Hazelnut meringue cake…

I promised I’d be back with the recipe for the amazing hazelnut meringue cake that we had over Easter, and here I am!

IMG_20130331_154133Apparently Mum used to make them all the time when I was little, but then I think they fell out of fashion and everyone thought they were a bit naff. But I think it’s definitely time for a 70s revival!

Apologies for the link to the Daily Mail – my mum didn’t get the recipe from the Mail but it’s identical to the recipe we used and I can’t find it anywhere else on the net! So here it is. We didn’t bother roasting and chopping the hazelnuts, we just bought bags of roasted and chopped nuts instead. And we added our own little tweaks – we put some Frangelico liqueur in with the whipped cream, and we drizzled some gorgeous Dulce de Leche over the top.

It was SERIOUSLY GOOD. Just look at it.

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It’s been a long time…!

Over a month since my last post. Whoops!

Good old marathon training has truly taken over my life in the last few weeks. 20-mile runs, interval sessions, 10 miles every Wednesday…it doesn’t leave a lot of time for anything else! Add to that the fact that I’ve had the dreaded IT band issues (a phrase to strike fear into the heart of any runner and something that affects lots of people when they start marathon training) and I really have been eating, sleeping and breathing running. Thankfully my running club is sponsored by an excellent physio clinic, and they’ve certainly been doing well out of us recently – just about all of my training buddies have suffered some sort of injury or niggle! I’ve been having weekly physio appointments since my leg started hurting (and after a truly terrifying experience when what was meant to be a 22-mile run ended up with me stopping after 8 miles with stabbing pains in my knee…) and I’ve noticed a massive difference. My legs are stronger and I’m pretty much pain-free (apart from the obvious post-run aches!)

Before Easter training really ramped up an extra notch as I did 20 miles on the Sunday, 10 on the Wednesday and then 22.5 on Good Friday. Ouch! Last Friday saw me complete my last long run before the big day – a nice 16 miles along the river to Chiswick – and now I’m doing what’s called ‘tapering’, where you reduce your mileage in order to conserve energy for the marathon. I am having the classic ‘But surely I’m not running far enough? What if I suddenly lose all my fitness and forget how to run 20 miles?’ freakout, but I’m assured that’s perfectly normal, as is worrying about every single twinge and ache! But we’re less than two weeks away from the big day, and I’ve followed my training plan and worked my way up to some serious distances, and I’ve got three 20+ runs under my belt, so now I just have to trust that everything will be OK!

I will leave you with a photo of the amazing hazelnut meringue cake that my mum made for Easter Sunday lunch – and I’ll be back with the recipe!

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Veg Box Day: 05/03/13

IMG_20130305_204527Another green veg box! And another box with no potatoes, hoorah! I am saved from the Great Potato Mountain (for the time being…)

This week’s box has portobello mushrooms, red kale, courgettes, leeks, broccoli and carrots – all brilliant. And a swede. Not so brilliant, as I still haven’t used the one from my last box! So it’s the Great Swede Mountain instead of the Great Potato Mountain. Riverford do have a nice-looking recipe for Indian spiced swede on their website, though, so I might have to have a go at that!

Cupcakes and a hedgehog…

I have a friend who is expecting a baby, and she had a baby shower at the weekend. Naturally I decided to bake cakes for this occasion! But these were no ordinary cakes. Said friend had been given a lovely collection of old recipes from Persephone Books for Christmas, and we both fell about laughing when we found the recipe for ‘A Hedgehog Tipsy Cake’, which had been submitted by a Mrs Gladys Langley from Acton in 1931. You probably had to be there, but it was hilarious at the time and we decided I had to have a go at baking it for the party.

Apparently the recipe itself is from the 18th century, and the description was hilarious – being a ‘tipsy’ cake, it’s soaked liberally in wine, and Gladys makes frequent mention of the need to soak the cake in wine, ‘through and through’, and of the fact that wine is really extremely good for soaking the cake with. We can assume Gladys enjoyed the odd tipple, then.

IMG_20130227_121102So first you bake a madeira cake, which I did several days in advance using the recipe from my trusty Dairy Book of Home Cookery, and then the day before the party I duly cut it into a vague hedgehog shape and took a piece out of the back before soaking the cake in wine (actually I made a sort of syrup out of white wine and elderflower cordial, as I got the feeling Gladys would have used a sweet wine, and that worked very well).

IMG_20130222_174723Then on the day of the party I brushed the cake with melted jam, covered it in cocoa powder and added toasted flaked almonds (Gladys suggests blanching, cutting and toasting your own almonds but this is the 21st century and Tesco now does that for you) to make it hedgehogy…

IMG_20130223_151418…and then finally I made what is referred to in the recipe as a ‘solid sillabub’ by whisking lemon juice, sugar and double cream together. I put blueberries from a jar of blueberry jam onto the eyes (the recipe says to use raisins, but I wasn’t going to buy a load of raisins just to use two) and piled the cream around the cake before adding a spoonful of jam just in front of the hedgehog, as instructed by the recipe, ‘to look as if he is eating it’. It looks a bit more like he has been run over, or like he’s just been horrifically ill, but here we are, the finished Hedgehog Tipsy Cake!

IMG_20130224_115524Surprisingly enough, the other party guests were slightly perplexed, but it ended up tasting OK (the cream was particularly nice) and I think everyone got the idea once we’d explained!

To make up for this bizarre baking adventure I also brought a batch of chocolate brownies, and some cupcakes. There was a bit of a story to those, as well – my friend has decided not to find out the sex of her baby, and when she had her 20-week scan we joked that the only disappointing thing about that was the fact that she wouldn’t be able to have an American-style ‘gender reveal’ party. This was something I’d never heard of until I started using Pinterest and saw people posting photos of gender reveal cakes – apparently it’s a thing to ask the ultrasound person at your scan to write down the sex of the baby and seal it in an envelope, and then you take this to a baker who makes you a cake, or cupcakes, with a secret pink or blue middle. Then you have a party and cut the cake, or hand out the cupcakes, and that’s how you find out what you’re having. Bizarre. Anyway, I decided to make cupcakes with secret blue AND pink middles, just for the heck of it.

I used my mum’s tried and tested sponge recipe – you weigh three eggs in their shells, and then whatever the weight (mine were 225g) you use the same weight of butter, sugar and flour. Cream together the butter and sugar, add the eggs one at a time with a little bit of flour, add the rest of the flour, stir in a little bit of vanilla extract and there you go. Bake in the oven at 180C for about 20-25 minutes for cupcakes, or longer for a sponge (until it’s golden brown on top and risen and a skewer comes out clean). For cupcakes I like to add a splash of milk for a slightly more runny batter (it should just drop off the spoon) and it always makes lovely light cakes. I got exactly 12 from my mix.

IMG_20130223_161509I then made some buttercream and coloured a quarter of it pink and a quarter blue, and then I cut little cones out of the middle of the cupcakes, chopped most of the cut-out cake bit off to leave a lid, and filled half the cakes with pink and half the cakes with blue buttercream. Annoyingly my buttercream went a bit runny, but it was fine once it was in the cakes! I then put the lids back on the holes and decided to make the rest of the buttercream chocolate (mainly because I needed to rescue the runny situation and had run out of icing sugar, so I used cocoa powder!)

IMG_20130223_175222Yum yum. Annoyingly I forgot to take a picture of the inside of the cakes, but they went down very well!

Veg Box Day: 19/02/13

The veg box is starting to get a little greener…!

IMG_20130220_095525Apologies for the dark photo but in there we have watercress, chard, potatoes, onions, carrots, a swede and some portobello mushrooms. I think watercress pesto (I’m going to try freezing it) and onion soup might feature over the coming days…I’ve got a ton of onions to use up!

I didn’t have time to make anything with my veg last night, because I was out having a sports massage (ow) and then at a talk by the hilarious former 10,000m world record holder Dave Bedford, but on Monday night I made a restorative supper after my weekend away running the Brighton Half Marathon. If I was putting it on a gastropub menu (with all the necessary capitalisation) I’d call it ‘Pan-fried Smoked Cheddar Polenta with a Mushroom and Roasted Pepper Ragu’. It was totally inspired by Hugh F-W – I’d watched River Cottage Veg that afternoon as part of my day off loafing around and the chefs in the Canteen had made polenta with tomato sauce. I realised I had all the ingredients for something similar, so off I went! And it was very nice indeed. To make the polenta I boiled a cup of water with a bit of veg stock and then whisked in half a cup of polenta, and kept whisking until it was all thick and smooth. Then I stirred in some salt and pepper and a little bit of smoked Cheddar (I have some in the freezer from Christmas!) and spread the mixture out in a little dish to cool. While it was in the fridge, I roasted a red pepper (from my last veg box) and then chopped that up and cooked it with onions, mushrooms and a little tin of chopped tomatoes. Then I cut the polenta into strips and cooked them in a dry non-stick pan until they were nicely toasted.

IMG_20130218_211159The half marathon weekend was fab, too – I stayed in a huge house with about 25 other Ealing Eagles, and we all had a great time! We had chips on the beach for lunch and a carb-loading chilli party on the Saturday night, and everyone did amazingly well in the race itself. Almost everyone got a PB! I managed 2:01.03, which is not a PB and not quite what I was aiming for (which was sub-2 hours) but I’m OK with it – it’s not bad for a training run and it’s given me some valuable race lessons (namely do not persist in keeping up with the 2:00 pacer if your watch is telling you he’s doing 8:30/mile…). We all headed out for a brilliant afternoon/evening of well-deserved eating and drinking, followed by a fry-up the next morning to fortify us for the trip back to London. Here’s just a few of the 40 Eagles that took part!

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Pancakes!

Yesterday was Pancake Day (or Shrove Tuesday) – definitely one of my favourite days of the year! I love pancakes. When I was little we’d have pancake races on the village green, followed by pancakes with lemon and sugar – but my favourite pancake topping has to be maple syrup.

Because I’m extremely greedy, I like to make a full-on two-course pancake feast with savoury and sweet pancakes. Well, the alternative is to make a batch of pancake batter and just eat five or six of them with a ton of maple syrup, so making a ‘main course’ and a ‘pudding’ out of it actually makes me feel a tiny bit less greedy!

The shops are always full of packets and bottles of ready-made pancake mix, which I don’t understand because making pancakes couldn’t be easier – I use four heaped spoonfuls of plain flour, one egg and enough milk to make a batter with the consistency of double cream.

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I got a set of really lovely new pans for Christmas, so this was a real test for my new frying pan, but it was absolutely brilliant. I didn’t even need to use any oil, and even the first pancake came out perfectly!

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So I started off with my savoury ones, which had a filling of mushrooms, broccoli, spinach and a bit of crumbled Stilton. I’m a cheese fiend, so I grated a little bit of smoked Cheddar over the top and put it under the grill to go all bubbly and gorgeous.

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And then it was time for the main event – the maple syrup!

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Yes, I ate five pancakes all by myself. I’m not even sorry.

Veg Box Day: 5/2/13

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A little bit of a soggy veg box this time, thanks to the odd bits of sleety rainy rubbish that we keep having! Luckily it wasn’t out in the rain for too long, so everything survived – the potatoes are back, along with carrots, parsnips, onions, broccoli, two long red peppers and a big bag of curly kale.

The kale gave me a chance to try something I’ve been meaning to try for ages – kale chips. They’re one of those trends that seemed to sweep the entire food blogging world a while back, and my last attempt was a bit of a disaster as I forgot they were in the oven and ended up with charred bits of cabbage. Not ideal. But this time I watched them like a hawk and it worked! All you do is wash and dry the kale, strip the curly bits from the tough stems, put them on a baking tray with some foil or non-stick paper, spray them with a bit of oil, and put them in the oven at about 200C until they go all crisp and slightly brown at the edges. The window between ‘crisp and slightly brown’ and ‘charred and bitter’ seems to be about 30 seconds, so watch them!

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I sprinkled mine with some salt and pepper, and they were delicious. They’re really tasty and despite having practically zero substance (and therefore practically zero calories) they really do satisfy that nibbly snacky feeling. If you like roasted broccoli, you should definitely give these a go. A friend of mine sprinkles hers with a tiny bit of sugar and apparently that gives them a takeaway crispy seaweed vibe!

A long run…

I realised the other day that I haven’t really said much about my London Marathon training efforts. To be honest, it’s only in the last few weeks that it’s really felt like training instead of doing my usual runs – I was lucky enough to start with a good base thanks to my regular weeknight runs with the running club and my Saturday 12-miler, so it’s only recently that I’ve really had to make the effort and increase my mileage.

But after yesterday’s run, I felt like I ought to post something…because it was my longest run ever!

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17 whole miles! And a bit extra, so I even had a chance to practise my sprint finish for that all-important last .2 of a mile. So far training has been going reasonably well, although it was disrupted in more ways than one by the cold and icy weather we had a few weeks ago – I had to miss a couple of shorter runs because the pavements were too icy, and I did 15 miles in the snow, which was great fun at the time but it seems to have left me with ITB trouble (the dreaded iliotibial band, which causes no end of leg and knee trouble in distance runners!) But I’ve got myself a foam roller, which you roll about on to release tension in your muscles – it hurts like nobody’s business but it really does help – and I’m doing lots of stretching and my leg seems to be holding up well on my long runs, so fingers crossed. My next challenge is the Brighton Half Marathon on February 17th, and then I’ve only got to add five more miles on to my training runs before the marathon on April 21st! Easy, right?

Oh, and I forgot to say…I got my marathon place via the public ballot, so I’m not obliged to raise money for a charity, but so many people asked if they could sponsor me that I ended up deciding to start a JustGiving page so I could take the opportunity to raise a bit of money for a very good cause. Please do take a look if you have the time!

A Burns supper…

So I managed to find a vegetarian haggis in Waitrose, and last night I made myself a Burns Night supper!

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The haggis was really easy to cook – you just wrap it in foil and bake it in the oven – and I only had half of it last night (which was more than enough!) so today I fried a slice like a big piece of veggie sausage and had it as part of a post-run veggie fry-up, with an egg and some beans and grilled tomatoes. It was delicious and there’s still haggis left over!

Unfortunately my Burns supper didn’t involve any whisky, firstly because I don’t like it and secondly because of this morning’s 12-mile run, but I did have haggis, neeps (that’s swede to us English people, which I cooked and mashed with a bit of butter and pepper) and some probably inauthentic but very nice cabbage.

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To finish off the Scottishness I even made a healthy version of cranachan – technically it should involve lashings of whipped cream, honey and whisky, but mine was fat-free Greek yogurt with raspberries and toasted oats.

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Not bad for a non-Scottish person!

Veg Box Day: 22/01/13

A little bit late with this one again, I know! But here’s Tuesday’s veg box…

IMG_20130123_182418I was extremely excited not to receive any potatoes – I’d managed to do a good job of using up my previous bag, so we’re safe from the Great Potato Mountain for a while! Instead I got the usual carrots and onions, a butternut squash, broccoli, tomatoes, watercress (anyone have any idea what to do with watercress beyond turning it into a soup or using it as salad leaves?) and a very colourful January King cabbage.

As I still have half of the Giant Swede in the fridge, I’m thinking of doing a Burns Night supper tonight – if I can locate vegetarian haggis in Waitrose – I’m not remotely Scottish but it seems like a fitting way to use the swede!