Pudding club: foraging for food

Another post that has been very long in the writing.

I’m growing very slowly and gradually in the stuff I eat from hedgerows. I urge everyone to make their own elderflower cordial at around about this time each year. It’s really easy, the ingredients are easy to find, and elderflowers are everywhere in England at least. My recipe is here. This year I also have some elderflower gin which needs to steep in a darkened place for another few weeks yet, and which I will report on in the fullness of time. Loosely based on this recipe.

In years past I have made things with blackberries – I’ve only just finished a blackberry vodka made by steeping blackberries in a jar with vodka for a couple of days, then straining. Bramble jelly has been a favourite too, and a bramble / apple jelly also.

But beyond that, I have not been terribly adventurous when it comes to eating things that can be picked in the park for free.

A few weeks ago, that changed. Inspired by Alys Fowler’s Edible Garden TV series we made dandelion pancakes and nettle soup.

Picking the nettles was… interesting. There’s a huge patch around the corner from me, so I donned some of P’s cleaning gloves (( not that I don’t clean, hem hem, I just don’t mind plunging my unprotected hands into neat bleach )) and went to pick them. Standing in front of the nettles, even with protected hands, it was actually quite hard to summon up the courage to grasp the stems and pick them. Aversion to the sting is obviously very deeply ingrained from childhood.

Standing there in front of them, I was reminded of a story about an Australian friend of mine living and working in London, where he was unexposed to wildlife. When, however, he went on a choir tour the countryside, he returned with a very long face. “No-one told me about nettles!” he said. And I don’t suppose anyone did. English children learn very early on not to touch the nasty jagged-leaved hairy beasties and it would never have occurred to me that they are not common in Oz, home to nastier plants and nastier insects than almost anywhere else on the plant. (( “It is true that of the 10 most poisonous arachnids on the planet, Australia has 9 of them. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that of the 9 most poisonous arachnids, Australia has all of them.” – Douglas Adams ))

Anyway. The vinyl gloves protected me from the stings. For the first four stems. On the fifth, the nettle won, and so I returned home and got the really sturdy gardening gloves before continuing. Before long, I had a half-carrier bag full of nettles and headed home to soup them.

I was basing my recipe loosely on this one from Wartime Housewife.

Because I think I got there a little bit late in the nettle season, I removed the leaves from the stalks and discarded the stems. If I’d gone out earlier in the year when the nettles are still acid green, the stems might have been thinner and less manky. But at this stage in the year, I kept the gloves on in the kitchen and pulled all the nettle leaves off before sluishing them through the colander, and adding them to a pretty standard soup base – stock, onions, garlic, carrot, the usual stuff.

The resulting soup was definitely a distinctive flavour. It was a very dark, evil-green. It was nice – I couldn’t finish a whole bowl, but my companions all did.

For the dessert of that meal, we made Alys Fowler’s dandelion head pancakes. For these, I’d just picked dandelion heads – flowers, obv, not clocks – and doused them in a light batter before shallow frying. They were edible, a novelty, but not particularly nice.


Pudding club: chocolate cake / lemon polenta cake

I’m getting far behind when it comes to writing up the things I’ve cooked for various pudding clubs over the past weeks.

The week I made the jellies we learned at short notice that more people would be there than initially planned. I had already cooked ahead and made four individual jellies, but that would be no good for the 6 people who would be there, so I took the jellies, but tried to whip up a quick cake to complement it.

I made this Lemon polenta cake and it was delicious, but very unhealthy. A whole pack of butter!

250g butter , softened
250g caster sugar
3 eggs
100g polenta
250g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
3 lemons (3 zested, 1 juiced)
4 tbsp limoncello
3 tbsp icing sugar

Heat the oven to 160C/fan 140C/gas 3. Butter and base line a 23cm springform tin. Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (use an electric hand whisk). Add the eggs one by one and beat between each addition. Fold in the polenta, almonds and baking powder. Mix in the lemon zest and juice.

Bake for about 50 minutes-1 hour until the cake is risen and golden (cover the top of the cake loosely with foil after 30 minutes to stop it browning too much).

Make the syrup by warming the limoncello with the icing sugar until the icing sugar has melted. Serve the cake warm cut in slices with a drizzle of limoncello syrup.

(I didn’t use the limoncello drizzle as I knew amongst the eaters would be teetotallers and drivers – I just made a syrup of 100grams sugar, and the juice of 2 lemons)

In recent weeks, I have been watching Cook Yourself Thin – despite the fact that my own diet is completely and utterly off track now. Lots of Gizzy Erskine’s recipes have looked really nice, including the chocolate cake below. However, some of them have really weird ingredients, and I’m not sure to what extent I want to try trawling Asian supermarkets for mirin and gochuchang. Nor would I want to buy a big tub of chilli paste if it ended up I didn’t like the recipe!

The format of the show is: meet fat person; hear what horrendous fatty calorie rich terrors they like to cook; suggest lighter alternatives. There’s three dishes per episode, and the focus is a bit on technique and interesting alternative ingredients as well as just the recipes.

Many of the recipes could not conceivably be called healthy or low calorie in their own right. But they are better than the alternatives being cooked by the show’s daily guest.

So far they have had two cakes based on boiling a citrus fruit, and blending it, and using that as the mainstay of the texture of the cake. There’s this Moroccan Lemon cake, which I haven’t tried, but will; and this chocolate orange cake, which I have tried and mucked up a fair bit:

Serves 12 (< — no! no it doesn’t!)
Preparation time 15 minutes
Cooking time 1 hour 50 minutes
Cooling time 2 hours
Icing time 10 minutes
1 whole orange
125g fruit sugar
200g 70% dark chocolate, melted
100g ground almonds
3 free range eggs, separated
½ tsp baking powder
For the icing
150g 70 per cent dark chocolate, melted
Zest of 1 orange
3 tbsp honey

1. Put the orange in a microwave-proof bowl. Add 250ml water, cover with cling film and microwave on high for 20 minutes, turning halfway through (or simmer for 1 hour in a small saucepan). Leave to cool, still covered.

2. Heat the oven to 180°C. Line a 20cm round spring-form tin with baking parchment. Cut the orange in half and remove the pips. Put in the food processor with 5 tbsp of the orangey liquid left in the pan and blitz to a smooth purée, scraping down the bowl a couple of times. Add the sugar, melted chocolate, almonds, egg yolks and baking powder, and whizz again to mix thoroughly. Tip into a large bowl.

3. Beat the egg whites until stiff, but not dry, and fold into the chocolate mixture. Spoon into the lined tin. Put the tin on a baking sheet, then in the oven. Bake for 50 minutes, covering with a piece of foil or baking parchment halfway through to stop the top burning. Cool in the tin.

4. To make the icing, mix the melted chocolate and orange zest It will start to seize so mix in the honey and it will go shiny again. Transfer the cake onto a plate or stand then simply ice the top.

I tried to make this in the middle of the night, and consequently was trying to make it quietly. Not so possible when you need to blitz the orange into a pulp and use the whisk to get the eggs to stiff peaks.

The all-important garnish. "serves 12"
If it’s not garnished, it’s not finished.

My two major failings with this were: using the wrong sized tin – the cake mix barely touched the sides – and in the melting stage, allowing the chocolate / almond / orange mix to get too cool. Ideally, don’t microwave the chocolate, melt it au bain marie on the stove top. Then you make sure it’s still good and liquid. When I made it, the chocolate nearly solidified when added to the orange and dry ingredients. I then had to beat quite hard to mix it with the egg whites, nearly losing all the air and ending up with quite a heavy cake.

The final thing is a query about maybe whether the icing is just too heavy. Does the chocolate need lightening with cream rather than honey to get a ganache rather than, well, basically, a chocolate bar?

Previously on Pudding Club:

Tweets on 2010-06-21

  • Burton joyce (@ Burton joyce train station) http://4sq.com/9tOyZE #
  • The 1990 "Making of" for Total Recall talks about NASA's 20 year plans to colonise Mars. Are we halfway there yet? #
  • Beaker sings the Ode To Joy http://bit.ly/9NRt7v #

  • I liked a YouTube video — BBC Micro game Cybertron Mission http://youtu.be/sQ0rGboeOL0?a #
  • @jamesgraham all will become clear in a post. I'm almost bothered by Beaker = Alexander stuff, but sometimes you can be too right-on, eh? in reply to jamesgraham #
  • Good lord, they let @warrenellis reproduce? Dios mio. #
  • Cats, babies, graveyards, cathedrals. In their own separate ways, each of my Flickr friends has had their normal sort of weekend 🙂 #
  • Well, that's 4k words worth of blogposts written tonight. Now to some sort of activity less taxing on the wrists. #

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Weekly catchup:

Dear LDV reader, you may or may not have noticed that we have discontinued our strand of writing that used to appear under the Daily View heading, following a decision of the team last week. All of us writing it found it took a great deal of time for little reward, and some of us thought the clunky title with its numbers and acronyms did little to help our site’s readability. What we’ll miss is Daily View’s helpful punctuation of the day, marking the passage of time, and the daily opportunity to spread the linky love through the Lib Dem blogging community.

The quid pro quo of axing Daily View is a revival of the hated much-missed Weekly Catchup feature, which, in the latter months of its short run on these pages became less weekly and more catchup. After more than a year away, it’s like we’ve never been gone.


Iain kicked off the week with a look at the polls. They’re inconclusive and inconsistent.

We’ve had four big debates this week, with comment numbers running in the dozens.

James Graham led the charge with a plea for Lib Dems not to compromise on fairer taxes. What will next week’s budget reveal? Will we get Lib Dem tax cuts without the redistributive linked Lib Dem tax rises to make a cohesive package? Only time will tell.

The Deputy Prime Minister made a speech. Helen posted the video. You all had your say in the comments. You wrote over 12,000 words. Cripes.

Mark Pack explored the ramifications of the timing of the AV referendum. Me? I’d prefer it wasn’t at the same time as my re-election campaign. But it doesn’t look like it will pan out that way.

And Mark pointed out a tiny inconsistency in Labour’s approach to public spending. If you can call £44bn tiny.

Iain found something scary but exciting for our local government colleagues to think about in the coming weeks.

David Thorpe called for renationalising our railways. Merlene Emerson reflected on UK-China relations. Jo Shaw found healthy scepticism at Liberty’s AGM. And Linda Jack found the FPC in combative mood in its first post-coalition meeting.

Lib Dem Voice has a strand of writing called the Independent View, intended for people who are not Lib Dems themselves, but who would like to talk to vaguely Lib Demmy people. Availing themselves of the opportunity this week were Thomas Cawston, of Reform, reflecting on the Budget; and Sinead Doyle telling us about the Red Cross’s campaign for Refugee week. Look Beyond the Label.

Personal news this weekend. Chris Huhne is to get a divorce. Eek. Jo Swinson and Duncan Hames are getting married. Woo!

What Newshound sniffed out this week:
Jerry Hayes’s swearword
Nick Clegg says families should come first

Saturday’s cake

I joked on twitter last week that my reselection meeting was pending, and I didn’t know whether to make a cake or write a speech in preparation.

I got there on Saturday and found I was unopposed, so in the final count, neither effort was needed. Barring some sort of problem I will be one of the Lib Dem candidates fighting to retain our seats at the election in May next year.

But I did have in my diary a note to make a cake on Friday evening, so I knew I had promised to do so.

I have been waiting for an excuse to make this Dan Lepard recipe from the Guardian. I have his weekly recipe as an RSS feed, and about half of them look interesting enough to make.

This link was for a coffee and ginger flavoured cake with a lemon, cream cheese icing.

And me being me, I didn’t make it up as per the recipe spec.

I don’t have a 22cm tin (I never measure baking tins anyway, which, along with knackered scales, accounts for my hit and miss cakemaking), so I used a 2lb loaf tin. Putting THAT MUCH butter AND cream cheese in the icing seemed a huge amount of unnecessary fat, so I missed out the butter. I didn’t have any vegetable oil, so I used some hazelnut oil that is now, hem hem, three years out of date. The shop I went to for last minute ingredients didn’t have shelled pistachio nuts, so I just got chopped mixed.

But the cake I got out of it was… interesting. Don’t know if it was the lack of butter, but the frosting didn’t stay put and trickled down the sides in a sticky mucky way. The mix was a good fit for the loaf tin – it felt to me like it would have been not enough for a 22cm tin. But the flavour – I thought it didn’t feel terribly coffee-y or ginger-y. It was interesting, but a sort of muddy flavour. Not sure if I should make it again, but if I did, I think I would add more coffee and more ginger.

When I got to the meeting, it transpired the reason I was making a cake was for a “guess the weight of the cake” competition. We meet in a Methodist church hall, and the Methodists do not allow raffles or any game of chance, or alcohol as prizes on their premises. As we try and recoup the (very reasonable) room hire charges from those present, we have a game of skill instead.

I made things happen so that the prize from the guess the weight of the cake was not the cake itself, but half the kitty. I had not remembered to weight the cake before leaving home so we had to dispatch a kind member to the nearest Lib Dem home to weigh it, and it clocked in at 1lb 15 oz. Those members who’d spotted it was 2lb loaf-tin size were ultimately confounded by it being ever so slightly lighter than bread!

After the competition, we all ate a bit of it, and it was generally pronounced good. I even got a few pieces to take back home.

Will has a point about Bejeweled

Will Howells writes a good piece about removing the game Bejeweled from his phone.

Bejeweled is a PopCap game and they are very good at making games. Worryingly good.

From their stable I have enjoyed Zuma, Zuma’s Revenge, various versions of Bejwelled, and Plants vs Zombies. Especially Plants vs Zombies. But I came to PopCap firstly through Peggle.

Once you move beyond Bejeweled, they have a curious “try before you buy” policy. You can download any of their games and play them for an hour on a free trial before you have to pay up to continue.

They know they can afford to do this, because they know their games are so good that you’ll play them for an hour, barely notice the time passing, and then feel seriously aggrieved when your time is up. So aggrieved, you’ll reach for your card and stump up the usually fairly reasonable sum of money just to carry on playing.

Each of their games starts really simply, so anyone can play them. They even run on an average specced machine. They ramp up the skill level fairly steeply, but train you as you go so that you keep pace. Plants vs Zombies, for example, teaches you a new plant and a new zombie each level, and it’s fun, cutely drawn, and the music is good. Before you know it, you’re battling with dozens of zombies in a wide variety of scenarios. Peggle was the same. Start with the simplest of levels, and build up gradually.

Many of the games are easy enough to complete, but even if you play every level and defeat the ultimate boss monsters, the game doesn’t end. You can replay every level with a higher win ratio. There are seemingly infinite challenges based on the basic game engine. And the reward for even little wins is pleasing enough to make you want to keep playing: every successful Peggle level end ends up with rainbows, unicorns and the Ode to Joy. Srsly. And despite how that sounds in words, it’s great! Here’s a review of PvZ – and I endorse everything in it.

Peggle, PvZ and Zuma have a basic level structure and a game you can complete. Bejeweled, Chuzzle and their ilk get increasingly more complex, but technically if you got good enough, they’re probably infinite. (( Much like Cybertron Mission, where after the first four levels, you just got the same levels again with nastier bad guys )) They even have normal modes, where you get hazards, and “zen” modes where you just have the fundamentals of the games without the pesky threat of dying. So you can keep playing for ever.

I’ve been more than happy to pay for several of these games multiple times over, so that I can play them on more than one computer. Then, when I got an iPod Touch, mainly for leafleting (( and mainly because the UX of trying to get podcasts and music onto my Nokia N95 8GB – and still use it as a phone – is just too ghastly to do routinely )) I bought the games all over again through the iTunes store.

I have an ever so slightly addictive personality. If I like something, I get a bit obsessive about it. This usually manifests itself in reading all the books by an author, renting all the films with an actor and eating all the chocolate in the house. (( Unhelpfully, the addiction generally only manifests itself in unproductive ways. I have never been addicted to work. Or canvassing. Or leafletting )) Heaven knows what would happen to me if I even started taking a little bit of drugs. But with videogames it manifests itself with unhelpful obsessive playing. I’ve had nights where I’ve played PvZ all night. 6 hours straight is not all that uncommon. I’ve definitely played each of the games for so long that they have caused me pain in the mousing hand. And when I’ve switched hands, they make the other hand hurt too.

But the worst game I’ve been playing lately from the Popcap stable is Bejeweled Twist. Like Bejeweled, you have to match gems into rows of 3, 4, 5 and 6, and when you do, they explode and new gems cascade down. The method of moving gems is different – you have a rotator cursor that takes four gems and moves them clockwise. If you can pop gems with every turn for a successive 10 levels – well over 100 consecutive mini-wins – you get a Fruit Gem. If you pop 4 gems, you get a Flame Gem; 5 gets you a Lightening Gem. If you fail, the game makes a heart-rending “disappointed :(” noise at you. On the way, there are hazards like gems that are stuck and won’t rotate, bombs that tick down with each turn, and DOOM GEMS that tick down with each non-productive turn, but that can’t even be exploded!

Bejeweled Twist screenshot

Look at the screenshot. I’ve been playing this game for days. I’m on Level 57. There are fruit gems galore. I’ve over 9 million points. Somebody stop me!

Colleagues, if you value your free time and your wrists – and Will, this is especially applicable for you – DO NOT DOWNLOAD BEJEWELED TWIST.

And if you don’t want to download it – here’s a handy link

Tweets on 2010-06-20

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Hames, Swinson to wed

I had hoped not to write this story immediately after the last, less happy one, but sometimes, them’s the breaks.

Not since Baroness Scott and the Lib Dem’s bureaucrat of choice Mark Valladeres changed their facebook statuses to “engaged” has the Lib Dem online world been so charged with romance.

Now Jo Swinson and Duncan Hames used the medium of Twitter to tell the world of their engagement, to cheers of encouragement all round.

Every congratulation and wish for happiness from all your friends at t’Voice.

Tweets on 2010-06-19

  • The rather agreeable view from the roof terrace at Local Government House. http://flic.kr/p/8bmMN5 #
  • @cyningstan usually takes 5 or 6 to wake me. in reply to cyningstan #
  • Ha, indeed. RT @tom_geraghty: Ha! @robmanuel [b3ta] "By the time you read this, someone else will be a 'social media expert'" #

  • Haven't had a handle on a beer since I was in Munich two summers ago. http://flic.kr/p/8bkPsr #
  • Killing (a lot of) time before a train (@ The Betjeman Arms) http://4sq.com/7iSDBT #
  • #ff @nickwarren – lovely little stories that begin and end in 140 characters #
  • Ah, so there's an England #worldcup match on at same time as my train? There will be no point checking Twitter, then, #
  • Woman opposite alighted at Leicester, letting me stretch legs and crack knees for first time in 90 mins #
  • @NGHodder @lloydiejl yers, your beautiful game proselytism has been Highly Effective at work 🙂 🙂 in reply to NGHodder #
  • So have we been booted out of the contest, then? #
  • Hmm. Plugging my route into mapmyrun suggests my epic London meander this afternoon was over five miles. #
  • On the radio this morning: Wham, I Don't want your Freedom and Snow Patrol, Chasing Cars. They've merged in my head to a horrid earworm #
  • My reselection meeting tomorrow. Shall I write a speech or bake a cake? #

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