewers gone? Oh there they are – comes out clean.

Leave to cool while you watch Only Connect.

Put a pointy nozzle in a disposable piping bag and place inside cocktail shaker. Spoon in a few dollops of home made lemon curd. Pff, yes of course shop bought will do. Pipe the curd directly into the centre of the cupcakes with a firm pressure and oh god there’s lemon curd everywhere, all over my hands, oozing over the top of the bag, and out around the nozzle instead of through the hole at the end.

Neatly use a teaspoon to cut holes in the remaining unruined cakes and spoon the curd in before placing the top of the cake back on and hoping the crumbs don’t make too much of a mess.

Juice the lemon you zested earlier and add icing sugar to make a fruit icing. Not that much icing sugar you dolt! Eek, this is very firm, it won’t spread at all. Oh, well, it will be fine. Normally it’s too runny anyway. Spoon the icing over the cakes taking care not to… oh… the bit you cut out might come away a bit. Yes, there will be a horrid mix of icing and crumbs and it will look awful.

Garnish with jelly lemon slices, which for no good reason are not on sale in Sainsburys any more and don’t seem to be found for love nor money anywhere other than Evil Amazon. These jelly lemon slices were actually ordered before the summer holidays and have been sitting in my pigeonhole for six weeks, but they don’t seem particularly harmed and are still well within their date so meh.

Select six of the least worst looking cakey horrors and pack them in a box for work tomorrow.

Disaster cakes

Pudding club: speculoos trifle

When on holiday in Brussels over Easter we found many speculoos desserts on the menu in cafés and bars. It was a common flavour in icecream parlours. Heading out for a late night beer in the Grande Place and a speculoos trifle slash tiramisu was on the menu.

The spread is now available in larger Sainsbury’s and has been for a couple of years, and so is no longer something I have to stock up on in French supermarkets. It wasn’t so readily available when I made an online supermarket order and they brought the biscuits instead.

This recipe was half made up, half inspired by browsing these French recipes and a website somewhere that included savoury ones (eg lamb tagine where you add crumbs of speculoos biscuits with mint leaves and olives at the last moment.)

Speculoos is gaining in popularity – Olive magazine recently had an interesting looking cheesecake with a speculoos crust.

This speculoos trifle slash cheesecake tastes absolutely delicious but looks... #puddingclub

Speculoos trifle

Yield 6

1x 250gr Biscoff / Lotus biscuits
75gr salted butter
half a jar lemon curd
half a jar – 200gr smooth Speculoos spread
250gr mascarpone

Reserve three biscuits and blitz the remainder in a food processor

Melt the butter over a low heat and add the biscuit crumbs. Stir well

Divide the biscuit base between six ramekins and press in.

Chill a few hours until the base is firm. (Not essential, but it will help avoid the crumb coming away in the next step)

Spoon a dessertspoonful of lemon curd onto the top of each biscuit base.

Combine the speculoos with the mascarpone and stir until well combined. (You may prefer to leave it lightly mixed but well marbled?)

Pipe the speculoos cream onto the base. Chill again.

Break the reserved three biscuits in half and use to garnish.

Bank Holiday nosh

Had a friend over for some food over the bank holiday, which gave me an excuse to go slightly mad on the food front.

We ate…

Marmalade gin tonics

Shake a generous measure of gin, a teaspoon of marmalade, a splash of crème de pamplemousse rose, bitters with ice, and serve with tonic.

Marmalade gin tonic

Walnut and gorgonzola croissants

Half a pack of puff pastry treated like this:

Eurovision hors d'oeuvres

I also tried these little tomato half tartlets but the puff was much springier than expected and ejected their toppings in the oven..

Eurovision hors d'oeuvres

The starter was a stilton and smoked mackerel pâté – blitz equal weights of smoked mackerel and stilton with a little crème fraiche and freshly squeezed lime juice. For 4 small portions, about 100gr each.

Smoked mackerel and Stilton pate

There was a black olive and tarragon loaf from the breadmaker to go with it. More tarragon next time.

At about this point I stopped taking photos.

The disgustingly healthy main was a leafy salad with celery, walnut and grapes with a honey mustard dressing to accompany a frittata which will probably feed me all week. It’s a regular recipe as it uses up the eggs and is reasonably healthy. I used caramelized onions from the freezer that had been made overnight in the slow cooker, with a fresh onion, two red peppers, two packs of cubetti di pancetta and half a bag of very tired looking new potatoes that seemed to come out OK. I fry the veg, boil the spuds and then plonk the lot in a lined 9″ cake tin for half an hour on a medium heat, topped with cheese, with 8 beaten eggs. Cheddar this time, usually something bluer.

Still vaguely healthy for the dessert – a gin and pink grapefruit sorbet. I was very impressed with the juice yield from a single grapefruit but the recipe perhaps over-sweetens the mix and removes almost too much of the tartness of the grapefruit. Next time, three grapefruits, 200gr sugar, 350ml water. I completely forgot the egg white stage and the final dish did not seem to mind at all.

I also made some truffles – a small pot of cream halved and heated, in the first half 150gr dark chocolate, in the second half 150gr white chocolate. Pour the ganache into a bowl and enfridgen overnight. Scoop the mix out in teaspoons and roll first in your hand and then on either cocoa powder or icing sugar and plate prettily. This made far too many so I got to take a box into work as well. Plenty of opportunity to flavour with something liqueury but I didn’t this time. I’ve also before made earl grey tea and white chocolate truffles by steeping the heated cream in loose leaf earl grey before going on to make the ganache, but not this time.

New toy – slow cooker

I had been thinking for a while that I would like to get a slow cooker again. I had one before that I eventually put onto freecycle because there were too many annoying things about it. It was a sealed unit, which meant washing it without getting its electrics wet was a pain. It was pretty small. And there had also started to be a taste that came through everything I cooked it that was annoying me.

So we’ve gone many years without one, but recently I started to think it might be a nice thing to have again, when low and behold, there were suddenly half-price ones in the supermarket and so one came home with me.

In its first three weeks here we’ve put it to use two or three times a week – most obviously for casserole type things. We’ve had a lamb tagine, a chicken chasseur and a strange thing that I don’t think I shall make again, with chicken breasts in pineapple juice.

I used it almost entirely successfully to roast a chicken and then to make stock from the bones. The soup I then made with the leftovers was not a success, however. I have still yet to make a nice soup out of chicken bones.

In addition to that, it’s done sterling service preparing fresh homemade soups to take to school for a low calorie lunch most days of the week. Leek and potato soup was a success, if slightly potatoey. I’ve also been saving parmesan rinds for probably two years now, just for adding to leek and potato soup as per Julie / Julia. And then when I made it, I forgot!

At the moment we are cooking a French onion soup. The slow cooker was brilliant for caramelizing onions in the first place – chopped onions with a bit of butter or olive oil, seasoning, and sherry vinegar, just left in the machine on low overnight and with the door shut (so the delicious smell doesn’t invade the house.) In the morning add enough beef stock to cover the onions and then plenty more and leave it to cook all day.

It’s been busy over the weekend as in addition to Saturday night and Sunday making soup, it spent all of Saturday cooking baked potatoes. 8 hours on low with foil wrapped baked potatoes inside, plus an additional foil parcel with chopped leeks. Then scoop the centres of the potatoes out and combine the leeks and potato flesh with cream cheese and seasoning, stuff into the skins and microwave a little to compensate for the chill from the cheese cooling it down. Unfortunately this way the potatoes are not very crisp on the outside.

The slow cooker helps with meal plans – rather than choose all of my week’s food from all of the nice things I’ve ever made, I mentally think we need one veggie, one fish and then the rest of the meals. Now I know we need one veggie, one fish, one slow cooker and then the rest – and very often the rest can include a frozen meal from a previous week’s slow cooked batch.

The one slight niggle is this machine has a timer. The maximum amount of time it will cook for is 10 hours, then it switches to warm. We are almost always out of the house for far longer than 10, which means things cooking all day for far longer than is really ideal. If I set it going at 7am, leave for work, don’t come home till 6.30, and don’t want to eat till 8pm.

Ideally I would like to cook one night and prepare the slow cooker meal at the same time. But with the slow cooker you have to put things in it warm, so this has meant preparing tomorrow’s meal, putting it in the fridge, and then reheating it on hob over breakfast (porridge in one pan, chicken chasseur on another, whatever you do, don’t mix up the wooden spoons…) and then setting it going.

What should I make in the coming weeks?

Eating healthily at school

School food has improved no end since Jamie’s School Dinners. In my school you can’t even buy fizzy drinks or chocolate and there are no vending machines.

But I generally don’t eat in the school restaurant because when I do go in, I make poor food choices. I eat sandwiches rather than vegetables. I say yes when the lovely ladies ask me if I want extra roast potatoes. There are puddings with custard. And the nutritional requirements of hollow-legged, active, growing teenagers are different from those for overweight thirty-somethings.

The last few years, I can see from my weight graphs, I have lost weight in the autumn term, gained it over Christmas and then it peaks at the end of the summer when I get a bit of a grip again. My diet gets steadily worse as I get more tired, and when the lack of structure of the summer holidays arrives I am my own worse enemy.

But I do find I can lose weight at school if I am careful and sensible. This is how I do it.


It has worked well for me to take in a week’s fruit at once and have a fruit bowl on my desk. There is something healthy to snack on right there and you can see how well you are doing – it’s a visible progress bar in front of you. Last year I took in a banana and an apple for most days, this year I think I will try and add something else as well, citrus fruit or kiwis maybe.

Another benefit is that I can rarely persuade myself to eat breakfast before I leave the house, and sometimes not until I’m well into my school day. But if I just have fruit at break time, that still counts as breakfast, right? Even if I’m on my nth cup of coffee?

And if you want to consider it as pedagogy, you could even make the point that you are modelling healthy eating to your students.

Graze boxes

These give me lots of interesting things in small portions. Even if you go mad and eat two or three punnets at once you aren’t going to break the calorie bank.

If you’ve never tried graze, you can get a free sample here.

Tinned soup

I went through a phase last summer of eating tinned soup for lunch every day. It’s definitely nicer than cup-a-soup, and reasonably healthy. Low calories for sure, and it sort of counts as part of your five a day. It is generally pretty heavy on salt and industrial food. Just as the three fruit a day tipped me over my daily recommended sugar intake on MyFitnessPal, a tin of soup gets you a long way towards your daily salt ration. But keeping a stock of tins of soup in your classroom cupboard for emergencies is definitely a helpful thing to do.

My PT wants me to be avoiding carbs as much as possible, and certainly not eating bread, potatoes or pasta. Even so, I am on the lookout for other long life products I can bulk buy and keep in the cupboard for the days when I can’t be bothered to make a packed lunch (or I leave it in the fridge at home). Oatcakes perhaps, the nice Carrs ones wrapped in portions?


I really ought to be eating salad for lunch every day. At first thought, that’s a very depressing thought, but there are plenty of tricks I have come up with to help that work a little better.

I mentally categorise vegetables into three groups. Ones I can eat by themselves (carrots, sweetcorn). Ones I don’t like but can eat if there are enough other things on my plate to take the taste away (broccoli, spinach). And the ones that make me feel sick regardless of how I try to swamp the taste (swede, sprouts, parsnips… it’s a long list.)

Fortunately most salad veg fits the first category. Most leaves are OK – but those salad pillows do not last very long and if you buy them at the start of the week they are looking pretty sad by the end of it. And once the pillow is opened, releasing all the putrefaction delaying gas, the contents deteriorate pretty fast. And you also need loads of it to count as a portion. Whole lettuces last longer but then you have less variety, and you have to faff about washing and spinning them.

The crunchy vegetables last longer in the fridge and are more interesting to eat. By and large you need less of them to count as a portion, and lots of them are sweet too. I like carrots, radishes, peppers, celery for starters so you can get a good salad going with that lot.

Salad dressing

The vegetables by themselves need a little something to get them going, and a salad dressing is a must. Once on a channel ferry, a prepacked French salad had a one-inch tall plastic bottle with oil and vinegar in it for you to shake and make your own dressing, and that basic idea made its way into my lunchbox. I’ve got a small glass jar for the dressing that I keep separate from the veg until lunchtime, then shake it up and pour it over.

As all good cooks should, I have a variety of oils and vinegars to choose from as well as plenty of other condiments and ingredients to add. It’s certainly true that most days there are more calories in my dressing than all the vegetables put together. But it’s not an insane amount.

A basic dressing is a tablespoon of oil (EVOO) and teaspoon of vinegar (balsamic, sherry, cider, home made red wine…). Always a good screw of salt and pepper.

And then to mix things up, some of the following: honey mustard – runny honey and wholegrain mustard with cider vinegar; just a good glug of sweet chilli sauce; a good glug of toasted sesame oil for an interesting flavour; fresh herbs like basil or tarragon.

Salad – something to look forward to

And as if a delicious dressing wasn’t enough I also like another ingredient. I don’t have to have something to take the taste away as I’m OK with most salad vegetables, but it’s still nice to have something to look forward to. A good slice of deli ham is a great start, or something sweet in the mix – grapes or raisins. Something crunchy like walnuts or seeds of some sort for texture. Anything from the world of cheese.

My #2 nemesis – cake in meetings

Who can spell ‘obesogenic’? (I just had to check!)

It’s lovely that people bring cakes and biscuits to meetings. I do it quite a lot myself. We’ve had some absolutely awesome ones and some of my colleagues are really talented bakers. Some of us buy in our cakes and that’s nice too. My problem is saying no. Or just eating one biscuit. I’m not at all equipped to resist temptation, especially after a busy day – and a lot of our meetings are after the children go home.

My #1 nemesis

My #1 nemesis on the healthy eating front is the feeling that “after the day I’ve had I deserve…” and the thing I think I deserve is a really terrible food choice. “Drive thru” at McDonalds or Starbucks over the road from school – and even the threat of meeting students there is not always enough to deter me. If I make it onto the motorway without buying something daft, there’s always the four corner shops I have to pass on the way home too. At this point in the day I’m often so hungry I really can’t be bothered to cook dinner either, so the temptation to stuff my face is very real.

And the result is plain to see on my weight graph. Which I’m not going to share. So here’s to 20kg of weight loss and no putting it back on again!

Dinner party

I had planned to tidy the house over the summer holidays and then host a dinner party at the end of the summer holiday to celebrate getting over the C.H.A.O.S. (can’t have anyone over syndrome). However, I had left it very late to start and the place was still a long way from presentable when plans were formed to have dere ole friends over for a spot of supper.

Once a friend described a colleague as someone who went a little too far in preparing for dinner parties because “she made her own chocolates.” If it were tempering chocolate and moulds and fillings, I think I would agree but a few simple ganache based truffles are easily achievable if you have a few days’ warning.

Here’s our menu:

Orange gin and tonic

The original recipe from an old Olive magazine: Shake a tea spoon of marmalade for each shot of gin with some bitters and serve with tonic. I added some of crème de pamplemousse rose from a previous trip for a little more zing and was trying Fevertree tonic for the first time. This tasted good!


Another tip from Olive is to make frittata in a cake tin with a cake liner rather than a frying pan. This helps us particularly as we do not have any large non-stick frying pan. Fry an onion, a pepper, a grated carrot and some chopped sundried tomatoes. Add some ham chunks – I had roasted a bacon joint the day before to give some nice meaty chunks. Put the vegetables and meat into a lined cake tin. Beat six eggs with a heaped teaspoon of baking powder, pour on and bake for 30 minutes at 180 deg c.


I’m not so good at main courses, so any excuse to visit our local awesome butcher. Johnny provided us with some “cappuccino and chocolate” sausages and some “basil and tomato” ones. Popped in the oven as the starters went out, steamed some carrots and beans and boiled some new potatoes P grew in the garden. Served in warmed bowls for people to help themselves with gravy made with fried onions and mushrooms with red wine.

Pear 3 ways

Pear sorbet – blitz two tins of pears in syrup with the juice from one lemon and dump in the ice cream maker.

Poached pears – two large glasses of white wine, one of water, 300g sugar and a bunch of aromatics – star anise, lemongrass, ginger chunks, cloves, cardamom pods. Boil lightly until peeled pears are soft enough to push a toothpick into.

Pear jelly – set a pint of the poaching liquid with gelatin and separate into serving bowls, chill.

Reduce the remaining poaching liquid to a syrup to serve.

Vanilla mascarpone – one of the most delicious things I have ever made – a small tub of mascarpone beaten with two tablespoons of icing sugar, the scrapings from the inside of a vanilla pod and a few drops of vanilla extract.


Two different ganaches fridged overnight and rolled into balls. Peanut butter ganache from Dan Lepard’s cake – half quantities – 120 gr dark chocolate, large spoon peanut butter, splash of sugar, 100mls double cream, melted very slowly and stirred together. Roll the truffles in either cocoa or chopped peanuts. For contrast, an Earl Grey white chocolate – scald 100mls double cream with some Earl Grey teabags, strain and melt 120 gr white chocolate into it. Roll in icing sugar.


The latest beans from my monthly coffee club.

The dessert and starter were made well in advance, the main just cooked while we were eating.

Maybe now the house is edging tidier we might be able to do this more often.  I had a slightly crazy idea of doing two dinner parties two nights in a row with essentially the same meal twice running – edging from cooking to catering. The frittata would do 12. The poached pears could be doubled without too much hassle. Roasting 24 rather than 12 sausages makes no difference, but you would have to peel a few more carrots.  The real squeeze though would be having to do all the washing up overnight so you could start again the following night.

Eurovision hors d’oeuvres

We’re taking finger food to a Eurovision party this year, so I have made devilled eggs and puff-pastry pack two ways.

Eurovision hors d'oeuvres

Devilled egg recipe here. Glut of teeny eggs from newly laying small hens, so used them up in this. Quite faffy, hard to transport and not the sort of fiddly work my clumsy fingers are any good at. I should probably stop even trying anything with piping in it.

Then a block of all butter puff pastry is divided – this time I did 1/3rd tartlets 2/3rds croissants.

Preheat oven to 200 deg C

Roll the pastry, cut rounds. Halve cherry tomatoes and optionally pre-roast them a little in the preheating oven. Stick each tomato half to a pastry round with tomato purée and top with a sprinkling of grated parmesan. Bake until crispy, about 10 minutes.

Eurovision hors d'oeuvres

Roll the remaining pastry and cut into triangles, either from a large circle of rolled pastry, or less wastefully from rectangles. You are looking for very tall isosceles triangles. Place a small piece of cheese (camembert, goats, etc) and half a spoon of interesting chutney (I’m using something from the Garlic Farm) on the wider part and roll them up to form a croissant. Brush with beaten egg and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden.

Eurovision hors d'oeuvres

Serve with Meg Pickard’s Eurovision Bingo cards [PDF] .