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Category Archives: Nigella Lawson

The Strong Female Lead

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As most people could tell from a quick glance at my Facebook photos, I’m no slave to fashion. In fact I’m probably not even a well looked after and healthily remunerated employee to it, yet there is one thing currently in fashion that I can fully support, and that is The Strong Female Lead. Not just in film and TV, but in real life too. I’m very on board with the Katniss Everdeen’s, Leslie Knope’s, Beatrix Kiddo’s and such of film and TV fame (if they’re not pining for a man throughout the entire story and you know, have actual interests and aspirations aside from having the most amazing wedding of all time, like actual real women then I’m all for it) but strong women who haven’t been dreamed up by writers in Hollywood are far more intriguing and inspiring to me. Let’s get the sob story out of the way quick – I’m not a fan of self-pity and I don’t like to dwell on the past, but without the sob story my fascination with strong women makes no sense. My mum passed away when I was young, so when a couple of years on from this I was bought a Janet Jackson CD it was like a light had been switched on. I had my female relatives there for me who were and are brilliant still, but for everyday female inspiration, I had pop stars to rely on. Janet Jackson sang about feminism! Racism! Inequality! SEX! Of course, 10 year old me wasn’t really aware of any of these issues and couldn’t really get her head around what any of it really meant, but here was a woman totally not afraid about speaking her mind, sounding completely bad ass and starting to teach me valuable life lessons that (and this is very important) I could make up awesome dance routines to in my bedroom. I just wanted to be the girl sassy enough to be able to throw out the line “no my first name ain’t baby, it’s Janet, Miss Jackson if you’re nasty” to any boy foolish enough to mess with me. It’s not happened yet, my name isn’t Janet Jackson, I’m betrothed to be wed and mum to a demanding one year old, so the likelihood of me ever saying it grows slimmer by the day but you never know… The Design of a Decade album was a crash course in being a woman, what to believe in and stand for, and my tiny little mind soaked it all up so that I would be ready for when I would be old enough to get my head around it all.

 

Fast forward twenty years or so and my favourite Real Life Strong Female Lead is of course, Nigella Lawson (and Beyoncé. Always Beyoncé.) If you’re ever feeling like crap and you just can’t face something, google the footage of Nigella arriving in court for the trial of her former assistants. The press were tearing her apart, incredibly private and mortifying details about her home life and marriage were being discussed in court and splashed all over the tabloids, and she was going through a divorce from a man who had publicly humiliated her. Does she look even remotely bothered? No, she looks incredible, confident and her IDGAF face is on point. If that doesn’t inspire you to attend that job interview/go to a terrifying meeting/meet that blind date then there’s no helping you. Team Nigella all the way in my house. Obviously then, I snaffled up her new cookbook Simply Nigella, which I have been cooking recipes from over the past few weeks. It’s a bit of a departure from her usual style in that alongside the heavenly looking baking recipes and savoury comfort food that she’s famous for, she also includes quite a lot of healthy and ‘free from’ recipes. I’ve no beef with that, you can’t constantly eat butter and cream filled foods unless your goal in life is to keel over from a heart attack at 30, and it’s good to have a healthy balance in your kitchen. So far I’ve cooked the chicken shawarma (juicy, spicy chicken that received a rave review from The Boyfriend, so a complete success), Thai cinnamon prawn noodles (warm, savoury and tongue tingling-ly yummy), coconut spiced cod (not bad but not amazing) and split pea soup with ginger, chilli and lime (I wasn’t very enthused about this one, it just didn’t do it for me). A mixed bag so far, although there are loads of recipes I can’t wait to find the time to try, such as Indian spiced shepherd’s pie, chai muffins, sweet potato macaroni cheese, ramen, salted chocolate tart, Asian short ribs and chocolate chip cookie dough pots. There are lots more I’m itching to try but the latter are high up on the ‘to cook’ list. I’m hoping Simply Nigella will be just as trusty a steed as her Express, Kitchen, Bites and Christmas books have ended up being for me.

 

As for me, I’m certainly no Janet Jackson, Beyonce or Nigella, but I’d like to consider myself a Strong Female Lead in my own life. Maybe not physically (although carrying around a baby for the last year has certainly done my arms a few favours) but in other ways, definitely. I like to think of myself as a cotton ball with a hidden rod of metal running through it. I’ll cry at the series finale of New Girl, sure, and watching the news is risky business these days for my mascara, plus don’t get me started on how mushy I can get when my baby boy breaks out into laughter, but when push comes to shove I am made of tougher stuff. When my son was much smaller and my significant other wasn’t working away, I didn’t think I would be able to manage at all with looking after a baby once my other half went back to working away for weeks at a time, and yet I’ve managed to do it without losing my mind. Plus I’ve managed to work full time whilst doing so. I know, single parents do it all the time and I have nothing but respect for them, but for me, Miss Anxiety, Miss I Have An Itinerary For Everything And I Don’t Know How To Fit All Of This Into One, it’s a big deal. I managed to live in a house that was practically a building site for two years and didn’t have a stroke – badass. I got made redundant while on maternity leave, and after 10 months of spending my days singing nursery rhymes and turning pears into mush, I somehow managed to get through my first job interview in five years and miraculously got the job. That’s a straight to video film (showing my age there) in then making right there! I’ve already said I’m not good with self-pity, and I’m really not good at bigging myself up so this blog entry has been excruciating for me to write (thank God for self-deprecation) but it’s definitely time for women to embrace their inner Strong Female Lead, so I’m starting with myself. Nigella has taught me how to cook over the years, but recently she’s also inspired me to keep my head up, pull my shoulders back and just get on with it. She’s also bloody good with a Middle Eastern marinated chicken recipe. The girl’s alright with me.

 

 

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All The P’s

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The type of food that each of us class as comfort food no doubt varies wildly between all of us, but I’m willing to bet there are a few classics that come up time and time again. Any form of fruit pie or crumble smothered in custard must pop up on millions of Brits comfort food wish list, as must cheese on toast and roast dinner. For me, comfort food needs to be carb packed, whether that’s a shepherds pie topped with fluffy mash, a crunchy baguette smothered with butter, or pasta sheets layered up in a lasagna. Or it must be sweet, but again there needs to be an element of stodge from pastry, sponge or crumble. Eton Mess is delicious, no doubt, but when I’ve had a shocker of a day the last thing I need is a light fruity dessert. I need something heavy that will then leave me feeling so full and tired that the only thing left to do is drift off to sleep and wake up in the morning to a more promising day. Nothing cures a bad day more effectively than comfort food induced sleep.

Being heavily pregnant and with The Boyfriend on a far away continent for another 11 days, comfort food has played a big part in recent weeks. Combine this with not having to concern myself with fitting into my normal wardrobe of skinny Topshop jeans and beloved tea dresses, and you’ve got one sure fire way to cheer me up. I’m lucky to have supportive family and lovely friends too of course to keep me busy and spend quality time with, whilst the great thing about pregnancy is that you find yourself no longer tolerating flaky or terminally ill friendships. If you ask someone if you’ve done something to offend them and they say no, then they continue to make thinly veiled comments on social media, create awkward atmospheres and ignore invitations, then I really can’t be bothered. I have to pee every 20 minutes and spend most of my free time either eating for two or being in bed by 8:30, I really don’t have the time, energy or the will to work out what’s going on. After my antenatal class yesterday, believe me there are bigger things to worry about!

It was after this antenatal class that I knew I was in need of something comforting. There’s nothing like a midwife doing a demonstration with a doll and a plastic pelvic skeleton to have you running for the nearest bowl of carbohydrates. Especially when the midwife’s exclaiming how ‘isn’t nature wonderful’ and all you can think is that no actually, nature is not all that right now. I’m down with nature when it involves penguins or sunsets or daffodils, but there are some things that nature really messed up. Thanks nature.

Luckily I have just the cook to turn to for a carby comfort meal – Miss Lawson of course. Her Nigellissima book is my least used of all of her books, I don’t like being constrained by one country’s recipes in a cookbook, but the recipes do look tasty, what with them being Nigella-fied. I went for the alliteratively pleasing pasta, petit poits and pancetta risotto which promised all the comfort and starchiness of a risotto without the 30 minutes of constant, mind numbing stirring which can be useful at times but not when in need of quick comfort. This is achieved by using orzo pasta which looks very similar to rice and absorbs the water quickly, leaving you with a dish not all that different to a rice risotto. It’s a very simple dish too, all you do is crisp up the pancetta in some hot oil, chuck in some frozen peas, pasta and water, then once all the water is absorbed stir in butter and Parmesan until melted and you’re good to go. It’s a one pan job too, there’s no chopping and most importantly no constant stirring, so for a mid week meal it’s simplicity itself.

Taste wise, it’s not up there with Nigella’s greatest hits. Her recipes usually pack in a lot of flavour but this one misses the mark a little. It’s still comforting, the pasta is starchy and silky and there’s a faint tang of salt from the pancetta and Parmesan, but it’s just a bit too subtle. Nigella warns not to over salt the dish because of the already salty main ingredients, but it still wasn’t enough to bring out a lot of flavour. The flavour would probably be improved with the addition of a stock cube to the water, it might take the sodium levels up a bit higher but I’d imagine the taste would be much better. In fact, just adding a little more of all the salty ingredients would improve this dish, and perhaps half a glass of white wine. Maybe the short cut of using pasta instead of arborio rice means that the intensity of flavour that normally accompanies a risotto is sacrificed, because you’re not investing the time to gradually build up flavours. Still, if you’re in the market for a quick, easy, comforting dinner that takes next to no effort and would probably keep the kids happy, you could definitely do worse. Certainly not comforting enough though to get the image of that plastic pelvis out of my mind.

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2014 in Books, Cooking, Food, Italian, Nigella Lawson

 

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Getting Back On The Horse

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I’m not one to make New Years Resolutions – after all, why make January even more miserable with failed promises to better yourself? – but I’d like to think that this year the least I can commit myself to is getting back in the kitchen and back to the blog. My cooking mojo recently has been somewhat lacking and the mere thought of venturing into the cold, miserably dated kitchen which we’re saving our pennies to renovate leaves me feeling less than inspired to be totally honest. But as it happens, I’m only human, and upon being asked by several friends who I’d never dreamed would find my blog remotely interesting “what’s happened to your blog?” over the last few months, my head found itself becoming rather large, and so here I am, getting back on that horse. I wouldn’t want to let my adoring public down, after all.

I couldn’t start a new year of cooking without falling back on my trusty old faithful, Nigella Lawson. She’s had a terrible year and I for one am backing her all the way. I find it abhorrent that the press have gone after her as savagely as they have, while Saatchi, the man who publicly grabbed, humiliated and subsequently tried to destroy her seems to have faded into the background without a flicker of interest from the press about the ‘intimate terrorism’ he subjected his wife to. It makes me feel really uncomfortable to see people so gleeful and revelling in the fall from grace and humiliation of a successful woman who has been the victim of some form of domestic abuse, while the real criminal fades into the background. I don’t care what drugs Nigella may or may not have taken, to me she will always be my favourite food writer and a prime example of triumph through adversity. I will always buy her books. Us girls have got to stick together.

Anyway, to the food. I cooked yellow split pea and frankfurter soup from Nigella’s Feast, a cookbook I don’t actually use all that often. It sounds like an odd choice of soup and not one I’d normally cook, but it’s packed full of symbolism and if you can’t cook for symbolisms sake alone on New Years Day then when can you? The yellow from the split peas symbolises gold whilst the roundness of the peas and the pound coin sized circles of sausage symbolises wealth, so the dish itself is supposed to wish you a year of happiness, wealth and prosperity. Who doesn’t wish for that on the 1st January, the warmth and tidings of Christmas now fading to a distant memory along with your pay packet and perfectly fitting skinny jeans? I’m not superstitious, but it can’t hurt now can it?

The soup is simplicity itself to cook, all the fine dicing of the vegetables is done by the food processor and from there it’s a simple case of throwing everything in a saucepan for an hour until the split peas are soft. I substituted frankfurters for some smoked sausage as The Fiancé is none too keen on them, I’m sure this had no impact whatsoever on the outcome of the soup. Before eating I had some trepidation as at some points during the cooking it smelt to me -and sorry if you’re eating- like vomit and as you can see from the photo, didn’t look all that far off it either. I had some back-up tins of tomato soup in the background should it turn out to be disgusting. However, it wasn’t too bad. Comforting and warm on a cold, rainy day with a touch of spice from the mace and surprisingly filling from the peas, it’s a pretty satisfying lunch. Let’s hope it gets me that winning lottery ticket too.

So, Happy New Year to you all, and thank you to those people nagging me about blogging again – it feels good to be back.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2014 in Books, Cooking, Food, Lunch, Nigella Lawson

 

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Warning: This Post Is Bad For Your Health

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Now I like a sugar high as much as the next person, but this past weekend there’s a good chance I took it too far. Brownie cookies. Jam doughnut muffins. I don’t even need to write anything more for you to understand the levels of butter and sugar needed for such baked goods. Much like Road Dahl characters, everything you need to know is all in the name. Miss Honey was always going to be an absolute darling and Augustus Gloop only ever a greedy bastard. And so brownie cookies and jam doughnut muffins are inevitably naughty. In my defence (although it would never stand up in court) I did have friends over for coffee, visited family and took part in a recruitment day at work so the goodies were shared. Spreading not only the love, but also the calories.

Brownie cookies then come from Smitten Kitchen, one of the newest additions to the collection. I’ve not yet ventured into the savoury section of the book, despite the fact that every time I dive in to pick a recipe I go in with the best of intentions. But the significantly sized sweet section of the book always draws me in and I conveniently forget the existence of the salad section. There is nothing sweet in the book that I don’t instantly want to cook. These cookies are an absolute doddle to make, although not owning an electric mixer puts you at an advantage if you want to build those biceps up whilst also working on your domestic goddess skills. One day I will have one of those beautifully glossy KitchenAid mixers (pistachio green is my current favourite) and so until then nothing else will do. If I were to compromise on a lesser model I would then be stuck with it for life, so I’m more than happy to save and continue to bake the hard way. I’m such a martyr.

The best part about making these cookies is rolling them out and getting the cookie cutters out of the drawer. I just don’t feel like I use cookie cutters enough, it’s immensely satisfying to feel the soft dough yield to the cookie cutter and to see the devastation you’ve inflicted upon that poor, innocent cookie dough. It’s like being a war lord, only without the dodgy morality and inability to sleep at night. These brownie cookies deliver exactly what you expect: they have the exterior crispness of a biscuit, the softness of a brownie within and taste purely of chocolate. They’re at their best on the day they’re baked, but are still all too edible 24 hours on. I should *warn* you that this recipe makes a lot of bite-sized biscuits (approx 70 using a 4cm cookie cutter) and also *warn* that the raw dough is even more edible than the end product. I *definitely* didn’t eat spoonfuls of the stuff while it was cooling in the fridge. No siree.

As well as this I made jam doughnut muffins. All the taste of a fried doughnut without the hassle of deep frying, right? Well, almost. These are in essence a plain vanilla muffin with a dollop of jam in the middle, then rolled in melted butter and sugar once cooked. They come from the wonderful mind of Nigella Lawson and can be found in HTBADG, in the kids section. Move over kids, these treats are wasted on you. I served these to a friend and her two year old daughter while they were still a little warm from the oven, which is probably the best way to eat them if you want to emulate the deliciousness of a freshly fried doughnut from a van at the fair. I thought they were nice, nothing amazing but certainly wouldn’t turn my nose up if offered them. These went down pretty well with everyone who had them though out the day and I think if they were smaller they might be better. After the bite size brownie cookies I think there’s something to be said for mini versions of sweet treats. Although why I’m trying to perfect doughnuts I’ll never know, what with fairground doughnuts and Krispy Kreme already firm favourites on our fair isle, and Dunking’ Donuts on its way (The Boyfriend cannot get enough of DD coffee on holiday, so he is sure to be making regular trips once over here) making doughnuts at home seems completely pointless. Sure is fun trying though.

 

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Rest Your Meat, Fool

It took eighteen months of blogging, dozens of posts, excessive amounts of cooking and even more excessive eating, but it looks like I’ve finally lived up to the entire ethos of this blog. Not only did I actually use a cookbook today that has been brutally neglected for years, I also stopped myself from buying loads more cookbooks and the new edition of Delicious magazine by repeating the phrase ‘no, you have loads of unused cookbooks at home that are desperate to be used’ in my head. So I only bought one cookbook instead. This, my friends, is progress.
I’ve been reading the Smitten Kitchen food blog pretty religiously lately and while the recipes look amazing, there’s only so much cooking I’m willing to do following a recipe from my iPad. Oily fingers and raw meat do not go so well with the lovely smooth, shiny surface of an Apple gadget. So you can surely understand why I absolutely needed to purchase the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, right? With recipes such as peach pancakes, gazpacho salsa and tiny but intense chocolate cake, how could I refuse? It took a lot of self restraint but I stopped myself from buying several others, including last years Masterchef winner Shelina Permaloo’s new book which is filled with the sort of food I very much enjoy eating. Talk about willpower.

Before The Boyfriend left for Ukraine, we had to clear out our cupboard under the stairs to make room for our new boiler. This is where I’d been keeping all of my cookbooks and in between the many trips upstairs to relocate my precious books The Boyfriend pondered over why I had so many cookbooks when all I ever cook from are the same Nigella and Gizzi faithfuls. I don’t like to admit it but he had a point. So, in the childish spirit of wanting to prove him wrong I vowed to mix things up a little and actually use my neglected cookbooks, before he sets fire to them in the garden. I probably wouldn’t even notice them go missing. Step forward, Gordon Ramsay and his book Fast Food. Gordon, once upon a very long time ago, was my weird crush for a while until it looked like he had an affair and became a little bit too prominent on TV. Infidelity and overkill, big passion killers. The Boyfriend, being the understanding soul that he is, surprised me with an Amazon parcel in the post with this very cookbook contained within its cardboard corners. I’m sure there were no ulterior motives in play when he committed this selfless act of love. Of that I am certain. It shames me to say that I’ve never really used this book up until today, and I feel that I’ve missed a trick here. As the title suggests, Gordon gives many suggestions for speedy dinners that don’t involve dialling for a pizza. Trying to lessen my carb intake over dinner but not wanting to completely deprive myself of decent food, I went for lamb steak with a green bean, red onion and pecorino salad which does what it says on the tin really. The Boyfriend tried to trick me into thinking cheese was a carb but research tells me cheese is actually a protein, so now I know what all my carb free dinners will contain from this day forward. Cheese rules. Particularly in this recipe, it turns a pretty simple salad into something much more complex, with salty, earthy cheese taking away the sting of the raw onion and boosting the flavour of the green beans. The lamb itself was cooked exactly how I like it with a little touch of pink in the middle although it was a touch chewy. The key to this is resting the meat for 5-10 minutes after you’ve taken it out of the pan so that the meat relaxes, making it softer to eat, and the residual heat contained in the meat ensures there are no completely raw bits. 2-3 minutes per side on a high heat should get you halfway there, but for the love of god please rest your meat before eating. It’s key to how your dinner turns out. Apologies for the lack of photo, but my phone had taken leave of its senses and just would not work before my dinner turned cold.

So, delving back into my unloved cookbooks has turned out well for me today, and has shown that I might just be able to wean myself off the Nigella addiction. I’ll prove that boy wrong, don’t you worry. Cookbook Neglector 1, The Boyfriend 0.

 

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Afternoon Tea, Minus The Tea

I don’t like tea. I’ve never liked tea, can’t drink it and I just cannot get my head around the nations obsession with the stuff. I realise I’m the only person in Britain who thinks like this and will probably end up in Pentonville for crimes against patriotism, but I am right. Give me a vanilla latte or frothy cappuccino any day over an insipid cup of tea. I’m prepared for the hate mail.

It came as somewhat of a surprise to me then that I found myself knocking back a vanilla chai latte, and on pondering what chai actually was (if something sounds exotic and foreign then I’m a sucker for it, whether I know what it means or not) discovered through Wikipedia that it was actually a form of black tea. Yes, in a latte, you can imagine my confusion and also the horror that despite everything I stand against when it comes to tea, I found myself very much enjoying some. It helped allay my fears that it tasted absolutely nothing like tea. For those unfamiliar to Chai tea, it originates from India and uses spices like cardamom, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, vanilla and the like. In a vanilla latte it tastes very similar to a carrot cake although I can’t quite 100% work that out for certain. Its my new favourite hot drink and you can find tubs of Chai powder in the tea and coffee aisle, give it a go.

The best thing about discovering a new ingredient is finding ways to use it. This is what led me to bake up a slightly adapted version of Gizzi Erskine’s chocolate and Earl Grey cake when I had some friends over on Sunday. For someone who dislikes tea so much I’ve sure used it a lot this past weekend, I know, I’m a huge hypocrite. You can find the recipe for her cake in Kitchen Magic, I’ve never made it in its entirety but it looks absolutely fantastic. I turned this cake into cupcakes and instead of making a chocolate icing and an Earl Grey cream, topped half of them with a simple vanilla buttercream and the other half with a vanilla chai buttercream. Icing these cupcakes nearly gave me an embolism by the way. The buttercream was pretty thick so when I attempted to use my new piping bag set I ended up squeezing the bag too hard resulting in an explosion as the bag split. Suffice to say, the piping bag got binned and while my cupcakes look nowhere near elegant or sophisticated, seeing the bag in my bin did wonders for my stress levels. What with the buttercream being so thick, spreading it on the cupcakes meant the cakes crumbled at times and looked like something a child with poor motor skills would make. These cupcakes have the perfect texture, are moist, light and very chocolatey. I could only really make out the tea flavour on cupcakes that had no icing on whatsoever (I got fed up of ruining cupcakes pretty quickly) and the chai buttercream, whilst being absolutely gorgeous, detracts somewhat from the chocolate & tea flavour of the cupcakes themselves. Saying all that, it really is having your cake and eating it with the chocolate cupcake and the hints of carrot cake lurking in the icing. If you’d like to try this yourself simply add 1 tbsp of chai powder into every 2 tbsp of vanilla buttercream.

I couldn’t have such a heavy emphasis on tea in all this baking and not include some homemade scones, courtesy of Nigella’s HTBADG, aka, The Best Cookbook Of All Time. After all, it was sunny and I have a lovely garden, afternoon tea just seemed like the British thing to do on such an occasion. Although with the heat we quenched our thirst with squash and kept the tea in the cakes. As of yet I have no table but a duvet cover on the grass sufficed! I’d never made scones before but I can tell you now that I will be making them all the time, they are so ridiculously easy to make. Why anyone would ever buy those dry, heavy lumps in cellophane from the shops when they are a cinch to make from scratch and taste so dreamy whilst still warm from the oven I have no idea. They are ridiculously light for something that consists mostly of flour and butter. I’m not sure there’s another recipe that so eloquently highlights how simple and tasty home made baked goods can be. If you’re a beginner to baking these would be a great place to start: easy, tasty, moreish and guaranteed to get rave reviews from whoever you feed them to. Smothered in clotted cream and jam, there is nothing better to eat while enjoying a brief spell of English sunshine. Nigella calls these ‘Lily’s Scones’ in the book: Lily, whoever you are, I salute you.

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Let Them Eat Cake

Let no one ever say that I ever do things by half. Just one week into the oven being delivered and fitted and I’ve already made three cakes. Oh yes, my baking addiction is back on track which just goes to show that cold turkey really does not work. At least where the chemical reaction between sugar, flour and eggs is concerned, anyway. Taking a cake out of the oven and covering it in icing fills me with delight, whilst eating said cake and sharing with friends and family just makes me feel very happy to be alive. It sounds cheesy, but food really does bring people together and it’s rare to attend an event without food being at the centre of things. The best things about cakes beside the fact they taste scrumptious is that they are completely unnecessary; full of ingredients that are of no nutritional benefit and expensive to make, to me cakes embody just how much humans eat for pleasure instead of just simply surviving, at least if money allows. Life is short, lets eat well and enjoy what we put in our cake holes (a literal description of my mouth this weekend).

My first cake of the week was a red velvet, the much loved American cake topped with a cream cheese frosting. I got the recipe from my favourite food blog Smitten Kitchen which is basically the food blog all others aspire to be. You really should check it out although if you deign to come back here after seeing the perfection of SK I can only apologise for my sloppy work. I’m just not cut out to test, re-test and then re-re-test recipes for your cooking pleasure, but I’m very glad that SK does, her recipes are fantastic and her cookbook is on my wish list. This cake is made up of three layers so it is a big cake and all the more fantastic for that. The cake uses a lot of cocoa powder which means that you need to use a larger quantity of red food dye to overpower, if you will, the colour of the cocoa. I was 5 tablespoons short of what was needed dye wise so my cake was more brown velvet which was not as striking and attractive as the traditional version but so be it. Taste wise though it was great, with the cocoa coming through very strong which is not always the case with red velvet. The cream cheese frosting would not set despite my best efforts and while icing the cake crumbs would mingle with the icing, resulting in a lumpy and rather unattractive cake. No matter, it still looked pretty impressive and triumphant, standing there high and mighty in the true spirit of Americana.

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Not wanting to stop with the one cake, this weekend I cracked open the Nigella books. In my eyes it’s not home until a Nigella treat has been baked so to make up for lost time I baked two. Common sense, no? Feast gave me just what I was looking for, a chocolate Malteser cake from her Chocolate Cake Hall Of Fame chapter. I feel it should be obligatory for every cookbook to have a similar chapter as there is no finer thing to pull out of the oven than a chocolate cake. Although don’t quote me on that next time I’m extolling the virtues of a roast dinner. This cake is pretty decadent, what with being sandwiched and covered in a cocoa and Horlick’s buttercream icing and then studded with Maltesers. The cake itself is quite fudgey with a malty, chocolatey flavour but the real star is the icing. As you can well imagine I was full of despair when there was small amount of icing leftover in the bowl for me to eat, the taste is what I would describe as something along the lines of malty fudge with a chocolate undertone. This cake is a winner and I highly recommend you make it, however you’ll get no complaints from me if you were to only make the icing. Heavenly.

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Last by by no means least, I made raspberry bakewell slices from Kitchen, a pretty mammoth Nigella cookbook but one which has served up many delights in our home. Not strictly speaking a cake, instead a pastry base filled with jam, raspberries and frangipane (one of my favourite words ever, it just sounds so made up), but does it really matter? This recipe epitomises why I love Nigella so much. Other cookbooks would tell you to make a pastry, roll it out to a specific thickness and then drape over your baking tin, which is what can put people off pastry making because it is such a ball ache. Nigella saves the day by making it as simple as possible, just combine all your pastry ingredients and then press into the tin with your knuckles. Perfection itself and completely stress free. I think I took these out of the oven too early as on cutting into squares the middle fell apart and they aren’t quite as solid as they probably should be but they are by no means inedible. They are too edible in fact. Crisp, buttery, sweet pastry with a fruity, jammy middle topped with almond frangipane and flaked almonds, they are seriously tasty. Sour from the fruit but with enough sweetness to balance the whole thing out. I wish they’d kept their shape a bit more but all is forgiven when tasted. If you’re worrying about my arteries, cholesterol and waistline after this excessive and somewhat obsessive baking binge, fret no more as I had a steady stream of visitors today who I weighed down with cake whether they wanted it or not. I just can’t wait now for The Boyfriend to get back from his travels in Kiev so I can cook his favourite meals that until now have been out of reach. It’s safe to say that the slow cooker and George Foreman grill have been tucked well out of the way to gather years of dust. Good riddance.

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