2 November 2011. A year of Tuesdays has passed since the last 2 November – and each one marked with a lifetime’s worth of sadness, grief and loss. Today is a year since my Dad died. A year since I ran out of the office into the anonymity of Waterloo Station, fighting back tears. Not knowing what to do I bought a poppy – a remembrance poppy. I had the poppy in my hand, willing my Dad to be okay when the news came from the hot Karoo town near the southern tip of Africa that he wasn’t. The poppy crumpled in my hand as I bent over double struggling to breathe.

The gugelhupf, I can say with certainty, was my Dad’s favourite anytime cake. This cake has featured in my life as far back as I can remember, and it has been known to be eaten not only for afternoon tea or dessert with a dollop of whipped cream, but also on occasion for breakfast with a mug of steaming coffee.

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pork pies with quail eggs

I have been wanting to make these intriguing English pies for as long as I’ve lived on this muddy little island. I suppose I’ve been irrationally put off making them due to an unfounded belief that they’re unreasonably involved and intricate to make. Granted, this recipe is not entirely authentic – I didn’t boil pigs’ trotters to render the gelatine which holds them together, instead I used shop bought leaf gelatine which easily dissolves in warm water.  

A few weeks ago they were featured on The Great British Bake Off, and as I sat on the couch watching the programme intently, soaking up every tip and technique I could, I decide I had to make these. This take on the pork pie is adapted from master baker Paul Hollywood’s recipe – and makes six pies.

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chocolate cherry cheesecake brownies

These are pure indulgence. Perfect. Usually I struggle to follow a recipe exactly – spotting gaps to tweak ingredients and instructions here and there in an attempt to improve it. And in so doing make it my own. However with this recipe I couldn’t find a single adjustment I wanted to make. It sounds like a mouthful, but what could possibly be taken away from, or added to swirling, gooey, chocolate-cherry-cheesecake-brownie? The dark richness of the chocolate brownie is perfectly balanced by the fruity cherry and light vanilla cheesecake to produce something wickedly indulgent.

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south african chelsea buns

Remembering the composition of these sticky buns takes me straight back to high school. Hot, highveld lunch breaks in Greenside, Johannesburg spent sitting in the sun in the concrete flag stone quad with class mates – idle chatter interspersed with quiet munching. The bell would ring shrilly signally break and on days when I had tuck money I would tear down to the tuck shop to avoid the queue. Lunch would consist of the special of the day and an ice-cold coke or frozen slushy. Mondays hotdogs… Tuesdays hamburgers… Wednesdays chutney mince rolls… Thursdays… Thursdays and Fridays I forget. And if I had scrounged enough money together lunch would be finished off with a big chunk of sticky chelsea bun.

The buns would come pre-wrapped in cling film, and I remember them being much bigger than any others I have seen in the last few years, and certainly bigger than the ones I recreated. Sitting cross-legged on the warm concrete I would discard the unwanted cling film and then start devouring my bun by carefully peeling away and eating it layer by layer, spiralling down through moist yeasty bun infused with cinnamon, sweet vanilla custard cream and raisins – all stuck together by the sugary icing on the top. Pure bliss. And certainly enough calories to power me through the next four periods before home time.

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creamy peanut butter pie

This is a pie for Mikey. This is a pie for everyone I love. I never met Mikey, nor his beautiful wife Jennie and their two daughters, but I identify immensely with their story. Jennie is a food blogger in New York whose world changed instantly when Mikey died very unexpectedly four weeks ago today. A heart attack, like my Dad ten months ago. Both brutally decades too early.

Jennie had been meaning to make Mikey’s favourite peanut butter pie for him and now it’s too late. So she put it out to the food blogging community – a strangely close community separated by millions of miles yet tied closely together by their shared love for food – to make this pie and share it with those they love, “then hug them like there’s no tomorrow because today is the only guarantee we can count on”.

So I made this pie and shared it with those I love who are close enough to have tea and pie with – and sent virtual hugs to those not close enough. It’s sweet and delicious and comes from In Jennie’s Kitchen.

225g chocolate cookies
4 tbs butter, melted
115g finely chopped dark chocolate chips
60g chopped peanuts
240ml heavy cream
225g cream cheese
225g smooth peanut butter
225g confectioner’s sugar
420ml sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Add the cookies to the bowl of a food processor and pulse into fine crumbs.  Combine melted butter and cookie crumbs in a small bowl, and stir with a fork to mix well.  Press mixture into the bottom and 1-inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. 

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave.  Pour over bottom of cookie crust and spread to the edges using an off-set spatula.  Sprinkle chopped peanuts over the melted chocolate. Place pan in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Pour the heavy cream into a bowl and beat using a stand mixer or hand mixer until stiff peaks form.  Transfer to a small bowl and store in refrigerator until ready to use.  Place the cream cheese and peanut butter in a deep bowl.  Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Reduce speed to low and gradually beat in the confectioner’s sugar.  Add the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract and lemon juice. Increase speed to medium and beat until all the ingredients are combined and filling is smooth.

Stir in 1/3 of the whipped cream into the filling mixture (helps lighten the batter, making it easier to fold in the remaining whipped cream).  Fold in the remaining whipped cream.  Pour the filling into the prepared springform pan.  Drizzle the melted chocolate on top, if using, and refrigerate for three hours or overnight before serving.

chocolate brownie & raspberry cheesecake

Procrastination seems to be a bit of a trend at the moment, however last week’s procrastination had productive intentions. And so the writing of this post was put off as I took broom to hand and headed to Clapham Junction to help with the clean up in the aftermath of the London riots.

So although the cake is long gone – devoured gluttenously by my other half and I – I thought it a shame not to share it. With summer firmly in full swing, the idea for this cake came from a recent trip to a pick-your-own-fruit and veg farm in Surrey. I can’t remember the last time I giggled so much and behaved like a five-year-old – running from bush to bramble picking and eating sun blushed raspberries; fat, juicy blackberries; ruby-red cherries; strawberries and sunflowers. And yes, I went slightly overboard and picked far too much. I have added a slight twist to the filling by adding meringue mixture to the cheese which results in a cake that is super light and fluffy.

I think this cake could be made with either raspberries or blackberries – but for me, raspberries work better as they are less tart. The brownie biscuit base comes from Smitten Kitchen – and is one I’ve been wanting to try for a while. Simply cut and bake whatever left over base dough there is – they make scrumptious cookies. However, if you don’t want excess dough for cookies halve the ingredients below.

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chocolate twists

Yesterday I did what I do best – procrastinate writing – in order to do what I love most – cook, buy cookbooks and peruse nurseries. I contemplate ways of sneaking my three new hardcover purchases into the cookbook collection in the said tiny kitchen without my other half noticing.
So now I finally sit down to write in the sweltering London heat, perched laptop on knee on the couch in front of the big open sash windows in an attempt to get whatever breathless gasps of breeze exist into the overheated apartment. Out of the corner of my eye I can see the bright shades of pink pelargonium and cosmos and lilac lavender, which I acquired whilst procrastinating, stirring in the breeze on the window sill. I smile.
Despite the unusual heat this week I have had an insatiable need to recreate my absolute favourite coffee time treat – the chocolate twist. I’ve been eyeing them up for weeks trying to work out exactly how they’re constructed. Whether right or not, my conclusion is that they’re made of a delicate croissant like pastry, laced with crème pâtissière, sprinkled with bitter-sweet chocolate bits and then twisted into strips of deliciousness which are baked and then finished off with a dusting of icing sugar.

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where it all began

My mind raced, searching for the answer as my mouth opened and not a single word was uttered. I did not know how to answer this question. The air was stuffy in the small, bare room and the awkwardness hung tangibly between my therapist and I. Why do I love to cook? I… I don’t know. I just do. I always have.

As far back as I can remember I have always been passionate about food and cooking. Too passionate I sometimes think. Dreaming up recipes and flavour combinations whilst trying to concentrate on boardroom meetings is less than ideal. But where did it all begin? At the age of four and a half my no doubt frustrated mother eventually gave in to my insistence on baking a cake by plonking me on a chair in front of the long, wooden kitchen table with flour, eggs, milk, a ceramic bowl and a wooden spoon – and my love affair with cooking began. Although no doubt those first creations were less than edible and were thrown out as scraps to the chicken run.

“I don’t know, I just love it… It’s relaxing and creative…” I told Frank. It sounded pathetic. The truth is, there is no place I’m happier than in the kitchen – chopping and slicing, mixing and grating, combining and tasting, adding and overlaying flavours and smells of the best ingredients to create the most delicious food.

And so I look at the world, I’m almost ashamed to admit, largely from a vantage point with food in mind. When I travel it’s all about sourcing and tasting local delicacies – and so I come home from holidays not just with a tan and photos, but with recipes and local ingredients. When I peruse department stores, instead of coming away with bags of shoes and clothes it’s usually some new piece of kitchen equipment. When browsing book shops I rarely make it past the cooking isle. Saturday morning outings usually revolve around farmers markets and nosing out the freshest locally grown produce. Usually to the utter exasperation of my other half – who has banned me from buying another cook book to clutter our already tiny, windowless kitchen in our tiny, London apartment before at least cooking one recipe out of each of the books I already have.

I sigh as I look out the window at the grey drizzle streaming onto the pavement outside. Is it too much to want a house with a kitchen big enough to be the heart of the home? With a pantry to house tins of home-baked biscuits and jars of home-made jams and preserves. And a garden big enough to cultivate a veggie patch and herb garden – with fruit trees that can one day hold a swing for playing children. And of course a long wooden table for lazy summer lunches shared with friends. Outside the rain has stopped and the warm July day seems to brighten. For now I can but dream – the tiny, windowless kitchen and herb and strawberry boxes on the lounge window sills will have to do.

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